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I Tried the Cheapest Steak at 4 Upscale Steakhouse Chains to Find the #1 Best

A fancy steak dinner is more expensive than ever. Where can you go for the best meat at the lowest price?
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman

If you're hankering for a juicy steak dinner at a high-end steakhouse chain like The Capital Grille or Ruth's Chris, then you'd better be prepared to fork over some serious cash.

Beef prices are soaring and could soon hit record highs, according to the American Farm Bureau Association. Carnivorous Americans are feeling the effects everywhere, from grocery stores to fast-food chains to fine dining establishments. The U.S. government's latest Consumer Price Index shows the average retail price for a USDA Choice-grade sirloin steak has surged over 12% since last year.

Even the casual-dining steak places aren't entirely affordable, anymore. Take the massively popular Texas Roadhouse, for instance. Founded on the idea of selling Outback-quality steaks at Applebee's-level prices, the fast-growing honky tonk-themed chain has now raised its prices a total of three times over the past 12 months. And if you desire a higher quality cut of beef, well, you'll be lucky to find a single meaty morsel for less than $50.

I recently visited four of America's finer steakhouse chains to find out what kind of steak you can get for the least amount of money. In every case, the answer was the same: a modest filet mignon. The price? Anywhere from $54 to $65—and that's just the beef. Want a side? That'll cost extra.

Of course, you should expect to shell out more for top-grade meat served in an elegant setting. The higher the price, the higher the caliber, right? Well, frankly, not every upscale entrée was worth the hefty upcharge. In fact, the largest, most expensive slab of red meat in this survey turned out to be the least tasty of the whole herd.

Here's how every fancy steakhouse steak stacked up, ranked in descending order from worst to first.

The Capital Grille

An interior look at the 10-ounce filet mignon from Capital Grille in New York City.
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Filet Mignon (Per 10-oz. Serving)
Calories: 490
Fat: 29 g (Saturated Fat: 13 g, Trans Fat: 1 g)
Sodium: 500 mg
Carbs: 3 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 54 g

With 64 company-owned restaurants across major U.S. cities from Atlanta to Seattle, the Capital Grille promises "nationally renowned dry-aged steaks" and "acclaimed world-class wines" amid African mahogany paneling and Art Deco chandeliers. Steak lovers have a range of options from the classic New York strip to a porcini-rubbed bone-in ribeye with 15-year-aged balsamic. In New York City, prices on the dinner menu run from the mid-$60s to upper $80s for a single steak. The most affordable cut is the basic 10-ounce filet mignon for $65. Ordered medium rare, the filet measured a full inch and a half thick upon arrival and weighed 8.5 ounces after cooking, according to my scale.

The look: Big and meaty. This filet was the largest of the group, both as advertised and on the plate. It came with a nicely charred exterior crust and a lovely hot pink center.

The taste: Beefy but bland. Though meltingly tender—so soft that you could probably cut it with a butter knife—this filet was not particularly flavorful or juicy. Frankly, it seemed a little dry. This is one steak that could use some add-ons. Sure enough, the menu also lists a sliced filet topped with onions, mushrooms, and "fig essence." But, naturally, that costs more.

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Ruth's Chris Steak House

An interior look at the filet mignon at Ruth's Chris Steak House
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Petite Filet (Per 8-oz. Serving)
Calories: 340

Ruth's Chris currently holds bragging rights as America's most favorite restaurant chain, according to one recent study. Known for serving USDA Prime-grade steaks on scorching, 500-degree plates at over 150 locations worldwide, the New Orleans-founded chain has earned high marks with consumers for its impeccable service and ambiance. But its prices? Not so much. At the location closest to me in Jersey City, N.J., you can choose from 10 different signature steaks and specialty cuts, the most indulgent being a 40-ounce tomahawk ribeye for $149. The least expensive is the 8-ounce petite filet, priced at $54. That's the cheapest in this survey. Ordered medium rare, the filet weighed in at 6.5 ounces after cooking and was about an inch and a quarter thick.

The look: Nicely charred, sprinkled with green herbs, and bathed in melted butter, which noticeably pooled to one side of the chain's trademark sizzlingly hot plate. Inside, the meat struck a rosy red color.

The taste: Rich and peppery. The meat was exquisitely tender, which you should expect from a Prime-grade cut, and the textural contrast between the salty, crusted exterior and soft luscious center was compelling. I enjoyed this steak a lot more than the bigger version at Capital Grille. (Coincidentally, both chains are now part of the same parent company, Darden Restaurants.) Even so, there were two iterations that tasted better to me, albeit each costing a few bucks more.

 Capital Grille vs. Ruth's Chris Steak House: 5 Major Differences

Morton's the Steakhouse

An inside view of the filet mignon at Morton's the Steakhouse
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Filet Mignon (Per 8-oz. Serving)
Calories: 570

Founded in Chicago in 1978, Morton's has grown to more than 70 locations worldwide, vowing to provide "the best steak…anywhere," as the slogan goes. The chain's modish outpost in New York's Financial District offers eight different USDA Prime-grade steaks and chops, as well as three high-end "butcher cut favorites," including a 7-ounce Wagyu filet for $72 and 36-ounce tomahawk ribeye for $139. The 8-ounce filet mignon is again the easiest on your wallet at $55, just a buck above Ruth's version. It also equaled Ruth's in thickness at about an inch and a quarter, but actually weighed a bit heavier after cooking at 6.9 ounces.

The look: Temptingly juicy. Whereas Ruth's filet came wading in butter, the Morton's steak arrived dripping au jus. It bore crisscrossed grill marks and flecks of green herbs, while blushing beautifully on the inside.

The taste: Super succulent. Morton's filet was the juiciest of the group and exceedingly tender, too. This steak was noticeably lighter on seasoning than some of the others, allowing its savoriness to stand out. This delicious steak was my running favorite before making my final stop.

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Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

An inside look at the filet mignon from Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition information unavailable

With 17 locations nationwide, Del Frisco's is a somewhat smaller chain compared to the others on this list, but upholds equally high standards when it comes to beef. USDA Prime cuts are considered "the cornerstone" of the menu, according to the chain. From its perch near New York's famed Rockefeller Center, the restaurant dishes out eight prime-grade steaks, two 45-day dry-aged varieties, and four premium cuts, the grandest being a 6-ounce slab of luxe Kobe beef for $240. Comparably, the 8-ounce filet for $57 looks like a bargain, and it does not disappoint. Del Frisco's filet matched the girth of the overall largest Capital Grille steak while also outweighing the supposedly same-sized cuts from Ruth's and Morton's at an even 7 ounces after cooking.

The look: Beautifully seasoned and gently grilled. Chunky salt crystals gleamed amid sizable flecks of pepper and streaky grill marks that leaned more toward brown than black, suggesting a deft touch on the chef's part. Meanwhile, the moist meat within struck a perfectly pink pose.

The taste: Divine. This mouthwatering filet needed no heavy dose of butter or juice. Its simple but sufficient seasoning enhanced the natural beefy flavors while also allowing the meat's obviously high quality to shine through. I hardly had to chew this steak's delicate fibers, and every bite tasted more flavorful than the one before.

I could have happily eaten an entire second order—perhaps that's what the proprietors mean by "double eagle steakhouse"?—but that's just taking things too far. At least in this economy.

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris