Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Like many of the finest things in life, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that seems to get better with age. Although it opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, Danny Meyers hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 elevated the place to the level of the finest restaurants in the country. Humm who has won such plaudits for the restaurant as four stars from The New York Times, three from Michelin, and a number 24 ranking on last years Restaurant Magazine list of the worlds 50 best restaurants bought Eleven Madison from Meyer last year, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, so standards aren't likely to fall.
French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown L.A. hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with classical technique, and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country. In 2012, Keller and the French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
Per Se, New York City
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains a must-have experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic last year giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and being named the 10th best restaurant in the world in this past year by Restaurant Magazine.
Gramercy Tavern, New York City
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants. With Danny Meyer running the show and Michael Anthony taking control in the kitchen, the restaurant continues to excel at serving refined American cuisine without pretension. Anthony has become known for his simply prepared fish dishes in particular, such as sea bass with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. And lets not forget that this is the restaurant that helped to jumpstart Tom Colicchios career; he was a founding partner with Meyer before eventually leaving to open his collection of Craft restaurants.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hardworking setting on a year-round farm and educational center. Most of what you eat here will be grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and Barbers modern American food is full of color and flavor.
ABC Kitchen, New York City
ABC Kitchen, a trendy New York City restaurant, is a celebration of the best ingredients that each season has to offer, all served in the classically elegant style that Jean-Georges is widely known for. Market-fresh dishes, like roasted kabocha squash toast with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar, stand alongside Vongerichten mainstays like pretzel-crusted calamari. The dcor is fresh, with an utterly cool urban sophistication that pairs perfectly with the style of the home furnishings store its connected to, ABC Carpet and Home. The restaurant was awarded the recognition of Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2011.
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Its impossible to step inside Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izards West Loop restaurant, and not feel the joy the sense of community and comfort are widely apparent, from the soundtrack of pop and rock hits playing in the background to the broad communal bar table. The best part about the restaurant, though, is how well made every dish is, from locally sourced creations like farm-fresh roasted beets with green beans, white anchovy, and avocado crme frache to such whimsical plates as escargot ravioli with tamarind-miso sauce.
Animal, Los Angeles
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards for their hearty, straightforward, and innovative cooking. Dishes like their foie-gras-spiked loco moco, oxtail poutine, and "Buffalo style" crispy pig's tail keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more.
What does one of the world's most successful avant-garde chefs do to challenge himself? Open a restaurant that completely changes concepts every few months. First it was Paris 1906, a menu paying homage to the creations of legendary chef Escoffier, then it was a futuristic Thai menu, and that was followed by a theme perhaps even more ambitious in scope: childhood. It was already hard enough to buy a ticket (there's a special online reservation system) and then chef Grant Achatz decided to do an homage to the now-closed, legendary elBulli. Some people play at being innovative. Not Achatz, and not Next's capable chef, Dave Beran, who has deftly executed the restaurant's concepts.
Canlis is a Pacific Northwestern landmark thats been open since 1950 and serves fresh, seasonal dishes that are more polished than cutting edge, in a rustic-modern space whose use of native wood and stone evokes forests and streams. The Dungeness crabcakes and Wagyu steak tartare are definitive dishes of the restaurant, and the grilled king salmon is about as good as it gets.
The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.
Patrick O'Connell, self-taught as a chef, opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a garage in a little town about an hour's drive from D.C. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable, and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. His partnership with The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.
The Little Owl, New York City
Chef Joey Campanaros gem of a restaurant in Manhattans Greenwich Village is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant in philosophy warm lighting and dark wooden fixtures make for a cozy and romantic atmosphere thats echoed in the thoughtfully prepared Mediterranean-inspired dishes on the menu. Signature dishes include the famed meatball sliders and crisp, juicy, roasted chicken. Theres just one catch due to the extremely tight quarters, reserving a table at The Little Owl is no easy task.
The Modern, New York City
Given that this Danny Meyer restaurant is located within the renowned Museum of Modern Art in New York, its no wonder that design plays such a vital role here, both in the dcor and on the plate. The restaurant is divided between the fine dining room and the bar room, which serves a completely different menu. The food is inspired by the cuisine of Alsace, but executed with a distinctly modern hand. The handcrafted cocktails, spiked with house-made liquors, and their notable wine program are also outstanding.
