The Cuisine Scene
Brenda Hill

John's Philly Steak Restaurant
Yucaipa, CA

No matter how much I enjoy a nice dinner with all the trimmings, sometimes I crave a good, old-fashioned hamburger. And the absolute best are burgers cooked outside on a backyard grill. No matter what seasonings I add to the meat or the variety of toppings I pile on the bun, no hamburger that’s been cooked in a skillet at home or even on a regular grill has that wonderful flavor that flame cooking adds.

For most of us, the only problem is waiting for outdoor weather and making sure you have briquettes and fuel. Then you hope the weather cooperates by not raining or sending gales of wind. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble if you only want to cook one or two hamburgers, so you fry the burgers in your skillet or head for the nearest fast-food place. Some advertise flame-broiled burgers, but in actuality, most have been zapped in a microwave. The ones fried on an indoor grill may taste a little better, but they still don't have that special flame flavor. Sometimes they've been sitting under heat lamps so long that by the time you get them, they’re drier than last month’s turkey.

So what’s a person to do? Every once in a while, I’m lured to a new place by a flier showing the photo of a huge burger with the meat overlapping the bun and fresh vegetables piled so high it makes me wonder if I can even take a bite. But when I go there and order the thing, it’s flatter than a fritter and the silver-dollar-sized meat patty is hidden inside the squashed bun.

It’s enough for a burger lover to go on a crying jag.

Well, someone who’s been in the restaurant business for over thirty years has come to the rescue. 

John Lefakis and his wife Debbie, of John’s Philly Steak on Yucaipa Boulevard, served a cheeseburger that almost made me swoon. Not only was it a quarter-pounder with melted cheese, fresh lettuce, tomato, and homemade dressing, but it had that wonderful flame-cooked flavor.

John and Debbie believe in quality, and they use two different grills in their restaurant. They sizzle the trimmed smoked beef for their pastrami sandwiches on the regular grill, but when they prepare hamburgers, cheeseburgers, broiled chicken, and rib eye steaks, they cook them over a flame grill for that outdoor flavor. There’s just nothing quite like it.

And they don’t skimp on the buns. Large sesame buns for the burgers, and French rolls for the Philly steak and pastrami sandwiches. Quality also applies to his crew. He’s very proud of them, and most have been with him for several years.

(John, Debbie & crew)

Originally from Greece, John arrived in the United States in 1977 and believed in working hard to provide a better life for his family. By 1983, he went into partnership with his cousin in Pomona to buy a restaurant, then over the next few years gradually moved east to own or manage other restaurants in the Inland Empire. In 1988, attracted by Yucaipa’s open space and family atmosphere, he bought Jim’s Whatta Steak on Yucaipa Boulevard. There, he attracted new customers as well as former ones by preparing fresh food and making everything from scratch. In 2002, he moved to his present location so he could offer his customers a seating area with plenty of comfortable booths. Now they have room to display favorite clippings about the local law enforcement who are some of their best customers.

John and Debbie served several dishes for me to try, including a fabulous cheeseburger and fries, a pastrami and a Philly steak sandwich, and a sample of their fried vegetables. Their Philly steak sandwich, made with top quality beef, is trimmed, sliced thin and stacked on a French roll. It comes in a 4”, 8”, or the large 13” sandwich with your choice of plain beef, or with onions, mushrooms, peppers, or cheese, or a combination of everything.

Each item is prepared after it’s ordered to make sure it tastes fresh. How his food tastes is important to John, and he and Debbie go to great length to ensure their food is good. Their vegetable sides of fried zucchini, onion rings, and fried mushrooms are cut each day, no frozen vegetables for them. Then they’re dipped in batter John also makes from scratch. He makes the accompanying ranch dressing the old way with real buttermilk. When frying, he uses vegetable oil, which he changes several times each week. 

I was privileged to see his prep areas and even his stainless walk-in cooler where he stores meat and vegetables, all delivered several times each week. His ground beef for his burgers is 95% lean, and, he features his quarter-pound hamburger with fries as a daily special for $3.30, a few cents more for cheese. And the cheese is the best, melted and gooey.

Some of his other sandwiches include gyro, tuna melts, fish, chicken, hot dogs, corn dogs and BLTs with or without avocado.

Dinners include cod, shrimp, chicken and chicken strips.

Since they open at seven in the morning each day, they have an entire breakfast menu with egg dishes, omelets, pancakes and breakfast burritos.

No matter how good the rest of their food, I’ll be back for another of their wonderful cheeseburgers. It would be great at any prices, but at under four dollars for the burger and fries, it can’t be beat.

34215 Yucaipa Blvd
7am-9pm 6 day per week
7am-8pm Sunday