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Fun, colorful Lula Brazil in Rehoboth is a far cry from the refined, upscale restaurant that Meg Hudson ran in Wilmington. Not that we should feel sorry for her. Hudson has moved on since her divorce from Tom Hudson and Domaine Hudson and has found a comfortable niche in the bustling beach town.

“I love the restaurant and hospitality business and wanted to do something different,” Meg says. “I was an exchange student in Brazil and thought, ‘Why not a Brazilian restaurant?”

But this is not a Fogo de Chão steakhouse experience, where gaucho servers bear succulent skewers of all manner of barbecued meat. Hudson is focusing on Brazilian-inspired coastal cuisine. “My idea was the opposite of that,” she says. “I wanted to show a part of the culture that is not that familiar.”

With more than 4,500 miles of Brazilian coast, she was convinced she could give diners a fresh, approachable taste of the country—one that Rehoboth visitors would appreciate. “It’s a great place for this type of cuisine with clientele from D.C., New York and Philadelphia,” she says. “I felt they would be willing to give it a try.”

Photographs by Steve Legato

The festive colors of the room make Lula Brazil a fun place to gather.

Grilled cod with rice, beans and mixed vegetables.

On a recent Saturday night, I’d have to agree with her. By 7 p.m., the place was rockin’ with guests filling the 110 inside seats. In fact, a well-known Baltimore chef and cookbook author—John Shields of Gertrude’s at the Baltimore Museum of Art—sat at the table next to us, savoring the Brazilian seafood stew, just as we were.

It’s a luscious, fragrant bowl swimming with fish, shrimp, mussels and calamari in a broth reminiscent of the tropics with its coconut milk, dendê oil (palm oil), mixed peppers and onions over soft rice. You can get the soup with just fish, but for $2 extra, you really should go for the mélange of seafood.

The festive colors of the room—turquoise, yellow and lime green—call for a party beverage like a Caipirinha, Brazil’s most popular drink. The spirited libation is made with cachaça, a potent sugarcane liquor, and comes in flavors like classic lime, pineapple and mango. One of these goes a long way. Too many and you may be dancing to the catchy samba beat piped into the dining area.

While ubiquitous fried calamari is on the menu, we opted for the grilled calamari over arugula and lemon vinaigrette. The platter is huge enough to share, though the 12-year-old in our group wanted no parts of the too-lifelike tentacles. Child palates aside, the adults dug happily into the tender squid with sweet undertones.

Lula Brazil’s Brazilian seafood stew.

There is a kids menu for picky eaters, making Lula Brazil a great family place. The kitchen doesn’t shortchange the younger set either. The chicken tenders were thick, juicy hunks that came with a piquant honey mustard dipping sauce and shoestring fries. There’s also penne with marinara sauce and a burger.

Before our main meal, we also sampled the shrimp ceviche—a generous portion of citrusy, marinated seafood with tomatoes and red onions. Or you might want to opt for the charcuterie plate with cured meats, cheeses, guava paste and crostini.

Thank goodness our server was knowledgeable about the food. For instance, there’s a covered dish on the table with a mysterious condiment. He explained to us that the contents are malagueta peppers processed with oil. Use it judiciously. It is very hot and spicy. Again, very hot and spicy.

The pepper measures 60,000-100,000 Scoville units, a measure of hotness. Compare that with hot cherry peppers with a range of 50-500. Now, you understand the caution.­­

The Brazilian cuisine here isn’t all about tongue-tingling heat. Several dishes are “from the grill”—like the picanha (strip steak) with Syrah wine sauce that I tried. It was my only complaint of the evening. The meat should not have been so difficult to cut and chew.

Phylicia Barlett serves dinner.

Grilled steak, sausage and shrimp.

The accompaniments, though, were terrific: traditional rice and black beans and farofa (yucca flour), an intriguing coarse powder that looks like brown sugar but has a nutty flavor. Sprinkle it on your food with abandon. It’s a delicious addition. The fried plantains, a side order, also offered another welcome
component to the meal with a squash-like, slightly sweet flavor.

Desserts sounded so ho-hum when our waiter recited them: chocolate cake, coconut custard and apple tart. They’re house-made, he assured us. We were pleasantly surprised by the beautifully composed plates that appeared in front of us.

The coconut custard, for instance, was a molded confection studded with raisins in a lovely vanilla drizzle touched with caramel and a fat, juicy strawberry on the side. If it’s a beautiful evening, you may want to see if there’s space on the 30-seat, enclosed patio to linger with coffee.

Lula Brazil opened last August in a space formerly occupied by Cloud 9 and has a dance floor where a deejay plays tunes, starting around 9:30 p.m. Hudson wants to keep the identities separate, she says. It shouldn’t be a problem. Before the music cranks up, there’s plenty of time to enjoy lunch, happy hour and dinner at this sweet, innovative restaurant. 

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