With the World Cup getting under way next week, Brazil is in the spotlight. In the next month, the country expects to host about a half-million tourists. But if you're not one of them, it's not game over for a South American cultural experience.
As someone born and raised in Brazil, I set out on a quest to find some authentically Brazilian spots in Tampa Bay, and I found a number of them. It may not be quite the same as a vacation, but it's as close as it gets locally, plus you don't have to endure a nine-hour plane ride.
I'm a vegan now, but not so long ago I was an avid meat eater. There's probably nothing more Brazilian than a churrascaria, or steak house. But not just a regular steak house. Places like Texas de Brazil in Tampa are what happens when a steak house and an all-you-can-eat buffet meet. For $24.99 for lunch or $44.99 for dinner, you get 16 types of skewered meats brought to your table and a buffet full of sides. You definitely want to ditch the skinny jeans for this one, because they will keep feeding you until you tell them to stop.
For a more cozy experience, there's TerraMar Brazilian Steakhouse in Pinellas Park. Operating in the same all-you-can-eat style but on a smaller scale, the Brazilian-owned restaurant offers 10 cuts of meat and a buffet featuring plenty of Brazilian classics such as batata palha (julienne-style potato chips), rice and beans and fried bananas for $12.99 at lunch and $19.99 at dinner. During the World Cup, a big screen will be placed in the main room so guests can watch the games.
Maybe you love meat, but are not so gung-ho about it. There's another option. The Open Fire Grilled Brazilian food truck offers churrasquinhos ("little barbecues" in English) — personal-sized skewers of filet mignon, skirt steak or chicken breast served with the most classic of barbecue sides: rice, beans, farofa (yucca flour with bacon and herbs) and vinaigrette.
For the more carb-inclined diners, a trip to Cafe no Bule is a better choice. While the restaurant offers a full a la carte menu of Brazilian meals (with and without meat) every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the place also is a small market. In the frozen section you can find pao de queijo (small cheese-bread biscuits), coxinha (pastries filled with chicken and cream cheese) and bolinho de bacalhau (cod fish croquettes), all made by the Brazilian owner herself and ready to pop in the oven.
Sugar Loaf Emporium in Pinellas Park has a similar setup. You can either eat the famous feijoada (beans with pork, rice and other sides) on Saturdays at the restaurant or take advantage of the Brazilian goodies they sell in the marketplace, like pao de mel (a honey-filled chocolate dessert) or tapioca, which Brazilians use to make gluten-free crepes — the one goodie I can still indulge.
Like any other Brazilian on the planet, each of these places will have their televisions turned to soccer during the World Cup. If you go, make sure to wear yellow and green, the country's official colors, and what most likely everyone will be wearing around you.