The Best Classic Restaurants in Every State
This year, we’re renewing our vows with America’s finest old-school institutions.
As rides go, the last 20 years have pretty much had it all. Thrills, spills, twists, turns, all at blinding speed—never mind those few flips upside down they didn’t warn you about—and here we are, just talking about the food. You can get off rides, but this one doesn’t seem to want to end, with city after city across the United States growing their respective restaurant cultures so quickly, it’s almost dizzying, even if we’re still terribly excited for what’s next.
Surfing from trend to trend, here today, gone tomorrow—as fast as we’re into something, we’re almost over it. For quite some time, this has been our normal, going back at least to the Great Recession, and nearly to the beginning of the century. At the dawn of a new decade, we’re still looking ahead, but this time, also asking, ever so quietly, in the nicest possible way: What if we slow down for a minute and take a few deep breaths? What if we took some time to appreciate what’s already here?
After the better part of three years traveling the 50 states (and beyond) for Food & Wine, sneaking into the new hotspots, glimpsing the future everywhere from Los Angeles to Columbus to Tampa, eating Instagram-famous sandwiches, lining up for the hottest breakfast tacos in Portland, and sipping too many single-estate espressos, I find my fascination with the past growing.
We didn’t invent restaurants in 2009, after all. There were FOMO-provoking dishes long before social media had them traveling around the world, people planned vacations just to eat (do you even New Orleans?), and America had celebrity chefs and must-see cooking shows, back when it was mostly PBS doing the heavy lifting. And we are still so fortunate, truly, to have so many of those restaurants, and even some of the chefs, with us still, from that long-ago era—let us say, for the sake of drawing a line, everything from right around the millennium, going backward.
In recent years, it is at these restaurants that I have made some of the most unique, most joyful memories from my travels—martinis after five o’clock at San Francisco’s Tadich Grill, one of the oldest restaurants in the country; smoked sturgeon breakfasts at the camera-ready Barney Greengrass in New York; a late night in the dessert room at Tampa’s thrillingly vintage Bern’s Steak House; the perfect smash burger at the 101-year-old, woman-powered Workingman’s Friend in Indianapolis. This is the stuff that I want more of in 2020, these are the experiences that will stick with me forever—long after I’ve forgotten about the latest all-day cafe in Silver Lake, the hottest new food hall in Chicago, or that one place, somewhere in Brooklyn, everyone will be talking about for the next six months before moving on.
This nearly 17,000-word survey features roughly 250 different restaurants, from furthest Alaska to sunny South Florida. It represents an attempt at examining each state’s unique fingerprint on this vast, remarkably diverse thing that we call American food. I’m grateful to have 20-plus years of experience traveling around the country on assignment to draw on, and I’m even more grateful to my colleagues at Food & Wine, past and present, for providing many a directional sign, particularly through our back catalog of the annual Best New Chefs and Best New Restaurants franchises, alongside countless feature articles. Ultimately, think of this guide as a road map, if a little rough, like it were drawn on the back of a napkin, designed to jog your memory, or to push you toward a greater appreciation of our shared culinary heritage. Have fun out there—I sure did.
Imagine yourself a banker in early 1980s Birmingham—there in front of you is a young and enthusiastic Frank Stitt, philosophy major turned culinary obsessive, recently returned home from Europe and full of plans to open a restaurant applying French technique to Alabama produce and tradition. Do embrace his rather extraordinary vision, or do you all but throw the guy out of your office? In the end, were it not for the enterprising chef’s own family and friends, there may never have been a Highlands Bar & Grill, which would grow to become one of the South’s finest restaurants, with all of the awards to prove it, a designation it holds to this day.
Rather different, but equally important to Birmingham’s food story is the Bright Star in blue collar Bessemer, dating back to 1907 and sill a shining example of the region’s Greek-Southern restaurant culture—stop in for chicken, for snapper, and for steaks, prepared Greek-style (think lots of lemon), followed by pie.
Alabama wasn’t the only state to fully embrace the South’s classic meat-and-three tradition—here, however, you're definitely in the heartland, and the anchor of many a plate at Martin’s in Montgomery, dating back to the 1930s, will be fried chicken for a reason—it is superb. Same goes for the ribs at Archibald’s, an actual barbecue shack in Northport, where you take your spot at the pit-facing counter, the better to observe your host reaching inside to baste the meat from a cast iron pot, in between orders. There are barbecue destinations with a lot more fame behind them, but few of them come close to what you’ll find here.
And while Alabama’s coastline may not stretch very far, it manages to accomplish an awful lot—one of the primary reasons you’re here is to sample those sweet, sweet, royal red shrimp, pulled straight from the Gulf, and famously difficult to find elsewhere. Begin at Doc’s Seafood, a local favorite with two locations in Gulf Shores vacationland—order a pound, steamed, and then probably another. (You’ll see.)
Summer way up north is pretty much the best—can we talk, seriously, about those sunsets that never seem to end, mostly because they almost don’t? All that midnight light, unfortunately, is a long way from king crab season, which sneaks in under the cover of late fall and early winter. Still, anyone so inclined towards feasting on the great (greatest?) crustacean (with drawn butter, please) ought to be here right then, in order taste them as fresh as they come. In season, you will find king crab all over, but few settings can match the classic Crow’s Nest in Anchorage, twenty floors above downtown with sweeping views of the Chugach range; don your best business casual, order something from the 10,000-plus bottle wine cellar and settle in for a once-in-a-lifetime seafood splurge.
Anytime is a good time for rubbing shoulders with the well-connected South Anchorage crowd that tends to treat the Southside Bistro—going strong in a back street strip mall since the 1990s—like an extension of their homes; book into the main dining room for Alaskan oysters, followed by rack of lamb, or show yourself over to the bistro side for a glass of wine, and maybe one of the best nacho platters north found of the 55th parallel. Alaska’s smallest towns will often feed you very well—in Denali-adjacent Talkeetna, the starter going into those sourdough pancakes at the Talkeetna Roadhouse is said to date back to 1902—that’s a few years before the hotel even opened, where where a cozy all-day café and bakery occupy the ground level. Cruising your way through Alaska’s Southeast? Most ports continue to sustain at least one Filipino restaurant, the legacy of well over a century of migration, both seasonal and permanent; in Ketchikan, the giant-sized lumpia at the Diaz Cafe, a local fixture since the 1940s, are always a good idea.
Pretty much every pizza lover knows the story by now—Bronx-born Chris Bianco ended up in Phoenix on a whim, back in the ’80s. He was only supposed to be visiting, but ended up deciding to stay, soon after opening a pizza place inside a local supermarket, which answers the question, how did one of the country’s greatest pizza joints, Pizzeria Bianco, ended up in the middle of the Sonoran Desert? Today, it remains one of the Valley’s most important restaurants, alongside much older greats like the mid-century Durant’s, a bordello-like (so much red!) steakhouse on Central Avenue opened by a former Vegas pit-boss back in the 1950s. Make sure to enter through the back door, like the locals do. At the much more casual Fry Bread House, an everyday Native American staple gets the royal treatment, served alongside good pozole and menudo since the early 1990s, which is nearly yesterday compared to Tucson’s El Charro Cafe, said to be America’s oldest Mexican restaurant, laying claim to the invention of the chimichanga, otherwise known as the deep-fried burrito.
The Santa Fe Railroad is very much a part of Northern Arizona’s modern history; at the Fred Harvey-designed La Posada hotel in Winslow, The Turquoise Room pays tribute to peak train, and you can still ride the rails to get there—Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, connecting Los Angeles with Chicago, stops right out front.
The hazy quietude of the Delta could probably be bottled up and sold as a sleep aid, but let’s not get too comfortable—there are a lot of days when you’ll need to wake up awfully early to get your hands on one of the country’s finest barbecue sandwiches, the finely-chopped, slaw-topped pork on white bread from Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna. Pitmaster James Jones has been at it since the 1960s, but he’s new, you see—this has been called the oldest black-owned restaurant in the country, with roots going back a few generations of Joneses.
Road trip-worthy barbecue isn’t the Delta’s only claim to fame; down in Lake Village, Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales serves one of the finest interpretations of two more local specialties—the Delta-style tamale, a staple around here since at least a century ago, even if nobody can agree completely on how exactly it got here, and—last but not least—pie.
Ever tried buffalo? Order it at Lassis Inn in Little Rock, and you might be surprised to find a plate full of fried fish—around here, they’re talking the Ictiobus, or buffalo fish, a freshwater staple often confused with carp, except it’s not; fish ribs have been a mainstay of the menu for a very long time, going back beyond the Civil Rights Era, when the restaurant gained fame as a meeting point for local activists.
Need more smoked meat? Burge’s in Lewisville (and now Little Rock) isn’t your typical barbecue spot—here, hickory-scented country ham and turkey are the thing; stop by for another memorable sandwich—chunks of smoky, salty ham on a toasted, buttered roll with a dollop of mayonnaise. And while neighboring Texas might be well-known as the spiritual home of queso, plenty of Arkansans will be happy to tell you that they actually invented the stuff, and that here it’s just called cheese dip. Stop at Stoby’s, with locations in Conway and Russellville, and sample some of the state’s finest, and decide for yourself who wins, or maybe it doesn’t matter—more liquid cheese can only be good for America.
For anyone interested in pinpointing the moment when the tide against processed food began to turn, we’ll make this easy—1971 is the year you’re looking for, which is when things got real, which is when food activist Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, with the beautifully simple mission to bring diners as close to the source as possible. Few American restaurants can claim to have made such an outsized impact, and while it may have taken a minute for the thing to go wide, the seeds planted way back then were instrumental in getting us to rethink where our food comes from, to reconnect with the joys (and the just plain common sense) of eating locally and seasonally, a concept that at this point has now all but gone mainstream. Not that the Bay Area needed anyone to tell it how to eat well; chances are, there would have been no Chez Panisse if the region weren't already one of the best places to eat in the country, at the time.
