Amarillo's Big Texan Steak Ranch

Having seen the steak challenge at Amarillo's Big Texan on television, I had to drop by the restaurant when I swung through West Texas. For the unacquainted, the challenge touted on billboards hundreds of miles away requires you to eat a 72-ounce steak, a baked potato, two fried shrimp, a side salad and a roll within 60 minutes. (You puke, you lose.) If you win, you get girls, glory and a free meal.

The restaurant is all about putting on a show. It provides a free limo ride from a number of motels down the interstate. The exterior features an enormous steer and glittering lights. Inside is a gift shop, slot machines and, to go with your huge steak, huge beers. And that's pretty much all it has got going for it.

Not up to the challenge, we were seated at a standard table in the large dining room with a menu listing the standard-size cuts of meat. We waited for about 15 minutes for our waitress to appear, and once we ordered our food we waited another hour for that. To pass the time we observed the drunken tourists nearby and witnessed one loss and one win of the big steak challenge.

When the food arrived, my friend's prime rib was juicy and tender. Unfortunately, his macaroni side tasted like the Kraft squeeze-cheese kind, and his green beans were a bit gray. My ribeye was cold, and so were my pinto beans, which had formed a skin on top, presumably from waiting in the wings. The fried okra was the evening's saving grace, as was the free souvenir cup. At least I didn't leave empty-handed.

But what can you expect from a restaurant with its own expanded version of Duck Hunt? The only real question is why anyone would recommend such a restaurant, which several Amarillo natives had done. If someone I knew was coming to Houston for the first time, I surely wouldn't send them to the Aquarium.

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