Rio Brazil Café: Bossa Nova and Comfort Food in Palms [CLOSED]

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Brazilian Flag Los Angeles

Rio Brazil Café proudly flies a Brazilian flag.

It was Saturday night at a well worn Palms strip mall. Live bossa nova music filled the air, cachaca flowed like water and the tables quickly filled with heaping plates of Brazilian comfort food. Miles Clements recently rhapsodized about Rio Brazil Cafe in his LA Times review, so the quality of the food wasn’t exactly shocking, but it was a nice surprise to find such a tight-knit community hub with such festive atmosphere.

Rio de Janeiro native Luciene Peck is a longtime caterer who opened Rio Brazil Cafe 14 months ago in an area that’s known for its large population of Brazilian immigrants. Peck learned to cook from mom Dona Lucia, who still makes Rio Brazil’s carne seca and salgadinhos (savory appetizers) when she has the time.

The storefront features green and yellow walls that match the colors of the prominently displayed Brazilian flag. If you’ve been looking for a Brazilian bikini, you’re in luck. Rio Brazil Cafe holds only seven tables, and service can best be described as leisurely, but this is far from fine dining. Rio Brazil is about down home comfort, both on the plate at the table.

Brazilian Music Los Angeles

We sat back and enjoyed the soothing sounds of the guest guitarist and drop-in singer (who’s also reputed to produce the city’s premiere black-eyed pea fritters (acaraje).

We ate dinner with Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, who’s nearly as familiar with Brazilian food as he is with Mexican food. He provided some insight and contributed three different bottles of cachaca, Brazil’s famed sugar cane liqueur. He poured Germana straight up and contributed the last of his Sagatiba to produce Batidas – cachaca alternately blended with frozen green grapes and strawberries until it formed drinks befitting Bourbon Street blenders.

Peck didn’t offer us any menus, but they apparently exist at lunch. At dinner, look to the dry erase board out front, which hosts a few special dishes, or listen to a recitation.

Brazilian Food Los Angeles

We started with salgadinhos, savory Brazilian appetizers.

Salgadinhos were all good, but a teardrop-shaped coxinha, a chicken croquette with a thin, crisp sheathe and a creamy core flecked with minced pepper, red onion and tomato, tasted best. Other highlights, bollinos – balls filled with oozing Monterey jack cheese; fried arancini-like ovals called risoles filled with shrimp; and pastellos – Monterey jack wontons. Each salgadinho benefited from a spicy, fire-red malagueta pepper sauce.

Brazilian Food Los Angeles

Esparza requested off-the-menu Escondidinho – “something hidden” – in this case, carne seca.

Escondidinho was kind of like a Shepherd’s pie, only with yucca instead of mashed potatoes and a melted slab of Monterey jack cheese. Carne seca wasn’t as seca (dry) as the name suggested, and the salty beef added to the hearty dish.

Brazilian Food Los Angeles

Bobo de camarao ($15) – “silly shrimp” – featured plump jumbo shrimp cooked in a “yucca root melted sauce.” Dende oil stained the creamy, cilantro-flecked sauce yellow.

Brazilian Food Los Angeles

Hearts of Palm Muqueca ($12) centered on cylinders of tender pull-apart palm cooked in dende and coconut milk with bell peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and “spices.”

Brazilian Food Los Angeles

Feijoada ($15) – “the most traditional dish in Brazil” – was a hearty black bean stew with earthy flavor, loaded with cuts of pork, beef, linguiça, carne seca, pork feet and knees. It was served with collard greens, which helped to cut the feijoada’s richness, along with orange slices and farofa (yucca flour, aka “edible sand”), which added a gritty textural contrast.

Brazilian Dessert Los Angeles

Peck’s desserts turned out to be a strength, including an elegantly plated passion fruit mousse topped with bursting passion fruit seeds.

Brazilian Dessert Los Angeles

Coconut pudding was similar to flan and sported a sweet thatch of blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

During the day, Peck’s selection is much simpler, featuring chicken, beef and some less time-consuming dishes. Unfortunately, the economy has limited her options. If she gets bigger crowds, she’ll have the freedom to build more elaborate menus, which would certainly be a boon to Westsiders.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

Thai Nakorn « WP Dev Install

[…] Grove, I wasn’t about to object. After all, since meeting Lieberman less than a year ago at Rio Brasil Café, he’s led me to a number of very good meals, but none better than Thai […]

Hey Josh,

How did her Muqueca and Bobo de Camarao compare to Zabumbas?

glad she’s getting a second life thanks to all this recent press.

The bobo de camarao was better at Rio Brazil Cafe, less pasty. Zabumba’s muqueca was also good, but it featured fish and Rio Brazil hosted hearts of palm, so it wasn’t a fair battle.

Does this mean you’re back in the States?

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by foodgps. foodgps said: Review of Rio Brazil Cafe, my favorite Brazilian restaurant in LA […]

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