Cruising well below the speed limit along the listless sweep of Montrose Shopping Park’s restaurant row there are timeworn Mexican American restaurants, an Italian American spot advertising chicken piccata on the A-frame chalkboard, and perhaps the last place you would expect to find a slice of Brazilian nightlife. “There are a lot of Brazilians here in Montrose, you’d be surprised,” says chef Tony Park, a Korean-Brazilian from Sao Paulo, who along with his wife, Joyce Kim, opened their Brazilian skewers shop Valeu Espetos three months ago right near the eastern edge of Honolulu Avenue. Surprisingly, 60 percent of their customers are Brazilian, with some Korean-Brazilians, and the rest curious locals walking down Honolulu drawn to the restaurant’s vivid green and yellow sign.
Many of those pedestrians snap pictures from their phones, and make a note to come by another evening. A pair of Argentine women pass by noting the Brazilian theme and stop to speak with Park, as he stands on the sidewalk talking to our table. “Brazilian food, wow, that’s great but why do you close at 8 p.m.? It should be 9 p.m., come on,” says one of the women in Spanish, laughing along with Park about the earlier American dinner time in this tranquil stretch of “Main Street USA.” Park responds in very good Spanish that evenings are slow. One would expect to see espetinhos, or little skewers, at street fairs in Sao Paulo, or at the Lapa night market in Rio de Janeiro grilling to the sounds of funk carioca. In Brazil, espetinhos are a late-night meal, and while the early closure here may annoy a few South Americans in the neighborhood, Park can offer something very few Brazilian bar food restaurants in LA have — cold beer.
Valeu is Brazilian slang for thanks, or okay, as well as a wide range of meanings, which seems fitting because Park is thankful that a week ago his beer and wine license came through. Brazilian skewers without cerveja bem gelada (very cold beer) is like Carnival without dancing. Recently, other Brazilian restaurants like Panela’s have acquired liquor licenses, and while they have great food, places like Brazilian Plate House and Cantinho Brasileiro are missing a dose of the drinking culture. During the pandemic, Park spent time researching Brazilian skewers in his hometown of Sao Paulo, where he was raised from the ages of one to 31. “I tried everything from the lowest to the highest,” says Park, even going to the snazzy chain Quintal do Espeto in Moema, located in an upscale, verdant neighborhood near Ibirapuera Park. The menu here in Montrose is pretty straightforward, with skewers and sides made using quality cuts of meat.
In terms of what to order, get the combo, which comes with a set of three skewers, salgadinho (savory croquette), Park’s clever pao de queijo waffles, vinaigrette (tomato salad), and manioc flour. Every meal comes with a bottle of Park’s creamy, spicy pimenta (hot sauce), which he makes using a blend of 10 different chiles, including Brazilian malagueta. Crispy pork belly (panceta) is Park’s favorite, followed by juicy coração de frango — chicken hearts that are a must on any Brazilian skewer menu. Park also recommends the lightly sweet bulgogi beef skewer, a nod to his Korean roots. Don’t be afraid to dust the skewers with farofa, which at Valeu Espetos is raw manioc flour, called farinha de mandioca, then apply hot sauce and vinaigrette to eat the Brazilian way. It’s also good to add a side of rice and salad, both of which are essential items at Brazilian skewer kiosks. And keep the beer coming, because happy hour in Brazil is a table covered in empty bottles that form a fortress around the grub.
The thing customers will likely flip over is the pao de queijo, which Park makes by blending three cheeses with manioc starches and quickly finishing them to order in a mini waffle iron, yielding soft, chewy Brazilian cheese bread that’s without peer in LA. Regulars also love the frango à passarinho, the ubiquitous fried chicken thighs found on practically every appetizer menu in Brazil. The crispy chicken pieces are well charred on the outside, yet tender on the inside. “[The skewers are] good, but I’m going to get better,” says Park, who is anxiously waiting for Montrose to approve his charcoal grill imported from Brazil, which will add the flavor of smoky skewers one would see at backyard barbecues, beach grill vendors, and on city streets throughout Brazil.
Park spent decades working in his family’s garment business in Brazil, Texas, and LA, before a downturn in the company led him to open his first restaurant. “I’ve always loved cooking, and grew up making espetinhos. Everyone in Brazil does,” says Park. “Montrose has been very supportive; they wrote about us when we opened in their newsletter [and] invited us to meetings. I’m pretty sure they’re going to come through for us on the charcoal grill,” Park says. In LA’s urban sprawl, there are skewers everywhere, from satay in Thaitown, to yakitori in Little Tokyo, to Armenian kabobs next door in Glendale. But an espetinho of chicken hearts sprinkled with manioc flour and lots of Park’s hot sauce, then chased by a cold beer, are the closest you can come in LA to a hot, balmy night seated on plastic chairs on a Brazilian promenade.
2232 Honolulu Ave, La Crescenta-Montrose, (818) 369-7277