Slots and Meats

The new Desert Diamond offers up fine, reasonably priced steak and seafood offerings

Just past the Star Wars slots, behind the blackjack tables and to the right of the bar, you'll find The Steakhouse at Desert Diamond Casino. This simply named place is one of several restaurants at the newly built Old Nogales Highway hotel-casino, and in many ways, it's a logical choice for a casino dining spot: Where better to spend all of that cash you've just won?

We entered through the east door, so our walk through the casino was short. We were amazed at how packed the casino was, with adults of every age and ilk at the machines and card tables. Heads up, nonsmokers: It's smoky inside.

Once you get into the dimly lit restaurant, you'll find a bar on the left, and a smiling young hostess straight ahead. The room appears larger than it actually is, thanks to high ceilings, a twisted layout and tall columns covered in decorative stone. More of that stone lines a couple of walls; the other walls are painted in dark earth tones. Lighting fixtures are mixed and matched; leatherette booths flank the room, with four-top tables in between. Yes, it's got that masculine look (almost a requirement at steakhouses), but not that sleek feel found at other steakhouses around town.

Service was most hospitable, and within minutes of ordering, our drinks were at the table: Ketel One ($5) on the rocks for John, and a red wine ($6) for me.

We decided to split an order of crabcakes for starters ($9.95). John ordered the bone-in ribeye ($24.95), and I ordered the 10-ounce filet mignon ($23.95). We also ordered a side of sautéed mushrooms ($3.25) which, we were told by our server, was "definitely big enough to share." All entrées come with a salad, but the server only offered the house Italian dressing. Focaccia garlic bread is served with every meal.

We enjoyed the pair of good-sized crabcakes. There was plenty of crab and barely a trace of filler--they could have been a meal by themselves. The salad was good-sized, considering it was a prelude to steak. There was lettuce, croutons, cheese, tomatoes, onions and such, but that house dressing was a bit of a distraction: It was all we could taste. We put the salads aside in anticipation of the steaks to come.

All food is brought to the table on wheeled carts. It reminded us of the legendary Don Roth's Blackhawk in downtown Chicago that we ate at many, many years ago. The steaks both came with well-cooked fresh veggies and caramelized onions. Both steaks were quite good; the blue cheese on my steak was melted just right and was a great complement to the meat. Neither steak had that buttery, tender texture like those found at more upscale places, but they certainly would satisfy any steak-lover.

The only drawback was the English herb sauce that covered the ribeye. Heavy with garlic, it distracted from the steak rather than enhancing it. But as the server stated, those tasty mushrooms were plenty for both of us.

The dessert options were interesting, and I seldom pass up anything with peaches, so we shared the streusel-topped cobbler ($6.25), which is served warm in a small cast-iron pan. The cobbler alone was a healthy portion, and it was topped with cinnamon ice cream and a sweet "peachy" syrup. We couldn't finish it.

The following Monday, we made the trek down for lunch--and again found plenty of people in the casino. I can't say the same for the restaurant: This time, only two other tables were occupied. By time we left, we had the place to ourselves. Nevertheless, service was still friendly and professional.

We split a shrimp cocktail to start ($9.95). There were four giant shrimp, artfully presented with plenty of hot sauce and lemons. Nothing different, nothing fancy--but it worked.

John ordered a cheeseburger ($8.95) which came with a choice of all the usual sides or fresh fruit (his choice). And just to see how a steakhouse did fish, I went with the Cajun-seasoned tilapia ($12.95).

My fish came with the salad (with still no offering of anything but the house dressing). I merely picked at it, because, again, that dressing was just too much.

The burger was a handful. Juicy and cooked to order, it came on a sturdy bun. The fruit was a combo of melon and berries--a nice, healthier change.

My fish stood up to the test. The nice-sized piece was slightly crisp yet still perfectly moist, and the heat of the spices abated just enough after the first bite.

As we made our way back through the casino, we marveled at the crowd, the noise, the smoke and the fact that The Steakhouse was so empty. The place offers good steak dinners at reasonable prices. For anyone living out that way or for people who are into gambling, a visit to The Steakhouse at the Desert Diamond Casino would be a nice way to spend an evening.

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