El Corral is located at 2201 E. River Road in Tucson. For more information, call 520-299-6092 or visit www.elcorraltucson.com.
© Edward McCain
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Meat and PotatoesIt's not likely to show up in an airline magazine's "best steakhouses" story, but Tucson's El Corral serves up a great selection of the basics, along with a heaping helping of history.
By Bruce Itule
Tucson It's good to drive into a Tucson sunset and remember.
The Sonoran Desert that swells north of River Road into the Santa Catalina Mountains is still wondrous, albeit clouded by development. El Corral hasn't changed much, either, other than the asphalt and homes and shopping centers that now surround it. Beyond that, the old restaurant is still serving up big chunks of prime rib and porterhouse steaks at decent prices.
It's good to be here again. To smell the grill. To read the funky cocktail menu. To see Roy Rogers' and Monte Montana's boots and the outfit once worn by Tom Mix.
OK, so El Corral in Tucson doesn't compare to those highfalutin' joints selected by airline magazines as the best steakhouses in America, but it remains a place where you can eat meat and other hearty grub, and where people have been dining for generations.
"It's like family here," says manager Alycia Wheaton, right after she visits a group of people in another room. "That man over there was my dad's teacher in junior high. Mine, too."
There has been a building north of River Road and east of Campbell Avenue since the 1920s, when it was miles outside of Tucson. The place became El Corral Café in 1939. In the '40s, the business name was changed to El Corral Night Club, and it operated that way until the late 1950s, when it became El Corral of today.
Eating there is like having a meal in a ranch house, with its flagstone floors, wood-beam ceilings, fireplaces and red-and-white checkered tablecloths. El Corral specializes in prime rib, which is served with horseradish and an au jus sauce that makes it a bread-dipping meal. An extra-large cut of prime rib — the most expensive item on the menu — is $19.95.
The highest-priced steak, a porterhouse, is $18.95, and it's as good as one grilled outdoors at home. There also are ribs, chicken, shrimp and salmon. Each meal is served with a choice of baked potato, vegetables, ranch beans, tamale pie or mashed potatoes and gravy. Go for the tamale pie. It's a tradition there. So is the adobe mud pie, the one dessert that's made in the kitchen.
And the entertainment is free. Think people-watching with a view of the Catalinas from the back room.