San Francisco’s magnificent Tadich Grill, for example, first opened by Croatian immigrants in the mid-1800s, is estimated to be the third oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the country—drop in for a chilly gin martini at the bar, and a bowl of the fragrant cioppino, rich with just about every type of fish you could historically pull out of the nearby water, including prawn and crab. If you’re still in the mood for more, head over to Polk Street, and the century-plus-old Swan Oyster Depot, where to this day, a seat at the marble counter can sometimes require more effort to secure than a reservation at one of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants.
For generations, if you were looking for barbecue in California, you headed to the Central Coast for tri-tip, grilled over native live oak coals, also known as red oak—these days, things have diversified, but the unapologetically old-fashioned Jocko’s in Nipomo, right off the highway en route to Los Angeles, remains a standout for steaks, served with classic relish trays, sides of ranchero beans, and plenty of the region’s very fine wine. Try to save room for the unique brand of Cal-Mex cooking found at La Super Rica, a casual Santa Barbara institution (opened in 1980) that was, for a time, one of the most famous Mexican restaurants in the country; skip straight down the menu to Super-Rica Especial, an unholy, beautiful mess of roasted chile pasilla chopped into giant chunks, too much cheese melting everywhere, and shreds of roasted pork al pastor, served with the house tortillas—it’s one of those dishes that lets you know exactly where you are.
Now you are nearly in Los Angeles, where there are certainly more fashionable rooms of a certain age than Musso & Frank, the 100-year-old Hollywood classic favored by generations of writers, and the stars they wrote for; still, an evening here—drop in for a martini, or a prime rb dinner—remains a memorable trip back in time. When it comes to Jewish delis, which Los Angeles historically has done exceptionally well, nearly everybody agrees that Langer’s is one of America’s finest, serving some of the best pastrami on Planet Earth, and welcoming all comers since 1947, at the heart of one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods.
To think, you might have gone your entire life without knowing about the sugar steak, the specialty of the house at Bastien’s in Denver, a serious steakhouse trapped, and happily so, in the body of a 1950s West Coast coffee shop-style structure, with whimsical, oversized neon signage out front to complete the illusion. The signature preparation here is simple, but terribly effective—adding white and brown sugar to the savory rub softens up even the most macho bone-in ribeye, resulting one seriously tender steak, never served here, proudly, beyond medium-rare.
If it is seriously vintage steakhouse vibes you’re after, Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange is, loudly and proudly, one of America’s oldest restaurants, established in 1893. The walls are a taxidermy enthusiast’s dream, and the Rocky Mountain Oysters remain one of the most famous dishes on the menu. Snap back to the almost-present at the Barolo Grill, which remains in many respects a portal to 1990s Denver restaurant culture; a refreshed menu and expanded wine cellar, however, after the long-time general manager bought the restaurant in 2015, has kept the place feeling essential; all these years later, it’s one of the city’s best. In Morrison, barely beyond the reaches of the ever-expanding Front Range suburbs, The Fort gained no small amount of national attention after opening in the 1960s, thanks to its colorful proprietor Sam Arnold, an early proponent of adding wild game to modern restaurant menus. To this day, elk, quail and buffalo are staples.
For generation the premier public meeting point between town (New Haven) and gown (Yale), Chapel Street is also an architectural feast, a pleasing mash-up featuring what seems like a little bit of everything, from the very old to the thrillingly modern. In the middle of it all stands the Beaux-Arts super-townhouse currently occupied by Jean-Pierre Vuillermet’s Union League Cafe, which opened in 1973 in what was built as the home of a wealthy industrialist, on the site of the original homestead of founding father Roger Sherman. Connecticut romantics can’t seem to quit, and who could blame them, this gorgeous old thing, with its swooping arches and dark wood trim and white tablecloths—sink into one of the banquettes for foie gras torchons served with quince chutney, followed by duck a l’orange. The 18th-century Greenwich farmhouse where the Black Forest-born, Alsace-trained Thomas Henklemann has been impressing special occasion diners with comforting French cooking since 1997, remains a blissfully hassle-free escape from New York—one hour on the Metro-North, and you’ve suddenly disappeared into another era, and who’d blame you for not wanting to leave—the restaurant is part of a small, Relais & Chateaux-member inn; book in for a night or two.
Past the white picket fences, you’ll find the other Connecticut, home to plenty of classic Italian restaurants, and all of the apizz—give the New Haven icons a breather and head instead to workaday Derby, and the neon-signed Roseland, a dimly-lit, 1930s relic. You’re here for the blistered, giant-sized pies, but you’ll come back for everything, starting with the soulful fra diavolo, a frequent special. Hungry for a blast from the seriously distant past? The Griswold Inn has been serving hungry travelers since 1766.
Each day, almost 100,000 travelers cross the Delaware River on I-95, and only a fraction of them have ever hopped off the highway, at the foot of the Memorial Bridge, for the five minute drive through dull suburbia, then out across the marshes, and into New Castle’s impeccably-kept historic district, home to one of the country’s most exciting collections of well-preserved architecture from the 17th to 19th centuries. You could stop in, again and again, and practically have the place all to yourself, at least until you step foot into Jessop’s Tavern, which brags a backstory going back to the 1670s. Since the late 20th century, the building has been a popular gathering spot, thanks in part to a commitment to sourcing the very best Belgian beers, with at least twenty of them on tap at any given time. There’s good food, too—get the skillet lobster macaroni and cheese, zipped up with Chimay and topped with Old Bay-seasoned bread crumbs.
Back by the highway (if you pass the Wawa, you’ve gone too far), experience a different side of New Castle at The Dog House, a ’50s-era holdover where there’s often a line for the counter seating, all the better to get a sense on what you’re supposed to be ordering—most people will be battling foot-long griddled dogs served on fresh-baked hoagie rolls, or one of Delaware’s best cheesesteaks, served, naturally, on same. Rumor has it that the restaurant’s popularity led to the opening of Wilmington’s Charcoal Pit just a few years later; the Concord Pike original is a camera-ready mid-century coffee shop to beat the band; get yourself a charbroiled burger, a mountain of onion rings, and the biggest ice cream sundae you can handle—the biggest they sell comes with something like twenty scoops.
While you’re in Wilmington, make time for meatballs at Mrs. Robino’s, a red gravy staple sent straight to us from the 1940s—almost everything on the menu seems to come out absolutely covered in sauce, save the antipasto chopped salad, easily one of the greatest innovations in classic Italian-American dining. Summer days (and nights) down at the beaches, done correctly, typically involve pizza—Rehoboth is home to two legends, Grotto Pizza, opened in 1960, and Nicola Pizza, which came about a decade later, where the house stromboli—here known as a Nic-o-Boli—has become one of Delaware’s most iconic foods.
Nothing can ever really prepare you for that first meal at Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant, with her that’s-so-Tampa devil crab croquetas, the iconic, made to a 1915 recipe, house Cuban sandwich, the iceberg lettuce salads mixed tableside, by waiters in jackets—the oldest restaurant in the state, going back to 1905, and still in the same family, isn’t just a another date with history, it’s a city within a city. At capacity, there will be roughly 1,700 people seated, spread across fifteen different and distinctive spaces, each imbued with its own energy, each no doubt with countless stories to tell. Half as old, but equally memorable, and no doubt inspired by its predecessor, Bern’s Steak House, also known as the other Tampa restaurant that’s a whole thing, feels more like a theme park dark ride for carnivorous grown folks—if there’s a window in here, we’ve never found it, though there’s a lot of ground to cover, admittedly. Proudly the home of the world’s longest wine list (ask for a tour of the cellar), one of the many memorable quirks here is the dessert service. Guests so inclined will be escorted to secluded, wine barrel-shaped booths in an entirely different section of the restaurant, where they can choose from a sampling of piped-in music (just flip your away around the dial) to accompany their Framboise Macadamia Decadence, a multi-part house favorite, centered around a chocolate-macadamia nut creation, topped with raspberry-infused chocolate cream. (And that's just for starters.)
When Victoria & Albert’s opened at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian resort back in 1988, even its earliest fans probably wouldn’t have bet the farm on this extravagant homage to classic French fine dining outlasting so many of the restaurants it was designed to evoke. Langoustines from New Zealand, the finest caviar, Alaskan King Crab—if you want it, you can have it, if you can get a booking—with just fourteen tables, and only one seating per evening, only a select few get the white glove treatment. You won’t spend quite as much at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach (alright, never mind, you do you), where the story now goes back over one hundred years, but at least you can get a table—providing it’s stone crab season, which begins in October; once things wrap up in the spring, the restaurant closes. By the standards of America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, the little old O’Steen’s Restaurant, established 1965, was born yesterday, but who cares—the casual, cash-only spot is famous for fried shrimp, and cups of their unique Minorcan chowder, spiked with the area’s own (very hot) datil peppers.
Launching in the heart of Buckhead over a quarter century ago, Anne Quatrano’s Bacchanalia has been one of Atlanta’s finest restaurants ever since, an authentic celebration of good, local produce, some of it from Quatrano’s own farm. Some of the city’s most talked-about chefs have come through the restaurant, which recently moved for the third time, to a part of the city that couldn’t be any less central, but by now everyone knows—if Quatrano and husband/partner Cliff Harrison are betting on a neighborhood, they probably know exactly what they're doing. Fried chicken livers, or broiled if you’re watching your figure, tomato aspic, Waldorf salad, and all sorts of other things you had forgotten were even a thing still fly out of the kitchen at The Colonnade, an Atlanta icon since the 1920s; the restaurant, sometimes referred to as a gathering place for the gay and gray, moved to its current location in 1962—once again, nobody seemed to have any trouble finding the new address.
