4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

A trolley view and Brazil's latest export — the tapioca crêpe

Jungly flavors

The Brasilia tapioca crêpe
The Brasilia tapioca crêpe
Place

Samba Brazilian Cuisine

819 C Street, San Diego

Old frontage made sexy again
Trolleys add atmosphere to dining

Frog spawn?

Oh, no. I stare at my bowl.

“Eat your tapioca!”

This is grandma, standing over the table, back in the day. The treat we kids always dreaded: tapioca pudding that looked like frog spawn.

It all comes rushing back as I stare at this menu here. “Tapioca crêpe,” it reads.

“It’s really popular in Brazil,” says Juliano. “And we’re the first place in San Diego to have it.”

His place is named “Samba,” and it’s right here downtown, in a little clump of cafés that look out to where red trolleys rumble past every few minutes.

Sponsored
Sponsored

This one is right where a sign reads, “Sidewalk Closed,” because the Churchill Hotel next door is being gutted and turned into low-income apartments. The Churchill’s a survivor: it opened 100 years ago (1914, actually — for the Panama-California Exposition).

The fact is, I worried for these guys’ survival the moment I saw their new sign go up. Not enough foot traffic here between downtown and City College.

Pão de queijo

But Samba looks like it means business. They’ve given the façade a pale green paint job, spruced up the patio with lime-green umbrellas, and covered the off-white and green walls inside with photos by local artists and have even slung a gnarly woven-wood longboard above the entrance.

First nice surprise: you get a frosty glass of water flavored with lemon and mint as soon as you sit down.

Then I start to wonder, what the heck is Brazilian food? Brazil is so huge you’ve got pampas and you’ve got jungle. I mean, where do you start?

“Street food,” says Juliano. “That’s what we do. We’re the only Brazilian place that does everyday Brazilian street food: the beans and rice and tapioca and monkfish and chicken and eggplant parmigiana and beef strip, things that are comfort food for any Brazilian. And there are 37,000 of us living in San Diego.”

He says he and his partner started off in the farmers’ markets here, serving Brazilian street dishes like coxinhas, Brazilian chicken croquettes, and pão de queijo (cheese bread). Now that they’ve come here, they can expand the choices.

He hands me the menu. The main deal is the “House Speciality.” It has 15 versions. All cost the same: $7.

Deal!

Juliano

“Step 1,” it says. “Choose your pastry.” Like, what you’re going to wrap your food in. You’ve got pastel, meaning a kinda bready panini wrap. Then you’ve got the “tapioca crêpe,” or you can use a split croissant.

It’s the tapioca crêpe that grabs me, I guess because of granny. Added benefit: this tapioca ain’t mushy and sweet. It’s crispy. Actually looks like a snowy covering of polystyrene chips.

“This is popular all over Brazil,” Juliano says. “Because tapioca is just healthier. And it’s our native food. Tapioca is a Brazilian plant.”

’Course, tapioca’s just the shell. Now I’ve got to choose what to stuff into it. So, Step 2: “Choose your filling.” You get 15 combo choices, like the “Paulista,” which is chicken stroganoff and mushrooms topped with “shoestring potato chips.” Or the “Gaucho,” seasoned ground beef, green sliced olives and cheese (you can choose from mozzarella, cheddar queso fresco, ricotta, or cream cheese). Or “Amazonas,” sliced hearts of palm tree with oregano, roasted red bell pepper, and cheese. Or the “Curitiba” (smoked sausage, sliced onions, and cheese). Or the “Floripa” (spinach, bell pepper, corn, cheese). Or even the “San Diego,” where you just go ahead and build your own.

Brazilian pot pie

I opt for the “Brasilia,” which is basically vegetarian (it has artichoke, cheese, pesto, nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes). Except the whole purity thing breaks down when I ask for protein, in the form of chicken ($1 extra), just because I’m hungry, and Mauricio, the guy helping Juliano today, says it really makes this crêpe sing.

And, OMG, he’s right. The crispy-crunchy tapioca shell is the first totally new thing I’ve had in ages. Plus, the mess of artichoke, nuts, the crispy melted mozzarella, the chicken chunks...I mean, it’s huge. You get a nice side salad with it, too.

Is it my imagination? I’m feeling I’m getting a feeling for the slightly jungly flavors that have grown out of that giant chunk of South America they call Brazil.

