Churrasco refers to Southern Brazilian styled barbecue… a long-standing tradition of open-fire grilling a variety of meats that are usually served en masse on large skewers after being prepared by highly-skilled gauchos (cowboys). In 1979, the first Fogo de Chao opened in Porto Alegre (a prominent capital city in Southern Brazil), perfecting the culinary art of the region, and by 1997, the founders successfully introduced the concept to the United States, with the launch of their first stateside location in Dallas, Texas. Today, there are more than 40 locations throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil – including one right here in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district on International Drive.
Orlando’s Fogo de Chao is an aesthetic masterpiece. If you’re a regular visitor to our site, you know that we love to acknowledge visual details, and it’s obvious that great effort went into the decor and design of this location. Though the Orlando tourism climate forces an acceptance of flip-flops and shorts in almost every venue, Fogo de Chao is the type of place where it feels more acceptable to arrive sans Mickey ears and muscle shirts. Our visit to Fogo was one of those rare occasions that I opted to don a dress, and I was grateful to not be completely outdone by my surroundings. Though there is a buffet-style bar in the center of the main dining room, this is no Golden Corral. The massive, diverse selection of displayed wines should be a reasonable hint that this dining experience is a step up from casual.
While we’re on the topic of wine – Fogo de Chao has one of the most extensive wine lists I have ever encountered (with 55 South American labels freshly added to their new seasonal menu). Additionally, Fogo offers a diverse sampling of beers and unique craft cocktails, such as the signature caipirinha – made with muddled fresh fruits, sugarcane and aged cachaça, imported from Brazil. We were promptly informed that this famed beverage promotes happiness, and I can’t say I disagree with that assessment.
One thing that I love about the Fogo de Chao experience is that it truly is what you make of it. Whether you just want a few drinks, a tour (or three) of the salad bar, or the full Churrasco experience – the option is yours. If you decide to dive right in for the maximum culinary affair, your experience begins at the Market Table. Here you’ll find a cornucopia of selections from vegetables, soups, and salads to breads, meats, and cheeses. This is where you’ll discover new seasonal inclusions such as the Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, Pear and Endive Salad, and Butternut and Sweet Potato Soup. Prices vary depending on lunch or dinner service, and weekends/weekdays, but you can partake in the Market Table for as little as $15! All meals include polenta, carmelized bananas, garlic mashed potatoes and Brazilian cheese bread. I cannot begin to tell you how tasty these side dishes are, but if you plan to indulge past the Market Table, pace yourself. The best is yet to come, and you may find yourself wishing for a second stomach to accommodate it all!
When you opt for the “full Churrasco experience”, you still enjoy unlimited access to the Market Table, with the added deliciousness of continual carved meat service tableside. 16 different cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and lamb make the rounds throughout the dining room. All meats are carefully seasoned, selectively cut, and fire-roasted to maximize the natural flavors of each individual selection. While absolutely nothing disappointed my palate, I have to admit that the Texan in me innately gravitated toward the expansive selection of beef. Always a fan of Filet Mignon, I expected this to be the pinnacle of my beef tour, but I found a new favorite in the unrivaled Beef Ancho!
Here’s how the tableside service works at Fogo de Chao… Customers are provided double-sided, coaster-like “chips” that allow them full control of their experience. Place it on the table green side up to alert the ever-roaming stream of gaucho chefs to your empty plate, and flip it back to the red side when you have had enough (for the moment).
I was very impressed with the service we received. The sheer number of roving gauchos was stunning, as there always seemed to be one at the ready the moment I turned my chip to green… and another was usually right behind him. Each gaucho chef appeared with a skewer or platter displaying cuts of meat at varied temperatures, to please every range of preferences, and each chef provided swift service with a smile. When it was obvious that we were nearing our capacity for indulgence, they made sure to ask if there was any item we had not yet been offered – making sure we didn’t miss a morsel. The full Churrasco experience starts at $33.95 during weekday lunch service.
It’s almost scary to think of squeezing in dessert after the gastronomical challenge of the Market Table and Churrasco experience, but if you can manage it, I highly recommend Fogo de Chao’s most popular sweet treat – Papaya Cream. Blended papaya and vanilla ice cream is topped with black currant liqueur for an incredibly divine, smooth creation that isn’t overly sweet, yet bursting with fresh, fruity flavor. Consider this one shareable, and maybe… just maybe… you can muster up the strength to savor a worthwhile sampling. You’ll be so glad that you did!
Fogo de Chao is easily one of our most enjoyable dining experiences yet, and it really is just that – an experience. Every aspect of the Fogo presentation is top-notch and spectacular. The atmosphere, the savory tastes, the alluring smells, and the charming interactions with the gracious, skilled gaucho chefs… it really is worthy of our top recommendation. If your visit (or your residency) in Orlando does not include a visit to Fogo de Chao, you’re doing Orlando all wrong. Take advantage of weekend brunch or weekday lunch to save a few dollars, but even at maximum price for dinner service, rest assured that maximum value is the return! Follow Fogo de Chao Orlando on Facebook and Fogo de Chao on Twitter