Chuck’s Steak House
There used to be a number of Chuck’s Steak Houses in Los Angeles and I miss ‘em. There are still Chuck’s around — the nearest one seems to be in Santa Barbara — but they do not seem to be a chain, exactly. They seem to be independently-owned places opened with the blessing (and perhaps, financial participation) of this guy Chuck.
Chuck was Chuck Rolles, a former All-American basketball player who opened his first restaurant in Hawaii in 1959. The concept was pretty simple. You could get a good steak, a baked potato or rice and a trip to the salad bar for a reasonable price, and you didn’t have to get all dressed up. One of the features of a Chuck’s Steak House has always been the casual, friendly atmosphere. Another was the self-serve salad bar, which at the time was a relatively new idea. Yet another is or was the simple menu, which at times has fit on the side of a little cask on your table.
Chuck’s expanded in many directions with various partnerships and my main recollections are of one in Valley at (I think) Sepulveda and Ventura, and another on Third Street near La Cienega, near where I was then living. It was near a studio called the Record Plant where many rock musicians of the seventies recorded very famous albums. I don’t think I ever went to that Chuck’s without seeing someone who was super-famous in the music industry…and if you didn’t recognize them, an obliging waiter would whisper to you something like, “See that guy over by the bar? That’s Phil Spector.”
The Record Plant burned down one night and I have a feeling that contributed to Chuck’s exit from that area. But maybe the Chuck’s people just decided to give up on Los Angeles because that’s what they did. I liked the food there tremendously, especially the rice that came with your steak. You could substitute a baked potato for a few bucks more but the rice was so good, most people learned not to. Folks I dined with were always trying to figure out what they did to the rice to make it so good but the servers would just tell you, “It’s a secret.” A woman I dined with there once claimed the rice had been cooked, then stir-fried in sesame oil. I have no idea if that’s so.
Chuck’s spawned numerous imitators in the seventies. I went to at least three steak places that tried to replicate Chuck’s down to the nth degree…and they usually managed to get everything right except for that rice. None of them caught on. Only Chuck’s was Chuck’s and I wish we still had one in town.