by Jeff Ruby
Yes, they're all pretty much the same—the prices, the hulking salad bar, the hirsute guys brandishing skewers of searing meat, even the River North addresses—but if we had to pick one over the others, it would still be Fogo de Chão (661 N. LaSalle St.; 312-932-9330). The expertly prepared meat at Chicago's first churrascuría is consistently high quality, its staff well organized. The salad bar ain't what it was when it opened in 2002, and the décor, best described as Hotel Banquet Meets Andes Mountain Lodge, is as tacky as ever. But the well-seasoned meat is still worth its $49.50 price tag. Five blocks away, Brazzaz (539 N. Dearborn St.; 312-595-9000) rates a close second, but this smooth-running machine's salad bar sports fewer choices, and the cavernous room feels depressing on slow nights. Just off Michigan Avenue, the newcomer Texas de Brazil (51 E. Ohio St.; 312-670-1006) oversalts its meats to ridiculous levels and has the most irritating waitress on earth—the one who wouldn't leave us alone for an hour, then went mysteriously MIA when we wanted the check. Bonus points for the sushi and the acrobat in the harness retrieving wine; the kids love it. Zed451 (739 N. Clark St.; 312-266-6691) enjoys a thriving eye-candy bar scene in its hip lounge and on its roof in warmer weather, but the meat is hit-or-miss and the salad bar is full of Old Country Buffet-level chestnuts. Churrasco Brazil (541 W. North Ave., Villa Park; 630-832-0877) in the west suburbs costs a little bit less ($35) than its competitors 25 miles east, and while the staff is undeniably endearing, you get what you pay for. -J. R.
Photograph: Chris Lake