Meat Your Maker

Where’s the beef? It’s here in our guide to our favorite steakhouses in the state. From the prime cuts to the best atmosphere to the sweetest desserts, it’s time to get your Akaushi on.

December 2007By Comments

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
• Wet-aged
• Grilled over mesquite

Here’s a riddle for you: How much would you pay for a priceless experience? Would you fork over ten thousand dollars? A million? Your immortal soul? My friends, you’re in luck, because today priceless experiences start at a mere $95. So put your money where your mouth is, order an Akaushi steak at Bohanan’s, and prepare for an epiphany.

All right, it may be naughty to apply a religious notion to a steak, but you’ll think “Holy cow!” when you sink your teeth into the most ambrosial hunk of beef you’ve ever tasted. How ambrosial is that? If a regular USDA Prime steak is a Lexus, Akaushi is a Lamborghini. If a Certified Angus steak is Beethoven’s Fifth, Akaushi is his “Ode to Joy.” In short, magnificent. (If you’re salivating to know more about these Texas-raised cows, see “How Now Brown Cow”)

But now, a word or two about Bohanan’s, one of only a handful of restaurants in the state that have the smarts and the nerve to offer this treat every day and not just by special request. When chef Mark Bohanan made his lifelong dream a reality five years ago, the restaurant didn’t immediately catch on. It seemed, frankly, a tad fussy and dated, even though it was brand-new. But time passed and the place matured, and it has now evolved into something quintessentially old San Antonio: a steakhouse with a country club air. The tables are set with creamy linens, waiters wear suits and ties, and wine bottles rest like rare books in fine wooden cabinets. If Henry James had been a Texan, he would have set part of The Wings of the Dove here. (Hell, Henry James could have eaten here and felt perfectly at home.)

Interestingly, while the demeanor of Bohanan’s is traditional, its kitchen is as modern as many of the “new steakhouses’,” like Wolfgang Puck’s Cut. Yes, typical dishes are offered, like a wedge salad and a fabulous vodka-laced flaming cheese fondue, for those customers who lack the gene for experimentation. But the kitchen’s heart is obviously in cutting-edge creations like a starter of green figs stuffed with blue cheese and sided by slices of Asian pear or a gorgeous seasonal salad of cubed watermelon topped by feta and drizzled with fifteen-year-old balsamic vinegar. (The only improvement would be a dressing that is less in-your-face.)

Though the Akaushi is clearly the star, it doesn’t push the regular steaks off the stage. All the cuts on the menu (including a chateaubriand for two) are USDA Prime, and they come out precisely cooked. If a purist had any complaint, it might be that they are briefly marinated in a sauce that seems to involve soy (the recipe is a secret). If you prefer a simple sprinkle of kosher salt and a grind of black pepper, just ask.

Though Bohanan’s has garnered a slew of well-deserved awards for its fancy service and refined menu, that doesn’t mean it has forgotten its Texas roots. Down at the bottom of the lunch menu you will find chicken-fried steak and gourmet Frito pie. Oh, and the amuse-bouche is candied jalapeño slices with whipped cream cheese made from a recipe supplied by Bohanan’s mom. Of such small touches are images made. 219 E. Houston, second floor; 210-472-2600 or bohanans.com. Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—9.

No. 3—Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Buffaolo Gap

• USDA top choice
• Wet-aged for 21 days or more
• Grilled over mesquite

Nobody says “Getta rope!” around the Perini Ranch Steakhouse unless they actually intend to rope something. Such as a calf. Unlike the faux-Western steakhouses that have sprouted up across America, this place is the real thing: a family enterprise located on a working ranch run by a man who wears a Stetson and owns a chuck wagon.

Tom Perini opened his steakhouse in 1983 after deciding that the cattle business was a little dicey as a source of regular income. He’s spent the past 24 years dishing up mesquite-grilled steaks and homey sides to anybody who’s willing to make the trek to his rustic outpost in the village of Buffalo Gap. And where the heck is Buffalo Gap? Thirteen miles from nowhere—sorry, Abilene—on a road that follows such a winding path through farms and ranches that you think you’ve been time-warped back to the set of Lonesome Dove. But obscurity hasn’t kept people from finding their way there, including Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Fess Parker, and Jane Seymour. “That West Texas steakhouse with the Italian name” started out as a place to eat; it has survived to become part of the landscape.

The appeal of Perini’s is complex, but it starts with one word: mesquite. The scrubby, thorny trees grow everywhere in this arid terrain, provoking the ire of ranchers but also providing an excellent medium for cooking any meat you have a mind to throw on the grill. The logs and glowing coals yield a pungent smoke that perfumes the air and evokes the land in all its flinty, hardscrabble glory. Out here, you’d feel cheated if your steak wasn’t cooked over mesquite.

Speaking of meat, there are only three cuts of beef on the menu—ribeyes, tenderloins, and strips—but that slim selection doesn’t bother most customers. Nor does the fact that the meat is USDA Top Choice, rather than Prime. The expert cooking and the judicious application of a dry rub consisting of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and beef base more than compensate. So does the presence of side dishes that you aren’t likely to see at a Del Frisco’s or a Pappas Bros. One is hominy with green chiles, bacon, and cheddar; another is Zucchini Perini (he couldn’t resist), sliced squash with a tomatoey pork-and-beef sauce and a melted Parmesan cheese topping. The hominy is nice; the zucchini is good too, though it cries out for something like chicken cacciatore. One of the best is the simplest: roasted new potatoes. By the way, anyone who demands al dente vegetables should check that expectation at the door, because “crisp” is not what traditional Texas cooking is all about. And the members of the Perini family, who have lived here since the 1880’s, are nothing if not Texan.

After you’ve had dessert—perhaps the sourdough-pecan bread pudding or the strawberry shortcake made from a recipe that belonged to Tom’s great-grandmother—take some time to wander around. The rooms are an agreeable hodgepodge of weathered metal siding and wood floors worn smooth by generations of boots. And be sure to step out back, by the picnic tables under the lean-to, to see the circa 1890’s chuck wagon. The relic isn’t in use by the restaurant, but Perini takes it to rodeos for cooking demonstrations. If you ask a leading question when he’s making his rounds of the dining room, he will explain how trail-drive cooks made Dutch oven biscuits and son-of-a-gun stew. Pay attention, because that is something you won’t hear from your average steakhouse owner. Big-city meat emporiums are all about the twenty-first century. Here, you’re reminded that Texas was part of the Wild West not that long ago. 3002 FM 89, 325-572-3339 or periniranch.com. Open Wed & Thur 5—10, Fri—Sun 11:30—10. Closed Mon & Tue.


