St. Elmo Steakhouse
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.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.