Step into Lili’s Brazilian Bistro most any time when the doors are open, and there’s a good chance you’ll find the restaurant’s proprietor and namesake, Lili Da Silva, somewhere within. If she’s not at the front counter—greeting each customer with a disarmingly sincere “Bem-vindo!” (Welcome!)—she’s likely in the kitchen, cooking up recipes passed through her family for generations.
“I do all the cooking,” she said during a recent visit to the new restaurant in downtown Chico. “It’s all traditional, things I learned from my grandma, my mom, my aunts.
“All the women in my family are very good cooks,” she continued, noting that some of her cousins run a catering business and her sister-in-law is “an amazing baker” and chef’s assistant. “I have to say, ‘Thank you,’ especially to my mother and grandma, and all the mom’s I’ve met on my journey who teach me their secrets.”
Da Silva’s journey has carried her from her native Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Chico—which she’s called home since 2016—via a circuitous route. She’d visited America several times, seeing such cities as Miami, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Her fourth visit had a special purpose: Prompted by a favorite aunt’s cancer diagnosis, she attended a multi-day Native American ritual retreat at Point Reyes, on the California coast, and fell in love with the Golden State. She stopped in Las Vegas on her way back home, where she met friends who convinced her to stay in the country.
“Then, God brought me to Chico,” she said. Da Silva opened the bistro on Broadway (in the former home of OM Foods) in June. It’s beautifully appointed, with interesting paintings lining walls painted in bright yellow and a soft, mixed turquoise. One corner of the dining area is decorated with flags, Brazilian drums and other curios from her homeland.
On Saturday evenings, Lili’s hosts dance nights, plus lessons, dedicated to salsa and other Latin American forms, including forró, which originates from northern Brazil.
“We do this dance during Carnival [pre-Lent festivities, like Mardi Gras, held during springtime] and for Festas Juninas, which are celebrations in June,” she said. “For like a month or two, we just dance and go to lots of parties. It’s so fun!”
I haven’t made it to a dance night yet, but I did visit one recent Monday evening for a Brazilian dinner. My companion and I kicked off our meal with the pão de queijo ($6)—a round of traditional (and tasty!) Brazilian cheese bread—from the appetizer menu and washed it down with a can of Guaraná Antarctica, a refreshing soft drink made from guaraná fruit.
I’ll admit my knowledge of and previous experience with Brazilian food is limited to a few visits to an all-you-can-eat steak joint at a mall in the Inland Empire. My companion and I opted for more familiar dishes that were highly recommended by friends who frequent Lili’s—strogonoff and lasanha Brazilian (each $18 a plate).
Though they resembled the more commonly consumed (in America) Russian and Italian versions of beef stroganoff and lasagne, there were subtle differences that made them unique. Most prominently, the strogonoff was chicken-based, with the delicious creamy, meaty, mushroom sauce served over rice instead of pasta, with a fresh vegetable salad on the side. The lasanha was made with ground beef, lots of cheese, tomato sauce and a lovely blend of garlic and spices. My dining companion used a perfect descriptor, appropriately referring to both meals as “gentle”—which doesn’t usually come to mind when I imagine these dishes, but described both of Lili’s versions well.
There’s plenty more to check out at Lili’s, including more traditional items such as the feijoada, a black-bean and pork stew. I’m particularly excited to try the soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch, especially the sandwich de frango ($12 and featuring mushrooms, chicken, cream cheese, garlic and onion). The desserts also sound (and look, in pictures posted to online social media) delectable.
Overall, Lili’s Brazilian Bistro is a great place for an interesting introduction, or a deeper dive, into the culture of Brazil and to enjoy a good meal.
“These are parts of my culture I want to share,” Da Silva said. “The dancing, and of course the food.”
Lili’s Brazilian Bistro
Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.