A while back I read this list of the nation’s Top 100 Independent Restaurants (by estimated gross sales).
Most of the list isn’t surprising; many of the restaurants are in either New York City or Las Vegas, including the mind-boggling Tao Las Vegas which grossed $68MM in 2008 (almost twice the number two on the list, Tavern on the Green). The California entries are mostly recognizable: SF downtown expense-account/tourist mainstays Slanted Door, Scoma’s, Boulevard, and Cliff House along with Los Angeles meal machines Gladstone’s Malibu and Lawry’s The Prime Rib.
(Can I just ask what’s up with definite articles and Beverly Hills steakhouses? Lawry’s The Prime Rib? Morton’s The Steakhouse? Wolfgang Puck’s The Cut? [Yes he is].)
Actually he’s probably not. He’s Austrian after all.
But in all this list of LAs and New Yorks and Chicagos and Miamis is a very very odd and eye-catching outlier: Coalinga.
That’s right, Harris Ranch Steakhouse is one of the 100 highest grossing restaurants in the country, and the seventh highest in California (between NYC’s Ruby Foos and Asia de Cuba). Adding to my bafflement is the fact that not only are they higher grossing than a lot of serious Vegas restaurants (Aureole, Eiffel Tower, Spago Las Vegas), but Harris Ranch Steakhouse also has one of the lowest per person averages on the list at an estimated $33 a head.
Holy fucking crap, 474,323 people dined at Harris Ranch Steakhouse in 2008. That’s more people than dined at half of the restaurants in the top 10.
So a half a million people hopped off I-5 while going to/from somewhere and had a leisurely steak dinner in a hot, stinking, hellhole.
I lived in the Bay Area. I live in Los Angeles. I drive up and down I-5 a lot. I’ve never considered eating there. Hell, I can only remember stopping for gas there once. I tend to avoid it because the town smells like cow shit and the gas is usually a bit more expensive than elsewhere.
Plus I don’t consider driving on I-5 to be a leisurely endeavor. I’d rather not spend a couple hours eating at a restaurant, I just want to get wherever the hell it is I’m going. I stop for gas and a piss once, maybe grab a drive-thru bean burrito, and keep on my way.
So who are these people? I mean, the LA-SF drive is only about five and a half hours, so that can easily be done between meals (bring a Clif Bar), so it’s probably OC/San Diego folks making the longer drive. Or maybe truckers? Indulging in one good meal on the road? Steak and a bj under the methane-shrouded moon?
Point is, if I were a high-class truckstop hooker, I’d hang out at Harris Ranch.
Second point? I’m eating at Harris Ranch next time I make the drive up I-5 (if I’m not in a rush).
How can anyone eat there?? To eat a steak while its ghost hovers aimlessly above your head in the form of death stench? Maybe I should stop at Harris Ranch when I’m finally ready to turn fully vegetarian.
When I was growing up, and my family drove from San Francisco to Phoenix and back at least once a year, we always stopped at Harris Ranch on the way home- it was a kind of fortifying repast to get us through the final leg. So, I will always be nostalgic for the place, terrible smell and all (you just have to hold your breath until you get inside. After that, the aroma in the air is art directed, like at Disneyland). We still stop there on our way back to L.A. after visiting my folks sometimes- it’s really a delightfully kitschy compound, like a maze of tacky gift shops with like forty-seven dining rooms and giant chairs that make you feel like a king. Also, they serve a lot more than steak- they make a hell of a mint julep, if I remember correctly. Man, I am totally lobbying for a Harris Ranch stop after Xmas in SF. Thanks for reminding me!
Don’t overlook the expense-account aspect of Harris Ranch. It’s a convenient midway meeting point for engineering and construction firms all over the valley–and the outer reaches of the Bay Area. I’ve done that at least once.
It would be interesting to compare volume with Pea Soup Anderson’s in Santa Nella. I’ll wager HR serves a bit fewer people, but that $33 average tab is probably double.
If and when you go, get the ceaser salad with prime rib. Despite first billing, it’s a tiny salad…with a giant cut of beef…for $21.