Fort Griffin General Merchandise Restaurant, Albany

• USDA Top Choice Black Angus
• Dry-aged for 21 days
• Grilled over mesquite

This is the kind of restaurant that every West Texas town deserves. The exterior resembles a frontier storefront; the interior has old shotguns and ranch scenes decorating the walls. The servers greet regulars by name, and there’s no doubt that if you come back, they’ll know your name too. Before you dive into the turf, try the surf as an appetizer: The grilled shrimp scampi are subtly smoky and perfectly cooked. Though the salad bar is as ordinary as a parking lot, the steaks more than make up for it. Primed with a Greek olive oil marinade, the New York strip (tasty) and the filet (tender) both shine. The mashed potatoes have just enough texture to prove they’re homemade. As for the desserts, you know you don’t need any, but the chunky homemade carrot cake has a killer frosting just like your Aunt Bertha used to make. Intersection of U.S. 180 and U.S. 283, 325-762-3034 or fortgriffinandbeehive.com. Lunch Tue—Fri 11—2. Dinner Tue—Sat 6—10. Closed Sun & Mon. Also located in Abilene.

Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille, Austin

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,200 degrees

Who cares that seafood takes up far more of the menu than beef? That’s just so that men can persuade their wives and girlfriends to come along. On any given night, the restaurant is filled with tables of males, some in shirtsleeves, a few in suits, all tearing into the restaurant’s fantastic bone-in ribeyes and New York strips. A look of pure animal satisfaction is on many faces. (Maybe that’s why steakhouses are so formal: The starchy white linens and burnished paneling put a civilized gloss on an uncivilized urge.) The gentler sex is fond of Eddie V’s for its stylish salads, such as an endive, Granny Smith apple, and blue cheese version, lightly splashed with a great orange-ginger dressing. And they are especially happy if they order it with a generous appetizer like the fine Maryland-style crab cake and a side dish of sugar snap peas. Both sexes agree that the pretty lattice-topped apple cobbler is the thing to have for dessert—though it takes thirty minutes to prepare. The monster easily feeds two, maybe three. That is, if the person who ordered it will stifle his animal instincts and share. 301 E. Fifth, 512-472-1860 or eddiev.com. Dinner Mon—Sat 5:30—11, Sun 5:30—10.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Austin

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,600 degrees

Families celebrating somebody’s birthday and out-of-towners directed here by hotel concierges make up much of the crowd. Their happy-hour mood buoys the room, contrasting with the proper steakhouse decor of medium-dark woods and overhead lights with that “Roman oil lamp” look. In keeping with the less-than-stuffy atmosphere, servers are relaxed, encouraging but not pressing you to order more than you intended to before you had that first mojito. One of the better appetizers here is the lump crab cake, which has plenty of flavor and meat. If there is a flaw, it is that the mixture has been overworked, so that the pearly lumps are broken up. “We want less mush, more crust!” declared a friend. The arrival of the steaks, though, brings conversation and quibbles to a halt: The cooking is exact, with a dark and delicious char on the outside. For dessert, chocolate lava cake may be sooooo nineties, but it’s irresistible just the same; a nice touch is the bowl of handmade Chantilly cream that your waiter leaves on the table. Go ahead and help yourself to another lovin’ spoonful; your cardiologist has boat payments to make. 320 E. Second, 512-457-1500 or flemingssteakhouse.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—9. Also located in Houston, San Antonio, and the Woodlands.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Austin

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

This is, in fact, your father’s Oldsmobile. Nothing as exotic as sushi or oddball as farro or silly as s’mores sullies the classic menu at Ruth’s, a downtown destination of legislators, lobbyists, and tourists with money to blow. The room is as plush as the backseat of a 1965 Olds Ninety-Eight (1965 being, of course, the year that Ruth Fertel founded her steakly empire in New Orleans). Sticking to a diet is pointless. You don’t come here to skip the lobster bisque, redolent of roasted lobster shell. And why would you deny yourself the lavish sweet-potato casserole with a pecan crust (except that you might actually prefer it for dessert)? The steaks come famously sizzling in butter on 500-degree ceramic plates, a practice that horrifies purists. (Honestly, though, it does not seriously overcook the meat, unless you like yours bloody rare. If you’re really concerned, eat fast.) Occasionally the kitchen stumbles with a dish like boring, watery broiled tomatoes, but the Chocolate Sin Cake and the bourbon-sauced bread pudding are what memories (and membership in Weight Watchers) are made of. 107 W. Sixth, 512-477-7884 or ruthschris.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5:30—10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30—11, Sun 5:30—10. Also located in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.


Doe’s Eat Place, Bryan

• USDA prime & top choice
• Wet-aged for 21 days or more
• Broiled at 300 to 350 degrees

At first glance, you’ll wince at the bare dining room, plain tables, and mismatched chairs, barely relieved by Western art. And as for the dress code . . . What dress code? But meat-lovin’ Aggies can’t thank local general manager Brian Davis enough for opening this franchise location of the famed original in Greenville, Mississippi, in 2005. Located in Bryan’s quaint revitalized downtown area, Doe’s is the perfect alternative to dressy steak places, serving up first-class beef family-style. The kitchen, located in front, has nothing to hide, and the steaks range in portion size from large to obscene. A fine appetizer is the famous salad of greens, onion, and tomato, tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. It’s not listed on the menu, but Davis would be happy to make it for you. Then you might move on to a giant one-and-three-quarter-inch sirloin, gilded with juices from the broiler. Four people sharing one of these babies look like lions around the carcass of a wildebeest. At Doe’s, too much is never enough. 200 S. Main, 979-823-3637 or doeseatplace.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—9, Fri & Sat 5—10. Closed Sun.

Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Buffalo Gap

Perini Ranch is one of our top three steakhouses in Texas. Read our review here.

JR’s Steakhouse, Colleyville

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,500 degrees

You can’t help but be in awe of a place that’s packed to the rafters on a Monday night. Only three years old, this suburban upstart near DFW Airport became an instant favorite among business travelers and conference attendees, who fill the leather booths on weeknights—after a customary wait in the lively cocktail lounge. Ricocheting off limestone walls, the buzz is nearly as loud on weekends, when couples and double dates keep the well-rehearsed servers racing between kitchen, wine cellar, bar, and dining room. For starters, try the champagne-Brie soup. Then ask for the plump, lush ribeye, specifying that it be cooked with an outer char to get a proper balance for the topping of cook’s butter. The heavily herbed mashers are puredee good, far surpassing the soggy spiced-pumpkin waffles. For sensory overload, order the peppered filet glazed with a brandy demi. At a stunning three inches, it may be taller than it is wide. 5400 Texas Hwy. 121, 817-355-1414 or jrsfinedining.com. Dinner Mon—Sat 4—10. Closed Sun.

