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7 Old-School Steakhouses in the Bay Area

Choice cuts, strong martinis, dapper servers and live jazz
June 11, 2017
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by Trevor Felch

The City by the Bay is naturally a seafood town. But we do love our filet mignon and prime rib (accompanied by martinis, of course) — and a polished, timeless setting doesn't hurt (we have plenty of those). Cue up the jazz, dim the lights, order the rib-eye and step back in time at these seven old-school Bay Area steakhouses.

Brian Cary

The Brass Rabbit
Old-school meets new-school at one of the most important openings of 2017. After 23 years as Bistro Ralph, new ownership transformed this Healdsburg Plaza–adjacent restaurant and bar, adding a midcentury vibe with an ornately designed tin ceiling, exposed brick and toasted oak tables. As a bonus, there's plenty of natural light; no secret deals made over martinis here. Chef Shane McAnelly (Chalkboard) is in charge of the elevated supper club menu, dominated by steaks cooked on a giant six-foot Argentinean-style wood-burning grill.

Must-order: The rib-eye with duck fat potatoes and sauce bordelaise shows the grill at its best. For a classic experience, try daily specials like lamb Wellington or lobster Thermidor. The martini menu offers creative garnish options; try a Vesper with foie gras–stuffed olives.

109 Plaza St., Healdsburg; 707-473-8580

Jun Seita/Flickr

House of Prime Rib  
As the city’s fourth-most popular restaurant in our latest survey, this Polk Gulch institution (since the 1940s) sees an eclectic mix of celebrities, tourists and longtime city residents nightly for its fixed-price dinners. The space has an English private club vibe, complete with fireplaces, valet service and servers constantly sprinting around with carts, occasionally stopping to toss salads or cut portions tableside. It's quite a scene, and it's all for one reason: irresistibly juicy, corn-fed prime rib that’s been aged for three weeks. Pro tip: Make reservations at least a week in advance, or try walking in and sitting at the bar by the entrance.  

Must-order: You'll need to make three decisions: what size cut of prime rib to order (depends how hungry you are), what to drink (try the oversized house martini) and which dessert (the pecan pie). The rest of the meal includes salad, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding as part of the $43 prix fixe.

1906 Van Ness Ave.; 415-885-4605

Courtesy of Sundance the Steakhouse

Sundance The Steakhouse
A lot has changed in Palo Alto since 1974, but one constant has been the time-warp appeal of this candlelit mahogany-clad dining room. Before it was Sundance, it was The Stanford View, the restaurant that broke from Stanford’s rule for a one-mile alcohol-free student zone. Countless tech titans, Nobel prize winners and Stanford professors have visited over the past four decades to dine on steaks and prime rib with wines from a 450-label list. It's truly a Silicon Valley classic.

Must-order: Try one of the four cuts of slow-roasted prime rib, accompanied by decadent creamed spinach. Beforehand, order one of the unique appetizers (like filet mignon spring rolls) and sip on the house margarita; it's a rarity for a steakhouse, but this is the signature cocktail.

1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-321-6798

Harris’
Now in its third decade anchoring the prominent intersection of Pacific and Van Ness, Harris’ bills itself as “The San Francisco Steakhouse.” It’s a bold claim. But even before you try the menu, the setting — a classic dark-wood-paneled, windowless dining room with brass chandeliers and horseshoe-shaped tufted leather booths — makes a case for that title. It's straight out of the early 1980s, when owner Ann Lee Harris spruced up the legendary Grison’s Steakhouse. Harris’ attached Pacific Bar Lounge doesn’t get the hype it should, but it's a timeless space for nightly live jazz and an ice cold martini.

Must-order: Don’t get too creative here. Start with the signature Caesar salad, then share the 16-oz. Midwest dry-aged Harris Steak — a thick, bone-in New York cut. Pair it with a Northern California red from one of the city’s deepest wine collections.

2100 Van Ness Ave.; 415-673-1888

Courtesy of Omni Hotels

Bob’s Steak & Chop House  
You may not expect much from a Dallas-based chain in a San Francisco hotel. But Bob’s is an exception, with a handsome polished-wood setting, vintage San Francisco photo art and high-caliber steaks pleasing visitors and locals alike. The California Street spot is also one of the FiDi’s major power dining destinations, drawing business crowds for martini-fueled happy hours and lunches.  

Must-order: The corn-fed, Midwest-raised prime filet mignon comes in three sizes and each will satisfy the most passionate carnivores. Start with the Maryland-style crab cakes, some of the best in the city.

500 California St.; 415-273-3085

Courtesy of Original Joe's

Original Joe’s 
One of the most venerable names in classic SF dining, Original Joe's is known for a lot of things — stiff Manhattans, a giant burger served in two halves, dapper tuxedoed waiters, its historic family ownership — but it’s rarely called a “steakhouse.” Yet, the longtime family-run North Beach Italian American destination oozes a clubby steakhouse vibe with red booths, a wood-paneled bar and a touch of whimsy (yes, those are deco-era copper mermaids on the walls). Much of the menu is devoted to roasted prime rib and various steaks and chops that compete with the best local steakhouses.

Must-order: Start with artichoke and spinach dip for the table, then split the 25-oz. porterhouse cut. If you’re really looking to travel back in time, opt for the calves liver, bacon and onions. Go Italian for your sides; try the ravioli. This is classic cocktail territory, so enjoy your steak and Washington Square Park views with a Negroni or Sidecar.

601 Union St.; 415-775-4877

Alanna Hale

Alfred’s 
Approaching its 90th birthday, this iconic FiDi steakhouse received a much-needed menu and decor revamp last year thanks to its new owners, Daniel Patterson's DPG group. Now it feels both historic and fresh, balancing classic dry-aged steaks from the mesquite grill and oysters Rockefeller with carrots cooked in aged beef fat or smoked steelhead trout on toast. The gorgeous atmosphere features throwback bright red booths and crystal chandeliers, with contemporary touches like Bay Area photography. Note that the restaurant suffered a fire in the spring and expects to reopen mid June.

Must-order: Classic cocktails are a must and come with the shaker ready for a refill. Try the Alfred's Cut bone-in rib-eye, with salsa verde and some of the city's best fries, or opt for steak tartare (moistened with a smoked egg yolk). And there's no better wedge salad in town. Save room for the bananas Foster, flambéed tableside. 

659 Merchant St.; 415-781-7058

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