Fast-casual Brazilian food cart comes to East Austin

Helen Galli

From a tiny kitchen situated in the the passenger space of a converted tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi all across Asia, a chef sears Brazilian-style meats over a Japanese clay grill.

Boteco Espeteria, located in the front courtyard of Craftsman Bar on East Cesar Chavez Street, held its soft opening last Saturday, July 7. While the full menu includes basics such as vegetables, cheeses and a few desserts, they only debuted their skewers in their soft opening. “Espeteria” means a fast-paced, food-beer style similar to that of a gastropub. Boteco Espeteria’s grand opening will be held this Saturday, July 14, when the full menu will be served.

Owner Fernando Marri has been experimenting with his native cuisine since childhood in Brazil. In the diverse city centers of Brazil, street food is a fusion of many flavors and styles. The Japanese izakaya style of dining was a major influence for Marri, as the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil. The tiny tuk-tuk kitchen is reminiscent of the fast-casual dining atmosphere of the busy city street, which Marri hopes to replicate with Boteco Espeteria.

“The idea for this came from the Yakitori Alley in Tokyo, where so many tuk-tuks even smaller than this one serve food and beer,” Marri said.

Inside the kitchen there are aspects of Japanese culture as well. At the center of the workspace is a small rectangular charcoal grill made from Japanese clay. Iago Lopes is Marri’s sous chef, and a fellow Brazilian who knows this cooking style by heart.

“It’s fun and an interesting grill for the small space,” Lopes said.

Some attending the soft opening knew Marri from his original food truck, Boteco, which is parked not far from this food cart on East Seventh Street and offers a larger menu of Brazilian cuisine. The authenticity of Boteco earned Marri a name among the Brazilian community in Austin.

“My mom owns a restaurant in Brazil,” Marri said. “Since I can remember, I've been in this business. I was born in a kitchen.”

For many, the soft opening was their first time at one of Marri’s food trucks. Since Brazilian food in Austin is reserved for fine-dining experiences, Boteco Espeteria offers an alternative for those looking for fast-casual dining. While Craftsman Bar is only open to patrons 21 and older, the food truck is located outside and available for all ages. Matt Burren can’t go into the bar, but has come here for the Brazilian cuisine.

“It tasted really authentic, and it was fast,” Burren said.

Marri, since living in Austin, has embarked on several entrepreneurial ventures, from music performance to cuisine, and is still looking for new projects to pursue in the future.

“The idea is to bring both of (my food trucks) together to a brick and mortar, where we would only use charcoal, wood, only serve brazilian food properly, and with great drinks,” Marri said.

With the idea for a permanent restaurant on the horizon, and a passion for travel and culture, Marri is working through his to-do list.

“The tuk-tuk has been in the back of my head for a while,” Marri said, “I'm happy to see it here.”