Fogo de Chao Arrives in San Francisco
The very best thing to happen in the food world in 2015, at least locally and as far as I’m concerned, is that Fogo de Chao secured a location in San Francisco–and as of the end of December, they are open! A couple of years ago, when the Fogo de Chao location in San Jose opened, I thought that was amazing news–except that it turns out I absolutely NEVER go to San Jose. Not for Fogo and not for Jesus himself….so a lot of good that did me.
But San Francisco — well, that’s a different story.
Some years ago, there was a rumor that Fogo de Chao was coming and I may jumped up and down when I heard that. Then I stopped jumping when I found out their lease terms didn’t work out, so they weren’t coming.
Now let me backtrack for a moment.
I’ve flown down to LA to eat at Fogo. MANY TIMES. If I can’t get a flight, I may or may not have driven down and waited until Fogo de Chao opened so that I could go in and eat. I will deliberately plan a overnight layover in Dallas to go to Fogo de Chao. I was near tears one time when I promised to visit a friend in Atlanta, because I so didn’t want to be in Atlanta, but then I realized there was Fogo de Chao there and the sun rose again–and you bet your bottom we ate there right after I landed. And then again. I’ve gone to the Portland location, right after eating fish and chips first, of course.
And most recently (two months ago), Mr K. and I were planning a road trip (with our final destination of New Orleans, passing through Dallas because–you got it–Fogo de Chao) when I realized the timeframe we had was not going to allow us to readily get to Dallas. A quick visit to the Fogo de Chao website showed me that there’s a location in Scottsdale — where my aunt lives! So we stopped there and stayed there for the week.
So take a moment and understand this much: I love Fogo de Chao.
Basically, if I land anywhere else and find a Fogo de Chao — I will make it my life’s mission to go at least once during my trip.
But now, I have one locally, which means all kinds of wonderful for me. So it isn’t surprising at all that for Mr. K’s and my New Year’s Eve dinner, I chose the brand spanking new Fogo de Chao on Third Street in the old Chevy’s location.
Goodbye, Chevy’s that I never went to.
Hello, Fogo….meet the person who will help pay the rent!
Visiting Fogo de Chao
For a set price, Fogo de Chao offers all the meat that you can possibly eat in one sitting. From pork, lamb, chicken to all kinds of beef, Fogo de Chao offers a Brazilian style BBQ (churrasco). Something to keep in mind is that Brazilian BBQ is salty. It’s not about masking the flavor of pure meat in Brazil, and with the exception of Argentina–I’d say they appreciate meat more than any other country. (Having spent some time in Argentina, I’ve gotta give it to them–they cook meats like no other civilization. Sorry, Brazil.) The two countries also offer the best meat on the planet, as far as I’m concerned.
Yes–move over U.S.A. That good.
Unlike American BBQ joints, all of the Fogo de Chao locations (at least the ones I’ve visited) are quite fancy. The new San Francisco location is no different in that it’s elegant and beautifully designed, even if it’s half the size of the other typical Fogo de Chao restaurants, but let’s be real–Dallas real estate is nothing compared to a tiny little square foot in San Francisco, so it’s not surprising. Other locations appear to seat over 300 people, and I’d guess the San Francisco Fogo de Chao seats about 150+. The aura is very similar, but the market table / salad bar is smaller, the serving platters are smaller and all but the tables are smaller.
Speaking of which, at the San Francisco location, tables are placed wide apart. Not once did I hear the guests sitting adjacent to or behind me.
I’m sure many of you have been to Fogo de Chao. Well, I’m sure that now because we have a Fogo de Chao in San Jose, many more people have visited than before. Still, let’s take a minute to discuss those round cards you see on the table above.
You almost don’t need to talk to anyone when eating at Fogo de Chao.
Flip the card up to green and you’re saying, “FEED ME. BRING IT TO ME. CONTINUE GIVING ME MEAT.” When the gauchos come by — you nod or shake your head and say, “No, thank you,” and off that meat goes.
Flip the card down to red and nobody will come by except for your server. No meat will be offered to you, and nobody will ask you if you’d like more. If too much meat is coming too fast (which happens a lot), then flip the card to red and buy yourself some time. Flip to back to green and your time in heaven continues.
