The attention the World Cup brings to Brazil is by no means limited to the soccer pitch. As coverage of the biggest global sporting event unfolds over the next few weeks, the host country’s culture and traditions will all be in the spotlight. As it happens, sometimes this can make people observing it all very hungry.
The mix of indigenous people, Portuguese colonialism, African diaspora and later waves of European immigrants has created an eminently New World narrative for Brazil. This plays out across the country’s unabashedly robust cuisine, and the New Orleans area is home to a small circuit of restaurants run by expat Brazilians that offer different ways to explore its diverse flavors.
Churra’s Brazilian Grill
3712 Williams Blvd., Kenner, (504) 467-9595
Lunch and dinner daily
“Soccer is not a sport in Brazil,” advised Edelson Martins, seated below one of the many TVs perpetually tuned to soccer coverage at his restaurant, Churra’s Brazilian Grill. “It is a religion.”
Indeed, Churra’s can seem like a temple to that devotion to the sport. When Brazil’s team played in its World Cup opener last week, Churra’s filled with ravenous fans who had booked tables here for the afternoon match a month in advance.
Churra’s is not the sort of restaurant where reservations are normally required. This casual spot indulges Brazil’s other obsession, the one for grilled meat in copious quantities, and does so with a self-serve buffet format. Grab a plate and peruse the salad bar, but don’t pick up too much here. The main act is found at the walk-up grill station, where skewers of up to a dozen different meats cook on a charcoal-fed rotisserie.
Picanha, a hunk of sirloin capped with fat and bent to the skewer in a rosy arch, is the classic Brazilian cut to try, though with bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, pork loin, dark, chewy chicken hearts and plump, slightly sweet sausage links, you can quickly round out a sampler platter.
Wash it down with creamy-hued, mellow-tasting cashew juice from the beverage dispenser or a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail made with sugar cane liquor, lime and sugar.
Brazilian Market & Café
2424 Williams Blvd., Kenner, (504) 468-3533
Breakfast, lunch and early dinner daily
About a mile down the street, Greyze Vieira runs his Brazilian Market & Café as a more low-key deli. There’s no bar and, thus, a smaller draw for World Cup games, but this café is a good stop for Brazilian street food, particularly a wide assortment of meat pies and croquettes. The kitchen turns out generous plate lunches, the best of which is the feijoada, a garlicky, tropical cassoulet of black beans and various pork parts. Sandwiches show the Brazilian penchant to pile on the toppings, so a slim burger is buried under peas, corn, potato sticks and even sliced hot dogs. It can feel like eating two or three dishes mashed together, but it’s very Brazilian.
527 Julia St., (504) 875-4132; cafecarmo.com
Lunch Monday through Saturday; dinner Tuesday through Saturday
Though Brazil is rightfully famous for its grilled meats, Carmo is a Brazilian dining experience of a whole different order. At this colorful, counter service café, chefs Christine and Dana Honn work in fresh interpretations of tropical flavors, including plenty of vegetarian and vegan treatments. The black-eyed pea fritters called acaraje, recently featured at Jazz Fest, are a steady house specialty here. Other prime examples are salpicão, a Brazilian chicken salad mixed with ham and a fresh hash of vegetables, and moqueca, a golden, curry-style seafood stew prepared recently with grouper, amberjack and shrimp. The small bar fixes creative cocktails with fresh juice and Brazilian liquors.
Brazil Taco Truck
2106 Chartres St., (504) 309-0010; braziltacotruck.com
Dinner and late-night, Wednesday through Sunday (open for World Cup games also)
Mexican street food has been Rubens Leite’s calling card for years now, but since opening his own brick-and-mortar restaurant just off Frenchmen Street, the native Brazilian has been serving more of his own country’s dishes, too. Feijoada stew and salgado meat pies are now in rotation, while the bar turns out caipirinhas and fruitier batida cocktails.
3641 Jefferson Highway, Jefferson, (504) 833-7054; cocobamboopizzeria.com
Lunch and dinner daily
For the most part, the menu reads like a standard-issue pizza joint, but the interior of Coco Bamboo is dressed up like a Brazilian welcome center, with the national colors of green, yellow and blue everywhere. Take a closer look at the menu and you’ll find a Brazilian undercurrent in avocado salads, tropical chicken salad wraps and caipirinhas on the drinks list. The Portuguese pizza, topped with ham, canned peas, boiled egg and black olives, makes sense only through a Brazilian perspective, especially if, like some of the Brazilian regulars, you top it with ketchup and mayonnaise. Coco Bamboo is party central during Brazil’s matches, no matter what time of day they air.
“Most Brazilian people here work during the day, but it doesn’t matter,” said proprietor Nalu Zacarias. “Their bosses know, if they want to keep them, they have to let them off for the games.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.