American steakhouses are the last bastion of unabashed self-indulgence. Traditional chophouses, complete with white tablecloths and bow-tied waiters, can be identified easily by their menus, relics of gluttonous days gone past. There are gleaming towers of chilled crustaceans, slabs of red meat—black on the outside and blue on the inside—and copious sides of potatoes and vegetables, prepared the way god intended: puréed with butter and cream. The portions are big, yet no one is going to judge you for cleaning your plate, ordering an elaborate, blow-torched dessert, or polishing off a bottle of scotch with your meal.
While plenty of these nostalgic establishments still exist and thrive around the country, the American steakhouse landscape is changing. Now steakhouses are serving more exquisite cuts and rare breeds and widely utilizing dry-aging, a process that concentrates all of those meaty flavors. Modern iterations are lightening up their offerings, reigning in the elaborate show, and adapting to a more sophisticated and educated public. And that looks very different depending on the dining room you’re sitting in. Here are 21 of our favorite steakhouses, old school and new school, in America.
After succeeding in iconic restaurants Le Cirque, Daniel, and Guy Savoy, Adam Perry Lang turned his attention to barbecue. This was no backyard hobby. He opened Daisy May’s BBQ in Manhattan in 2003 and then started entering competitions around the country and winning. He took first place for his pork shoulder at the World Series of Barbecue American Royal. He teamed with Jamie Oliver to open Barbecoa in London and in 2013 was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. After he sold Barbecoa, he did barbecue pop-ups and devoted himself to opening APL. The labor of love is a nod to the “Zenmaster of Meats” childhood around New York City, upbringing as a chef, and devotion to steak. At his Hollywood restaurant he has a 1,000-sq-ft subterranean climate-controlled room where he’s aging beef to perfection, like tomahawks that have there for more than 100 days. In addition to the steaks are dishes like the classic wedge salad, grilled bacon, and matzoh ball soup, which are callbacks to his love of Peter Luger’s and the Jewish delis he visited in his youth.
Houston’s B&B is a butcher shop first and a restaurant second. In fact, B&B has a 12-course meat tasting and wine pairing called “Meet Our Meat” that is exclusive to the butcher shop. This globe-spanning menu includes multiple preparations of rare, Japanese A5 kobe—such as side vegetables sautéed in kobe fat—and Texas Wagyu, plus offbeat items like smoked lamb bacon and palate cleansers like Meyer lemon sorbetto. Diners are encouraged to tour the dry-aging meat cellar; one wall is completely covered in bricks of pink Himalayan salt, which helps draw out moisture from the meat and infuses it with salinity. At the restaurant, you can order four kinds of beef (including that worth-the-trip kobe) cut 22 different ways. Or, pop in at lunchtime for its famous Carpet Bagger burger; the thick patty is made from ground filet mignon and dry-aged sirloin and then topped with thick-cut bacon, Cajun-fried oysters, blue cheese and hot sauce. It’s a meal you probably won’t want to go back to work after.
Elevating the cheeseburger to gourmet status is so last decade. At Barclay Prime in Philadelphia, restaurateur Stephen Starr has gussied up the humble Philly cheesesteak into a $120 affair. For this lavish sandwich, the chophouse fresh-bakes a sesame roll and stuffs it with tender, A5 Wagyu ribeye, foie gras mousse, onions and faux Cheez Whiz made with truffles. It comes with half a bottle of champagne. The restaurant, which is decked out in chandeliers and retro, green suede booths, even makes cutting your steak fun. After selecting your cut—you can order melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu as a filet mignon, NY strip or 18-ounce ribeye—you then get to select your steak knife from a variety of famous brands, presented to you on a leather tray.
Chef Renee Erickson, the James Beard Award-winning driving force behind Seattle’s Bateau, wasn’t satisfied buying her livestock from reputable ranchers. So she bought an entire ranch. Erickson and her business partners own land on nearby Whidbey Island, where they raise beef, poultry and lamb and grow vegetables, fruits and nuts for their restaurant. (They also keep 80+ heads of cattle on a ranch in Moses Lake.) At Bateau the menu changes daily and is updated throughout the night on a dining room chalkboard. Steaks—from common cuts like côte de boeuf to specialty cuts like velvet—are butchered and dry-aged in house and served à la carte with compound butters like bone marrow and preserved lemon. There are plenty of eclectic sides to choose from, but don’t miss the classic, crispy frites that are fried not once, not twice, but thrice in, yes, beef fat.
José Andrés doesn’t do anything just for show. The environmentalist and humanitarian is a James Beard Award-winning and Michelin-starred chef, and his Las Vegas steakhouse, Bazaar Meats, celebrates all things carnivore. “I will eat whatever makes me feel like a lion!” Andrés famously says of his SLS Las Vegas menu. Here, you can find items that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. There are caviar flights, suckling pigs, beef rib steaks, fresh sea urchin, veal chops and Ibérico pork loins. The 13,000-square foot space contains the world’s longest dining table, a fire pit and even an adjacent casino where, after a fortuitous meal, you can try your hand at blackjack or roulette.
If you can dream it, you can probably find it at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. Founded by a family of New York ex-pats in the 1950s, Bern’s boasts a cheese cave, dry-aging room, 600,000-bottle wine cellar and dedicated dessert room. The steakhouse’s eight dining rooms are draped in plush red fabrics and Old World furniture and portraits, and every diner is offered a private tour of the wine cellar and kitchen. The menu is extensive, featuring two dozen caviars, various preparations of foie gras and side vegetables grown on the Bern family’s farm. You order steaks by cut, thickness and weight (T-Bone, 1 ¾-inches, 28 ounces) and then they are trimmed and broiled to order. Save room for sweets and digestifs: The dessert room has 48 private booths—built from repurposed California redwood wine casks—and each one is equipped with a telephone that allows you to call-in requests for the in-room piano player. Try one of the 50 desserts (the macadamia nut ice cream sundae is a time-warping favorite) and wash it down with a glass or bottle of more than 1,000 dessert wines, Scotches, ports, cordials, sherries and madeiras.
The Flatiron hotspot Cote has the skeleton of an American steakhouse—a menu with classic cuts like filet mignon and dry-aged New York strips—but fleshes it out with all the flavors and performance of a Korean barbecue joint. Order the Butcher’s Feast, a prix fixe of four cuts of USDA Prime and American Wagyu, seared tabletop on a smokeless grill. The meal is accompanied with traditional Korean banchan like refreshing pickles and spicy kimchi. Cote also offers clever new riffs on old-school steakhouse dishes such as shrimp cocktail—poached and chilled prawns served with gochujang instead of horseradish sauce—and an iceberg wedge salad that swaps out blue cheese for a drizzle of tofu-sesame dressing.
Wolfgang Puck’s Michelin-starred CUT, at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, was one of the first attempts to redefine the American steakhouse. In this contemporary space, which resembles the serene, clean look of a museum, the dishes may as well be works of art. For the bone-marrow flan, for example, segments of bone are filled with a savory custard, propped upright and dramatically drenched in classic red wine Bordelaise. Before you settle on your steak, the server brings out a tray of options—a half dozen crimson slabs, stacked neatly on top of one another—so you can compare the marbling and color of Japanese, American and Australian Wagyu. Here, steaks are grilled over charcoal and wood and then finished under a 1,200-degree broiler to ensure a crusty outer shell. CUT steakhouses are now in cities across the globe, but its formula is anything but paint-by-numbers. Earlier this year the Singapore location earned a Michelin star all on its own.
Eccentric restaurateur Jeff Ruby—who at one time refused to serve O.J. Simpson or Donald Trump at his establishments—has trademarked the service he provides at his namesake steakhouses as The Jeff Ruby Experience. At The Precinct, his Cincinnati landmark that was a police patrol house in a former life, you get a lot of the classic steakhouse show tableside. Up-close preparations have included the fettuccini alfredo (sautéed and tossed), the pan-seared dover sole (filleted) and the Baked Alaska (flambéed), all within arm’s reach. While you can now eat at Jeff Ruby locations in Louisville, Nashville, Columbus, and Lexington, it’s hard to beat the more-is-more experience of cutting into a 30-ounce tomahawk ribeye crowned with blue cheese butter at the Cincy original.
When people picture a steakhouse, they picture Manhattan’s Keens, whether they’ve been there before or not. This relic from 1885 has all the hallmarks of the genre: wood-paneled walls, a labyrinth of rooms, dim lights, antique paintings, ample bottles of Scotch and, of course, plenty of red meat. Keens owns the largest collection of clay churchwarden pipes in the world—tens of thousands, hung upside-down on the low ceilings—and some of them belonged to famous Keens regulars such as Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, General Douglas MacArthur and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. If you want to dine like one of these dignitaries, ask for the mutton chop, a 26-ounce saddle of lamb, two inches thick and wrapped in fat, that the New York Times has been raving about since the 1930s.
