A few weeks ago, I had my very first Brazilian churrascaria experience at Fogo de Chão in San Jose, California. Churrasco is a Spanish and Portuguese term for grilled meat or more commonly barbecue. Many Americans have come to know a churrascaria to be a Brazilian steakhouse. I have to admit, I was very wary at first since American BBQ isn’t always celiac-friendly, but I was interested in learning more about Fogo de Chão and their gluten-free offerings. I also would LOVE to go to Brazil one day, so for the time being this is how I will fulfill that Brazilian food fantasy!
I have to admit, I “grilled” (yes, pun intended) the Fogo de Chão PR team before accepting an invite to dine at the restaurant. I wanted to make sure they fully understood my need for gluten-free food and prep when dining as a person with celiac disease. I was impressed with not only their responses to all of my questions, but their full allergen information chart that they provided me with prior to my visit.* Click here for the most recent Fogo de Chão Potential Allergens chart. Fogo de Chão is found nationwide across the United States and Mexico, Brazil, Mexico, and even in the Middle East. Be sure to ask for this chart in any location you visit!
Once my questions were answered and I carefully reviewed the allergen chart, I happily accepted the invitation for a complimentary dinner for myself and my husband. I purposely made an early reservation when the restaurant first opened for dinner so I would have some time to talk to the manager before it got too busy. This is a great tip for any gluten-free diner. Off-hours are quiet and the staff usually have more time to answer your questions.
When I arrived, we were greeted by general manager Yuri Teixeira who went through the allergen menu with me. He pointed out all of the food that I could eat. Happily, more than 90% of the menu is gluten-free! We talked about all of the wonderful foods that were gluten-free, explained how the “meat cards” work, walked by the Market Table (salad bar) together, and also talked about any potential risky dishes. Thankfully Yuri pointed out that the polenta fries are cooked in the same fryer as the non-gluten-free empanadas. I was super impressed that he recognized this could be a potential risk of cross-contamination for someone with celiac disease. (Note: Ask your local Fogo de Chão manager if the fryers are shared.) Good news is that the delicious caramelized bananas are made in their own fryer. The Italian bread is kept far away from the salad bar and there are no croutons anywhere! These are always potential cross-contaminants.
The meal started with a basket of pão de queijo, a traditional Brazilian cheese bread. These are already a favorite of mine so it was a great way to start the meal. Pão de queijo is naturally gluten-free and made from tapioca. We also ordered caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail, based on Yuri’s recommendation.
At Fogo de Chão, you have the option of the full dining experience which includes the Market Table as well as all-you-can-eat meats or just the Market Table. You can also sit in the bar area and order off the Bar Fogo menu. After seeing the Market Table, learning there is zero gluten on the table at this time*, and sampling a little bit of everything, I think I could have made that my full meal. Just look at all of these beautiful Market Table offerings.
By far my absolute favorite dish on the market table was the candied bacon with chili flakes. OMG, this stuff was insanely delicious and my husband was laughing at me as I was practically licking my lips while eating this bacon.
I could have easily fed off the Market Table the entire time but I was there for the full experience and really wanted some meats! At each place setting, there are little red and green cards. I am sure these have a more official name, but I called them “Meat Cards.” Basically, when you are ready for the meats, you flip to green. If you need a break, flip to red. Honestly, the food just kept coming whether you were on red or green. I needed a breath!
So once we flipped to green, the meats started arriving. All of the beef, lamb, and pork dishes brought to the table are gluten-free.* Two of the chicken dishes are marinated in regular beer, so those are off limits. Again, I was thankful that Yuri pointed this out to me. I eat a ton of chicken at home, so I wasn’t missing anything. We feasted on everything from filet mignon wrapped in bacon, prime rib, and the traditional Picanha, a sirloin beef cooked with garlic which was the best! All of the meats are served on a skewer and cut right at your table. This is all part of the full churrascaria experience.
To say we were stuffed would be an understatement. We ate and ate and then found some room for dessert. The dessert selections are the only part of the menu that weren’t so gluten-free friendly. Six of the desserts were gluten-free while the rest were filled with gluten. At this point, I probably could have skipped dessert but my husband convinced me to share the Brailizian flan with caramel sauce. While I am not a huge fan of the texture of flan (yes, I am weird about food textures) this tasted great and the texture grew on me. I highly recommend this dish if you can find room at the end of your meal. One of my Brazilian Instagram followers commented that this dessert was “so Brazilian” which I took as a good compliment.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience at Fogo de Chão. The service was excellent with multiple servers, bussers, and meat cutters stopping by throughout the meal. I did notice we weren’t getting any special treatment because I was there as a guest, the service was just that good. As someone that feels good service is seriously lacking in the Bay Area, both my husband and I were pleasantly impressed with the attentiveness of the staff. Plus the food was delicious and it was so nice to not have to worry about what I was eating. I was prepared ahead of time, I gained the trust of the restaurant via general manager Yuri, and the allergen chart clearly outlined what I could and could not eat. While it is ultimately up to you to choose if you want to dine out or not, I do recommend this restaurant based on my positive experience. I’ve also heard from celiac friends that they’ve had similar good experiences at locations across the country.
Fogo de Chão is definitely a special occasion type of restaurant. At $56.95 per person for the full experience and approximately $15 per cocktail, this isn’t an every week kind of restaurant. I would suggest this restaurant for a birthday or for a special celebration. Definitely make a reservation ahead of time and also make sure to talk to the staff about your gluten-free dietary needs. If you have any other allergies, make sure to tell them that as well when you make your reservation and when you arrive. It is always good practice no matter what restaurant you go to, to alert them of your dietary needs. Each restaurant could have slightly different protocols in the kitchen and menu items.
*Keep in mind, the menu at Fogo de Chão is seasonal and things can and will change. Be sure to ask your server and/or management to see the updated allergen chart. Also, always ask questions about what you are eating. Better safe than sorry!
Thank you kindly to Fogo de Chão for hosting me for this dinner. I appreciate you taking care of my celiac, gluten-free needs and feeding me so well. I will DEFINITELY be back! In the meantime, if this restaurant is any accurate indication of what I can expect in Brazil (which I am sure it is) I need to book a trip immediately!
While my meal was compliments of Fogo de Chão, my opinions are my own.