In Brazil, one of the most popular and low-key places to eat is at a comida por kilo (pay-by-weight eateries). You’ll find them all over Brazil, on suburban corners, beside beaches and on nearly every block in the city centre. Some are just a few tables and a buffet serving traditional black beans, meat and rice; others are more elaborate and include sushi and seafood platters. But all of them, no matter location or style, work the same way: you choose what you want from the buffet, take it to the counter and pay a price based on weight.

La Favela is Sydney’s version of a comida por kilo and, since Daniela Sandoval and Jake Gulliver opened it in 2017, it’s been one of the most popular Brazilian hangouts in the city. Go on a weekend and you’ll see what we mean. There’s often a wait to get in and then again to access the buffet. The tables are full, it’s loud and jovial, and on some Fridays they even manage to jam a band into the back room.

The buffet is different every day but usually includes 15 dishes and a few sweets. It’s not strictly Brazilian but expect many of the country’s staples: feijoada (a stew of black beans and any number of ingredients but usually pork and sausage), rice, tropeiro (a salad of beans and sausage covered in dried, shredded cassava), grilled rump steaks, pasta (extremely common in Brazilian restaurants and homes), fried cheese balls and coxinha (creamy chicken croquettes). You pay $30 per kilo (most people get around 500 grams) or $30 for all you can eat.

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The food is simple but you get the sense it isn’t the only, or maybe even the main, reason people are here. Before we’d even seen the restaurant we were told multiple times by many Brazilians that La Favela was loved because it was so reminiscent of something they’d lost moving here. Not just the por kilos, but the community they provide, and all the other hangouts they miss from back in Brazil.

So, like many of the Brazilians who eat here, we were surprised to hear Sandoval isn’t Brazilian, and neither is her business partner. Sandoval is Argentinian and Gulliver was born in Australia. When we ask her how they came to open a Brazilian restaurant, she gives us a surprising answer: “I had a Brazilian boyfriend. He left me. I cried for three months. I went to my best friend’s house crying [Gulliver] and I said, ‘Let's do something. I want to invest in something to think about something else’. That day we had the idea to open a Brazilian restaurant.”

Neither of them had hospitality experience, nor could they cook. “We told the real estate we did,” she says with a laugh. “But no, I’d never even worked as a waitress. Jake is the same. The first few weeks were scary. I was on the cash register; he worked in the kitchen as a dish washer.”

We ask Sandoval if she would have opened La Favela if it wasn’t for that break up. “No,” she says laughing. “I had to do something; it was the first time I’d fallen in love. I was waking up crying. I couldn’t keep going like that.”

La Favela
227 Bondi Road, Bondi
(02) 8057 1439

Mon to Fri 12pm–4pm
Sat & Sun 12pm–6pm

This is another edition of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.