For some people, the locked-in-stone consistency of steakhouse dishes is what they keep going back for. They want their creamed spinach to have nutmeg and their Idaho potatoes to be baked. Atlanta’s Kevin Rathbun respects these classics, but slightly tweaks their recipes at his namesake steakhouse on the BeltLine, mostly giving them a little heat, as not to take away from what makes them classics. The creamed corn is made with roasted corn and jalapeños; the chilled prawns are served with Creole remoulade; and grilled, thick-cut bacon is glazed in molasses and Sriracha. The USDA Prime steaks, however, aren’t given any chef-y flourishes. The classic cuts comes from Allen Brothers in Chicago, the city where Rathbun dined at five steakhouses in 24 hours all in the name of meaty research.
They do things big in Houston, and at Killen’s Steakhouse, located in nearby Pearland, diners famously rack up big tabs. Think $12,000-in-one-sitting big tabs. Here, chef and owner Ron Killen (who grew up in Pearland) showcases Gulf seafood—baked oysters, jumbo shrimp, snapper crudo marinated in leche de tigre—alongside domestic and international Wagyu from Japan (A5) and Australia (Cabassi). For an indulgent, 4-ounce taste of each, order the New York Strip Flight. Or if you’re in the mood for a comforting local specialty, the chicken-fried steak comes with green beans, mashed potatoes and peppery white gravy. It’s just like your mom used to make, if your mom exclusively battered and fried slabs of USDA prime.
You know you’re in Texas when a steakhouse’s sauce list includes béarnaise and salsa verde. Dallas’ Knife, the flagship of Top Chef alum John Tesar, offers old-school cuts like filet au poivre and pork porterhouse along with exotics like grilled short ribs and a 240-day dry-aged rib eye. Most of the beef comes from 44 Farms, a century-old, black Angus producer in Cameron, Texas. You can witness the dry-aging process taking place in the climate-controlled meat closet, which has a glass window facing the lobby. Pair your steak with Tex-Mex and Southern sides like avocado fries—wedges of avocado, breaded and deep fried like potatoes—and a bowl of roasted okra and tomatoes. And, of course, there’s the signature bacon flight: five diverse slabs, curated from around the globe, crisped up and served on a cutting board. The restaurant also offers a cigar menu featuring a dozen reserve and vintage stogies that you may smoke on the patio in lieu of dessert.
Eating at Chicago’s Maple & Ash gives you the same rush as spending the evening inside a riotous nightclub. The restaurant even bills its Sunday brunch, which is accompanied by a DJ, as “the ending to your epic Saturday.” Here, executive chef Danny Grant (who earned two Michelin stars elsewhere in Chicago) grills meats over a wood fire, the same rugged way President Dwight D. Eisenhower liked it—that’s why Maple & Ash’s 40-ounce porterhouse is named in his honor. The chef also smokes and bakes all kinds of things in a coal-burning oven. That includes the French onion soup, smoked egg yolk for the tenderloin tartare and an entire seafood tower; oysters, scallops, Maine lobsters, Manila clams, blue prawns and Alaskan king crab are roasted in the hearth and then splashed with garlic butter and chili oil. Want to avoid the decision-making all together and have the chef take care of you? Ask for the “I Don’t Give a F*@k” treatment. (That’s how it’s printed on the menu!)
There are meat lovers and then there are those who crave a 24-ounce, bone-in Delmonico for breakfast. Mooo…—a deceptively silly name for a restaurant that takes its steak so seriously—opens its doors in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood at 7 A.M. The show-stopping dish here is the beef wellington, a fat tenderloin topped with spinach, mushroom duxelle and foie gras and wrapped in puff pastry. Local seafood is highlighted in accompaniments such as Maine lobster mac-and-cheese, chilled New England littlenecks and escargot cooked Burgundy-style in red wine. Meals come with a tiny, cast iron skillet of homemade Parker House rolls. It’s enough to make you want to start every morning with a wake and steak.
