Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chow Time: Steak Corral

I am not an expert in anything.  A natural penchant for laziness combined with an inherent boredom, leaves me knowing only enough on any given subject to be dangerous.  I do, however, spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out things that replace laziness and boredom with a childlike wonder and unbridled enthusiasm - namely funny parks, perfect hills for rolling down, curious landmarks, neon signs, strange fashions, thrift stores, and delicious/offbeat restaurants.  That's why it's great to know that even wacky tacky super-sleuths like us can be introduced to entirely new culinary experiences.  When we get a tip or recommendation for a new place to go, it is truly a gift from one wacky tacky lover to another.  We have a few friends who hipped us to the the Steak Corral in Whittier, CA, and we finally made the time to go over there and check it out.

Horseshoe bedecked shutters?  Sculptural steer?
I was a happy camper before we even set foot inside the door.

The Steak Corral was a small chain of restaurants that began with its first store in 1961.  The last remaining Steak Corral, opened in 1965, stands on Washington Boulevard in the heart of Whittier and it welcomes customers with the friendly smile and unspoken "Howdy" of a seven-foot-tall, fiberglass cowboy. When I asked if he had a name, I was told, "We call him Bob's Big Boy."  I hate to say it, but I think he might even be cooler than Bob's Big Boy!

He done lassoed himself a prize heifer.

The succulents, the covered patio, the summer sky - I'm ready to move in!

Steak Corral is a semi-counter service joint and the only reason I love the operation is that it is so counterintuitive that it is charming.  Guests are greeted by menu boards hanging from the ceiling and a host/hostess who welcomes them to the restaurant and takes their orders.

With a few exceptions, most of the menu items are incredibly inexpensive.  I mean really, why would anyone go to the Steak Corral for fish, anyhow?  Just for the Halibut, I guess.

Instead of a computerized system or a microphone that conveys the orders to the back of the house, the host hand writes the orders, hands the guest a block of wood, steps behind the Conestoga Wagon salad bar and scurries down to the kitchen where the cooks receive the order and begin preparation.  Meanwhile, guests who choose the salad bar (who at $1.95 wouldn't?) create the salad of their dreams and are met at the end of the wagon train to be charged for their food and beverages.

Mary takes her tray at the chuck wagon!

A longer view of the wagon train

Mary's salad...
One taste of the croutons will put you over the edge; they're deep fried.

Instead of a number, each party is given a block of wood with the name of a 
prominent Western figure.  We were "Doc Holiday."  
I wonder if Doc Holliday would mind the primitive paint job?

Guests then seat themselves in a dining room that is a western wonderland of wacky tacky.

A corner booth

I really love the interior, shingled roofline.

Of course, there are the obligatory long horns...

But these taxidermied longhorns make the consumption of steak a little eerie.

My obsession for light fixtures continues, not just with the interesting
hanging yoke/lantern arrangement...

But also with the stagecoach...

And prairie schooners that were lit from within!

There are two words in the English language that when combined create such a beautiful harmony, their individual definitions are rendered completely meaningless by comparison.  Those words are - if you're ready - Toppings Bar!!!

Why yes, that is a 10 pound vat of butter next to a 10 pound vat of sour cream.
The ice cream scoops beg just one question.
Where are the hot fudge and sprinkles?
Answer, right behind you at the ice cream toppings bar!!!

Other toppings include, but are in nowise limited to, barbecue sauce,
grilled onions and peppers, gravy, cheese sauce, and something called
 "steak relish," which to my refined palate tasted suspiciously like ketchup
and relish mixed together.

After salads have had a moment to settle, the same host/cashier/server trades your wood block for your entree.  Okay, so it was obvious that Steak Corral is not five-star dining, but where else can you get a multi-course meal for two for under $20?

Mary's Hamburger

BBQ Chicken Sandwich
As with most wacky tacky eateries, the ambience outweighs the food and the food is just a fraction of the story.  We were happy to talk to the manager (whose name I failed to get) and hear a little bit about the rest of the Steak Corral story.

After years of running restaurants, the original owner of the Steak Corral chain became more interested in investments and commercial property.  Slowly Steak Corral restaurants began closing with the most recent closure in Covina just a short time ago.  Even though he is no longer interested in the food service game and his children are set to inherit the property on which Steak Corral stands, the owner has, in his will, guaranteed the future of Steak Corral by leaving the restaurant (and provisions for multiple leases) to the manager who has worked there since his high school days.  If not just for the affordable food, the great western atmosphere, and the fiberglass cowboy, I will continue to patronize Steak Corral to support the new family that will perpetuate its five decades of history.

Were we the kind of fatties who also ordered a slice of fresh strawberry pie for dessert?  It is impossible to prove, because there is absolutely no photographic evidence.  I always like to get photographic evidence of funny restroom signs, however.

At first I thought that the washrooms were only for the likes of Elmer Fudd.

