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    Who Has the Better Steaks: SF or LA?

    By David Landis–

    Growing up in the Midwest, with a grandmother who worked as a single mom at a Chicago’s slaughterhouse, steaks were a staple—if special—part of our diet. Mostly, we had chicken at home every night. Once in a great while, the family would splurge and go to some of the Windy City’s best steakhouses, including The Cart (on the south end of the city’s Loop district), where prime rib reigned supreme.

    When I moved to San Francisco in 1980, the first restaurants that I sought out were steakhouses, those meat palace throwbacks to yesteryear. Yes, steak (and prime rib and other such offerings that carnivores love) was the comfort food of the era. Unlike what we thought in the Midwest, it turns out you really could find great steakhouses not just in San Francisco, but also throughout the Golden State.

    Our city certainly has some of the most famous steakhouses around. But what about the bigger metropolis to our south? The Gay Gourmet set out to answer the question: who does steak better, LA or SF?

    Well, that depends.

    Let’s start with our hometown, San Francisco.

    The three following, in the Gay Gourmet’s humble opinion, are at:

    House of Prime Rib (or HOPR for those in the know): This Van Ness Avenue staple, opened in 1949, is famous for its 21-day aged prime rib. Everything about the restaurant screams “old school” (in the best way), from the way that chefs carve your meat at the table via Zeppelin-style stainless steel carts to the spinning salad to the homemade Yorkshire pudding. It’s become a bit of a scene since Instagrammers discovered HOPR, so remember to book extra early. Go here for the iconic prime rib, but The Gay Gourmet actually prefers the thinner English Cut. All cuts are served with salad, potato, and the Yorkshire pudding—and the creamed spinach (extra) is a must. The wine list tends toward California and is selected to stand up to the (mostly) red meat menu offerings. Insider’s tip: book early for the holidays, when the décor adds exponentially to the festivities.

    Harris’ Restaurant: I know it’s not politically correct, but growing up in Chicago, I do attest to a preference for the taste of grain-fed beef, even if we now know the environmental impacts. One of the best to offer Midwest-style corn-fed beef is Harris’, also located on Van Ness Avenue. (What is it about this boulevard that attracted the steakhouses? Maybe all of those folks who visited the old car dealerships ate beef?!). Also old-school, Harris’ (separate from the Harris’ in the Central Valley, but that’s another long story), occupies the former Grison’s steakhouse and opened its doors in 1984. The restaurant sports red leather booths, dark wood, brass chandeliers, a charming (and quiet) cocktail and piano lounge, as well as its own to-go butcher shop. The Gay Gourmet’s favorite here? Start with the classic gin or vodka martini, served with an extra shot in its own single-server ice “bucket”; don’t miss the deep-fried onion rings as a starter, the iceberg wedge salad with Point Reyes blue cheese dressing (I like to gild the lily by adding extra crumbled blue cheese on top), creamed spinach and the 8 oz. petite filet mignon (big enough to split, frankly). If you’ve got a hankering, they also offer Wagyu beef (at a price, of course), but I’d recommend staying with the Midwest-grown steaks. A traditional cheesecake is the perfect topper to a Harris meal.

    Izzy’s Steaks and Chops: Another throwback (opened in the 1980’s), Izzy’s in San Francisco’s Marina district (named after the celebrated San Francisco saloon keeper Izzy Gomez) offers private wood-paneled booths, a lively bar, and prices that don’t come with sticker shock. A go-to neighborhood joint, Izzy’s has quality steaks (with a plethora of condiments and sauces lining the walls for customers to enjoy) at an affordable price. What’s nice about Izzy’s is that your steak actually comes with two accompaniments. Among my favorites are: Izzy’s own potatoes (think cheesy, scalloped potatoes) and Izzy’s delicious creamed spinach, with a dash of nutmeg. Izzy’s also is one of the few steakhouses to offer a 6 oz filet mignon, which is nice for those of us who prefer not to leave the restaurant feeling like a stuffed whale. For those with a sweet tooth, however, I’d recommend the classic and creamy key lime pie with graham-cracker crust.

    And what about Los Angeles?

    One usually thinks of innovative, California-cuisine restaurants when visiting LA. But one of the best tried-and-true steakhouses in the state is Hollywood’s classic The Musso and Frank Grill, located within walking distance to the Hollywood Bowl. On September 27, the venerable restaurant turned 100! The centennial received coverage in The Los Angeles Times, NPR, and more. Besides being around since 1919, this restaurant has the added bonus of celebrity-sightings. Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe used to hang out in the restaurant’s former Back Room; the night we were there, we spotted David Spade and James Woods (not together!). Famously, the restaurant is known for its lauded gin martini, made with 2.5 ounces of gin and a half ounce of vermouth, stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. The Gay Gourmet instead decided to try their version of a Negroni (with Hendrick’s gin); it made the grade, with the perfect blend of sweet and sour. People rave about Musso & Frank’s Welsh rarebit and flannel cakes; we were tempted by the consommé (where else can you find that on menus these days?). Instead, we opted for the Musso & Frank Special salad (with avocados and artichokes) to start. At Musso & Frank’s, steaks command the spotlight. “People ask if we age the steaks,” says server Sergio, who has worked at the restaurant since 1972. “I tell them yes, but not as long as we age the servers.” We had a tasty, marbled 12 oz. filet mignon (to split), juicy and tender, cooked to a perfect medium rare. In addition, the creamed spinach might be my favorite: it’s by far one of the lushest around (perhaps they add parmesan cheese, but no one is telling). Besides steaks, the restaurant is also known for its Italian-American offerings, such as the original fettuccini Alfredo (Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford hand carried the authentic recipe back to Musso and Frank’s from chef Alfredo in Italy). For dessert, we chose the spumoni slice, the classic 3-flavored Italian ice cream made into a cake with a tender crust.

    Want something new? The Gay Gourmet recommends celebrity chef Curtis Stone’s Hollywood outpost, Gwen (run with his brother Luke Stone). Bring along your expense account, but this restaurant re-invents the entire concept of a steakhouse from start to finish. The look is modern and welcoming, with the centerpiece being a fire-based grill taking center stage. At Gwen, you enter through the butcher shop (and can buy steaks to take home) and then walk through the elegant dining space, with a massive, grand crystal chandelier as the showstopper. The focus is not just on the Australian Wagyu beef on which Gwen is known, but also for Creekstone USDA grain-fed prime beef from Kansas and California-grown beef as well. Gwen’s innovative craft cocktail program features such unique drinks as: “The Canary” (a gin and Meyer lemon delight) and “Paid in Full,” which combines whiskey with Jamaican rum and toasted sesame. The night we dined there, we had the 34 oz. Creekstone bone-in ribeye (split four ways); at $135, it’s not cheap, but it was more than enough with a few sides—including the decadent duck fat potatoes and creamed leeks—to satisfy all four of us who dined that night. Fancy cutlery is part of the mix, too: servers bring a box of varied steak knives, including some from French producer Perceval—and diners get to pick their own.

    So, beef lovers, unite. There’s no need to fight between the Bay Area and La-La Land. Whether you’re in Northern or Southern California, you’ll find great steaks, as well as an atmosphere and a budget that match your culinary expectations.

    The inside scoop:

    House of Prime Rib, San Francisco

    Harris’ Restaurant, San Francisco

    Izzy’s Steaks and Chops, San Francisco

    The Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood

    Gwen Restaurant, Hollywood

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: or visit him online at