Boteco brings an authentic piece of Brazil to Austin

Francesca D'Annunzio

When Fernando Marri came from Minas Gerais, Brazil, to the United States to study English, he did not imagine he would one day open a food truck in East Austin inside a revamped FedEx delivery truck.

Boteco is a food truck in East Austin that serves authentic Brazilian food, such as pastel de queijo, a fried empanada with melted cheese inside, or picanha grelhada, a rice and bean bowl with medium rare steak, onion and yuca in it. Marri said he and his wife Lauren noticed there was not a market for Brazilian food in Austin aside from Brazilian steakhouses and followed an intuitive calling to fill a void in the market.

“We noticed there weren’t any Brazilian food trucks in Austin,” Marri said. “The (Brazilian) steakhouses aren’t things we eat everyday either. The market was saturated with Mexican food and taco trucks.”

Marri said he has a background in music, not in business, but that did not impede his plans to find a place in Austin’s Brazilian food market. Marri planned Boteco as a unique and valuable addition to the diverse food options available in Austin because Brazilian food brings in influences from so many different cultures.

“If you think about Brazilian food, you can’t describe it in a couple of ingredients,” Marri said. “Brazil has a huge Italian community, the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, the biggest Lebanese community outside of Lebanon … There are also a lot of Germans, native Brazilians, and that creates a unique cuisine.”

Marri said Boteco had trouble catering to non-Brazilian customers when the business first opened. He also said since most Austinites are more accustomed to eating Mexican or Tex-Mex food, sometimes they don’t understand what Boteco is all about.

“At first it was difficult, people are not willing to step out of their comfort zone,” Marri said. “People are really skeptical about it (and were) asking for burritos or tortillas when they order feijoada.”

Customers said what Boteco has to offer is not comparable to Mexican food. Juan Cataldo, Diego Bessa, Eliana Perez and Itzel Rodriguez — all residents of Houston — visited Austin this weekend and ate at Boteco because of its high ratings on Yelp. Perez, a self-proclaimed picky eater, said she was surprised at how much she and her friends liked Boteco’s food.

“We were not disappointed,” Perez said. “It doesn’t compare to Mexican food. There are really no similarities. It’s not as spicy.”

Marri said he would not compare the two cuisines. He said the ingredients in Brazilian cuisine can vary a lot, especially region to region, and include things ranging from tomatoes, cheese, cilantro and olive oil to pork lard, pig ears, dende, tucupi and chimichurri, and he associates Mexican food more with tacos and tortillas.

Bessa, originally from Goiânia, Brazil, said the food was really authentic.

“The only difference is that the pastels in Brazil are bigger. The ones here are tame in comparison,” Bessa said.

The Brazilian community in Austin isn’t the only group that loves Boteco — Marri proudly noted that Boteco catered some of the McConaughey family’s parties.

“(Matthew McConaughey’s) wife, Camila, is from my hometown, Belo Horizonte,” Marri said. “Since (cooking for their parties), things really changed.”

Marri also pays close attention to detail in order to give their customers a taste of Brazil that goes beyond just the food. When customers approach the Boteco truck, they will hear songs in Brazilian Portuguese with the cavaquinho, an instrument similar to the ukulele in size and shape, playing in the background.

“We try to tell a story about Brazil. Every little detail has a place. It’s got personality and it’s got meaning,” Marri said. “That’s really what made us successful.”