From a Minneapolis institution whose claim to fame is called the "Silver Butter Knife Steak," to a 64 year-old San Francisco landmark that serves nothing but prime rib, America has no shortage of legendary steakhouses. Chef Mario Batali has a steakhouse in Vegas where he's aging steaks for over a year; a New Orleans power broker hangout tops their filet with fried oysters and béarnaise sauce; one Tampa legend offers seven different cuts in a total of 51 sizes, not to mention a 7,000-bottle wine list. We've searched far and wide for the finest steakhouses the country has to offer, and have found 20 that are must-visits for even the most casual carnivore.
Think of the word "steakhouse" and you’re likely to immediately conjure one of a few mental images: red leather banquettes, gin martinis, and dark wood, possibly; or a sprawling room filled with folks in cowboy hats downing gargantuan rib-eyes and baked potatoes. No matter the environment, though, steakhouses all have one thing in common: they’re unabashedly dedicated to the unbridled consumption of meat.
Steakhouses are among the oldest types of American restaurants, developing in the United States in the late 19th century in several different formats thanks to a confluence of events: The construction of railroads allowed for fresh beef to be shipped all over the country from the major livestock hub of Chicago, by way of Kansas City, for the first time; stockyards all across the Great Plains were full of cattle, so naturally steak-centric eateries sprouted up on-site. At the same time, owners of inns and bars looking to serve food found an obvious choice in beef steaks. Meanwhile, Delmonico’s restaurant in New York pioneered American fine dining as we know it, complete with the white tablecloth, wine list, clubby atmosphere, and private dining rooms.
Today, we’re lucky enough to live in an America that has more varieties of restaurants — and steakhouses — than previous generations could have ever imagined. There are the cavernous, Wild West-style temples to beef and the cowboy way of life; the clubby power-broker-with-an-expense-account meeting places; the ones that more closely resemble a bar that serves steak than anything else, and the airy, modernist steakhouses that turn all conventions on their head. All of these types of steakhouses are included in our ranking of America’s best.
The best steakhouses in America are nothing short of temples, shrines built to honor the deceptively complex art of a perfectly cooked steak. Whether they're clad in red leather or plywood, décor is only one aspect of the overall steakhouse experience; when it comes down to it, it’s all about the steak.
To assemble our ranking of the best steakhouses in America, we first and foremost looked at the quality of the main event: the steak. Is it sourced reputably and USDA Choice or Prime? Is it dry-aged, and if not is it as fresh as can be? Is it served at the proper doneness without fail and with a touch of ceremony?
We also not only considered the level of local and national renown, but the overall steakhouse experience, which is (almost) as important as the steak itself. No matter the setting, the service must be top-notch, the attention to detail should be spot-on, and diners should feel compelled to sit back in their chair after their meal, pleasantly stuffed and content in the knowledge that they just ate one heck of a steak.
1. Cut, Beverly Hills, Calif.
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago, pioneered Asian fusion food at Chinois on Main, and even figured out a way to produce decent airport food at his many Wolfgang Puck Express outlets, so we shouldn't be surprised that he has also reinvented the steakhouse, with CUT in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (there are now spin-offs in Las Vegas, London, and Singapore).
The traditional red leather booths and bucolic paintings have given way to a cool white interior by rationalist architect Richard Meier and a series of pieces by conceptual artist John Baldessari. In place of iceberg wedges and grilled swordfish, look for warm veal tongue with baby artichokes and roast Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon.
Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 17 cuts and places of origin, from Australian filet mignon to Illinois bone-in New York sirloin to genuine Japanese Wagyu rib-eye from Miyazaki Prefecture. Puck has reinvented the steakhouse experience at CUT, and what he’s done is nothing short of mind-blowing.
2. Bern’s, Tampa, Fla.
Don’t come to Bern’s if you're on a diet. Bern's is about wonderful excess. There are 20 kinds of caviar on the menu of this big, old-style, legendary establishment; also two preparations of foie gras, two kinds of steak tartare (one with truffles), oysters three ways, endless varieties of fish and shellfish, 16 different cheeses both domestic and imported, nearly 50 desserts (including gluten- and sugar-free varieties) — served upstairs in a special dessert room — and a list of about 7,000 wines (5,500 of them red).
Oh, and did we mention steaks? Seven different cuts, in a total of 51 different sizes (from 6 ounces of filet mignon to 60 ounces of strip sirloin), broiled to eight different temperatures, from very rare ("no crust, cold and raw") to, gulp, well-done ("sturdy little crust, no color, no juice, dried out"). Come hungry.
3. Peter Luger, New York City
When you sit down at your table at the perpetually packed Peter Luger, located in an off-the-beaten-path corner of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, don’t ask for a menu. Just order the tomato and onion salad, some thick-cut bacon, creamed spinach, hash browns, and the steak for three, a massive porterhouse, broiled under extreme heat before being sliced and presented on a platter.
Sure, the waitstaff might be a bit gruff in this surprisingly casual German-styled old steakhouse that’s been here since 1887, but that’s all a part of the show. The star attraction, the steak, is the best you’ll find in New York City. It’s dry-aged and butchered on-premises, and when it’s presented, in all its crusty, well-marbled, beefy glory, your jaw will drop. Use the house steak sauce to douse the onions and tomatoes (don’t let it anywhere near the steak), and be prepared to drop a wad of cash on the table before leaving — no credit cards accepted here, big spender.
4. Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City
Not to be confused with Cattleman’s Steakhouse down in Texas or any of the other restaurants with the same name across the country, this 103-year-old gem is Oklahoma City’s oldest continually operating restaurant, and is located right in the heart of the city’s famed Stockyards City.
The no-frills temple to the noble steer is as popular with cowboy-hatted locals as it is with former President George H. W. Bush when he’s in town, and one look at what’s on everybody’s plate — beef, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — will tell you what this place is all about, as will the giant illuminated photo of grazing cattle along the back wall. The beef here is sourced locally, aged "according to a closely guarded house secret," the website says, portioned out on-premises, broiled under an intense charcoal fire, and served with natural jus. Go for the T-bone after your appetizer of lamb fries (don’t be afraid, they’re good), and finish it off with a slice of homemade pie. Now that’s a country steak dinner we can love.
5. Kevin Rathbun Steak, Atlanta
Located in up-and-coming Inman Park in a former Clorox factory, Kevin Rathbun’s steakhouse is part of an empire that also includes Rathbun’s and Krog Bar, all located on the same street. At his spacious, whimsically appointed steakhouse, Rathbun is serving steakhouse classics like escargots, seafood towers, dry-aged porterhouse for two and three, a 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye, and 16-ounce New York strips, but there’s also a wide selection of items that you don’t see on most steakhouse menus, like Coca-Cola baby back pork ribs, eggplant fries, lobster fritters, ahi tuna poke, and Asian-style meatballs. If you go twice, order whatever you like. But if you go once, get the steak; we’d recommend that cowboy rib-eye.
6. Killen’s Steakhouse, Pearland, Texas
Even though it might look like a roadhouse from the outside, once you set foot inside the surprisingly elegant Killen’s Steakhouse, you’ll know that you’re in for a world-class steakhouse experience. Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Ronnie Killen opened the restaurant in the outskirts of Houston in 2006, and it’s since been hailed as one of the top steakhouses in the state by innumerable publications.
It’s one of the few restaurants in the country that has separate menu sections for wet-aged and dry-aged steaks, which are sourced from Allen Brothers in Chicago and Strube Ranch in Pittsburg, Texas, and options include a 34-ounce dry-aged long bone-in rib-eye, a Mishima center-cut filet, and even a chicken-fried sirloin.
As another nod to the Lone Star State, the menu also includes fried chicken, jumbo fried Gulf shrimp, and smoked pork and black-eyed pea gumbo. Be sure to save room for the crème brûlée bread pudding, which Food & Wine Magazine named one of the top 10 dishes in the United States in 2008.
7. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Chicago
If you were to close your eyes and try to imagine what a 24 year-old steakhouse in downtown Chicago called Gibsons would be like, you’d probably hit the nail right on the head: red leather booths, wood paneling, martinis, high rollers, flawless service, giant steaks, and lobster tails.
The USDA Prime steak served here is second to none, and the old-fashioned menu of steakhouse classics includes spicy lobster cocktail in a steamed artichoke, wedge salad, and classic cuts of beef including a few uncommon ones, like a bone-in filet mignon, London broil Bordelaise with roasted bone marrow, and the 22-ounce W.R’s Chicago Cut, a mammoth bone-in rib-eye. If you’re looking to dine here, make sure you call well in advance; reservations are hard to come by. And while the website states that jeans are OK, we’d advise wearing something a little more suited to the upscale surroundings.
8. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, New Orleans
This French Quarter power broker staple is located in a clubby, basement-level space, and is a regular hangout for the city’s wheelers and dealers and high-rollers. With a swanky bar and six private dining rooms, Dickie Brennan’s serves USDA Prime steaks with a creative New Orleans twist; the 6-ounce House Filet is topped with fried oysters and béarnaise sauce, the Barbecue Rib-Eye is topped with Abita beer barbecue shrimp, and any steak can be topped with jumbo lump crabmeat or Danish blue cheese. That’s not to say that you should avoid unadorned steaks; the 16-ounce strip is seared in a cast-iron skillet, and just might be New Orleans’ finest steak.
9. Jess & Jim’s, Kansas City, Mo.
In a town known for great steak, Jess & Jim’s stands apart from the pack, and did so even before Calvin Trillin put it on the map in 1972, when he named it one of the country’s best steakhouses in Playboy. Family owned and operated since 1938, this no-frills, casual steakhouse is no pomp, and all steak.
The beef is from Wichita-based Sterling Silver, and is hand-cut daily (trimmings are ground into meat for world-class burgers). It’s served completely seasoning-free, all the better to taste the meat in its unadorned glory. You could go for the KC Strip, a cut that this restaurant helped to popularize, but you might as well go all out and order the Playboy Strip, named in honor of the publication that helped make this place famous, a 2-inch-thick, 25-ounce sirloin. Save room for the twice-baked potato.
10. Barclay Prime, Philadelphia
Sure, this Stephen Starr steakhouse on Rittenhouse Square might boast a selection of as many as seven different steak knives and a $100 Wagyu rib-eye and foie gras cheesesteak that comes with a half-bottle of Perrier-Jouët, but that doesn’t mean it’s gimmicky.
Described as a "luxury boutique steakhouse" on its website, the restaurant replaces red leather with green and yellow suede, a clubby soundtrack, and slightly incongruous crystal chandeliers. While the setting is undoubtedly 21st century, the menu is as classic as can be: steaks are dry-aged for 28 days, and their rib-eye, from Gachot & Gachot, is arguably the best steak in the city, with world-class service to boot. Don’t forget to order the shrimp cocktail; these monsters come four to a pound.
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