The Market Table at Fogo de Chao
Amateurs to Fogo de Chao will approach the market table (really, the salad bar) and eyes will bulge, stomachs will growl and you’ll begin to pile your plate. On my first visit to Fogo de Chao, I ate entirely too much at the market table to have more than a few servings of meat.
The San Francisco was the first location where I actually saw a couple of dishes empty (which were filled while I was taking photographs); that has NEVER happened at any Fogo de Chao. But this location is about a week new, so I suspect those kinks will be worked out.
Normally, staff will consistently and religiously refill the market table with fresh servings of everything wonderful. Grab and plate from the side and begin to circle the beautifully lit and chilled-on-ice platters.
Below are some shots of about one-quarter of what’s available. These are some of my favorites!
The entire market table is available for those of you who are vegetarians, and while I’d normally ask what on earth you’re doing at Fogo de Chao if you don’t eat meat—one round around the market table and yeah, I could and HAVE filled myself up at just this salad bar. So have at it, vegetarians, though I cannot possibly understand how you can say no to all the meat that these gaucho chefs are carrying around. More power to you, I guess.
Now, as mentioned, you can go crazy here but if you’re here to eat meat, I’d suggest you chill out. After many, many visits over the last 9-10 years or so, this is what I always get:
At the San Francisco location, the usually PERFECT asparagus was overcooked and it was smaller than that of other Fogos as far as I could tell. Usually, Fogo de Chao has the world’s largest asparagus sticks year-round–they’re more like poles than sticks, actually. Like beams…and never, ever are they overcooked. Now while San Francisco’s was–I’m guessing that was probably a mistake than the norm. Like I said — brand new location.
I always grab a couple of fresh mozzarella; left on my own, I can down tens of these, so it takes much experience to hold myself back. The tabouleh salad here is a must–with your meat and a little bit of the white rice that you see on my plate, and it’s a match made in heaven, adding nice herbs and freshness to an otherwise heavy meal. Their potato salad is nice (oh, and so is their chicken salad, which I didn’t get because in the grand scheme of things, they’re nowhere near as good as the meat that comes out). The two MUST-GET items are the endless heart of palms and artichoke hearts. If you’ve ever plucked an artichoke to get to the itty bitty heart, you know how much work it is. So I eat that here. I very rarely buy palm hearts so that always goes on my plate, too.
And lox and I go like >that<. I never skip out on lox when it’s available.
And I don’t know about you, but I know that for me, if you have amazing meat, you absolutely need some amazing starch and my first preference will always be white rice. In fact, I’d prefer Asian sticky white rice, but to date, I’ve never actually whipped out a Tupperware of rice at Fogo de Chao.
I just eat the buttery rice they have available there.
This time, I also happened to grab on steamed beat, which I ate about half of on this trip.
Some people will start eating everything on their plate immediately, but I suggest you hold off and go back to your table to see what’s waiting for you.
The Side Dishes at Fogo de Chao
The staples of all Fogo de Chao restaurants that I have been to are the side dishes that are placed on the table. Ninety percent of the time, when the guests get up to help themselves at the Market Table, the servers will place your sides on the table.
Hot, piping rolls are always a sight to behold. Often too hot to touch when they come out, this a bread made of yucca flour and CHEESE. It’s some kind of magic cheese because the flavors abound and the moistness in this small, hot roll makes you really anticipate your meal.
I spent the first year of going to Fogo de Chao not realizing you can always ask for more of this bread….which in hindsight is not the worse thing to happen. This alone would have added 10 pounds to me over the years.
Now here is where the restaurant made a mistake.
The other two sides I always expect on the table are the Fried Bananas and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Alas, someone forgot to bring it to us. Because the parade of meats began soon after being seated, I didn’t inquire about it until after the meal was over, at which point our server realized it had never been brought. New place, new servers — busy New Years’ Eve dinner. Totally understandable. And although we didn’t receive ours until the end, I’ll put them here in the order you will (hopefully) receive them.
(Note the red STOP card behind. Like I said, this was at the end.)
When I first visited Fogo de Chao, they used to serve friend plantains, if I recall correctly. Somewhere along the way, they changed to bananas. I’m not sure of the reason why, but they’re delicious. The sweet and well-seasoned taste of the bananas will spark your tastebuds alive. I suggest taking a bite and moving on because they’re filling–and your dinner hasn’t even started yet.
