Boca do Brasil Restaurant

The Las Vegas Valley is dotted with strip malls of all shapes and sizes that seemingly drive the functioning of this metropolis. You'll see shops lit up as bright as the lights on Fremont Street with words like “smoke shop” and “laundromat”, or for the slightly more popular centers, Dunkin Donuts, Carl's Jr. and the like. Properties like these have filled in almost every piece of vacant land within the city limits to the point where our authenticity feels like it can be summed up in a credit rating from Standard & Poors. Assimilation into this kind of cityscape is key for any restaurant to survive, and it's because of this that you will find some of the most authentic and memorable eateries within these strip malls.

Tucked away in a tiny plaza with the likes of Enterprise Rent-a-Car and two fast food restaurants, you'll come across Boca do Brasil. The fast food drive-thru’s and U-shape of the center make parking tight, but you’ll soon find out that risking the possibility of being towed is worth it. As you approach the front door, the scents of freshly baked breads and seasoned beef waft past the hinges and reel you in. Roughly three feet in front of the entrance, you hit a short dividing wall with display glass that rises roughly another foot, giving you a front row view of the wood-fired oven and prep tables where the chefs proudly display their work. As you walk into the main dining area, you immediately notice the country’s flair for bright colors that inspire relaxation and happiness.

The walls are painted bright shades of yellow and green with paintings of hard-working fishermen and the amazing landscape that call Brazil home. Even the tablecloths are green, a patriotic nod to the Brazilian flag. A large photo of one of the country’s many waterfalls covers an entire wall next to the restrooms. Subtly, this tells you everything. The “rush-n’-go” atmosphere you find in most American dining establishments has no place here. Like the waterfall, you move at your own pace; enjoying the moment in which you find yourself. This restaurant is merely the creek-bed that guides the way to your cliff where the moments shared between you and your company, like the water, flow freely from dish to dish before dispersing, only to return some time later after yet another cycle of life has passed.

This is an all-Brazilian staff, led by head chef and owner, Angela Mahaeta. During a trip to Las Vegas to visit her son, she decided to move and bring her passion for authentic cuisine with her. Then, in 2011, she opened the doors to what can rightfully be claimed as the only “homemade” Brazilian restaurant here in town. Angela initially started with a menu that incorporated many Greek dishes, characteristic of a population that has such a noticeable presence throughout southeastern Brazil and Sao Paolo. The menu now, however, is comprised of mainly traditional Brazilian dishes with some old favorites thrown in, like the Lamb or Chicken Gyro, Greek Salad with imported Kalamata Olives and feta cheese and lamb-topped “Greek Pizza” with tzatziki sauce. As for that “samba” flavor that most patrons here crave, you’ll certainly find that in plenty. A can of Guarana Antarctica is a terrific way to start everything. This soft drink is a staple of the Brazilian culture. In addition to the 16 other ingredients common to the Amazon Rainforest, it’s main ingredient is the natural caffeine from the fruit of the indigenous Guarana plant.  This fruit, with it’s coffee bean-sized seeds, has been used by the local population for almost 3,000 years. Also, their Coxinha is second to none. A crispy, fried potato dough stuffed with shredded chicken and a brand of cheese named Catupiry, native to Brazil thanks to an Italian immigrant Mario Silvestrini who introduced it in 1911. An additional “must” on the appetizer menu is an order of the Pao de Queijo. Palm-size balls of baked potato dough with a warm, cheesy center that are far more flavorful than they appear at first glance.

Those already familiar with the larger Brazilian steakhouses will recognize Picanha; if not by the name then certainly by the flavor. This distinctive cut of sirloin steak surrounded by a thick strip of crispy fat that requires nothing more than a few cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt as seasoning, if at all. While some may be concerned by the lack of added spices, rest assured that what the cut lacks in seasoning it more than makes up for in beefy flavor with its perfect char that only a real “churrascaria” can do. If it’s closer to lunchtime and you find steak a bit heavy before returning to work, other menu items common throughout Latin America are here. Various filets of beef, chicken or fish can be found a milanesa (breaded and fried) or grelhado (grilled) with traditional rice and black beans on the side. Something else? Carne com Batata is a hearty, stew-like dish with a robust serving of potatoes, carrots and tender beef soaked in a mixture of olive oil, wine and garlic. Or go with the Bife a Cavalo so you can get protein from both the thin cut of grilled beef and the two fried eggs on top. These pair very well with the rice and black beans, by the way.

