Dining out: Braza Express

Published: Friday, April 30 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Braza Express is one of those eateries that are an offspring, not a second location, of another restaurant: Murray's Braza Grill.

It's sort of like the Brazilian version of Pei Wei Asian Diner and its more upscale mother, P.F. Chang's China Bistro. There are similarities between these pairs of restaurants, but if the "children" are to be successful, they must have their own identity.

That seems to be what downtown's Braza Express is doing, with a menu that's faithfully Brazilian without the familiar trappings — meats on skewers cut at the table; long, complicated salad bars; steep prices — of churrasco.

Braza Grill is my favorite churrascaria in the Salt Lake Valley. It's more intimate than most, has more reasonable prices while retaining a fairly expansive menu, and typically has friendly, efficient service.

Frankly, I was skeptical about turning this concept into a quick-service lunch, since one of the major pleasures of churrasco is the long, leisurely meal, having just a bit more meat here or just a tad more grilled pineapple there, with lots of laughter and conversation.

But, as I said, Braza Express has carved out its own identity, with a menu whose style reminds me just a little of the numerous Polynesian plate-lunch restaurants with which our valley is blessed.

Diners choose their lunch from several meats, with rice, beans, salad, a side dish and a roll included in the price of the meal. Really hungry diners can choose the mixed grill, which includes a piece of each type of meat. There are different types of rice, beans, salad and sides to add more variety.

I had the ham and pineapple meal, several thick-cut pieces of sweet-and-salty ham with caramelized pineapple on the side.

They weren't as fresh and hot as they'd be at Braza Grill, but they were tasty nonetheless, with the pineapple retaining the sharp-sweet taste that grilling gives it.

With it I had some standard mixed veggies; an unusual, tangy salad of chopped broccoli, mandarin oranges and cranberries; and delicious black beans over seasoned rice with green peppers and chicken. The beans and rice alone would make a great meal, actually.

My husband had the mixed grill, sampling pieces of deeply flavorful Portuguese sausage, ham, barbecued chicken, beef sirloin and tenderloin. He enjoyed everything, but we both noticed that the beef was a bit dry, due no doubt to the necessity of keeping it in a warming pan for quick service.

Some meats respond better to this treatment than others; beef is one of the tricky ones.

Our little boy had his own side dish of rice, plus two coxinha, yummy little teardrop-shaped chicken dumplings with tender, savory fillings and a crisp breadcrumb-coated exterior. At two for a buck, they're a nice bargain, as are the tasty little pao de queijo, tiny cheese-filled buns that are offered at the same price.

For dessert, we had the chocolate-coconut cake, which was too sweet and rich for me, and the tart, creamy passion fruit pudding.

Lunch plates $5.99-$8.99, sides $1.

Braza Express

Rating: ★★1/2

Where: 147 S. Main

Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday, noon-3 p.m.; closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 801-359-8009

Wheelchair access: Easy

Web: www.brazaexpress.com

Also: delivery available Monday-Friday in downtown Salt Lake City; catering available

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.

e-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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