Close your eyes for a moment and picture the prototypical western steakhouse.
Imagine the aged wooden walls and floors along with the tables covered with red-and-white checkered fabric. You can see the waiters and waitresses (calling 'em servers just doesn't seem right in this case) decked from head to toe in western wear like jeans and cowboy-style shirts. And the steaks--they're seemingly the size of a stop sign, perfectly cooked to order over mesquite wood.
You've just pictured a typical night at Pinnacle Peak.
Of course, if you've been in Tucson for more than a fortnight or two, chances are, you've been to Pinnacle Peak before. Located in Traildust Town on Tanque Verde Road, it's one of the city's most popular places to get a thick, juicy steak.
I visited Pinnacle Peak on a recent Saturday night with my friend René. Being relatively new to town, I'd never visited Pinnacle Peak before (nor had René, but since he's lived in the area for years, he has no excuse). We were awed by the sheer size of the enormous restaurant, which takes up several large rooms, all of which were bustling with activity.
The place has a fun vibe, for sure. Lots of families were present, and in one group, several kids wore ties--a no-no at Pinnacle Peak. With great ceremony, a waiter came over and cut them off of the delighted (and slightly embarrassed) kids, to great applause. (The ties of past violators hang from the ceiling throughout the restaurant.)
René and I were seated at a table promptly, and were given our menus by a waitress who, at first, seemed somewhat less than friendly. We were bewildered by this coldness; I think she was just temporarily swamped, however, because she warmed up considerably as the evening went on.
Pinnacle Peak's menu is not overflowing with options, and if you're a vegetarian, I do not suggest eating there. It consists of the restaurant's "famous" Cowboy Steaks in three sizes (Cowgirl for $10.95, Cowboy for $12.95 or Big Cowboy for $15.95), filet mignon, pork ribs, chicken, a "wrangler burger" and something called western pit beef in a skillet. And aside from a children's menu, sides and desserts, that's it.
Thankfully, René and I both like meat. I ordered the Big Cowboy, which also comes--like all the entrées--with salad, beans and bread. René decided on a combination of the barbecued chicken and a filet ($15.95). In an effort to try out as much of the restaurant's fare as possible, we decided to split an order of the western pit beef in a skillet ($6.50) with barbecue sauce (as opposed to gravy) as an appetizer.
The salads were delivered quickly; they were OK but nothing special, garden salads with lettuce that was a bit past its prime. The pit beef soon followed--and it got our attention.
Here's how the menu describes the pit beef preparation process: "Wes (sic) cook it for 15 hours, slowly, in a covered pit surrounded by a glowing, mesquite wood to provide you with the leanest, the tenderest, the most flavorful chunks of beef, IT'S GREAT!"
René and I agreed that the characterization was dead-on. Delivered with tortillas and beans, the pit beef was succulent and delicious. I could have made a meal out of it alone.
But we were here for steaks, dammit. And boy, did we get steaks.
When our waitress sat the plate down in front of me, I was stunned. The large T-bone was enormous. It, and only it--no garnish here, folks--overwhelmed my white plate. Eagerly, I took a bite, and was instantly impressed.
I grew up on a cattle ranch, and I have had some amazing steaks in my life. While I can't say this steak was one of the best I've ever had, it certainly was worthy of praise. It was cooked just as I requested--medium, meaning it was pink in the center--and was filled with the taste of the mesquite smoke. Other seasonings were few and far between, but the steak didn't need it. It was a helluva piece of meat, and I was able to consume only one-third of it before giving up and asking for a to-go container.
René was happy with his filet, too. He ordered it well-done--a crime, if you ask me--but he approved of its preparation. It, too, was a fine cut of meat, and it didn't last long before he chowed it all down. He was less thrilled with the chicken--the sauce seemed bland and the thigh/leg portion of the bird was quite dry. We both enjoyed the ranch beans, although they seemed a bit undercooked to me. (And we didn't sample the bread, as the waitress never brought us any--an oversight we didn't notice until the check came.)
Satisfied, for the most part, with our meals, René and I ordered dessert. I chose the apple cobbler with ice cream ($2.95) while René got the cheesecake with strawberries ($2.75). Both were good, but not great. My cobbler, while warm and sweet, didn't stand up to other cobblers around these parts (the Epic Café's cobbler kicks major butt, by the way), especially because of the bland-tasting crust. René's cheesecake was fine, but I've bought cheesecake just as good out of the freezer section at the supermarket.
But you shouldn't be going to Pinnacle Peak for the desserts; you should be going there for the enormous, delicious steaks and the fun Old West vibe. And in those aspects, Pinnacle Peak is top-notch.