My first visit to a North Woods Inn (there are three locations) was when the husband (then-SO) took me there multiple years ago. I'd never heard of the place before, though I had remembered seeing the seemingly-snow-covered rooftop. There was sawdust on the floor, which I thought was a little weird because it wasn't a western place. When he had first said that he wanted to go there because he wanted a good steak, I protested because I didn't feel I was appropriately dressed for a place like that. He assured me that my t-shirt and jeans would be fine. When I saw the sawdust and the rest of the decor, I realized he was right. We were seated, and I perused the menu, and the wait being brought a bowl of peanuts in the shell. The then-SO told me that you're just supposed to throw the shells on the floor, and I even saw the sign that said that, but I wasn't comfortable doing that, so as I ate the peanuts, I left a pile of shells next to me. And the next time the wait being came by, she swept the pile off the table and onto the floor.
That was my first experience. I'm an old pro now, and throwing shells on the floor is no problem for me. I also happen to love the place. When I want a good steak, there's no question about where to go - it's North Woods Inn, of course. They have great cuts of meat, in different sizes to fit your appetite, and they're absolutely terrific at cooking the meat however you ask for it. In most places, I ask for my meat to be cooked medium rare, but at North Woods Inn, I know that if I ask for it medium, it will actually be cooked to true medium, with the meat still pink on the inside. The only time I have a problem with that is when I used to order the steak skewers. Because the chunks on the skewer are so small, and they cook so much meat, the chunks invariable are cooked more than I like, so I just know not to order them anymore.
But at North Woods Inn, it's not just that they do really amazing meat. They have great salads that come with the meal as well. There are two salads, one with regular lettuce and bleu cheese dressing (which I don't normally like, but theirs is good) and one with red cabbage in a vinegar dressing. The husband taught me to put a bit of each into your bowl and then eat them together. Yum. But, I've also taken to having a second portion of just the red cabbage at the end of the meal. They also have the best cheesebread. Again, yum. You also get a baked potato with your meal, which I like with butter and their mushroom gravy.
The atmosphere is pretty casual - I can't say I've ever felt the need to dress up to go there. I'm usually there in a t-shirt and jeans. The decor is homey but not overly fancy. I noticed a couple years ago that they've replaced a lot of the paintings they used to have of naked women. OK, I'm not talking Playboy centerfolds, but these were more like artistic semi-nudes. Very tasteful, but I guess some people get offended. They still have some of those paintings left, but not as many as before. The service is generally quite good, and they're pretty good about refilling water glasses. I always marvel at how the staff is able to carry all those heavy plates.
The lounge area is pretty nice too. When there's a wait for a table, we hang out there and enjoy peanuts. On a couple of occasions, though, we've actually just eaten at the lounge. They have appetizers there, and you can also order the salads and cheesebread. They also have at least one fairly big television, so when we're not hungry enough to have steak, we've stopped in to the lounge to watch whatever sporting event is on, have some salads and cheesebread and split another appetizer.
For those not red-meat inclined, they also have chicken and fish options. For those not meat inclined at all (fish included), the only choices would really be the baked potato and the salads and cheesebread. There are no vegetarian options on the menu.
We love the restaurant, and we make regular trips there. We've also been there many times with friends, and we even had our rehearsal dinner at one of the locations.
We usually go to the San Gabriel location, though we also occasionally stop in at the La Mirada location since it's on the way home from Orange County. We had a not-as-great experience last time we were at the Covina location, so we don't go there anymore.
Reservations are not accepted, so on busy nights, be prepared for a bit of a wait. During peak dinner time on a Friday or Saturday night, we've had to wait 40 minutes to an hour for a table for two. Parking is also not usually an issue as they have their own parking lot.
Here's the website highlighting the San Gabriel location, but there are also links to the other two locations. There's also a slide show on the site to give you an idea of what the restaurant looks like.
There are a couple of sister locations as well. The Galley is right next to the San Gabriel location, and we tried it out a couple of months ago, and I have to say, I was really disappointed. I figured they'd probably at least do great hamburgers - it was mostly like just eating in a cafeteria. I was not happy at all and would pretty much have to be dragged to go back. We've also been to the Steak 'n Stein once, and while we enjoyed our experience (they had GINORMOUS baked potatoes), they don't serve the salads there, which we consider an integral part of the dining experience, so we haven't been back.
If you're looking for somewhere to have a great steak and nice atmosphere and not-outrageous prices and nothing too fancy, North Woods Inn is definitely the place to go. One of our servers at a favorite restaurant asked us for a steak recommendation a couple months ago, and without hesitation, we directed her to North Woods Inn.
North Woods Inn
7247 Rosemead Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA