Brazilian beach culture meets SoCal beach culture in El Segundo’s new dining
By Maureen Kingsley and Jenifer Antonelli
Attention to detail is important, particularly for an eatery that prides itself on authenticity and devotion to a particular culture. At Tapizôn, El Segundo’s new “Tropi-Cali” restaurant co-owned by Eric Petterson and Almir Araújo, countless thoughtful details make all the difference, adding up to a uniquely immersive dining experience that stimulates the senses. “Búzios, Rio de Janeiro meets El Segundo here at Tapizôn,” Eric explained to us on a recent visit to the tropical oasis located at the corner of Main Street and Pine Avenue. “El Segundo’s beach culture blends beautifully with Rio’s beach culture,” he continued, pointing to the temperate climate and laid-back coastal vibes shared by the two cities.
Begun by the pair three years ago and finally open to the public in December of 2021 (after many building upgrades and some pandemic-related downtime), Tapizôn has been a true labor of love for the co-owners, whose knowledge of and respect for authentic Brazilian culture is evident in the restaurant’s menu and décor. Visitors to Tapizôn first encounter the lush exterior landscaping that spans the perimeter of the lot and is dotted with rock formations and artwork, including a sculpture on the north side made from paulownia wood—a lightweight hardwood used to make surfboards.
The eatery’s entrance, located on the south side of the building as it was for the previous occupant, Main Street Café, is flanked on one side by a 1980s-era, mango-hued Brazilian pay-phone orelhão (“big ear,” pictured), and on the other side by a John Park mural that combines iconography from both Brazil and El Segundo. (John Parkalso painted the “Flying or Falling II” mural just opposite Tapizôn on the north exterior wall of Wilding Wallbeds next door.) A couple of outdoor benches invite visitors to sit and chat while waiting to be seated.
Inside Tapizôn, guests are transported to mid-century Rio, with wicker ceiling fans quietly spinning overhead, walls painted in rich floral hues, and bossa nova tunes issuing from speakers. Just inside the entrance, a beautiful blue butterfly art piece is on display behind the bar—a reference to the blue butterflies native to El Segundo as well as the blue morpho butterflies of Brazil’s rain forests.
During our time at Tapizôn, Almir and Eric seated us on the sheltered patio, which offered views in all directions: out the tall windows, toward the beautifully lit bar, and facing another John Park painting (inspired by Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue). After much anticipation, we were eager to try chef Launeo Nunez’s execution of modern Brazilian cuisine, conceived by Almir and largely centered on tapioca and other products made from cassava root, a Brazilian culinary staple.
We kicked off our meal with a smooth, refreshing cocktail—The 1918 Original Caipirinha, made with cachaca, the popular sugarcane-based spirit of Brazil, and fresh lime juice. (A number of South American wines are available, too, as well as Brazilian beer and some creative non-alcoholic cocktails.) Soon after, a basket of pão de queijo arrived at the table—we were surprised to learn that these cheesy, fluffy buns (pictured) are gluten free, thanks to their reliance on cassava flour. The pão de queijo are delicious served on their own with a smear of Tapizon’s herbaceous avocado butter, but they are also a perfect scaffolding for sliders. We enjoyed smoked-brisket sliders (pictured) with tabasco-glazed onions and fresh yucca fries, with a side of guava-spiked ketchup for dipping. All of Tapizôn’s meats are smoked for twelve hours, Almir says, so they are melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Next up for us was the addictive, crispy-creamy Cheese Dice appetizer served with a spicy-sweet açai sauce. Made with tapioca flour and fried golden brown, these highly snackable fritters were fun to eat and offered a Brazilian twist on the traditional American comfort-food concept.
Because of the menu’s devotion to flours made from cassava root, gluten-free options abound at Tapizôn. For those who don’t eat meat, a variety of vegetarian choices is available as well, including the vegan Caprese Pizzette (an innovative play on pizza, pictured) and the smoked-tofu tapi-tacos (enrobed in tapioca tortillas).
The pratinhos are small bites similar to tapas, and they are meant to be shared—we recommend ordering a few for the table to sample a variety of flavors and textures. And remember to ask your server for the nightly special—depending on the day of the week, it could be fresh fish, steak, or pasta.
For dessert, don’t miss pastry chef Adriana Cymes’ dulce de leche pudding, which is super-creamy and smooth with a hint of spicy cinnamon. Additional offerings include a tres leches cake and an açai sorbet.
The ambiance at Tapizôn makes it a great choice for a date night, but it is family friendly, too. The kids’ menu offers a thoughtful and interesting variety of choices for the little ones, with nary a boring old chicken tender in sight.
We’ll definitely be going back soon to try the full breadth of tapi-tacos, made with tapioca flour so they’re always gluten free, and the tapi-pot-pie.