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.
According to Forbes magazine, Dallas is home to 17 billionaires, who have a combined estimated worth of $45.7 billion—such wealth engenders a serious power lunch scene at Fearing’s and more of the city’s many steak houses. Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and Bob’s Steak and Chop House are two popular chains that originated in Dallas and now have locations across the country.
Where to Eat: At Fearing’s, the legendary cowboy-boot-wearing chef Dean Fearing serves mesquite-grilled bone-in rib eye with vinegary West Texas “mop” sauce, creamy corn bread pudding and tempura asparagus. Smoke chef-owner Tim Byres (F&W People’s Best New Chef 2012) has a backyard smokehouse for slow-cooking all kinds of meat, including strip steak, an incredible coffee-cured beef brisket and “The Big Rib,” a huge beef rib.
Beef is Nebraska’s single largest industry, with cattle farms and ranches utilizing 93 percent of the state’s total land area. As the country’s meatpacking center since the 1950s, it’s no wonder that Omaha has so many steak houses and is home to one of the country’s largest marketers of beef, Omaha Steaks.
Where to Eat: Gorat’s is Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett’s favorite steak house. He even reserves the restaurant exclusively for three days every year during a shareholder meeting for his company Berkshire Hathaway. According to the Wall Street Journal, Buffett’s standard meal includes “a rare T-bone steak, double order of hash browns and a Cherry Coke.”
Lunch is more than a meal in this city, where restaurants cater to politicos and are often the setting for legislation negotiations. Power lunch spots include the many steak houses just steps from the U.S. Capitol Building.
Where to Eat: The Caucus Room is a popular bipartisan choice: It’s owned by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, prominent Democratic lobbyist Tom Boggs and Ed Mathias from the Carlyle Group, the third-largest private equity firm in the world. Superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Steakhouse and Charlie Palmer Steak have discreet private dining areas and serve many congressmen and senators every week. Restaurateur Michael Landrum’s unpretentious spot Ray’s the Steaks in nearby Arlington, Virginia, is a low-key favorite of locals.
San Francisco has had a surge of chef-butchers and butcher shops that focus on humanely and locally raised meat. Former San Francisco chef Nate Appleman is credited with starting the chef-butcher trend at A16 and SPQR in 2009, and today Ryan Farr of 4505 Butchers is one of the most sought-after butchering instructors in the city. The nationally recognized Niman Ranch network also started here and now includes independent farmers throughout the U.S.
Where to Eat: Although many of the city’s fine dining spots emphasize locally raised and grass-fed beef, traditional steak houses are still popular. Since 1949, House of Prime Rib’s servers have been dramatically carving portions of well-marbled meat tableside from stainless steel serving carts. San Francisco superstar chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak is also a favorite, offering fabulous Angus and American Wagyu steaks that are sourced from sustainable and organic farms like Bassian Farms in nearby San Jose and Idaho’s Snake River Farms, respectively.
Executives at CNN and Coca-Cola’s global headquarters in Atlanta frequent the city’s many steak houses near the CNN Center and downtown. Atlanta chefs Anne Quatrano and Cliff Harrison run an empire of restaurants and shops dedicated to using local, organic ingredients and serving nose-to-tail cuisine. Located in a former meatpacking plant, their restaurant Abbattoir (French for “slaughterhouse”) utilizes every part of the cow on its menu: In addition to rib eye and hanger steak, they serve roasted marrow bones, sweetbreads and warm beef jerky. Their culinary shop Star Provisions has an on-site chef-butcher who hand-cuts meat and specializes in aging meat.
Where to Eat: Chef Kevin Rathbun ate his way through five Chicago steak houses in 24 hours to research his newest restaurant Kevin Rathbun Steak. Cuts like porterhouse for two and a huge 22-ounce cowboy rib eye are topped with salted butter and served with decadent sides, like jalapeño creamed corn. Other popular steak restaurants include Bone’s, McKendrick’s and Chops.
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