Minetta Tavern, New York City
Four years after its opening, Minetta Tavern continues to demonstrate the vision of restaurateur Keith McNally and his partners, chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr. Originally opened in 1937 and named for Minetta Brook (which once ran from 23rd Street to the Hudson), this Greenwich Village haunt was frequented by every literary figure of the day Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, e.e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould among them. The current incarnation boasts celebrities, too, but above all, the food is fantastic. Minetta has made its reputation on its fabulous Black Label Burger, ground dry-aged cte-de-buf with roasted marrow bones, and on potatoes, what potatoes! frites, Anna, aligot, and "punched." The crowds and the 6 p.m.- or 10:30 p.m.-only reservations aren't for everyone, but the new lunch service helps and brings with it one of New York's great new sandwiches: the French dip.
Fig, Los Angeles
There was a time when many chefs felt obliged to list every single farm, grower, vintner, and cheesemaker on the menu. Then, there was the backlash. None of this seems to matter to chef Ray Garcia, whose philosophy at his Wilshire Boulevard restaurant is to put ingredients first, building a menu around what's in peak season (with the help of their in-house forager Kerry Clasby). The bistro menu features enough vegetables to have critics raving, and a pastaless lasagna keeps the gluten-free happy, but with a playful Bloody Mary menu (Foie Mary, anyone?) and dishes like the black truffle cavatelli and cte de boeuf for two, it doesnt skimp on the soul-satisfying stuff, either. With the queso fundido, theres even a nod to Garcias background.
Lucques, Los Angeles
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for a 2011 James Beard Award for her first endeavor, which remains as good as ever.The restaurant shines with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (ricotta dumplings with sunchokes and walnuts, slow-roasted lamb sirloin with parsnip pure), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
Mustards Grill, Napa, Calif.
Napa Valley winemakers crowd into the unpretentious Mustards Grill to sample Cindy Pawlcyns American-international cooking, encompassing everything from wild mushroom tamales to grilled Laotian-style quail to seafood tostadas to one of Californias best burgers. Pawlcyn is one of the chefs that were part of making Napa into what it has become foodwise.
The Dutch, New York City
The second restaurant on this list from chef Andrew Carmellini (the first is Locanda Verde at #44), The Dutch serves elevated Italian- and American-inspired fare in a spirited yet unfussy setting. The whimsical nature of the restaurant is fully apparent in the dessert menu, which is chock-full of nostalgic Americana items, such as sandwich cookies and banana cream pie. Carmellini opened the second branch of his critically acclaimed restaurant in Miamis W Hotel this year. The location serves most of the same dishes that are available at the original, along with his take on a few Miami specialties, such as a grouper sandwich.
Gotham Bar And Grill, New York City
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in The Times. In the 27 years that its been around, Gotham Bar and Grill has been reviewed no fewer than six times by the Gray Lady. Even more impressive? It has scored 15 stars five three-star reviews (four is the best) since chef Alfred Portale took it over in 1985. You can argue about what other restaurants could better stand in for this Greenwich Village institution as the standard-bearer of American haute cuisine, but few would debate the merits of its classics or its long-term commitment to innovation.
The Publican, Chicago
There are restaurants you walk into, see the dcor, and shrug your shoulders, and then theres a restaurant like The Publican, a James Beard design award winner, which shows you what restaurant design can be. The cavernous, high-ceilinged affair filled with communal seats and warm hanging globes simultaneously makes you feel like youve stepped into a contemporary fine dining establishment and a restaurant in a Charles Dickens novel. But this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop by chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston is much more than ambiance and even beer. This may look like a European beer hall, but the food is next-level. Yes, there are potted rillettes, aged hams, duck hearts, boudin blanc, and suckling pig, but there are also fresh oysters, hamachi crudo, cured meats, and daily pickles. You sit, you drink, you eavesdrop on the people next to you, and on no occasion do you skip ordering the amazing spicy pork rinds.
Beast, Portland, Ore.
Much of the charm at Beast, apart from that provided by the wide-ranging modern American menu (need we add that it's local and sustainable in nature?), comes from the intimate atmosphere. Chef-owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two dinner seatings Monday through Saturday and two brunch seatings on Sunday. Guests dine at a pair of communal tables, where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (no exceptions). Those who are lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family.
Father’s Office, Los Angeles
What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretention. There's a wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean and to the point. There are great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, spinach mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But lets face it, you're here for the Office Burger, which many people in L.A. refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing bougie or frou-frou about it, just caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyre, Maytag blue, and arugula. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. Checklist item? You bet.
Ad Hoc, Yountville, Calif.
Thomas Kellers fourth showing on this list, Ad Hoc began as his opportunity to showcase the dishes that he grew up eating, presented in a warmer and more casual setting than fancy places like Per Se or the French Laundry provide. Ad Hoc started as a simple, temporary concept with a single, constantly changing, four-course, family-style meal served nightly (except for the legendary buttermilk fried chicken, which is available every day except during the winter), designed as a space-holder while Keller developed another restaurant here. The response was so positive, though, that Keller and his staff decided to make this one permanent. The restaurant is currently undergoing a remodel and will open again in March 2012.
Son of a Gun, Los Angeles
The latest venture by the chef duo behind Animal (a repeat fixture on our 101 Best list), Son of a Gun does to fish what their first restaurant does to meat; that is, find ingenious ways to take familiar tastes and recast them in new roles with more esoteric ingredients. Lauded chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo use the element of surprise to their advantage they prefer low-key interiors and minimal flourishes to spotlight the complexity of their seemingly simplistic "beach shack" food. To add to diners sense of excitement, the menu at Son of a Gun, like Animal, is ever-shifting, so one day it might include a smoked fish dip and another alligator schnitzel, but oysters on the half-shell and a lobster roll with celery and lemon aoli are in heavy rotation likely due to demand.
The Four Seasons, New York City
The Four Seasons is a New York original, with a stunning interior designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, a faithful clientele of Gothamite high rollers, and an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone's tastes. This is the place to order things like assorted cold seafood, smoked salmon carved tableside, grilled Dover sole, pheasant coq au vin, or crisp farmhouse duck, then sit back and dine like a grown-up.
Boulevard, San Francisco
Boulevard exudes the warm, relaxed San Franciscan ambience that marks many of the city's best restaurants, but chef and owner Nancy Oakes, named 2010 Best California Chef by the James Beard Foundation, aims high with her hearty but modern, sophisticated American cuisine the likes of Monterey red abalone with abalone mushrooms, artichokes, sunchokes, and octopus; wood-oven-roasted California lamb with potatoes crushed with nettles, sauted chard, and romanesco broccoli with Tokyo turnips; and DeVoto Gardens apple tart with cranberry caramel and bruled fig.
Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago
Hurry, you only have until Aug. 31, 2012, to eat at this landmark restaurant. In January, Trotter announced that he'd be closing the restaurant after 25 years of groundbreaking, award-winning cuisine, and instead moving on to academe. The classic dining experience, Charlie Trotter's Grand Menu, with items like Hawaiian big eye tuna with sunchokes, serrano ham, and New Zealand spinach, references a world of influences while remaining quintessentially American.
The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
A whimsical name for a pretty straightforward restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter is a relatively new addition to the hip Ballard dining scene. At the raw bar, bearded men pedal eight different kinds of oysters from metal baskets of ice while diners take in the industrial-chic interiors along with steak tartare or geoduck chowder. Also the chef and owner of Boat Street Caf and Boat Street Pickles, Renee Erickson embraces the artisanal, locavore ethos typical of the Pacific Northwest but is also heavily influenced by French cuisine, which can be evidenced in dishes like the duck rillettes, and she has created a menu of Francophile bar food to enjoy while singing a sea shanty and sipping on a fancy cocktail.
Michael Mina, San Francisco
As the owner of 18 restaurants, Mina is one of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in the country, but he's not a TV food star (yet) and he remains somewhat under the radar. He has become an important figure in the Las Vegas restaurant scene, but its his flagship restaurant in San Francisco, Michael Mina, which was named as Esquires Best Restaurant of 2011, that gets the most praise for its Japanese- and French-inspired take on the best American ingredients.
20 of the Best Diners Across America
All-day breakfast is just the beginning at these iconic greasy spoons.
