The art of Churrasco is one of the few arts rarely practiced in the Bay Area. Music can be heard on every street corner. Great painting is highlighted in a dozen museums. Theater thrives in performance districts surrounding the Civic Center and Castro. Delicious Latin Barbeque, on the other hand, is regrettably rarely seen. Its uniqueness is one reason why Brazil Cafe is so adored by masses of undergrads and foodies alike, hundreds of whom purchase sandwiches, plates, and bowls each and every day from the Shack off Shattuck and more substantial location on Shattuck itself. Another obvious reason is the quality of the food offered by this clear-cut hole in the wall, an establishment you would likely pass by a hundred times before trying had your hipster friend/dorm mate/Latin lover not recommended it sooner. Regardless of reason, Brazil Cafe is a star in the local restaurant scene, one that will most likely shine for many years to come.
My first encounter with Brazil Cafe's excellence happened on a sunny Spring afternoon. Hunger had struck an hour prior while I shopped for a new bike at the neighboring Mike's Bikes. I decided to give the brightly painted, yet slightly dilapidated, shack ten feet away a try. Walking up to the counter, I was greeted by a bright-eyed, pony-tailed man named Pedro (who I later realized was the owner). Upon revealing it was my first time at his shop, Pedro bolted to the window, grabbed an array of samples, and ecstatically flung them into my arms. After all were eaten and their individual complexities had been dissected by the founder himself, I was left alone to choose a sandwich. With his strong recommendation in mind, I chose the "Pedro's Favorite Tri-Tip" (clearly a favorite of Pedro's).
After an unbearably long wait that may have only been ten minutes (my phone and watch stayed at home), I was handed a depressingly small sandwich. Eight inches of lightly stuffed bread for $9 is never a good sign, except, apparently, at Brazil Cafe. My first bite reassured me that I had received my money's worth. Mouth watering Tri-Tip, easily the juiciest and freshest I had ever tasted, dominated every bite. Sweet pieces of pineapple contrasted the sharp spice from the half dozen slices of Jalapeno. Queso and pieces of olive added notes of salt and a touch of acidity. Between the five ingredients, every major type of flavor known to man got its fifteen minutes of fame, all inside one tiny sandwich. Though the food was excellent, I would have enjoyed an additional hunk or two of Tri Tip. Included sides like black beans, rice, or plantains would have made the price more reasonable as well.
As tasty as the meal was the atmosphere, a lively slice of South America highlighted by the vivacity of the owner himself. Patio chairs and small tables gave the whole restaurant a beach vibe. Lively Sertanejas and Bossa Novas blasting over the pair of tiny loudspeakers attached to the side wall only added to the lovable feel, one of rich community and culture. After finishing my meal, all I wanted to do was sit back, relax, sunbathe a bit, a listen to the Latin beats streaming through the speakers.
Brazil Cafe, a fixture in one of Berkeley's numerous (and famous) cheap eats districts, elevates the concept of "college town food" to the next level. Music and cuisine intermingle beautifully at this locally renowned joint, a bastion of Latin flavor and rhythm. Tourists and residents alike flock here day and night to claim one of the Bay's best Churrasco sandwiches for themselves. Such popularity is understandable; on a sunny day in Berkeley, few meals are as enjoyable as the one devoured while tanning next to a bike shop, a gentle Samba playfully dancing away in the background.