Entertainment Magazine Dining Review

El Corral Continues to Please
Generations of Tucsonans

By Danielle Crounse

Tucson has a large number of steak restaurants, but few can compare to the history, reputation and flavor of El Corral. This restaurant with rustic surroundings opened its doors back in 1939 in an old ranch house on the edge of town.

Back then it was El Corral Cafe, a restaurant of white tablecloths and a hatcheck girl. Today it is still housed in that same ranch house, but it has a casual yet upscale atmosphere.

Many people know about this restaurant, which was evident on a recent visit. When my companion and I arrived at about 7:30 P.M., we went in to place our name on the seating list and waited with about 50-60 others. They do not take reservations and it is always crowded. So be prepared to wait. The restaurant is able to handle large crowds, as by 8 PM about 30 people had been seated.

The wait is bearable as inside there is a full bar and two rooms of pigskin chairs and tables. Outside there are numerous benches. In the winter there is a roaring fire inside which you can sit next to, or if you are waiting outside, there are heaters to help fend off the cold.

We ordered a beer and a sangria at the bar. Their sangria, adorned with a cherry, an orange slice and a lemon slice, is not to be missed as it is not served in many places in Tucson.

After a 35 minute wait we were escorted to our table in a back room and were promplty greeted by a friendly waitress. While we perused the menu we noticed the wide range of selection of foods. Listed under appetizers was Rocky Mountain Oysters ($3.95), (for those who are wondering, those are the testicles of a bull) and although we chose to pass on even sampling them, we were surprised to see them on the menu. The selection ranged from the Rocky Mountain Oysters to more popular fare such as chicken, New York Steak and pork ribs.

I ordered the specialty of El Corral, the prime rib. The petite cut ($6.95) is just the right amount of food, there are no leftovers, but you do not feel hungry. The regular cut is $7.95 and the large is $8.95, still a good deal. My companion ordered a full rack of BBQ Ribs ($10.95).

Each meal is served with a salad and your choice of a baked potato, mashed potatoes and gravy, or tamale pie. I chose the mashed potatoes and gravy, which were extremely smooth and light, while my companion chose the baked potato, which he said was perfect.

As the menu indicated, if two or more people at the table select the house dressing, honey italian, the salad is tossed tableside. We selected this option and soon our waitress was next to our table tossing iceberg lettuce with dressing in a large wooden bowl. We then had our choice of croutons, mushrooms and sunflower seeds and the traditional freshly ground pepper to top our salad. I passed on the mushrooms and pepper, and found the dressing to be quite tangy, while my companion described it at sweet and creamy. While the portions were healthy, the salad lacked tomatoes (an essential ingredient in salad) and I found the lettuce to be just a tad limp, but certainly still acceptable.

The thick prime rib was cooked to perfection and served with an au jus sauce and horseradish. This prime rib is slow-cooked in a moist-heat oven all day, which creates an extra tender piece of meat. Always mouth-watering, this delicious steak is worth the wait.

The BBQ Ribs were served on a long plate and were also cooked well. The menu asks that extra time be allowed for food from the grill which includes the ribs, and it did take a little longer than expected, but it was understandable. My companion enjoyed the ribs and described the sauce as tangy. The ribs are first coated with garlic and then the sauce which accents the flavor, and then cooked on the grill. A moist towlette accompanied the ribs and came in quite handy after completing this hands-on meal.

On this trip we chose not to sample the desserts or the homemade onion cheese bread ($1.50). The onion cheese bread is a small loaf of bread that is served uncut and warm, and has a light airy texture. The Adobe Mud Pie ($1.95) is a great dessert that consists of a thick layer of mocha ice cream on a chocolate wafer crust.

El Corral has been a Tucson favorite for many decades and continues to please because of their attention to preparing delicious meats and providing a pleasant atmosphere - all for a wonderful price. Their prime rib is the best in town and is a deal that is hard to beat. Large numbers of Tucsonans apparently agree that despite the fact that there will usually be a wait for a table, the great food and reasonable prices are well worth the wait. Be sure to visit El Corral for a taste of the old southwest.

El Corral, located at 2201 E. River (just East of Campbell) is open from 5-10PM Monday through Friday and 4:30PM-10PM Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are not accepted, but carry-out is available by calling 299-6092. It is handicap accessible, non-smoking, and MasterCard, Visa, Diner's Club, Discover and American Express are all accepted. Personal checks are accepted with a guarantee card.

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