In the heart of San Diego, under an auspicious green awning lies the entrance to one of the best-kept secrets in the city. Walking by, you can’t help but savor the smell of the mesquite charcoal and grilled meats that will have your stomach growling; you may even find yourself licking your lips in eager anticipation of what awaits you on the other side.
Welcome to Rei do Gado, the best Brazilian Steakhouse in Southern California. Although the scent of the food may have the familiarity of your favorite steakhouse, Rei Do Gado is anything but typical. The service is in the style of Rodízo (loosely translated it means all you can eat), although most of us don’t think of high-end cuts of meat and fresh delicious side options when we think of a buffet-style restaurant.
Rei Do Gado is one of the only Churrascarias in the United States to cook their food over a mesquite-charcoal fueled heat, which replicates the way the Gauchos of Brazil cooked their meat over 200 years ago. As authentic as it gets!
Once inside you are greeted with an awe-inspiring array of food all around you, which is prepared by Chef Aristeu Lucas and his amazing team. Let your stomach be your guide as you wander the amazing display of salads, charcuterie, cheese, fruits, vegetables and salads. But don’t let the variety and selection fool you – this is just the first course! At your table you will find a wooden stick (it actually resembles a spice container) with a red and a green end. This little guy is your ticket to the meat show. Once you have returned with your first round of salad and side options, flip the marker with the green side pointed up – this signals the passadors (meat waiters) to make a stop at your table as they dance around the restaurant with their fresh mesquite-charcoal grilled meat. Once you have signaled the meat procession, you are in for an awe-inspiring selection to choose from. If you thought the selection and the salad and sides bar was amazing, wait until you experience the variety of fresh-grilled meats that will pass by your table. There are turkey and beef filets wrapped in bacon, perfectly marinated lamb chops and fall-off-the-bone ribs. They even feature homemade sausage and you must try some of the house favorites: the skirt steak, which is sooo tender, beef ribs that melt in your mouth, and the ever-popular Picanha roast, skewered to allow the juices from the fat to baste and marinate the meat as it grills.
A word to the wise – it is easy to fill up on the delicious array of sides and fresh veggies but you definitely want to save room for the best part – the meat! Select a few sides to try and go up for seconds after you have had a chance to eat some of the churrasco-style meats that are in constant rotation.
The Chilled Chicken Salad is hearty enough to be filling all on its own.
The meat is presented to you on the spit where your passador will carve a slice just for you. Like your meat rare? Maybe you have more of an affinity for a well-done slice? Whatever your preference, the passador will be sure to serve you with exactly what you want by carving from a portion of the meat that is just right. Don’t feel that you have to try everything the first time around and don’t be afraid to turn that stick from green to red if you need a break. The different types of meat will be in rotation during your whole meal so you can try the tenderloin everyone was raving about or have seconds of your favorites!
In addition to their amazing display of food, the restaurant features a full service bar with a good variety of wines and beers but we suggest you wash down your food with a Caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail made with Cachaça (sugar cane hard liquor – yum!). And although it might be hard, don’t forget to leave room for dessert. Their Passion Fruit Mousse is so light and airy; it is the perfect end to a perfect meal.
What is a Churasscaria?
What began as a gaucho tradition in Brazil in the late 1800s has become a very popular restaurant trend in the United States. It combines the variety of food many Americans are accustomed to with the slow food movement that is popular in many other parts of the world. Patrons can relax, enjoy great food and great company while dining on delicious grilled meats and fresh vegetables. With a never-ending variety of proteins and sides – people with a variety of dietary needs can enjoy a meal that is perfectly suited for them.
Although gaining popularity in the United States, the Brazilians are still kings of the Churrascaria with over 500 Rodizo-style Churrascaria in Sao Paulo alone! Viva la Brasil!
The next time you are looking for a truly unique dining experience and want to try some of the best food in San Diego, be sure you stop by Rei Do Gado – just bring an empty stomach!
Rei Do Gado
939 4th Avenue
San Diego, California 92101
By: Kerri-Lynn Swanson
Photos: Allen Carrasco