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Mar 11, 2005

Chamas Churrascaria, Durham – So much, so good, so go already

Marcelo400I’ve solved the mystery of “Where’s the Beef?” It’s at Chamas. On a skewer. Heading for a plate near you.

I would be more intimidated about blogging about my Chamas meals if it weren’t for the fact that Joe V. has given it an extensive write-up, as has  Greg Cox at the N&O.

So for now, here are a few things I want you to know before you plan your own food tour of Brazil at Brightleaf.

1.  Chamas means “flames” in Portuguese. Churrascaria means “you’re going to eat too much and still not touch a quarter of what they’ve offered you.”

2.  Your choices at Chamas include an extensive cold buffet with several hot dishes to the side, and a dozen or more meat dishes served or carved at your table by roving meat men like Marcelo (pictured here with the picanha - click to make bigger so you can see the fat).

3.  At lunch, you can order just the buffet ($9.95); the “light rodizio” buffet plus chicken and sausage ($11.95); or the “full rodizio” buffet plus all beef, lamb, pork, and poultry ($19.95). (Dinner: buffet ($19.95)l rodizio ($26.95).

4.  Both the buffet and the full rodizio are fantastic lunch values as long as you aren’t (a) on a low-calorie diet or (b) in a hurry to get through lunch. At dinner, the buffet is $19.95 and the full rodizio is $26.95. Still good values, especially if you’re not in a hurry.

5.  Vegetarians (yes, Pinky! we’re both surprised!) have much to choose from if they won’t be offended by all the meat. Among their items today: four excellent cheeses, hearts of palm, steamed broccoli, marinated tomatoes, pickled onions, an apple salad, olives, beets, spinach, and several other things I can’t recall because there were so many things.

6.  And more for vegetarians and the rest of us -- the holy trinity of the table: mashed potatoes, fried and sugared plantains (as a palate cleanser, so they say), and the pao de quejo, which are like puffed cheese pastries that are like food cocaine.

7.  As for the meats – I now go straight for the picanha (look at the pic of Marcelo!) which is cut from near the top sirloin – served medium or medium-rare with a band of crisped fat which is so beautiful you don’t even have to call it decadent. After the picanha, I look for the lamb and the garlic steak. I’ve tried five or eight other items including the flank steak, the chicken, the pork sausage, and a filet mignon with bacon – and all of these are perfectly fine, but also perfectly unnecessary if you’re me and in love with the first three.


The cheese boards have included a parmesan (hard and nibbly), a blue, and a few others which I enjoyed but did not recognize.  I loved the Chamas choices -- different from what I get anywhere else.

9.  The sauces for the meat (in the other photo - click it to big it) included several things you already know (like mustard and mint jelly), a chutney-like mix of onions and fruit, and a pesto-like dressing whose composition I wouldn’t even guess at. They are wonderful.

10.  The staff and management are very nice, and Marcelo will recognize you in odd places like the Kroger, even if you don’t recognize him at first. And they’re very friendly about answering questions.

11.  They have a lot of wine.

12.  I’m struggling now to write anything except for declarative sentences.

13.  Go eat there, soon.

14.  Skip anything you can get at home: like steamed broccoli, chilled mussels, blue cheese, or olives. You can get these at home. Save your stomach space for the Brazilian wonders, of which there are many.

15.  For God’s sake, don’t order the light rodizio. It’s all or nothing with the meat, my friend.

16.  And say a prayer to that Chamas can succeed in what has lately been a cursed spot at Brightleaf. I hope they’ll consider adding some smaller menu items (e.g, just a couple of meat items and a single visit to the buffet, say) so that people don’t feel like Chamas is the kind of place they can or ought go only once per year (or however often they have a cholesterol check).

12:09 AM in Reviews | Permalink


Wow. It sounds amazing! I think I might have to fast for at least a day before going there, to maximize the experience. I mean really - you need all the stomach real estate you can get!

Posted by: pinky | Mar 11, 2005 9:45:38 AM

We went there for my birthday and had the most amazing time. It's the ideal restaurant for low carb, that is if you can resist those amazing plantains and cheese rolls. Which I couldn't. I agree that the picanha was the best thing there. I'll have the try the lamb again -- last time we got lamb that had been circulating for a little too long and it wasn't the best.

Posted by: Sarah | Mar 11, 2005 2:34:22 PM

Mmmm . . . meat!

Posted by: minty | Mar 11, 2005 3:15:39 PM

excellent review!
re #9: i'm pretty sure that pesto-like sauce is chimichurri, a mix of olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, etc... Traditionally from Argentina but such a good accompaniment to meat dishes it's not surprising it travelled across the border

Posted by: georg | Mar 14, 2005 9:24:30 AM

Welcome back from vacation, arrow-shooting waterfowl! I was introduced to churrascaria during a business trip to São Paulo in 1997. (I also discovered caipirinha and salsa dancing 'til 4:00AM on a weeknight. Brasilians don't mess around when it comes to fun.) I hope that Chamas thrives in your town. A similar venture in my town folded after less than a year. That surprised me since I thought the all-you-dare-to-eat aspect would have been a big draw.

