Steaks are usually given the highest regard. That’s not the case in South America, where steakhouses are found on roadsides to serve truck drivers with lots of meat at low cost. I have never been to Brazil or Argentina, so do not cite me on that. Brazilian steakhouse trend seen in America is based on that same principle that a small bill allows you to eat until your hearts content. I assume that’s similar in Argentina. The steakhouses make money by serving lower grade steak; to make them tasty, the meat are marinated and spiced, resulting in the famous South American steaks that we Americans come to love. There is a reason why Brazilian (buffet) steakhouses have been spreading like wildfire in the United States – most of us don’t eat dry aged Black Angus beef anyway. The South American steaks taste so much better when compared to the local Texas Roadhouse, even though the meat grade is the same.
We were planning to go to the famous sandwich-fries place in Pittsburgh’s strip district, but a police rerouting* and a few detours had us passed by Gaucho a few times. It is a Saturday, the start of long Labor Day weekend so the city is pretty dead, but the line outside of Gaucho is longer than Disney rides. We park just a block from Gaucho and the crowd peaks our interest. A quick search reveals it to be an Argentina steakhouse. With nothing plan for the night, we decide to join the line to find out what Argentina steaks are. It looked like only 30 people in front of us, and Google estimated a wait time of an hour. It is eerily accurate.
The group in front and behind us have never eaten here before, so we still have no idea if this place is any good. However, some other locals knew the hype around this place, and mention that food in the Strip district are generally good. We feel a bit better waiting in line. Worst case, at least there are a lot of people disappointed with us if the food turns out yucky. Eater commended this place as one of the best steakhouse in Pittsburgh area, and that begin the plot of our dinner plans around that. Our final dinner consists of medium well Ribeye (Bife de Gaucho), medium NY Strip (Bife de Chorizo), grilled corn on the cob with olive oil/salt/pepper (maiz), empanadas and seared shrimp (camarones). In hindsight, we should have ordered a bit more food, but the portion is fine.
Just as we make our way into the restaurant, a lady in the group in front of us fainted. Her husband drag her into the shop and lie her on the ground, but both the son and the dad seemed unconcerned. It turns out she was diabetic, and is running low on blood sugar. A college student in the group behind us tried to be heroic and mentioned that she is pre-med to have access to the lady. I doubt she know what she is doing. Fire fighters arrive soon after and revived her. The ambulance tried to get her to the hospital but she insisted she is fine. Probably didn’t want to waste money, and it seemed to the son that eating here is the most important thing.
Besides that little drama, we made it in and finally, after an hour, place our order. It feels more like a fast food chain because orders are place at the front counter, and there is no service provided. I still tip the normal amount, not knowing what the right etiquette is. The wait continues as the busy kitchen prepares our dinner. The line could have moved faster, but I think it is pace so that the kitchen is not on fire all night long – steaks take time to cook. The atmosphere is casual filled by tables of large parties.
Onto the food. The ribeye is definitely juicier than the NY Strip. Both are tender and marinated with herbs to taste. I would have preferred a little less salt and pepper on the crusted surfaces, but that would probably have made the steak taste less fine. The empanadas are amazing. Usually, restaurants skim on the filling by using thick crust, but it is well balance here; the filling is also very tasty; the corn is succulent and I could and we should have ordered more. The shrimp is pretty good. The one thing I didn’t risk is using their homemade hot sauces. There are 4 of them, each with different spices. In my defense, there is nothing that I want to dip them in. I would have tried if I have ordered the roasted chicken. It seems like a waste of meat (and marination) to dip the steak in them.
I’m sure most people come here because of the price. We might have ordered a bit less food than optimal, and the check (including a generous tip) is $75. I can’t imagine finding a place that offers tasty steaks at this price, including local steak chains. They cut cost by having minimal service and located in the very economical but up and coming Pittsburgh. The catch is the wait. One could argue to have a bigger restaurant to serve more people, but I assure you, the line will increase in proportion. They lost about 30% of their customers in line, and this is during a long holiday weekend. I can’t imagine the normal line. Seriously, if you want to get into the food business, South American steakhouses is an amazing idea. Do it.
Visited: September 1 on Saturday at 6pm for dinner.
Address: 1601 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh
*I followed the GPS to the sandwich shop. There is a lot of roadwork about 3 blocks away. The car in front of me drove pass a parked cop car. I was going to follow but the cop came out screaming at the car and at me. I stop to ask if it is okay to go pass him, then decided I’ll use another road. He got me to roll down my window, and yelled at me asking if it is ever alright to cross a yellow line. I knew he was mad, and I didn’t want to escalate so I just say no, not understanding why a parked cop car with no lights is a yellow line. He realized he overstepped the boundary, and apologized at the end for a bad day. I’m just glad he felt better and nothing bad happened. Food made it better.