The Olympics are a magical event, and not just because they abruptly transform all of your acquaintances into experts on the minutiae of dozens of obscure and complicated sports. Your aunt can tell you precisely how many fractional points should be deducted for the overlarge splash on the Italian diver’s aquatic landing, and Luke in HR has some great technical pointers for the Venezuelan favorite winging his way around the velodrome, but even that crucial knowledge pales in comparison with the Olympics’ greatest gift — an excuse to indulge in extravagant quantities of food from the host country.
In 2012 we wallowed in meat pies and warm, flat, mildly bitter ales; in 2014 we ate piroshki and herring by the trough and washed it down with lakefuls of kvass. This year, though, there are better ways to pig out: Brazilian food is flavorful and interesting, combining a multitude of influences from indigenous cultures, the nation's Afro-Caribbean neighbors and several European countries. Yes, there is the iconic grilled meat, but there is also so much more, from stews and fried snacks to seafood soups and acaï. Here are three great Brazilian restaurants:
It may be that when you picture a Brazilian restaurant you imagine a raucous party, loud samba on old speakers, linen shirts and broad gestures. It’s a seductive image, and an easy trap to fall into. WoodSpoon is not that kind of place. Instead it is carefully designed and fashionably appointed, grown-up but still plenty cute. The food is similarly thoughtful, with a focus on street-food appetizers and composed plates. The pot pie is a specialty, and for good reason: The crust is buttery and perfectly flaky, and the filling is rich but not too heavy, dosed with the excellent and unexpected addition of olives and hearts of palm. Stews and grilled meats are also good options, but whatever entree you order, don’t neglect the limeade and plantains.
107 W. Ninth St., downtown; woodspoonla.com.
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At Mesa in Westwood Village, the format is familiar — bright lighting, counter service, scoops of white rice in the bottom of a plastic bowl — but the dishes are unexpected, from the fish stew called moqueca and chicken stroganoff to cod fritters and cheese bread. Brazilian food, it turns out, is rather well suited to the sort of quick, healthy and affordable meal service that has proven so successful with burritos, salads, pizza and raw fish. Here the protein or entrée of your choice is paired with collard greens, fried plantains, black beans and a chopped Brazilian salsa that closely resembles pico de gallo, then served over rice. The result is excellent, bright flavors jumbled together in a fun sort of chaos, amplified and united by liberal application of their deep yellow sauce. Before you visit, it might be hard to imagine office workers and students lunching on a cuisine that seems as exotic and extravagant as Brazilian food, but after you visit it’s hard to imagine a workweek without a hit of frango grelhado.
10917 Lindbrook Drive, Westwood Village; facebook.com/mesabrazilianeatery.
Restaurant food is cool, and composed plates can be beautiful and thought-provoking and delicious, but more often than not we end up craving street food, fried and messy and indulgent; that’s precisely what SquareFritz serves. The primary focus is on pasteles, big rectangles of buttery dough stuffed with meat and cheese and maybe a vegetable or two, like a Brazilian empanada (or, if your mind runs in that direction, like a Brazilian Hot Pocket). The house special pastel has beef and cheese and ham and onion and olive and half of a hard-boiled egg, and it is a deeply satisfying bit of insanity, gooey and salty and meaty with the occasional hit of olive brine and a wonderfully flaky crust. There are also elaborate hot dogs, Rube Goldberg machines on skinny buns, which use a pantry full of complicated ingredients to perform the simple task of being delicious. They are absurdly fun. And to wash it down there is Guaraná Antarctica, the highly caffeinated Brazilian soda that is the finest possible companion for a hot dog with mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, salsa and cheese.
1930 W. Olympic Blvd., Pico-Union; squarefritz.com.