Diners have been a part of American culture for more than a century. There are authentic institutions that have stayed true to the classic diner experience, with their retro decor and delicious comfort food, and then there are the contemporary interpretations that have attempted to reinvent the diner concept with creative menu makeovers and modern renovations. Here, we're sharing a few of our favorites, from landmarks that have stood the test of time, to the eateries that have successfully redefined the diner game.
Open since 1886, the Horseshoe Cafe is the oldest restaurant in Washington. The diner recently underwent a renovation to get "The Shoe" back to its 1960s aesthetic. According to the Bellingham Herald, that included "opening up the kitchen area so customers can see the cooks at work, as well as redoing the walls and revamping the menu."
Built by the Pollard Company in 1927, Palace Diner is one of two surviving Pollard diners left in America. The cozy eatery only has seating for 15 people, and is often described as one of the best diners in the country despite its equally-as-small menu. There are only eight plates available for breakfast, and four sandwiches on the lunch menu.
Often described as the best diner in Kentucky, this small, Cajun-style eatery was built in 1943 and is the town's oldest restaurant. Memorabilia covers the walls and even the ceiling, and flavor-packed meals fill the menu. Where else can you find crawfish pie for breakfast and alligator po' boys for lunch?
If you find yourself in Salt Lake City, a trip to Ruth's Diner is basically a must. As the second oldest restaurant in the state, the diner is a treasured eatery. While it's not open 24 hours, its menu and beautiful outdoor space more than make up for it. Speaking of the menu, you can't go without trying (and taking a photo of) the Mile High Biscuit. Yep, it's as indulgent as it sounds, but it's totally worth it.
It may be billed as a "lunch car diner," but it's the breakfast at Frank's Diner that will keep you coming back for more. (Ask for the famous Garbage Plate, French Toast Cinnamon Rolls or Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes.) Featured on numerous TV specials and in travel publications, the eatery was owned by the same family from1926 to 2001. But, the new owners have stayed true to the legacy of Frank's, helping the restaurant earn the title of "Best Diner & Best Breakfast in Kenosha County" six years in a row.
Lucky for Arkansas, Lucy's Diner has three locations in the state. This 24/7 restaurant has breakfast down to a science. The menu, for instance, has an entire section devoted to hash browns. You can have them "smothered in onions," "covered in cheese" or "topped with chili," just to name a few options. Since all that food is bound to make you thirsty, they have over 100 drink choices.
As far as old-fashioned diners go, Blue Benn is as authentic as it gets. The diner car was assembled in 1948 and has sat in the same exact spot ever since. The car&mdashand kitchen&mdashare all original, too. There, you'll find booths with jukeboxes and customers enjoying their pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup. Bonus: They have homemade doughnuts!
Fremont Diner is one of the youngest diners on this list&mdashit opened in 2009&mdashbut its charm and fresh ingredients have earned it several "Best Diner" titles. As one Yelp reviewer summed things up, it's "rural south meets California Wine Country." Ingredients are seasonal and locally sourced, which makes for extra tasty dishes like the Hangtown Fry (scrambled eggs with fried oysters and arugula), Farmer's Toast (roasted asparagus, ricotta, sunny-side-up egg and truffle oil), and Hash (smoked brisket, Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions and sage with a sunny-side-up egg).
There are diners, and there is Mickey's Diner. Established in 1939, the 24/7 restaurant secured a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. It has appeared in several movies, including The Mighty Ducks, Jingle All The Way, and A Prairie Home Companion. The Art Deco railroad-car diner has several specialty dishes, but its secret-recipe buttermilk pancakes always get people talking. One Yelper called them the best pancakes she's ever tasted. Take that, IHOP.
What began as a pharmacy/soda fountain in October 1946 has seen a lot of change throughout the decades. Brent's Drugs is now pharmacy-free, and the current owners have renovated the place to have a classic diner feel, complete with a teal-and-white color palette. What hasn't changed are the bar stools and the soda fountain: they've remained in the same spot since the eatery's doors opened. Brent's Drugs recently made its Hollywood debut in The Help.
Established in 1948, Goody Goody wasn't always a diner. It started out as a root beer stand and turned into a drive-in before it became the Goody Goody found on many "Best Diners" lists today. Its menu features pages of crowd-pleasing meals, but the stand-out dish has consistently been Chicken & Waffles: half a fried chicken and a Belgian waffle. Sure, it's a lot of food, but, when in Rome.
