At Vila Brazil, summoning tender, hand-cut steaks is as easy as flipping over a card at your table. That action alerts the servers, who then present and slice several types of meat on towering skewers. Beef, chicken, pork, and lamb all make an appearance at dinnertime after a stint on the open grill where they are typically seasoned with just a sprinkling of sea salt to enhance their natural flavors. A few exceptions––the restaurant's signature picanha, a flavorful cut of the sirloin, may be enhanced with garlic, while pork loin arrives covered in melted parmesan cheese.
To counterbalance the meaty main courses, guests can peruse the salad bar, where 25 Brazilian sides await tasting. To add a sweet touch to the meal, servers also bring skewered whole pineapples tableside, where they slice off syrupy slivers to reveal the juicy ham inside.
When Ben Googins met Rio de Janeiro native Elias Martins while teaching English in Brazil in 1998, he couldn't have guessed that the two would wind up making pão de queijo—cheese bread—on an episode of the Cooking Channel's FoodCrafters with celebrity chef Aida Mollenkamp. Their journey began as Googins learned more and more about the Portuguese language and the generous, hospitable Brazilian culture via Martins's family and their flavorful cooking. The duo eventually moved to Austin in 2006, bent on realizing their dream of opening their own restaurant. After their handmade foods gained popularity at the downtown farmers' market, their all-natural malagueta sauces appeared in Austin's flagship Whole Foods store. They finally opened Rio's Brazilian Café in 2010, where Googins now makes caipirinhas and Martins creates contemporary and traditional Brazilian recipes from scratch. The last Saturday of every month, Martins treats diners to feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew made with pork, beef, sausage, black beans, and the juice of one soccer ball.
He still, of course, makes the restaurant's renowned cheese bread. The basil variety was the favorite of Fearless Critic, which noted that the restaurant is "one of the few places where carnivores, vegetarians, and gluten-intolerant diners can all happily coexist." The restaurant was also a Critics' Pick for Most Charming Brazilian Outpost in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin 2011, and has appeared in numerous publications and on TV shows such as Good Day Austin and Fox 7 News. According to Eater Austin, celebrities Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara have noshed at the cozy eatery, whose bright yellow and green exterior and outdoor patio give way to a similarly vibrant and eclectic dining area.
A lonely fire flickers in the night, punctuating the vast expanse of Brazil’s southern plains. A spitted side of Nelore beef roasts over the flames; from that famed beast and this timeless fireside scene, Nelore takes its name, recipes, and spirit.
Nelore’s chefs draw inspiration from the gauchos of South America, piling plates high with carvings of 16 spit-roasted meats. The spirit of the southern plains remains alive and well in the dining room, where wrought-iron chandeliers and a dark hardwood floor evoke rustic elegance as a warm breeze filters in through the front doors. Veggies, fine cheeses, and pastas fill more than 40 basins at the salad bar, whose glistening glass protects the trays from grazing cattle and errant horseshoe tosses.
Braza Dancante's chefs flame-tame a wide assortment of charbroiled, grilled, and brazed meats in true Brazilian churrasco fashion. Each succulent cut of meat is then spitted on skewers and promenaded around an open, elegant dining room populated with colorful lights, chandeliers, hidden warp-zone pipes, and white tablecloths. Braza Dancante's buffet-style dining allows the meat-minded to pile plates high with top sirloin, leg of lamb, Brazilian pork sausage, spicy cajun picanha, and chicken sporting a fashionable wrap of bacon. Herbivores, meanwhile, can remain carnivoyeurs by sating themselves at a salad bar bursting at the seams with dozens of varieties of leafy greens, couscous, breads, and cheeses.
Brothers Kevin and Ric Kiersh opened Red River BBQ & Grill as a catering company back in the '90s, and though it still outfits parties with heaps of classic southern comfort food (including a mashed potato bar), customers can now get their barbecue fix at two restaurant locations. Diners can stop in anytime for barbecue spuds and sandwiches, or visit on Monday night to enjoy all-you-can-eat fried chicken and stirring speeches delivered by ribs on the campaign trail. If customers don't opt for brisket, spicy sausage, and pork ribs still sizzling from their stay in the wood-fired pits, they can order steaks and fried shrimp. Sides include potato salad and beer-battered onion rings.
Redolent with the wafting scent of freshly charred beef and sizzling skewers, Guri Do Sul decorates it charming interior with heaping plates of fresh Brazilian barbecue. More than 16 different types of succulent meat are brought tableside by rugged gauchos, or Brazilian cowboys, who use a giant knife or the sharpened edge of a baked-beans can to slice off juicy hunks of pork, lamb, and beef. The delicately folded picanha top sirloin delights tongue buds with carefully seasoned mouthfuls, as the costela beef ribs relinquish traditional churrasco flavors. To accent the protein feast, servers also adorn table spreads with various sides such as pão de queijo, baked cheesy spheres, or caramelized bananas, a lavish indulgences of butter-sautéed fruit with accents of brown sugar and cinnamon.