7 Latin steakhouses Long Island diners should try
Churrasco, rodizio, grill, asado … No matter how you say it, you're talking about the same wonderful thing. Prime cuts of steak, seafood and juicy pork, cooked to perfection and served with a plentiful array of side dishes that symbolize the world's abundance. A celebration. A culinary ceremony.
The traditional "American" steakhouse aspires to be a highbrow experience, with tuxedoed servers, dry martinis and very sharp steak knives presented to the diner like trophies. But in South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, enjoying steak can be a vivacious experience. The culture owes much to the gaucho, a romanticized vagabond figure who roamed the South American pampas with his horse, hunting and rounding up cattle much like a Southwestern cowboy. (Mexico has the vaquero, but the iconic Northern Mexican steakhouses aren't as prevalent in New York.)
Long Island is flush with Brazilian rodizio grills, serving stately skewers of slow-cooked rotisserie in an all-you-can-eat setting, complete with extravagant salad bars and flashy interiors. Many of them are chains like Fogo de Chao, but there are also several excellent independent restaurants that draw from the same tradition but do it their own way.
And with Long Island's large Portuguese population, there are even more churrascarias, hybrid restaurants that mix European and New World grilling cultures. They may serve rodizio, but also the unique pudding cup and meringue cake desserts. And then there are the Argentinian asados, like Tango in Central Islip and the new El Gauchito #3, which serve housemade Italian pastas and pile their meats on a portable grill that sits at 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 Tpke., Mineola
Cuisine: Portuguese churrascaria
You see the grill first, a long open pit with skewers of meat and smoke pouring out onto the bustling dining room. Even on a regular Thursday night, the Mineola institution is packed with large groups celebrating birthdays over salt cod and molotof meringue cake. Churrasqueira Bairrada is one of the Island's oldest and most venerated Portuguese steakhouses,in business since 1992, and you can tell by the wall of celebrity autographs (Pelé, Run-D.M.C.). You might be tempted to order the all-you-can-eat rodizio for $58, but there are too many interesting entrees to ignore. On weekends the restaurant prepares a crackly leitão or suckling pig, a specialty of the Bairrada wine region that the restaurant is named after. But if you're in it for the steaks, the entranha skirt steak ($42.95) is an excellent bet. The long cut is juicy with an excellent char and some good chew.
Don't leave without trying: A fluffy slice of molotof (cloud cake) for dessert.
More info: 516-739-3856, churrasqueira.com
133 W. Main St., Smithtown
Cuisine: Portuguese churrascaria
If you squint, you can still kind of tell that this sprawling churrasqueira used to be a Sizzler. Portuguese native Luisa Batista moved into the larger location in 2013 because her Smithtown restaurant was so popular she needed more space. And even on a Tuesday night there's a crowd enjoying wood-charred barbecue dishes like rotisserie chicken and costela de vaca, prime rib. Seafood takes up half the menu and the grill lends a beautiful char to dishes like swordfish grelhado ($31.95), caramelizing the edges of the fish in a sweet crunch. French fries here are unexpectedly good, assertively fried and deep brown with an earthy undercurrent. So it's a good thing they come with all the meals, in addition to bread, olives, salad, rice and big hunks of steamed broccoli and carrots.
Don't leave without trying: Make sure to order that housemade chile oil on the side.
More info: 631-406-6820, lusorodizio.com
2518 Merrick Rd., Bellmore
Cuisine: Portuguese and Brazilian
With its unassuming strip mall setting, the newly-opened Manolo's is a casual option for Portuguese and Brazilian barbecue. Owners Julia Arevalo and Jose Manuel Nuñez converted the former Everest Himalayan restaurant, brightening up the space but keeping the large Nepalese mountain town portrait that dominates the wall. Their menu is equal parts seafood and meat dishes, like grilled octopus and salt cod as well as Portuguese paella with an array of shellfish. Order the Manolo's Grill Platter ($43), which comes with grilled skirt steak, spare ribs, bacon-wrapped turkey and an elaborate spread of side dishes that includes rice, black beans and fried banana.
