The smell of lunch rising from the takeout bag in my passenger seat is almost too much to bear, and I want to pull over to sneak a steaming pão de queijo or a beef croquette from its insulating styrofoam clamshell. But soon I'm home with an array of Brazilian snacks laid out on my kitchen counter. In addition to the pão de queijo, a gluten-free cheese bun made with cassava flour, and the dark-brown croquettes, there are regular French fries, yuca fries, and a steak sandwich dripping with melty cheese and cilantro-garlic sauce.
The lunchtime haul comes from Aroma do Brazil, which opened last spring at 10722 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora, just as the coronavirus pandemic was shutting down dining rooms across the state. The little eatery persisted through the summer, relying on its takeout business and the Aroma do Brazil food truck, which had served food in the sprawling strip-mall parking lot in front before the restaurant opened.
Dine-in business is back, but the narrow dining room only has a few tables, now separated by a temporary wall separating guests from what had been an open kitchen. Still, the Brazilian restaurant's menu encompasses homey entrees as well as more street-style offerings, so sitting down for dinner isn't a bad way to go if you're up to dining out in public.
The cuisine of Brazil is as vast and varied as the country itself, with its rainforests, grasslands, mountains, rivers and thousands of miles of coastline. But most Brazilian restaurants in the U.S. generally stick with a pretty limited repertoire — most likely beef, and lots of it. Big steakhouse chains like Rodizio Grill and Fogo de Chão have set expectations, but there's more to Brazilian cooking than just steaks. The longstanding Cafe Brazil in northwest Denver has shown that with its seafood-heavy menu punctuated by tropical ingredients, among them dende oil, colorful chiles, coconut and sweet plantain.
Aroma do Brazil falls somewhere in between: It's a churrasco — specializing in grilled meats — but there are also plenty of dishes that lean toward hearty home cooking. My lunch leaned heavily on the fried side of the menu, mostly because I wanted to build my own sampler platter. Brazilian beef croquettes are a unique interpretation of the French original; the filling is made of slow-cooked, shredded beef that's mixed with seasonings and flour before being breaded and fried. The result is crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, as if someone had figured out how to make a tater tot out of meat. The pão de queijo offer a chewy center from plenty of cheese mixed into the dough before the golf-ball-sized buns are baked.
The restaurant's steak sandwich comes on a grilled burger bun, so it's crisp and toasty on the outside. Bite-sized pieces of tender sirloin keep the sandwich intact, so you're not pulling out long strips of beef with each bite. Arugula, tomato and grilled onion add flavor, and two kinds of cheese hold everything together. The mayo-based cilantro-garlic sauce makes things a little messy; more of it comes on the side for dipping fries and croquettes.
Daily specials at the restaurant range from Brazilian classics like Sunday's feijoada (black-bean stew served with multiple accoutrements) and Saturday's moqueca (a creamy fish stew) to chicken stroganoff, milanesa and beef stew on other days of the week. Steak is available, of course, especially in the combo plates that come with rice, beans and salad.
If you go for a sit-down meal, Aroma do Brazil has a full range of desserts and beer, wine and cocktails, so you can have a complete dinner experience beyond my lunch on the go. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Wednesday, and stays open until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 720-422-3881 to place an order or 720-242-6562 for reservations; visit aromaofbrazil.com for details.