While it may be possible to take one bite of the Caramelized Bananas, it’s impossible to eat just one of the polenta fries. I’ve had differing experiences with this particular side dish at various Fogo de Chao restaurants, but when they’re warm and not too hard, I’ll devour everything they put in front of me.
I shudder to think of how much butter in these mashed potatoes to make them so incredibly creamy and delicious. I don’t want to know but this is irresistible. I had to learn the hard way to steer clear of this past one bite because you get full so quickly, but seriously, your fork keeps going to this plate of mashed potatoes. Such fantastic seasoning with a very mild hint of garlic.
All of this, too, as it turns out, you can ask for more!
That said, I never have, at least not to date, because it’s about at this moment when I will flip my card to green and let the show begin.
One thing I noticed here at the SF location that didn’t elsewhere was that they had a smaller plate placed on the table, and nobody offered you a larger full-size plate for your meat. The gaucho chefs were to place your meat on the small plate, I take it? I think not….so I had Mr. K get me three additional plates (you will see why at the end of this review), as my sides are my sides, and my meat will be my meat–and perhaps the small plate can be for grizzle or the ones I only took one bite out of and put aside.
The Meat Feast at Fogo de Chao
Given how many trips I have taken to Fogo de Chao restaurants around the country, it won’t surprise anyone that most of the time, I pick and choose my top 3-4 favorite meats and focus on eating those with my sides from the market table. I’ve tasted everything already and by my third visit, I always know which cuts I like most. I will cover my favorites at the end, but for this visit to the new San Francisco location, I decided to accept one of everything so you could see what kind of beauties I’m talking about in the post.
Keep in mind that at the San Francisco location, there are a total of 15 different offerings–or that’s what I received anyway. If I am not mistaken, the chicken hearts were missing (that’s one of my favorites–please, please bring it here!) but other than that, the rest of the players seemed present. I never actually counted how many different cuts of meat came by in past visits, so I have nothing to compare it to. That said, I noticed the Scottsdale location also didn’t have chicken hearts–but that’s Arizona, Fogo….do you know how many Asians are in San Francisco? We all eat chicken hearts!
OK. Let’s begin. Keep in mind that this is in no specific order; it’s just whoever spotted our card turn to green and had goodies to offer.
The first gaucho chef to approach us had the Linguiça sausages. It’s a great representative of cured pork with oiliness when you bite in and becoming drier and more flavorful as you chew as the scent of paprika hits your nose. I imagine it would also be a favorite for kids—safely cooked and nothing for them “ewwww” about as they will when the other courses begin unless you have yourself a child with a great, advanced palate.
It does strike me as funny as I just recently proclaimed that I hate Linguiça at Top Dog, although these two eateries are otherwise nothing alike. Still…the version at Fogo de Chao didn’t have the ugly, complex and vile scents that would hit the nostrils immediately.
Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breast
Next up was the bacon-wrapped chicken breast. This is usually not something I opt to eat while here, but I did it for you guys.
There are two different chicken offerings at Fogo de Chao, with this being one of them. A slice of bacon is wrapped around the breast, and cooked through. The breast, despite not being my favorite part of the chicken, stays quite nicely moist and you get a good taste of bacon as you chew.
The breast, despite some past experiences at other Fogo de Chao restaurants, was surprisingly moist and the bacon was nicely cooked instead of breaking when you bite into it from cracking. I can’t stand bacon when you fry the life out of it and don’t understand y’all who prefer it that way. but this bacon was a nice medium-cooked bacon, which is probably why the chicken was still moist.
Alcatra — Top Sirloin at Fogo de Chao
I mean….is it uncouth of me to say that my own photo is making me drool? I can almost smell it![wc_box color=”info” text_align=”left”]
Now here is where you have to use the mini-tongs you will find as part of your silverware. Every time a gaucho chef is slicing off a piece of meat for you, grab the tongs and hold the top cut part for him as his knife goes further into the body of the meat and when he goes through, the slice of meat will be in your hands.[/wc_box]
The Alcatra was next, and is described as being a special cut of the top sirloin. Simply tell the gaucho chef how you like your meat, and presuming he has meat cooked to that temperature on his magical (and huge) skewer with slabs of meat. If not, I’ve always found them happily going to the kitchen to get you one cooked to your liking.
