When my friends ask where to get the best Brazilian food in Los Angeles, I’m never quite sure what to tell them. Mostly, because there are a few notable options. Plenty of people are already familiar with Brazilian steakhouses called churrascarias where it’s possible to get the meat sweats from the all-you-can-eat steak sliced in front of you on a huge skewer the size of a sword, causing your carnivorous self to salivate as the tender, juicy, medium rare filet slides onto your plate. It’s a solid option for celebrations, as those restaurants are known for special occasions and many times come with a high price point, in addition to a satisfied belly.
But, when they ask, that’s not really what they’re looking for — what they’re after is a different Brazilian restaurant experience, with a quainter atmosphere. And my best advice, in that case, is to mosey over to the unassuming Wood Spoon located downtown. At 9th and Spring, Wood Spoon’s location is very central, especially now that downtown is now bustling with cars, scooters, and locals heading to work, school, or strolling into fitness studios — a sure sign of the gentrification cycle in full swing.
In this busy environment, Wood Spoon immediately feels welcoming, with large windows bringing in streams of natural light that hit the pale walls filled with picture frames. Once seated, the delicate hand-painted china on the table and fresh flowers remind me of summers in Brazil at my grandmother’s house. Even the cloth napkins with their floral pattern carries a nostalgic touch, bringing up faded memories of setting the dinner table as a seven-year-old.
Brazilian chef Natalia Pereira opened Wood Spoon fifteen years ago, and it’s been steadily thriving ever since. She’s a native from Minas Gerais, a Brazilian state with a flourishing food scene, which gave birth to the pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese bread. If you’ve never had it, it’s a delicious, salty Brazilian staple with similar texture to Mochi, but a savory flavor that makes it certainly worth ordering.
Food has always been prevalent in Chef Natalia’s life, as it was a big part of her childhood. When she moved to Los Angeles, she learned how to speak English by working as a private cook and spending a lot of time at farmer’s markets. With help from one of her clients, long before gentrification downtown began to pick up steam, she opened up her own restaurant in the Fashion District in 2004. And with Wood Spoon’s simplistic yet charming interior, and comforting flavorful meals, it’s easy to see why getting a table around lunchtime can be tough.
Everything starts with filtered tap water. Carafes of flavored water filled with cinnamon sticks, rosemary or mint grace each table — feel free to request your favorite flavored water of choice. If booze is an acceptable lunch option for you, look forward to either red or white sangrias; during summer or hotter temperatures, I recommend the white as passion fruit juice offers a tart and refreshing flavor, as opposed to the red sangria, which uses spices that are reminiscent of Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Next, if you enjoy variety, go for the mix plate as a starter. The small plate features different croquette-type apps leaving you to contemplate your favorite. My go-to is the pastel Portuguese, a delicious fried dumpling that pops with coconut milk and shrimp for a creamy, crunchy bite. The most popular Brazilian street food, the coxinha, is a teardrop shaped croquette packed with saucy, shredded chicken and potato inside fried crispy dough, and comes close second as my favorite starter.
For the main course, the unwavering star is the empadão, a Brazilian chicken pot pie. The flaky crust with a wood spoon outline is perfect for one, but could easily be shared if starters and dessert are part of the culinary experience. Although, once your fork makes its way through the buttery dough and the creamy sauce with shredded chicken, olives, corn, hearts of palm, and the first bite hits your mouth, you might reconsider ordering just one.
Lastly, for a more traditional Brazilian dish, order anything from the grill section like the chicken or steak, which will transport you back to a tropical café by the beach in Brazil with “Girl From Ipanema” playing in the background. Go ahead and dig into the customary black beans, white rice, plantains, collard greens, farofa (breadcrumbs), and salsa reminiscent of pico de gallo. Best of all, with these combination plates, every component works together in tandem for a series of perfect bites.
With a multitude of restaurants popping up all over downtown, and the difficulty of keeping local eateries afloat, the warmth and love that Chef Natalia Pereira pours into her establishment makes it so unique. So, to my friends who love to dine alone, are on a first date, want to celebrate a ten-year anniversary, or don’t have a specific reason at all, Wood Spoon’s charm should ease any uncertainty. The lovely ambiance, unpretentious food, fresh ingredients and consistency should be enough to add it to your rotation of must-visit LA spots.