The Steakhouse Showdown!

A friend called me a few weeks ago. “My boss is coming into town, and I need to take him to a steakhouse. Which one is the best?” I paused and thought about it. I really had no idea. I’ve heard good things about several, but as a dedicated gourmand, I don’t really eat a lot of steak, and I certainly don’t eat at steakhouses very often. That lead me to the biggest project I’ve ever taken on at PFD. What is the best STEAKHOUSE in Portland?

I don’t care how big a foodie you are. Every now and then, someone either asks for your opinion, or you find yourself in a situation where you need to go to a steakhouse – a anniversary, family in town, your father in law… whatever. It happens. Which steakhouse should you recommend?

I’ve set out to answer that question. I will go to four steakhouses in four weeks. I will compare Morton’s, Ringside, Ruth’s Chris, and El Gaucho. If the money holds out, I’ll add a few more, but my budget is only $1,500, which may not go far.

At each steakhouse,

  • I will try two different steaks – always the same cuts, always medium-rare.
  • I will try the same salad – a Caesar.
  • I will try the same two sides at each restaurant, or as close to the same as they come.
  • I will try one cocktail
  • I will try a wine by the glass, but will also take careful note of their bottle menu.
  • I will try a dessert, and give a general impression.

During the process, I will write a short review of each steakhouse covering ambiance, service, quality of each dish, whether the meat is cooked properly and finally the overall price. I will only make one visit, because more should not be necessary – this is all these restaurants do, and they should be able to get it right every time.

After I have finished my reviews, I will also post a spreadsheet covering all the factors. You will be able to check exactly what characteristics are important to you.

There will be people who say I shouldn’t rate any chain restaurants. I disagree. Any restaurant, even a McDonald’s provides a large amount of jobs to the local economy. Sure, the corporate money may not stay in the state, but the fact is, all of these places are in Oregon, and all of them have an impact in Portland.

I finished El Gaucho this week. Reservations are made for the next on the list. Lipitor in hand, I am ready. God help me. I do it all for you. At the end of the adventure, I will sum everything up.

You can see the:

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. salmonfly65 says

    Thanks for not including Shula’s in this “test.” And, if you really get the bug, head north to Seattle – it’s a short train ride that is worth the trip.

      • zumpie says

        Hmmm, now THAT’S interesting! The Shula’s was a franchise, so I wonder if Sunstone (the Mariott franchisee) simply got tired of paying huge franchise fees for a restaurant that no one went to in a city where Shula’s had no draw whatsoever.

        I’ll add, it was a truly terrible restaurant, so if FD had included it on his list, he’d deserve hazard pay.

    • Food Dude says

      I never go alone, so there will be two of us, and yes, for two of the steakhouses, that is a reasonable number when you include tip.

  2. says

    I think it’s a great idea. And if the money holds out, you should definitely go to Laurelhurst Market. We went last night and it was really hitting it. I’ll post my Laurelhurst observations on my blog today. Good luck during your “Month of Meat”!

  3. Joseph says

    I’m curious to know how Saylor’s Old Country Kitchen (10519 SE Stark) and the Acropolis (8325 SE Mcloughlin) would compare to the upper echelon steak houses you’re planning to visit. Saylor’s has been around for generations, and the Acropolis, while not a family-friendly environment, is widely known for it’s high quality, locally raised beef. Neither of these establishments should come anywhere close to breaking your announced average budget of $375 per visit.

    • extramsg says

      I’ll contribute if mine goes towards a steak and a lapdance for FD at the Acropolis. I do believe they have a non-strip club room as well, but I’m not contributing if it doesn’t include FD doing the motorboat.

          • extramsg says

            A ribeye and lapdance. Any “extras” you pay for. I’ll take pictures of the event, but don’t worry, your face will be covered — by “Mercedez”.

  4. Jeff says

    If my wife and I are going to Ringside, we figure on $225 including tip. that’s each of us getting a steak, a cocktail, a glass of wine, a dessert, and a couple of sides or vegetables for the table.

    El Gaucho is rather more expensive, especially because we always get some oysters there, too, which we don’t at Ringside.

    I haven’t done Morton’s yet, and Ruth’s Chris just seems kinda soulless compared to Ringside or Gaucho.

  5. says

    What? You aren’t going to include the Acropolis?!? ;)

    Seriously, I love that you are doing this. Old school steakhouses are so 1976-fancy….very retro and wonderful…. After this, I think you ought to review Portland’s old school pizza parlors that are still around from the 60’s and 70’s…you know – the ones with the dark interiors and a salad bar…where you can get soda by the pitcher – with crushed ice!

