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Stanford’s opens in Tacoma’s former Pacific Grill space. Here’s a first look

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Tacoma’s newest steakhouse Stanford’s is now open in downtown Tacoma in the former home of Pacific Grill at 1502 Pacific Ave. 

The restaurant opened quietly on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021 for a week-long soft opening. The official ribbon cutting and grand opening is Dec. 2, 2021. The ribbon cutting will begin at 11 a.m. and will be attended by Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards.

Stanford’s will serve lunch and dinner daily. 

Stanford’s is a Northwest-founded restaurant with a classic steak-and-chop menu that offers multiple steak and prime rib options, seafood, pasta dishes, sandwiches and a following for its focaccia cheese bread. There’s also a location in Seattle’s Northgate area. The other locations are in Oregon. The brand is owned by Bellevue’s Ascend Hospitality Group, which also operates a Famous Dave’s franchise in Tacoma. 

Here are photos of the menu and dining room, plus menu details and what you need to know before a first visit.  

DINING ROOM  

Pacific Grill closed one year ago. When it opened in 2005, there were few chef-owned restaurants in Tacoma proper aside from Primo Grill, owned by Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner, and Over The Moon Cafe in Tacoma’s Opera Alley, a restaurant from Deanna Harris Bender (both those spots are still around and worthy of your dining dollars). 

Pacific Grill was a much needed entertainment anchor for downtown and set the tone for newcomer restaurants such as En Rama and Wooden City. Pacific Grill was at once swanky and sophisticated, but with a come-as-you-are sensibility that is mandatory for Tacoma dining. 

When diners entered Pacific Grill, they saw a curved dining room that followed the flow of a long bar framed with pendant Edison bulbs. That swanky, long bar connected three distinct dining areas: a front seating area, a long row of booths and four-top tables and a rear dining area with deep, cushy booths and table seating. The rear dining room glowed from drop-hoop lighting and illuminated artwork in grand, swoopy designs. It was a gorgeous space and not overly fussy.

Stanford’s has made great use of Pacific Grill’s long-and-narrow space, retaining those exposed brick walls and the curve of the dining room and bar. The footprint remains familiar. Stanford’s approach is more casual in decor. Gone is the dappled faux ostrich fabric on the Pacific Grill booths, replaced with a more simple black. The front dining room that previously held a smattering of tables now holds lounge seating in groupings for two to eight. The furniture up front includes leather couches, velvet lounge chairs and low-slung coffee tables all grouped to invite conversation about the game playing on several nearby screens.

Unlike Pacific Grill, Stanford’s takes a more sports-centric approach with three flashy flat-panel televisions taking up a lot of eye space in the bar. The front lounge area also has a flat-panel screen. 

The back dining area is awash with light by day from stair-stepped windows that slope down the hillside of 15th Avenue. The hoop lighting remains intact and still casts a moodier sheen, as do the Edison-style bulbs and fixtures hanging over the bar (same style, but a different shape from PG’s version). 

While artwork at Pacific Grill was dramatic and illuminated, Stanford’s takes a subdued approach with muted geometric designs. 

If there’s one thing both have in common, it’s this: they both offer cushy seating that invites a diner to linger and stay awhile. 

THE MENU AT STANFORD’S

Steak, steak, steak. Plenty of steak. Seafood, pork, chicken and pasta round out the entrees, so it’s not just for beef lovers. This is not expense-account territory like Tacoma’s El Gaucho or the trendy, premium cuts one will find at Tacoma’s Cuerno Bravo, or the same sort of South American stylized mesquite-grilled steak a diner will find at Asado, Tacoma’s Argentine-themed steakhouse.

Stanford’s offers a much more straightforward menu of the basics with no overly fussy preparations, complicated flavors or unexpected recipes. That is what a lot of diners expect of a steakhouse, especially a tourist friendly one located adjacent to a hotel.

The price point is flexible and a bit more affordable than most nicer steakhouses, although you can shell out $119 at Stanford’s for a tomahawk ribeye if you want. Consider Stanford’s more in the category of Stanley & Seafort’s, which makes sense because Stanley’s once shared a corporate owner, RUI Restaurants (Stanley’s is now owned by Landry’s). Like Stanley’s, Stanford’s serves prime rib every day, which is a good strategy since so many restaurants in the area serve prime rib only on weekends. 

Here’s a dive into the menu: 

Beef: Prime rib is served in two portion sizes, $39 for the 12-ounce cut and $48 for the 16-ounce cut. Steak cuts include a 9-ounce filet ($54), a 6-ounce petite filet ($43), a 12-ounce or 16-ounce ribeye ($43/$49), a 14-ounce New York strip ($49), a 10-ounce baseball-cut sirloin ($36) and a 30-ounce tomahawk bone-in ribeye ($119). Steaks come drenched in butter and a garlic-infused seasoning. Steak add-ons include caramelized onions ($2), blue cheese crumbles ($3), roasted mushrooms ($3), whiskey peppercorn sauce ($4), grilled prawns ($11), a four-ounce lobster tail ($24) and an upgrade to Oscar-style ($13). There’s also filet mignon beef tenderloin tips ($32). 

baked potato
A loaded baked potato from Stanford’s in downtown Tacoma.

Served with: Unless otherwise noted, steaks come with a choice of two sides. That side dish list includes a baked potato, mashed potatoes, fries, onion rings, coleslaw and a choice of three vegetables (green beans, Brussels sprouts and asparagus). Add premium sides for an upcharge – a loaded baked potato ($2) and mac and cheese ($1). 