I learned something new here. Brazilian food is far more influenced by foreign culinary cultures than I would’ve guessed. Menu items like Beef Strogonoff, a Russian-born dish with chunks of sautéed beef and rice covered in a sauce made of a sour cream named “smetana” that’s found in Eastern Europe, the Chicken or Eggplant Parmegiana and various spaguetti (Portuguese spelling) dishes are very popular amongst the locals and have become staples of typical Brazilian dining. Much of this has to do with the authentic ingredients that are used by the staff, many of which you can purchase for yourself directly from the display shelves behind the host counter. This is where you’ll also find their homemade desserts on display. According to the Brazilian Association of Chocolate, Cocoa, Peanut, Candy & Derivatives (yes, Brazil has their own association monitoring the Sweets Market), the average annual consumption of sweets is 2.6 kg per person. Brazilians clearly love their sweets, and Boca do Brasil clearly know how to satisfy someone’s sweet tooth. Their list of desserts changes from day to day, but you’ll always find a native candy wrapped tightly in individual neon pink wrappings on the display shelf, known as Sonho de Valsa. These perfect, palm-size bonbons have a cashew cream surrounded by multiple layers of chocolate and a wafer cone that gives it a crunchy texture that elevates it to dessert perfection.

I’m no stranger to South America. I’ve lived there on more than one occasion and I have friends that are from various countries throughout Latin America. For whatever reason, Brazil is the one country that I’ve never visited. Boca do Brasil may not be in Brazil, but the atmosphere you feel from the moment you walk in is nothing short of pure Brazilian. It’s easy to understand why many Brazilians always appear so relaxed. Lush rainforests, beautiful beaches and attractive people are no longer the only reasons I’m interested in visiting. Knowing how satisfying their cuisine is makes the idea of finally buying my ticket even more probable, and I have Boca do Brasil to thank for that.

Visit

Boca do Brasil
4825 S Fort Apache Rd,
Las Vegas, NV 89147
Tel: 702)655-9999

 

While he now calls Las Vegas home, Darren J. Alvino, II is an avid traveler who has lived, worked and studied on almost every continent. Four years as an Army Ranger, a B.A. in International Studies from The University of Colorado and an boyhood fascination of National Geographic have ingrained in him a deep love & respect for all aspects of our worlds’ cultures, especially their cuisine.

Rincon de Buenos Aires Restaurant

Rincon-de-Buenos-Aires-1

Bright neon lights in every conceivable color of the rainbow beckon tourists, vying for every ounce of their limited attention span on the strip.  This is Las Vegas, loud, brash and distinctly unapologetic, a surreal fantasy world in the middle of the Nevada desert. The ubiquitous cheap buffets aimed at enticing tourists from the hinterland have now given way to haute cuisine, with every chef worth their mettle clamoring to open an outpost of restaurants on the strip.  From Joel Robuchon to Iron Chef Bobby Flay, you haven’t really made it anymore until you’ve opened a restaurant on the Las Vegas strip.

Step away from the strip and the frenetic pace dies down and Las Vegas reveals it’s human side. The real Las Vegas, if you will.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on Spring Mountain Road, where Las Vegas’ own Chinatown is situated.  In this neighborhood, where the strip gives way to strip-malls, one finds dozens of Asian restaurants parked cheek and jowl, vying for attention. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese are all represented here without the over-the-top faux-glitz that has now become emblematic of the Las Vegas culture.

In the midst of this Asian enclave is where you will find Rincon de Buenos Aires, a testament to the melting pot American cities have become. At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss it as a mishmash of foreign cultures, since the restaurant bills itself as an Argentinian restaurant and an Italian deli.  However it is important to note that roughly 70% of Argentinians have some Italian heritage and Italian food in Argentina is intrinsically woven into the traditional meat-centric cuisine.

