Little Red Barn, San Antonio, Texas

A couple of years ago we visited the outstanding Barn Door Steakhouse in San Antonio. Today we’ll step into the Little Red Barn, which is a casual, western-style steakhouse with good food at reasonable prices.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The Little Red Barn was opened in 1963 in an old meat market by Ralph and Lili Hernandez. It was casual, with picnic tables for seating and the menus and cattle brands painted on the walls (as it still is today). Ralph was butcher and cook and Lili was the waitress and cashier. The place grew from a small restaurant with 8 picnic tables over the years into a large restaurant that can seat 800 customers, making it the largest steakhouse in Texas! And to boot, it’s still owned by the Hernandez family.

 

photo by littleredbarnsteakhouse.com

photo by littleredbarnsteakhouse.com

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

At the door you are greeted by a hostess in a western plaid shirt, jeans, and cowboy hat, who takes you to your table, where a chilled salad has mysteriously already been placed for your eating enjoyment. A choice of dressings (all made from scratch, daily, and available to take home) is offered. I opted for the Green Goddess.

 

 

The servers are dressed in cowgirl outfits that vary a bit, all in black and white, some in black with white fringe. All wear a cowboy hat and a neckerchief. This is the only restaurant left that still does this, that I know of. The Steak Corral in Whittier still did when I visited about 15 years ago but it looks like the servers are just wearing jeans and blue shirts these days.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

delicious rolls - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

delicious rolls – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

The server brings you a menu board with a large variety of steaks and seafood. All dinners come with salad, a house made roll, and choice of potato or green beans. The steaks are cut daily by in-house butchers, the beef is ground daily, and the sides, dressings, and desserts are made from scratch.

 

 

T-bone steak

T-bone steak

 

I ordered the T-Bone Steak with a baked potato. The steaks come on distinctive metal platters.

 

 

 

 

Be sure and look around the restaurant at the humorous artworks painted on the walls. One of the dining rooms was closed while we were there but they kindly turned on the lights so we could see the walls, covered with wonderful cartoons like this:

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

If you had to choose between the many steakhouses in San Antonio, you have two types: the fine dining steakhouses like Bohanans (review coming soon) and Little Rhein and the casual steakhouses like Barn Door and Little Red Barn. Between these casual steakhouses you could choose by proximity: Barn Door is near the airport, and Little Red Barn is close to downtown. Either one is a good choice, but if you want something fun and quick, Little Red Barn is my pick (though the steaks are a cut above at the Barn Door).

 

Little Red Barn
1836 S Hackberry St, San Antonio, TX 78210
(210) 532-4235
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am – 8:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am – 9:30pm, Sun 12:00pm – 8:00pm

 

Will’s Fargo, Carmel Valley, California

Last year I spent a weekend in Carmel and the Carmel Valley and discovered a great western-style vintage steakhouse called Will’s Fargo in sleepy Carmel Valley. Recently the area is becoming more fancy, with wineries and spa hotels, so I encourage you to visit soon while there are still some old places with original charm.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Will’s Fargo was opened in 1959 by Will Fay in a house built in 1928 by Gordon Armsby of San Francisco and designed by Clarence Tantau (Del Monte Hotel) in Spanish style with Carmel quarried stone walls, Mexican terracotta roof tiles, and a hand-carved wood beamed ceiling. Named Casa Escondida, its guests included Charlie Chaplin and Theda Bara. In 1940 the Holman family bought the house and it served as the bar and steakhouse for Holman’s Guest Ranch, which attracted such celebrity guests as Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando, until Will Fay bought it and renamed it Will’s Fargo, decorating it in Victorian Western style. In 2002 the owners of nearby Bernardus Lodge bought Will’s Fargo and thankfully didn’t change much. Then in 2014 the current owner of Holman Ranch, Thomas Lowder, purchased the steakhouse and it’s his intention to keep the interior pretty much the same while updating the menu slightly, but keeping its focus on traditional steakhouse fare (the chef, Jerome Viel, remains after the ownership change).

