Food & Drink

A Love Letter to The Prime Rib

My simple truth is that there’s nowhere in the city you can get anything like a Prime Rib prime rib.
—Illustration by Noemi Fabra

A Leopard (Carpet) Never Changes Its Spots

A love letter to The Prime Rib.

When I walked into The Prime Rib last November, I was delighted by what I didn’t see: change.

It was my first visit to the nearly 60-year-old steakhouse since it reopened after a renovation, and in the days leading up to my meal, I worried about it losing its timeless sense of cool.

I opened the familiar glass front doors, and before my eyes could even adjust from the brightness of the street, my ears relieved my fears. I could hear the gentle notes of the piano, situated as always in the middle of the dining room, somehow not overpowering or drowning out the chatter of diners ranging in age from their 30s to…I won’t even hazard a guess.

The familiar dark walls, leopard-print carpet, and dim lighting offered more promise. And when our party was seated, another good omen: Our server was Aaron Day, who started bussing tables here in 1973. He, like the restaurant itself, is an institution.

Brothers Buzz and Nick Beler opened on the ground floor of this apartment building at Chase and Calvert streets in 1965, and The Prime Rib has remained a swanky destination even as societal sensibilities have shifted. Men are no longer required to wear jackets; these days, business casual seems to be the preferred dress code, and you’re as likely to see someone sporting a golf shirt as you are a tie.

Nick died in 1995, but I was fortunate enough to meet his brother, Buzz, for a story a few years back. As I wrote at the time, “Spend five minutes with the man and it’s clear why his restaurants have managed to thrive virtually unchanged while the world around them has transformed.”

That The Prime Rib has maintained its relevance is a credit to the Belers’ cousin, Rebecca Dolan, and her mother, Brenda, who now own it. A few years ago, devotees worried when the pair flirted with relocating to the Village of Cross Keys on Falls Road, sparking fear that it would sap the restaurant’s spirit and soul. But in February 2023, they signed a 15-year lease on the old space, hence the renovation.

None of this has anything to do with food, of course. My simple truth is that there’s nowhere in the city you can get anything like a Prime Rib prime rib. What originally cost $4.95 now goes for $72—and it’s worth every cent.

I always order mine medium-rare, and the kitchen here knows exactly what that means: red and runny. I’ve tried other entrees, too, and while many are quite good—shrimp stuffed with jumbo lump crab comes to mind—the namesake prime rib is a no-brainer. I always start with an expertly made Old-Fashioned and an order of the celebrated potato skins.

Day and the other servers have an innate sense of timing, never interrupting but appearing when a drink needs to be ordered. Each course arrives not a second too early or late. Other restaurants should take note.

One recent meal lasted more than two hours. After dinner, I walked toward the bathrooms, which are new, and noted the extension of the bar and recently added intimate dining area in the back. These were the major renovations, and thankfully they feel much more like a small touch-up than a full-blown facelift.

That’s all this old gem needed. We should all be so lucky.

This is one of five deeply personal Love Letters—reflections on restaurants that hold a special spot in our hearts—from our 2024 Best Restaurants list. View more of our picks, here.