By Kathy Kerby

Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian steakhouse, opened its first Arizona location at Dana Park in the former TQLA location. Billed as “America’s First Brazilian Steakhouse,” the concept originated in Denver in 1995. Co-owner Nick Clayton (who also owns a Rodizio Grill in Milwaukee) is thrilled about the new Mesa location in the sprawling 6,900 square-foot space that seats almost 300.

My husband and I were so excited to visit a Brazilian steakhouse for the first time. The upscale restaurant features a gorgeous interior with brick, tile, glass, art, wrought iron, dark wood, leather booths and hanging lights to help set the mood. The Latin colors of black, tan, burnt orange and green and the huge windows looking out on a patio lined with palm trees add to the ambiance.

We were warmly greeted by a smiling hostess and then we walked by a colorful, well-stocked bar area to our waiting table where we met Ilse. She took the time to describe the two options for our meal which include the Full Rodizio ($24.99 lunch/$29.99/dinner) or the Salad Bar ($19.99.)

The salad bar is out of this world. With more than 50 different selections from quinoa to quail eggs, it was a stunning display of fabulous food. I took a small taste of many of the offerings and my favorites were the caramelized walnut bowtie salad, the crab salad, the roasted coconut pineapple coleslaw and the malagueta chicken salad with spicy chicken celery, carrots and other “secret” ingredients. The coleslaw was the best I have eaten since the roasted coconut and pineapple added a new dimension of flavor to the often ordinary cabbage salad. Seriously, if you are not a meat eater, this salad bar is reason enough to visit Rodizio Grill.

When we returned to our table we found little serving dishes filled with fried polenta sticks, cheese bread and bananas fritas. The tasty bananas were sautéed with cinnamon and sugar.

As we were enjoying our salads, Clayton dropped by to ask how we were enjoying our meal and told us that he has been with the company for 13 years. He fell in love with the Brazilian people, food and culture when he served a church mission there and his passion is to “make certain real, authentic Brazilian cuisine is being served. When you walk in, we want you to be transported to Brazil.”

Beef is the star here and we had already been enjoying watching the efficient (and handsome) gauchos, dressed in black and gray, carry huge spears of meat through the dining area cutting off portions of beef, chicken and pork. Ilse had given us a little spindle with a red cube and a green cube attached and when we finished our salads we turned it to green which was a sign to the gauchos to bring on the meat.

The signature grilled and glazed pineapple was shaved expertly and we used our tongs to grab it and place it on our plates. Then we sampled tender top sirloin cooked to medium rare perfection and seared tri-tip.

Next, a gaucho with marinated chicken breast added to our plates although we declined the chicken hearts. After a few minutes, we tasted the linguica sausage and with each serving, the skilled gauchos told us the name of the meat in Portuguese as well as English. Guests also have the opportunity to request rare to well-done and to make requests for additional servings. Flavorful bacon-wrapped chicken, parmesan pork, glazed ham, garlic beef and sweet and spicy chicken also found a way to our plates.

When the beautiful dessert tray ($5 to $8) was presented at our table, we feasted our eyes on the Romeo and Juliet cheesecake, rabanada (warm cinnamon pastry,) crème brule and chocolate torte, but we will save them for our next visit.

We definitely enjoyed the taste of Brazil and we will be back to celebrate the culture, hospitality and alegria (joy) of Rodizio Grill.

Rodizio Grill

Location: 1840 S. Val Vista Dr. in Mesa
Phone: 480-813-5400