Everybody goes home filled and satisfied after visiting a Brazilian steakhouse, also known as a churrascaria! Diners will not see the traditional menus in American steakhouses because churrascarias have a unique way of serving food, known as rodizio. Basically, the servers come to the tables with their skewers of grilled meats and knives, ask the diners their preferred cuts, and slice the meat directly into their plates.
These restaurants are best described as a carnivore’s heaven with their fixed price all-you-can-eat meat selections. The meats include those that carnivores will want on their plates including grilled beef, pork, chicken, and lamb; seafood may be added but not as frequently as the meats. The servers also bring many traditional side dishes, such as fried plantains, polenta, mashed potatoes and rice, and pão de queijo (i.e., bread rolls with cheese stuffing).
Of the increasingly crowded Brazilian steakhouse market in the United States, there are three names that stand out – Fogo de Chão, Texas de Brazil, and Chama Gaucha. While these adopt the same rodizio practices, these three also have their differences.
Fogo de Chão
Diners looking for a fine dining experience in a Brazilian steakhouse should visit Fogo de Chão, a name meaning “fire of ground” that refers to the traditional method of roasting various types of meat over an open fire. Keep in mind that the restaurants are full-service churrascarias so the services will be different from their casual dining competitors.
You have to make reservations so that you can be seated as soon as you come into your restaurant of choice. Otherwise, you may have to wait for 30 minutes or more to get a table. You also have waiters who are knowledgeable about the menu, as well as courteous and competent so your dining experience will always be pleasurable.
Every table is also already provided with several choices in sides, such as the cheesy breads, fried plantains, and mashed potatoes. Diners can also get their salads from the salad bar, which has all sorts of vegetables, fruits, deli meats, cheeses, and lox in containers.
But like the traditional churrascarias, the servers also come to the tables upon the signal of the diners, ask about their preferred meats, and slice them straight into their plates. There are at least 16 cuts of fire-roasted meats available.
As a fine dining establishment, a Fogo de Chão restaurant has chic and contemporary interiors. Many of them feature large murals depicting the vibrant life in Brazil. Many of them are also located in historic buildings, thus, adding to their charm.
Texas de Brazil
The family-owned Brazilian steakhouses is relatively unique from the other churrascarias mainly because it doesn’t serve chicken hearts, which are traditional Brazilian food. But the meat selections are just as varied as those offered at Fogo de Chao and Chama Gaucha while the dessert selection is definitely a cut above the rest.
Texas de Brazil restaurants offer seasoned and roasted cuts of beef, pork and lamb as well as chicken and Brazilian sausage. These are cooked over an open flame grill, the traditional way of roasting meats used by the gauchos in Brazil. The seasoned meats have the right balance between juicy meat and perfect sear, of natural flavors and spicy goodness, and of tenderness and chewiness.
The chain also combines the best of traditional Brazilian roasting methods and Texan meats, a marriage that makes sense considering that both places are known for their meat-loving lifestyles. The restaurants have a casual dining service, unlike Fogo de Chao, but crew members’ warm hospitality gets high marks from diners. The majority of the diners consist of groups of families and friends so there’s a lively vibe when you come in for your meals.
The chain of Chama Gaucha restaurants is known for the casual yet lively atmosphere, especially during the lunch and dinner hours. Like the Texas de Brazil restaurants, the emphasis is on casual dining, unlike in Fogo de Chao with its emphasis on fine dining, full service experience.
The roasted meats are as tender, succulent and juicy in Chama Gaucha as in its two competitors, perhaps even more so because of its emphasis on letting the natural flavors dominate. The Picanha is the house specialty with its roasted sirloin, pork and beef ribs, bacon-wrapped filet, garlic sirloin, chicken drumsticks, and rack of lamb. There’s something good to be said about enjoying as many slices of meat as you can and savoring their differences in tastes and textures.
Which of these three Brazilian steakhouses is the best? Well, it depends on your personal preferences. If you want a fine dining experience in a churrascaria, then the Fogo de Chao is the obvious choice – and the best overall, if we do say so ourselves. If you’re on a budget and you want a more authentic churrascaria experience, then either the Chama Gaucha or Texas de Brazil is your best choice.