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High Steaks

High Steaks

by John Mariani

WE’VE UPPED THE ANTE ON BEEF BY PICKING THE 12 BEST STEAKHOUSES IN AMERICA.WHAT A DEAL!Steak is not a subject men take lightly. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne orders Lee Marvin to pick up a slab of beef dropped on the steakhouse floor. “That’s my steak, Valance,” growls the Duke, putting his hand on his pistol. “You pick it up,” Marvin snarls back. Not every man would die over a slab of beef, but great steaks and the clubby confines in which the best ones are served are the sources of endless martini-fueled debates. Who has the best meat? Who prepares the crispiest hash browns, the ripest tomato salad or the creamiest cheesecake? The national steakhouse chains-such as Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, the Palm and Smith and Wollensky-thrive because patrons appreciate the consistency of the food, drinks, and decor. But even as these temples of high-priced beef proliferate, the independent steakhouses still stand out for their particular style, hospitality and fare. Here are our choices for America’s top 12…


Jess and Jim’s, situated 45 minutes by car from downtown Kansas City, sounds exactly like what it is-the quintessential Midwestern steakhouse. It’s right next to the railroad tracks, the meat hangs proudly in the window, the wait for a table can seem interminable and desserts are minimal. You come here for great steaks. The cuts to order are the 25-ounce KC Playboy strip (named after a Calvin Trillin article on the restaurant that we ran in 1972) or the 30-ounce porterhouse, with side orders of twice-baked potatoes or cottage fries. Jess and Jim’s may not seem to change, but it has. About five years ago the owner, Mike VanNoy, began serving wine by the bottle. Any decade now he may get into tiramisu.