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Rare Hospitality's Prospects Juicy

A couple of pieces of steak could add sizzle to your portfolio.

In the first part of my series on the best restaurant investments, I suggested Ruth's Chris Steak House (RUTH) is the most attractive growth story in the sector.

Now, I'm staying with the steak theme for my contrarian recommendation. Rare Hospitality (RARE), owner of LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, offers investors the opportunity to get into a stock before everyone expects some upside to its numbers.

I like the steakhouse business for several reasons. According to research firm Technomic, the steak segment is growing at a 6% annual rate versus 5.1% for the overall restaurant industry.

Steak can be a staple and an aspirational category. For some, eating a steak is as American as baseball and apple pie. For others, it's a meal to be enjoyed on special occasions.

Rare's chains cater to both the casual steak eater and the more luxurious diner. LongHorn is an informal restaurant with an average guest check of $16.75, while The Capital Grille is more upscale, boasting an average bill of more than $67.

Right now, Rare is appreciated on Wall Street about as much as an overcooked flank steak. Seven analysts rate it a buy against 10 holds. It didn't help that last month the company projected 2007 earnings per share of $1.62 to $1.68 -- well below analysts' forecast at the time of $1.81.

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