If you're in the mood for soul food, and you happen to be in D.C., you're in luck. Florida Avenue Grill prides itself on being the "the oldest soul food restaurant in the world." Open since 1944, the diner serves breakfast all day long, with hearty options including fish & grits, hot cakes, and salmon cakes. For dinner, the food gets even more indulgent with smothered fried pork chops, pig's feet, and fresh-fried Atlantic croaker.
Housed in a 1946 Worcester Lunch Car, this popular diner is a favorite among locals, thanks to its classic dishes and impressive roster of specials. "Delicious food, served by people who are proud of what they do," declared one Yelp reviewer. As for the place's vintage look, another reviewer wrote, "Don't let the aging facade fool you &mdash this place has great quality, great service and is spotlessly clean inside!"
Headquarters: Nashville, Tennessee
US sales: $526 million
Number of US locations:212
Financial performance rank: 28
Customer satisfaction rank: 23
Value rank: 8
Nearly 45 years ago, Charley Watkins opened the first O'Charley's in Nashville, Tennessee. With its 212 locations, the midsize chain gives customers an experience full of Southern hospitality, fresh baked pies, and generous portions that appeal to the value-conscious customer.
Despite suffering a data breach this year that led to customer card information being accessed and a 2.5% decline in same-store sales, O'Charley's continues to attract customers with its revamped menu and low prices.
Are small restaurants dying? A proliferation of fast-casual &ldquoconcepts&rdquo and restaurants with vast dining rooms could easily make diners think the era of small restaurants that sprung to life during the recession is giving way.
Mario Batali&rsquos La Sirena, for example, boasts two dining rooms that each seat around 100, plus a patio and private dining rooms. It&rsquos a big restaurant. The same goes for Steve Samson&rsquos buzzy Rossoblu, which seats 120, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten&rsquos recently opened 150-seater, both in L.A. Across the country, new developments and hotels with buzzy chefs like Andrew Carmellini attached (he's opening restaurants in Baltimore and Detroit in the coming months) prove the trend isn&rsquot limited to New York and L.A.
It's no wonder chefs like Brendan McHale, who recently left his charming 30-seat NYC spot, The Eddy, to move to Wisconsin for a change of pace, have called small restaurants &ldquoa dying breed.&rdquo But while some are shuttering, other small restaurants&mdashthink 60 seats or less&mdashrun by smart, strategic chefs are going strong.
How do they do it in the face of rising rent, steeper food costs and more competition?
Rucola, one of Brooklyn's most charming restaurants | Photo: Rucola
&ldquoThe model for running a small restaurant is pretty specific,&rdquo Henry Rich, co-owner of several petit and perennially busy Brooklyn restaurants like Italian gem Rucola and newcomer Metta, explains. &ldquoYou need to know exactly what the neighborhood wants and be part of the community.&rdquo
Santos Uy, who owns a triplet of intimate dining and drinking spots in L.A., and has helped open several others, agrees. In his city, diners may hop in the car to reach larger restaurants they've read about, but for smaller places, Uy says, &ldquoYou have to serve the people around you, and if what you&rsquore serving is what they want, they&rsquoll come in.&rdquo
In NYC, as the market continues to get more competitive, that neighborhood feeling has to speak to locals and out-of-towners alike. &ldquoYou need both things: Your regular guests and people from all over the world and city [need] to feel like they&rsquore regulars," Andrew Tarlow, who owns a cluster of well-loved restaurants in Brooklyn, including Diner and Roman&rsquos, says.
Cracking the code for what makes a small restaurant work, in other words, isn't just about pinpointing exactly what a given neighborhood wants, but also how that neighborhood fits into the whole city's ecosystem&mdashone that differs considerably between New York and L.A., for example.
Asparagus at Chicago's Giant | Photo: Kristen Mendiola
Crucial for many success stories is the concept of safety in numbers. &ldquoOnce you get three or more [restaurants], you can start negotiating with vendors for a few different accounts. It&rsquos a lot easier,&rdquo Rich says.
