A Steak Through My Heart
Good steak houses are basically of two kinds: the ones that pass along the $15-plus per pound they pay for prime meat wholesale and the ones that use less-expensive grades but make up for it with low prices, friendly service, strong old-fashioneds and plenty of atmosphere. Among the latter, none is more atmospheric than the Arsenal. Here is your basic restaurant from the Twilight Zone, with medieval weaponry mounted on the walls, mortar shells hanging from the ceiling and a queer, Hieronymus Boschlike mural. The prices are low -- steaks cost less than $12 -- and the waitresses, who seem to have been working there since Century City was a bean field, are mostly friendly. 12012 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 479-9782. Open Mon.Thurs. 11:30 a.m.10 p.m., Fri.Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18$25. Full bar. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
There are a lot of horsey restaurants in the Southland, but the Derby, a few furlongs from the backstretch at Santa Anita, might be the grooviest, crowded with well-fed men, women customers gone prematurely blond, pinky rings, pearls and rakish sports coats. Highballs are served in Big Gulpsize glasses. Rare filet mignon wrapped with bacon -- "Odds-On Favorite," says the menu -- is a ruddy disk of meat, so soft it seems a little like meat-flavored butter. At the Derby, it is possible to believe, if only for a minute, that you have stumbled into the single best restaurant in the world. 233 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia; (626) 447-2430. Open for lunch weekdays, for dinner seven nights. Dinner for two, food only, $25$50. Full bar. Takeout. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.
Gallo's Grill prepares its beef in a specifically Mexican way, meat butterflied and re-butterflied and laid open like a scroll. The brick-size fillet that you might see on your plate at Taylor's or the Palm is flayed and re-configured into steak for the multitudes here, a broad, thin sheet of seared meat -- filete abierto -- with something like an acre and a half of surface area and the maximal ratio of brown, crusty outside to red, squishy inside, although marinated enough to allow for a bit of juice. Gallo's Grill is Valhalla for fans of extremely well-done beef. The stuffed fillet is opened up like a loaf of French bread; layered with ham, cheese and sliced tomatoes; secured with half a box of toothpicks; and grilled until it resembles the sort of club sandwich that might be endorsed by Dr. Barry Sears. 4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave.; (323) 980-8669. Open daily for lunch and dinner; weekend brunch. Dinner for two, food only, $13$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, Disc., MC, V.
The first thing you do at the Brazilian steak house Green Field is grab a plate and wander through the long buffet station, picking up pickled hearts of palm, marinated chickpeas, fresh asparagus, nubs of garlic-fried chicken. Then comes the meat, rodizio (all you can eat) style. Well-done skirt steak, chicken, bacon-wrapped turkey, spareribs, sweet Italian sausages and tiny, well-charred chicken hearts appear, slid by a procession of waiters from their swords onto your plates. Bacon-wrapped rabbit parts are mild and full of juice. A crunchy strip deftly carved off what looks like a tri-tip fulfills the common culinary fantasy of cutting off and eating the salty, fatty crust from a roast beef, and leaving the meat behind. 381 N. Azusa Ave., West Covina; (626) 966-2300. Open daily 11 a.m.10 p.m. Rodizio for two, food only, $35.90; $19.90 at lunch. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
The Sherman Room
The Sherman Room is a regular steak house/bar, the kind you'd expect to find in Idaho or Kansas City, with sporting prints, dad's-den paneling and a wait that can stretch more than an hour on weekend nights. A flagstone fireplace flickers with the cold light of a mechanical log; a blurry etching on the mirror behind the bar makes you feel as if you've bolted four martinis before you've even touched a drop. The real attractions here are steaks at less than $10, steak and lobster less than $20. Plus, the restaurant is 21-and-over, a joint for grown-ups. To be truthful, the lobster here isn't the tastiest. But the beer is cold, a New York steak ordered rare comes rare, and the garlic toast is pleasantly sodden. For dessert, there's that fudgy ice cream concoction called mud pie. 16916 Sherman Way, Van Nuys; (818) 881-9363. Open daily for dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15$28. Full bar. MC, V.
Taylor's is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he'd pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char; the New York steak is beefy and rich; London broil, kind of stewy-tasting, comes sliced, with a horseradish-and-sour-cream sauce on the side. But the glory of Taylor's is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It's the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St.; (213) 382-8449. Open Mon.Fri. 11:30 a.m.10 p.m., Sat. 410 p.m., Sun. 49 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $24$50. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
The Venice Room
When you order your do-it-yourself steak at the Venice Room, the waitress brings out a raw New York strip, a good one, decently marbled and rimmed with a full inch of creamy fat, plopped onto a plate with a foil-wrapped baked potato, a length of French bread and a few pats of butter. You are allowed a pass at a flip-up salad station equipped with a couple of different kinds of dressing. The quality of your dinner is essentially up to you. Seasoned veterans of the Venice Room hover over their steaks, slashing and battering them with knives and long metal prongs, lavishing them with garlic salt, cayenne and bulk-packaged Cajun seasoning, drizzling them with oil, massaging cracked pepper and dehydrated onion flakes into the meat's bruised flanks. The grilling seems almost competitive, as if a gong is going to sound, a wall is going to open, and one of the dudes will be named the new Iron Chef. 2428 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; (323) 722-3075. Open for lunch weekdays, for dinner seven nights, Sun. till midnight. Dinner for two, food only, $15. 21 and over. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
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