By Nina Aghadjanian
Outlook Valley Sun
Taylor’s Steak House had been a staple in Southland dining circles for decades before local resident Bruce Taylor decided to expand on the success of the family’s downtown Los Angeles restaurant and bring an eatery to his hometown in 1996.
A quarter century later, Taylor’s La Cañada Flintridge location is gearing up to celebrate its 25th anniversary on March 22.
If the local supper club has proven anything, it’s that a fine dining experience and affordable prices aren’t mutually exclusive.
Perhaps food critic Merrill Shindler best summed up Taylor’s standing when he said, “This is an upscale steakhouse with prices half those of its competitors. Taylor’s doesn’t have competitors. It’s achieved the status of legend.”
The restaurant’s history traces back to 1953 when Bruce Taylor’s parents, Tex and Margie, opened Taylor’s Tavern west of downtown Los Angeles. It was a smash hit. To keep up with the growing clientele, they relocated to the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood, where the bar evolved into acclaimed L.A. eatery Taylor’s Steak House.
Following in his parents’ footsteps, Bruce took over what was the former location of the old Sparr restaurant on Foothill Boulevard and transformed it into a second Taylor’s location. Over the years, it has sprouted more rooms via three renovations, the most recent of which involved a complete remodel by local architect Jay Johnson. Today, Taylor’s boasts a full bar, wine room, private dining room and patio with a fireplace.
“Bruce has the genius to run his restaurant as though he were inviting you into his home for dinner,” said Pat Anderson, the LCF Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “My family and I went to that restaurant when it was the Sparr and it was good, but when Bruce took over it became a premier steakhouse. It is one of the icons of this community.”
For the downtown L.A. location’s 50th anniversary and the La Cañada’s 20th back in 2016, Taylor’s treated customers to the original 1950s menu. This year’s 25th anniversary plans, however, are still undetermined as the restaurant was, up until just recently, only open for outdoor dining and takeout due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“When it comes down to it, we pride ourselves on serving great food at regular people’s prices,” said co-owner and office manager Sarah Taylor, who is Bruce’s daughter. “We’ve been very proud to serve the community of La Cañada for the last 25 years and we hope that we can be here another 25.”
For those walking by Taylor’s on any given night, the aroma of its meats alone could be enough to lure clients in. Inside, cushiony booths, wood paneling and dim lighting evoke the ambience of an old-school steakhouse, where Claudia Gutierrez, a veteran hostess of 16 years, or Chantelle Gavarette, hostess and assistant manager, are waiting to seat guests.
Upon scanning the menu, you’d be hard-pressed to find an entrée more raved about than its culotte steak. While Taylor’s didn’t invent it, they seemingly helped put it on the map. In 1995, former L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila referred to it as “a beautiful hunk of meat.” And in 2012, the late Jonathan Gold, a legendary L.A. Times restaurant critic, gushed over it: “The way they age it and grill it at Taylor’s brings out the citrus-tart essence of the meat, which is sometimes what you want in a steak instead of melted fat running down your chin.”
What’s more, Taylor’s culotte once appeared in a question on “Jeopardy!”
Taylor’s restaurants have used the same purveyor, Newport Meat Company, for more than 40 years, inspiring carnivores to keep coming back for quality and value of its popular steak-and-potatoes fare.
Other crowd-pleasers include the prime rib, steak stroganoff, London broil with au jus and creamed horseradish, and the filet Oscar topped with crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. Equally tempting are casual dishes with an elevated twist, like a hamburger that is freshly ground from prime steak trimmings and Texas chili with filet mignon.
“Taylor’s is recognized as one of America’s best spots for prime rib because of the quality of their beef and their chefs know exactly how to prepare it. If you don’t like prime rib, their fish is amazing as it comes from Fish King, and it’s always, always outstanding,” said Anderson of the LCF Chamber, who has enjoyed the restaurant’s prime and certified Angus beef along with fresh seafood.
The final key ingredient of Taylor’s longevity is its stellar staff, half of which have been there for more than a decade. Over the last 21 years, Elva Gutierrez, Claudia’s sister, worked in just about every position until earning her current role of general manager. Head waiter “Memo” Hernandez, who is “practically famous” (a colleague said), has worked there since its inception. Meanwhile, head chef Victor Duenez’s tenure spans 15 years.
The employees are such an integral part that they’ve helped shape the menu. Named after a former waitress, the popular Molly salad is a wedge of iceberg lettuce dressed with tomatoes, onions and blue cheese. Veteran server Mario Medina added avocado, bacon and chicken to his Molly salad, inspiring a spin-off now unofficially referred to as the “Super Mario.” Among the cocktail menu standouts is Hector’s Famous Bloody Mary, crafted with 17-year bartender Hector Salazar’s homemade mix.
Taylor’s balances the traditional with the new by occasionally beefing up (pun intended) its menu. The shrimp scampi, for example, was introduced a few years ago and quickly became a pescatarian favorite. About three years ago, Taylor’s bought a wood smoker from Kansas City and started serving smoked brisket and baby back ribs.
“It can be hard to bring in new things or change things because people are so used to it being a certain way,” Elva Gutierrez said. “But everybody really, really loved the smoked meat. When you explain to them how the smoker works and how [Victor] smokes the meat for 8-10 hours, they get even more excited.”
Employed by Taylor’s since age 17, Elva says she’s grown up with the customers, some of whom have become like family. Throughout the pandemic, regulars have been very generous when ordering takeout and frequently called to ask about the staff’s well-being, she said.
“We have such a strong customer base. We try our best to take care of them and, in turn, they take care of us,” Sarah Taylor said.
Taylor’s patrons have been eager to dine indoors again. Fortunately, now they can. After L.A. County’s recent shift from the state’s most restrictive purple tier to the red tier — due to declining COVID-19 cases and growing vaccine availability — Taylor’s resumed indoor dining at 25% capacity this week for the first time in 12 months…just in time to celebrate a quarter century of goodness.