Ate mais tarde,

Posted by: tim edwards | Mar 14, 2005 1:56:39 PM

Hey -- no fair! Chamas has linked directly to your review and not mine! Waaahhhh! ;)

Posted by: Joe | Mar 30, 2005 7:08:00 PM

we visisited chamas on 6-10-05 with 3 guest from duke diet and fitness center.the service was excellent as well as the food.it was also an romantic and charming evening.we will return.

Posted by: pam and amos | Jun 14, 2005 5:22:09 PM


Posted by: fabricio kupinski | Jun 11, 2006 3:19:09 AM

My wife and I went to Chamas this Sunday 8-Mar. We had enjoyed Chamas about 1.5 years ago with friends visiting from Chile. We were looking forward to another pleasant dining experience. We entered the restaurant with our 50% off coupon and pleasant memories of the past dining experience.

I will start positive. The restaurant was celebrating a Carnival event and the atmosphere was suitable. The dining area was decorated with balloons and pleasant music was playing in the background. The staff were smartly dressed in black and white with charming appropriately styled hats.

Unfortunately, the pleasantries ended there. Although the salad bar had more to offer than the typical Ruby Tuesday fare, it seemed like a smaller selection than we had experienced in our previous visit. The salad bar hosted an assortment of typical fare coupled with a reasonable selection seafood, cheese, and garnishes. Despite a couple good cheese offerings, no suitable accompaniment was offered. There were no crackers and the two breads offered were either sweet or cheesy. We did not try the seafood and the salad was average.

Although the salad bar was a little disappointing, we had come for the meat so we moved on. In retrospect, we should have cut our losses at $25 for the salad bar and left. We continued our dining experience with the $35 all you can eat (stomach) meat buffet.

First we tried the ribs. With no noticeable charring, the ribs were about as dry and crisp as they could be without turning to ash. These were not only unpleasant, but totally inedible. Our memories fostered hope; there were other meats to try.

Next, we tried the garlic steak. This meat was moist and almost tender. The flavor was salty but pleasant. Yes, our hope was returning. We can't wait for the bacon wrapped filet and chicken that we remember fondly.

The lamb we received next was fatty, tough, and inconsistently cooked. After 5 minutes attempting to cut off a piece of edible meat we gave up. Our one slice of well-done, medium, rare lamb was simply to fatty and tough to salvage. We were starting to feel guilty as the pile of waste meat on our plate started to grow.

With our hopes diminishing, we tried the flank steak next. Again, we were disappointed. The flank steak was tough and the flavor unpleasant. More for the waste pile.

Finally, the bacon wrapped filet mignon and chicken was served. At this point we were hungry, looking forward to the pleasant flavor and textures from our memory. Cutting into the filet revealed a grayish-black nugget of meat. Could it taste as bad as it looked? Our hunger pushed us on. I have had better tasting stew beef. The frozen bacon filet nuggets from Costco were better than this.

Our hopes now dashed, we surrendered. We summoned the manager and one of the owners appeared. When confronted with our pile of butchered meat, the owner defended the restaurant's cooking style. When asked how she could consider grayish-black filet mignon to be properly cooked, she responded "we have people who like it this way and come back every weekend." We were skeptical as we looked around at the many empty tables. My wife stated we would never be back as we paid our $50 check (after 50% coupon).

Posted by: Tim Gage | Mar 9, 2009 3:18:46 PM

Horrible food. Horrible service. Do not. I mean DO NOT go here. Everything is a toilet hole at this restaurant! Manager, Hostess, food, and the service! I give it a NON-star! This place should be going down the drain. I do not understand why this restaurant is still around when there is better service in Brier Creek Brazilian Steakhouse!!!!

Posted by: keo | Nov 30, 2009 3:33:15 AM

I recently went to Chamas for my birthday, December 8, 2009. The food was incredible,the atmosphere was amazing, and the service was excellent. I definitely recommend this Brazillian steakhouse to anyone who enjoys fine cuisine, and without a doubt, I will be going back. Thank you Chamas staff I had an incredible experience.

Posted by: Dawn Lee | Dec 8, 2009 11:12:26 PM

We went to chamas for new years for what was suppose to be a extravagant new years even party,but we found empty tables terrible food...Ruby Tuesday $8 salad bar is 10 times better that CHAMAS.No kids menu...my child would not touch the food but they still charge me $7 for him.That is a never go back place.
Final conclusion CHAMAS is overpriced, terrible food.

Posted by: Bruce Norris | Jan 12, 2010 7:31:51 PM