Churrasco, Rodizio, Grill, Asado… no matter how you call it, you’re talking about the same wonderful thing. Steaks, seafood and juicy pork, cooked to perfection and served with a plethora of side dishes that epitomize the world’s abundance. a celebration. a culinary event.
The traditional “American” steakhouse aspires to be a highbrow experience, with tuxedoed servers, dry martinis and very sharp steak knives presented to diners like trophies. But in South American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, steak can be a vibrant and thrilling experience. The culture owes much to the gauchos, a romantic vagabond who roamed the South American pampas with his horse, hunting and herding cattle like a southwestern cowboy. (Mexico has vaquero, but the iconic northern Mexican steakhouses are not as prevalent here in New York.)
Long Island is flush with Brazilian Rodizio Grill, serving plush skewers of slow-cooked rotisserie in an all-you-can-eat setting, complete with extravagant salad bar and charming interiors. Many of them are chains like Fogo de Chão, but there are also many excellent independent restaurants that draw from the same tradition but do it in their own way.
And with Nassau’s large Portuguese population, there are even more churrascarias, hybrid restaurants that combine European and New World grilling cultures. It may also serve rodizio as well as unique pudding cups and meringue cake desserts. And then there are Argentinian asados, like Tango in Central Islip and the new El Gauchito #3, which serve homemade Italian pasta and pile their meat on a portable grill that sits in the middle of the table.
These are the essential Latin steakhouses you need to visit. But instead of that A.1, ask for a side of Piri Piri Hot Sauce to spice things up.
144 Jericho Leaks., Mineola
Meal: Portuguese Churrascaria
You first see the grill, a long open pit brimming with skewers of meat and smoke billowing out into the bustling dining room. Even on a regular Thursday night, the Mineola institution is packed with large groups celebrating birthdays over salt cod and Molotoff meringue cakes. Churrasqueira Bairrada is one of the island’s oldest and most respected Portuguese steakhouses, in business since 1992, and you can tell by the wall of celebrity autographs (Pele, Run-DMC). You might be tempted to order the all-you-can-eat Rodizio for $58, but there are too many interesting entrees to overlook. On the weekend the restaurant prepares a scruffy leitao or suckling pig, a specialty of the Barrada wine region after which the restaurant is named. But if you’re in it for the steak, the Entranha skirt steak ($42.95) is an excellent bet. The long cut is juicy with an excellent char and some nice chew.
don’t give up without trying: A puffed piece of Molotoff (cloud cake) for dessert.
more info, 516-739-3856, churrasqueira.com
133 W Main St, Smithtown
Meal: Portuguese Churrascaria
If you squint, you can still tell this giant churrascaira used to be a sizzler. Portuguese-born Luisa Batista moved to the larger space in 2013 because her Smithtown restaurant was so popular that she needed more space. And on Tuesday nights there’s also a crowd enjoying wood-fired barbecue dishes like rotisserie chicken and costella de Vaca, prime rib. Seafood takes up half of the menu and gives a handsome char to dishes like the grilled swordfish grillhado ($31.95), caramelizing the sides of the fish into a sweet crunch. The french fries here are unexpectedly good, assertively fried and with a dark brown undercurrent. So it’s a good thing they come with all the meals in addition to bread, olives, salad, rice and steamed broccoli and carrots.
don’t give up without trying: Make sure to order that homemade chile oil on the side.
more info, 631-406-6820, www.lusorodizio.com
2518 Merrick Road, Belmore
Meal: Portuguese and Brazilian
With its simple strip mall setting, the newly-opened Manolo’s is a casual alternative to Portuguese and Brazilian barbecue. Owners Julia Arevalo and Jose Manuel Nuñez transformed the former Everest Himalayan restaurant, brightening up the space but keeping the large Nepali mountain town portrait that dominates the wall. Their menu is equal parts seafood and meat dishes, such as grilled octopus and salt cod, as well as Portuguese paella alongside a range of shellfish. Order the Manolo Grill Platter ($43), which comes with grilled skirt steak, spare ribs, bacon-wrapped turkey and a wide spread of side dishes that include rice, black beans and fried plantains.