Resources can also be shared across restaurants run by the same people. &ldquoWe cross utilize,&rdquo Alex Raij, who owns three small restaurants and a café in New York, explains. &ldquoOur waste is very well controlled . . . me and my husband are basically shleppers,&rdquo bringing cuts of meat that may work better at one restaurant than another across the city.
What's more, the teams go beyond sharing just infrastructure and ingredients. &ldquoOne restaurant learns from the mistakes or successes of another,&rdquo Rich adds.
They're lessons learned all the more quickly by a tight staff, who, by necessity, may have multiple responsibilities and feel more invested in their kitchens. Ken Oringer, who owns both smaller and larger restaurants in Boston and New York, points out, &ldquoYou can get by with smaller staff, and it&rsquos nicer to have people wear multiple hats.&rdquo At Uy&rsquos French wine bar, Mignon, which serves escargots and oeufs en cocotte to just 18 seats, &ldquothere are two people who work there in a shift. One person pouring wine, one person making the food&mdashand they&rsquoll pour wine, too, and they&rsquoll do the dishes, too. They do everything,&rdquo Uy says. "One of the most expensive things is staffing your restaurant," McHale, who scaled back on a prep cook and runner five days a week at The Eddy, adds. So keeping it lean is extra important.
The dining room at L.A.'s Petite Trois | Photo: Capra Photography
There's also added pressure to fill seats and turn tables in a small space, which can't rely on sheer mass. One technique is serving style: By doing tapas, which doesn't require separate coursing, at Toro in Boston, Oringer says, &ldquoWe can still do 300 people a night even though it&rsquos 60 seats. That&rsquos been key to the formula.&rdquo At Coppa, which seats 40 and serves Italian food, &ldquoeverything is meant to be shared,&rdquo which also translates to a speedier pace.
Ultimately, there's less room for error at these charming haunts. And these days, it's not enough to follow any one strategy alone, be it catering to the neighborhood, turning tables quickly, keeping a small and nimble staff, or relying on a network of restaurants. You need to have the right formula, which could include some or all of the above. And then, of course, some places just have that X factor.
"This was a huge hit! The kids got up this morning and asked if there were leftovers (there weren't)."
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50 States of Diners
Whether they're housed in a historic building, a train station or a genuine old-school dining car, located smack-dab downtown or on the waterfront, these greasy spoons dish up authentic eats with a dash of charm and a sprinkling of regional flair.
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Texas: Blue Bonnet Cafe
The Blue Bonnet Cafe &mdash named for the hat, not the popular Texas wildflower &mdash originated in 1928 on Main Street in Marble Falls and moved to its current location on Highway 281 in 1946. It has remained a staple for locals and visitors alike, and has been family-owned since 1981, when John and Belinda Kemper took over the operation. Many of the staff have been with them for more than 25 years, and the Kempers' oldest daughter, Lindsay, and her husband Dave, joined the team in 2005. The customers have their own legacy too &mdash one couple celebrated their honeymoon at the Blue Bonnet and have returned every year since during their 60-plus-years of marriage. The Blue Bonnet prides itself on home-cooked dishes like pot roast, chicken-fried steak and liver with onions, but its claim to fame is pie. The diner's two-sided pie box case boasts 14 different pie flavors available daily (don't miss the fan-favorite coconut cream), and the diner even celebrates pie happy hour every weekday from 3 to 5 p.m. The pies are so irresistible that thieves even stole whole pies during a burglary at the diner in 1931 (as reported by The Burnet Bulletin).
South Dakota: Phillips Avenue Diner
When this vintage airstream-trailer-turned-diner was located on the west side of Sioux Falls, from 1997 until, it was known as the Market Diner. At the mayor's behest, the owners agreed to move the diner to Sioux Falls' burgeoning downtown on Phillips Avenue, where it's become a mainstay for locals and tourists alike, and they renamed it the Phillips Avenue Diner. The space is flush with classic diner decor, including fixtures such as pecan-hued wooden booths and a main dining counter, alongside design touches like tiled flooring, neon exterior lighting accents and metal-edged tables. For a side of history with your meal, peruse the dozens of framed photos (taken by a revered local photographer) depicting downtown Sioux Falls over the last 75 years. Popular dishes include banana bread toast, a turkey avocado BLT and the Kitchen Sink Burger, where the patty comes topped with pulled pork, American cheese, cheese curds and a spiked mustard sauce. For a taste of the region, try the poutine, a hearty plate of french fries topped with pulled pork, cheese curds and a rich brown gravy or Swedish meatballs, a nod to the Mount Rushmore state's Nordic heritage, which consists of meatballs served in a spiced brown sauce over egg noodles and paired with lingonberry jam.
