In a country obsessed with beef, a new generation of renowned butchers and restaurants is redefining what makes a great American steak city.
Chicago’s Union Stockyards were the center of the American meatpacking industry for the first half of the 20th century and helped perpetuate the Midwestern city’s legacy as a steak town (even if the shameful stockyard conditions depicted in The Jungle led to national food safety initiatives). Founded in 1893, famous Allen Brothers built a strong reputation and still supplies legendary steak houses like Gene & Georgetti as well as Chicago-founded Morton’s. The new Butcher & Larder, opened by former chef Rob Levitt, is now in the spotlight for being the city’s first shop dedicated to butchering locally sourced whole animals.
Where to Eat: Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse sources Black Angus beef from sustainable farms in the Upper Midwest and ages superb filet mignon, sirloin and porterhouse steaks for 40 days. The porterhouses at Chicago Chop House and Tavern on Rush are also among the best in the city.
From dry-aged porterhouse steaks at the iconic and often-imitated Peter Luger in Brooklyn to the crispy-edged côte de boeuf for two with marrow bones at Keith McNally’s chic Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village, there’s no dearth of outstanding steaks in the nation’s financial capital. Even non-steak house restaurants use cult butchers like Pat LaFreida, Lobel’s, DeBragga and Master Purveyors, and call out their names on menus throughout the city.
Where to Eat: There are so many steak houses (more than 140 in the Zagat guide) that it can be hard to choose. F&W’s top picks include Keens, Minetta Tavern, Palm, Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, Sparks, Strip House, the Old Homestead and Wolfgang’s.
Vegas has never wanted for great high-roller steak houses. In the 1950s and 1960s, Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., were regular customers at the Golden Steer Steakhouse, the oldest steak joint in town. Today, there are over 25 steak houses on the 4.2-mile stretch known as the Vegas Strip, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Where to Eat: Celebrity chefs’ steak spots rule, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Prime, Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico, Charlie Palmer Steak and Carnevino, the Italian-leaning restaurant from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. At Carnevino, NYC meat guru Adam Perry Lang heads up the dry-aged-beef program by selecting the hormone- and antibiotic-free beef that’s served in the restaurant. As an extravagent feature, sommeliers reverently cart old vintages of wines like Barolos, Brunellos and Super Tuscans to the table and decant them into exquisite handblown Movia stemware.
“Houston is a town that specializes in the manliest meat, beef,” Joel Stein once wrote in Food & Wine. More than 255,000 people attended the 2012 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an event that includes tastings from many of the city’s barbecue joints and steak spots as well as a bull-riding show and contests for the most beautiful steer.
Where to Eat: Two of Houston’s best places for steak are housed in unassuming roadhouse-style buildings: At Killen’s, chef Ron Killen serves awe-inspiring dry-aged beef and indulgent Kobe tastings, and according to F&W’s Ray Isle, a Houston native, Beaver’s Ice House has one of the state’s best chicken fried steaks. At chef Chris Shepherd’s brand new restaurant, Underbelly, there’s a full-scale butcher room where whole animals are broken down and each part is used on the menu.
The city earned its nickname “Cowtown” more than a century ago when cowboys drove cattle through the city on their way to Chicago, the country’s meatpacking center. Today local chef Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro has become the de facto culinary ambassador for the state of Texas, and a nationally recognized steak and grilling expert.
Where to Eat: Love serves his signature urban western cuisine and juicy hand-cut steaks with cilantro lime butter at Lonesome Dove, which is located in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. At his new restaurant, the Woodshed Smokehouse, Love has devoted his menu to meat and serves an incredible 60 ounce bistecca alla Fiorentina with crispy potatoes for four people. Texas classic Ranchman’s Café (aka the Ponder Steakhouse) has been serving down-home dishes like excellent chicken fried steak since 1948 and is still wildly popular.