At Murray’s in Minneapolis, the signature Silver Butter Knife Steak is so delicately marbled, so pliant, that you can cut it with a plastic spoon. Actually, as the name suggests, they recommend using a butter knife. Murray’s has been serving this 28-ounce sirloin strip for two, aged 30 days and carved tableside, for more than 70 years. Back then, the steakhouse had a dining room orchestra that encouraged couples to get up from their tables and slow dance between courses. While the clarinets are gone now, the energy is not. Vintage neon signs on the exterior scream “Murry’s” in every direction and the menu includes lively dishes such as Oysters Rockefeller, French onion soup with garlic toast croutons and spaghetti marinara. Humorist Garrison Keillor canonized the steakhouse in a 1997 TIME magazine essay entitled “The Age of Elegance”: “The menu harks back to the Age of Steak; a place where a fiftyish couple can enjoy a Manhattan and tuck into a chunk of cow and au gratin potato.” Luckily, at Murray’s, the Age of Steak lives on.
At most chophouses, asking for steak sauce is about as sacrilegious as requesting a bottle of Hidden Valley at a New York pizzeria. But at Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Peter Luger—a neighborhood institution since the 19th Century—there’s no shame in ordering the old fashioned sauce made with molasses, horseradish and anchovies. You can even get an appetizer of raw, sliced tomatoes and onions covered in the stuff (serving suggestion: for two). Bring friends, because almost everything at this family-owned restaurant is served family style. In fact, members of the Luger family personally visit wholesale markets to pick out USDA Prime cuts before dry-aging and butchering them on-site. The menu of their crusty, broiled steaks is legendary: Steak for Two. Steak for Three. Steak for Four. Ask for a platter of creamed spinach (for two) and German fried potatoes (for two), and you’ll understand why diners have been returning for generations.
When you go to a steakhouse, you expect pomp. When you go to Las Vegas, you expect pomp. So when you go to a steakhouse in Las Vegas—helmed by culinary titan Jean-Georges Vongerichten, at that—you expect pomp to an absurd degree. And Prime at the Bellagio delivers. Ask for a seat on the garden patio overlooking the famous Fountains of Bellagio and anticipate a meal that’s equally as meticulously choreographed. Start with something chilled, like the steak carpaccio and tartare served with tarragon aioli and grilled crostini, and a classic Caesar salad. Then head straight for the kobe beef. This rare breed from Japan is only available at a handful of restaurants in the U.S., and here you can order it cut as a filet, New York or ribeye. It should be savored on its own, but order the soy-rice wine sauce on the side for dipping and a side of gratin dauphinoise (French-style potatoes baked in milk). Finish your meal with a whimsical donut fountain, a cascading display of sweetly glazed donuts and dipping sauces, swirling in a fog of liquid nitrogen.
If it ain’t broke, don’t change the menu. That’s pretty much the motto at Indianapolis’ St. Elmo Steak House, which has been serving racecar drivers and football players the same stuff, in the same saloon-like environment, for 116 years. The steaks—from a grass-fed flat iron to a 38-ounce bone-in prime rib—come with a choice of navy bean soup or a glass of tomato juice, for crying out loud. It’s the prawn cocktail, though, that’s historic: four jumbo shrimp are served over ice in a silver chalice and drenched in a fiery red sauce. St. Elmo’s recipe (horseradish and not much else) is so iconic that they sell bottles of the stuff for you to take home.
It’s not easy to differentiate yourself in the crowded Chicago steakhouse market. After all, this city served as the primary hub of the American cattle trade in the 19th Century. Swift & Sons—with its tall ceilings, marble floors and stained glass lighting—transports you to an imaginary cattle trade headquarters, or what it would look like if the industry was still thriving in the meatpacking district today. Swift & Sons calls this the retro-future, and its time-traveling flourishes surprise diners at every turn. A dapper concierge greets you at the door and offers to grant you any request. A bartender pushes a bar cart through the dining room, preparing drinks at your whim. All kinds of glamorous dishes can be wheeled to your table: venison pâté, white truffle tagliatelle and a surf and turf consisting of a cap steak and lobster Thermidor. And don’t let the dessert cart pass you by, which features midcentury favorites like tropical rum cake with macadamia nuts, and vanilla rice pudding with poached pears.
Plenty of steakhouses offer sides of roasted mushrooms, but only at Urban Farmer do they present the pre-cooked mushrooms to you tableside—still sprouting from a log—before plucking them for roasting. This modern steakhouse, with outposts in Portland, Oregon, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Denver, forages more than fungi in-house. They also grow their own herbs, edible flowers and sprouted grains, raise bees for honey, and butcher whole animals. If you can’t decide between its many ranch-to-table offerings like Colorado Wagyu and dry-aged bison ribeye, try the New York steak tasting: 6 ounces each of a grass-fed, grain-finished and dry-aged American steak.
© 2018 PMC. All rights reserved.