Desert Companion

At First Bite: Fogo de Chão

The Brazilian steakhouse piles on the protein without cutting corners

I don’t want to like the Brazilian steakhouse restaurant concept. It’s not really a steakhouse at all, because the process at a steakhouse is to sit, drink, choose your favorite cut and pair it with a potato, and then get down to business. The churrascaria — or at least the Americanized interpretation of it — is a non-stop, all-you-can-eat meatfest, and you don’t even have to fetch it yourself. Huge skewers of grilled animal parts are brought directly to your face, sliced tableside, and all you have to do is grab it with cute little silver tongs. It’s beyond excessive — even for Las Vegas.

Several of these meathouses have popped up around town in recent years, but the newest may be the best of the bunch. Fogo de Chão was born in Brazil and has expanded to several American cities, and though the concept isn’t any different — rapid-fire meat delivery that you can’t possibly keep up with — the service and quality is impressive.

The real reason I ended up enjoying this experience is that I realized why it isn’t a steakhouse: It’s a barbecue joint. That’s what “churrascaria” means in Portuguese. When you go for barbecue, you want to eat too much of different kinds of meat, and Fogo de Chão is a great place to do that. The “picanha,” or garlicky top sirloin, is the best cut, the perfect blend of buttery texture and beefy taste (especially when you get a slice with fatty, charred crust on one side). The lamb chops are perfect. The linguica sausage is nicely spiced, and even the beef ribs are tender and full of flavor. (Not so much with the pork ribs.) The side dishes of caramelized bananas and crispy polenta cakes are hard to stop eating, too. It’s hard to criticize what seems like a gimmicky restaurant concept when the food is this good.

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Fogo de Chão 360 E. Flamingo Road, 431-4500 

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