What lies behind the simple red door on a building near the corner of Pacific Avenue and South 22nd Street in downtown Tacoma comes as a highly pleasant surprise. Upon being ushered into El Gaucho’s dimly lit, plush interior, you’re led down a dramatic stairway, descending to the elegant dining room below.
Prominently displayed on a wall near the bar is an oversized framed poster of the 1952 movie “Way of a Gaucho,” starring Rory Calhoun as an Argentinian cowboy and Gene Tierney as his lover. That’s not the only nod to Argentina in the restaurant — many dishes on the menu are inspired by cuisine from that region.
The food is the star of the show at El Gaucho, without a doubt, but the supporting cast of gracious service and soothing ambience elevates the experience to extraordinary. A pianist plays softly in the background, candles twinkle on every table, and servers in tuxedos glide soundlessly between the exhibition-style open kitchen and the spacious dining room.
The service at El Gaucho manages to avoid the stuffy pretension of a typical high-end steakhouse. It’s clear that these servers are top professionals in their field and enjoy entertaining diners with tableside service deftly provided as they set everyone at ease with light-hearted conversation.
Order the Caesar salad, prepared in the classic fashion in a large wooden bowl at your table, and pair it with the 20-ounce tenderloin Chateaubriand (for two) for a real indulgence. The sizzling steak is accompanied by a fluffy baked potato, bathed in a white cheddar/butter/sour cream topping, plus roasted asparagus and a broiled tomato, dripping with melted cheese. All of this is drizzled with what the server describes as a sauce recipe “borrowed” from the chef at San Francisco’s acclaimed Cliff House — also prepared tableside.
Despite the fact that dining here is a perfect setting to celebrate a very special occasion with family or impress a client from out of town, the El Gaucho bar also enjoys a reputation as an excellent happy hour hangout. Locals stop in to soak up the ambience, enjoy a craft cocktail, and choose from a happy hour menu featuring items like Dungeness crab mac & cheese or grilled Spanish octopus at very reasonable prices.
If, by some miracle, you exit the restaurant still hungry, the attendant at the valet parking station offers freshly baked chocolate chip cookies as a reminder that this experience has been one-of-a-kind.