For a restaurant that has been a cornerstone in Tucson for 34 years, the Silver Saddle Steakhouse must be doing something right.
The Silver Saddle Steakhouse has been family-run since 1984 when Ruben Alva purchased the space, having recently retired from the Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant. Now, his two sons Mario and Orlando run the restaurant. Though they work on the grill, the brothers also tend to all sides of the business, running both the front and back of house.
Orlando has worked 25 years in the restaurant. He loves working with staff and building relationships, and has created a culture that is people-oriented.
“We are not overseeing, we are working with [our staff],” Orlando said. “And the customers as well. What’s important is how we treat people and how we treat each other. If you’re not treating people well, you’re going to get a lot of flack for sure. We show how to treat others by example. We want customers to feel welcome and appreciated. Our hostesses greet people with a smile.”
The hostess’ smile is the first thing customers see when they walk in the door, and the second is the grill. The open-pit grill is iconic, in the middle of the main dining room. Orlando is there, turning over T-bone steaks, ribs, and prime rib; servers pull each steak right from the grill before serving customers their meal.
Directly across from the grill and just as popular is the salad bar with fresh ingredients and dressings for guests to choose. Additionally, prepared chilled salads such as potato salad or coleslaw are offered.
Prior to the Silver Saddle becoming a grill, the space was the Pickwick Inn, and the Alva family has chosen to preserve the original style of the building. The interior is rustic and wood-centric, with carefully chosen hardwood accents to give the space a warm, natural feel. The walls are made of tinder, and the bar in the Tapadera Lounge is mesquite wood with African hardwood framing, highlighting the beautiful marbled grain and fiery color of mesquite.
Mesquite is a special wood, from a culinary standpoint. It imparts a nuanced, smoky flavor in the meat as it grills, and provides flavor without adding seasoning. In fact, the steaks served at the Silver Saddle are not seasoned unless requested by the customer — the flavor is entirely different from cooking the steak using a hot broiler or gas grill. Heading a mesquite-fired grill also demands considerable attention as the grill approaches 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The intensity of the heat is unlike any other,” Orlando said. “It’s something you can’t walk away from.”
The same attention is given to the treatment of the mesquite wood even prior to grilling. The wood is sourced locally, and is “seasoned,” but in a different sense. It means that the dry wood has to age at least six months prior to use to provide the ideal smoky flavor. At the Silver Saddle, they go through three cords of mesquite wood every two weeks, and they are burning it all day long.
Another element to grilling the perfect steak is the handling of the beef itself. The beef is sourced from the Midwest and is aged in-house.
“It’s a huge difference between buying pre-aged beef to aging it yourself,” Orlando said. “It makes it very tender. It has to be 22-27 days aged in giant walk-ins. Every day we turn 600-700 pounds of beef in our walk-ins.”
Furthermore, a butcher comes twice a day and cuts everything in house to be served that day, so guests are getting the freshest and most tender cut possible.
“You can’t tell what you’re getting if you order a pre-cut steak,” Orlando said.
So what should someone order if it’s their first time at the Silver Saddle Steakhouse? From the whopping 24-ounce porterhouse steak to the 10-ounce New York strip, options range from buttery richness to tender juiciness. For the first timer, Orlando suggests the prime rib.
“The prime rib is the best in Tucson,” Orlando said. “We serve certified Angus beef prime rib, the step above USDA Choice products. The beef is a little bit more tender with more marbling. That’s key to a rib eye roast. Some people like to get it seared on the grill a little bit. You don’t have to add a ton of seasoning, it is naturally flavorful.”
Naturally flavorful it is, unctuous and tender, sopping in their famous jus and served with a sour cream horseradish sauce that is peppery and goes straight to the nose. The steak fries on the side are crispy on the outside but pillowy on the inside, a tiny bit salty, and perfect with the good old fashioned tang of ketchup.
Alongside the steak and fries are cowboy beans, warmed with a western spice of chili pepper, garlic, and Mexican oregano.
“All the sauces and dressings are made in house,” Orlando said. “Our barbecue sauce is crazy popular. It’s a sweet, smoky barbecue that compliments the grilled meat very well. Our au jus sauce is really good. We make it from scratch every day that compliments the prime rib. It’s a blend of beef face, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, and I can’t tell you the rest.”
The Silver Saddle also offers mesquite grilled chicken, lobster tail, and crab legs. And they even have a full children’s menu with miniature versions of adult dishes. From a six-ounce top sirloin steak to fried shrimp or a “Bronco Burger,” it is truly family friendly.
“We have to make it affordable for a family to eat,” Orlando said. “We want [the children] to be able to get the same items as their parents. They can even watch their steak being cooked.”
Porterhouse, T-bone, chicken, or lobster, one thing’s for certain — bring an appetite. The portions are generous.
“If you come in, you’re getting a ton of food.”
The Silver Saddle Steakhouse is located at 310 E. Benson Hwy. For more information, call (520) 622-6253 or visit thesilversaddlesteakhouse.com.