The fellow I met at a holiday party had just one question for me: Where do you find a great steak in this part of the country? He grew up in Texas on grass-fed beef and complains he’s never found a steak here with as much flavor. He’s disappointed every time he spends big bucks for a steak, whether it’s corn-fed, dry-aged or wet-aged, Wagyu or Kobe or sizzling with butter.
I couldn’t come up with one steak that’s unequivocally the best in town. But I did point out the places that stand out for the quality and precision cooking of their beef, but also for the whole dining experience —something that may be even harder to find than a good steak.
Cut: If you’ve got some serious money (or a generous patron), Cut has superb beef, precisely cooked over hardwood and charcoal and then finished under a 1,200-degree broiler. Cut also happens to be one of the best-looking restaurants in L.A., designed by Richard Meier, who designed the Getty Museum. Wolfgang Puck — and executive chef Ari Rosenson — cover the gamut with USDA prime aged up to 35 days and also Wagyu from various prefects in Japan, Australia and the Midwest. My favorite? The New York sirloin “Kobe style” from Snake River Farms in Idaho. It’s Wagyu but less mushy-tender than the Japanese beef, with a marvelous, beefy flavor. And if you really want to get extravagant, you can top any steak with white ($85) or black ($55) truffles. But where Puck really breaks the steakhouse mold is with the first courses and sides. Here you can start with a bowl of Austrian oxtail bouillon with bone marrow dumplings or broiled Santa Barbara uni with mussels and espelette pepper. Sides are just as innovative (creamed spinach with fried organic egg, roasted autumn root vegetables or potato tarte tatin, for example). And then (if you make it that far), you can indulge in one of Sherry Yard’s fine desserts. You can’t pass up her bruléed banana cream pie or her baked Alaska with ginger pain d'épices. Cut is sophisticated, yes. Glamorous too. It’s also very much the splurge. And if star-gazing is on your mind, this is where you’re almost guaranteed to spot a very famous someone or two.
Beverly Wilshire, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 276-8500, https://www.wolfgangpuck.com. /restaurants/fine-dining/3789. Steaks, $46 to $145; tasting of New York sirloin, $125.
Park’s BBQ: Park’s BBQ is more expensive than many of the other traditional Korean barbecue restaurants in K-Town, but it’s very worth it for the high quality of the beef — USDA prime and Kobe-style beef. It’s such fun to go with a group of friends and grill your own prime galbi (short rib) or bulgogi over charcoal. The ggot sal is prime too, and so is the beef tongue, which I highly recommend. The rooms are bright and contemporary, the crowd a heady mix of locals and food lovers who have made a special trek to Koreatown for the event. A note at the end of the menu says, “Meat is delivered fresh everyday and may be sold out.” In other words, you might want to eat on the earlier side. Portions are generous, and, with all the panchan or side dishes, you’ll end up spending much less than you would at a traditional steakhouse, though remember, everything is cut very thin, the better for faster grilling and for wrapping in lettuce leaves with kimchi, chile paste or whatever else you want to add.
955 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 380-1717, https://www.parksbbq.com. Prime beef and wagyu, $33 to $69.
The Old Place: The Old Place roadhouse in Cornell in the Santa Monica Mountains has been grilling steaks for decades now. In fact, at one time steak was about the only thing on the menu. But when Morgan Runyon took over the old place after his father, cowboy actor Tom Runyon, died, he made some changes. Though most everything is still grilled over an oak fire, he greatly expanded the menu (and also hired a real chef). The oak-grilled Black Angus sirloin is still one of the best steak deals around at $19 — and that includes mixed green salad and a hefty baked potato. At that price, the steak isn’t prime (just as it isn’t at the Santa Maria steakhouses in the Central Coast). That red oak fire, though, gives the steaks a beautiful smoky edge. If you want to upgrade, consider the bone-in rib-eye that’s almost always available. At 27 ounces, the $42 steak is big enough to feed two. Have it with a red from one of the Malibu wineries featured. Add in the old cowboy atmosphere, with tall-sided wooden booths, sassy waitresses and the star-studded sky overhead, and it’s a steal. Groups of eight or more can reserve the long table in the original Cornell post office, which is, oh, about 127 years old now. Live music on the weekends too.
29983 Mulholland Highway, Cornell (near Agoura), (818) 706-9001, https://www.oldplacecornell.com. Steaks, $19 to $42.
Carlitos Gardel: The beef at this restaurant, owned by an Armenian family from Argentina, is mostly grass-fed and from Argentina. The cook in the family is Azniv Bozoghlian. Her son Gerard runs the dining room. Son Max is an expert in Argentine wines. Carlitos Gardel is a warm, old-fashioned place with white tablecloths, smart service and, on Saturday nights, a pianist playing old tangos. The food is elevated home cooking — mushroom caps stuffed with chicken forcemeat, deep-fried squid in marinara sauce and, of course, empanadas. But the real draw here is the steaks and especially the long, skinny skirt steak served with chimichurri. Bife (regular or mini) comes with a black peppercorn and mushroom sauce. Sometimes there’s a 40-ounce rib-eye big enough to serve four. The other way to go is with the parrillada, or mixed grill, for two — skirt steak, short ribs, blood sausage with a hint of sweet spices, spicy Argentine-style chorizo and flattened sweetbreads, which are cooked until they’re crispy at the edges. Do save room for one of Mrs. Bozoghlian’s desserts, such as postre Gardel, a tall slab of genoise layered with peaches, dulce de leche and meringue. Or her ethereally light ricotta cake.
7063 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 655-0891, https://www.carlitosgardel.com. Steaks, $34 to $44. Parrillada Argentina is $58 for two.
Jocko’s Steakhouse: If you’re headed up to the Central Coast wine country, plan on making a pit stop in Nipomo (eight miles north of Santa Maria) for a steak dinner at Jocko’s. The place has been around since 1926, and the grill men really know their red oak fire and their beef. Pick your meat, your salad dressing and your potato (fries or a baked spud). Your meal will be out shortly. Jocko’s specialty is the Spencer, a huge, 2-inch-thick bone-in rib-eye ($27). Charred a deep mahogany, it is well-salted, the cowboy equivalent of a bistecca alla fiorentina and just as satisfying. Most people don’t have the appetite of the old cowhands and end up crying uncle and taking some of it home. The bartender is friendly, the crowd too. Just don’t expect a slick steakhouse: This is down-home; practically the sole decoration some old cattle brands and horseshoes. The wine list is perfunctory at best, but hey, the corkage fee is only $5, so bring your best Santa Maria Valley Pinot. Dinner starts at 4:30 p.m., the only time when there may not be a wait for a table. Great value, great place.
125 N. Thompson Ave., Nipomo (about 8 miles north of Santa Maria on the Central Coast, just off U.S. 101), (805) 929-3565, https://www.jockosmix.com. Complete steak dinners, $17 (steak sandwich) to $31 (stuffed filet mignon); extra thick-cut steaks, $10 more.