Food & Drink

The Definitive Guide to NYC’s Old-School Steakhouses

Published On 12/17/2015 Published On 12/17/2015
COURTESY OF KEENS STEAKHOUSE / JENNIFER BUI/THRILLIST

New York basically invented the steakhouse -- you’re welcome, everyone -- so it’s no surprise that its roster of killer old-school steakhouses is unrivaled. And as a New Yorker, it’s your required duty to sit down to experience the city's A-list offerings, since few things say decadent dining like this: a huge slab of dry-aged USDA prime beef, seared to perfection and presented with buttery, creamy sides. If you’ve chosen the right place, you’ll likely also be served with a dash of white-glove theater by a career waiter who’s as much an institution as the steakhouse itself. From the king (Peter Luger) to spots that spurred national chains (don’t scoff, they’re worthy), here’s your definitive old-school NYC steakhouse dining guide. And we mean OLD-school -- there are lots of great modern steakhouses in the city, but these places are the classics.

Flickr/Rob Gross

Peter Luger

Williamsburg

Even people who know jack about NYC steakhouses know Peter Luger. OK, so it’s not the oldest steakhouse in the city (though it’s been around since 1887) and the service can be surly (though you’re not really there for the service), but it’s the most famous for a reason, namely the must-get specialty: a porterhouse steak, served crackling. It offers USDA prime dry-aged single steaks ($49), steaks for two ($99), three ($149) and four ($199), with a sides like extra-thick bacon (say no more). There’s also a lunch-only burger. Ignore critics who say it's coasting on a halo effect and just add it to your bucket list. Remember to bring cash -- it only takes credit cards for online orders.

Flickr/Edsel Little

Keens

Fashion District

A classic NYC institution since 1885, Keens is consistently in the “best classic steakhouse” convo -- it was a recipient of the James Beard America’s Classics award in 2013, and one of our Hall of Fame inductees in 2015. It’s cozy inside with dark woods, fireplaces, period photographs, and paintings throughout the cavernous, two-story space. Upstairs there are private rooms with names like “Bull Moose Room” and “Lambs Room.” What to know: at Keens it’s all about the mutton chops. The menu is robust -- there are 10 meat options alone, plus plenty of other steakhouse classics. But, again, mutton chops. Go.

Old Homestead Steakhouse

Old Homestead

Chelsea

An NYC mainstay since 1868, Old Homestead beckons meat lovers with the protruding cow sculpture hanging above the front door. Kind of tacky? Yes. But inside it’s more what you’d expect from a classic steakhouse, and the menu is legit. There are 14 different steak options, like seasoned New York sirloin, filet mignon wrapped in Applewood-smoked bacon, along with burgers, raw bar options, and a Japanese Kobe steak. It tends to be pricey (there’s a theme coming!), and the clientele is almost all men, which is to say it’s as old-school as it gets.

Courtesy of Delmonico's

Delmonico’s

Financial District

Delmonico’s is an icon that’s been open in one form or another since 1837. It's billed as the first restaurant -- as we know it today -- to open in New York, and the inventor of dishes like baked Alaska, eggs Benedict, and lobster Newburg (again, you’re welcome) as was the Delmonico’s cut. Plus, its regulars over the years have included Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, and J.P. Morgan. The experience today epitomizes old-school grandeur with the white tablecloths and the massive murals, and the menu’s stalwarts include the Delmonico steak, filet mignon, and a 40-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye.

Sparks

Midtown East

Sparks’ decor is cut straight from the quintessential steakhouse playbook with the burgundy, dark wood, and white tablecloths. It first opened in 1966 and has been in its current location since 1977. The prime sirloin steak, filet mignon, and large live lobsters are the main menu stars, but it also offers other notable seafood and fish sections. Check out the enormous wine list when you go, and if you have a spare $3,800 lying around, the Chateau d’Yquem magnum (1967) may catch your eye. Obligatory fact: it’s dubiously known as the spot where Gambino mob boss Paul Castellano was gunned down out front in 1985.

Flickr/Julien Menichini

Smith & Wollensky

Midtown East

Before you disregard this one, relax; it's the original and not part of the chain. When it opened in 1977 at the site of a former steakhouse, it basically adopted the previous owner’s green and white exterior, slapped on a new name, and instantly grabbed its now-signature look. Inside it’s serious meat eating. USDA prime is dry-aged for up to 28 days, then hand-cut by in-house butchers. Look for the Colorado rib steak, the porterhouse, NY cut sirloin, as well as the the classic 26oz prime rib.