Mississippi: Brent's Drugs
Brent's Drugs was founded in 1946 as a pharmacy with a soda fountain in Jackson's Fondren neighborhood, and has long been a gathering place for locals. The pharmacy entity was sold in 2009, but thanks to Fondren resident Brad Reeves and his local partners, Jonathan Shull and Amanda Wells, Brent's 1940s soda fountain and luncheonette charm still shine bright (as do the original turquoise boomerang tabletops and vinyl booths). There's not a bad seat in the house, but visitors stop in almost daily to see where the diner scene from The Help was filmed and to request the booth that Hilly and Skeeter sat in. Keep your order classic and pair a chocolate shake with the perennially popular Brent's Burger, a classic cheeseburger with all the fixins that's made even better with the addition of bacon and a fried egg. And though it might sound like an unlikely combination, the egg-and-olive salad, which you can order as a side or in a sandwich, has earned a fan following of its own.
Minnesota: Mickey's Diner
When David "Mickey" Crimmons and John "Bert" Mattson founded Mickey's Diner in St. Paul in 1939, they couldn't have dreamed of the legacy they'd leave behind. To say that the diner is steeped in history is an understatement: It has operated nonstop, 24/7 for over 80 years and has been operated by three generations of the Mattson family. In 1983, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, making it one of the first diners to be designated a landmark. The dining car's iconic chrome facade has appeared in numerous movies, been featured on TV shows like Food Network's Unwrapped, Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels and Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt, graced countless magazine and newspaper articles, and been frequented by scores of celebrities. And yet, for all the fanfare, Mickey's stays true to its roots as a neighborhood diner. Depending on the time of day, you might families packed into the cozy booths, churchgoers feasting on fluffy buttermilk pancakes, solo diners washing down a burger with a hand-dipped malt, or concertgoers and hockey fans lining their stomachs during the evening bar rush. Whether it's your first time dining here or your 10th, you'll be swept away by a wave of nostalgia.
Louisiana: Slim Goodies Diner
Since Kathleen "Kappa" Horn and her brother, Raymond, founded Slim Goodies Diner in New Orleans in 2002, it has earned legions of fans near and far for its Creole cooking and Big Easy hospitality. The diner has cemented its status as a bedrock of the New Orleans community it serves breakfast and lunch daily 363 days a year, and after Hurricane Katrina, it was one of the first (and few) restaurants to reopen. Ask for a window booth at the front of the restaurant for views of Magazine Street and prime people-watching, then take in the funky artwork, family photos and thousands of Polaroid photos of patrons while you peruse the menu. You can't go wrong with any of the "Slammers" &mdash creative breakfast dishes with a Creole twist &mdash like the Creole Slammer, where crisp hash browns are topped with two eggs and a crawfish etouffee (a creamy crawfish sauce) that's perfect for mopping up with freshly baked biscuits. From the secret menu, order the waffle burger, where a waffle stands in for the bun to wrap around a juicy patty. If you find yourself here on a particularly steamy day, head to the open-air back patio, set amid a lush garden and outfitted with outdoor air conditioning and fans, and take the edge off with a frozen boozy lemonade.
North Dakota: Kroll's Diner
Jim and Alvina Glatt founded Kroll's Diner in Bismarck in 1969, and though there are now five locations across the Roughrider State, it has remained a family-owned business. Each location maintains a '60s-throwback vibe, with checkered floors, neon accents and a jukebox cranking out tunes. You can't go wrong with classic diner combos like steak and eggs or a burger and a shake, but don't miss the German specialties for which the diner is known. You'll find staples such as fleischkuechle (meat pies) and kuchen (stuffed and deep-fried savory pastries), but the hands-down favorite is Knoephla Soup, a creamy broth-based soup with potato dumplings bobbing in it. It might not be the prettiest dish (at the diner it's fondly referred to as Lumpy Yellow Soup), but there's no denying the warmth and comfort a bowl brings, especially during North Dakota's notoriously harsh winters, when the Fargo location alone goes through 245 gallons of this soup a month. And even if you think you don't have a sweet tooth, the underrated rhubarb caramel roll, made with local wild rhubarb, is a must-try it strikes the right balance between sweet and tart.