Don't leave without trying: One of the fruity Portuguese sodas by the counter.
More info: 516-804-5656
5598 Sunrise Hwy., Massapequa
Cuisine: Brazilian rodizio grill
Bringing some sparkle to a big-box shopping corridor, Master Grill is a lavish temple of Brazilian rodizio built into 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 is quite stunning itself, offering an even larger variety of Brazilian dishes and toppings like farofa than what you find at the bigger chains. Moqueca fish stew from the Bahia region is enriched with sweet coconut milk and studded with soft peppers. But more importantly, there are more than 20 varieties of slow-roasted meat, available in Brazilian cuts like alcatra (top sirloin) and fraldinha (bottom sirloin) shaved directly onto your plate. The iconic top sirloin picanha had a lustrous fat cap that blistered with juices. And don't sleep on the bacon-wrapped chicken.
Don't leave without trying: A fatty piece of the top sirloin, shaved directly onto your plate.
More info: 516-308-7838, mastergrill.us
El Gauchito #3, Rockville Centre
12 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre
Cuisine: Argentinian asado
The first Long Island location of the popular Queens steakhouse, El Gauchito #3 brings a sweeping menu of Argentine classics to Rockville Centre. The restaurant sources meat from its own butcher shop, an Elmhurst staple since 1979, and serves hard-to-find selections like black sausage, kidneys and sweet breads. Adventurous eaters would be well served by ordering baked empanadas, or an antipasto El Gauchito platter of various cured meats like pickled pigs feet. Then move on to the delights of the parrillada, a style of barbecue where slow-cooked meats are piled onto a tableside grill and eaten with bread and herby chimichurri sauce. Curly logs of griddled tripe will take you to the edge. But if you're playing it safe, the entraña skirt steak is easy eating.
Don't leave without trying: An Italian dish, like the cheesy polenta bolognese
More info: 516-442-0517, elgauchitonyc.com
Tango Argentinian Steakhouse
99 W. Suffolk Ave., Central Islip
Cuisine: Argentinian asado
It takes two to tango, but it takes about four people to finish one of the mammoth meat platters at this lively Argentinian restaurant. Every table has one, a portable grill piled high with beefy short ribs and three different types of steak that are all so juicy it's hard to tell them apart. The parrillada 'solo carne para dos' ($70) is finished with pickled pepperoncini and paired with buttery mashed potatoes, green salad and a spiky 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 provoletta, dollops of sharp Argentinian cheese baked over an open flame until they're browned on top and melty in the middle. The appetizer is served in a ceramic platter that looks like it should contain a boatload of French snails, but dip that bread in and it's gooey cheesy goodness.
Don't leave without trying: A pitcher of red sangria gets the party going.
More info: 631-234-6623, tangorest.com
Pollos Mario Steak House & Seafood
75 N. Franklin St., Hempstead
Towering over the Latin delis of Franklin Street, Pollos Mario is a stately Colonial villa flanked by two life-size bull statues and a friendly cartoon chicken. This grand operation is part of a loosely connected mini chain founded by Colombian immigrant Oscar Franco. But the Hempstead spot seems to have larger ambitions than serving rotisserie chicken, or pollo a la brasa. A funky photographic menu showcases a stunning array of Colombian breakfast dishes, seafood paellas, cocktails and extravagant platters of steaks with soft plantains, griddled corn cake arepas and crispy logs of chicharron pork belly. It's hard to choose just one of these, as they're all good-looking. The cast iron skillet with a juicy skirt steak and bulbous potatoes all slathered in tomatoey Creole sauce arrived at the table bubbling, a molten brew of beefy deliciousness with rice and beans to soak it up.
Don't leave without trying: Tap on some of that vinegary green sauce for a kick. And don't forget the napkins.
More info: 516-505-3200, pollosmariorestaurant.com