Palm Too

Midtown East

Yes, it’s part of the national Palm chain, but it definitely has old-school chops. Palm Too was built as a spillover spot for the original Palm, which was located across the street and closed for good in August. Palm Too has been open for 42 years and has the same caricature sketches that adorned the walls at the original. It serves USDA prime, corn-fed beef and the menu offers classics like the New York strip, filet mignon, and a bone-in ribeye steak. Technically it’s an Italian steakhouse, so you’ll also find classic Italian dishes like veal marsala, chicken parmigiana, and linguine.

Courtesy of Gallaghers

Gallaghers

Theater District

Gallaghers started as a speakeasy in 1927 and expanded to a Theater District steakhouse in the ‘30s. Its dry-aging process is on full display when you walk in -- a windowed view into its famed meat locker is the first thing you see -- and you’ll quickly notice the decor is heavy on nostalgia thanks to a bazillion black and white celeb and sports star photos hanging everywhere. The menu is as classic as it gets, so plan to get your kale fix somewhere else. It's a rock-solid pre-theater experience.

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Chris M. Walsh is a freelance writer for Thrillist who believes that kale sucks. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Peter Luger 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211

This New York institution (opened in 1887) is specifically known for its old-school, impeccable waitstaff and its sizzling, perfectly cooked, buttery porterhouse. The wine list sticks to a strict but to-the-point number of options that pair perfectly with the dishes, and the lunchtime hamburger -- a mix of ground chuck and trimmings from the aged steaks -- is simply something you can't get anywhere else.

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2. Keens Steakhouse 72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018 (Midtown West)

Keens was the gentlemen-only meeting place for all sorts of playwrights, publishers, producers, and newsmen of the Herald Square Theatre District back in the day... which was 1885, by the way. Today, the legendary steakhouse maintains its reputation and continues to deliver quality eats in an old-timey atmosphere, and women are now allowed in (!!). Wondering what to order? Try the mutton chops, word is you won't regret it.

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3. Old Homestead Steakhouse 56 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011 (Meatpacking)

A classic, multi-level spot, Old Homestead in the Meatpacking District offers hip takes on old-school steakhouse fare. Originally opened in 1868, OH was one of the first in the States to serve Japanese Kobe beef. It's kept up with the times, adding shareable apps like yellow fin tuna tartare and kobe beef meatballs, as well as premium craft cocktails to its extensive menu of dry-aged prime cuts.

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4. Delmonico's Kitchen 207 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018 (Midtown West)

Delmonico's is a truly iconic New York institution, boasting a globally-inspired and seasonal approach to dining that uses organic and local ingredients. The result? Bestselling menu staples with savory twists, such as steak, eggs Benedict, and Baked Alaska -- all which help maintain the centuries-old sterling steakhouse reputation.

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5. Sparks Steak House 210 E 46th St, New York, NY 10017 (Midtown East)

This Midtown restaurant opened as a pub in 1966, but it wasn't until moving to its current location in 1977 that it turned into the swanky steakhouse it is today. A reputed mob hangout during its 80s heyday, Sparks boasts some serious Tony Soprano-level extravagance. The main draws are the boneless prime sirloin and massive slabs of meat like the extra-thick veal chop and lamb chop. The menu also features an impressive seafood selection and a massive wine list that's worth spending some time on.

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6. Smith & Wollensky 20 E 49th St, New York, NY 10017

The green facade of Smith & Wollensky in Midtown East is now iconic, announcing one of the city's premier American steakhouses of the old mold (even though it's only been around since 1977). Dry-aged steak is king here: two-week-aged sirloin is best ordered rare with a pink interior revealed beyond a charred outside, and a three-week-aged special ribeye satisfies those looking for more of the funk flavor that time brings. Surf fare, namely the Maine lobster, steamed to ruby red, can also be paired with a list of reliable sides (go for creamed spinach). A stately interior, all white tablecloths and cream walls, augments the classic appeal. As a Meryl Streep fangirl might note, this is the same steakhouse featured in The Devil Wears Prada. Those opting for a more casual (and cheaper) meal can visit the adjacent, sister restaurant Wollensky's Grill, where a pared down menu is presented alongside the original in a busy tavern atmosphere.

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7. The Palm Too 840 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10017

The minute you eat their steak, you'll forget that this is technically a chain restaurant.

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8. Gallaghers Steakhouse 228 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 (Midtown)

This iconic restaurant has occupied West 52nd St since 1927, offering a tantalizing classic cocktail list and some of the best steaks (USDA prime dry-aged) in the city. Gallaghers started as a speakeasy before expanding into a Theater District steakhouse in the ‘30s. Its dry-aging process is on full display when you walk in -- a windowed view into its famed meat locker is the first thing you see -- and you’ll quickly notice the decor is heavy on nostalgia, thanks to countless black and white celebrity and sports star photos decking the walls.

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