Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
1686 Market Street (at Gough )
San Francisco 94102
Cuisine: Brazilian Barbeque
Pluses: Some meats succulent and delicious; lively atmosphere that’s good for large groups
Minuses: Big crowds on weekends can lead to long waits; expensive wine list
Don't Miss: Juicy slices of “beef tender,” and the house-made linguica sausage
Prices: Lunch is $18.95 on weekdays and $20.95 on Saturday for 7 different types of meat. Dinner is $34.95 every day, plus extra for drinks and dessert.
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.
All major credit cards accepted
Low-carb dieters rejoice! Opened in November 2003, Espetus Churrascaria is San Francisco’s first authentic Brazilian barbeque joint, featuring an all-you-can-eat selection of up to a dozen wood-fired meats and a lively atmosphere that’s appropriate for large groups.
The fun starts after you sit down and spin your granite-topped table’s little wheel to green (“Sim por favor”): suddenly a steady stream of handsome gauchos dressed in black poofy pants, white shirts, and distinctive ties descend upon your table, offering sword-like skewers of mostly beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. With your nod, the gaucho will slice off a piece of meat which you can then grab with a pair of tongs and place on your plate. When your plate is full, spin your table’s wheel back to red (“Não obrigado”) to temporarily stave off the flow of meat until you’re ready for more.
While well-seasoned and flavorful, the skewered meats are not always consistently cooked to the same level of doneness. On one night, some cuts of beef and lamb were gray and too well done, while others were very rare, dripping with juices. Likewise, barbequed chicken legs were sweet and succulent, while the tiny chicken hearts ended up too chewy and rubbery. Despite the inconsistency, it’s a safe bet that you will always find at least 3-4 truly exceptional meats on which to fill up, with your favorites varying based on how well you like your meat cooked.
A cold bar in the back of the narrow, austerely decorated dining room offers a pot-luck assortment of prepared salads, including mayonnaise-y potato and tuna salads, mixed cous-cous, corn salsa with a cumin vineagrette, deviled eggs, basil-flecked tomato slices, and assorted olives and marinated artichoke hearts. A few warm side dishes are also available, including rice, black beans, and a lackluster fish or chicken entrée that changes from night to night. Although a vegetarian can easily fill up on these options, it’s clear that the skewered meats are the stars of the menu and non-red-meat eaters would be happier elsewhere.
Drinks and desserts are priced in addition to the standard all-you-can-eat charge. Although the desserts are large and worth saving room for (try the decadent tres leches cake ($3.95), or the tartly refreshing mango pudding ($6)), the wine list is overly-expensive and should be avoided. For authentic flavor, try a caipirinha ($6.75), a popular Brazilian drink made with sugarcane liquor and lime.
On the whole, Espetus fills a much needed gap for a festive place that caters to meat-lovers. Although the popularity of low-carb diets may wane with time, Espetus has a formula that should prove more enduring.