Left to right: vegan, sausage, chicken, and picanha skewers.
When I think about Brazilian skewers, my first thought is always of all you can eat churrascarias, such as downtown restaurants Rei Do Gado and Fogo de Chão, where you pay a flat rate to sit at a table, while servers bring all manner of grilled meats, on demand.
3803 Fifth Avenue, San Diego
I hadn’t encountered a casual version until I walked into Espettos Brazilian Skewers, in Hillcrest. The small counter shop serves skewers at three bucks a pop, meaning you can gorge on Brazilian churrasco without committing to a full evening of gluttony for $40 and up.
Brazilian street food in Hillcrest
You may complement the grilled meats with other Brazilian specialties. I ordered yucca fries, and a six-piece coxinha, which is a croquette of chicken and cream cheese, stuffed in a ball of fried mashed potato. Both were tasty — crispy on the outside and soft within — though I suspect they were made from packaged products, as was a sausage skewer made from store-bought kielbasa.
The other skewer options include top sirloin beef, chicken thighs, and a vegan skewer of onion, zucchini, red bell pepper, and eggplant. For a little extra you can try peeled shrimp or picanha, the prized sirloin cap of South American barbecue.
I went for picanha, chicken, and vegan. True to form, the meats and vegetables were unseasoned save for salt, and cooked well done. Of these ingredients, I think the eggplant could have used a little more grill time.
Now, the sirloin flavor holds up on its own. But, if you’re thinking the chicken and vegetables wanted a little more seasoning, you’re not alone. Espettos provides farofa (fried yucca flour) for added flavor and crunchy texture, and gives you a pick of four different sauces to embellish the skewers: BBQ, honey mustard, aioli, and chimichurri. I went with the latter two. While the oily and herbal chimichurri worked well with chicken and beef, the garlicky aioli better served the vegetables. Neither were exceptional, but I do dig that farofa.
Overall, the experience was like that: everything good, nothing exceptional. I did notice most of my fellow customers were speaking Portuguese, so at least some in the Brazilian community are finding the place well.
Espettos offers reasonable daily lunch specials, but I like it best as a quick snack option. Drop in for a couple of skewers for six bucks, after a drink nearby, in between browsing the block’s thrift stores, or before catching a movie up the street. Maybe add a piece of bread to make your skewer into a sandwich. Basically, I’m glad I can eat Brazilian churrasco without feeling the pressure to stuff myself silly.