Out of the blue last summer, a writer traveling with the alt-comedy legend Eric Wareheim of “Tim and Eric” fame reached out with a question: If they were hunting the quintessential San Antonio steakhouse for a book about great American steakhouses, where should they go?
Keeping it local, our conversation circled around the city’s white-tablecloth steakhouses until we landed on something completely different. Something completely San Antonio. Something with South Texas cattle brands stamped on the walls and waitresses dressed like Dale Evans cowgirls and a menu board as tall as a rodeo barrel selling more kinds of beef than the pepper-shrimp scene in “Forrest Gump.”
That “something” was Little Red Barn Steak House, born on the Southeast Side in 1963. The absolute best in the city? No way. The most endearingly retro? By a mile. Either way, it’s a Pretty Big Red Barn these days, with Marlboro Man silhouettes painted against outside walls as red as Lorne Greene’s bandana. And it inspired me to launch my own steakhouse tour to assemble our first-ever accounting of the Top 10 Steakhouses in San Antonio — including a surprising upstart at No. 1 — with enough lead time to reserve your seats for Valentine’s Day.
It’s just the locals this time. No Ruth’s Chris, no Morton’s, no Palm. We’ll save the chains for another day. Where’s the beef? In San Antonio, it’s always been here. Right here.
When the Dady family power trio of Jason, Jake and Crystal opened Range in 2017, it was a game of leather and fire, a dress-up destination steakhouse with tableside Caesar salads, ironed tablecloths and celebrity firepower. Nevermind that it lived in a hotel down by the River Walk. At least until the pandemic came along and left the hotel industry reeling. Range emerged on the other side a different beast. Half chophouse, half Italian trattoria, ready to embrace a class of River Walk clientele a few cufflinks shy of a Gatsby. Even so, it’s still a good choice for a well-seasoned, marinated Tuscan rib-eye and a strong drink downtown. Because sometimes all you need is a dirty martini and a clean getaway.
San Antonio’s big enough for two steakhouse barns: Little Red Barn and The Barn Door. They made charming ringmates for a food fight I called Battle of the Barns. In the end, The Barn Door won, but the Little Red Barn fought the good fight with T-bones, sirloins and rib-eyes seared on the flat-top grill with loaded baked potatoes, fresh rolls and little starter salads with Thousand Island and Green Goddess dressings that tasted like the ’60s all over again. All kitsch aside, it’s decent steak at a great value, served on hot steel with cold beer at picnic tables like a family reunion for people who actually like each other.
Tu Asador is one of those uplifting bootstrap narratives that moves from the family-style carne asada parties of the González family in Monterrey, Mexico, to a full steakhouse experience in Castle Hills. A family-style steak board called the Experience begins with choosing sirloin, rib-eye or skirt steak arrachera by weight, a board built on the idea of a shared plate in the center of the table. Even sliced, the cuts needed no explanation, each identifiable by its texture: rib-eye with pearls of fat at the tips, sirloin as clean and lean as tooled leather and skirt steak arrachera like fajitas-by-any-other-name.
Business partners Pat Molak and Mary Jane Nalley opened Josephine Street in 1979, turning on the blue neon letters “Steak” and “Whisky” in the windows like beacons for what you’ll find inside the old Fincke's Meat Market. There’s something about a steak cooked on a flat-top grill that makes you love it or hate it. I’m in the first camp, a fan of the egalitarian mahogany veneer it lends a 16-ounce T-bone and a 7-ounce sirloin alike. The 115-year-old building leans a little to one side, the wood floors clomp like a saloon on the set of “Lonesome Dove,” and the anticuchos give you a little taste of Fiesta all year long.
