“People come in and ask us to name our top Brazilian ingredients on pizzas, and we tell them: chicken with catupiry [Brazilian cream cheese], calabresa [Brazilian pork sausage], heart of palm — and then they ask for a pepperoni pizza,” says Natalia Vassovimho, co-founder of Sampa’s Gourmet Pizza Co. along with her husband Gustavo Siqueira and chef Marcus Roberto. The trio opened the first location in 2018 in Lomita and a second in Marina Del Rey in 2019.
Siquiera, who is originally from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, settled in São Paulo where he met Vassovimho. She was a member of the gym where he worked as a personal trainer. The two connected over pizzas in the Bixiga neighborhood of São Paulo and soon fell in love. When the couple relocated to LA in 2016 and reconnected with Roberto whom they met at a party in 2006, the Brazilian expats decided to open a traditional Brazilian pizzeria together, a longtime dream of Siqueria’s.
São Paulo is the pizza capital of Brazil. Pizza was first introduced by Italian immigrants who arrived in large numbers starting in the mid-1800s. Today, Brazil’s largest city is only second to New York City in the number of pizzas consumed daily, with over 572,000 produced each day. The thin-crusted pies are densely covered in a variety of local ingredients with lots of cheese. “In Brazilian pizza, we don’t use canned San Marzano tomatoes; instead we add a light spread of cooked, fresh tomatoes with some salt and oregano. The toppings are the most important,” says Siqueira. Popular combinations in Sampa (a nickname for São Paulo) include chicken with catupiry; calabresa with onions and olives; pizza Margherita with Brazilian-style tomato sauce; and pizza portuguesa with presunto (ham), hard-boiled eggs, onions, green olives, and mussarela (mozzarella). Sampa’s Gourmet Pizza Co. offers these combinations at both locations.
Brazilian pizzas can be ordered half and half, where one side swims in mussarela, catupiry, corn, and chicken, while the other is layered with portuguesa, several cheeses, and heart of palm. Sampa’s Gourmet Pizza Co. also serves Brazilian dessert pizzas topped with strawberry and Nutella, as well as the classic guava paste and cheese, which is known as Romeo and Juliet, or Romeu é Julieta in Portuguese.
The stark difference of Brazilian-style pizza raises the question of who shaped the menu at Sampa’s. Roberto earned his bragging rights by winning the title of “Best Brazilian Pizza Chef in the World” in 2017 and 2019. He was also named the Best Pizza Chef Outside of Italy in 2019 at the prestigious World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy. Though Roberto stepped back from daily chef duties to devote his attention to his Personal Pizza Chef catering business, he continues to serve as a consultant to maintain quality and add menu items. He remains close friends with Siqueira and Vassovimho in their shared mission to convert Angelenos to Brazilian pizza fans.
“At first we had mostly Brazilian customers, and then in Lomita, we started to get Japanese diners, many who told us that our pizza is very close to theirs back in Japan,” says Vassovimho. For customers less familiar with Brazilian-style pizza, there’s a short menu of American-style and traditional Italian pizzas, using the same Brazilian crust recipe, which is made with Caputo 00 flour and fired in an Italforni stone conveyor oven that cooks at 700 degrees.
“Brazilian pizza has fun toppings, and back in São Paulo it was a Sunday ritual for my family, so we try to bring a happy atmosphere to our pizzeria,” says Vassovimho. While it’s been a challenge convincing non-Brazilians to try their pizzas, Sampa’s has succeeded as one of the only Brazilian pizzerias in the Los Angeles area — patiently and passionately getting their regulars to take a chance on cheesy, top-heavy pizzas. (Roma in the Palms neighborhood, formerly known as Bella Vista, also serves Brazilian-style pizzas.) With many Brazilian customers traveling from Huntington Beach, Sampa’s plans to expand there soon. “In the U.S., people are more used to fast-food pizza to-go, but we have wine, beer, Guaraná (a popular soda based on the Amazonian fruit), and pizzas made with fresh ingredients,” says Vassovimho. It’s a real slice of Sâo Paulo in Los Angeles.
Sampa’s Pizza. 2413 Pacific Coast Highway, #107, Lomita, (424) 263-5750; 534 Washington Boulevard, Marina Del Rey, (310) 827-4500.