Red Tracton’s is a delightful return to the vintage class and swanky sophistication of an iconic American steakhouse. The restaurant draws on the romance and nostalgia of the neighboring Del Mar Racetrack, with maroon walls, horse prints, and dark, moody lighting recalling Gatsby-era frivolity and luxury. Portions are similarly hedonistic, with thick cut steaks, such as the Del Mar Cut— a 25 oz. Prime Rib that is sure to be tomorrow’s lunch. Offering colossal baked potatoes dripping with sour cream and butter, giant lobster tails, and jumbo shrimp on ice, diners should be prepared to bring their appetite! An evening at Red Tracton’s is an invitation for indulgence, with all of the exhilarating satisfaction of a big win at the races.Read More ...
Just west of Jimmy Durante Blvd. on Via de La Valle sits Red Tracton’s, one of Del Mar's most cherished local restaurants. There is no sign for it from the road, just a break in a white stucco wall and a royal blue sign for the Winner's Circle Resort. The actual entrance is just as hidden, tucked behind a curved wall in a small alcove next to the hotel entrance. Yet, despite its lack of signage, Red Tracton’s is far from under the radar.
Since opening in 1988 across from the Del Mar Racetrack, Red Tracton’s has become synonymous with racing season, and has become just as important to visit as the racetrack itself. Before and after the races, the restaurant serves as an unofficial gathering place, somewhere to meet up with friends or quench hunger or thirst before or after a day at the track. Even during a visit before the season officially begins, the lounge is filled with friends gathered at the bar for a drink and co-workers quenching their thirst before heading home. Couples pepper the tables for an early meal, and the camaraderie is so high neighboring tables often join together in conversation.
Proprietor Tracy Tracton explains that the restaurant is popular with "the movers and shakers," as well as Del Mar residents and those involved with the track. "It's a great drinkers' bar," she adds with a smile. The restaurant’s popularity dates back 50 years, to the first Tracton’s, which was opened on La Cinega Blvd. in Los Angeles by Red Tracton, Tracy Tracton’s father. Tracton’s became one of Los Angeles's most popular steakhouses, and was known for its colorful cast of characters, which Tracy describes as so diverse that it included both mobsters and FBI agents. It was friends of Red who suggested he open another restaurant in San Diego County—friends who also happened to be horse racing fans, and who suggested the track-side location.
The décor evokes a strikingly classic vibe, with an East-coast, old-boys’ steakhouse feel. The lounge and dining room are dominated by dark woods and plush, forest-green leather banquettes. Frosted glass images of race horses grace the dividing wall between the lounge and dining room, reminding guests of the prime, racetrack-side location. The space effectively accommodates both quiet meals and lively ones—the dining room is noticeably more formal and quieter than the lively lounge. The restaurant also boasts a glass-enclosed patio with an additional bar area, which is casual and summery and popular on race days. Finally, a private room offers intimate booths and a capacity to host groups of up to 50.
Red Tracton’s is certainly dedicated to liveliness and celebration, but it’s also committed to ensuring a flawless dining experience that is founded on good service, good quality, and large portions. Tracy describes it as “a well-oiled machine" that produces a "lot of food, and the best quality." Little has changed on the menu since the restaurant’s opening 20 years ago, and some of the dishes are even a throwback to the days of the original Tracton’s. It is surprisingly long for a steakhouse menu—in addition to charbroiled steaks, ribs, chicken, and seafood there is a creative variety of appetizers, sides, and salads. Oh, and light eaters beware—the portion sizes are enormous.
We begin with a classic, "Jumbo" Shrimp on Ice. The plate features four oversized shrimp, peeled and deveined and cooked to a glistening pale pink, their heads and tails curled gently. Lying on their backs in a bed of crushed ice, the shrimp's tails stick up in a row, as if in a perfectly choreographed kickline. Alongside, a bowl of deep red cocktail sauce and another of mustard aioli rests for dipping. Each shrimp is speared with a cocktail toothpick, but is large enough to warrant a knife and fork. The shrimp are sweet and plump and the cocktail sauce feisty, a perfect combination that is an ideal beginning to any meal.
We transition to a recent addition to the menu, an appetizer that could soon become a classic. The Veal Ravioli is a show stopper, a stunning dish that captivates my palate and makes me forget my surroundings. Six plump ravioli rounds circle a plate, beneath a glistening pale parsley-lemon-butter sauce. I slice through the tender skin of the ravioli to discover a generous filling of pale ground veal. One bite is transporting, the cloying, tangy flavor of lemon cutting through the richness of the sauce and the sweetness of the veal. The veal itself, studded with parsley and spices, tastes like a weisswurst sausage, offering a delightful combination of sweetness, savoriness, and creaminess, with just a hint of spice. Each bite brings a medley of flavors dancing across the tongue.
