At Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life, perhaps San Jose’s most-loved steakhouse, there is a sense that the style and atmosphere have not changed much since Henry Puckett founded the place more than 60 years ago. There is no pretense: the bar area, which also serves as the waiting room, has walls covered with bits of framed nostalgia, from a portrait of Henry himself to the $1 receipt he paid for his first liquor license in 1960.
“Our secret is offering a good product at a fair price and treating the people well,” manager Dan Navarro said. “I truly do believe that formula has been, long before I got here, the hallmark and the standard, and it has kept us going.”
The bar is the hub of customer activity. Upon entering, customers are given a number and asked to order from the menu carved on wood planks by the dining room entrance. There is little information beyond the cut of meat and the price, offering nine steak options, along with chicken, ribs, salmon, pork chops, and fettuccine alfredo, a nod to any vegetarians who might wander in accidentally.
The simplicity of the menu belies the fantastic quality of the food. Ask a regular what their favorite is, and you will most likely get the same response: they have been through the entire menu at least twice and have still not settled on any one item.
Longtime customer Cheryl Murphy, who usually orders the baby back ribs, said the Hi-Life is a “San Jose jewel. It is part of our city’s history, and you just cannot replace it with anything else.”
Henry’s, at its heart, is a steakhouse. Choices include New York (12- and 16-oz. cuts), sirloin, ribeye, filet mignon, porterhouse, t-bone steaks offered daily, plus 12- and 16-oz cuts of prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Our steaks are fairly simple,” Navarro said. “We don’t add a lot of stuff to them. It’s just great cuts of meat with some salt and pepper, and then put over a white oak fire, which sears them and locks in the flavor.”
Each table has a basket of typical steakhouse condiments—Cholula, A1, Lea & Perrins and Tapatío sauces—but only a monster would use them. Searing the meat at 500 degrees traps all the juices and fats inside, making even a lean cut of meat taste deliciously marbled and tender.
Non-steak items such as the pork chops, which Navarro describes as “the hidden gem on the menu,” benefit from the same cooking technique. Plated as two cajun-rubbed eight-ounce chops served with cinnamon apple chutney, it is as flavorful and tender as the steaks.
With only eight tables in the main dining room, four in an adjoining side room and 15 outside, Henry’s has a system offering clockwork efficiency in maximizing seating and turnover. You are not seated until your food is ready to serve. You are then taken to your table, which has already been set with small salads, a basket of warm butter-soaked garlic bread and a bowl of smokey barbecue sauce.
Moments later, your main course arrives, accompanied by a baked potato. The meat is perfectly cooked to order from an open grill visible in the dining room. The chefs pride themselves on being able to prepare different cuts of meat at different temperatures for a table and timing them to all finish simultaneously—a virtuoso task they perform daily.
“The lifeblood of this place is people who know their steaks,” Navarro said. “We get a mix of regulars, like one couple who has come here every year on their wedding anniversary for the last 50 years. And then just people who have never been here before, like a Japanese couple visiting recently who said they loved the food and wished we could open up a restaurant over there. I love the diversity.”
Customer Rick Rodriquez, who says he has been coming pretty much every Friday for 12 years, said the atmosphere is what keeps bringing him back.
“For me, it is all about the people who come here and the people who work here,” he said. “They’re all really just good people, honest and real. I get the t-bone, and the cook always makes it perfect for me. You feel welcome and treated very well, and it is a good place to go after a hard day.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]
Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected]
Henry's World Famous Hi-Life
301 W St. John St
San Jose, CA 95110
Tuesday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., 4:30 PM – 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 11:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m., 4:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Thursday: 11:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m., 4:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Friday: 11:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m., 4:30 PM – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday: 3:30 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:30 a.m.- 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.
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