Back west, soul food staple Busy Bee Cafe has stayed put since 1947, surviving segregation, the Civil Rights Era and desegregation, the flight to the suburbs, divestment, and now, gentrification—their fried chicken, brined for twelve hours and fried in peanut oil, could have a lot to do with that. (Tip: They’ve just opened downtown, as well.) In Savannah, generations of hungry people have been asking their neighbor to pass the macaroni and cheese at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, serving Southern staples, family-style (and at communal tables) since the 1940s; time has done little to the restaurant’s popularity—fans can still be seen lining up long before lunchtime. Dexter Weaver’s thoughtful soul food has been an Athens essential since 1986, when he opened Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods; in 1992, Weaver’s name was inscribed upon American pop culture history, when a local band called R.E.M. borrowed one of his signs as the title of their hit album, Automatic for the People.
The Maui that Floyd and Doris Christenson first fell for, back when the flight from California took more than twice as long, was a very different place than the visitor finds today—no resorts, few restaurants, few roads, for that matter; in 1974, after years of living on a catamaran in the South Pacific with their growing family, the Christensons changed the island forever by opening Mama’s Fish House, which they and their now-adult family still own and operate today. Never mind the fresh, typically local fish, and the fun little traditions, like the sweet, warm poppyseed bread delivered to your table before you start, the complimentary poi, the beautiful, hand-sewn tablecloths; the setting alone is worth the price of admission—a not-so-secret tropical garden, bursting with good vibes, and scented with sea air and tropical blooms, opening up to its very own beach.
The third floor of a Honolulu office building is a far less alluring setting for a restaurant, but diners have had no trouble locating Alan Wong’s, a destination for Hawaii Regional Cuisine since the mid-1990s. After growing his empire considerably, Wong is back to his roots with just the one spot, at least for now, said to be a favorite of the Obama family. Going all the way back to 1946, Helena’s Hawaiian Food is everybody’s favorite, one of those affordable, come-as-you-are touchpoints that has been known to lure the hungry directly from the nearby airport, after being away too long—get the short ribs, the tripe stew, and (okay, or) the classic, cooked-underground kalua pig. Calling saimin the ramen of Hawaii might not be the most elegant way to get the job done, but it works—sample the state’s favorite soup at Lihue’s Hamura Saimin, one of its favorite places to do so since 1952. An easy drive from many a Maui mega-resort, Sam Sato’s has been doing the genre proud since 1933—here, order the dry version, topped with char siu pork, as is so often the case, served with a side of the classic dashi broth on the side.
Aspen, Jackson Hole, they’re just so new money, you see—let us never forget that Sun Valley has been a thing since the end of the Great Depression, and that it was also home to the world’s first chair lift—even Switzerland is said to have come second. Pretty much from day one, habitués of America’s winter Nantucket have been mingling over fondue at The Ram, a rustic chic base village institution, where a piano player tickles the ivories, most nights; ask about the restaurant’s heritage menu, a nightly revival of Sun Valley classics—even with this crowd, the Hungarian goulash remains a hit.
Next door in Ketchum, Cristina Ceccatelli Cook brings a little ray of Tuscan sunshine (that's where she grew up) at Cristina’s, a properly Italian-inflected all-day cafe and bakery said to have imported the first whole leg of prosciutto the town had ever seen, back in the 1990s. Her prune and walnut bread is a local, Saturday-only favorite. You won’t go very deep into Idaho’s restaurant past without coming across its Basque heritage—Epi’s Basque Restaurant recently clocked twenty years in Meridian, after serving up countless croquettes, alongside plenty of roast leg of lamb and Gâteau Basque. In downtown Boise, your eggs at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro come—if you like, and you do—with a side of Basque chorizo, an Idaho (and typically, Idaho-made) favorite.
Chicago’s East Ontario Street is a very different place today, compared to the one you'd have found in the 1970s, back when Les Nomades, tucked away in that charming townhouse behind the little gated garden, wasn’t so dramatically dwarfed by its so-called new and improved surroundings; local diners with long memories, however, have no trouble finding one of the city’s most romantic restaurants. Long-time chef Roland Ciccioni—of Vietnamese and Corsican stock, raised in France—and owner Mary Beth Ciccioni (they were once married), who took over what was once a private club, back in the early 1990s, raised up the restaurant to become one of the most talked-about restaurants in the Midwest, with its consommés, savory mousses, and Grand Marnier souffles. Today, Les Nomades is still one of the city’s most civilized restaurants, and the tasting menu-only dinners, with chef Roland back at in the kitchen for nearly a decade now, might be better than ever.
The first major wave of Mexican migration to Chicago came around the beginning of the 20th century, but back in 1987, Rick Bayless gave many diners their first taste of the country’s vast culinary repertoire at Frontera Grill, and not just Chicagoans, either; back then, food writers from the coasts were declaring that the United States had never seen anything like it, and to this day, the restaurant draws a national following. Order the goat barbacoa enchiladas, bathing in a thrillingly dark pasilla chile sauce. Department store dining rooms—there are so few of the originals left, all the more reason to celebrate Chicago’s Walnut Room, a sometimes baffling, but always very special relic, perched atop the old Marshall Field’s flagship, now a Macy’s. You’ll have the pie, twice—chicken pot, and then a slice of the Frango (that’s Field’s speak for chocolate mint), preceded, of course, by the classic Mandarin salad.
On your way out of town, pay tribute to Chicago’s vast, and well-documented hot dog heritage at the inimitable Gene & Jude’s in River Grove; you’re headed next for Moline, where Lagomarcino’s Confectionary has been tugging at the heart strings of Quad City residents (and anyone in the know passing through on I-80) for generations with its impossibly nostalgic candy shop and soda fountain model; go before or after your first Quad City pizza—there’s nothing like it, and they’re delicious-at Frank’s in nearby Silvis, around since 1955.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that this list ranks states in order of commitment to keeping the classics alive—we would have no choice but to place The Hoosier State somewhere in the top ten. The sheer number of vintage greats found here is almost mind-boggling, beginning with St. Elmo Steakhouse, a landmark in downtown Indianapolis since 1902, where diners have been daring each other to finish off the intense, horseradish-forward sauce atop the restaurant’s iconic shrimp cocktail starter for generations. (It’s tough stuff.) Not that you need a fat bank account to dive into local culinary tradition. For anyone out there calling smash burgers a trend, a visit to Workingman’s Friend, a bare-bones tavern near the Indianapolis Zoo is in order—they’ve been making some of the finest in the fifty states for a century and counting. First-timers might not immediately associate Indianapolis with Jewish deli culture, but the sparkling-clean Shapiro’s is one of the finest vintage specimens to be found in the Midwest. Looking for the best pork tenderloin? Indiana’s iconic sandwich, in which a giant, fried pork cutlet gets stuffed, rather humorously, inside a tiny bun, is all around you, but start at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, where this delicious beast of a thing is said to have been invented.
Were it not for Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Archie Jackson—not his birth name—might never have fled Russia, never have gone to work in the packing houses of the Midwest, and never have ended up in little Le Mars, way up in the northwest corner of the state, even past Sioux City, where Archie’s Waeside was born in 1949. It would eventually become one of the country’s most decorated steakhouses—a turn of events that would have had to surprise even the restaurant’s most ardent followers. Come here today, and you’ll find the restaurant still in the same family, and you’ll find gigantic, dry-aged steaks, well-prepared classic cocktails, relish trays, and personable service—how Archie’s became famous, and why the place remains in business today is no secret.
Everything you can throw at a restaurant, including fire—make that fires, plural—has happened to Breitbach’s Country Kitchen in Balltown, dating back to the stagecoach era; the threat of losing something so traditional—this is the state's oldest restaurant—only appears to have inspired deeper loyalty, though the restaurant’s excellent breakfasts, hand-battered pike dinners, exemplary pies, and a generous buffet have certainly helped. Occupying an 1850s communal kitchen in the very historic Amana Colonies, the Ox Yoke Inn is a visitor favorite for family-style, all-you-can-eat home cooking, while one of the state’s most confounding culinary contributions, the loose meat sandwich, is best sampled at Ottumwa’s Canteen Lunch, a back-alley institution where the not-quite-a-burger is referred to as a (go figure) canteen.
You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder why the Brookville Hotel, one of the oldest restaurants in Kansas, and a destination for family-style chicken dinners since 1915, just happens to be conveniently located at an I-70 off-ramp on the edge of the town of Abilene, miles away from the even smaller town of Brookville. That’s because it moved there, back around the turn of the century, when the current owners felt it was better to rebuild the place from scratch somewhere people could readily get to, rather than take a chance on future generations making their way to the original site. Nobody seems to mind—there’s often a packed house for the simple and delicious dinners of skilled-cooked chicken, served with baking powder biscuits, creamed corn, mashed potatoes with cream gravy, and sweet-tart coleslaw.
You might say fried chicken is something of a focus area, here in Kansas—at the Hays House in Council Grove, which has not moved lately, as far as we know (it began life as a trading post founded by Daniel Boone’s great-grandson, Seth Hays, in the 1850s), skilled-fried bird is the star of the menu, along with the house chicken-fried steak, and slow-cooked brisket.
Since 1922, the tiny Cozy Inn has been feeding Salina’s passion for sliders, which to this day remain an object of desire not only among locals, but with fans who make the trek from much further away; in Topeka’s Little Russia, Porubsky’s, a bar, market, and restaurant dating to 1947, is a snug, vintage treasure—go for the chili, which typically has been served winter weekdays only.
First things first—you're going to Owensboro, where you’ll eat two things you’ve probably never tried before. The first one will be mutton, Kentucky’s obscure and delicious contribution to American barbecue; the other is burgoo, that regional church picnic specialty stew typically made with any kind of meat cooks could get their hands on. Try both at Moonlite BBQ Inn, and just because you came all this way, do it again at Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, both in business for well over fifty years. In Louisville, special occasion staple Jack Fry’s, treasured for its classically-influenced Southern menu, was almost lost to history when the restaurant’s longtime owner closed up shop back in the 1970s. After a decade’s hiatus, things got back to normal, thank goodness—come for the spicy fried oysters, shrimp and grits swimming in red eye gravy, and pan seared trout in a lemon beurre blanc. Looking to keep it casual? It’ll take all of five minutes to get to Shirley Mae’s Cafe, a soul food institution that’s been serving the city’s historically black Smoketown neighborhood (and everyone who knows to come here for some of the city’s best fried chicken) since the 1980s.