The Top Sirloin is very juicy but overall, is one of the tougher pieces of meat from the Fogo lineup–which is still tender compared to common cuts of beef. I always have this one rare and when it’s your first time, you will be guaranteed to love it.
If the rare slice I have above is too much for you–ask for maybe up to a medium, but please, God forbid, do not insult the entire country of Brazil by asking for well-done. Other than the pork and chicken dishes at Fogo de Chao, there is completely ZERO meat that you should have well-done. ZERO.
This is where I do want to remind you that most churrascarias (aka steakhouses, like Fogo de Chao) will serve meat that is distinctly salty compared to their American counterparts. This is why the sides are also important, or a great glass of wine. Don’t complain that it’s salty and show your lack of culture, haha….get some rice or eat it with the potatoes. It’s a perfect combination.
New York Strip at Fogo de Chao
Who doesn’t love a good NY strip, second only to the Ribeye, yes?
Fogo de Chao makes a great NY strip steak, fire-grilled, of course. My slice was extremely tender and juicy–and saltier than the Top Sirloin. But in terms of tenderness, it made the top sirloin pale in comparison when it came to overall flavor, but the Top Sirloin was actually juicier.
Chicken Drumstick at Fogo de Chao
Meet the world’s moistest chicken. I almost stood up and screamed when I tasted mine because I think it quite literally came from the fire, but it was so good that I couldn’t even politely spit it out. Kept on chewing despite the pain. The meat inside is so tender and the outside, as you can tell, is crispy but not hard. Unlike the beef, this chicken is marinaded in beer, I am told.
Parmesan-Crusted Pork Medallions at Fogo de Chao
Of all the meats at Fogo de Chao, this one is consistently my least favorite. It’s not that it’s bad, but compared to everything else, it is just nothing special. It’s always quite dry on the inside, probably since many people are uncomfortable eating pink pork, and between the dry meat and parmesan crust, it’s just dry and makes me feel like grabbing a passing bottle of Chardonnay and chugging. I took one for the team by trying it this time and found it mediocre as usual.
Garlic Steak at Fogo de Chao
In terms of flavor on its own, the garlic steak offers the most, in my opinion. One bite of it and you have a flavor of butter and meat juices swirling around in your mouth, and while I wouldn’t say it’s the very best at Fogo de Chao (there are two that are better–wait for it!), it holds it own. My photos don’t do it justice because it was the last piece on this specific skewer and I took it, whereas it’s much more impressive when the skewer is full. On this evening, mine was a tad more cooked than I’d have liked and it STILL didn’t lose flavor.
Pork Ribs at Fogo de Chao
I don’t actually recall seeing pork ribs at a Fogo de Chao before, especially with the lime. But even if I had, I would have probably turned it down; I make a mean pork rib at home and whatever I take here is going to take up valuable and very limited real estate.
I tried it for the first time on this visit and found it absolutely delicious. They’re really tender, and fall right off the bone. It frankly didn’t even need the lime, with a deep and intense flavor on its own, but the lime made for a better picture. Without sides, you might find it tastier with the lime.
The Lamb Chops at Fogo de Chao
When I first took my parents to Fogo de Chao not long after my first visit, my Dad actually consumed eight of these that evening. They’re really that good. There is no gaminess at all in the meat and in its own way, it sort of blows beef out of the water. Really. It’s incredibly tender without seeping juice or falling apart; it’s just naturally tender and ideally seasoned. If Fogo de Chao weren’t as formal as it is, I would roll up my sleeves and just tell the gaucho chef to leave his skewer with all of the pieces and go.
Mr. K consistently turns these down, which makes me want to take a chop and smack him over the head with it. I always end up giving him a bite of mine and he actually likes it, but without fail, on the next visit, he will turn down the lamb chops. (I never said he was perfect. Close…but no points for refusing the world’s best lamb chops!)