Al Biernat’s, Dallas

• USDA Prime; filet is Top Choice
• Wet-aged for 21 days; bone-in New York strip dry-aged for 21 days
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

Since opening in 1998, Al’s has been the steakhouse of choice for the chic Park Cities crowd and celebrities like Angie Harmon. How could it not be? There’s a New York energy here every night, revved by a polished staff confident it can make regulars of everyone. Cooking expertise shines in the bawdy bone-in ribeye, showing an ideal balance of tender flesh and flavorful fat, and in the thick but sexy tenderloin, which has you almost begging for a smoke afterward. A sophisticated starter is the hearts-of-palm-and-arugula salad, with its tart bite and mellow hazelnut vinaigrette. The side of choice is the mushroom risotto, lighter than most of its ilk. Whatever you choose, a selection from the five-thousand-bottle wine collection will complement it. 4217 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-219-2201 or albiernats.com. Lunch Mon—Fri 11:30—2:30. Dinner Mon—Fri 5:30—10, Sat 5:30—11, Sun 5:30—9.

Bob’s Steak & Chop House, Dallas

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,200 to 1,400 degrees

Though it’s not quite fifteen years old, Bob’s seems timeless. As opposed to the bigger, showier stops in town, this one oozes the familiarity and coziness of the country-club nineteenth hole. Seated in the snug booths alongside the lively bar full of martini drinkers or in the bustling dining room, you’re immediately swept up in the convivial spirit, feeling glad that Bob’s never missed a beat after a fire a year ago that would have shut down a less-determined restaurant for weeks. The charming servers recommend and deliver dishes with a fluidity that only occasionally makes you aware that they are turning tables. Once you bite into the thick, gorgeous bone-in Kansas City strip, nothing else matters but the combination of crisp, slightly charred edge and luxe interior of red, flavorful meat. The silken filet, cut superthick, impresses equally. The signature giant sugar-glazed whole carrot offers a bold contrast to the steak, and the sautéed fresh spinach with mushroom slices feels far more virtuous than the skillet potatoes heavy with peppercorn gravy. 4300 Lemmon Ave., 214-528-9446 or bobs-steakandchop.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11. Closed Sun. Also located in Grapevine, Houston, and Plano.

Capital Grille, Dallas

• USDA Prime Angus
• Dry-aged for 21 days
• Broiled at 1,400 degrees

Don’t dismiss the place just because it’s part of a national steak chain. A warm welcome is extended even to walk-ins on a Saturday night. The plush but somehow unfussy series of rooms coddles you as you dig into the signature Delmonico, a thick, porcini-crusted bone-in ribeye. Equally impressive, the Kona-crusted New York strip wakes up your taste buds, while a dash of cream takes the bitter edge off fresh spinach. Don’t miss the standout starter, a dish of pan-fried calamari and sweet-hot banana peppers that proves immediately addictive. Although touted for dessert, the gorgeous coconut cream pie seems more style than substance, but you can easily skip the sweets and go instead for a kicky specialty cocktail or a good find on the 475-label wine list. 500 Crescent Court, near Maple Ave. at McKinney Ave.; 214-303-0500 or thecapitalgrille.com. Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2:30. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—10. Also located in Houston.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Dallas

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,400 degrees

Although the wood, glass, and brass detailing looks dated, consummate service and high kitchen standards transcend everything else, thanks to the efforts of general manager Tom Hall and executive chef David Holben. If there is a theme at this stalwart, it is New Orleans, and you can explore it by ordering the following: first, an andouille-stuffed mushroom appetizer topped with goat cheese. Next, one of the extraordinary New York strips; request it charred outside and satiny-rare on the inside. Finally, a multilayered slice of creamy, lemony doberge cake. Other than Crescent City specialties, you might try the supple filet resting atop blue cheese mashers. If you linger over dinner, you may see the hardworking staff hand-polishing wineglasses and silverware late into the night. 5251 Spring Valley Rd., 972-490-9000 or delfriscos.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11. Closed Sun. Also located in Fort Worth and Houston (as of November 19).

Nick & Sam’s, Dallas

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 28 days; bone-in cowboy-cut ribeye and Wagyu chop are dry-aged
• Broiled at 800 to 1,000 degrees

You can look all over town, but you won’t find a steak that knocks your lights out like the $72 cowboy-cut ribeye at dark, sophisticated Nick & Sam’s. This stunning specimen, with its foot-long bone, demands a platter befitting a Thanksgiving turkey. Black truffle essence keeps the accent flirtatious, letting you appreciate the steak’s supple texture. The silken, stout filet mignon offers its own, more delicate, sex appeal. Among stellar sides, chef Samir Dhurandhar’s signature lobster-studded macaroni and cheese has flavor to spare, and the sublime appetizer of tempura-fried crab claws teases with a hot-red-chile aioli. A wealth of touches large and small goes a long way toward keeping this hot spot far more than a fashionable scene. Ask to sit in the intimate rear dining room, where well-known waiter Willie Randle can take care of you and help you navigate the five-hundred-label wine list. 3008 Maple Ave., 214-871-7444 or nick-sams.com. Dinner Sun—Wed 5—10, Thur—Sat 5—11.

N9NE Steak house, Dallas

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 21 days
• Broiled at 1,200 degrees

What began early this year as a sleek and silvery nightclub with a dinner menu, where you ate to music blasting at bone-jarring levels, has mellowed (a bit) into a glitzy-cool steakhouse with a fashionable if self-conscious bar scene. Fortunately, there’s substance to go with the style, thanks to jewels like the massive pepper-dusted bone-in ribeye, which arrives in a lovely jus. The smooth filet stands nearly three inches high, accompanied by a blessedly subtle béarnaise. The revelation is an enormous flatiron steak, expertly seared and cut into thick slices, that offers plenty of body to counter its bold crown of creamy blue cheese. This place is one of the “new steakhouses,” so also expect the unexpected, like a smashing sashimi appetizer of tissue-thin slices of ahi, hamachi, and king salmon, drizzled with ponzu and decorated with tiny serrano ham slices. Wine choices include smart weekly features, which leave you with a more satisfying ending than the silly s’mores cooked on your tabletop. 3090 Olive, 214-720-9901 or n9negroup.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5:30—10, Fri & Sat 5:30—11. Closed Sun.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Pappas Bros. is one of our top three steakhouses in Texas. Read our review here.


Silver Fox Steakhouse

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 30 days
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

The ghosts of ranch hands will not appear in the sprawling space once occupied by Star Canyon. Silver Fox made the Oak Lawn—Uptown spread its own upon moving in this summer. Bathed in a flattering light, the new digs epitomize a modern attitude. A big stone fireplace offers warmth, while a curvy glass-fronted wine cellar and an inviting bar provide a cool balance. There’s no scenester appeal as yet, thankfully, meaning you can enjoy good food and smart service with no distractions. Start with the New York strip, a dreamy cut with fabulous body and a pure flavor that needs not a drop of any of the sauces that you can have alongside. An au poivre treatment makes the filet mignon divine. The hillock of crisp sugar snap peas offers a sweet interlude, but the broccoli au gratin—blanketed in cheeses—is the side you’ll remember. A happy ending awaits in the dessert of cinnamony sautéed bananas snugged into a sugar-cookie bowl. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-559-2442 or silverfoxsteakhouse.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 4—10, Fri & Sat 4—11. Closed Sun. Also located in Fort Worth, Frisco, Grapevine, and Richardson.