  6. ann sofka says

    can’t wait to hear. please try laurelhurst…i love those guys.check out this rumor…there’s a non-published special @ ruth chris if you ask for it.
    have fun.

  7. zumpie says

    Actually, $375 is a bit high. When my husband and I went to El Gaucho (I had many gift cards) the tab would’ve been $250 plus tip—and we had high end starters, drinks and several sides and the “baseball cut” steak with lobster tail (couldn’t fit dessert). It was worth penny, BTW.

    I’d rate El Gaucho unquestionably #1 (not only delicious, but excellent, attentive service, without being one bit snotty), have never been to Ringside (the hubby went once and wasn’t especially impressed–grisly meat and greasy, cold potatoes) and Morton’s and Ruth’s distant tie for 4th place.

    Ruth’s sides are vile and the service borders on diner level. Morton’s might have better sides, but that “talking menu” and plastic wrapped beef cart is beyond goofy. And they serve the exact same beef, so they’re equal on that score.

  8. Rick Hamell says

    I get this question a lot too. I always refer people to the Acropolis or Saylors now that Stuart Anderson’s/Black Angus is totally out of the Portland area. I’ve eaten at each of these places at least twice in the past ten years and was never really impressed with the quality of the food. In some cases, the (lack of) service really hurt especially at Ringside.

    In my opinion, Portland really lacks an “oh my god” type steak house, unless one of these four has drastically changed. Good luck with that much meat!

    • Katrus says

      There are still three Black Angus restaurants in the Portland area, but you have to go to the burbs. I know this because it’s frequently suggested by my dad when we get together for dinner. Blech.

      • says

        There were three, but they’re down to a single location in Vancouver now. The Beaverton satellite has been gone for quite some time now, and the space seems to be cursed; a Mexican cantina seems to have been stuck in not-quite-open for at least a year (or it may have opened for a week and died, I’m not sure which).

        Trivia department: on the Oregon side of the river, the chain was branded as “Cattle Company”; an established “Black Angus” restaurant in eastern Oregon, and the local place won the trademark dispute.

  9. Ben Waterhouse says

    There’s always Urban Farmer, too—though I’ve yet to go for anything but happy hour, so I have no idea how it compares to the older steakhouses.

    • Food Dude says

      If my body doesn’t fail me, I’d like to add Urban Farmer, Lauralhurst Market, Stanfords, and some of the other budget places. I may have to take a 3 month break before adding them, but I think it would be interesting.

  10. Lexuh says

    I’ve always been a fan of the Ringside, but my new favorite steakhouse is Huntington’s in Klickitat, WA. I know, a little out of the way, but that bacon-wrapped filet mignon haunts my dreams.

    A blind date once took me to Ruth’s Chris, and I think his pretension and sheer douchiness rubbed off on the restaurant. That, and I like to taste my steak, not just maître d’ butter.

    I’ve always been curious about the Refectory, personally.

  11. Nikos says

    I highly recommend Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. (After you are done with your experiment)
    How can you say “as a gourmand I don’t eat a lot of steak”. There are few (if any) better things in any of the world’s cuisines than a martini and a good steak!

    • Food Dude says

      Sure, I’ll go to the Bellagio. Who wants to contribute? ;)

      I do love a good steak, but only a few times a year. Maybe it’s just me

      • mpredd says

        I’m with FD. Always seems to me that most of the value in the steak restaurant experience is in the product itself. A well-trained monkey can grill a steak to medium rare, so why wouldn’t I put more money into the steak and grill it myself? If I’m going to pay $300+ for a dinner out, I want a good chunk of that money going toward a professional chef whose skills I can’t easily replicate at home.

        Unless you have a penchant for $19.95 grilled asparagus or an inflated expense account, why bother?

  12. Kim Price says

    Wow – this is great. I also don’t eat at steak houses much, but do asked a lot about them. I am also very curious about The Acropolis and Saylor’s and would love to hear how they compare.

    I did go to the Ringside on W Burnside about a year and a half ago and had great service, but I do not remember anything about the steak and it is very likely I didn’t order steak. However, the onion rings and especially the onion ring sauce were wonderful.

    It doesn’t necessarily sound like part of your plan, but as a treat to yourself, get the onion rings at The Ringside. At least then you will for sure have one great thing in what looks like could be a slew of mediocre food.

