It’s not just football that brings out the rivalry between Brazil and neighbouring Argentina. The red-blooded title of South America’s steak capital is the newer tussle. Buenos Aires may have the long-established reputation as the place for barbecued beef, but São Paulo is hot on its heels, if in numbers alone: the latter has more than 500 steakhouses (churrascarias), and in 2012, two international investment funds took over the Brazilian steakhouse chains Fogo de Chão and Rubaiyat paying US$400 million and US$59.5 million, respectively.
You can sample São Paulo’s churrasco (barbecue) tradition – originally from the gaúcho lands in the south of the country, where cowboys would cook skewers of meat over open-fire barbecues – in one of two ways: at all-you-can-eat rodízios, where waiters circulate with myriad cuts of beef, plus lamb, pork and wild boar, slicing meat straight from the cut onto your plate; or à la carte, picking out just one prime cut.
Either way, you’ll need plenty of time, an elasticated waistband, and a Neanderthal-style appetite to do the tradition justice.
A Figueira Rubaiyat
Rua Haddock Lobo 1738, Jardim Paulista (3087 1399).
The Iglesias family has over the years mastered the art of raising cattle. Their excellent home-reared beef is served in A Figueira Rubaiyat as well as Baby Beef Rubaiyat. Sit under the shade of the restaurant's giant fig tree.
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Baby Beef Rubaiyat
Alameda Santos 86, Paraíso (3170 5100/ rubaiyat.com.br); Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima 2954, Itaim Bibi (3165 8888)
The two São Paulo Baby Beef Rubaiyat restaurants combine austerity with an elegant modernity, and impeccable service. At lunchtime, their handy location near the city's business hubs make them favourite spots for business meetings.
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Rua Doutor Renato Paes de Barros 65, Itaim Bibi (3168 5522/ barbacoa.com.br) D&D Shopping Avenida das Nações Unidas, 12555, Brooklin (3043 9244); Morumbi Shopping Avenida Roque Petroni Jr, 1089, Morumbi (5181 6898)
Scoring high for its sophistication and exquisite meats, Barbacoa is priced on a par with the city’s other top churrascarias like Fogo de Chão. Start at the bar with a round of mini sausages before digging in to the immense salad buffet and meats.
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Avenida Olavo Fontoura 327, Santana (2221 4146/ churrascariaanhembi.com.br)
Smack bang next to Anhembi Parque arena, this churrascaria feeds the five thousand – and then some. The gaúcho traditions have been abandoned in favour of a more crowd-pleasing approach, with an array of international dishes served alongside its solid selection of meats.
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Avenida dos Imarés 758, Moema (5096 3213/ costelamoema.com.br)
It’s all about ribs at this barbecue joint, and the secret to its success lies in the engineering marvel tucked away in its kitchen. The tall ovens are specially designed to roast an entire side of beef ribs for forty hours at a low temperature. The sizeable sides include fried polenta and fried plantain.
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Alameda Santos 45, Paraíso (3016 5333/ dinhos.com.br)
The star of the meaty menu at Dinho’s is the US-style prime rib – all 700g of it, packed with an immense Fred Flintstone-style bone. The steakhouse draws a lunchtime crowd of top execs from the nearby Avenida Paulista.
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Avenida Marquês de São Vicente 1767B, Barra Funda (3611 3008/ fogaogaucho.com.br)
The quality of the cuts, the salting of the meat, and the skill at the grill all work in perfect harmony at this expansive steakhouse in the north of the city. The architecture – a series of bland cojoining rooms – is nothing to write home about though.
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Fogo de Chão
Avenida Santo Amaro 6824, Santo Amaro (5524 0500/ fogodechao.com.br); Avenida dos Bandeirantes 538, Vila Olímpia (5505 0791)
At the most famous brand of Brazilian churrascaria, efficient waiters circulate with excellent cuts, poised to slice off hunks straight onto your plate. While you may leave pounds heavier, your wallet will be lighter – it’s one of the most expensive rodízios.
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Avenida dos Bandeirantes 1001, Vila Olímpia (3048 0299/ jardineiragrill.com.br)
One of the first city steakhouses to run a fixed-price rodízio system, Jardineira Grill serves good quality meat, though churrascaria purists will need to avert their eyes from the sushi and seafood in the restaurant's ample buffet.
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Avenida Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek 816, Itaim Bibi (3078 0999/ churrascariamontanagrill.com.br)
Scoring high on celebrity credentials, Montana Grill was set up almost twenty years ago by Brazil’s most famous country singers. The São Paulo location is a touch soulless, but the meat and the service are impeccable, however.
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North Vila Nova
Rua Jacques Félix 365, Vila Nova Conceição (3044 4885/ northvilanova.com.br)
Leather seats, wood floors and an abudance of indoor foliage add up to a pleasant interior at North Vila Nova, a newer, more glamourous version of the original North Grill, built years ago in Shopping Frei Caneca. The steakhouse holds its own thanks to a solid selection of premium beef, including Wagyu – Japanese cattle prized for their tender meat and marbled fat.
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One of São Paulo’s original churrascarias, Rodeio was for decades a favourite with the wealthy elite before newer competitors took over. Rodeio has hung in there, and even regained some of its original lustre with a modernising makeover.
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Templo da Carne Marcos Bassi
Rua Treze de Maio 668, Bela Vista (3805 4284/ marcosbassi.com.br)
Marcos Bassi is a meat geek, sharing his near-encyclopaedic knowledge of meat in courses and a regular radio show. The restaurant’s signature dishes include fraldinha (flank steak), as well as bom-bom (rump steak).
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This steakhouse took years to earn the almost unanimous approval it enjoys todays among the city’s restaurant critics. We reached red-meat nirvana recently at Varanda’s new sibling inside the luxury shopping mall, JK Iguatemi.
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Avenida Rebouças 1001, Jardim Paulista (3083 4265/ ventoharagano.com.br)
A favourite pitstop for Formula One teams, Vento Haragano is best known for its prime beef ribs and picanha (sirloin steak) with garlic. Look out for the unorthodox tambaqui ribs – giant, meaty ribs of the powerfully flavoured Amazonian fish.
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