Seattle's Greatest Steak Houses: A Primer
A butcher shop takes on steak at Beast and Cleaver. Photograph by Amber Fouts.
Few restaurant genres are as tightly scripted as the American steak house: Showy slabs of meat star against a supporting cast of sides—creamed spinach, mac and cheese, maybe mashed or baked potatoes with the requisite butter lake. All this prefaced by a martini.
Today, you can intuit a lot about a steak house by whether the menu abides by that formula, adapts it, or blows the old playbook to dry-aged smithereens. Seattle is fortunate to have some really excellent beef specialists in our midst, from Mexican, French, or Japanese influences to special-occasion pros that put their own refined spin on classic accompaniments. A select few spots even take on beef’s environmental issues and move this entire model in a more sustainable direction. All this—ideally still prefaced by a martini.
Ascend Prime Steak and Sushi
Thirty-one floors above downtown Bellevue, this steak-meets-sushi restaurant could coast on views and clubby vibes, but Ascend’s prices feel far more justified once you experience the luxe crudos, appetizers, steaks, and sides flawlessly executed to be greater than the sum of their (many) parts. The tiered steak menu is the big draw, filled with tomahawk chops and Wagyu priced by the ounce. But the sushi bar is equally impressive with traditional nigiri or modern roll concoctions of spicy tuna and prosciutto. Servers are intensely, impeccably trained to support and advise, from the wine list to the theatrics of the dessert menu.
Coats get checked, cocktails whisked from the lounge pre-game to your waiting dinner table. The hay-smoked, dry-aged porterhouse springs from a cobalt Le Creuset with all the ceremony of a (slap-free) Academy Award presenter, a literal smokeshow of steak. When Michael Mina retooled RN74 to join his seven-location steak house chainlet, he didn’t need to make it this good. But Mina grew up in Ellensburg (also the source of his kitchen’s smoking hay) and runs restaurants in other, comically discerning dining towns. His Seattle-ified steak house also benefits from chef Adam Reece, whose Hood Canal upbringing plays out in beautiful shellfish dishes, a local counterpoint to the company’s decadent lobster pot pie.
The Butcher’s Table
South Lake Union
The closest Seattle comes to a steak house’s platonic ideal is this bilevel beef palace in South Lake Union, with a butchery program serious enough to merit a retail counter at one end of the dining room. The Butcher’s Table is part of Kurt Beecher Dammeier’s business constellation, which means the mac and cheese is legit Beecher’s, and the peppery, mesquite-grilled steaks are Mishima Reserve American Wagyu, his own proprietary line of Japanese cattle raised on western ranches. Sides like cacio e pepe butter beans and a chicory caesar push standards into polished new territory, and the dual floors offer every conceivable ambience, from high-top leather banquettes and a bar vibe on the ground floor to table linens and a proper dining room below (not to mention a fantastic semi-hidden bar). Beef flights offer a cool compare-and-contrast lesson on various cuts or grades of steak.
John Howie Steak
Down the Bravern’s airy corridors, just past the Gucci store, John Howie deftly balances the steak houses of yore and the tastes of today. Meat is a serious endeavor; the staff stands ready to talk through the finer points of Australian Wagyu versus Japanese, or the best grilling temperature for a bone-in rib eye. But the restaurant also bakes its own bread, starts each meal with an amuse-bouche, and serves updated sides like elote-style corn or charred broccoli along with the standards (the signature tempura-fried Kurobuta bacon appetizer is a tasty souvenir of the early-aughts bacon craze). The staff shows equal warmth to boisterous kids and diners prepared to drop serious cash via the wine list.
Meet Korean BBQ
On research trips to Seoul, Heong Soon Park found a Korean barbecue culture akin to the high-end American steak house. That’s the approach he brings to his stylish KBBQ spot on Pike Street, where “grill captains” function almost like meat sommeliers, cooking your dry-aged rib eye or A5 Wagyu to perfection on the built-in tabletop grills. Banchan is fermented, and often seasonal, to balance all that meat, and a wood grill preps marinated cuts with a hint of smoke. Use the accompanying platter of lettuces and perilla leaves to wrap that meat into a ssam.
