Though churrasca restaurants are popping up everywhere, Ivan Utrera is generally recognized as the first bold soul to open a Brazilian steakhouse in America, bringing family recipes from his native city of Sao Paulo. For nearly 20 years, Rodizio Grill's teams of gauchos have presented three-foot skewers of rotisserie-grilled meats tableside, giving guests the opportunity to sample as much as they can shake their fork at. The selection of seasoned meats includes picanha com parmesao—sirloin encrusted with parmesan—and frango agri-doce, chicken glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce. The gauchos also present skewered fruits and vegetables, including Rodizio's signature grilled pineapple.
The menu keeps it simple with only a few other embellishments, but they certainly share the spotlight with the churrasca. Unlimited appetizers include polenta and banana poppers, and a gourmet salad bar features whipped potatoes, Brazilian black-bean stew, and grilled veggies with parmesan cheese. Everything is homemade, including the desserts and the specialty limeades concocted from fresh limes and sweet cream. Because the menu is centered on meat and vegetables, 90% of the restaurant's dishes are gluten-free and wouldn't know the first thing about how to approach a carb at a dance party.
Brazilian-born owners Vagmar Stoffel and Rubiano Aguiar sought to create a community dining experience at Rio's Steakhouse, evoking gustatory memories of their hometowns. Rodizio-style dining allows guests to remain seated while attentive churrascaria waiters continually fill empty plates from skewers of slow-cooked beef, chicken, and pork, which they gingerly carve tableside. In between platefuls, diners can temporarily stop the flow of cuisine with either a color-coded coaster or a cleverly placed soccer ball, buying themselves time to visit the ever-changing buffet of hot sides and salad fixings.
It seems almost structurally impossible: eleven ingredients, including Chicken, bacon, calabresa sausage, hearts of palm, and mozzarella. It’s a lot for one thin crust pizza to handle, but Chef Zach Chaves pulls it off with his namesake Extravaganza pie. Built from housemade dough and sauce, his other 18 specialty pizzas likewise test the limits of dough with mountains of toppings, from steak tips and hardboiled eggs to Brazilian favorites such as malagueta pepper and catupiry cheese.
Other never-frozen Brazilian ingredients spice up Chef Zach's menu, including cuts of Brazilian steak and the X-Nervoso burger, two beef patties topped with catupiry, ham, bacon, and potato sticks. He balances his Brazilian flavors with more traditional American tastes, such as BBQ chicken sandwiches and turkey clubs. Feasts unfold inside a spacious dining room decorated with hand-drawn murals of famous American and Brazilian figures, such as Elvis and Brazilian Elvis impersonators.
Wrapped in the aromatic embrace of Zona Sul Churrascaria’s smoldering barbecue pit, up to four friends gather over unending portions of Brazilian meats, rice, and vegetables. Diners pile thick slices of meat onto their plates as they gaze in wonder at the crackling sirloin steaks and pork sausages skewered on spits over the flames. Beef ribs line up in rows as foursomes hammer out xylophonic bossa nova songs with their forks, and chicken thighs strut to samba beats on palate dance floors. A bountiful salad bar complements the orchestra of sizzling proteins with rice, green vegetables, and whole onions painted to resemble soccer balls.
The staff at Tropical Café patrol the restaurant’s perimeter constantly, spears in hand. They’re not on guard duty, though. Rather, they’re servers, carving off portions of freshly roasted Brazilian barbecue. They stop at every table, offering their savory cargo to diners who have flipped their personal dining card green side up, indicating that they might be in danger of consuming plant matter from the extensive salad bar if more meat does not arrive soon.
The taste of culture doesn’t stop at the barbecue, however. Tropical Café fills weekends with live musical performances of South American and Brazilian folk music. Wednesday evenings are devoted to karaoke, the classic contest made more interesting by participants who sing with mouthfuls of meat.
Comeketo Restaurant & Sandwich Shop's lengthy menu quells meat lovers' pangs with savory Brazilian and Uruguayan cuts and substantial vegetarian dishes made with fresh produce. Diners can warm-up human food processers with an appetizer, such as the slices of tender sirloin found in bife a palito ($7.99), or tuck into the costelinha de porco frita com mandioca, which consists of fried pork ribs tickled with brazilian spices ($7.99). A list of elaborate burgers includes the Elephant, which, like a real elephant, is actually just a stack of chicken, pork, steak, and sausage accented with bacon and egg ($5.99). The chorizo al pan's ($7.75) seasoned sausage introduces taste buds to Uruguayan tastes, and grilled Amazon Rainforest medallions ($7.99) stockpile once-popular currency denominations such as breaded eggplant, asparagus, red peppers, and rice. Comeketo rounds out its hefty menu with exotic fruit smoothies and salads as well as American appetizers, pasta, subs, and wraps.