It’s a Rancher’s Life for Me

STORY & PHOTOS By Jessica Suriano

Wrangle a heaping plate of authentic Southwest barbeque at Pinnacle Peak – just don’t wear a tie.

The Wild West is still alive and well in Tucson’s Trail Dust Down, and specifically, the Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse. While its menu may have expanded since the restaurant’s opening over 50 years ago, its mesquite T-Bone steaks are still the main attraction.

Pinnacle Peak, a time capsule into Tucson’s adventurous past, has perfectly preserved a cowboy’s or cowgirl’s oasis. Equipped with an open-pit grill, full-service “saloon” and an abundance of antiques from the Southwest around the dining area, you might forget you are in the 21st century for an hour or two.

Master griller Bryan Keith, a 26-year veteran of the Pinnacle Peak kitchen, will cook a variety of steaks to perfection. You can smell the authentic barbeque from the second you walk through the door. The mesquite steaks that have been the restaurant’s pride and joy since its beginning are the Cowboy, Cowgirl and Big Cowboy – ranging from $23 to $33.

If you are not ready to dive completely into the cowboy lifestyle, don’t worry. Keith can also fire up the grill for a New York Strip ($21), top sirloin ($16), filet mignon ($26), bone-in rib-eye steak ($23) or baby back ribs ($18 for half of a rack or $24 for a full rack). The Wrangler Burger ($11), Trail Boss Burger ($15) and Ranch Hand Burger ($13) are convenient choices, too, and each has its own twist to keep the Western spirit alive in each mouthful. For some of the most flavorful brisket in Southern Arizona, chow down on sliced or shredded beef drenched in tangy barbeque sauce ($12 to $15). You’ll definitely need extra napkins, but it’s more than worth it.

For those who may not be as beef-inclined, opt for grilled chicken ($15), grilled salmon ($20) or a veggie burger ($10). Of course, a cowboy’s meal is not complete without home-style sides ranging from $4 to $6, such as ranch beans, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, grilled corn on the cob, red or green salsa, roasted mushrooms or macaroni and cheese. You won’t be waiting long before your server, clad in premium cowgirl or cowboy wear, delivers mouthwatering meals.

With this smorgasbord of comfort food in front of you on checkerboard tablecloths, you will need to wash it down with some sarsaparilla – or one of the many options on the wine, beer and cocktail menus. The cocktail menu is chock-full of Wild West inspiration, from prickly pear margaritas ($7.25) to sangria ($5) to a “Tucson Sunset,” a rum drink that looks exactly like its name ($7).

In true Southwest style, the dining area is perfect for families, and kids will love hearing the occasional “Yee-haw!” from some of the more enthusiastic servers. However, if you hear a cow bell approaching your table, double check that you left your necktie at home. Otherwise, it will  meet its worst nightmare – a cowboy’s scissors.

Yes, you read that correctly. No ties are allowed in this establishment, partner, and if you happen to wear one either on purpose or on accident, it will be relocated to its new home on the ceiling panels.

In fact, look up while you’re chowing down and you will see an ocean of neckties from all around the world. Ties with international flags on them, SpongeBob SquarePants ties, Christmas ties, smiley-face ties – you name it, Pinnacle Peak has probably seen it!

Lucille Padias, known lovingly as “Mama Lou” by the staff at Pinnacle Peak, recently retired after 50 years of service at Pinnacle Peak, and has seen the restaurant undergo many changes throughout the years, including much more business competition, but described it as a home to her.

She said when she first started as a waitress, the menu only had the Cowboy and Cowgirl mesquite steaks for around $3. The reputation of these steaks has lived on, according to Padias, and they are still the most popular menu items. “I enjoy people, and I still enjoy seating customers,” Padias says.

If you want to conclude your feast with a classic dessert such as a fruit cobbler ($8), a Trail Dust Brownie with vanilla ice cream ($8), or a vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshake ($5), treat yourself! Just remember to wear your stretchy pants.

If the sugar from the scrumptious desserts gave the grandkids a second boost of energy, Trail Dust Town has you covered. A miniature train, Ferris wheel, carousel, haunted house, shooting gallery, gold panning and the Museum of the Horse Soldier are equipped to entertain the most rambunctious youngsters.

Last, but certainly not least, dine at Pinnacle Peak any night from Wednesday to Saturday, and you can step outside onto the street of the town to the Pinnacle Peak Pistoleros famous stunt show – a funny and exciting attraction for all ages that revives the lives of long-gone, dueling cowboys.

Eat like a cowboy at Pinnacle Peak, and maybe even live like one for a night, too!

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse

6541 E. Tanque Verde Rd., Tucson 296-0911,