Pretty soon, Mauricio and Juliano are teaching me to sing the “Girl from Ipanema” in Portuguese (“Garota de Ipanema”). This is when a girl comes in speaking Portuguese. Deyse. Brazilian. “I’m studying English here,” she says.

Also, turns out she comes from Manaus, that fabled city in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. “La garota de Manaus!” says Juliano. “She comes in every day for her comfort food, right?”

“Right,” says Deyse.

Man. Love the atmosphere. Juliano brings around samples of coxinhas (creamy little deep-fried spud-chicken-cream-cheese combos) and pão de queijo (bite-sized cheese breads like mini flying saucers) that they make for customers. Now I’m determined to come back for their lunch buffet.

Rich, savory pies are a Brazilian tradition

You get the feeling that Brazilian food is basically a bunch of local plays on European foods, specially Italian and Portuguese, just because so many immigrants came from there. Fun starts when you throw in local foods like açaí and tapioca, both from the Amazonian area of Brazil. They call tapioca “Brazilian arrowroot.”

Now, it seems half the world depends on tapioca. And bubble tea shops everywhere have given it a new lease on life.

And probably every granny in the world still does what mine did. Forcing that frog spawn down innocent young throats.

Sigh. If she had only given us tapioca crêpe.


Prices: Açaí bowl, $7; two coxinhas (potatoes stuffed with chicken, cream cheese), $5; Brazilian pot pie, salad, $8.50; house specialty (choice of 15 fillings, three wraps including tapioca crêpe), including the Paulista (chicken stroganoff, mushrooms, shoestring potatoes), $7; the Gaucho (ground beef, olives, cheese), $7; Amazonas (hearts of palm, bell pepper, cheese); the Curitiba (smoked sausage, onions, cheese), $7; the Brasilia, (artichoke, cheese, pesto, nuts, dried tomatoes), $7; lunch buffet (beef, chicken, pork or fish with grains, salads, veggies), $8.90

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday; closed Sundays

Buses: All downtown

Nearest bus stops: Broadway and 9th

Trolleys: Orange and Blue Lines

Nearest trolley stop: City College

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

African Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Don't Sleep on Samuel Coleridge-Tayor
Next Article

Local waterfalls are pumping, Big surf moves sand

Brown pelicans show breeding plummage
The Brasilia tapioca crêpe
The Brasilia tapioca crêpe
Place

Samba Brazilian Cuisine

819 C Street, San Diego

Old frontage made sexy again
Trolleys add atmosphere to dining

Frog spawn?

Oh, no. I stare at my bowl.

“Eat your tapioca!”

This is grandma, standing over the table, back in the day. The treat we kids always dreaded: tapioca pudding that looked like frog spawn.

It all comes rushing back as I stare at this menu here. “Tapioca crêpe,” it reads.

“It’s really popular in Brazil,” says Juliano. “And we’re the first place in San Diego to have it.”

His place is named “Samba,” and it’s right here downtown, in a little clump of cafés that look out to where red trolleys rumble past every few minutes.

Sponsored
Sponsored

This one is right where a sign reads, “Sidewalk Closed,” because the Churchill Hotel next door is being gutted and turned into low-income apartments. The Churchill’s a survivor: it opened 100 years ago (1914, actually — for the Panama-California Exposition).

The fact is, I worried for these guys’ survival the moment I saw their new sign go up. Not enough foot traffic here between downtown and City College.

Pão de queijo

But Samba looks like it means business. They’ve given the façade a pale green paint job, spruced up the patio with lime-green umbrellas, and covered the off-white and green walls inside with photos by local artists and have even slung a gnarly woven-wood longboard above the entrance.

First nice surprise: you get a frosty glass of water flavored with lemon and mint as soon as you sit down.

Then I start to wonder, what the heck is Brazilian food? Brazil is so huge you’ve got pampas and you’ve got jungle. I mean, where do you start?

“Street food,” says Juliano. “That’s what we do. We’re the only Brazilian place that does everyday Brazilian street food: the beans and rice and tapioca and monkfish and chicken and eggplant parmigiana and beef strip, things that are comfort food for any Brazilian. And there are 37,000 of us living in San Diego.”

He says he and his partner started off in the farmers’ markets here, serving Brazilian street dishes like coxinhas, Brazilian chicken croquettes, and pão de queijo (cheese bread). Now that they’ve come here, they can expand the choices.

He hands me the menu. The main deal is the “House Speciality.” It has 15 versions. All cost the same: $7.

