A Tale of Two Steakhouses

Local foodie explores South American sizzle at two city standouts: Picanha and Malbec

South America has a lot of good food, especially steak. While there is no shortage of American steakhouses in the city, I wanted to try something different by dining in a few Latin American-inspired steakhouses, and delving into their most renowned dishes. After some local research, I chose Malbec Argentine Steakhouse in Old City and Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse in Center City.

Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse

We visited Picanha during Center City District’s Restaurant Week, September 10-23. The special menu offered a 3-course all-you-can-eat buffet with a hot and cold salad bar, unlimited cuts of meat, and dessert for $45.

The concept of a Brazilian steakhouse was foreign to me, as I just expected it to be a steakhouse inspired by Brazilian culture and cuisine. Imagine my surprise when the servers kept returning with large skewers of tender, juicy meats!

If you, too, have never experienced a Brazilian steakhouse, it’s essentially an unlimited indulgence of steak and grilled meats where servers rotate throughout the dining room with impressive spears of perfectly-grilled meats of all kinds. Each party is given a color-coded card for the end of their table: one side is green for “Keep it coming!” and the other side is red which means “Whoa, I have no more room in my tummy for your delicious food right now!”

The salad bar serves as an appetizer, with hot and cold options of different pastas, breads, cheeses, veggies, potatoes, and more. You can go to the salad bar as much as you’d like, but why? The meat here is the star of the show. To fill up on side dishes — no matter how tasty — is rather missing the point. 🤷‍♀️

Curious about a certain cut of meat?  Servers will shave off small portions to try. Picanha that night offered about eight options, including their signature picanha cut, New York strip, sirloin, bacon-wrapped chicken, lamb, parmesan chicken, sausage, and grilled pineapple.

What does all-you-can-eat steak on sticks have to do with Brazil? Also referred to as Rodízio-style dining — the word “rodizio” is Portuguese for “rotation”, which is what these restaurants do, they circulate fresh-grilled meats around to each table, and carve directly onto diners’ plates. This style of eatery is said to have evolved from Brazilian cowboys, the Gauchos, who would use their swords as skewers to grill their meals over an open fire.

Legend has it that Rodízio dining was a happy accident, created by mistake in a restaurant called Churrascaria Matias in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The story goes that a waiter delivered a meat skewer to the wrong table, but sliced off a small piece of the meat for the guest anyway. Evidently, this grew into the all-you-can-eat skewered meat feast that’s very popular in Brazil today and becoming more prevalent around the world, as well.

Malbec Argentine Steakhouse

Traveling south to Argentina, Malbec Argentine Steakhouse in Old City at 400 S 2nd St. was not as indulgent, but just as delicious. Argentina is known around the world for its cattle, which graze the grasses of the Las Pampas region.

In college, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, where I consumed my fair share of Argentine steak, empanadas, and chimichurri. Obviously, dining at Malbec was at the top of my “to do” foodie bucket list.

Malbec is a type of red wine that is made in Argentina. It’s known for its deep color, fruity flavor, and velvety taste. As the restaurant’s namesake, I knew I had to try a glass. Besides malbec, the restaurant had a diverse list of wines by the glass and bottle.

For appetizers, we tried beef and chicken fried empanadas, which you could purchase individually and would come out together on a large platter. I consider myself something of an empanada connoisseur, and these earned my seal of approval. For my steak, I ordered the filet mignon medium rare with mashed potatoes and a side of chimichurri sauce to spread over the meat.

Regarding the restaurant’s vibe, emblems of Argentine culture like gauchos, wine country pics, and Buenos Aires landmarks decorated the walls and influenced the dining room decor. Of course, my friend Lionel Messi also appeared, because what is an Argentine restaurant without a reminder of the G.O.A.T’s origins?!

Just like at Picanha, I finished the meal with a slice of tres leches cake, which, of course, terrific.

Just like during my time abroad, I left full of delicious steak and yearning for more empanadas. If you’re looking for something more adventurous  than your typical steakhouse, I highly recommend giving Picanha or Malbec a try!

FEATURED RESTAURANTS: 

Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse
1111 Locust Street (Center City)
215-608-8870
Open Mon – Fri 11:30am – 10:00pm; Sat 11:30am – 10:30pm; Sun 11:30am – 9pm
@Picanhacenterphilly 

6501 Castor Ave (Northeast)
215-743-4647
Open Sun – Fri 11am – 10pm; Sat 11am – 11pm
@Picanha.northeast

Malbec Argentine Steakhouse 
400 South 2nd Street (Old City)
215-515-3899
Open Tues – Thurs 4pm – 9pm; Fri – Sat 4pm – 10pm; Sun 1pm – 7:30pm (Closed Monday)
@MalbecArgentineSteakhouse

COMMENTS WELCOME! Have you tried either of these places, or do can you recommend other spots we’ve missed? Tell us below in the Comments, or catch up with me on Instagram @gingersliketoeat. If you enjoyed this feature, please check out last month’s column celebrating Philadelphia’s unique pizza scene.

About Eleni Finkelstein 20 Articles
Eleni Finkelstein (aka @gingersliketoeat on Instagram) is a South Jersey and Philadelphia-based food blogger and journalist. She loves traveling, trying new foods, and cheering on Philly sports teams. You can check out her book, "Eat Like a Local: South Jersey" on Amazon.

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