Nov. 20 2015 03:52 PM

Stepping into Albie’s Beef Inn was like stepping back in time

Dining with PSA stewardesses
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

It's tough to lose a legend. Lubach's and its mock turtle soup is gone. So is Piret's, its pâtés and tourte au chou. Star of the Sea Room closed years ago and Anthony's is following suit. Hillcrest's Pernicano's: gone. Soon, we'll say goodbye to Albieís Beef Inn (1201 Hotel Circle South).

More than 50 years after the Rat Pack-era steakhouse opened in Mission Valley, Albie's will serve its last prime rib on Dec. 23. According to restaurant owner Ted Samouris, after the property was sold last year, new landlord Cathy Herrick (who did not respond to attempts to contact her) demanded a sharply increased rent and an "update" of the interior. Herrick told Samouris it was part of her goal "to re-gentrify Mission Valley." And yet that interior—featuring painted portraits of naked PSA stewardesses, deliciously politically incorrect as they are—may be even more beloved than the food.

Stepping in to Albie's is like stepping back in time. Local chef Andrew Spurgin describes it as "a great portal into the past." As James Beard-nominee Daniel Barron says, "it is not exactly something you can just open tomorrow."

Local culinary legend Jack Monaco analogized the loss of Albie's to the loss of a beloved canine companion. You may be able to find another one that will worm its way into your heart, but "that's not to say it will be the same."

It won't. "I suspect it will be hard to replace Steak Diane smothered in Amaretto and fresh mushrooms," he says, "or a slab of slow roasted prime rib with a loaded baked potato and those sugar sweet carrots."

And that may be some of what makes this sting. Often when a classic restaurant goes away it does so because time passed it by. Even if the location's the same, the feeling isn't. The food isn't. Walking into the Anthony's space, for example, brought back memories but the food was not what I remembered. The food soiled that memory.

Not so at Albie's. There may be nothing trendy about a block of prime rib, but there is nothing wrong with it, either. Pink, luscious, a savory bomb of meaty umami, perfectly paired with rich au jus and bracing horseradish. That glorious slab o' meat was exactly what I remembered, exactly what I wanted. Surrounded by those paintings I felt like my grandfather looking at his old World War II photographs. Albie's let me live that memory and taste it one more time in real time.

If time has not passed Albie's by, perhaps the real estate market has. And real estate markets are not known for their sense of nostalgia. Nor are they known for their sensitivity to the value of history.

Not everything old in San Diego is gone. The Red Fox is still around, as is Old Trieste. Peking Restaurant and Las Cuatro Milpas remain. Filippi's is still there if you like its act (I don't). But the past is disappearing before our eyes. As Barron says, "there's not a ton of culinary history here as told through the restaurants that have been here."

And now there will be one less.


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