  13. autumn says

    must redouble the “Saylers” suggestion. the old country kitchen is my favorite place to have a steak. despite (or perhaps because of) its “the short bus coming from the retirement home” ambiance. the atmosphere is no-nonsense, & the extras with dinner are utterly snackable (best onion rings ever). their meat buyer knows what they are on about and they would sooner stab out their own proverbial eye than overcook a cut. the service is attentive and unpretentious and the value simply cannot be beat.

    • Jill-O says

      Just took my mom there because I knew she would appreciate it (two words: relish tray). The prime rib was actually good and the filet mignon was not bad either. (No, not high-end steakhouse good, but really, for around the $20 price point not bad at all.) I dig the retro vibe, too.

      And yeah, best onion rings ever for sure…just don’t order more than a 1/4 order or you will be sorry…

  14. says

    Wow, that is an impressive undertaking. We went to Ruth Chris not too long ago, and they had a deal for $40ish dollar, you get a starter, a steak and a dessert. It was really a good deal. Mr. Dog and I split the meal, plus a few side items (all of them a family size sides). We went home full and very happy.
    Cholesterol aside, when I first starting house making all meat chili, I had to taste many many revisions before settling on a recipe. The amount of ground beef I ate from all the experiment left undesirable bathroom result. Hope you don’t have to go thru similar side effects from all your steak dinners. Just a thought.

    It’s gonna be “meatastic”!

  15. jimster says

    While it’s cool and kitschy that the Acrop has steak dinners for cheap they are not exactly going to be in the running for best steakhouse in Portland. They, at best, are using choice steaks and maybe not even that. You get what you pay for and those steaks are what they are. The Ringside, while an icon, has had time pass it by in terms of food quality for dinner. Happy hour? You bet. I am not certain if they are using anything more than choice cuts at this point although I don’t know for sure. I have seen and tasted the sides at Morton’s and they are fear inducing especially the laughably underripe tomato salad served in the heart of Oregon tomato season yet using crappy CA tomatos brought by the Sysco truck. Gaucho is pricey but some of their cuts are terrific. They do (I believe) dry age some of their cuts. The porterhouse and NY Strip are especially good. Other items, not so much. Especially when they start straying from all-beef entrees. Urban Farmer has a super-wide selection of cuts. They have dry-aged and wet-aged cuts. They offer grass-fed and corn-fed. They have kobe and wagyu. Their wine list, while not great, is decent and sports a lesser mark-up than other places you are going. Either lose one of the chains (really no one thinks Morton’s in the best steakhouse in any city) or just add Urban Farmer. Not saying it would win but it does an awful lot of things that foodies would love that other steakhouses don’t even try to do.

    • Food Dude says

      I may eventually go to Urban Farmer, but not until I’ve done the others, and not until I am sure it is going to stay in business.

  16. Rhino says

    Yeah, we are projecting to do about 3.2 million in revenue above our budgeted 2.8 million for our first year of business. Hopefully, we will be able to stay open.

          • Travis Smith says

            Dude, I have to agree with most here: Not going to Urban Farmer taints an otherwise cool idea. Go there, and for god’s sake, stop it with the mud slinging regarding loans to the city.

          • Food Dude says

            They deserve a bit of mud slinging if on one hand they cry how broke they are, but on the other hand trumpet how much money they are making. Thanks for bringing it up again!!

          • says

            No, Travis, actually, most have NOT recommended going to Urban Farmer. FD is doing his thing and remember that the point of this is to find the best steakhouse to recommend for out of towners or ‘impress a boss’ dinners. The 4 he chose are the ones most people would choose from. Urban Farmer may become a respected, traditional steakhouse, but at this point he’s just he new kid on the block.

  17. says

    dude, here’s a nice little contribution. check out the new coupon service Portland Monthly is putting out. your Ringside meal just got cheaper, throw in some free onion rings, and maybe you can get to Urban Farmer a lot sooner than you thought with this 3 courses for $26.95 coupon. they change the coupons about once a week.

    as for me, 4 days in Argentina last year eating far more red meat than my body can metabolize does not leave me in envy of your current journey. have fun!

    • Food Dude says

      Actually, I think that Ringside deal is available without a coupon when you arrive before 5:30pm. Unfortunately it doesn’t include the two steaks I’m testing.

  18. says

    We did Morton’s last night, pre-Bourdain. The food was tasty, the steak was perfect, and the service was fab. Had a great martini called the Palm Beach. I’d certainly return for another meal.

    Ringside has a special place with me simply because it feels so Rat Pack-ish with Sinatra always playing in the background. Great food, great service as well.

    I look forward to your results! :)

  19. polarwanderer says

    Laurelhurst Market! A festival of meat well prepared with a nice bar/courtyard on the side.

