When you get to a steakhouse, what’s the most exciting moment before the food arrives? For many patrons, it’s the moment you pick up the menu. All the possibilities are there – all the different cuts of high-quality steak from different reputable sources. The list of sides, soups and salads is also important. These are going to surround your steak and decide the overall flavor of the meal.

In terms of excitement, the menu certainly can’t compete with the moment of sinking your teeth into that very first bite of steak, after the waiter sets it down in front of you. Still, perusing the menu is one of the best things about the steakhouse experience, especially if you’re in a joint that really knows its stuff, and has a reputation to build and uphold.

So here’s the question: Can you tell a really good steakhouse just by looking at the menu? If you’ve never been to that particular establishment before, would opening the menu be enough to determine whether or not your visit it going to be worthwhile?

Probably not, to be honest. There are plenty of steakhouses out there with fancy-looking menus, but that doesn’t mean the food on the table is going to live up to the hype.

There are, however, a few things that might tip you off as to the overall quality and pedigree of the steakhouse in question. Such as:

Information about the beef

Where does it come from and how was it raised? These are important things to know, but they are also very basic. Not knowing these things about your steak is like going to a wine shop that knows nothing about the differences between the wines it sells. It’s one thing to order a “sirloin steak” at a sports bar, and the quality of what you get will probably be tantamount to the tight-lipped description. But if you’re in a real steakhouse, you’ll definitely see information about the various cuts of beef on offer. Furthermore, the waitstaff will be able to answer questions and tell you about the different cuts.

Not too many choices

If the menu is five or ten pages long, you’re probably not in a real steakhouse. The best steakhouses are often specialists – they may offer some non-steak items on the menu, but the selection won’t be excessive. The chefs are too busy preparing high-quality steaks and sides, and that’s what they’re good at. A huge menu usually means you’re in a pub or sports bar – which isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s not a steakhouse.

Prime, Choice or Select

American beef will be graded one of these three, with Prime being the best and Select being the lowest quality. A lot of steakhouses don’t tell you which of these three ratings your steak is, because they’re selling you one of the interior grades. Choice and even Select can be very good if expertly prepared, but the finest quality American steaks are graded Prime. Whether or not you plan on ordering that particular steak, it’s good to know.