New Orleans is anything but short on restaurants where honoring tradition is the order of the day—you’ll do that, and feel very lucky, too, at Garden District anchor Commander’s Palace, as the host leads you through the maze to your table in the glass-walled Garden Room, which is absolutely the room that you want. You’ll order the reasonably-priced multi-course lunch, leading off with some of the planet’s best garlic bread, and one of the restaurant’s famous 25 cent martinis (weekdays only). There's a three-per-guest limit, if you can even make it that far. When the restaurant went through its famous mid-1970s rebirth, it brought the late Paul Prudhomme into the national spotlight; the early-era celeb chef went on to continue his work, preaching the gospel of blackening all things Louisiana at K-Paul’s, which has lasted nearly half a century now. You definitely have your choice of grandes dames in the French Quarter (Antoine’s is now 180 years old), but Friday lunch at Galatoire’s still feels like a private soiree you've managed to crash. So sought-after are the tables in the mirrored and tiled first floor dining room, where reservations are not taken, a line snaking down Bourbon Street still forms for the honor. Once in, don’t rush (relax, toots, it’s a party—one that has been known to stretch all the way up to the dinner hour); the point is to get good and tanked, and to see and be seen.
Every weekday—except Mondays—will be a good day for lunch at Dooky Chase, one of the city’s best destinations for Creole cooking—matriarch Leah Chase passed in 2018, but the family remains at the wheel. The fried chicken on the buffet line is some of the best around, so goes for the gumbo, and the lima beans and shrimp. At Uptown’s century-old Casamento’s it’s about gulf oysters, and eating them both raw or black iron pot-fried, piled onto thick slabs of pan bread, dressed; come while the bivalves are in season, because the rest o the year, the place is locked up tight.Baton Rouge typically plays second food fiddle to New Orleans, but offers a completely different experience of Louisiana, just an hour or so up the highway—here, Joe Delpit, a local Politician and, way back when, the city’s first black councilperson, owns and operates Delpit’s Chicken Shack, a family-run institution since 1937. Their fried chicken preparation features a crackly, bubbly, and quite addictive wet-batter coating that is wholly unique.
Like many people, Sam Hayward’s love affair with Maine began over one seductive summer, in his case back in the 1970s—by 1981, the musician-turned-chef had his own restaurant in Brunswick. Since 1996, Hayward has been leading the way in Portland, where Fore Street—known then, and now, for its allegiance to fresh, regional produce of all kinds, and a love of roasting things over wood, sometimes on spits—has achieved all-star status on a now much busier restaurant scene. The 1990s weren’t half bad to Maine—shortly before the end of the decade, Chez Panisse alum Melissa Kelly brought her brand of garden-centric cooking to Rockport with Primo, and two decades later, her farm-to-table approach to modern Italian continues to win over new fans.
Back in the early ‘80s, the Henry brothers were among a handful of forward-looking New Englanders, tinkering with the notion of fresher, more exciting coffee shop fare, years before the notion of the elevated diner menu would become almost cliche. To this day, their Maine Diner in Wells remains a road trip must for comforting lobster pie, seafood chowder, and codfish cakes.
No tinkering required, please, now or ever, at Dysart’s in Hermon, just outside of Bangor—this is, if you did not know yet, one of America’s finest truck stops, doubling as one of the country’s very best breakfast joints, serving world-class corned beef hash, and baked beans (Maine grown!) to go with your toast, like you’re across the pond or something, and, but of course magnificent blueberry pancakes. What’s that—lobster rolls, you say? We’ll gladly argue the merits of the classic shacks dotting the state, but first, for debate prep, make sure you've been to Red’s Eats in Wiscasset—far from the ocean, but #1 in the hearts of many a lobster roll lover for generations.
To be a real Marylander means to love crab, maybe even more than your own mother. It means that you do not necessarily trouble yourself with such specifics as seasonality, even if you know that fall is best for blue crab, the holy regional grail. With such insatiable demand comes corner cutting, and by now it's an open secret that plenty of crab houses are trucking in the goods from elsewhere. Down along Mill Creek in Annapolis, Cantler’s Riverside Inn was opened in 1975 by longtime waterman Jimmy Cantler—here, happily, you’ll find most of the crabs are pulled from local waters.
Baltimore’s favorite meal that isn’t crab, which, correct, would be the pit beef sandwich, is never not in season; it's Maryland’s own contribution to American barbecue (well, sort of). Imagine the best roast beef sandwich of your life, and you’re coming darn close. Pit beef is not slow-cooked, like real barbecue, but you won’t care a bit—start at the pleasingly rustic Pioneer Pit Beef, not necessarily the last word on the subject, but definitely the beginning of a beautiful conversation; the dining room is a handful of picnic tables out front.
Since 1997, Cindy Wolf’s Charleston has been a beacon of class right along the Inner Harbor, a place of gracious service, cheese carts, and French-influenced Lowcountry cooking (textbook shrimp and grits, exemplary cornmeal-fried oysters). Far from being a throwback, the restaurant, beautifully redesigned in 2005, allows diners to build their own tasting menus, based on how much they’d like to eat, and what they’re in the mood for—an evening at Charleston offers a reminder that perhaps we ought to hang on to at least a few of the white tablecloths—who knows, we might want them again. Since 1997, Baltimore’s Ambassador Dining Room has been confounding local expectations of what a reasonably-priced Indian restaurant might look like—occupying the ground level of a particularly grand old apartment building, the restaurant opens up to an expansive, hidden garden patio that feels, at least in the right seasons, more Southern California than Mid-Atlantic.
Berkeley’s Chez Panisse gets the global name recognition, but Bostonians remember that Harvest, which opened to celebrate the very best of the region in 1975 on Harvard Square in Cambridge, was right there alongside, at the forefront of New England’s own food revolution. Said to be Julia Child’s long-time favorite, the restaurant's impact on the landscape cannot be overstated, beginning with the long list of chefs that worked their way through its kitchens and went on to their own careers. Count among them Barbara Lynch, whose ’90s game-changer, No. 9 Park, still packs them into a charming Beacon Hill townhouse for gnocchi stuffed with prunes and foie gras. You won’t find them doing that sort of thing in the time-honored Italian restaurants of Boston’s North End—poke your head into Galleria Umberto for a Sicilian slice on your way to Regina Pizzeria, where there will almost certainly be a wait for one of the city’s most famous pies.
From here, you’re awfully close to what’s said to be the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the country, the kind of thing you sort of expect to find in Boston—JFK used to linger over the Sunday paper at the Union Oyster House, a French king lived in exile, upstairs, it’s that kind of place; pile in for Duxburys, Wellfleets, and other raw, regional musts. Oysters aren’t the only bivalves—while the fried clams served at Woodman’s of Essex on Boston’s North Shore may not always be Ipswich, you’re still in good hands—not only was this the first place clams ever went into the fryer, or so the story goes, they've also been at it for over a century.
There is nothing about little Frankenmuth, up there in the flat part of the state between Flint and Saginaw, that quite makes sense; sure, it has roots going back to the 1800s as a small German settlement, but this is the American Midwest, after all—doesn’t everywhere? How this modest, one-main-drag town with no mountains for miles became one of the region’s most popular destinations—sorry, Michigan’s Little Bavaria—has a lot to do with one thing: fried chicken, the star of generous family-style dinners, which around the middle of the 20th century began drawing travelers from the nearby cities, and Detroit, all still at or near their economic peak. Everything that happened to Michigan after that appears to have mattered little—today, both Zehnder’s and the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, across the street from each other and owned by different (and friendly) strains of the Zehnder family, rank comfortably among the most profitable restaurants in the country. Lording it over Detroit’s Woodward Avenue since 1894, the Romanesque Revival mega-mansion (Tiffany-designed stained glass windows, obviously) built by Detroit’s richest man at the time has since 1986 been The Whitney, one of the city’s most extravagant special-occasion spots, after a lengthy renovation bankrolled by a local businessman who found out the building was under threat of being torn down, and—rightly so—felt like Detroit, even in the early 1980s, could do better. Afternoon teas, a fantastic beef Wellington, flaming desserts, the Thursday garden parties (with live music) and one of the city’s deepest wine lists are just some of the highlights.
Metro Detroit is home to America’s largest Arab population, and Dearborn, with its broad selection of restaurants, many of them Lebanese, remains the cultural hub—since the late 1980s, the 100% halal Al-Ameer has been a standout. Early on in the same decade, long before the notion of reinvigorating the Jewish deli became a near-cliche, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened the ingredient and process-obsessed Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, slowly building an empire that helped turn the college town into one of the Midwest’s best small cities for food lovers. Here we are in Michigan, of course, where the entire state, come summer, is either up north, or dreaming of same—way up near the Mackinac Bridge, the century-old, summer-only Legs Inn on Lake Michigan has been serving up Polish home cooking for generations, alongside an abundance of whitefish, served all the different ways. Start with the smoked.
We could stand out on Sixth Street in Minneapolis and stare all day at the vintage facade of Murray’s, but at this time of year, we’d probably freeze to death. A local favorite since 1946, and not necessarily the most extravagant steakhouse around, it’s all about the meat here, said to have been hand-cut by the same guy for nearly forty years now. The 28-ounce strip sirloin is the real house MVP, so tender you should be able to cut the thing with your silver butter knife—just like the sign says out front.
Ready for more meat? Head next to Kramarczuk’s, where it’s all garlic and warmth and good feeling, even on the darkest, coldest day—it's a butcher shop, a deli, a cafeteria, and there’s more sausage, from classic kielbasa to modern inventive, than anyone should probably should eat in a lifetime, but we’ll sure keep testing the limits. If there were a list of best classic cities, good old St. Paul would be up there, and while there have been some big changes of late, one of the city’s favorite places to convene remains 1990s holdover Cafe Latte, the lively (and lovely) bakery and cafeteria known for chicken chili and delicious layer cakes. Up on Lake Superior, Duluth’s The Pickwick has now clocked a century at the Fitger Brewery as a supper club-ish gem (there’s a more casual pub, too), while Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse up in Knife River—calling all serious smoked fish lovers—is headed in the same direction, with over eighty years on the job.
