A buffet that comes to your table
Although this little gem of a barbecue joint is at a busy intersection in Quincy Center, you just might miss it if you drive too quickly. That’s because Rio’s Brazilian Steakhouse appears to be a deserted red barn.
But once inside, you might find you’ve entered a whole new dining experience, and one that’s satisfying and affordable.
First, you’re greeted by one of the friendly Brazilian waitstaff, and told to choose your own seat. Wi-fi accessibility, a large TV overlooking the dining room, and paper menus atop glass-topped white tablecloths create a decidedly casual feel.
There are appealing choices such as Brazilian stew, but the picky eater among us ordered a cheeseburger, which he described as “great.” The rest of us opted for the buffet ($13), which appeared to be what everyone else in the place was having, and is what Rio’s aims to become known for.
This isn’t just any buffet, though the rodizio style is familiar to anyone from Brazil, said owner Vagmar Stoffel, who opened the restaurant in March with his brother-in-law. Diners first visit a hot-and-cold buffet full of protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The second part of rodizio comes right to your table, in the form of a procession of waiters who move around the room with platters of skewered meat, including beef, pork, chicken, plus a platter of grilled pineapple.
At each place setting is a pair of silver tongs, which you use to grip the food your server is cutting for you. The service is friendly and attentive without being intrusive, and creates a warm ambience between diners and staff.
In addition to the tongs, each diner gets a small laminated card to let servers know when they’ve had enough. The red side of the card reads “I’m stuffed . . . obrigado!” (thank you), while the green side reads “Keep it coming!”
The buffet, which Stoffel said varies each day except for certain staples, includes so many different side dishes that it’s hard to imagine anyone not being satisfied. Our favorites from the cold side included a fruit salad with mangos, grapes, and cream; potato salad with carrots, peppers, and green beans; a salsa-like mixture of tomatoes, onions, and herbs; and a lightly marinated chicory salad.
Standouts from the hot side were pork and beans; a creamy lasagna filled with shredded chicken and cheese; and some really succulent ribs. My three children were especially pleased by the limitless mashed potatoes, white and yellow rice, and pasta salad with peas and cherry tomatoes.
We found everything tasty and fresh. Since you’re welcome to an infinite supply, it was fun to try all the different meats and then focus on our favorite. The beef tenderloin and top sirloin brought to the table were flavorful and juicy. The pork sausage was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, and the chicken was crispy outside and tender inside. The warm pineapple was a big hit.
Stoffel and his partner hope to renovate Rio’s after they’ve built a steady clientele. They’re awaiting a liquor license, so we drank Guarana, a Brazilian soda, and other soft drinks, and appreciated the low price tag for a meal that could have fed us all day.
Though we were tempted to “keep it coming” from the rodizio, we stopped ourselves to leave room for desserts, which are prepared each day on the premises. We enjoyed ample portions of chocolate cake with strawberries, and vanilla and chocolate mousse. My husband raved about his rice pudding.
All the desserts were served in take-home containers, which proved convenient, and cost under $3.
Rio’s took over a space formerly occupied by a Bickford’s. Inside the restaurant, the keen eye will spy hints of its former life, including a smoked-glass cashier’s window with the word “Bickford” still legible. In a funny way, it adds to the place’s charm.