With room after room of farm tools, saddles, barbed wire, iron skillets and butcher scales, The Barn Door could be an auction house or an antiques shop. But it all feeds into the narrative of this as a steakhouse with a history, from its founding more than 70 years ago under the Tassos family to current owner Randy Stokes, who guided it through the pandemic and added a speakeasy bar in the back. The Barn Door’s chicken-fried rib-eye steak ranks among the top five in the city, and its chopped steak with queso is a work of bacon-wrapped steakhouse art draped in Day-Glo orange cheese. I’ve loved sirloin since I was a kid for its lean, rangy character. Striped with grill marks from live-fire charcoal and mesquite, Barn Door’s 12-ounce sirloin club steak delivered the juicy punch of a rib-eye with the leaner character of a New York strip.
This family-owned steakhouse got its start in a charming old movie theater in New Braunfels in 2003, and it remains one of the Top 10 restaurants in New Braunfels. In San Antonio, Myron’s at Alon Town Centre lives up to its pedigree with steak, service and style that’s old-school without being stuffy. A full retro steakhouse table setting of shrimp cocktail, Kansas City strip and a baked potato with a strong old-fashioned and a glass of cabernet said, “If this is clubby, it’s a club I don’t mind belonging to.”
On a straight line of sight from a stylish Fairmount Hotel dining room cased in leather, wood and candlelight, a wood-burning grill with a stout iron flywheel isn’t just a steampunk curiosity; it’s the beating heart of a kitchen built around beef. Even in this formal setting — with a baby grand piano, uniformed waiters and chandeliers like dandelion fireworks — the crew at Silo Prime cooks a 20-ounce bone-in cowboy rib-eye like it was moonlighting at a beach club, with a kind of studied ease that produces a caramel-candy sear but still hits the right shade of red inside. With textbook versions of grilled asparagus, crisp wedge salad and a glass of good red wine, the Silo experience is a study in Steakhouse 101 where the whole class gets an “A.”
Service defines a great steakhouse, and J-Prime comes by it organically, an adjunct benefit of their other enterprise, the service-is-everything Brazilian steakhouse parade of Chama Gaucha. And if spectacle is part of your courtship plan, J-Prime is the ticket. The lounge attracts faces and names you’ll recognize from politics, TV and sports. Wine bottles line the main wall of the dining room. And they’re not afraid to flex with a perfect surf-and-turf combo of filet mignon and lobster tail, with ruby-hearted steak and coral-rimmed lobster in harmony on a table with a smoked old-fashioned, a wedge salad crowned with candied bacon, and a glass of red wine from one of the city’s most generous by-the-glass programs. Or go big with a 44-ounce tomahawk rib-eye and a three-story seafood tower of fresh oysters, dressed oysters, shrimp and crab legs, with a whole steamed lobster perched on top like a sun-kissed king.
Mark Bohanan’s downtown kingdom was my first full-contact steakhouse experience in San Antonio, a time-honored template of a rye whiskey Sazerac, oysters, Caesar salad, asparagus with hollandaise, New York strip with bearnaise, red wine and live-fire Bananas Foster. Seven years later, the magic of that first night abided with a bone-in New York strip, a crabcake straight (no filler) and a dirty martini with Gorgonzola olives. The bar’s like a tracking shot from “Goodfellas,” and the dining room could be airlifted to any of the grand steakhouse cities of this broad-shouldered country, a Marie Antoinette motif, if Marie was from Chicago.
I came into this project fully expecting Bohanan’s to sweep the table. I had caught wind that a new steakhouse was opening in November at the long-vacant former home of Brasserie Pavil off Loop 1604 just west of Stone Oak, a side project from the blue-collar Mexican food chain Las Palapas. I didn’t think much of it, just coming off getting burned by the short-lived Ace of Steaks and its cheesy Vegas glitz. Then I heard that former J-Prime fixture Carlos Rodriguez was involved, and by the time I saw Blü Prime for myself, passing by the bar as high as a siege tower, catching a glimpse of the brigade-size kitchen and taking a seat under those impossibly high shimmering blue ceilings, I was all-in for the ride. Blü Prime harbors the best sommelier-driven wine experience, the best dry-aged steak, the best Continental-style service, the best sides, the best bone-marrow appetizer. So many bests. The blue-jeweled crown in the giant royal black-and-white graphic framing the bar? It’s theirs until somebody knocks it off.