The Maryland Crab Cakes are another new menu addition, and my hunch is they will become a permanent favorite. Thick, hamburger-size patties of jumbo lump Alaskan crab glisten under the golden sear of a light bread coating and a quick pan fry. The cakes pull apart gently, revealing thick, pulled pieces of crab meat and little else. The only breading in these generous patties is the light coating that graces the outer edge of each cake. A bite is sweet and moist, each plump forkful dissolving in the mouth. It is a comforting and classic rendition, a truly enjoyable beginning.
It seems impossible to pass up an interlude of Red's Famous Lobster Bisque, the soup that is nearly as famous as the restaurant itself. A pale orange bowl of thick soup arrives, glistening in its richness. As with the appetizers, this dish isn't without accompaniments, and we delight in the shaker of cayenne and small pitcher of sherry that are placed on the table. The soup itself is rich but not too thick, and I delight in finding liquid peppered with bits of lobster claw meat. A dash each of sherry and cayenne lends a welcome kick, the sharp tang of sherry cutting through the richness.
Next, it's Tracton's Salad "Exceptionale" tossed tableside. It is a stunning presentation, a wide, silver bowl holding a medley of shredded romaine, mushrooms, and croutons. Our server expertly folds the dressing into the salad, lifting generous piles of lettuce onto our plates. The lettuce is crisp and fresh, but the most enjoyable part here is the Green Goddess dressing. A viscous mixture of crumbled hard boiled eggs and creamy dressing coats each leaf, proving that even the salads are decadent. The recipe for the dressing is a house secret, a recipe Tracy claims that Red Tracton himself brought to Southern California. While Tracy won't reveal the recipe, she does offer the dressing in bottle form for guests who wish to serve it at home.
Finally, it is time for the real showstopper. We spend some time contemplating the entree choices—the Sauteed Walleye Pike Amandine in particular catches my eye—but in the end, the Prime Rib wins us over. We opt for the Del Mar cut—the smaller of the two—and are still rewarded by an absolutely commanding 18 ounces of meat spread across a wide plate (the larger cut is 24 ounces). Served medium rare, the meat is perfectly tender pink, with a ring of sear around the outside. A knife glides effortlessly, a bite tender and succulent. Accompanying horseradish cream is smooth and silky, and an au jus lends a salty savoriness. This is the perfect prime rib.
The accompanying Giant Baked Potato could be a meal in itself. Also prepared tableside, an oversized spud the size of a football is cut in two, each half deftly smashed and then mixed in with our choice of toppings: cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives, scallions, crumbled bacon, butter. I take mine with the works. It is set before me a colorful piece of sculpture, sour cream and cheese slyly woven in and among tender chunks of potato. Bacon bits and scallions lend crispness to every other bite, while creamy flavors of cheddar and sour cream lend the perfect decadence.
The dessert tray at Red Tractions is as enticing as the menu, with eight selections of mostly classic sweets. Key lime pie, chocolate cake, and a snickers cheesecake all sound tempting, but one dessert stands out above the rest. The Chocolate Baby Cake is irresistibly decadent, a thick miniature devils chocolate cake that breaks apart to reveal a cream-cheese-flavored center. A thick scoop of vanilla ice cream accompanies the already decadent dessert, and a pool of hot fudge takes it completely over the top. Each bite is rich and satisfying, a burst of childish delight in a house of adult pleasures.
Throughout our experience, Red Tracton’s proves to be welcoming and accommodating, with the staff catering to our every need and the food and the atmosphere transporting us to a world where decadence and comfort are king. It is a world that, racetrack or no racetrack, I will gladly return to.
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Red Tracton's is a family STAPLE! We celebrate there, we commiserate there, we catch up there, we share amazing meals there! Hands down my favorite meal is: > LOBSTER LOBSTER bisque (there is no better ANYWHERE) > House salad > Prime rib or steak > Garlic mashed potatoes with PEPPERCORN gravy (uh, I couldn't even explain it well enough to capture how incredible it is...nothing like it anywhere and you'll want to ask for extra) Everything they offer is flipping fantastic - I kid you not. It reminds me of an older Manhattan-like steakhouse (I love that) with extremely knowledgeable waiters. I only wish my family had more birthdays and exciting events in their lives so we could go there more often (though I sneak in a few lunches between events). GO THERE! ENJOY!
If you want good prime rib, lean and tender come to Tracton's, it truly is the best ever. Start with the Lobster Bisque - I have never tasted better. Get the Green Goddess Salad, it is like nothing else. Then a Prime Rib - Watch out for the Horseradish - it will bring tears to your eyes - but is Oh So Good.