Later on in the meal, I did accept another lamb chop. And I’m including it here only to show that this piece, unlike the first piece, was overcooked despite my asking for rare. So, when you visit, this is something to keep in mind. There are people in the kitchen slaving over hot fires to get these out to you….so if you find that the piece you ordered that I or anyone else said was amazing, but it isn’t—then let them know and ask them for another piece. If I ate this lamb chop as my first, I’d say I could make a better one. But the first piece I had was exactly how most of the Fogo de Chao lambchops are, and furthermore, everyone here is new….so just ask.
In my case, I was stuffed to the gills when I ordered the last lamb chop, and I needed more meat like I needed a hole in the head, so it was just as well.
Bottom Sirloin at Fogo de Chao
How can anyone look at that hunk of meat and not be happy? I am happy. I am thankful to the cows of the world and extraordinarily happy.
The bottom sirloin at Fogo de Chao is actually one of the best pieces. You can see it glistening in the photo of the slice; it really is that juicy and the charring on the outside of this slice made for one spectacular combination. If I had to pick–and I might be in the minority here–but if I had to pick, I think I’d opt for bottom over top sirloin. It’s delicious!
Picanha — Prime Sirloin — The Signature Steak at Fogo de Chao
I believe I was told before that the Picanha was Fogo de Chao’s most popular cut and their signature house steak— and it’s no surprise. The prime sirloin cut has such great balance of fat vs. meat and responds the more you chew it. With great seasoning and always a rare piece available, this one comes by often. It’s virtually identical to the garlic steak, but while the add-on marinades provide the flavor there, this one is pure goodness and exactly the flavor you think of when you think of a fantastic piece of meat. While completely tender, it behaves like a much bigger piece of meat.
I might just grab one off the skewer on my way out sometime and make a run for it to eat it at home with a bowl of hot white rice.
Filet Mignon at Fogo de Chao
The fact that you can have all the filet mignon your stomach can handle here is wonderful. For those of you who love this cut of meat–eat yo’ heart out. Personally, I much prefer my oilier meats but I have to admit that Fogo makes a mean Filet Mignon. I’d say that’s a little colder than medium rare and it’s ideal. Given how little fat this cut has, it goes from wonderful to concrete dry in a matter of seconds, but Fogo de Chao’s Filet Mignon is moist and succulent. The meat actually pops a little as you chew–like, a bounce, if you will. Because it is a thicker cut than the other beef offerings, the large amount of meat balances out the saltiness and makes for great meat-eating on its own.
Leg of Lamb at Fogo de Chao
I have never liked this cut much at Fogo de Chao even when it’s cooked better than this, especially when your other lamb counterpart is the succulent, majestic lamb chop they do well. But the gaucho chef was able to find me a rarer piece, shown below.
There is noticeably a lack of gaminess in the lamb they cook at Fogo de Chao. But the leg of lamb was still subpar compared to everything else; it would win only against the Parmesan Pork that I don’t like, ever.
The Beef Ribs at Fogo de Chao
I really think it’s a secret.
In all of my visits to Fogo de Chao except one time in LA, I have never seen anyone come by with the beef ribs unless I specifically ask for it. I suppose you can’t blame them when these alone must be a loss leader for the company. Had my first visit not been with someone who knew to ask for it, I might still be living in the dark. But nope….I saw the light early on.
But this is my #1 most favorite item on the menu, hands down.
One of these days, and I’ve said this for years now, I will get to Fogo de Chao on an empty stomach, get a plateful of rice, and just eat this with rice. I feel like I might be kicked out, hahaha!
How soft this meat is cannot be explained in words. The rib meat is so wonderfully grizzled and you’re sure to get a few areas of fat as you bite down into a piece. The slightly harder exterior oozes with flavor, but the middle meat just sends you over into nirvana. I could lose all of my teeth and still eat this.
I will lose all of my teeth and still eat this.
Make sure you ask for this specifically. And better yet, do it as soon as you begin eating so you taste this on a less-than-full stomach.
#1 Favorite at Fogo de Chao.
Ribeye Steak at Fogo de Chao
This poor Ribeye….it had to come right after the beef ribs and there is nothing in the world that would taste good after you’ve had those ribs on a full stomach. The ribeye was a little less fatty than I’d prefer anyway–not to mention the piece I was given wasn’t quite rare or even medium-rare either. I’d consider this a medium…
But I’ve had this many times on past visits and the Ribeye is ordinarily very good, though it wouldn’t make my top five.
This was when all of our sides came out. If they tasted good when I’d had this much meat–you know they have to absolutely fantastic!
The Dessert at Fogo de Chao
I just said I was full, right?
Well, I’ve been way fuller on past visits, but to date, there has never been one visit that didn’t end with the amazing, spectacular Papaya Cream dessert at Fogo de Chao.
Understand, I don’t even much like dessert. You’ll often hear me saying that if I had room for dessert, I’d have more ______ (insert whatever– pasta, sushi, meat, etc.). But not at Fogo de Chao.
Here, I plan ahead about halfway through the meal to know exactly how much more I can eat to actually finish a whole Papaya Cream by myself. (And sometimes whatever anyone else leaves in their glass. No pride when it comes Papaya Cream.)
A drizzle of Cassis Liqueur on top of the iced custard like cream, and you’re good to go. (Hey, that reminds me — where’s my flower?It always comes with an orchid flower!)
ORDER THIS. I cannot emphasize this enough!!
So. I’ll do something I don’t normally show. People seemed to be looking at me funny when I was there, so I thought you might get a kick out of it.
Notice how all of the plates look new up above with each slice of meat? No, I did not send Mr. K to get 15 clean plates.
It’s the same two plates over and over, and about 5 bloodied napkins, making it look like I murdered someone on the table. While I am fine with my meat being bloody, nobody wants to see the meat floating in a pool of blood, so this is how I ate my dinner. Off to the left is one corner I kept clean to keep the plate in place for photographs, and all gaucho chefs were asked to put their meat on the messy plate in front of me. Then I carefully picked it up and did what I had to do to then move it over cleanly to the freshly wiped down plate, then took a photo of it.
Just thought you’d like a look into my oh-so-glamorous life. I should show you my kitchen one day after a recipe post….or not.
And poor friends and Mr. K….our dinner here lasted over two hours because it was such a long process for me to write down notes and order the photos with my notes. We rang in 2016 here this evening when Fogo de Chao shut off the lights and the remaining guests toasted.
I have yet to find any place where virtually everyone but vegans can find something delicious to eat except Fogo de Chao. From the Market Table to the meats and even the fish course that you can opt for instead of the meat, this place is a feast for virtually everyone.
There were only two full-blown meat-fest places where someone could offer to go to on any given evening and I’d most likely say YES: Shabu House and House of Prime Rib. The new addition of Fogo de Chao doesn’t necessarily take away from the other two, but presents a bigger dilemma for me when deciding where to go for delicious meat. The three locations all offer great BEEF, but really, if you’ve been to all three, you’d agree that they also offer something very different from one another. Shabu House is comfort; House of Prime Rib is the ultimate experience.
And Fogo de Chao?
Well, it’s heaven. I don’t know how else to put it. If you love meat, Fogo de Chao is your personal heaven.
As promised, here are the TOP FIVE MEATS I will normally surround myself with when at Fogo. I really do ignore everything else and hone in on these particular cuts.
- Beef Ribs (see note in that section!)
- Garlic Steak
- Lamb Chops
- Bottom Sirloin
These, plus my recommendations at the Market Table, and you’ll be set for one fantastic meal.
You can make reservations for Fogo de Chao on Opentable.
Fogo de Chao is located at 201 3rd Street in San Francisco and sadly, I didn’t see any valet parking option despite what it says on Opentable. The city has tons of valet parking services now, but they don’t interest me at all….I’d much prefer restaurant-supported valet parking. Parking can be difficult in this area so plan accordingly.
The San Francisco location is considerably more expensive per person than other locations like San Diego or Scottsdale, but that’s understandable. The full Market Table and all the meats dinner experience is $59.95 per person, whereas lunch is much more economical at $36.95. The glass of Malbec I had was $14.00 and the Papaya Cream was $11.50, so our total came to $158 for two people, and with tip, it was $190 total. For San Francisco, this is not that expensive for dinner….I mean, check out my last review of dinner at Omakase or a dinner at Restaurant at Meadowood and Fogo de Chao borders on cheap for this city.
I’d like to try the Seabass one day, but it’s $28.95 a la carte and more importantly, it would rob space from the meat….which is so not acceptable.