Most diners likely realize there is no single “best” New York steakhouse, just as there is no such thing as the absolute best pizza or pastrami sandwich. The more useful exercise is to debate the infinite nuances of our great red-meat city.
This is where our critics Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton enter the fray: Here they identify some of the top old-school steakhouses with massive platters of hash browns, budget picks that show off more accessible (and often flavorful) cuts, new-school spots doing interesting things with dry-aging and saucing, and of course, the merits of Peter Luger.
Surely not a single other New York steakhouse has received as many accolades as Peter Luger, rated the best steakhouse by the populist Zagat guide for, like, 30 years in a row. It was one of the few bastions of beef to hold a Michelin star since 2005, the year the Red Guide rose into town. But New York Times critic Pete Wells burned it with a scorcher of a zero-star review in 2019, taking down just about every item on the menu, including the famed porterhouse. Then Michelin’s anonymous inspectors quietly dropped it from the prestigious star last week.
So what are the merits of Peter Luger in 2022, a century after it first opened? And where else should diners spend their disposable income as the price of a steak dinner continues to go up and it’s harder to come by reservations? Here are our two critics with the answers. Spoiler: They don’t always agree!
Old School: Peter Luger, Keens, or Gallagher’s
Robert: Located just across the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan, Peter Luger is damn good, even though some critics have recently made bank by disclaiming it. Well, it will still be here when they are gone. Founded in 1887, Luger serves but one steak: a magnificent prime porterhouse, which arrives sliced and sizzling, as the waiter spoons juices over it on a tilted serving plate as if he’s fallen in love with it. At lunchtime, the burger is great, too, and a bargain. Sides are a head-scratching catalog that reflect the place’s German origins — a thick slice of bacon by itself on a plate and an undressed salad of unfailingly ripe tomatoes and onions, plus the usual creamed spinach and fried potatoes. The feeling of having traveled back in time right here in Williamsburg is an added plus.
Ryan: Does Peter Luger make a decent porterhouse? Yes, it does. The sizzling hunk of meat exhibits impressive tenderness, charred beefiness, and gentle dry-aged funk. But is this a steakhouse I’d ever send someone to, based on a visit this week? Absolutely not. The frigid shrimp cocktail, doing its best impression of styrofoam packaging, did not taste like it came from an oceanic life form. The medium-rare burger sported the chew of a PowerBar. The kitchen does not seem to understand the importance of using salt to season food. And if you dine at the counter you expose yourself to that feudal accounting system where you pay two separate bills: one for the drinks, furnished by a bartender, another for the food, served by a waiter. And honestly given these prices — the porterhouse for two is $135 — one would be better suited to seek out more expertly aged and seared steaks elsewhere, at venues that actually take credit cards. No Michelin star for me — and I’m still uncertain why it ever held one.
For old-school fare, I’d send folks to Keens for one of the city’s best steakhouse meals: The heady mutton chop, doused in its own mint-laced jus and packed with gamy flavor, a side of beefy prime rib hash, and maybe a wee bit of Islay scotch for dessert. Then again, I love Keens because I generally prefer lamb to beef. For a more traditional beef steak, I’d recommend Gallagher’s. Swing by the 52nd street restaurant and watering hole — around since 1927 — for briny clams casino, a giant blue cheese wedge, and a gently funky ribeye, cooked over a wood fire for a touch of smoke. Oh, and the square bar counter with seating on all four sides — no one sits facing a wall of bottles — is just one of the Theater District’s best places for people-watching.
Bargain: La Fusta
Robert: While most steakhouses in Manhattan are distinctly American and expensive, Queens is speckled with South American steakhouses that offer prices about half what you might expect to pay on our long lanky main island; Queens boasts very good Colombian (Jackson Heights’ La Boina Roja), Uruguayan (Corona’s La Esquina Criolla), Brazilian (Astoria’s Copacabana), and Argentinean (Elmhurst’s La Fusta) establishments.