Basslines thump, neon signs jolt, and a dramatic black-and-white color scheme ripples across the room. This steak house came to party. The Lincoln Square outpost of this international chain has top-flight cuts, like a dry-aged delmonico or filet with lobster tail. But the selfies that fill the restaurant’s Instagram suggest nighttime crowds aren’t here for the butchery. The menu does stretch way beyond steak standards: pasta and seafood entrees, sandwiches and Wagyu meatballs at lunch, and a dynamite happy hour menu. Dinner prices don’t always feel like a value, even if the food is good, but hospitable touches like offering salads composed or chopped keep the experience in high-end territory. Great patio, too.
Bellevue, Leschi, South Lake Union
The Schwartz Brothers’ family-owned steak house chain has a deep bench of devotees thanks to sweeping views and time-tested hospitality. The name “broiler” has the ring of a bygone era, but Daniel’s menu does keep pace with the times—especially in the new flagship downtown, though it's currently closed—with grass-fed, domestic Wagyu, and Nebraska-raised Piedmontese filets sharing the roster with classic USDA prime. Vegetarians and vegans have a range of plant-based options.
“I’ve made easily 20,000 of these,” a server in a gold-trimmed blazer might remark while preparing a tableside caesar with balletic ease. Everything—piano music, white linens, unobtrusive wineglass refills, the tufted leather bar—exudes a polish born of 70 years (more or less) in business. In 2020 the flagship relocated to the historic Union Stables building, but the menu still reflects American steak houses in their swellegant heyday: charcoal-grilled cuts, escargot, chateaubriand, and lots of tableside pyrotechnics, from fiery Spanish coffee to bananas foster to a skewer of tenderloin served on a flaming sword.
Second Avenue’s chophouse opened in 1983 and remains unabashedly old-school, from the celebrity photo wall to the burnished wood and brass rail decor, to the wine list that comes with a table of contents. It’s the flagship of E3 Co. Restaurant Group, a chain known for letting the diner set the agenda, so the Met delivers everything you expect and nothing you don’t: careful preparations of dependable beef, expert cocktails, notably great hospitality, and plenty of seafood and pastas and salads in contrast to all that beef. Pandemic-era pivots have evolved into a curbside takeout menu you can order online.
Asadero means “grill,” or in this case, a beloved Kent restaurant that expanded into Ballard with northern Mexico’s traditions of mesquite-grilled meats and tacos thereof. Seemingly every table has a 16-ounce carne asada draped on top of it, plus a papa loca, a nearly bread bowl–size baked potato with cheese, bacon, sour cream, and approximately a quarter cow’s worth of that carne asada showered on top. Steaks’ flawless prep and simple seasoning (just salt, pepper, and the savory smoke of mesquite charcoal) give you an almost bionic ability to register every vivid detail of the meat, which is mostly American, Japanese, or even Australian Wagyu. Guacamole is a highly underrated steak companion, ditto the tequila and mezcal drinks.
Issaquah, Laurelhurst, West Seattle
No pedigreed Wagyu and no triple-digit steak prices here. This trio of neighborhood restaurants offer the sensible-shoes version of steak house dining. One filled with hefty burgers, filet mignon, onion rings, and cocktails in pint glasses. Jak’s deals in corn-fed Nebraska beef, in preparations that range from skewers all the way up to a bone-in delmonico. Warm servers stand ready with brunch bloody marys and kids menus.
When Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi relocated their globalist restaurant to sleek new digs on Stone Way a decade ago, they recast it as a modern steak house. One that makes magic with humble cuts and replaces baked potatoes and creamed spinach sides with spicy rice cakes and Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto. Steak is by no means a mandatory event on a menu that teems with smart east-west flavor combos. But the quartet of beef cuts is always exactingly fired, and accompanied by something crunchy, spicy, and ferociously original.