Rincon de Buenos Aires is exactly what it says it is: a little corner of Las Vegas that will transport you, from the second you walk through the door, to one of the grandest cities in South America. A city with stunning architecture and a distinctly European vibe that has also endured one of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known. While the Dirty War has been over for decades, you are reminded of it every Thursday by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers whose children ‘disappeared’ as a consequence of their activism against the then government.  In the early 2000s, Political corruption was so severe that it torpedoed the entire country into such economic turmoil that they’re still recovering to this day. But Buenos Aires is a survivor and still endures as one of the most charming cities in South America.

Any self-respecting resident of Buenos Aires will tell you, it is all about the food. Similarly, here the pictures of tango dancers, scenes of Buenos Aires and highlights of Argentine soccer on TV screens do little to distract from the food.  The meal starts off with warm baked bread served with chimichurri, a vegetal blend of green herbs, garlic and olive oil. Argentinian empanadas, the ubiquitous pockets of pastry with fillings ranging from beef and chicken to corn are an ideal starter.  Both baked and fried versions are available, along with uncooked versions meant to be finished off at home. Also apparent is the Argentinian love for mayonnaise, in the form of Salade Russe or Russian salad. Pasta, in various forms, and Milanesa- a breaded chicken cutlet, are a nod to the Italian influence in Argentina. That said, the star of the show is the Argentinian grill or Parillada. 3-5 different cuts of meat are brought to the table on a charcoal grill with a side of chimichurri on the side.  One lets their meat cook to their desired doneness, and then just dig in. Different versions of the parillada are available, ones with sweetbreads and blood sausage for the more adventurous, and others with less exotic meats.  And to wash it down, Renee, the owner stocks a number of wines from the famous Mendoza Valley.  A Malbec will usually suffice quite well.  If you’re in a more casual mood, there are lighter options; even sandwiches that the owner, Renee, claims I would’ve fallen in love with, had I not had such a craving for steak. She serves traditional Argentinian sandwiches like choripan filled with Argentinian sausage and the gut-busting Argentinine staple- the lomito- bursting with steak, ham, cheese and a fried egg. For dessert, Dulce de Leche,or milk caramel reigns supreme, flavoring everything from flan and alfajores to milhojas, a ‘thousand’ layered cake. In a hurry? No problem. There’s a roughly twenty-foot meat and cheese display case, as well as additional aisles and shelves in the back with everything an Argentine or South American heart desires. Whether it’s yerba for Mate or Dulce de Leche, this little rincon has you covered. And, as Renee will tell you, just like in Argentina, the closing time listed on the door is only a guideline, not a rule.

You would be excused for thinking that Renee was a Porteno from Buenos Aires, but she hails from Barahona in the Dominican Republic, a beach town roughly three hours east of the capital of Santo Domingo, Renee and her family moved to the United States to escape a sky-high unemployment rate brought on by years of political corruption and economic chaos. After a first stop in Miami, she arrived in Las Vegas twenty-one years ago. It all changed when eleven years ago the previous owners, friends from Argentina who were struggling to keep the doors open finally agreed to sell the restaurant to them. Since then, Renee and her son-in-law Johnny have created a business that has survived the worst recession this country’s seen since 1929.

The success of Rincon de Buenos Aires lies in the tight-knit family that runs the show. For most, it would seem improbable that a mother-in-law and son-in-law could work so closely together with such success. However, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, it’s that very relationship that has fortified this establishment over such a lengthy period and enabled everything to function almost seamlessly. Here in our country, and especially in this city, it’s easy to get blinded by bright lights and massive billboards while losing sight of what matters. It’s through the hard work and family values that Renee, Johnny and their family have been able to steer their restaurant in the right direction, making it all it can be. It’s not just a rincon representing of one of the most beautiful cultures in South America and the world. It’s the seven-lane 9 De Julio street at eleven o’clock at night; a random tango class taking place with their doors open in Palermo; it’s the entire city banging pots and pans in unison to protest another audacious proposition by their government. It’s all Buenos Aires… and, that would make any Porteno feel right at home.

Visit:

Rincon de Buenos Aires
5300 Spring Mountain Rd # 115,
Las Vegas, NV 89146
(702) 257-3331

While he now calls Las Vegas home, Darren J. Alvino, II is an avid traveler who has lived, worked and studied on almost every continent. Four years as an Army Ranger,  a B.A. in International Studies from The University of Colorado and an boyhood fascination of National Geographic have ingrained in him a deep love & respect for all aspects of our worlds’ cultures, especially their cuisine.