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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Thu 5:00pm–midnight
Fri–Sat 5:00pm–1:00am
Sun 5:00pm–11:00pm

Features Date-friendly, live music, Wi-Fi
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


319 SW Broadway
Portland, OR
(503) 227-8794
El Gaucho
Inconsistent steaks and high prices help make obvious nomenclature jokes

Let’s not bury the lead here: there’s a real danger in charging this much for dinner and naming your restaurant something that rhymes perfectly with “El Gouge-o.” A lot about El Gaucho sounds promising, at first; this four-branch chain hails from the Pacific Northwest and aims for something between Morton’s and an Argentine steakhouse, grilling dry-aged beef over coals and dressing its staff in preposterous gaucho costumes. But although some members of our panel have had good experiences here, for most of us, the food and execution just can’t justify the prices.

The décor is as expected—rich, dark, and sleek. Live jazz fills in the silences between tinkling glasses and silverware as tuxedo-clad waiters scurry by with carts for tableside Caesar salads, the darkness punctuated by an occasional burst of flame from a bananas Foster in the making. The bar is equally prototypical-classy, and some better deals are had here. We do love the cigar room, though, whose sweet tobacco smell sometimes escapes in tendrils to your table.

As for the dry-aged beef, it’s inconsistently cooked. The char on some cuts is wonderfully crisp, but a totally flavorless six-ounce filet is not at all worthwhile. Plus, despite how good it is, the smallest NY strip is not worth $49—where are we, Vegas? Sides are fairly large, and in summer, roasted sweet corn with chipotle honey butter is outstanding. Grilled asparagus with béarnaise is also reliable, but don’t bother with overbearing scalloped potatoes (unless that’s all you’re eating for three days). Worse still are french fries and the classic iceberg wedge salad, which doesn’t have enough blue-cheese edge to it. Interestingly, there’s nothing remotely Argentine on the menu.

The wine list is more interesting than the ones at most national-chain steakhouses, but it is also amazingly overpriced, with some bottles over three times retail. The reasonable $20 corkage is a better way to go (we rarely see this option at a steakhouse). The liquor selection is great, with many ryes and local spirits, but cocktails suffer from SMS (Steakhouse Mark-up Syndrome), especially one that employs Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut. Why? It might consider using Cava and not costing $40.

It may be fun to watch bananas Foster prepared tableside, but this does nothing for its execution. It can’t get hot enough this way, and the barely melted brown sugar leaves a grainy texture in the mouth. In fact, dining here reminds us a lot of old-school dinner theater, where the food is not the point. There, too, you pay way too much for the antics and scenery.

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