Billy Crews, El Paso

• USDA Top Choice
• Dry-aged for 21 days
• Cooked on a gas grill

Located just across the New Mexico state line and set amid sand and cacti, Billy Crews combines a feeling of the Old West with the air of a civilized men’s club. Its accoutrements may not equal those of lavish big-city steakhouses, but cherrywood wine lockers, white tablecloths, and substantial oak chairs offer the right setting for sipping a fine vintage and discussing the stock market. To start, extra-manly customers should try the appetizer of crispy, bite-size Rocky Mountain oysters. The ritual begins when you visit the meat bar to select your cut. If you demur, career waiters in white shirts and black pants bring the uncooked steaks tableside for your approval. Soon the selected meat returns sizzling—no sauces necessary. Do try the ten-ounce filet, which has more flavor and a silkier texture than the smaller versions. No mention of this middle-of-nowhere spot would be complete, however, without a reverential nod to its nationally renowned 1,500-label wine cellar (the list, sometimes not totally current, is a whopping 112 pages long). Betcha can’t stop at just one 1949 Lafite Roths-child. 1200 Country Club Rd., 505-589-2071 or billycrews.com. Open Mon 11:30—10, Tue—Fri 11:30—11, Sat 5:30—11, Sun 5:30—10.

Great American Land and Cattle Company, El Paso

• USDA Choice
• Wet-aged for 4 to 6 weeks
• Cooked on a gas grill

Perched on the side of the Franklin Mountains, this steakhouse has three hallmarks, namely cowboy kitsch and a 180-degree view, plus the heaping dishes of whole roasted Hatch chiles that most folks order with their steaks. In the lobby you’ll find side tables with boots for legs, while Western murals lead upstairs to the main dining room. Steaks come in one-pound sizes, with T-bones and sirloins also available as two-pounders. The cowboy in the kitchen will grill them rare or medium-rare, but he’ll think you’re a sissy if you request yours well-done (although he’ll do it). Many customers’ favorite is the big T-bone, which will feed a family of four and have the dog up to his ears in table scraps. But you’re not with the program unless you have a roasted green chile with your steak. Something about the spicy, smoky flavor matches the beef like nothing else. 7600 Alabama, 915-751-5300 or grtamerican.com. Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 4:30—10, Sun 4—9.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Fort Worth

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 900 to 1,200 degrees

It’s hard to remember when Del Frisco’s wasn’t the kingpin of Cowtown’s dining scene, although it’s been open only eleven years. Tucked into the corner of a historic downtown building, the steak destination is broken into smallish rooms on three floors. The divisions provide a sense of intimacy—no small miracle in a place that’s almost frantic with activity. Regulars snuggle up to one of two bars to flirt with bartenders, watch ESPN, and nibble snacks, while business types and local celebs like TCU football coach Gary Patterson hold court at tables. The aroma of butter floats upward from the exquisite filet, redolent of the kitchen’s spicy salt-and-pepper blend. Even more luxe, the New York strip induces a serious swoon with its juicy interior. Few things—save perhaps the giant golden bangles of fried onion— can beat the signature crab cake appetizer, ready to be swabbed with sumptuous Cajun lobster sauce. Staffers remain sweet and unruffled, no matter how busy they are or how long you lollygag at your table. 812 Main, 817-877-3999 or delfriscos.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—9. Also located in Dallas and Houston (as of November 19).

Duce, Fort Worth

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 21 days, then dry-aged in-house for 3 to 7 days
• Seared over flames and finished in oven

Tim Love, the owner of locally famous Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, has finally found the right identity for Duce, his erstwhile Euro-bistro. Now a self-proclaimed “modern steakhouse,” the nearly-two-year-old place has become a destination for a bubbly bar crowd that often sticks around for a spot of supper. Ensconced in an airy room with frosted glass and blond woods, you can be torn between simply listening to the twice-weekly live jazz or giving yourself over to the contemporary menu. Do both, as the music provides a tony backdrop for enjoying whimsies like the taradito sampler. This brilliant Peruvian rendition of sashimi presents combinations like wild salmon with chile paste and tropical fruit and hamachi with minced pear, serrano, and fried garlic. The steaks are lovely, if lonely, on their stark plates. The best cut is the notably tender hanger steak, served sliced on the bias. And, hands down, the best side dish is the pancetta-wrapped asparagus topped with a pearly quail egg, sunny-side up. 6333 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-377-4400 or eatdrinkliveduce.com. Lunch Tue—Sat 11:30—2:30. Dinner Tue—Sat 5—midnight. Closed Sun & Mon.

Steakhouse at the San Luis, Galveston

• USDA Prime
• Dry-aged for 45 days
• Broiled

When Galveston-born chain-restaurant mogul Tilman Fertitta tackles a one-off, he pulls out all the stops. With its mahogany-toned paneling, brass-studded brown leather banquettes, and heraldic lithographs, the curving room off the San Luis Resort lobby feels like one of those private clubs that only recently began admitting women. Among the beef-eaters’ selections, a sixteen-ounce ribeye won the day: Despite being ordered medium, it was juicy and packed with meaty flavor. The twelve-ounce filet mignon suffered the common flaw of that cut; though perfectly medium-rare and fork tender, it lacked deep beefy taste. At $59—the market price that night—the buttery, tender Wagyu steak was a pricey adventure. It had been cut surprisingly thin, but overtones of grain and corn added complexity to the flavor. The sides came skillfully prepared and were more than ample: The crunchy chopped salad could have fed three, the green beans with shallots four, and the one-pound baked potato an army. Happily, the chocolate-amaretto soufflé was perfect for one, with a couple of spoonfuls to share. 5222 Seawall Blvd., in the San Luis Resort; 409-744-1500 or sanluisresort.com. Dinner Tue—Thur 6—10, Fri & Sat 6—11. Closed Sun & Mon.