Founded in 1970 and located across the street from the Elmhurst Hospital Emergency Room (insert joke here), La Fusta flaunts its racehorse theme, with paintings of thoroughbreds on the walls and a selection of charcoal-grilled steaks that don’t precisely coincide with common American steak designations. Pick entrana (skirt steak), lomo (filet mignon), or bife de chorizo (sirloin), and also enjoy such sides as pickled tongue, morcilla, and empanadas. As an added bonus, Argentinean steaks are served with chimichurri, a zippy green and garlicky relish.
Ryan: Simon Kim’s Cote remains my favorite steakhouse for a serious splurge. Rather than blowing a few hundred bucks on a porterhouse, I rather swing by this Korean American grill spot and order the 10-course beef omakase. Finishing a large format steak — or even a smaller wagyu steak — is always tiring, I find. Too much palate-killing richness; too much flesh from a single cut to keep my interest. But at Cote, each course is just a bite or two. Maybe you’ll start off with a few morsels of bold hanger and skirt steak, before moving onto funky dry-aged ribeye and a luscious rib cap, then finally finishing off with wagyu so wobbly you can practically spread it on toast. This is a steak dinner assuming the guise of a sushi tasting, slowly teasing the plate with meat rather than purposefully overwhelming it. And of course if that’s all too much, the kitchen offers a shorter $64 tasting.
New School: Corner Bar
Ryan: Corner Bar by Ignacio Mattos isn’t a steakhouse, but it’s easily one of the city’s best places to eat a modern steakhouse meal. This millionaire’s riff on a P.J. Clarke’s-style tavern — located in an ultra-hip corner of the Lower East Side — serves a stunner of a head-on shrimp cocktail (part of an $85 platter), polychromatic tomatoes as big as a plate, and an au poivre like no other. Chef de cuisine Vincent D’Ambrosio grills a fatty wagyu skirt steak over coals, then doubles down on the richness factor by melting down a calf’s foot into his pepper sauce — creating an ultra-sticky mouthfeel. Most chefs who serve just a single steak make that dish an easygoing crowd pleaser. Here, the au poivre is such a distinctive take-it-or-leave-it affair, the kitchen doesn’t even ask how you’d like it cooked. (Editor’s note: Sietsema agrees.)
Best Sides: Hawksmoor
Ryan: Hear me out: Steakhouse sides are way too big and way too expensive! This is why I prefer the smaller, more individual portions at Hawksmoor, where most sides are just $10 or so. You can even get a small Caesar salad with anchovies for just $12, which is a big deal not just for the price — there’s a slice joint that charges more for its salad — but because it lets customers know that sometimes the best side isn’t a rich pile of creamed spinach but rather a nice light pile of crisp lettuce slicked in a tart, creamy dressing. Though I’ll admit the ginger-laced creamed spinach is damn good here. Also: instead of regular fries the kitchen serves musky beef fat fries. And mashed potatoes don’t arrive naked — as is so common at steakhouses — but rather with gravy, Thanksgiving style. New York needs less pommes puree and more mashed with gravy! Also let me say Hawksmoor has the best desserts of any steakhouse in the city; try the puckery meyer lemon meringue bomb, because you ideally want something light and palate-cleansing after a giant steak.
Wild Card: LumLum or Guantanamera
Robert: For those who love steaks, know that the best ones are not necessarily found in a steakhouse these days. In fact, some steak lovers hate the fusty, testosterone-driven atmosphere of steakhouses. Well, Thai restaurants have recently been adding steaks to their roster of Southeast Asian dishes. Crying tiger is the poetic name for a nicely marbled ribeye that arrives cooked medium rare and served with an egg yolk on a bed of fried shallots at LumLum in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a good quantity of meat, too, and the sauce on the side is smoky, spicy, sour, and slightly fishy — which may sound like kind of a stretch where steak sauce is concerned — until you check the ingredients on the side of the Worcestershire sauce bottle. The same steak is available in a Panang curry sauce flavored with lime leaf.
Ryan: Robert I couldn’t agree with you more about finding some of the best steaks outside of steakhouses! I still haven’t tried LumLum, but I love dropping by my beloved Guantanamera for vaca frita. Who needs a $215 porterhouse and stodgy leather banquettes when you can eat shredded and pan fried skirt steak — doused in tangy mojo — while listening to live Cuban music and sipping strong mojitos?