don’t give up without trying: One of the fruity Portuguese sodas available over the counter.
more info: 516-804-5656
5598 Sunrise Highway, Massapequa
Meal: Brazilian Rodizio Grill
Bringing some sparkle to a big-box shopping corridor, Master Grill is a grand temple to Brazilian rodizio built in an old olive garden. Fans of Texas de Brazil and Fogo de Chão will be familiar with the all-you-can-eat skewer concept, but Master Grill is independently owned. The salad bar buffet itself is surprising enough, offering a huge variety of Brazilian dishes and toppings like farofa that you’ll find at larger chains. Moqueca fish stew from the Bahia region is enriched with sweet coconut milk and added with mild chilies. But more importantly, there are more than 20 varieties of slow-roasted meat available, from Brazilian cuts like Alcatra (top sirloin) and frialdinha (bottom sirloin), shaved straight to your plate. The coveted top sirloin picanha had a glistening fat cap that swelled with juices. And don’t sleep on bacon-wrapped chicken.
don’t give up without trying: A thick slice of top sirloin, shaved straight onto your plate.
more info, 516-308-7838, mastergrill.us
El Gauchito #3, Rockville Center
12 N Park Ave, Rockville Center
Meal: Argentine asado
The first Long Island location of the popular Queens steakhouse, El Gauchito #3 brings an extensive menu of Argentinian classics to Rockville Center. The restaurant sources meat from its own butcher shop, which has been an Elmhurst staple since 1979. and serves hard-to-find selections like black sausage, kidney, and sweet bread. Adventurous eaters would be well served by ordering the antipasto el gauchito platter of various cured meats, such as baked empanadas, or pickled pig’s feet. Then move on to the delights of parillada, a style of barbecue where slow-cooked meats are piled on a tableside grill and eaten with bread and herby chimichurri sauce. Curly logs of grilled tripe will take you over the edge. But if you’re playing it safe, entrena skirt steak is easy to eat.
don’t give up without trying: an Italian dish, similar to cheesy polenta bolognese
more info: 516-442-0517, www.elgauchitonyc.com
Tango Argentina Steakhouse
99 w. Suffolk Ave., Central Islip
Meal: Argentine asado
It takes two to tango, but four people are needed to finish one of the giant meat platters at this lively Argentinian restaurant. Each table has one, a portable grill piled high with beef short ribs and three different types of steaks that are so juicy it’s hard to tell them apart. The Parrillada ‘Solo Carne Para Dos’ ($70) is finished with spicy pepperoncini and paired with buttery mashed potatoes, green salad and a tangy chimichurri sauce. In other words, a feast… but wait, there’s more. Tango has been around since 1998 and its commanding menu proves it. Beef tongue in vinaigrette? Rolled Veal with Potato Salad? Yes and yes, but don’t pass up the provoleta, chunks of pungent Argentine cheese baked over an open flame until they’re brown on top and melted in the middle. The appetizer is served on a porcelain platter that looks like it should contain a load of French snails, but dunk that bread and it’s cheesy goodness.
don’t give up without trying: A pitcher of red sangria gets the party going.
more info, 631-234-6623, tangorest.com
Pollos Mario’s Steak House & Seafood
75 N Franklin St, Hempstead
Perched high on the Latin delis of Franklin Street, Polloas Mario is a luxurious colonial villa flanked by two life-size bull statues and a friendly cartoon chicken. This grand operation is part of a loosely connected mini-series founded by Colombian immigrant Oscar Franco. But the Hempstead location seems to have bigger ambitions than just serving rotisserie chicken, or pollo a la brasa. A funky photographic menu showcases Colombian breakfast dishes, seafood paellas, cocktails and extravagant platters of steak with soft plantains, grilled corn cake arepas and crispy logs of chicharrón pork belly. It’s hard to choose just one because they’re all good looking. A juicy skirt steak and cast-iron skillet with bulbous potatoes, slathered tableside bubbling in tomato Creole sauce, a melty cauldron of beef deliciousness with rice and beans to soak it up.
don’t give up without tryingTap on some of that vinegary green sauce for a kick. And don’t forget the napkins.
more info, 516-505-3200, pollosmariorestaurant.com