City Paper is not for tourists
D.C. has fought hard to ditch its reputation as a one-dimensional, overpriced steakhouse town. And the current food scene has come a long way from the days of red-meat, expense-account dining, with a recent boom in food trucks, pop-ups, artisan markets, and neighborhood restaurants. But the mass arrival of out-of-town restaurant groups and celebrity chefs isn’t helping: They’re only bringing more steak.
In the past year, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House came to CityCenter, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab settled near the White House, and “female-friendly” STK made a tone-deaf debut in Dupont. There were South American twists on the steakhouse, too: Philadelphia-based celebrity chef Jose Garces opened Argentinian steakhouse Rural Society at the Loews Madison Hotel, and restaurateur Richard Sandoval (of El Centro D.F. and Masa 14) brough Latin steakhouse Toro Toro to town.
And there’s still more coming! Mastro’s Steakhouse, which has locations in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and elsewhere, is opening near Metro Center, and Claudia’s Steakhouse, another Latin meat eatery, is on its way to 15th and K streets NW—within a couple blocks of Toro Toro and Rural Society.
The saddest part is that the owners of these restaurants think this is what Washingtonians want. It isn’t. While steakhouses aren’t inherently bad (Bourbon Steak, for example, is fantastic), no one’s pining for more. And yet these swoop-in restaurateurs continue to say things like this: “In D.C., people love steakhouses,” Sandoval told Eater last year. “You think expense accounts, you think lobbyists. It’s something that’s familiar to everyone.”
Aside from an outdated, uninformed understanding of D.C. diners, why do steakhouses continue to proliferate here? Because they’re proven concepts with relatively low risk. While steak doesn’t typically have a high profit margin, the wine and martinis that accompany them do. Many outside operators come to the District hoping to cash in on a recession-proof economy flush with disposable income.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the steakhouse has evolved. Steakhouses are no longer stuffy old boys’ clubs filled with suits. And the latest arrival of “steak chic” restaurants at least offer far more than baked potatoes and porterhouses with expanded non-red meat offerings and creative twists on traditional fare.
But that doesn’t mean D.C. wants more. Let’s put a moratorium on steakhouses for a while.