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).