Restaurante & Rotisserie Halim hides somewhat plainly in sight. It has no traditional storefront to speak of, just an open wall and an understated sign above it. All of it tucked along a low-traffic side street in São Paolo’s Paraíso neighborhood, an area better known for genteel parks and highbrow art showings than for its restaurant offerings.
Yet it is almost impossible not to notice it. Credit goes to the glass pastry cabinet just inside. You might not see it at first. That’s fine. The aromas draw you regardless. Shelves and trays stacked with Middle Eastern baked goods, from glazed pistachio-crusted pastries and flaky phyllo treats to doughy flatbreads topped with herbs and meat.
The effect is alluring. And it’s those fist-sized flatbreads—called esfihas—that spoke most loudly. There were two—one topped with ground meat, spices and herbs, the other flecked with sesame seeds and tomato, both with crusts lightly browned and doused with olive oil.
Though cooked earlier, the crusts still were tender and slightly crisp. The meaty topping was a blend of beef, za’atar, onion and allspice. The other was za’atar, olive oil and tomatoes. Both were delicious thanks to a push-and-pull of savory herbs and spices, tangy sumac and creamy-rich tahini.
Restaurante & Rotisserie Halim, it turns out, is a 50-year-old family-run Lebanese bakery. Yasmin Sultan gave me a tour, explained the recipes and introduced me to her grandmother, the woman behind it all.
Almost half a century ago, Nigat Sultan came to Brazil with her husband and child from the central Lebanese town Zahlé. It was supposed to be a three-month visit, but they fell in love with São Paolo and wanted to extend their stay. To pay for it, she started baking and selling the breads she’d grown up with.
It was difficult at first, she said. She’d carry bags of flatbreads shop to shop, but many customers laughed when they didn’t recognize the breads. Once they tasted it, however, things changed. Soon, Nigat and her family were able to rent a house. Later, a shop and an oven. Today, their restaurant bustles. And the recipes are all hers.
The most popular? The esfihas. Simple, yet satisfying. They marry a tender-crisp dough—pizza should be this good!—to toppings with so many layers of contrasting flavors. When I leave, it is with a bag of them under my arm.