Pork: Double cut pork chop served Mediterranean style ($29) and cumin-rubbed babyback ribs ($26 half rack/$36 full rack). 

Chicken: Herb-roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans ($19), hand breaded buttermilk chicken tenders with fries and coleslaw ($17). 

Pasta: Pepper bacon mac and cheese ($17), smoked chicken linguini ($19), Cajun prawn linguini ($23). 

Seafood: Beer battered halibut and chips ($24), prawns and chips ($22) and a fresh sheet special.

Starters: The restaurant’s famous cheese bread ($9), creamed spinach and artichoke dip ($14), Brussels sprouts ($8), crab cakes ($16), onion rings ($10), chicken wings in three flavors ($13), prawn cocktail ($16), ahi tuna poke ($17), fried calamari ($16). Also, a soup of the day ($6 cup/$9 bowl), plus five salads in starter or entree sizes, priced $7 to $14: house, Southwest chop, Caesar, Cobb and a romaine wedge.            

Sandwiches: Served with fries, house salad, cup of soup or coleslaw. Prime rib dip ($22), steakhouse stack ($18), a classic Angus burger ($17), grilled chicken club ($18), crab and artichoke ($21) and a vegetarian portobello mushroom burger ($17). 

Lunch specials: Served 11-3 daily and includes a combo that lets diners pick from a short list of salads, soups and sandwiches ($14), herb-roasted chicken ($14) and a BLT sandwich with fries ($14).           

Dessert: creme brulee ($9), apple crisp skillet ($9), chocolate mousse cake ($10), cheesecake ($10). 

Kids meals: Yes, they have them. This restaurant has plenty of family-friendly amenities: coloring and word search activities to keep kids occupied, plus a kids menu for children 10 and younger. They are priced $8, which includes a choice chicken tenders, a cheeseburger, grilled steelhead, grilled cheese sandwich and, of course, mac and cheese. Kids meals include a choice of beverage and a side.

Happy Hour: Happy Hour and the separate happy hour menu have not not yet debuted, but will later in December said company spokesperson Erin James. Don’t look at the happy hour menu online for the other Stanford’s locations because she promised that it is “not the same as the website/other restaurants, and will be first debuting in Tacoma.”

Wine list: About 30 selections with most selections offered by-the-glass ($8-$35) or bottle ($32-$169). There are two by-the-glass sizes – a 6 ($8-$24) or 9-ounce pour ($12-$35). The wine list leans heavily on Oregon wines with a dozen choices. There’s an even split of Washington and California bottles and a few bottles from Argentina, Italy and New Zealand.

Cocktails: Standard steakhouse offerings such as a lavender cosmo ($11), ginger pear martini ($10), a raspberry lemon drop ($12), a Hemingway daiquiri ($11), mojito ($10), a Woodford Reserve old fashioned ($14), a Makers Mark Manhattan ($13) and a mule ($11).

Non-alcoholic list: Love a restaurant with a no-booze list that goes well beyond soda. There’s a list of five mocktails, including a cherry ricky ($6), lavender lemonade ($6) and a grapefruit-ginger-rosemary concoction ($6).                                                                        

Dining restrictions: Gluten-free and vegetarian items are noted throughout the menu.          

Parking: Valet service begins at 4 p.m. daily ($10). Find a free parking lot for Stanford’s Tacoma guests at 1306 Pacific Ave.

Reservations: At Open Table.

Catering and private dining: Said James, “Limited private dining options (are available) for guests to celebrate during the holiday season, with full-service catering launching in early 2022.”  That small private-dining room that flanks the bar is still an option for private dining.                                                                                                  

steak
A ribeye steak, asparagus and loaded baked potato at Stanford’s in downtown Tacoma.

ON A FIRST VISIT

This is not an overly complicated or fussy menu and you can’t go wrong with a steak or prime rib when testing a new steakhouse. I bit into a ribeye that dripped butter across the plate. Zero complaints there. I appreciated that diners get a choice of three vegetables in lieu of the standard “you get what we give you” offering. Crunchy grilled asparagus is a win here. Upgrade the plain baked potato for $2 and you’ll get a loaded version with sour cream, cheese and thick-cut bacon. 

On a first visit, check out that prime rib and the restaurant’s famous cheesy bread built on focaccia. The romaine wedge also is worth exploring.

steak
A ribeye steak, asparagus and loaded baked potato at Stanford’s in downtown Tacoma.

ABOUT STANFORD’S

Stanford’s is rooted in the Northwest. It was founded in Oregon in 1990 by Pacific Coast Restaurants and was a sibling concept to seafood chain Newport Bay. Both had locations in Southcenter many moons ago (I reviewed them both in the late 1990s/early 2000s when I was a food writer up north). Stanford’s struggled through ownership changes this century. In 2007, Restaurants Unlimited Inc. merged with Pacific Coast Restaurants. It was a bumpy ride until 2019, when RUI claimed bankruptcy and was bought by Landry’s. The RUI restaurants were parted out. Enter Ascend Hospitality Group, which bought Stanford’s locations and the Portland Seafood Company.

STANFORD’S

Address: 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma 

Contact: 253-352-0030

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays; noon-10 p.m. Saturdays, 12-8 p.m. Sundays

Web: https://stanfords.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stanfordstacoma

Insta: https://www.instagram.com/stanfords_restaurants/

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