If your encounters with tapioca have been limited to vanilla pudding and bubble tea pearls, then it's time for a trip to Oca, a bright new cafe on Mott Street in Nolita. Founded by four friends from Rio de Janeiro, the restaurant specializes in Brazilian-style crepes made with tapioca—a gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, organic superstarch that's surged in popularity throughout the South American nation over the last half-decade.

"Right now, there's a new tapioca movement: if you went to Brazil five years ago, you'd have to look in specific regions," Oca's co-owner Rafael Guerra said. "But the medical community started to recommend tapioca as a replacement for bread, and the ingredient really caught on."

Tapioca is the dense root of the cassava plant, and is used as an alternative to flour across Brazil, particularly in its densely-forested northern region. A longtime staple of indigenous cooking, it's now easily found in trendy crepe cafes in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero. In those kitchens (and at Oca) tapioca is mixed with water and heated over a skillet until it cooks into a flat, hardened shell. Filled with sweet or savory ingredients and folded over, the final product is crispy and delicious with the added plus of being very healthy. Almost aggressively healthy.

Oca's storefront on Mott Street (Scott Heins/Gothamist)

Tapioca powder on its way to becoming an Oca crepe (Scott Heins/Gothamist)

"The first two groups that grabbed the concept was the fashion industry and the fitness industry. One thing led to another," Guerra said over a bowl of Oca Bites—crispy morsels of tapioca, potato, and olive oil. Wellness is a constant theme at Oca. The menu features numerous vegan and vegetarian crepes, salads, acai bowls, and organic juices.

Crepes at Oca range from $9.50 to $14.50 for crepes stuffed with portobello mushrooms and tomato, or grilled bananas with honey and red pepper. Inside, the shop has been decorated like a gorgeous seaside spa with simple blonde wood fixtures and lush plants hung from the ceiling. It's obvious that careful design planning went into the making of Oca, but Guerra and his partners consider it just the beginning.

(Scott Heins/Gothamist)

"The way to introduce the habit of eating tapioca that we selected is to have the experience coming here," he said. "So now we can educate the audience, we can try, they can understand, and then they can take it home and do whatever they want with it." In the coming weeks, Oca will expand its hours and begin offering home delivery. Longer-term plans include multiple storefronts, a catering operation, and a retail business for bulk tapioca powder.

"Having a bag of white edible powder doesn't make a lot of sense. But coming in here and being told, 'You can take this home and do it with Nutella, with turkey, whatever you feel like,' then it's much clearer," Guerra said.

"It was regional, it became national, and now we are documented proof that it's an international movement." Guerra said with a smile.

Oca is located at 250 Mott Street near the corner of Prince Street in NoLita // Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. // Website