Ray’s the Steaks: A Tribute to an Arlington Institution

I am a hardcore carnivore. There is no other way to describe me. When people talk to me about vegetarians, I respond with, “I don’t trust them.” I just don’t understand how you can live your days without wanting meat. Any meat. Steak, pepperoni, bacon, burgers, meatballs, sausage, BBQ. Don’t even get me started on lamb: nature’s finest meat choice. I just don’t get it. I know this is bound to offend some. I’m ok with that.

This entry is a tribute to one of my regular haunts and favorite places: Ray’s the Steaks. Ray’s is an Arlington institution and has been around for almost 18 years. It positions itself as the “every-man” steakhouse. D.C. is a known steakhouse area, particularly utilized for business lunches and dinners. Many of the steakhouses downtown are far out of the price range for anything other than a celebratory dinner. But Ray’s isn’t that. Ray’s has excellent steaks, all different types, at normal prices. The decor is simple. You’ll see tables full of suits and others in jeans. Everyone is welcome. Everyone feels comfortable. The wine list isn’t extravagant or difficult to navigate. Every meal comes with unlimited servings of house creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Seriously. Keep refilling those bad boys. When the check lands on your table, you aren’t sticker-shocked. There are no pretentious servers. It is an affordable dinner in an atmosphere normally deemed for special occasions. But it could be your Tuesday evening. And for me, it often was.

Creamed Spinach and Mashed Potatoes

Rays’ became the place Josh would take me when he knew I needed a little buttering up. Whether it was because he had ticked me off, or the world had, he always kept Ray’s in his back-pocket as his “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And it worked like a charm. Every time. He isn’t a big steak person, and often ordered seafood there (which was also excellent). But, he knew the way to my heart: a juicy hunk of meat. Steak.

Blackened New York Strip; Blue Cheese Sauce

A few weeks ago, Ray’s announced they were shutting their doors. My heart dropped. But this was one of our places! We probably dined at least once a month, sometimes more depending on my mood. We had made friends with the owner. He liked that my last name was Gibson – reminded him of Debbie Gibson. It always stuck with him. We never needed a reservation – Michael always found a table for us.

We knew we had to go before the doors closed this weekend, so we dined there last night. There was a crowd of people waiting outside at 8 p.m., a sign on the door reading, “No Further Seatings Tonight.” I walked inside anyway. Michael saw me right away and asked if our name was on his list already. I said it wasn’t and expressed my sadness about the restaurant closing. He told me he would seat us within 20 minutes. And there it was. Crowds of people outside. A mile-long wait-list. He still made room for us.

We were seated in the jam-packed dining room and we both commented on how full it was on a Thursday night: people wanting to pay their respects. We ordered a bottle of wine and toasted to all of our memories there. Josh joked he would have to come up with a new place to take me when I needed cheering up. It’s a heavy lift.

Josh usually ordered their delicate crab bisque but last night opted for a house salad. I went with my usual Caesar salad. I always loved their light dressing mixed with shavings of fresh Parmesan.

Caesar Salad

I ordered the New York strip, blackened with a blue cheese sauce. Josh opted for the filet Oscar: a filet mignon with crab meat and roasted asparagus. We also ordered our usual side of roasted mushrooms.

Filet Oscar

Everything was perfect. Once we finished the small mashed potatoes dish, we did what those in the know do: order another round with roasted garlic. It was one of the most perfect versions we have had. Everything last night was flawless.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I am sad to see one of our regular places go. I worry about what is happening to this area, if the small local places are going to survive – we’ve already seen so many close. I’ll miss popping across the street, no reservation in hand but being seated immediately to a meal I was sure to enjoy.

Say what you will about Michael Landrum (and with his questionable business decisions, there are a lot of things to say), but he created a restaurant everyone could enjoy. He was loyal to those patrons who were loyal to him. And I respect that.

Rating: Five Amazeballs. I’ll miss you, Ray’s.

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