1983 Shattuck Ave
I had a lunch break for my conference at UC-Berkeley – what to do? Downtown Berkeley is overrun with Asian fare, southern and eastern, but I was looking for something more esoteric. A quick call back to L at our home base, some internet research, and a leisurely walk later I found myself staring across Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley toward a parking lot wedged inside an office park – a parking lot home to Berkeley’s most colorful eatery, Brazil Cafe. One look at the small, festive stall and I knew this was going to be a good meal, and judging by the selections on the surfboard-menu, my hunch was right.
I walked right up to the counter, and before I even had a chance to order, the unemotional but efficient owner was shoving a toothpick of tri-tip steak toward my face – her speciality. Tri-tip is a special cut of meat, a little more marbled than other steaks and extra juicy, which at Brazil Cafe gets thrown on a sandwich and combined with a rich and flavorful green garlic sauce. “I’ll have that.” Along with a mango smoothie. A combination which, as it turned out, was one of the special student combos – all for $7.95.
I got a number and picked a seat out back, amidst the jamming sounds of contemporary Brazilian samba and photos of American tourists at Ipanema Beach. The wait for the food was short, so I was ready to dive in to my sandwich – and what a sandwich it was. The thin paper sandwich tray was clearly ill-designed to contain the massive tri-tip, a problem which I set out to rectify by scarfing it down. I was pretty hungry. And you have to be to come here, the juicy, lightly marbled meat, thick bread, and rich, flavorful garlic sauce make for a filling, messy, and tasty meal. The sauce makes the sandwich (as many sauces do), and I was frankly surprised by its heaviness and strong garlic flavor (not that anyone is complaining about too much garlic). Good as it was, the mango smoothie really hit the spot by balancing out the sandwich flavors with a nice, sweet, fruity, and really fresh finish to the lunch. All in all, it was one of those meals you could tell was all fresh ingredients used right on the spot, and given Brazil Cafe’s parking lot real estate, that was pretty surprising. So kudos to the owner (a Brazilian native – I could tell by her accent) for giving Berkeley a great, filling, fun lunch spot, particularly one that gets Brazil out of the all-steakhouse-all-the-time reputation it seems to have Stateside.