There are some food cravings that must be fulfilled immediately after they strike. Ice cream is one of them, Chinese food another. But none is quite as persistent as the urge I get for a good slab of steak. Maybe it's because I'm a lapsed vegetarian a few times over and I'm making up for all those times when I tried to resist the forbidden flesh. But whatever the case, I have two spots where I satisfy my needs for sweet, sweet meat and more.
The Butcher Shop's freeway-adjacent location in Kearny Mesa might not look like much from the outside, but within lies a world of longstanding tradition and service with a touch of kitsch. The interior walls are lined with framed portraits of celebrities with special attention given-via large gold frames and spotlights-to Rat Pack heroes, mob-movie favorites and, oddly, Racquel Welch.
This Chicago-style steakhouse is the kind of place where people remember your name. It's the sort of joint where your steak always comes pleasantly charred and perfectly cooked, and where your drink is poured by the expert hands of Pasquale, who honed his craft at the Red Fox Room for 20 years before taking his talents to The Butcher Shop. I usually stick to whiskey, but I was impressed with my friend's Cosmopolitan, usually too syrupy for me. Pasquale's version, however, has just the barest hint of color and sweetness. The menu of timeless steakhouse favorites features select cuts of prime and choice steak, including four sizes of prime rib, a 20-ounce Porterhouse and a delicious bone-in rib eye that delivers a nice amount of chew and lots of flavor. All entrées come with buttery garlic bread plus soup or salad and a choice of side dish, such as garlic mashed potatoes to rice pilaf. The spinach salad, with bacon, mushrooms and a creamy dressing, is a winner, and the sautéed mushrooms are cloaked in a velvety Burgundy wine reduction sauce that begs to be mopped up with bread.
Non-red-meat eaters who kindly accompany their carnivore friends will find alternatives in the seafood and pasta menu, which is no less indulgent. Options include Australian lobster tails, king crab legs and linguine with shrimp scampi.
If you're more interested in cocktails than dinner, head south to another San Diego institution, Albie's Beef Inn.
Although your first instinct may not be to head to a Mission Valley Travelodge for a swinging night out, you'd be passing up a singular experience. A local favorite since the '60s, Albie's is seemingly unchanged since then. The wood paneling, leather booths and gilded mirrors set the mood while a silver-haired man in a turquoise blue sweater croons Sinatra. A group of women in poodle skirts and sequins bob their heads to the music while an older lady eagerly pulls reluctant partners onto the dance floor. In the corner booth, a man wearing tinted glasses has his arms around two dudes who look like ladies. It's a scene out of a David Lynch film come to life, only friendlier. The slightly eerie paintings of gauzily draped, topless ladies just add to the odd atmosphere.
The menu at Albie's is fair, with throwbacks like chicken fried steak, prime rib and twice-baked potatoes. Prices are relatively affordable, considering each meal includes a bottomless salad bowl and your food is rolled out to you on a swanky silver cart. However, most people go there for drinks: Double wells are served at happy hour, and even the regular pours are overly generous and reasonably priced.
Albie's is a place I enjoy now, but I can also see my future golden-years self happily hanging out there, too, sipping split-pea soup with blue-haired friends, waiting for the still-handsome septuagenarian in the corner to send me over a white Russian and take me for a spin on the dance floor, being mindful of my hip replacement. At least that's how I hope it'll go. Maybe I should cool it with the steak and whiskey.
The Butcher Shop Steakhouse is located at 5255 Kearny Villa Road in Kearny Mesa, 858-565-2272. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served from 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Weekday happy hour goes from 3 to 6:30 p.m.
Albie's Beef Inn is located at 1201 Hotel Circle South in Mission Valley, 619-291-1103. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Dinner is served from 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Weekday happy hour goes from 3:30 to 7 p.m.