Back in the heyday of the boarding house, the round table restaurant made sense—communal tables, a lazy susan at the center, help yourself, no need to ask strangers to pass the biscuits. Trust Mississippi to keep the dream alive—The Dinner Bell in McComb isn’t the only one of its kind left—see: Tennessee—but it’s definitely one of the most popular, thanks to its location a short drive from most of Jackson, where the locals would do a lot more than spin the wheel for the expert-level soul food at Bully’s, a neighborhood classic on a nearly-rural Northside patch for turkey necks, greens, and cobbler for dessert.
Talk about the culinary heritage of the Delta, and invariably you end up talking about the original Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, a glorious relic for steaks and Mississippi’s signature hot tamales, eaten in covert booths as was the style at the time—going back to 1941, Doe’s, which now has locations all over the Deep South, remains a newbie compared to Weidmann’s in Meridian, where every meal (let’s call the food Swiss-American-ish) has started with complimentary housemade peanut butter and crackers since forever, or at least the late 1800s. Down along the Gulf of Mexico, historically much closer to New Orleans than the rest of the state, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House has survived every hurricane thrown its way, and there have been a few.
Put the words classic and Missouri together and forgive us for thinking of two things, immediately. First, there would be the legendary Italian food found up on The Hill in St. Louis; here, you can go fine at Charlie Gitto’s, or terribly casual for one of America’s greatest sandwiches, made with the thick-cut, almost rustic pate-like house salami at Gioia’s Deli. The second thing—yes, we were getting there—is easily the barbecue in Kansas City. Go where you like, knock yourself out, but you’ll find us at blue collar staple LC’s Bar-B-Q, one of those places where brisket burnt ends have been a thing for decades, long before their current stint as a barbecue buzzword.
While you’re in this part of the state, stick around for the pan-fried chicken dinners at Stroud’s, one of the few restaurants that seems to be able to get Kansas City old-timers to stop talking about barbecue for a minute, not that there’s anything wrong with them. Got a sweet tooth? Andre’s Confiserie Suisse has been a beautiful, stylish, KC favorite for more than half a century—settle in for vol au vents or a healthy portion of quiche, before succumbing to the riches on display—kept behind glass, mind you, for everybody’s protection. (The cookies taste almost like pure butter.) Back in St. Louis, make tracks for the Crown Candy Kitchen, in the same family since 1913, ever a ray of sunshine in a part of town where struggle has been the norm for much of the time the cheerful luncheonette / ice cream fountain / candy store has been around. It only seems right to tell you that the B.L.T. here has the most bacon we’ve ever seen on one sandwich—what you do with this information is your concern.
One of the country’s oldest Chinese restaurants is a reminder of how the West was really won; the Pekin Noodle Parlor, once an opium den and brothel, is now a Chinese-American classic in vintage Butte, on the edge of the city’s historic Chinatown. Climb the stairs, slide into one of the private booths, and order the chow mein or chop suey. While you're here, Butte is a goldmine of old-school dining—make a date with that Montana classic, the pork chop sandwich (don’t be alarmed, but it’s a ground, breaded, and fried pork patty) at the bare-bones Matt’s Place. Looking for great aprés-ski without the pretense? The family-run Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell, specifically their pizza, has been a Whitefish fan favorite for roughly half a century now; sample beers from Bayern Brewery, the state’s oldest, started in the 1980s by an ambitious German couple. And while Stella’s may have changed ownership this year, Stella and Ziggy Ziegler’s long-running breakfast institution remains a Billings favorite.
Talk about raring to go—Rosser “Ole” Herstedt opened Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse in far-western Paxton the day after Prohibition ended, back in the 1930s, and never looked back—all these years later, the now-expanded bar and restaurant, known by generations of I-80 travelers as the place with the giant animal heads on the walls, is on its second owner, serving chicken fried steak, prime rib, and bison burgers underneath the watchful eyes of a giant stuffed polar bear. If you have to choose just one thing to eat that says Nebraska loud and clear, it’d easily have to be the bierock, the filled (typically with ground beef and cabbage) yeast rolls brought to the Great Plains by Volga German settlers. Today, they’re typically referred to as a runza, greatly popularized by a restaurant chain of the same name, but to go truly old school, head to Sehnert’s Bakery in McCook, one of the best bierock bakers for generations.
Omaha is a treasure chest of vintage goods for meat lovers—start at Gorat’s Steakhouse, dripping in mid-century neon energy; make like long-time regular Warren Buffett and order the T-Bone with a double order of hashbrowns. Pescatarians, meantime, should go directly to Joe Tess Place, possibly one of the most brilliant showcases for the humble carp in the country, sourced from nearby Minnesota. One of the last vestiges of the city’s original Little Italy, Orsi’s (1919), remains one of its most popular Italian delis; their pizza remains an Omaha favorite.
Julian Serrano opened Picasso, with the walls famously lined with actual Picassos, along with the game-changing Bellagio back in 1998; to this day, the Spanish (with French influences) restaurant, with its two Michelin stars, still feels terribly important. The middle of the 20th century was exceptionally good to the city, and not all of it met the wrecking ball, either, at least not yet. Make like Elvis and Sinatra and go for steaks at The Golden Steer, at it since 1958, or disappear into Hugo’s Cellar, a downtown staple for Continental cuisine—have your salads made tableside—since the 1970s. Another world awaits in Northern Nevada, which shows off its rich Basque heritage with family style dinners in historic venues like The Martin Hotel in Winnemucca, a late-1800s boarding house, and Louis’ Basque Corner, at the heart of downtown Reno—where a casual bar menu is available and you can—easy does it—quickly drink yourself under the table on those $6 Picon punches.
Polly and Wilfred Dexter dreamed up a way to promote their maple business back in the 1930s—they’d open a little place, and start serving pancakes. Today, Polly’s Pancake Parlor, still in the same family, has evolved to become one of New England’s most iconic places for breakfast and beyond, even if it is all the way north in Lincoln, not far from the Omni Mount Washington Resort, home one of the last surviving grand hotel dining rooms in the region. Dip into the colonial era at Hancock’s Hancock Inn, an inn since the 1700s and serving for nearly as long; Manchester’s 24/7 Red Arrow Diner remains one of New England’s most famous examples of one of its most enduring restaurant genres. In Keene, Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe has been impressing locals for two decades—the dedication of its Turin-born chef/proprietor has made it one of those places pretty much everyone falls in love with.
Tucked to one side of the parking lot entrance on the ground level of a Best Western near the Westfield train, tiny Chez Catherine probably did not strike skeptics as a place where classic French cooking might thrive for as long as it has, but hey, joke’s on them. Since the 1970s, this has rather quietly been one of the nicest restaurants in the Garden State, a designation likely to hang around for some time, with a relatively recent arrival from France (with a resume that includes stints not only at Alain Ducasse, both in Paris and New York, but also at Disneyland Paris) now in charge. Go for the escargots, for dover sole prepped tableside, and (of course) your choice of soufflés.
What’s that you say—Italian food? Right. Jump through every possible hoop to experience Atlantic City’s Chef Vola’s, a basement hideaway just off the boardwalk, where getting a reservation can be a challenge, but it's so very worth it—the restaurant dates back to Prohibition, when Pina Vola began serving Southern Italian staples underneath what was then a boarding house. Sometimes, it feels as if very little has changed. Same deal at Donkey’s Place, that blue-collar clubhouse deep into Camden where the clock always seems to be stuck on quitting time at the proverbial mill, and the air hangs heavy with the scent of the best Philly cheesesteaks you’ll ever be served on a roll, which you should not knock until you have tried it.
Diners are, perhaps you've heard, something of a thing around here, but just this once, resist the lure of the chrome and head for the timeworn (but undiminished) Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionary in Bloomfield, a not-modern candy kitchen and luncheonette where the food is somewhat more satisfying than that famous last scene from the Sopranos finale, filmed here. Going down the shore? Long Beach Island loyalists already know all about the seafood at Harvey Cedars Shellfish, so you’ll very likely be standing behind at least half of them in line, but don't be put off—the quality here makes the wait worthwhile.
Back in 1978, when the Barelas Coffee House opened up shop in one of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods, there wasn’t much left of Barelas, which had become one of the city’s most deprived places after decades of precipitous decline. Still, the restaurant wasn’t far from the seat of local power downtown, and over time, the restaurant—renowned for their red and green chile, best consumed with puffy, freshly pressed flour tortillas, became known as the place to mix with a who’s who of Albuquerque. Today, things remain much the same, even as the neighborhood (once again) changes. Being known for both your red and your green is sort of a big deal; many a classic restaurant around the state will be recommended on the strength or one of the other. At Mary & Tito’s, another Burque institution (since the early 1960s), it's traditionally all about red, and the house tortillas, while at The Shed, just off the Square in Santa Fe since 1953, the color of the day is always green.
For more than half a century, Santa Fe’s Rancho de Chimayo has been doing the most to promote New Mexican cooking, not to mention the idealized version of the regional lifestyle; the restaurant's alluring, indoor/outdoor setting makes a perfect backdrop for blue corn enchiladas, carne adovada, and stuffed sopaipillas for dessert.
Before breakfast burritos were a trend, Santa Fe’s Cafe Pasqual was rolling some of the best—roasted green chile, gruyere, organic eggs and potatoes.
Thriving in cutthroat Midtown Manhattan long after a time when diners wanted everything souffléd, flambéed, and perhaps also quenelled, La Grenouille, lit up like a fairy tale night after night since 1962, artfully pays tribute to an age when fine dining in America so often meant Continental, or to be more specific, French. Equally memorable are the seafood feasts at Michelin three-star Le Bernardin, celebrating more than thirty years as one of New York’s finest restaurants, period, and one of the city’s most civilized places to celebrate a special occasion.
No pretext needed for a trip to Peter Luger in Brooklyn or Glen Cove for plates of thick-cut bacon followed up by one of the country’s most talked-about steaks, or for a shimmy down below Grand Central Terminal for a slurp or twelve at the Oyster Bar, the northbound commuter’s port in a storm since 1913.
If it’s Italian New York you’re after, you’ll find it staring into those coal-fired pies at John’s of Bleecker, now over a century old, or in a plate of linguini with clams at Bamonte’s in Williamsburg, where you can still pretend that the last thirty years didn’t happen to the surrounding neighborhood. Same goes, pretty much, for Barney Greengrass on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where the vintage, movie-ready (and clinically bright) dining room remains one of the city’s most special places to start your day, preferably with slices of smoked sturgeon and a toasted bagel.
Upstate, the fun starts all over again, from the mini hot dog culture (with meat sauce, mustard, and onion) of the Capital District, where Famous Lunch, a Troy staple since 1932, is your first stop, to Buffalo’s iconic roast beef sandwiches, served on distinctive, salted-top kümmelweck rolls. We're partial to Charlie the Butcher in Williamsville, but it’s fine to love Schwabl’s, too. Vegetarians, and the vegetable-curious should head directly to Ithaca, where the collectively-owned Moosewood has been preaching the beyond-meat gospel since 1973.
Charming as it may be, with the quirky landscaping, that flying pig sculpture, and the collection of hub caps doubling as wall art, you would not walk past, let alone into, Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill thinking you were in the presence of Southern restaurant royalty. But this cheerful 1980s cafe started something big, when it got notions in its head about taking something humble like Lowcountry shrimp and grits, something area fishermen typically ate for breakfast, and giving it the casual gourmet treatment. The dish, featuring mushrooms, scallions and plenty of bacon, is as good now as it ever was. Forty years ago, Asheville’s downtown wasn’t nearly the draw it is now—into the void stepped a pioneering Mark Rosenstein, gambling on a local harvest-centric menu at The Market Place. Guess what's still there today, and these days feeling as good as ever, even in a town that’s now almost overwhelmed with good food.
You can ask anyone in North Carolina which state has the best barbecue, and they'll all tell you that the answer is North Carolina; now, if only they could agree on which part of the state does it best, and we'd venture, rather recklessly, to say that the answer lies to the east, where your finely-chopped whole-hog comes in a vinegar-based sauce, long before Americans talked casually amongst themselves about the joys of balancing fat and acid.
To this day, the Jones family—Pete Jones opened Ayden’s pilgrimage-worthy Skylight Inn, back in 1947—remains the unofficial royal family of the regional scene. Chances are, if you were looking to hang with hippies in Raleigh, back in the 1970s, you would have found them mingling (and fueling up) at the Irregardless Cafe, an enduring locavore/vegetarian spot that remains a regional favorite; there's nothing vegetable-forward about Brooks’ Sandwich House, a Charlotte staple for chili, burgers, and livermush sandwiches for just about as many years.
What’s a town of 7,000 people in the middle of nowhere—1.5 hours to Grand Forks, door to door!—doing with not only a steakhouse, but one with a back story dating all the way to World War II? Housed in a barn on the southern fringe of Devils Lake, The Ranch has its roots in the supper club tradition, and to this day feels like so much more than just a place for slabs of meat. Start with a basket of popovers, served with honey butter, and peruse the menu, which includes everything you want from a menu in this part of the world, from pan-fried walleye to hot dish, classed up here with ground steak and house made tater tots.
A crop of new restaurants in Fargo have brought the city no small amount of attention in recent years, but you’ll find one of the city's favorite restaurants has been round for more than half a century—stop by the corner of 3rd and Broadway, and watch the guys slinging those giant pies (and then cutting them in squares, as is the style in so many Midwest pizza parlors) at Sammy’s.
Any discussion of North Dakota food had better include knoepfla soup, crammed with potatoes and German-style dumplings, in case you were wondering how the locals survive the long winters; you can get your fill all night long at the original, 24-hour location of Kroll’s Diner, another Fargo institution since the 1970s. Looking for North Dakota’s best burgers? At Bismarck’s Wood House Restaurant, you order them—along with the house onion rings, if you’re doing it correctly—from your table, via phone.
Has Food & Wine Best New Chef 1997 Michael Symon’s Lola really been open for more than twenty years? The Cleveland favorite, with its fun-loving, modern approach to regional dining (think trout spread, wild boar sausage, beef cheek pierogis), is, that’s right, already a classic. (Yes, you’re getting old, but it’s cool, because we all are.) There’s no tinkering with anything at Sokolowski’s University Inn, one of America’s finest Polish restaurants, which also happens to be one of the country’s best buffets. When you’ve been at it since 1923, and people still line up to get in, you must be doing something right.
The state capital of Columbus is best-known for its booming population these days, but the 19th-century German Village neighborhood, a maze of narrow streets lined with impossibly charming brick homes, feel something like the Midwest version of the French Quarter—it’s here that you'll find Lindey’s, a smart, upscale tavern and grill that has been a local mainstay since the 1980s; a table out front on a summer's evening is still one of the best bookings in town. To go even further back in the 19th century—1803, to be precise—head to Lebanon, where The Golden Lamb has hosted at least a dozen presidents during its long lifetime—you could get fancy, or you could give into the half-fried chicken dinner, like so many others do (it’s good).
For quite some time, Cincinnati was the last word in fine dining in this part of the world, but for longevity, apparently, you can’t beat the regional chili parlor culture, which remains vast, varied and rather overwhelming to the uninitiated. Go extremely local for your first stop, somewhere they’ll treat you nice, like Price Hill Chili, a neighborhood gathering place that’s far off the beaten path. Sit at the counter, the better to watch the kitchen crew tossing piles of shredded cheddar around like so much orange confetti.
Figures you’ll find possibly the only casual joint in America with an entire steak menu available at breakfast in Oklahoma City’s historic Stockyards—Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is the state’s longest-running restaurant (1910) for a reason. Who doesn’t love, after all, a vast selection of attractively-priced slabs of beef, accompanied by an order of lamb fries, which is a nice way of saying testicles? (Now that’s what we call nose-to-tail eating.)
The mythology surrounding Route 66 is a large part of Oklahoma’s appeal, and the very real Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, around since the 1920s, is high on the list of essential stops—great for breakfast, chicken fried steaks, and calf fries. Tulsa lays claim to El Rancho Grande, one of the oldest (and best-loved Mexican restaurants) in the state, and one of the first to appear along the Mother Road—to this day, locals can't get enough of their cheese enchiladas.
Finally, there’s no discussion of classic Oklahoma without the onion burger, where the actual hamburger typically appears to function as little more than a foundation on which to pile at least four grilled onions (okay, maybe three). Make the pilgrimage to El Reno, where the humble Robert’s Grill has been turfing them out since the 1920s.
In Portland years, the mid-1990s are forever ago—back then, when we talked about a relatively diminutive local restaurant scene, we talked a great deal about Vitaly Paley, the Kiev-born piano whiz (and Julliard dropout, fun fact) who launched his culinary career in 1995 with Paley’s Place, a French bistro in an modest Victorian not far from downtown. The field may be infinitely more crowded today, but the restaurant remains a Portland favorite—kick back on the porch for happy hour, or book a full-blown dinner of the classics; either way, begin with the charcuterie.
When Papa Haydn hit Portland’s then-sleepy Sellwood neighborhood in 1978, it was imagined as a homey tribute to the coffeehouses of Vienna, and bragged one of the first-ever espresso machines in the city of Portland. Over time, it has evolved to become a full-service restaurant, even spawning a second location; the pre-Portlandia original remains one of the city’s most likable cafés. Everything around here is pretty much brand new compared to Huber’s, downtown’s dining room of choice for generations, with a legacy stretching back to the 1870s; the restaurant is famous for turkey dinners and the invention of the Spanish Coffee.
Not quite so old (but still an utter legend) is the 1920s Otto’s Sausage Kitchen, tucked into the city’s Woodstock neighborhood; Portland's not exactly short on artisanal sausagery these days, but Otto’s wieners, smoked over the locally-favored alder, still stand out, so pop by and see what’s on the grill. Switch gears—and then some—with a visit to the charming, landmarked town of Jacksonville, way down in Oregon’s Rogue Valley—here, the 1860s Jacksonville Inn is home to one of the state’s most romantic classic dining rooms. Fuel up for the long drive with a stop in Eugene, where you’ll dip into the 1980s at Poppi’s Anatolia—this genuine college town classic is known for Greek and Indian staples.
We should all be so energetic after the twenty-year endurance test Marc Vetri (Food & Wine Best New Chef, 1999) appears to have put himself through, opening the standard-bearing Vetri, a hit since day one in 1998, then building a restaurant empire out of nothing, then having the smarts to sell the whole thing off, and then get back to work where it all started—the little townhouse on Spruce Street that was the original home to the dear departed Le Bec Fin. To this day, the 32-seat, tasting menu only restaurant with the custom Murano chandeliers remains one of the most sought-after bookings in a city absolutely crawling with good restaurants, one of them Fork, Ellen Yin’s pioneering Old City bistro, which opened roughly a year earlier and continues to thrive today as well, firmly committed to showcasing the considerable bounty of the Mid-Atlantic region.
South Philly is a gold mine of classic Italian, but one of the hardest restaurants to get into isn’t really a restaurant at all—most days, you’ll have more personal space to yourself in New Year’s Eve Times Square than you'll find inside John’s Roast Pork, a tiny takeout hut in an industrial zone near the Delaware River. Open since 1930, for many locals, John’s is the go-to for Philly’s other favorite hot sandwich, slow-cooked pork topped with spinach sautéed in olive oil and provolone cheese. Jockey your way into a seat at one of the outdoor tables, eat the thing over the trunk of your car, somebody else's car, it doesn’t really matter, the point is not where you are, it’s what you’re eating.
