7 of San Diego's Top Steakhouses
A STEAK IS A STEAK, AND SO MUCH MORE...
Venerable eastern (think Peter Luger’s in New York, est. 1887) and mid-western chophouses have been around for many years. They used to be known for serving steak and more steak. However, it's a new era for California chophouses, and steaks are much more than before.
The Chart House opened in San Diego in the late 1960’s and helped to launch the steak and salad bar concept of restaurants. They enjoyed much success for awhile, until meat was "out". When a re-emergence of steakhouses started, downtown San Diego got its first clubby chophouse at Rainwater's. Alas, it closed at the end of last year, so where does one go for steaks?
What comes first to mind is Donovan’s, as they consistently deliver the goods, having started a little over a decade ago. Albeit pricey, the quality of their meat, service and wine list has created the standard to which all other steakhouses aspire. Apparently others agree. In addition to their original location in the UTC area, they now have restaurants in downtown San Diego, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
Based on this success, San Diego county has seen the entry of national chains, including The Palm (New York, est. 1977), Morton’s (Chicago, est. 1978), Flemings (Newport Beach, est. 1998), and Ruth’s Chris (Ruth Fertel bought Chris Steaks in New Orleans). Other originals include Red Tracton’s (a transplant from Los Angeles), Bentley’s, Tommy V’s Italian Chophouse, and West Steak Seafood and Spirits, to name a few.
When you have that steak craving, it's good to know that in San Diego, you have several quality choices. Each of these restaurants tries to put their own spin on what a steak should be and what should be served with it. Donovan’s delivers USDA Prime Graded beef that is mid-western corn-fed straight from the Chicago Stockyards. Their steaks are served with fresh, seasonal vegetables and a choice of potato. In short: clean, simple, delicious. They also serve lamb and seafood for those desirous of an alternative to steak. My wife has found their lamb chop appetizer, along with a lettuce wedge with blue cheese crumbles, enough for a meal.
Also located in UTC and downtown San Diego, Fleming’s is a little less expensive and provides the clubby ambiance of a steakhouse. Recently, they added some new dishes to the menu, including a porcini rubbed filet mignon and a peppercorn New York steak with cracked black and white peppercorns. Their side dishes do have a “bite” to them, so for those with weaker palates or stomachs, ask before ordering. The lump crab louis wrap was a terrific starter, served much like a mushi pork at a Chinese restaurant. If you enjoy the spicy side, try their wicked Cajun barbeque shrimp. Fleming’s 100 wines by the glass are unique and provide more choices than most other steakhouses. Their Hall Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect accompaniment to one of their classic steaks, as is a bottle of Justin.
Recently opened, Tommy V’s Italian Chophouse on Via de la Valle is owned by Tomaso Maggiore and his son, Joseph Maggiore, who is the General Manager. Previously in the La Costa area for 20 years, they are working out the kinks often present in any new restaurant. A bit pricey, yet Tommy V's has a varied menu. They put an Italian spin on their steaks with Italian seasonings, such as the tasty Bistecca Alla Siciliana. Their mozzarella cheese tasting appetizer/salad was terrific. For those that have not had Burrata cheese, try it. It is the “cheese of the moment”; a specialty of Apulia in the heel of the boot of Italy. Of all the chophouses, this is the only one of which I am aware that the owner makes his own wine. We tried his 2003 Luxus from Sicily, and it paired wonderfully with the food. Tommy V's Closed its doors.
Another restaurant deserving of mention, although not a “steakhouse” or “chophouse”, is Pamplemousse Grille. They consistently have terrific steaks served with or without sauce. If you want a sauce, they have several from which to choose. This is in addition to a varied menu with many choices. If you want to step down from a steak, I recommend the Kobe beef burgers.
For those that long for terrific prime rib, Donovan’s has it on Friday evenings and Fleming’s offers it on Sundays. Also, most of the restaurants offer interesting bar menus, so consider that as an option along with the price fixed menu specials that are offered from time to time. Be sure to check online, as most of the establishments mentioned have more than one location. Bon Appetite!