You can’t go anywhere lately without hearing the trill of vuvuzelas or the roar of the crowd. The games are underway in Rio, where records are shattered, dreams are made, and heroes are born. Can’t afford the plane fare and the cost of the tickets? Don’t worry, you can still get a taste of the host country here in the States. Here are top Brazilian restaurants to fuel your dreams.
The Grill from Ipanema, Washington, D.C.
The Brazilian outpost in the nation’s capitol thrives in the buzzy Adams Morgan neighborhood. Chef Alcy De Souza offers an epic menu, which encompasses the width and breadth of his home country’s cuisine. He makes a mean feijoada, Brazil’s national dish. The thick black bean stew is fortified with plenty of protein, including beef, pork sausage, and smoked meats, ensuring it will stick to your stomach for hours after you dine. It’s the perfect preemptive order if you plan on enjoying the tropicalia-styled cocktail menu, which features caipirinha (of course!), maracujinha (cachaça-amped passion fruit juice), and batida de côco (a creamy coconut sipper spiked with cachaça and vodka). Make a reservation at the Grill from Ipanema.
Tradicao Brazilian Steakhouse, Webster, Texas
Being your meal at this churrascaria with a trip to the outsized salad bar, which features more than 30 options. Make sure you don’t overload your plate though because this is only the beginning. Back at your table, you’ll be given a coaster with a red side and a green side. Leave the green side up and servers will continue to bring you an onslaught of meats, including beef, lamb, chicken, and fish, as well as sides, such as mashed potatoes, garlicky rice, and caramelized bananas. When you feel like you’ve had enough – or you just want to take a break, so you can rest up for the next round – flip your coaster over to the red side to stop the edible assault. Make a reservation at Tradicao Brazilian Steakhouse.
Ipanema, New York, New York
Perched in the heart of Manhattan’s Little Brazil, this storied eatery has been giving diners a taste of their unique Brazilian-Portuguese (sometimes referred to as luso-Brazilian) cuisine for more than three decades. Expect the classics, including crème de camarão (shrimp bisque), vatapá (grilled monkfish and shrimp stew made with dende oil and crisped up hazelnuts), picanha, and feijoada. Wash it all down with a few caipirinha, which are available in the classic style or accented with your choice of coconut cream or passion fruit juice. Just don’t drink too many or you might wake up in Rio. Trust us, vuvuzelas sound even worse when you’re hungover. Make a reservation at Ipanema.
Espetus Churrascaria, San Francisco, California
You could call this a fire-to-fork concept. The rodizio style restaurant brings diners a seemingly endless parade of skewered offerings, all cooked over mesquite by the gaucho chefs. Options include bacon-wrapped filet mignon, pork loin, chicken hearts, shrimp, lamb, and pineapple, whose juiciness and caramelized sweetness offers a nice counterpoint to the proteins. Complement this fare with sides from the salad bar, such as moqueca de peixe (fish stew) and the requisite feijoada. If there’s still room for something sweet after overindulging on savory items, try the pudim (caramel topped milk and egg custard) or crème de papaya (a blend of ice cream and papaya) lavished with crème de cassis and accompanied by a scoop of cassis sorbet. Make a reservation at Espetus Churrascaria.
Rafain, Dallas, Texas
Come hungry if you want to truly experience this elegant Brazilian steakhouse. Classically trained gaucho chefs fire up 16 different cuts of meat, including what they call bottomless sirloin – which we now believe is one of the greatest phrases of all time – and picanha (top sirloin cap), as well as chicken, lamb, and sausage. As if that wasn’t enough, the salad bar features more than 50 different items, such as Brazilian hearts of palm salad, tabouli, and an array of deli meats and cheeses. The dessert course includes several specialties of note, like sagu (tapioca pearls simmered in red wine) and a pitch-perfect flan. Make a reservation at Rafain.
Churrascaria Plataforma Brazilian Steakhouse, New York, New York
Come ready to gorge at this ritzy, all-you-can-eat meatopia. Load up on roughage first at the expansive salad bar, which also features sushi, since the Japanese staple is so beloved in Brazil. Then let the rodizio (steakhouse) experience begin. Think of it as a tableside buffet. Until you cry tío (uncle) – or simply pass out from an extreme case of the meat sweats – servers will continually bring out skewers, featuring everything from chuleta (ribeye) and alcatra (top round) to coxa de frango (chicken thigh) and perna de carneiro (leg of lamb). Still got room? There’s a tsunami of desserts, such as manjar (coconut flan with prune sauce) and mousse de maracujá (passion fruit mousse). Make a reservation at Churrascaria Plataforma Brazilian Steakhouse.
Emporium Brasil, New York, New York
This is not your average rodizio. Chef Samira Soares doesn’t give guests a smorgasbord-style pig out. Instead, her nuanced a la carte menu offers diners the chance to explore lesser known dishes alongside familiar favorites. Croquettes are a great place to start, especially the fig-shaped, golden fried ones packed with creamy chicken. The mariscada is Brazil’s answer to bouillabaisse, its fragrant tomato broth brimming with mussels, clams, calamari, and more. Don’t worry; you can also get your red meat fix. We recommend the sirloin steak with vinaigrette sauce (picanha na grelha) or the feijoada, which arrives with traditional accompaniments, including white rice, orange slices, and greens. Make a reservation at Emporium Brasil.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Alisa Murray (Tradicao)