Food is edible fashion, but to enter the timeless realm of a steakhouse is a reminder that some things never go out of style. The RingSide Steakhouse (2165 W Burnside St., 223-1513 ) is one such place.
The original Burnside location (there's a second outpost in outer Northeast Portland) is older than the Truman presidency, but if it were built today—with its heavily lacquered wood paneling and wall-mounted steer horns—it wouldn't seem out of place.
Enter slowly, because this restaurant is so dark you can barely read the menu. Start with the onion rings; they're the best you'll ever try. Legendary chef James Beard said so himself, and forever put RingSide on the map. The onion slices are sweet and plump with a fried sheath that shatters to the tooth's touch, and the smallest portion feeds three.
A Caesar salad is the proper prelude to a good steak, and RingSide's version features whole baby romaine leaves heavily dressed in a garlicky, anchovy-laden sludge, topped with many shards of Parmesan. Chew slowly and savor the tunes of Doris Day or Louis Prima playing in the background while tuxedo-clad waiters hustle to and fro. Soon enough, one will arrive with your steak.
The most popular choice is the intensely marbled ribeye, which explodes with fatty flavor. It was originally called the RingSider, and many regulars still ask for it by that name. This is the very slab of beef that's landed RingSide a coveted spot in Tom Horan's Top Ten Steakhouses Hall of Fame (as seen in in-flight magazines).
El Gaucho (319 SW Broadway, 227-8794) is Portland's most upscale steakhouse, serving mammoth portions and boasting a friendly staff that'll do anything this side of legal to make you feel like a king. The intoxicating combo of spendy steaks and the best service in the city have a way of wowing you into forgetting you don't have an expense account. And don't knock the chains: Shula's Steakhouse 's (520 SW Broadway, 552-2220) display of brutish masculinity, with three-pound porterhouse steaks and wall-to-wall football memorabilia mounted on dark-wood panels, seems a bit corny at first glance. But after one bite into the superb meat, you realize this is no joke. Ruth's Chris Steak House (309 SW 3rd Ave., 221-4518) has built an empire from its humble New Orleans beginnings that's worth bragging over, and Morton's, The Steakhouse (213 SW Clay St., 248-2100) can grill with the best of them. If you don't mind the jarring visual cacophony of the Tommy Bahama-printed shirts favored by Morton's patrons, few things in Portland can top the restaurant's prime-cut filet mignon straight from the inferno of a 1,200-degree broiler, blanketed in the creamy tang of the restaurant's signature béarnaise.