We Texans love us some steaks. As the nation’s leader in cattle operations, our fair state produced 4.8 billion pounds of beef last year, a goodly portion of which was sliced up into ribeyes, tenderloins, and more. There are steakhouses from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley, and we visit them at the drop of a Stetson, either to celebrate that big promotion or because it’s Friday night and we just feel like going out. You might say Steaks R Us.
In February 1997, this magazine published “The Elite Meat to Eat.” I remember it all too well because at the time, it seemed a mammoth undertaking: I visited thirty steakhouses and chose the top ten in the state. I wrote of people being seized by a lust for red meat unseen in twenty years, and I tsk-tsked at the expense of a full steakhouse meal: $30 to $60 a head. Boy, was that the age of innocence.
Today there are ten worthy steakhouses in Dallas or Houston alone, meat mania is accelerating at warp speed, and $30 is what you pay for one itty-bitty steak, no sides included. While hardly endangered, the stereotypical dark, clubby urban steakhouse is being challenged by the so-called “new steakhouse,” a chef-driven enterprise serving up sashimi and truffled gnocchi, pulsing techno music, and a femme-friendly attitude. Happily, country steakhouses are hanging tough. They may lack the polish of their city cousins, but that’s a good thing. You visit them for a grilled T-bone and to get in touch with your inner Gus McCrae.
So it came to pass about a year ago that we decided it was time to reprise our decade-old story. Clearly, one person could no longer do it all, so we assembled a team of trusted freelancers, staff writers, and restaurant reviewers. Together, we came up with a list of some 75 places to try, and then we hit the road, eating as much as we could without splitting our britches. The magazine paid for everything. Notes and score sheets were kept, and when the dust settled, 38 places made the final cut. Our featured top three span the state from Houston to San Antonio to Buffalo Gap. (By the way, seven of the ten from 1997 are on the present list.)
As with any ranking of “bests,” there are bound to be differences of opinion. We expect to hear from several prominent steakhouses that aren’t included, and we know we’ll hear from you, our readers. In fact, we look forward to it. Write us. We’ll publish the names of your favorites and check them out—promise. After all, it’s our patriotic duty. To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor: In Texas, you can’t be too rich or eat too many steaks.
No. 1—Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Houston and Dallas
• USDA Prime; filet is prime & top choice
• Dry-aged in-house for 4 to 5 weeks; filet is wet-aged
• Broiled at 700 to 800 degrees
From the gleaming brass-trimmed rooms to the unsurpassed Prime beef, Pappas Bros. sets the gold standard for urban Texas steakhouses. The constant high-energy crowds—a mix of suits, denim, and diamonds—prove it. The right stuff is all in place: The beef is dry-aged in-house. The wine cellars are deep in both American and European vintages and regularly drooled over by Wine Spectator. The servers combine extrasensory perception with genuine affability. Together, they add up to a pitch-perfect steakhouse vibe, blending cosmopolitan style and Texas ease.
The Houston restaurant opened first, a dozen years ago, when two members of the Greek-American family that was famous (some would say infamous) for the mass-market eateries Pappasito’s (Mexican) and Pappadeaux (seafood) turned their attention to red meat. Playing against type, Harris and Chris Pappas opened the classiest beef parlor in the city in 1995, and the quality has not wavered since. Here, purists revel in steaks that deliver a rush of satisfying bovine flavor. The dazzlingly charred New York strip, standing two inches tall and crowned in butter, trumps the mouthwatering boneless ribeye for tenderness and compelling nutty flavor—but just barely. Salads and sides are traditional American: colossal sweet onion rings, earthy dark-roasted mushrooms kissed with rosemary, and a gussied-up wedge embraced by a thick, garlic-tinged blue cheese dressing. House-made desserts are the stuff of childhood dreams, only better. Moon Pie or chocolate mousse torte with an Oreo crust, anyone? Expect not only stellar service but a well-stocked humidor and one of the most extensive wine lists in Houston, if not the Southwest. So bring extra moola and prepare to party, Texas-style.
Open since 1998, the Dallas Pappas Bros. is grandiose in spirit yet casual enough that the line cooks appear to be having a blast and patrons show up in golf shirts more often than sports jackets. The dining room’s wood-and-stone warmth sidesteps the typical clubby setting, especially if you’re seated in the former cigar room, with its leather couches and roaring fireplace. A fiercely loyal clientele appreciates the deferential service and brings a thirst for an incomparable wine program, famous for a 34,000-bottle inventory directed by Barbara Werley, one of Texas’s two master sommeliers and just one of fifteen female members of that worldwide fraternity. But even if you don’t care about the grape, the beef will set your heart aflutter, particularly the New York strip, with its sublime balance of texture and flavor. From the lean, lush filet, an intense buttery aroma wafts forth. An opulent starter is the chunky lobster bisque, pairing a touch of cognac with a hint of cayenne.
The perfect ending is a three-inch-thick slice of New York cheesecake, finished with a lovely white-chocolate icing. If there is a better Texas steakhouse than Pappas Bros., no one has found it yet. Houston: 5839 Westheimer Rd., 713-780-7352 or pappasbros.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5:30—10, Fri & Sat 5:30—11. Closed Sun. Dallas: 10477 Lombardy Ln., 214-366-2000 or pappasbros.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11. Closed Sun.
No. 2—Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, San Antonio
• USDA Prime
• Grilled over mesquite
Here’s a riddle for