Deal!

Juliano

“Step 1,” it says. “Choose your pastry.” Like, what you’re going to wrap your food in. You’ve got pastel, meaning a kinda bready panini wrap. Then you’ve got the “tapioca crêpe,” or you can use a split croissant.

It’s the tapioca crêpe that grabs me, I guess because of granny. Added benefit: this tapioca ain’t mushy and sweet. It’s crispy. Actually looks like a snowy covering of polystyrene chips.

“This is popular all over Brazil,” Juliano says. “Because tapioca is just healthier. And it’s our native food. Tapioca is a Brazilian plant.”

’Course, tapioca’s just the shell. Now I’ve got to choose what to stuff into it. So, Step 2: “Choose your filling.” You get 15 combo choices, like the “Paulista,” which is chicken stroganoff and mushrooms topped with “shoestring potato chips.” Or the “Gaucho,” seasoned ground beef, green sliced olives and cheese (you can choose from mozzarella, cheddar queso fresco, ricotta, or cream cheese). Or “Amazonas,” sliced hearts of palm tree with oregano, roasted red bell pepper, and cheese. Or the “Curitiba” (smoked sausage, sliced onions, and cheese). Or the “Floripa” (spinach, bell pepper, corn, cheese). Or even the “San Diego,” where you just go ahead and build your own.

Brazilian pot pie

I opt for the “Brasilia,” which is basically vegetarian (it has artichoke, cheese, pesto, nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes). Except the whole purity thing breaks down when I ask for protein, in the form of chicken ($1 extra), just because I’m hungry, and Mauricio, the guy helping Juliano today, says it really makes this crêpe sing.

And, OMG, he’s right. The crispy-crunchy tapioca shell is the first totally new thing I’ve had in ages. Plus, the mess of artichoke, nuts, the crispy melted mozzarella, the chicken chunks...I mean, it’s huge. You get a nice side salad with it, too.

Is it my imagination? I’m feeling I’m getting a feeling for the slightly jungly flavors that have grown out of that giant chunk of South America they call Brazil.

Pretty soon, Mauricio and Juliano are teaching me to sing the “Girl from Ipanema” in Portuguese (“Garota de Ipanema”). This is when a girl comes in speaking Portuguese. Deyse. Brazilian. “I’m studying English here,” she says.

Also, turns out she comes from Manaus, that fabled city in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. “La garota de Manaus!” says Juliano. “She comes in every day for her comfort food, right?”

“Right,” says Deyse.

Man. Love the atmosphere. Juliano brings around samples of coxinhas (creamy little deep-fried spud-chicken-cream-cheese combos) and pão de queijo (bite-sized cheese breads like mini flying saucers) that they make for customers. Now I’m determined to come back for their lunch buffet.

Rich, savory pies are a Brazilian tradition

You get the feeling that Brazilian food is basically a bunch of local plays on European foods, specially Italian and Portuguese, just because so many immigrants came from there. Fun starts when you throw in local foods like açaí and tapioca, both from the Amazonian area of Brazil. They call tapioca “Brazilian arrowroot.”

Now, it seems half the world depends on tapioca. And bubble tea shops everywhere have given it a new lease on life.

And probably every granny in the world still does what mine did. Forcing that frog spawn down innocent young throats.

Sigh. If she had only given us tapioca crêpe.


Prices: Açaí bowl, $7; two coxinhas (potatoes stuffed with chicken, cream cheese), $5; Brazilian pot pie, salad, $8.50; house specialty (choice of 15 fillings, three wraps including tapioca crêpe), including the Paulista (chicken stroganoff, mushrooms, shoestring potatoes), $7; the Gaucho (ground beef, olives, cheese), $7; Amazonas (hearts of palm, bell pepper, cheese); the Curitiba (smoked sausage, onions, cheese), $7; the Brasilia, (artichoke, cheese, pesto, nuts, dried tomatoes), $7; lunch buffet (beef, chicken, pork or fish with grains, salads, veggies), $8.90

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday; closed Sundays

Buses: All downtown

Nearest bus stops: Broadway and 9th

Trolleys: Orange and Blue Lines

Nearest trolley stop: City College

Comments
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Some Kind of Nightmare tours while Social Spit stays home

The difference between young and old punk rockers
Next Article

Bell Bluff project near Alpine creeps into Cleveland Forest

Needs bridge across Sweetwater River; egress blocked by Powerlink
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close