Fat City2137 Pacific HighwayLittle Italy619-232-9303
I remember good, moderately priced steakhouses from my childhood-places to go for a well-cooked slab of beef, with baked potato or fries and a salad. I'd pretty much assumed this was a concept whose time had come and gone (giant corporate chains like Outback and Black Angus notwithstanding). That is, until I paid a visit to Fat City.
Located at the corner of Pacific Highway and Hawthorne Street, Fat City shares a building with China Camp and Denny's. Fat City and China Camp are both owned by the Fat family, a clan of Chinese restaurateurs with 11 restaurants to their name. The building dates back to the 1930s, when it was known as Top's Supper Club, a swinging joint that featured performances by cats like Nat King Cole, Bobby Short and Sammy Davis Jr.
The Fats purchased the property in the '70s and renovated it, decorating Fat City with mahogany paneling, Tiffany lamps, a stained-glass ceiling and potted palms. The dining room has such a strong retro feel, you half expect to see Bogey and Bacall stroll in for a cocktail.
Just as the décor is a throwback to a simpler time, so is the menu. Fat City has an uncomplicated menu of steakhouse staples-a few salads, simple appetizers, burgers, pork chops and a large selection of steaks cooked over a mesquite-fired grill. Some of the options are a 16-ounce bone-in rib eye, 24-ounce porterhouse and the house specialty, Drunk Steak, a New York strip steak marinated in fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce and brandy. Fat City also offers a few USDA Prime selections at a higher price.
Owner Tom Fat says Fat City's goal is to be the best-value steakhouse in San Diego-an objective they achieve easily, starting with the salad. Consisting of fresh mixed greens, croutons, cucumber, tomato and cheese, the salads are adorned with excellent house-made dressings. The bleu cheese is great, as is the snappy vinaigrette. If salad isn't your thing, try the house-made New England clam chowder; it's rich with butter, cream, clams, celery and potatoes-definitely a treat.
When it comes to the steaks, Fat recommends the Drunk Steak pretty highly. Having tried both that and the bone-in rib eye, I prefer the rib eye-though it's a close contest. The Drunk Steak is delicious, smothered in garlic and ginger, tender and juicy, with a wonderful flavor from the soy sauce and spices. However, I'm a sucker for rib eye, especially cooked over mesquite, and Fat City serves an outstanding USDA Prime rib eye, nicely marbled and rubbed with cracked black pepper before grilling.
Regardless of which steak you go for, save room for dessert. Fat City serves a family-recipe banana-cream pie, which is easily the best I've had. The tender and flaky pie shell is filled with fresh, sliced bananas lightly dressed with sweet syrup, and then smothered with a huge amount of fresh whipped cream. The thick and cornstarch-heavy filling afflicting most banana-cream pies is absent here. It's worth going to Fat City for this pie alone.
I'm glad I found Fat City. It's nice to know there's a place I can go for a good, honest steak dinner, without paying $50 a person. Steak dinners, including bread and choice of potato or rice start at $16.95 for a 12-ounce New York steak and top out at $26.95 for a 24-ounce porterhouse. You can add a salad for a few dollars more. Fat City is open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily.