I Tried the Most Expensive Steak at Three Most Popular Steakhouses—and There Was One Clear Winner
It's Saturday night, you and your favorite person want to go out and get an over-the-top steak dinner, but you don't want to pay over $100 per person to get it. Enter one of the value steak chains. Outback, Texas Roadhouse, and LongHorn are the three most popular steakhouses in the country. At each, you can get a steak dinner for a fraction of the price of the high-end steakhouses. Sure, you sacrifice some ambiance and high-end flourishes, but you will still be able to pay your mortgage at the end of the month.
If you're looking for the best experience and cost is a factor, which one should you go to? I decided to try a steak dinner at the top three bargain steakhouses and order the most expensive steak on each menu. If you want the best-tasting steak for the best price, here's where you should go.
All about the porterhouse
The process of comparing the steakhouse chains became easier when I realized all of them have this popular steak on the menu: a 22- to 23-ounce porterhouse. The porterhouse is half NY strip and half filet mignon—a sharable cut in many high-end steakhouses. It varied slightly in price across the chains, with LongHorn's being the cheapest and Outback's being the most expensive. However, they all landed between $30.99 and $36.99.
Each steak included a salad and a side—which could be "upgraded." All three salads were nearly identical: classic iceberg and mixed greens, veggies, and crunchy croutons. They had no problem splitting them for us.
In comparison, this cut of meat at Ruth's Chris, which is 40 ounces, is about $115, and that's without the sides. Though the chain does have a T-bone for $65. The difference between a porterhouse and a T-bone is the size of the filet, which needs to be at least 1.25 inches thick from the bone to the widest point on the filet. But, however you slice it, the bargain chains are a massive price break.
LongHorn had a lot going for it in terms of ambiance. The restaurant itself was well laid out and had nice decor. It was a lot less cowboy-themed than Texas Roadhouse and lacked the Aussie influence of Outback, making it seem less chain-like and kitschy—if that's something that bothers you.
The server didn't try to upsell us on every little thing, which you'll see at Texas Roadhouse, and she was very thoughtful and left the seasoning off my daughter's fries. She's probably seen a 4-year-old (or a 30-year-old) freak out about it. But the steak at LongHorn just didn't compare to Texas Roadhouse or Outback.
LongHorn's most expensive steak was the 22-ounce porterhouse for $30.99. Since this was our first steak on our taste-testing journey, we didn't have anything to compare it to but it seemed smaller than advertised. It was also swimming in juices, which made me think it wasn't cooked right or was cut into at some point, since the juices ran out. No one whips out a scale at a restaurant so who was to really say that the steak was 22 ounces? If it was the right weight, it could have been just a little thin.
Overall, it was our least favorite steak. Even though it wasn't really overcooked, the NY strip side was a bit dry. We found ourselves fighting over the filet section, which tasted a lot better, and, thankfully, was large.
The sides fell flat for us. The Brussels sprouts were untrimmed and were somehow overly sweet and bitter at the same time. The bread was just okay and wasn't memorable. My daughter's fries were fabulous though, hot and crispy with just the right amount of salt.
Texas Roadhouse is the most popular steakhouse in the United States and it is still expanding. If you've never been to one of its locations, it can be a shock of a place. It has great qualities and not-so-great qualities. If you're looking for romance, this isn't the place, with its blaring country music; but if you're bringing a few kids along, the extra noise might be appreciated.
The Texas Roadhouse's porterhouse weighed 23 ounces and costs $33.99. It was a nice-looking steak, with perfect grill marks. This is a good thing since Texas Roadhouse will teach you the path to perfect steak "diamonds" on your home-cooked steaks. (You could also choose your own steak from the case out front, which we didn't do.)
It was probably the best-cooked steak of the three, with a medium rare center all the way through. This can be hard to achieve on the porterhouse because it is a super lean filet and a slightly fattier NY strip. The fat at the edges was minimal and it was rendered out nicely. There wasn't anything bad about the steak, but it also didn't wow us.
The rolls with cinnamon-honey butter at Texas Roadhouse are legendary. What's even nicer is that they serve them to you as soon as you're seated, so you have something to munch on right away. The baked potato, however, was just so-so. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it immediately, and then it hit me: The cheese was sprinkled on top of the cold sour cream so that it didn't melt. Since the cheese and bacon were a sneaky upsell by the server, I would really want to get my money's worth out of them. The bacon pile was huge and plentiful, but a bit chewy.
Created by a couple of businessmen who had never been to Australia, Outback seems to know a thing or two about steak (and sides). Despite being greeted by a five-foot kangaroo, Outback's Australian theme wasn't over the top with a few tasteful maps, artwork, and unobtrusive decorations.
While this chain had the steak with the smallest filet, it was the best-tasting of the three. The 22-ounce Melbourne Porterhouse was the thickest and had the tastiest rendered fat at the edges. The well-rested steak was not swimming in any juices. And while it wasn't the best looking of the three, with a grayish tinge, each bit was juicy, meaty perfection, whether from the filet side or the NY strip side.
The baked potato and Brussels sprouts really put this meal over to the top. The salty, crispy-skinned potato has perfectly melted cheese. As a premium upgrade, the Brussels sprouts delivered in presentation as well as flavor. They are also served in little mini cast-iron pans, like some higher-end restaurants.
Overall, all of the chains delivered a quality steak dinner for a low price, but Outback edged out the competitors with a better-tasting steak and top-notch sides. So while it might not be your first pick for a nice steak dinner, it's definitely worth a try!