The 4 Best And 4 Worst Old-School Dishes To Order At A Steakhouse

Steak tartare on platter
Steak tartare on platter - Vladimir Mironov/Getty Images

When you're in the mood for a steak, sometimes it's nice to sit back and let someone else do the cooking. Yet, with so many different menu items to pick from, ordering from a steakhouse can feel like a daunting task. Which dishes are worth it? That can be a tough question to answer.

Menus are always changing as food culture evolves, leading to new fusions that become trendy. But most steakhouses also tend to feature old-school, more traditional dishes. For many, these classic menu items retain an enduring allure, and their presence is fundamental to what defines a steakhouse. At the same time, some of these time-honored dishes can be surprisingly underwhelming -- so much so that it might even make you wonder how they became so popular to begin with. If you want the lowdown on which steakhouse dishes often fall flat and which ones give you the most bang for your buck, then you're in the right place.

As someone who's spent years developing recipes and working in professional kitchens, I've come up with some suggestions based on my experiences preparing and eating these dishes to help nudge you in the right direction. Of course, taste is highly subjective, and there's nothing wrong with really digging certain foods or disliking others. I tend to prioritize ordering traditional steakhouse dishes that I am less likely to make myself on a regular basis, due to time constraints and their intensive preparation, and many of these selections reflect that.

Read more: The 13 Best Steaks For Grilling

Best: Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-baked potatoes
Twice-baked potatoes - Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Meat and potatoes belong together. There's something delicious about the pairing of a well-seasoned piece of freshly grilled steak and a starchy spud that feels like destiny. But the almighty potato can take many forms. Mashed, baked, fried, sliced, and diced — no matter how you cut it and cook it, you're just about guaranteed to find various forms of potatoes on the menu at a steakhouse. Yet out of all the ways they can be prepared, twice-baked potatoes are easily one of my favorites.

Typically loaded with bacon, cheese, and chives, twice-baked potatoes offer the creaminess of mashed potatoes and the flavors of loaded baked potatoes, all in the same spud. They are far superior to a simple baked potato or a scoop of mashed potatoes and pair great with any cut of steak. Twice-baked potatoes are also kind of time-consuming and tedious to make at home, so it's nice to enjoy them without having to go through the trouble yourself. You can score some fries or mashed potatoes just about anywhere, and even though twice-baked potatoes are a little more elusive, you can often count on steakhouses to offer them on the menu. I'm always more than willing to take advantage of that.

Worst: Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail on plate
Shrimp cocktail on plate - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

My disdain for shrimp cocktail has been well-documented among loved ones and colleagues for a long time now. Don't get me wrong, though: I love all kinds of seafood. Salmon, tuna, crab, sushi, buttery lobster rolls — I will happily eat my fair share of all these things. And I do enjoy shrimp when it's prepared in just about any other way. Gumbo, stir fry, shrimp scampi, and crispy coconut shrimp are all delicious ways to enjoy this succulent little crustacean. But dipping ice-cold shrimp into a thimble of ketchup and horseradish? For the life of me, I just can't understand the appeal.

Eating at a steakhouse should feel like a treat, but shrimp cocktail doesn't really feel much like a treat. It can be found everywhere from grocery stores to pool parties. Shrimp cocktail is such a commonplace dish that ordering it at a steakhouse feels like a wasted opportunity. It's far more satisfying to order something more flavorful, complex, and indulgent.

Best: Tableside Steak Tartare

Steak tartare with bread
Steak tartare with bread - Ratov Maxim/Shutterstock

There are many ways to enjoy the rich flavor of beef, but perhaps no other dish is as deliciously primal as steak tartare. Minced and often mixed with diced onions, fresh herbs, egg yolks, and capers, steak tartare is seasoned and served raw to showcase the flavor of uncooked beef in all its glory. Because steakhouses often carry high-quality cuts of meat, they tend to be excellent places to order tartare.

Paired with something crispy like crostini to balance out the succulent tenderness of the beef, steak tartare somehow feels elegant yet animalistic at the same time. It's one of the best ways to kick off a meal at a steakhouse, and the portion is often perfect: just enough to hold you over until the entrées arrive. Some restaurants even prepare the tartare to order tableside, which is a great way to rev up the appetite and also ensures maximum freshness.

Worst: Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach in bowl
Creamed spinach in bowl - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Straight up: Flavor-wise, creamed spinach is a bit boring and very one-note. As you might have guessed, it's mostly made with cream and spinach. There might be a little garlic and some various seasonings involved, but for the most part, it's extremely simple. While creamed spinach isn't necessarily horrible or unenjoyable, it also doesn't exactly electrify the taste buds.

Whenever creamed spinach comes into play, it's difficult not to wish that it was jazzed up and transformed some more with extra cheese, artichokes, and roasted red peppers to be turned into baked spinach dip. But as it's traditionally prepared, creamed spinach often leaves much to be desired. The bottom line is that there's a good chance other dishes which can do a better job of enhancing your meal are on the menu at the steakhouse. Why settle for something so mediocre when you can order something far more tasty and luxurious?

Best: Steak Oscar

Steak Oscar on plate
Steak Oscar on plate - Elizabeth Kearney/Shutterstock

For the uninitiated, steak Oscar often involves a few key ingredients. Grilled steak is paired with shredded crab meat and spears of tender asparagus and then drizzled with a few creamy spoons of béarnaise. The end result is wildly rich and buttery, thanks to the briny yet succulent crab and the luscious béarnaise sauce coating everything in a velvety sheen. The asparagus provides a touch of earthy bitterness to balance everything out.

Steak Oscar is one of those dishes that tends to take a while to prepare from scratch, so it's probably not something many home cooks make for dinner very often. This makes it a great choice when dining out at a steakhouse, since it's delicious but requires pricey ingredients and a relatively involved process. Steak Oscar features a wide expanse of taste and texture, delivering an impressive amount of flavors to diners, making it one of the best dishes you can order at a steakhouse.

Worst: Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs on plate
Deviled eggs on plate - Sunvic/Shutterstock

How is stuffing cold, mayonnaise-soaked egg paste inside more cold eggs even a thing? Why is it so celebrated and prevalent in civilized society? I enjoy eggs just about any other way, but deviled eggs are another dish that never ceases to bewilder me. If I'm at a party or out to eat, one of the last things I want to do is put noxious yolk bombs inside my mouth. And yet it seems that everywhere I go, no matter how much I try to escape them, deviled eggs emerge from the shadows, much to my horror and the inexplicable delight of just about everyone else.

Despite their inherent strangeness, deviled eggs are undeniably ubiquitous, which begs the question: Why bother spending money on these at a nice steakhouse when they'll undoubtedly be waiting for you on a lukewarm platter at a neighbor's barbecue in a few weeks? Skip the deviled eggs -- there are far better dishes to satisfy your cravings when you're at a steakhouse and hunger strikes.

Best: Surf And Turf

Ribeye and bacon-wrapped shrimp
Ribeye and bacon-wrapped shrimp - Grandriver/Getty Images

Perhaps no other culinary arrangement encapsulates luxurious abundance better than classic surf and turf. Enjoying a juicy piece of steak and some fresh seafood all on the same plate is about as good as it gets. Consider yourself lucky to enjoy the bounty of land and sea in a single meal and embrace a surf-and-turf option on the menu the next time you're at a steakhouse.

An ideal situation is a grilled ribeye paired with a buttery lobster tail. The exquisite marbling of ribeye lends the beef a rich flavor and exceptional tenderness, while the lobster tail adds its beautifully briny sweetness to the mix. Lobster tail is firm yet delicate, while the ribeye melts like butter thanks to the thin webs of fat that keep the cut ultra succulent. Other suitable stand-ins for lobster include sautéed shrimp or crab cakes. To go the extra mile, see if the menu offers bacon-wrapped scallops. Salty and smoky bacon is a perfect pairing for the natural sweetness of scallops, and when served with steak, this is a meal that's delicious and satisfying beyond words.

Worst: Wedge Salad

Wedge salad close-up
Wedge salad close-up - Lauri Patterson/Getty Images

The problem here isn't that wedge salads aren't delicious — because they indeed are. Simply assembled with a literal wedge of lettuce (usually iceberg) and dressed with a drizzle of creamy buttermilk, blue cheese crumbles, tomatoes, and bacon bits, wedge salads are crispy and creamy and punctuated with a distinctive, pungent bite thanks to the sprinkle of aged cheese. But at the end of the day, this is still a salad made with common ingredients that you can easily throw together at home. It can be hard to justify paying a high price for a salad like this at a steakhouse.

It's worth exploring the menu and selecting dishes that you know you don't often have the time, patience, or ingredients to prepare yourself. Chances are, that's not really the case with something as basic as a wedge salad. If you're in the mood for a dish that's hearty and veggie-centric, try opting for something a bit more involved and mouthwatering like stuffed mushrooms.

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