the strip:

Hidden behind clowns and roller coasters is a Las Vegas steakhouse classic

A view of the dining room at The Steak House at Circus Circus, Thursday, June 21, 2012.

The Steak House

  • Open 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Friday; 4-11 p.m. Saturday
  • Casual attire is accepted
  • Reservations recommended
  • (702) 794-3767

The Steak House at Circus Circus

A view of the dry aging room at The Steak House at Circus Circus, Thursday, June 21, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Under the shiny pink dome of Circus Circus, amid the clang of arcade games and the squeals of children, is a revered Las Vegas steakhouse.

The Steak House sits between a souvenir shop and a Party 2 Night store that sells light-up hats. Nearby, families scream on roller coasters and barkers hawk toys.

Behind the restaurant doors, the sounds of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin lilt through the room, which is trimmed with carved cherry wood. Framed wildlife prints and landscapes hang on the walls, and the aroma of mesquite fire fills the air. The dining room is crowded but calm.

A meal at The Steak House, while still a bargain compared to competitors, costs more than a room at Circus Circus. Spending the night in one of the resort’s hotel towers starts at approximately $29 these days. The filet mignon at The Steak House costs $51.

“It’s like walking into another time zone,” said Ron Randazzo, the restaurant’s general manager for 27 years.

Not much has changed over the past 30 years The Steak House has been open. Its familiarity is what has kept it thriving and winning ratings as one of America’s top restaurants. Zagat, which has surveyed diners since 1979, last year named it the best steakhouse in Las Vegas. Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio was second.

“It’s the recommendations of our customers that really put us on the map,” Randazzo said. “It takes someone to talk them into coming over and trying us.”

The Steak House actually started as a spa, Randazzo said. But William Bennett, co-founder of Circus Circus, replaced the spa with a restaurant because he wanted a place to take his friends.

Word of mouth comes from up and down the Strip. Sometimes, it even comes from competitors. Randazzo said he has received reservations from bartenders at other casinos whispering from a closet so their bosses wouldn’t hear them sending customers up the street.

“It’s easy to get caught up and try to be the most modern or the most trendy, but our customers have told us that’s not what they want,” said Bill Miller, vice president of food and beverage for Circus Circus. “A lot of people come back time and time again knowing the steak they told their friend about last year is still here.”

Click to enlarge photo

Ron Randazzo, GM of the Steak House at Circus Circus, on Thursday, June 21, 2012.

Randazzo once made the mistake of changing the restaurant’s bread. He won’t do that again. The guests wanted none of it, asking instead for the bread they had eaten for years — sourdough and raisin bread from the hotel bakery, served piping hot from the microwave.

The restaurant’s staff has remained nearly as consistent as its menu. One of The Steak House’s bus boys has worked there since 1990. Grill man Teo Bonilla has been cooking steaks since 1986.

“He started as a potato guy,” Randazzo said. “He was terrible at the potatoes.”

Bonilla’s steaks, however, come perfectly off the mesquite charcoal grill. With some 200 pounds of prime rib ordered each evening, Randazzo marvels at Bonilla’s timing and the way he tosses steaks on an off the 1100-degree flame.

“He can cook a steak faster than I can seat a party,” Randazzo said. “I don’t know how he does it. But it’s amazing.”

The prime rib, a popular cut of beef brought to Las Vegas from Iowa farms, is aged for three weeks in a chilled locker with large windows that customers pass on their way to the dining room.

Randazzo estimates that 60 percent of the steakhouse’s diners are repeat customers. The percentage used to be higher. More first-timers have been showing up over the past year since The Steak House joined Open Table, an online restaurant reservation service. It’s one of the few pieces of the 21st century to invade the restaurant.

“If you have a reservation, the wait time is zero,” Randazzo said. “That’s something I’m kind of proud of.”

Each night, Randazzo moves from table to table, checking on diners and introducing servers. He chats with customers and offers to take their picture.

One night, he saw a couple celebrating their anniversary. Although they waved off a photograph, Randazzo persisted and eventually snapped their picture.

“The man came back in, and said, ‘I’m glad you took my picture that night. My wife died soon after that,’” Randazzo remembered.

The Steak House is about more than steak, Randazzo said. It goes beyond the bread or the location.

“We’ve created a family among The Steak House team with customers,” Randazzo said. “We’ve grown up with them over the years, celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, gotten to know children and grandchildren.”

“You can have a great steak. You can have a great room. But if you don’t have the rapport with the customer you’re not going to get them back. People are always excited to come here. But you know what’s funny? They’re just as excited to come on their 10th visit or 20th.”

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  1. Author, $29 plus the confounded resort fee. CC a resort? Rip off.

  2. my friends and i ate there not to long ago because of the high ratings it always seems to have.. being well dressed and heading for a nice restaurant in circus circus seemed like walking through a 3rd world country...having not been there in 10 years i was taken back by the facility and the crowd. be sure to take your knife to cut through the thick smoke as you walk past the 100 lb.over weight muffin top women in tube tops screaming at dirty little kids bouncing all around them and their eddie (clark griswalds brother in law) like fathers chain smoking.

    once in the steak house one of the first things you notice is the woodsy dark interior, maybe worn a little more that one would have expected. the waiters and staff seemed older, i guess either they have been there along time or thats just where older workers end up, not sure which.

    seems like we all got some kind of steak and the usual trimmings. ordered my steak med. rare, it came out med. well, but after a long wait to get our food i just didnt have the time to send it back.
    the trimmings were as expected. it was a middle of the road meal, better than some but not the top...

    i cant decide if the location in a worn out hotel in a worn out facility with worn out staff made the whole night less desirable or not.

    the remarkable thing is that its been in business for so long in that location selling a product that most of the guest at that hotel probably cannot afford, or are to cheap to want eat there. so my hats off to their long term success and i hope they last many more years , but i honestly think a top 5 rating is not correct...not by a long shot...

    just to be fair i didnt think STK in cosmo was any better...better atmosphere but not any better food..

    there are many great places to get a steak in las vegas such as Cut in Palazzo... its very good but does cost twice as much...

    so maybe you really do get what you pay for....

  3. henrysmon....this is what makes the las vegas dining scene so great...there is something for everyones taste...ive eaten at just about every restaurant in vegas, and no matter which one is, its always somebodys favorite....;