Coincidentally, we ran into one of our wacky tacky amigos during our visit to Steak Corral; he was fixin' to get some vittles too. Once you're in the know, it's hard to stay away from this place!  If you're in the general vicinity of Whittier, CA and you feel like rustlin' up some grub, well then get along little doggies and get to Steak Corral.  Be sure to tell them Mr. Tiny sent you.  They won't have a blessed idea what that means, but you should do it anyway.

Steak Corral
11605 Washington Blvd
Whittier, CA

Open 7 days a week!

p.s.  No, I did not make a butter/sour cream hot fudge sundae...but I could have if I wanted to!


Mr. Tiny


  1. Replies
    1. Seriously!!! I wish I was at the chuck wagon right now!

  2. I would have to say my favorite photo is the tub of butter and sour cream with frickin ICE CREAM SCOOPERS! Also, how cool would it be if you could were Bob's hat?

    1. Fortunately I have learned a little bit of self control in the last year, and not a scoop of butter or sour cream made it on to our plates!!

    2. That just cracked me up when I saw that!


    You had me at chuck wagon salad bar. I'm totally putting this on my list of places to go. I had already planned on going down to LA in August. This is definitely getting a visit. Thanks!

    1. I'll keep you posted on all the good spots around town!

    2. Also visit downtown Whittier while there. Lovely little town with cute stores.

  4. What a cute place and what an awesome story behind it! I love it! I never do anything in LA other than look at stars homes and go to Disneyland. What fun places you find (We have a bobs big boy statue in our living room!! LOL) But that guy is pretty darn swell!

    1. I was so glad that we called the manager over; he was very nice and you could tell that he had a passion for the restaurant! How big is your statue? I don't think I could have one around, I would be craving burgers all the time!

  5. My mother had one of those covered wagon wooden lights. Darn, I could have snagged it!

    1. Just when you think you have seen everything, you come across a stage coach table lamp!!! I'm going to have to keep my eye out for one in the "wild."

  6. In the Ketchup/Catsup rivalry, the toppings bar label plaque comes down firmly in the middle-- "KETSUP".......
    As of today, I've heard "Gentle on My Mind" playing, four of my last five visits.
    It was several years ago the Steak Corral on Azusa Avenue was rebuilt into a Denny's. (Across the street, was none other than Black Angus, for those with a larger steak budget-- but it's closed now.)
    I showed your write-up to the waitress, on my phone. I told her "You guys will be more famous now!"
    Hmmm... they can't come up with a name for the lil' cowboy other than "Bob's Big Boy"? I suggest "Ropin' Randy." (My middle name is Randall, but I never used it because there was another boy my age, four doors down, called Randy.)

    1. I applaud them for taking a stand on the issue. I am so wishy washy; I use them interchangeably. Don't get me started on the countries who refer to catsup/ketchup/ketsup as tomato sauce!!!

  7. Thanks for all the pix-it's looks like a cool place! We had (actually still have, I believe), something like that but nowhere near as cute called The Ponderosa Steak House. Haven't been there in so long, don't know if it is still there, in South Attleboro, MA. Oh, and YEARS ago there used to be a BIG BOY "stand" right between RTs. 1 and 1A in South Attleboro, MA. They had to change the name because of the Big Boy franchise. (Bob's, Ted's?????) It was early 60's anyway.

    1. The Ponderosa Steak House is a wonderful name. It makes me think I'll run into Hoss and Little Joe while I'm enjoying the toppings bar. Aren't hamburger stands the best? They are getting pretty few and far between around here; we need to see them while we can!

    2. That Ponderosa closed 3 years ago. 😢 I use to work there.

  8. Oh this place looks adorable! I wish we got to explore LA more when we were there in April. Sigh. I'll just be living through your (and other people's) blog until we make it back there one day!
    x Molly

    1. I LOVE a western theme! I tell you what, let's do a cultural exchange program. You can come to SoCal, and I will go to Australia - it is my favorite place!!!

  9. They are right about the croutons...they are the best. If you are in Whittier, you have to try the Whacky Tacky Steak Corral. Where else can you get filet mignon for 11 bucks...and see Big Boy's Country Cousin!

  10. When I was about 19 I worked at Steak Corral in Pasadena I loved that place wish it was still there but they replaced it with Carl's I am now 65 and I am going to Whittier Steak Corral love that cheese bread. And o the girls that worked there and the memories :)

  11. I worked at the steak corral in Covina for four years great times, i was sorry to see it change hands.

  12. Thanks for sharing your visit to the Steak Corral. I just happened to stumble across your page and was very excited. As a kid and into my teens, we went to the Pasadena Steak Corral nearly every Sunday after Church and we loved it. It's great to see that at least one still exists and that the food and decor are still the same. I only wish I could visit it in the near future...kind of hard as I now live in Australia :)