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First Look: Steak 48

Steakhouse glamour is revived and remixed at their latest Del Mar outpost
Steak 48, Del Mar
Steak 48, Del Mar

“Ugh. Another steakhouse.”

These are words Jeffrey Mastro, co-founder and CEO of Steak 48, never wants to hear you say. So, what’s he going to do about it? He’s opening another one. This time, aiming to quell the yawns, eye rolls, and wallet-clenching associated with this white tablecloth dining trope.

This newest Steak 48 location will open its doors in Del Mar October 13, replacing the long-shuttered space that formerly housed Searsucker and two other businesses in the Del Mar Highlands. Taking up 12,500-square-feet, the space can host 487 guests, has an in-house butcher shop, a 3,000-bottle wine vault, and eight private dining options. 

Mastro is doubling down on the historic appeal of this venerable gastro-genre, while giving it a modern glow-up that speaks to the community of Del Mar.

Oliver Badgio, the group’s chief brand officer, admits, “This was as an industry a little asleep at the wheel for a lot of years.” Steakhouse is as steakhouse does. After selling the successful chain of Mastro’s restaurants in 2007, Badgio and Mastro wanted to create something fresh. And the Steak 48 concept was born. “With Steak 48, the DNA changed,” says Badgio. But don’t worry. Not fundamentally.

There are white tablecloths. Voluminous, V-shaped martinis. Steaks are served on volcanic 500-degree plates. And, somehow, those cascading crab legs on seafood towers don’t topple over. 

The standards are there but there’s a buzz through the building that belies all the staid traditions of a classic steakhouse. Portraits of surfers adorn the walls, a buoyant soundtrack sways from Dusty Springfield to Joe Strummer, and the staff is as unpretentious as they come (entering this space without being said “hello” to by at least 14 different people is impossible).

Think Peter Luger cosplaying as Taylor Swift. It’s fastidious without being fussy. It’s fancy and fun.

“We don’t want to be stuffy,” says Mastro. “We want to be approachable.”

The food and beverage program speaks to the playful streak of the Steak 48 brand. Though anchor dishes like Tomahawks, A5 Wagyu, and three different grades of caviar are stationed on the menu, so are more whimsical dishes like the Maine Lobster “Escargot” and Crispy Shrimp Deviled Eggs. 

While the wine list maintains classics from Napa (yes, you can get Screaming Eagle if you’d like to forgo paying rent all year), the by-the-glass options are well-appointed with reasonably priced Pinots alongside lesser-known gems like Domaine des Baumard’s 2016 Savennières. At Steak 48, the classic and contemporary co-mingle.

Guided by interior design expertise from Testani Design Troupe and the team at Nelson Architects, the space is cavernous but welcoming, with buttery leather and geometrically patterned wood floors guiding you through the sprawl of meticulously set tables. The main dining room hums with energy from its centered, horseshoe bar, while the kitchen is encased in floor-to-ceiling glass and offers a chic, voyeuristic quality that’s grounded in literal and figurative transparency. 

You can wave at chefs on the line as you ogle the impressive raw bar display and drool over the delicate confections from the pastry department. Set back in the cozier, corner realms of the restaurant is the Del Mar Room, which features a more intimate setting along with a reservation-only bar.

“The ultimate goal that Jeff has always wanted us to have is that you sit down and you say to yourself, ‘I am in the right place,’” says Badgio. The sense of place is a huge theme for the group, which has nine other properties established throughout the country. Each location has its own personality to fit their clientele and community.

“Not being a corporation but being a sophisticated family business allows you to do those interesting things and allows you to be available for your neighborhood, because you’re not designing a Steak 48 that fits every single [place]. We’re designing Steak 48 Del Mar. This is just for this community,” says Badgio.

The company intends to not only invest in the community but help give back. Before opening its doors to the public, Steak 48 Del Mar will be hosting five nights of charitable giving, working with local foundations like the San Diego Opera, Voices for Children, and Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund. “When you have the opportunity to give back, it’s a privilege and one that we don’t take lightly,” says Badgio.

Not another steakhouse indeed.

By Danielle Allaire

Danielle is a freelance culture journalist focusing on music, food, wine, hospitality, and arts, and founder-playwright of Yeah No Yeah Theatre company, based in San Diego. Her work has been featured in FLAUNT, Filter Magazine, and San Diego Magazine. Born and raised in Maui, she still loves a good Mai Tai.

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