 

dining room, photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

The menu features steaks a la carte, including a Prime Angus top sirloin (my choice when I dined there last year), filet mignon in two sizes, rib eye, Kansas City strip, and a Porterhouse. Why top sirloin for me? In California I often order top sirloin when I see it on the menu because I love its beefy flavor and it’s leaner than a lot of other cuts. Not as tender as a filet, but more flavorful. I also ordered it because it was USDA prime (the most well marbled beef) Angus, which can make a difference.

 

top sirloin, photo by Dean Curtis 2014

top sirloin – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Steaks don’t come with sides, but are priced below average and several classic sides are available, also at reasonable prices. Other dishes on the menu include chicken, pork, lamb, quail, seafood, pasta, and vegetarian options.

 

the bar, complete with Victorian nude - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

the bar, complete with Victorian nude – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

If you like vintage motels and are more happy with original charm than new amenities, I highly recommend the Blue Sky Lodge in Carmel Valley. It recently was purchased so I urge you to stay there soon before it changes. From the motel you can walk to Will’s Fargo, some great wineries, and the village of Carmel Valley.

 

Will’s Fargo
16 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924
(831) 659-2774
Open daily at 4:30pm (call for closing hours)

 

The Barn Door, San Antonio, Texas

There is one restaurant I visited on my trip to San Antonio last May that I have not posted about yet, and it’s a great Western-style steakhouse: The Barn Door.

 

BarnDoor11

 

Conveniently located near San Antonio International Airport, it was way out in the middle of nowhere when it first opened in 1953 (though details are scant online).

BarnDoor9

 

When you enter you see a wall of framed photos and memorabilia next to the host stand. The host takes you to your table past the display cases of steaks and desserts, such as the homemade pies and cakes (which are all available to take home).

BarnDoor4

BarnDoor5

 

As you follow your host you begin to realize that this restaurant is huge! There are several dining and banquet rooms, all with great western decor. I was seated in the dining room where the grill is located that had red-checked tablecloths and the most dense variety of decoration.

BarnDoor2

 

Another more refined dining room that was next to the room I was seated in:

BarnDoor1

 

The menu is large, consisting mainly of steaks, which are wet aged “for weeks” and grilled over a combination of mesquite and charcoal, seafood from the Gulf, and other charbroiled items that are enticing, such as rack of lamb, chicken (a specialty of the house), and local quail. Dinners are very reasonably priced considering that all dinners come with salad, potato, and delicious house made rolls, served hot.

BarnDoor3

 

The grill master in action:

BarnDoor8

 

I went with the medium filet (8 oz.) since I had to have an early dinner before my evening flight home, so I wasn’t very hungry yet. It was very tender and flavorful from the wet aging (sometimes filets have a lack of flavor due to less marbling but this one was not like that; perhaps the bacon it was wrapped in also helped).

8 oz. filet with toast and home fries. Shiner black lager to drink.

8 oz. filet with toast and cottage fries. Shiner black lager to drink.

 

As you can see my steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare. A bargain at $22.50 including sides!

BarnDoor7

 

The next time you fly to San Antonio (or on a layover) The Barn Door is a must on arrival at the airport or just before leaving. It’s only about 5-10 minutes from the airport terminal. The steaks are great for the price and you can’t beat the old Western decor!

 

The Barn Door
8400 N New Braunfels Ave, San Antonio, TX 78209
(210) 824-0116
Open for Lunch: Tue-Fri 11-2pm; Dinner: Tue-Th 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-10:30pm, Sunday: 11-8pm; closed Monday

Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House, Las Vegas, Nevada

Part one of Le Continental’s Las Vegas steak house tour

An oasis in a desert of suburban tract homes and chain stores on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House stands on a large plot of land that makes you feel like you are on a cattle ranch when driving up their long driveway lined with a wooden fence and wagon wheels. Bob Taylor opened the restaurant on 80 acres of remote desert in 1955 as the Ranch House Supper Club. He personally cut and cooked the steaks over mesquite coals for his guests until 1980, when he sold the restaurant and the new owner changed its name to Bob Taylor’s Ranch House.