There was a time, in Pittsburgh, where you couldn’t talk about restaurants without talking about Toni Pais—after decades of presiding over something of a restaurant empire (and a battle with Parkinson’s), Pais is back in the kitchen at his 1990s gem, Cafe Zinho, where any proper dinner starts with the clams a bulhāo pato, an evocative reminder of Pais’ native Portugal. On your way west, stop in Lancaster County and get well-fed at Miller’s Smorgasbord—the classiest of the Pennsylvania Dutch country buffets has been at it, in one form or another, since 1929.
The first thing to know about the biggest little state is that one in five inhabitants claims Italian heritage, making Rhode Island the most Italian place, culturally, in the United States, and if you don’t believe it, you’re overdue for a night out on Federal Hill in Providence sometime, where the people watching and the selection of very old, very good restaurants can be a little overwhelming. Begin, let’s say, at Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen, opened in 1956, which around here means its still settling in (okay, slight exaggeration); seven course dinners—osso buco, veal chops, lobster fra diavolo, you name it—represent excellent value, and the dining room, a vision in dusty pink, was a favorite of the late, longtime mayor Buddy Cianci. Not in Little Italy but a Providence must since the 1980s, Al Forno isn’t much more than a pizza place, but the restaurant over time has become known as the grandfather of the grilled pie, sometimes duplicated, but rarely properly imitated.
Speaking of unusual contributions to America’s culinary heritage, the specialty of the house at Olneyville New York System in Providence is the hot wiener, where delicate dogs, made locally with beef, pork and veal (in a natural casing) receive the royal treatment—celery salt, chopped onions, mustard, and meat sauce, all spilling from a steamed bun. The ultimate pairing? That other very Rhode Island thing, coffee-flavored milk. Roughly 100,000 Rhode Islanders claim Portuguese heritage, again, the highest percentage in the country; celebrate with the linguica hash at the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, said to be one of the only vintage diner cars on the National Register of Historic Places. The menu here is standard diner, with notable tributes to the state’s Portuguese and Cape Verdean influences; get an order of the custard French toast, while you're here—everybody else does.
Did somebody say clams? We’re not here to start any East Bay vs. West Bay debates, but do make sure your itinerary includes Aunt Carrie’s in Point Judith, birthplace of the deep-fried clam cake, yet another Rhode Island original and the stuff of summer memories for generations and counting. While you’re down here, might as well climb into the way, way back machine at Newport’s White Horse Tavern, said to be America’s oldest, with a history going back to the 1600s, with only a few short breaks and a rebuild or two in between.
Remember the 1990s in Charleston? Things were relatively quiet then, the current restaurant boom was but a glimmer in the eye of trendsetters like Frank Lee, who opened the doors to Slightly North of Broad, known fondly around town as SNOB, early on the decade. To this day, Lee’s shrimp and grits (he’s moved on now, but they remain, because people would boycott the place if they went) remain just as important today, marrying fresh tomatoes, country ham, and the house sausage with creamy grits and fresh Lowcountry shrimp.
Imagining Charleston without the Peninsula Grill is almost impossible for many visitors, some who might think the dining room at the Planters Inn (a Relais & Chateaux member) opened a lot earlier than 1997, which is precisely the point; the menu is timeless, comfortable, with oysters to start, and a slice of the restaurant’s signature 12-layer coconut cake to finish. Beating both restaurants to the punch was North Charleston’s Bertha’s Kitchen, going back to the 1970s, and remaining one of the best-known keepers of the Gullah culture flame—get the okra soup, and the fried chicken, and a side of the lima beans.
Looking for a good Lowcountry seafood boil? At Bowens Island Restaurant, they call it a Frogmore Stew, and have done since 1946; start out, of course, with oysters. Nose-to-tail is all the rage, but for generations, barbecue joints in the Midlands (where the one-of-a-kind mustard sauce reigns supreme) have been serving hash over rice, one of America’s most underrated classic dishes; today it’s often mostly finely chopped pork shoulder, but it’s still funky and delicious—try the stuff at Hite’s Bar-B-Que or True BBQ, both in West Columbia.
Bison steaks, duck wings, and wild game salad sandwiches make a splash on the menu at The Pheasant Restaurant in Brookings, open and in the same family since 1949, but it’s the simplest things that make this place memorable—the locally sourced lamb Sloppy Joe plate special; the affogatos with housemade ice cream and locally roasted espresso; the Friday and Saturday night prime rib dinners, where, if ten ounces isn’t enough, and it probably is, just saying, you can add extra for a dollar each until you’re sure you’re going to leave satisfied.
South Dakota might be small in population, but the reputation of the state’s most iconic food, chislic, essentially the Great Plains version of a kebab, has spread throughout the food community—you’ll find it served all over, but it’s worth a trip to the bare bones Meridian Corner in Freeman, for the lamb, or the mutton, after which you’ll want to try pretty much everything else on the unique menu, containing everything from dumplings (in the northern European sense) to fried pickles.
Sioux Falls, otherwise known as the big city in this part of the world, has been enjoying something of a culinary renaissance, but 1970s holdover Minerva’s remains one of the best-liked restaurants in town, popular enough to spawn seven more locations across the Midwest. Come to the downtown original for cranberry spinach pecan salad, and a giant portion of Chicken Oscar. Is it summer yet? Local, grass-fed beef burgers, broasted chicken and ice creams are a seasonal staple for the small group of people lucky enough to live near Murdo Drive-In, along with everyone who knows to get off I-90 on their way to and from the Black Hills.
To get to Bea’s, one of Chattanooga's most memorable restaurants, you take the long drive down Rossville Boulevard, toward the Georgia line, far away from the scrubbed up downtown and into the Chattanooga they do not tell you about, past the shuttered Escandalo nightclub and the Cinema One adult bookstore that is very much not shut down, and then, a few turns off the main drag, you have this 70-year-old gem in the rough. It's one of those rare surviving round table restaurants where you sit down with strangers, the lazy Susan by now already likely filled with spaghetti, fried chicken, cold salads, pickled beets, and soft rolls, and you eat as much as you can, all with liberal helpings of Granny’s homemade chow chow. It’s like a buffet, but better—you never have to get up, and as fast as the dishes empty, you’ll find someone offering to refill them. Not bad for about $14 a head.
One genre of restaurant that’s doing just fine, thank you, is the classic meat and three; in Nashville, Arnold’s Country Kitchen, a family-owned joint known for their attention to detail and food quality, is about the most famous one there is, hard at it pretty much every weekday lunchtime for thirty years now. The Prince family has serving up Nashville’s most iconic meal—hot chicken—for much longer than that, starting out in 1945; despite a recent fire at the main location, Prince’s Hot Chicken is still serving in South Nashville.
In Memphis, it’s all about barbecue, and while the who-does-it-best debate could go on forever, atmosphere-wise it’s hard to beat downtown’s moody, subterranean Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, at it since 1948, for your first-ever tango with the local dry-rub ribs. On your way, stop in tiny Lexington and pay tribute to West Tennessee’s other, somewhat less famous regional style, the whole hog barbecue, these days best appreciated at Scott’s BBQ. Way out east in Pigeon Forge, look past the neon to find the Old Mill, a historic actual mill in the heart of tourist land that’s been serving up excellent breakfasts for more than twenty-five years.
The long drive to nowhere to eat a plate full of meat is a time-honored tradition in the Lone Star State, one typically reserved for world-class barbecue. Since 1983, however, those in the know have been making an exception for the ribeye steaks, grilled over mesquite coals, up at Tom Perini’s ranch, on a rural road about a half hour from Abilene. The energy at Perini Ranch Steakhouse is backyard barbecue—for crying out loud, you can eat that honking cowboy ribeye at a picnic table, though they did get air-conditioning this past decade, finally; the meat (and the atmosphere) puts plenty of big ticket city steakhouses to shame, and Perini’s got all of the awards to prove it. Eating light? The burgers are legendary. You won’t have to drive forever, provided you’re already in Austin, to get to some of the state’s most exemplary barbecue—recent years have been exceptionally kind to the craft, with bright young things getting into the pits and pushing the genre forward in all sorts of exciting ways, but few can match the extraordinary, pepper-crusted brisket at Louie Mueller BBQ, occupying a decommissioned gymnasium in downtown Taylor since 1959 (they’ve been in business since the ’40’s). Steak, barbecue, what else is there? Tex-Mex, of course. Austin’s Matt’s El Rancho has been a standard-bearer since 1952, famously home to the Bob Armstrong dip, which is queso, with a dollop of guacamole and a generous scoop of taco meat, named for the late Texas Land Commissioner who walked in one day and asked the owner for something other than his usual order. You’ll get a little bit of everything Texas, and it will all be very good, at Garcia’s Mexican Food in San Antonio—this family-owned institution has been at it for more than half a century; it’s an eggs and bacon at the counter diner, it’s a Tex-Mex restaurant, it’s a barbecue joint, their brisket tacos are sought after by pretty much anyone who’s ever tried one, and it manages to do pretty much all of it exceptionally well, expect to wait. Chances are, you’ll show up to Patillo’s BBQ in austere Beaumont and not find any lines at all, which means more of those incredible wood-smoked beef links, squeezed from their skin, boudin style, and dipped in their considerable juices, for you; this is the region’s delicious (and underappreciated) contribution to Texas barbecue, and Patillo’s remains at the front of the pack after more than a century in business—it also happens to be the oldest black-owned barbecue joint in the state.
Calling Boulder, Utah, a small town is pushing it—it's more like a lightly inhabited wide spot in the road, way south of Capitol Reef National Park, and on the doorstep of the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was here, however, that Jen Castle and Blake Spalding were pretty certain they had found, more than twenty years ago, the perfect spot for their restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill, and they were right. This studiously ethical, locavore’s dream (with its own farm) has over time become one of the most essential restaurants in the state. Begin, seriously, with the house salad, a mix of seasonal organic greens and toasted pumpkin seeds, served in a dazzling honey-chile vinaigrette. Make reservations for dinner (they’re open from March until November), but don’t be afraid to drop by for breakfast or lunch, either.