Wildcatter Steakhouse, Graham

• USDA top Choice
• Wet-aged for 21 days or more
• Grilled over mesquite

Quick—grab your official state highway map, locate the north-central Texas town of Graham (it’s in grid H-15), and run your finger just southeast of town on Texas Highway 16. That’s where your next road trip should take you. The Wildcatter, which opened in December 2004, is a restaurant, resort, spa, and working ranch. It’s located on 1,500 acres atop a ridge that provides a spectacular view of the rolling hills. Start with the smoked cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeños, which come wrapped in bacon and served with homemade ranch dressing. Then cool down with a crisp salad. The one-inch ribeye is grilled to a luscious rosy pink, with juices so abundant they can swamp the plump, slightly charred asparagus. The filet shines as well, a generous medallion of beef that yields to the barest pressure of a knife. If there is a danger here, it’s that the house blend of salt, pepper, beef base, and “secret” ingredients is too strong. Less, frankly, would be more. But with a final glass of wine chosen from a list that earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2006 and 2007 and a slice of homemade chocolate cake layered with heavenly “pudding” (think icing), you’ll be happy just to linger and take in the view. 6062 Texas Hwy. 16, about seven miles southeast of Graham; 888-462-9277 or wildcattersteakhouse.com. Open Wed & Thur 5—9, Fri & Sat 5—10, Sun 11—2. Closed Mon & Tue.


Grey Moss Inn, Helotes

• USDA Top Choice
• Wet-aged
• Grilled over mesquite

The number of couples who have held secret rendezvous here must be astronomical. But how could they resist? Romance fills the air like incense at this oak-shaded cottage in the woods. The flagstone terrace offers the most-secluded tables, but the dining room’s twinkle lights and Provençal-print curtains have a warm appeal too. Now in its seventy-eighth year, the restaurant is prospering under chef Jeff White. The steaks are excellent, grilled over mesquite coals and doused in the Witches’ Brew, a secret basting sauce. Ribeyes and filets arrive precisely cooked, with a delectable char; so does the fabulous venison T-bone, a special that should be snapped up when offered. Sides range from a special of highly creditable potato gnocchi and predictable stuffed twice-baked potatoes to the odd signature cumin-and-cheese squash casserole. If sides are variable, however, the desserts are spectacular, especially the lovely flourless chocolate Queen Nell’s Cake and a creative special, a poppy-seed-pound-cake “tart” that is actually a cake cup brimming with fresh raspberries in a thin butterscotch sabayon. 19010 Scenic Loop Rd. in Grey Forest community, 210-695-8301 or grey-moss-inn.com. Dinner daily 5—10.

Bob’s Steak & Chop House, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,200 degrees

Houston’s brand-new Bob’s is the brainchild of Bob Sambol, who started the Dallas-based mini-chain, and is independently owned by Ed Toles. He wisely chose the former Tony’s location, instantly attracting the socialite and lavish-expense-account crowds. Accented in dark mahogany, the handsome space boasts a long, inviting bar and plush raised banquettes for a bird’s-eye view of the movers and shakers. As for the food, it’s all big at Bob’s, from gratis dill pickles and mountainous mashed potatoes included with the USDA Prime steaks to the—dare we say phallic?—signature glazed carrot on each plate. The hefty broiled boneless ribeye and the excellent Flintstone-size porterhouse are endowed with a bronze sear and beefy flavor despite butter saturation in every fork-tender crevice. Generous salads shine, and the terrific appetizer of shrimp cooked three ways could be a meal. However, some sides, like skillet potatoes with peppercorn gravy, ooze with oil. Sometimes there is too much of a good thing, except when it comes to a warm welcome. That’s where Bob’s excels. 1801 Post Oak Blvd., 713-877-8325 or bobs-steakandchop.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11. Closed Sun. Also located in Dallas, Grapevine, and Plano.

Brenner’s Steakhouse on the Bayou, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 28 days
• Seared on a griddle and broiled

The new Brenner’s Steakhouse on the Bayou is jazzed up and contemporary, quite different from the vintage Houston original founded in 1936 by the Brenner family. Now owned by Landry’s, both locations boast beautiful garden views, celebratory and business crowds, and the same entrées but different chefs. If you successfully navigate the tricky stairs here and snag a soothing downstairs window seat, you should be in the right mood to relish chef Grant Hunter’s perfectly broiled Prime steaks. The extraordinarily tender salt-and-pepper-dusted New York strip looms above its piping-hot white plate, all but afloat in savory jus. A petite, buttery six-ounce filet mignon seared to a medium char defies the typical spongy filet with its notably muscular texture. However, a pricey lump crab cake appetizer lacked presentation on one visit, and some sides faltered (choose crunchy German fried potatoes instead of overcooked mac and cheese). Thankfully, courteous servers insist you cut into your steak to check for proper cooking before they leave you to dig in. One Birdsall, 713-868-4444 or brennersonthebayou.com. Open Mon—Thur 5:30—10, Fri & Sat 5:30—10:30, Sun 11—9.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Houston

Pappas Bros. is one of our top three steakhouses in Texas. Read our review here.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

It’s hard to obey the rule to never eat anything larger than your head at New Orleans—born Ruth’s Chris, a relaxed steakhouse saturated with the aroma of melting butter. Although Houston’s Ruth’s, circa 1975, has dated country-clubby decor and attracts a mature clientele (hipsters and scenesters need not apply), the Prime steaks are winners. Butter sizzles beneath your deftly seared steak as it arrives—a Ruth’s shtick—but even if you request no butter, it’s still damn good. The lean filet mignon seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper and parsley bears a charred bronze crust that easily succumbs to a knife. Slightly less tender but drenched with natural juices is the massive bone-in ribeye. Don’t skip the tart, lavishly chunky blue cheese dressing on your salad. Ditto for the vast spud selection, including a fluffy, one-pound loaded baker; crunchy homemade potato chips; and skinny fries. And one element has not gone out of style: gracious, professional service from entrance to exit. 6213 Richmond, 713-789-2333 or ruthschris.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—10:30, Sun 4—9. Also located in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Smith & Wollensky, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Dry-aged in-house for 14 to 24 days
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

After nearly four years, the Houston outpost of Manhattan-born Smith & Wollensky is starting to age but still turns heads with its striking marble bar, American antiques, and twinkling-palm-tree views of the shops of Highland Village. Clearly, founder Alan Stilman, who also branded T.G.I. Friday’s, has a knack for merchandising. You’ll be tempted to devour the buttery rosemary rolls, but save room for the mammoth Prime steaks. Here, the bone-in ribeye and the bone-in sirloin rule. Butchered and dry-aged in-house, both cuts are tender and beautifully marbled, with a subtle mineral tang. Lovers of char will especially dig the delectably bitter singed edges. Less impressive are the simple sides, like the bland creamed spinach. Desserts are comically huge except for the best—the dense, luscious New York cheesecake with whipped cream and radiant fresh berries. 4007 Westheimer Rd., 713-621-7555 or smithandwollensky.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.—2 a.m.