A casual steak house comes steeped in Japanese sensibility, from the seared Wagyu sushi on the starter menu to the pork tonkatsu made with a pedigreed Lan-Roc cutlet. The well-edited beef lineup mixes posh Japanese A5 Wagyu with reasonably priced New Zealand bavette, and creativity infuses classic steak house sides—garlic anchovy mashed potatoes, arugula salad with salmon carpaccio and just the right dressing. Unexpected and welcome: a pasta menu, full of Wagyu Bolognese and uni cream fettuccine. The food feels like a special occasion, without the rarefied prices.
A family-owned steak house presents Mexican cuts like zabuton and peinecillo—sizzling, perfectly seasoned, and sourced from the same ranches that supply the city’s top-tier beef temples. Antojitos, tortillas, and a memorable chile en nogada round out a magical, meat-driven meal, which includes some queso fundito and some housemade horchata with rum. Lanterns hung from the driftwood tree in the center of the room add an extra layer of charm.
Ethan Stowell built his reputation on pasta and Northwest seasons but made a smooth leap to beef at his neighborly brasserie on Madrona’s main drag. Although the menu includes a few showpiece cuts, most of the action centers on Northwest-raised hangers or bavettes. Every steak comes with a sauce, plus dynamite frites and aioli. The rest of the menu puts a French spin on Stowellian standards (steak tartare, salade lyonnaise, a charcuterie board) and the burger is a neighborhood favorite. A phalanx of covered patios serve outdoor diners.
At the end of 2021, this beloved bar-butcher hybrid announced it would soon close. So great was the neighborhood’s grief, that owners Matthew Brady and Joel Klemenhagen are extending its life in the form of a steak house popup. What does this mean, exactly? Every Wednesday through Sunday evening, the kitchen serves a few specific cuts, in limited quantities. Order one with a few simple sides (bread, potatoes, brussels sprouts, foraged mushrooms) and a drink from the bar. It’s not clear how long the Shambles will stick around in this form, so appreciate each day—and each sous vide, reverse sear hanger steak—as it comes.
Beast and Cleaver
Yes, technically this is a butcher shop—an impressive one that sources nearly all its meat from Washington and Oregon. But six nights a week, two tables and a handful of counter seats pull double duty as the shop transforms into a seriously enthralling dinner destination. On weekends, owner Kevin Smith and his team spin humbler cuts into seven high-end courses at The Peasant, a sort of restaurant-within-a-butchery. Other nights, the shop becomes a chill wine bistro. Diners can choose a cut from the case or select from the night’s menu, then watch Smith transform a London broil (aka a top round, cheap, and often tough cut) into a blue-rare revelation, tossed with butter and rosemary. Sunday nights have a monthly theme, like vertical beef tastings or a menu inspired by St. Johns in London. All these iterations benefit from a seriously fun wine program by master sommelier Nick Davis.
The entire nation has taken notice of Renee Erickson’s steak house, which elegantly reshuffles America’s old-school paradigms. Bateau’s chalkboard menu offers tender, marbled cuts that push back against the unsustainable, climate-changing industrial systems that produce most of America’s beef. A single heritage breed, vegetable-fed cow—plus a few supplemental slabs—powers an entire week of chef Taylor Thornhill’s menu, an exercise in beefy and beautiful creativity. House-butchered, dry-aged steaks get cooked medium-rare in hot steel pans and butter aplenty, while the starter menu kicks Erickson’s playful way with seasonal produce up into fine-dining territory. All this, in a striking white-on-white dining room, with a memorable off-menu burger. Seattle Met’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year.
FlintCreek Cattle Co.
“Cattle” might be in the name, but Eric Donnelly’s destination meat restaurant wants to redirect your steak house cravings toward less-common, more sustainable options like bison, boar, and duck. He casts game in familiar, meaty tableaus (venison in a rich pate, tender wild boar sugo over gnocchi) designed to win over diners who aren’t conversant in these proteins. But if you’re here for a steak, the menu of Washington-raised chops is as impeccable as the rest of the menu. FlintCreek also occupies one of the North End’s best dining rooms, a 1926 brick building with the sort of bilevel grandeur that cries out for midcentury chandeliers and a showy central bar. Seattle Met’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year (clearly we really like meat).