 

Bob Taylor's Ranch House

 

Upon entering the low ranch house style building there is a bar with a large lounge on your left with a great number of TVs in it, but continue ahead past the hostess stand and right in front of you proudly sits the mesquite grill, so that everyone who enters the restaurant can see and smell the meat cooking away. If it doesn’t make your mouth water you are probably a vegetarian (haha, just kidding my veggie friends). I visited at lunch time on a Saturday, and I was saving my appetite for dinner at the Golden Steer, so I had a hamburger. It was tasty after being grilled over mesquite coals, though it was cooked medium and not the medium rare I had ordered. The bun was nice and fresh and the onion rings I had on the side (for a small extra charge) were good.

 

Bob Taylor's Ranch House grill

 

The dining room is in classic rustic western style, with (most likely the original) wood tables and chairs, white tablecloths, and appropriately vintage looking candle lanterns on each table. There is a nice big fireplace that was filled with wood during my visit but it was not lit, despite the cold temperatures outside. Western themed pictures cover the rustic wood walls. Unfortunately, so do some large TVs, which thankfully were turned off when I was there. I can imagine the room might look nice at night as long as they don’t turn on those damn TVs.

 

Bob Taylor's Ranch House interior

 

I expressed concern to the waiter that the Ranch House was surrounded by recent development and is right next door to a large road or canal project (visible in the first photo above). But she assured me that the place is very popular and it isn’t going anywhere. Still, just imagine how much the land is worth (you could build several houses on its lot) and you can see how the Ranch House should be on your list for your next visit to Las Vegas, because who knows how long it will remain?

 

Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House
6250 Rio Vista St  Las Vegas, NV 89130
(702) 645-1399
Open Sun-Thurs 11am -10pm, Fri-Sat 11am – 11pm

 

Casa Orinda, Orinda, California

Roundup of Bay Area old west style roadhouses – part three of three.

In earlier posts I visited Rancho Nicasio and the Hayward Ranch, two wonderful classic Western-style restaurants in the Bay Area. Tonight we’re visiting the historic roadhouse Casa Orinda, which opened in 1932 at what was just a crossroad at the time, on the corner of 2-lane California highway 24 and San Pablo Dam Road. The restaurant grew slowly and decor was added, from wagon-wheel chandeliers to large oil paintings of Western scenes, a fireplace, and an extensive historic gun collection. There was even gambling in the restaurant for a while. The gambling is long gone, but the restaurant miraculously survived expansion of the freeway and growth of the town of Orinda, and retains its classy Western decor (quite different from Hayward Ranch, which is more casual and cluttered).

Recently I dined there with friends to celebrate our great friend Karen Finlay’s birthday (she is a fabulous writer, check out her blog here).

I love the bar with lamps made from oxen yokes.

Step up to the bar and order a martini or Manhattan. They made it just the way I like it – stirred with lots of ice.

They are famous for their fried chicken, and rightly so. It’s crispy, hot, and juicy. Without a doubt the best fried chicken that I’ve had in the Bay Area. But I almost always order it, so this time I got prime rib, and it was excellent too.

Casa Orinda prime rib – notice they still use vintage Western themed china!

Here is part of the main dining room with and original wagon wheel chandelier and oil painting. They also decorate the dining rooms with gorgeous fresh flower displays.

Casa Orinda is a must in the Bay Area for great fried chicken and steaks in a historic Western style atmosphere with a touch of class. Be sure and check out the large gun collection!

Casa Orinda
20 Bryant Way, Orinda, CA 94563
(925) 254-2981
Open Mon-Sat 4pm-10pm; Sun 4pm-9pm (bar may stay open an hour later)
Valet parking is available