Strip House, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

It looks like a classy strip club, but the menu proves it’s a serious steakhouse, owned by New York’s Glazier Restaurant Group. Downtown business denizens and daters romance the steak in surroundings that replace old-school trappings with a cheeky vibe. Rosy lighting reveals red-hot walls sporting sexy vintage burlesque photos, and the food is equally lush. Prime steaks arrive with a gloriously crackly black-charred exterior from a roaring broiler. Carnivores frequently drool over the thick, beautifully marbled signature New York strip; it’s seasoned with kosher salt and a blend of gray sea salt and cracked pepper and garnished with a head of fragrant roasted garlic. Seductive sides include a salt-crusted baked potato with caviar, as well as potatoes fried in goose fat (go ahead, you only live once). Fresh creamed corn is lick-the-plate decadent with savory pancetta and Parmesan. While the service is uneven and the bar rowdy, the thoughtful wine list and drippingly moist 24-layer chocolate cake will gloss over most gaffes. 1200 McKinney Ave., 713-659-6000 or theglaziergroup.com. Lunch Mon—Fri 11:30—2:30. Dinner Sun—Thur 5—11, Fri & Sat 5—midnight.

Taste of Texas, Houston

• USDA Top Choice Certified Angus
• Wet-aged for 30 days or more
• Cooked on a gas grill

With a raucous family atmosphere, hard chairs, and rustic Texana for decor, Edd and Nina Hendee’s Houston-born Taste of Texas is the opposite of the glamorous steakhouses now in vogue. Affordable dinners include the salad bar and one side dish—a rare steakhouse deal. Guests also have the option of choosing a specific steak from the walk-up butcher shop in the restaurant. Thick and rich, the boneless ribeye arrives grilled medium-rare as ordered, with a warm red center and prolific pink juices. Thinner but just as smoky and succulent is the T-bone with a zippy lemon-pepper seasoning—refreshing in a city full of overly salted steaks. Side dishes taste as comforting as Mom’s: garlicky sautéed spinach, big buttery green beans, and tender Texas au gratin potatoes punched up with Parmesan and Monterey Jack. Vintages from the wine list, which has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1995, are not poured into fine stemware, so pack your own if you’re a wine freak. 10505 Katy Fwy. (I-10), 713-932-6901 or tasteoftexas.com. Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri 11—11, Sat 3:30—11, Sun 3—10.

Vic & Anthony’s, Houston

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 21 days or more
• Broiled at 900 to 1,800 degrees

Since 2003, businessman Tilman Fertitta’s sprawling downtown steak palace near Minute Maid Park has dazzled big-spending sports fans, visiting celebrities, and expense-account diners with its upbeat Vegas ambience, flawless service, and Prime beef. At this Houston original, the peppery, highly marbled sixteen-ounce boneless ribeye is the slab of choice. Wonderfully tender, it arrives in a pool of melted butter on a don’t-touch hot plate. If, by slim chance, the kitchen doesn’t broil exactly to spec, doting white-aproned waiters absolutely insist on returning your steak for a cooking adjustment. Side orders are spot-on: feathery-crisp onion rings, snappy-svelte haricots verts, and superlative crab cakes in a lively chive beurre blanc. Hedonistic desserts include a small but mighty flourless chocolate cake drenched with intense dark ganache. (You will be forgiven for not sharing.) Wine lovers, rejoice: Vic & Anthony’s is a repeat recipient of the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. Best seat in the house? The shiny counter facing the open kitchen, where you can watch the culinary show in your own little world. 1510 Texas Ave., 713-228-1111 or vicandanthonys.com. Open Sun—Thur 5—10, Fri 11—11, Sat 5—11.


Lisa West’s Double Nickel Steak House, Lubbock

• USDA Top Choice
• Wet-aged for 30 days or more
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

As you walk through dark-paneled doors on a cool West Texas evening, you will be transported to an elegant San Francisco gold rush steakhouse. Deep-red walls and dazzling red linens create a courtly setting, but the dining experience is all about warmth without pretense. Start with luscious inch-thick broiled scallops wrapped in bacon. Then ponder which steak to choose. The flavorful ribeye is offered bone-in or bone-out and brims with rich marbled flavor under a slightly crusty exterior. Even better is the world-class New York strip, cut an inch or more thick and imbued with a marvelous beefy taste. All are served with a choice of potato, fresh-off-the-cob creamed corn, and a slice of Ms. West’s signature deep-fried mozzarella sticks on a blistering plate. As you depart, you will swear you hear the clanging of a cable car. 5405 Slide Rd., 806-792-0055. Dinner Mon—Sat 5—10. Closed Sun.

Killen’s Steakhouse, Pearland

• USDA Prime
• Boneless cuts wet-aged for 35 days; bone-in cuts dry-aged for 21 days
• Seared on a griddle and broiled at 1,800 degrees

Step into this humble roadside restaurant, and you’ll be shocked, shocked to discover white tablecloths and a Cordon Bleu—trained chef. Revelations continue in the appetizer department with richly sauced crab cakes, nicely garnished with fresh lump crabmeat and a giant succulent shrimp. You’ll even find extravagant wet-aged Kobe and Wagyu beef on the menu, for a pretty penny. But you’ll likely be just as satisfied with the towering, abundantly marbled New York strip seasoned with cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Chef and owner Ron Killen, a Pearland native, buys his beef from Allen Brothers of Chicago, and the quality shows. All steaks bear a dark tan from the broiler, and about the only criticism is that they occasionally arrive too rare. While the salad dressings don’t thrill, sides of beautifully fried onion rings and jumbo hollandaise-blanketed asparagus amaze. You’re limited on your wine choices, but there’s no end to the smiles and the homey, small-town welcome. 2804 S. Main, 281-485-0844 or killenssteakhouse.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—9, Fri & Sat 5—10. Closed Sun.

Ranchman’s (Ponder Steakhouse), Ponder

• USDA Choice
• Wet-aged for 14 days or more
• Cooked on a griddle

Ask about Grace “Pete” Jackson in this part of north-central Texas, and you’ll hear only nice things. She started this revered restaurant in 1948, and though she died in 1998, her spirit remains. In fact, the spare, rustic dining room looks much like it did half a century ago, from the vintage booths to the wagon-wheel chandeliers. Over the years, it has attracted attention from the Food Network’s Bobby Flay and Playboy magazine, which once held a shoot here. Your waiter may act disappointed if you pass on the calf fries, but you have to be in the right mood (sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t). Be that as it may, the quail quarters make for a tasty appetizer. While the rib steak, served with melted butter on top, is great, many customers’ favorite is the eight-ounce club steak, a surprisingly tender small T-bone minus the usual filet. Two final instructions: Preorder your one-pound baked potato before three o’clock in the afternoon (it’s that good) and don’t even try to stop at one bite of the homemade coconut pie. 110 W. Bailey, 940-479-2221 or ranchman.com. Open Sun—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10.

Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, San Antonio

Bohanan’s is one of our top three steakhouses in Texas. Read our review here.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, San Antonio

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,600 degrees

The salad plates are icy, the smoky mac and cheese is steaming, and the bits of lobster and vegetable tempura are so hot and light they almost glisten. Such attention to detail makes you appreciate how often other restaurants flub quality control. Fleming’s occupies a freestanding building in the Alamo Quarry Market, where it attracts townies and tourists alike. The look is expensive, but not too, with the usual dark woods and warm colors, plus paintings of wine bottles and sparkling glasses that beam a subliminal message your way (“Wine is nice, you want to order wine, very expensive wine . . .”). Appetizers include a good wedge, spruced up with blue cheese crumbles, pretty little grape tomatoes, red onions, and a not-too-sweet ranchy dressing. While French onion soup came off slightly scorched under a sludgy Gruyère, Swiss, and Parmesan topping, that lapse was balanced by a straightforward broccoli side dish with a decent hollandaise. But the pièces de résistance are the steaks: meaty, delicious, and satisfying all carnivorous expectations. By the way, several sauces will be suggested, but don’t bite. The flavors are muddy, and all they do is distract from the pure flavor of excellent Prime beef. And after all, red meat is why you came. 255 E. Basse Rd., in the Alamo Quarry Market; 210-824-9463 or flemingssteakhouse.com. Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—9. Also located in Austin, Houston, and the Woodlands.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, San Antonio

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged
• Broiled at 1,800 degrees

Except for the absence of people walking around wearing mouse ears, San Antonio’s Sunset Station looks like something from a Disneyland Victorian village. In one of the restored nineteenth-century buildings, outfitted with cushy booths, white tablecloths, and flattering lights, is the downtown Ruth’s Chris. Out-of-town visitors keep the place jumping on the weekends, but early in the week it’s so quiet that diners can be seen practicing the all-but-lost skill of conversing without shouting. When you’ve had your fill of talk, definitely order the fabulous “crabtini,” a slawlike salad topped with a king’s ransom of perfect lump crabmeat. Then have the bone-in ribeye. It’s cooked just right and arrives in its own little force field of sizzling butter. The sweet meat close to the bone is only an iota less tender than the notably yielding filet. And as long as you’re indulging in a fat fest, you might as well order the lyonnaise potatoes, which are sliced thin and pan-fried with onions, hashbrown-style. For dessert, try the crème brûlée, sultry under its burnt-sugar topping. It makes a worthy milestone in your lifelong search for the lush dessert’s Platonic ideal. 1170 E. Commerce, 210-227-8847 or ruthschris.com. Dinner Sun—Thur 4:30—10, Fri & Sat 4:30—11. Also located in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Backstage Steakhouse and Garden Bar, Spicewood

• USDA Top Choice
• Wet-aged for 28 days
• Cooked on a gas grill

There’s live music on the patio on Friday and Saturday, making it fun to drive out from Austin for dinner and a show. Honestly, if the Backstage were in a big city, you might snicker at the tatty, dated look (fake Tiffany lamps, no less). But amid the junipers and scrub oaks 25 miles outside town, it seems just fine. And no excuses whatever are needed for the likes of the sixteen-ounce ribeye, cooked perfectly medium-rare, or the pounded tenderloin special, crusted in green chile and cornmeal and wonderfully delicious. A pool of ancho-chile butter and an interesting (and good) spinach-and-mashed-potato flat-style enchilada complete the picture. The treatment is not surprising given that the chef is Raymond Tatum, who headed up highly regarded Jeffrey’s in Austin in the eighties, when Southwestern cuisine was in its heyday. On the other hand, another edgy special, tenderloin drizzled with a bizarrely sweet soy concoction, should probably be skipped. Most desserts are a little sugary, but the fantastic crusts on the pies (like a fruity coconut-buttermilk) will bring childhood Christmas memories flooding back. Marcel Proust would understand. 21814 Texas Hwy. 71 West, 512-264-2223 or backstagesteakhouseaustin.com. Dinner Sun & Tue—Thur 5—9, Fri & Sat 5—10. Closed Mon.

Line Camp Steakhouse, Tolar

• USDA Prime
• Wet-aged for 28 days
• Grilled over pecan

Most people have only one complaint about the Line Camp: that they aren’t eating there right now. The atmosphere at this spot about fifty miles southwest of Fort Worth? Like a ranch house that’s been in your family for generations. The service? Friendly and comfortable—you’re just as likely to talk with your server about high school football as the extensive wine list. As for the food, start with the baked jalapeños wrapped in bacon and stuffed with pork sausage, cheddar, and cream cheese. Then move on to a crisp, fresh salad with pineapple-mango vinaigrette. Regulars love the eight-ounce flatiron, a flavorful and tender cut of shoulder beef. Even more lush is the eight-ounce tenderloin, judiciously seasoned and served perfectly medium-rare. You’ll do well to order the side of ranch beans loaded with bacon and have the homemade peach cobbler for dessert. As you leave, it might just happen that the classic song “Wings of a Dove” comes on the sound system—it’s the one Robert Duvall’s character sings in the movie Tender Mercies after his daughter leaves—and if it does, you’ll think, “This is exactly what a Texas steakhouse should be.” 4610 Shaw Rd., 254-835-4459 or linecampsteakhouse.com. Open Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10, Sun 11—3. Closed Mon—Wed.

It’s about location, location, location:

Whether a steak or roast is tender and expensive or tough and cheap depends on what part of the critter it came from and what it did when the animal was alive. Muscles that play a supporting role and don’t get much exercise are supple and soft (think ribeyes and tenderloins). They are situated in the animal’s midsection and back. By contrast, hardworking muscles in the legs, shoulders, and diaphragm are resilient and sturdy, but what they lack in tenderness they make up for in flavor.

Over the years, the large primal cuts shown on the chart above have changed surprisingly little. (The rump, for instance, was once a separate cut but is now part of the round; the rest is largely the same.) By contrast, smaller cuts like roasts and steaks have changed a bit more. Part of the reason is that consumer tastes alter; another is that the meat industry is always looking for better and more lucrative ways to divide up a carcass. That’s how the trendy steak called the flatiron came into being a few years ago.

Who knows what will be on your dinner plate tomorrow?

Tender Offer

Here’s a strange fact: Fresh beef is as tough as a boot. But if you let it sit around for a few days, it self-tenderizes. The meat’s own enzymes do the trick, breaking down the fibrous connective tissue in the muscles.

Today, there are two kinds of aging, called wet and dry. Wet is easy, modern, and economical, and 90 percent of beef sold in this country is wet-aged. Here’s how it is done: A beef carcass is cut into large pieces or individual steaks and vacuum-sealed in heavy plastic. The meat is allowed to sit in its own juices (thus “wet”) under refrigeration for at least a week, and then it’s ready to sell. It can safely be kept four weeks or even more, but after eleven days, tenderizing slows to a halt. Taste is virtually unaffected because moisture loss is minimal and the meat’s flavors are not concentrated. Wet aging can happen in a slaughterhouse, at a wholesaler, or in a supermarket. Even a home refrigerator.

