Celebrating 10 Years, Fogo de Chão Is Still The King Of The Churrasciaria

It has been ten years since Chicago’s first Churrascaria, Fogo de Chão, was launched. Since then, many competitors have opened in close proximity to the king of South American rotisserie cooking but none come close to the authenticity and quality of this original. My friend and I recently dined at the newly renovated space in River North and had a truly out of body food experience.

For those unfamiliar with a Churrascaria you are in for a memorable experience. The origin of the South American rotisserie came from the gaucho (akin to our cowboy) in the early 1800’s where they would salt rub and slowly turn their kill over a hot charcoal or wood pit. This method was passed down through the generations and that culture heavily influenced the two founders of Fogo who grew up in Rio Grande do Sul located in Southern Brazil. Their first restaurant launched in 1979 in Porto Alegre then stateside in Dallas, Texas in 1997.

The Fogo de Chão experience is two fold. First there is a magnificent salad bar with vegetables, greens, cheeses, cured meats, salmon and signature Brazilian side dishes. When you are ready for your meats to be served, you flip a card on your table from red to green and the adventure begins. There are now 16 different types of meats to choose from and the flavors of each are unique and out of this world savory. Recent additions to the menu include a lamb t-bone (served bone in), grilled mozzarella and sides including Roasted Zucchini and Fogo’s renowned Black Beans and Rice.

Highlights included the Picanha which is the prime part of the sirloin seasoned with sea salt and flavored with garlic; Filet mignon; Alcatra, cut from the top sirloin; Costela de Porco which are pork ribs slowly roasted and beautifully seasoned.

After our server noticed we were in a self-induced food coma, we both still found room for chocolate lava cake that was sinfully gooey and moist.

The cocktails are also uniquely cultural. Known as the Caipirinha this luscious libation has been around for a few hundred years and is a blend of fresh limes, sugar and cachaça – a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane. The longer the ice melted the stronger the infusion of flavors. With our meat carnival, we had a house Fogo de Chao Malbec which was the perfect compliment for the variety of flavors and cures.

As part of the $750,000 renovation, Fogo de Chão has built out private and group affairs within four private dining rooms, which can be combined with one another to accommodate from 10 to 200 guests. Each room has separate lighting and audio controls. The rooms are decorated with custom wine racks, mahogany paneling and trim, custom murals and chandeliers.

As my friend and I were talking with our fantastic host, Paul Ritchie, we discussed how the whole dynamic for restaurants have changed over the past 5 years. When I first went to Fogo de Chão decade ago, you would see big law firms and agencies dining for lunch and dinner on their expense accounts. The age of financial excess is over for the moment and the restaurants that endure in this changed economy must rely on more than just good food. Ten years on, Fogo de Chão is still thriving because of the restaurant’s detail to customer service. The staff makes a point of welcoming each and every guest and spends time to with the patron to guarantee their visit is memorable. The Fogo family cares about the customer experience and it shows in every detail. That is why on every given day or night, you will still see many local residents dining in what many would consider a restaurant for tourist. The bar was filled with my neighbors (I also live in the vicinity) and each was talking about how this remains one of their favorite places to hang out.

Whether it is your first time or you are a return customer, Fogo de Chão remains a the true king of Chicago’s Brazilian steakhouses. Whether you are a meat lover or choose to go vegetarian, Fogo de Chão is an experience for food lovers of all kind. Fogo also a short walk from all of the major Chicago theaters so this is a perfect pre-theater destination as well (just go a bit earlier).

Fogo de Chão in Chicago is open for lunch on Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. The lunch menu is $32.50 (Salad Bar Only – $22.50). Dinner is served Monday – Thursday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Saturday 4 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. The dinner menu is $49.50 (Salad Bar Only – $24.50). Children five years of age and under enjoy complimentary dining. Children six to 10 years of age are half price. Beverages, desserts, tax and gratuity are additional. For reservations and private party information, please call (312) 932-9330