  20. red_the_opinionated says

    Oh Sayler’s…

    I got the bright idea to have all my friends there for my birthday last year. Mostly I was hoping someone would go for the ginormous 72 oz challenge, but that was a no go. Yeah, all the sides were crap, (hehe..the relish tray, just like my granny used to make) but I really enjoyed my ribeye. Couldn’t have asked for a better steak, and for sure the price was right. I’ve had my share of super-primo fancy pants steak, but their rib-eye just hit the spot I guess.

    On a downer note, I forgot my driver’s license at home (we took the max!), and they wouldn’t serve me any wine. I’m about 30 years old, and even though I look young for my age, I take the “i.d.” thing for granted…

  21. AUJUS says

    Late to the party here, but we took a visiting friend to Jake’s Grill and were more than pleased: Excellent meat and lots more variety in the sides, etc. — plus a more individual atmosphere. (Ruth’s feels like a mall. We went once & were appalled.)
    His next visit (they don’t do red meat at home and their town is a food desert) he wanted to try Urban Farmer as he was staying at The Nines. Blech.
    So, try Jake’s Grill if you have the cash left. Very nicely aged steaks, good service, variety for anyone who might not want a hunk o’ bleeding flesh on the plate.

  22. Good Food For Me says

    I think when someone asks you to recommend a steak house that those words alone eliminates a lot of restaurants that know how to purchase and serve a great steak. The question was what “steakhouse?” Jakes for instance touts their seafood, still has excellent other menu proteins well cooked as does a lot of other restaurants around.
    Dude, stick with the ones that have steakhouse in their name and stay true to the question. Anyone can ask what restaurant has the best steaks and that is a different question all together.
    Eat on!

  23. Valerie says

    I am surprised that no one mentioned Kincaid’s. The pricing is similar to Morton’s and Ruth’s but the food and the sides were 10 times better in MHO.

  24. says

    Have you had a chance to try the Delmonico Steak with Porcini Butter at Nel Centro? Sweet mother of god, I never knew that a steak could be that good.

  25. dan says

    Acropolis serves good steaks for the money, but we’re talking about steaks in the $4 to $8 range or so. Are they good for $4? Yes. But by any more demanding standard, those steaks are nothing to write home about.

  26. mzwong says

    I’m curious how Henry Ford’s (RIP) would have done in this showdown. I always loved the experience and enjoyed the food, but also ate there before the restaurant revolution happened here in Portland, so I don’t know if it would hold up against the likes of Laurelhurst Market and such.

  27. says

    I always loved the vibe and drinks at Henry Ford’s, but the one time I had a steak it was wildly overcooked, tough, gristly, and bland. Since they went under right around the time the steakhouse chains were popping up around town, I always sort of figured that people discovered they could get a much better steak elsewhere for the same or less money. The bar alone, which still seemed to be doing a decent business, wasn’t enough to keep it open.

  28. ABD1 says

    I’m looking forward to hearing about how the Ringside is faring these days. I remember spending my 20th and 21st B-Days there years ago, during an ice storm and slipping on my ass walking down there from King’s Hill. One thing I’d love to have added to the comparison is how the best-of-the-best mail order steaks compares to these places. I’ve gotten tired of paying so much for steakhouse fare when its so simple to prepare at home and you can get better steaks and wine for less money. I’ve been to all the places in this review plus Prime and DelMonico’s in Vegas, great steakhouses in SF, NY, etc, but I still think the best is hosting a Steakhouse night at home. Instead of paying $150 a head going out, get a group of 4-8 friends and order your steaks from Lobel’s online. They are simply the best steaks I’ve ever had. They do not freeze their steaks and only ship overnight. They cost a ton once you include shipping, but that’s why its best to place a bigger order with a group of people. Get $50 a head, a great group of friends, someone who knows how to cook a steak, someone else to “bartend” and make the martini’s, have a couple of people supply plenty of nice wine, and someone else to take care of a dessert and I promise you will have a better meal and better service for less money and more fun than at one of these steakhouses.

    • VegGurl says

      Did you consider including Urban Farmer? I haven’t heard very many reviews of Portland’s newest steak house and was wondering why it was left off the list. Thanks

      • Kim Price says

        It has been discussed several times. In your browser, if you click on “File”, select “Find” and enter “Urban” (on the bottom left, just above the “Start” button in Firefox), you can jump through the places it was mentioned. But specifically see Food Dudes responses to posts on 5/28 at 10:01 AM and 6:47 PM.

        It looks like we will have to wait a bit.

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