Dry aging, which is how all beef in this country was treated through the sixties and seventies, is a lengthy and expensive process, often spoken of in hushed tones. You’ll see it mainly in fancy-pants steakhouses and epicurean markets. For dry aging, large pieces of unwrapped beef are hung in a meat locker or placed on open shelving and kept cold (around 33 to 38 degrees) and at low humidity (50 to 60 percent) in gently moving air, thus the name “dry.” The meat tenderizes itself and loses moisture, greatly intensifying its flavor (think of reducing a sauce).

Dry aging can be done at a beef supplier’s or a supermarket or even in the privacy of your home refrigerator, but the meat requires extremely careful monitoring. It’s all right if it gets crusty, or even if it grows a little mold, like a cheese; no harm is done because it will be trimmed later. But if bacteria runs amok, that’s something else. So be cautious about doing this at home, kids, or you could end up sickening all the friends you intended to impress with a dry-aged-steak dinner.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about time for dry aging; it can last two to eight weeks. After ten, you get some serious fermentation and mush, but before that happens, connoisseurs go gaga, using words like “buttery” and “deeply beefy.” They talk of young, green flavors being transformed into rich, nutty ones. Scoffers think dry-aged beef has a bit of a gamy flavor. There’s one thing they can all agree on, though: Don’t slap a sauce on a dry-aged steak. You want to taste the money.

Oldies But Goodies

No article on Texas steaks would be complete without a tribute to the rough-and-ready city steakhouses that ruled the roost before they were supplanted by today’s bastions of wine lists and wedge salads.

The Herman Munster of them all is the Big Texan Steak Ranch, in Amarillo, a cross between Six Flags and a tent revival. Watch in awe as a fearless customer sits on the dais and tries to consume a 72-ounce steak and sides in less than an hour. The prize? The restaurant picks up the tab (7701 E. I-40, 806-372-6000).

In Austin, legions of lawyers and auto mechanics swear by the bare-bones Hoffbrau, renowned for its steak fries, famous green-olive “soggy salad,” and alfresco dining next to the asphalt parking lot (613 W. Sixth, 512-472-0822).

Of all the old-time Texas steakhouses, the one with the lock on atmosphere is Cattlemen’s, smack-dab in the middle of the Stockyards National Historic District, in Fort Worth. The saloon and dining rooms whisk you back to an era long ago, as you watch a grizzled guy fire up your steak (2458 N. Main, 817-624-3945).

San Antonio has three locally beloved steak emporiums: Check out the Barn Door for gen-u-wine retro doodads, red-checked tablecloths, and three wooden Indians in the lobby (8400 N. New Braunfels Ave., 210-824-0116).

The South Side Little Red Barn (no relation) is packed to its hokey rafters every day, and a waitress in a cowgirl outfit (complete with a Colt .45 replica) will take your order (1836 S. Hackberry, 210-532-4235).

Up north, folks like Josephine Street for its roadhouse atmosphere, peppered filet, and raspberry-pecan pie (400 E. Josephine, 210-224-6169).

The Grill of it All

Mansour Gorji is the owner and chef of the Canary Cafe, in Dallas, and a two-time winner of Hico’s annual Texas Steak Cookoff.

What should I look for when I’m buying a top-quality steak?

Marbling—streaks of fat throughout. USDA Prime has the most marbling, but high-grade Choice is very close. You can ask your butcher, “What is the highest grade of Choice that you have?”

How quickly should I cook it after I buy it?

If you don’t want to cook it that day, use the vacuum-sealed food savers, and that will keep it four or five days. If you see the color on the surface turning a little beige, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it is saying, “Hello! Get me on the grill.” It talks to you, you know?

What about the grill? How do I get it ready?

Gas is convenient. Just turn it on. If you are using charcoal, you have to let it heat for at least 30 to 45 minutes. Once you have that red glow and the coals are covered with gray ash, then you are ready. Also, I never close the lid on my grill. First, I want those gases from the charcoal to go away. Second, I want to see what I’m cooking. I’m not leaving it to faith.

What’s the biggest mistake people make cooking at home?

They just pull the steak out of the refrigerator and throw it right on the grill. You have to leave it out for at least fifteen minutes so the meat relaxes itself. That’s when I brush on the olive oil and other seasonings. If you’re marinating a less-tender steak, the maximum that I would do is fifteen minutes.

Is it wrong to put a steak back on the grill if I undercook it?

It’s no problem to put it back on the grill for another 30 or 45 seconds. Better that than overcooking it, because then you have to either throw it away or eat it yourself. Never waste it on the dog!
Interview by Brian D. Sweany

How Now Brown Cow

A little over a year ago I started receiving annoying press releases on some kind of unpronounceable Texas-raised cattle called Akaushi. Say what? The stuff was ex-pen-sive, and you had to order it days in advance, even in restaurants. It sounded like a bunch of hype. I thought of the old joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy: I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

Fast-forward to September of this year. Two friends and I walked into Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, in San Antonio, and the head waiter started raving about Akaushi beef. Damn. The cheapest cut was $95, for a twelve-ounce filet. Deciding to take one for the team, I ordered it. It arrived. I took a bite. Ohmigod. It was so delicious I almost fainted. My friends noticed and tried to sneak pieces off my plate while I was semiconscious. We were fork-fighting and groaning and carrying on like spotted hyenas. It was that good.

If Akaushi (“Ah-ka-oo-shee”) sounds like what’s called Wagyu, source of notably succulent Japanese beef, it’s because they’re kissing cousins. Actually, “Wagyu” is a general term meaning “Japanese beef.” The correct name for those famous fatties is Kuroushi—“kuro” meaning “black” and “ushi” meaning “cattle.” (In case you’re wondering, Kobe beef is Kuroushi raised near Kobe, Japan.) Akaushi means “red cattle,” though they’re really reddish-brown. In 1994 eleven lone Akaushi were imported by HeartBrand Beef to its South Texas ranch outside Yoakum. From that small pool, they’ve increased to five thousand and are the only breeding herd outside Japan.

If you were to compare Kuroushi with Akaushi, you’d detect little difference. They’re both fabulous. But some Kuroushi in Texas have been crossed with Black Angus, and that meat is generally of a lesser quality. By contrast, all Akaushi are purebred, so they always produce splendidly tender meat with loads of near–microscopically fine fat marbling. On top of this, beef from both Kuroushi and Akaushi is better for you than regular old American beef, because the meat has lots of monounsaturated (good) fatty acids.

But don’t take my word. Try some yourself if you can spare about a hundred bucks. That’s not much for a memory you’ll never forget.

See Beefing Up for restaurants and stores carrying Akaushi products.

Recipes from Featured Restaurants

Grilled Ribeyes with Pomegranate Cream Sauce
from Canary Cafe, Dallas.

Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
from Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Buffalo Gap

Creamed Corn with Crispy Bread Crumb Topping
from Strip House, Houston

Granny Smith Apple Tart
from Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille, Austin

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