When Robert Redford opened The Tree Room at what we now know as the Sundance Resort, back in 1970, nothing seemed to go well—the actual tree the restaurant designed around died, the bank wouldn’t give him a loan, and the whole thing could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. Today, the wood-paneled dining room is a special occasion destination, where half the tables appear to be ordering the steak, less than an hour from the middle of Salt Lake City. Equally charming and much closer to town, Log Haven lures romantics into Millcreek Canyon for comfortable New American cooking in a scenic setting, while right in the city, you’ll find Red Iguana, a cheerful, 1980s Mexican icon that remains just as important to local life today.
When Irish glassmaker Simon Pearce settled in Quechee back in the early 1980s, moving his workshop into the historic, riverfront woolen mill that all but dominated the small village architecturally, his plans for a restaurant on premises were simple—local, seasonal, honest cooking, just like back home. From the start, Pearce and wife Pia worked with local farmers, sourcing whatever possible from right outside their door, or as close to it as possible. More than three decades later, the restaurant, where you come to eat things like Vermont cheddar soup and cider-brined chicken remains one of the state’s most romantic restaurants, supported by an on-premises garden and an actual farming operation.
The state’s down-to-earth, earth-loving reputation is well-deserved, but zero in on the local dining culture and you’ll discover a pronounced affinity for classic French cooking—in crunchy Brattleboro, dive into pheasant roulade and duck fat fries at longtime favorite Peter Havens, while in competitive Burlington, it’s foie gras for all at Leunig’s Bistro, a fixture since 1980. Go way, way back at the Dorset Inn, which began serving in the 1790s—their first chef notably raised his own animals and produce; in Bennington, get in line for breakfast at the Blue Benn Diner, which was elevating diner food for decades before it became a trend, but also excels at New England classics like pot roast, best accompanied by Indian pudding—a baked custard made with cornmeal and sweetened with molasses— for dessert.
Michelin’s elevator pitch for those rare restaurants it awards three stars is short, and to the point. Exceptional cuisine, we’re promised, worth a special journey. Journey you will, to reach one of the country’s finest restaurants, The Inn at Little Washington. It's ninety minutes in good traffic (if such a thing exists anymore) from our nation’s capital, but the editors weren’t fibbing—sink into a comfortable chair in the magnificently over-decorated dining room, and let magic commence, as it has for more than four decades now, with self-taught chef and innkeeper Patrick O’Connell still at the helm. Guests may choose nightly from three different tasting menus—one playfully experimental, the other comforting and seasonal, and a third that’s fully vegetarian; mixing and matching is possible, so make sure to ask.
The surroundings at the Hotel Roanoke, that particular city’s historic grand dame, may not be quite so sumptuous—the real world can’t help but be a letdown, after all that luxury—but the Regency Room has its own charms, having played an important role in popularizing one of Virginia’s more distinctive culinary experts, the early-fusion peanut soup, dating back to America’s very beginnings. It’s still on the menu here, right next to the she-crab.
Icon-wise, however, it’s hard to compete with Virginia ham, one of America’s finest foodstuffs—some of the best will come out of humble back road grocery stores and smokehouses, but there are restaurants, too, like the homey Old Chickahominy House in Williamsburg, where the breakfast and lunch menus all but revolve around the salty-delicious stuff. Ham on a biscuit—the preferred delivery method—is also a star of the box lunches at Sally Bell’s Kitchen in Richmond, around since the 1930s, and still going strong after moving in 2016; you get a deviled egg, potato salad, and a cupcake, too, all for just a few bucks. Snap back to the present with a ride through the booming Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital, where the Eden Center, very much a thing around here since the 1980s, introduced generations of Washingtonians to Vietnamese cooking, at long-running spots like Huong Viet, famed for their crispy spring rolls, but also very adept at the likes of braised catfish and roast quail.
If a more magical setting for a special occasion dinner exists in all of the Pacific Northwest, we’d love to know about it—since 1950, Canlis, practically teetering on the edge of Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, where sweeping vistas of mountains, sea, and city come with your meal, has been the one to beat for looks. These days, with Food & Wine Best New Chef 2018 Brady Williams at the helm, the restaurant is squarely in the national spotlight for its cooking, infusing the Northwest menu with delicate Japanese touches.
By stark contrast, downtown’s Metropolitan Grill is a masculine 1980s throwback, known for chonky, dry-aged porterhouse steaks, chateaubriand carved tableside, and martinis at the black marble bar. Well before the latest tech boom blew into town, this was where the old-time movers and shakers came to throw their money around (and still do).
Believe it or not, Belltown’s Dahlia Lounge is already nearly as old—the first restaurant from Tom Douglas, who for years was the first chef you talked about when you talked about eating your way through Seattle, opened in 1989. The local, seasonal Pacific Northwest menu remains a pleasure, but many people associate the restaurant with its iconic coconut cream pie, and they are not wrong to do so. (Tip: Stop in the bakery next door and buy a whole one, to take home.)
No tour of classic Seattle leaves out the iconic Pike Place Market, it’s just the rules—duck in for a half-dozen at the no-frills, no-bull Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar, opened by a colorful local newspaperman back in 1979, and at the time, the only oyster bar in town. Things go way further back in Seattle’s International District, where Maneki, opened in 1904, is one of the country’s oldest Japanese restaurants—bagging a table can be tough work at times, but it’s worth the effort for sashimi, and the but wait, there’s more set menus. Dip back into the 1990s—Seattle’s cultural heyday—with a visit to Madison Park’s pretty Cafe Flora, still one of the country’s standout vegetarian restaurants (get one of their vegan cinnamon rolls).
Known primarily for a nearly limitless supply of extremely great outdoors, the not-sorry maximalism of the history-filled, 11,000-acre Greenbrier resort makes quite a contrast, to put things mildly. Pioneering a bold new wave of American interior design in an era when most people with the big decorating bucks still looked back over the Atlantic for inspiration, Dorothy Draper’s explosively colorful, late 1940s renovation gave the resort, famously home to a Cold War era bunker designed to hide the United States Congress, its signature look, a look carefully maintained to this day by successor Carleton Varney. There isn’t much you can’t do on property, and in high season, it feels like there are more dining options than some modern cruise ships, but the Main Dining Room, in operation for more than one hundred years, is your go-to for an elegant breakfast buffet (yes, there’s a dress code), while the more relaxed Draper’s, open since 1990, pays tribute, as boldly as it ought, to the late, great designer. Her favorite dish served at the Greenbrier—the chicken salad—is the move, ditto the fried chicken, apparently a favorite of West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, who plucked the hotel out of bankruptcy in 2009.
Another surprise up the Mountain State’s sleeve, at least for the uninitiated, is the embarrassment of vintage Italian restaurants, a legacy left behind after more than a century of immigration; the family-owned Muriale’s is a Fairmont favorite, serving up plates of spaghetti and meatballs and Aunt Mary’s lasagna to the local glitterati since 1969, while in Clarksburg, friends of ours are said to have made themselves right at home over the years at Julio’s Cafe, a moody, mid-century, probably at one time smoke-filled room, now celebrating more than half a century in business. In Huntington, Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti (just look for the giant sign) sells plenty of both, but the busiest time of year is that short, blissful window when strawberry pies are in season—expect lines around the block.
When Odessa Piper opened L’Etoile in Madison back in 1976, serving what we casually refer to today as classically-inspired New American cooking, the notion of a year-round, seriously farm-to-table restaurant in the the Upper Midwest was beyond pioneering, it was flat-out sensational. Not only did it work, it remains an absolute essential, and has inspired countless others, among them former chef de cuisine Tami Lax, whose own New American restaurant, Harvest, just around the corner from L’Etoile’s current residence, remains a destination twenty years later for the likes of Lake Superior whitefish en papillote.
The Victorian Gothic, peak-beer era structure at the corner of State and Harwood in Wauwatosa dates back a lot further—1899—than its current occupant, the cozy, welcoming, Eye-talian (but make it classy) Bartolotta Restaurant, an absolute thing in Greater Milwaukee since the early 1990s. Today, it’s impossible to talk about the regional dining scene without the Bartolotta family’s many—and ongoing—contributions. Get to the brats and beer, you’re probably thinking—for the former, anyway, it’s always worth a drive to Sheboygan, the self-styled American capital of the latter, where the casual old Charcoal Inn, with two locations, remains one of the best places for visitors to sample the goods, followed by a slice of, in the traditional manner, one of a gut-busting selection of homespun, Sconnie-fied tortes.
Besides bratwurst, it doesn’t get much more Wisconsin than a summer night at your favorite supper club—the Ishnala is a mid-century haunt tucked into scenic Mirror Lake State Park, where every seat gets a view, and everyone is probably ordering the prime rib, but you should consider the local duck, served in a (voilà!) cognac orange sauce.
Very nearly a century ago, an enterprising businessman opened a dude ranch within the scenic confines of what would soon be designated the Grand Teton National Park; all this time later, the expanded Jenny Lake Lodge remains one of the system’s best-run accommodations, its well-regarded dining room occupying a 1930s log structure offering multi-course meals of quail, elk, and a year-round selection of hydroponically-grown local vegetables.
Much older is Miners and Stockmen’s, just about the only thing still going in tiny Hartville, dating back to 1862, and today a popular destination for carnivores, competing with the likes of Beulah’s Buffalo Jump Saloon, the current incarnation (since the 1980s) of what began life as a general store back in the 1890s along the road to South Dakota. William Cody fans—better known to Western history as Buffalo Bill—ought to make a direct line for The Irma, the 1902 hotel and restaurant in the city of Cody—both the hotel and city were founded by, well, guess who: the former named after his daughter. The prime rib dinners remain a draw. Hungry for history in the state capital? The Luxury Diner, and their chicken fried steak, have been a local staple since 1929, when a decommissioned trolley car found a new lease on life, growing to become one of Wyoming’s best breakfast places.