Vermont: Handy's Lunch
Even if you're dining solo, Handy's Lunch is the kind of place where you're bound to end up striking up a conversation with someone at the horseshoe counter. In fact, there are regulars who vie for the seat at the end of the counter so that they can chat with Janet Handy, owner Earl Handy's mother, who still comes in to make burgers and shoot the breeze. Earl is the third-generation owner of the venerated Burlington diner, which was founded by his grandparents as a mom-and-pop grocery store in 1945. The food menu began modestly with coffee, doughnuts and eggs, and expanded over the years to include breakfast and lunch. The signature specials have evolved over time too: When Earl was growing up, Handy's was known for specials like meatloaf Mondays and goulash Tuesdays, but he has put his stamp on the menu with a lineup of oversize breakfast sandwiches. Go big or go home with the Chuck Norris, a five-layer behemoth that weighs three-and-a-half pounds and features five pieces of French toast, four eggs, cheese, ham, bacon, sausage, a hamburger patty and corned beef &mdash all held together by a 10-inch skewer (lest it topple over) and accompanied by a side of Vermont maple syrup. It begs to be savored, but there's a friendly competition among local high schoolers to see who can eat one the fastest.
Indiana: South Side Soda Shop
In the town of Goshen, stepping into South Side Soda Shop is like stepping back in time. The spot was founded in 1910 as Dean's Grocery, and in the 1940s, the owners installed a Bastian-Blessing soda fountain, which remains today. On the older side of the diner, you'll find booths and tables underneath the original tin ceiling in the early '90s, Nick and Charity Boyd, who took over in 1986, added a dining car with booth seating. Generations of families have called South Side their second dining room, but a starring turn on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives really put it on the map, and its location between The University of Notre Dame and Northern Indiana Amish Country make it a perfect pit stop off the I-80/90 Indiana toll road. The menu is sprinkled with touches from Nick's native Philadelphia, and they are some of the most-popular dishes. They include the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, served on an Amoroso hoagie roll, and the Philly Chili, in which egg noodles topped with the diner's award-winning beef-and-bean chili, onions, cheddar and sour cream are served in a soda glass like a savory sundae. There's plenty to sate your sweet tooth, too, from the soda fountain specialties like floats and malts to more than 30 flavors of homemade pie, including the fan-favorite lemon meringue.
California: Patrick's Roadhouse
Before Bill Fischler founded Patrick's Roadhouse in 1973 and it became known as Santa Monica's diner to the stars, the building was first a train station, then one of Al Capone's houses of ill repute (these days the rooms upstairs are rented out on Airbnb) and finally a hot dog stand. Scores of celebrities dine here now, but the famous face that put the diner on the map was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was discovered at the restaurant and cast in his breakout role as Conan the Barbarian. He started dining at Patrick's Roadhouse frequently with his bodybuilder friends, and was known to eat three orders a day of the now-famous Governator, a kitchen-sink breakfast invented by Schwarzenegger's mom that boasts six eggs, red and green peppers, and sausage. If it's lunchtime fare you're after, try one of Patrick's Roadhouse's equally famous burgers. There's the showstopping Kilt Burger, a half-pound Angus beef patty that boasts a plate-size crisp skirt of melty sharp cheddar, or the Feckit Burger, where the patty is mixed with head chef Josesito's famous "Kick Arse" pico de gallo, then topped with a sweet-savory medley of grilled mango, a basted egg, applewood-smoked bacon and maple syrup. Fischler's son Anthony now owns the spot, and though weekend waits can easily reach the 45-minute mark, he shares an insider tip that you don't need a famous last name to take advantage of: You can call ahead to make a reservation.
Virginia: Texas Tavern
"We seat 1,000 people, 10 at a time." It's one of the first signs you'll notice when you step inside the Texas Tavern, a tiny 24/7 joint that's served Roanoke since 1930. The sign is right: There are just 10 red stools along the stainless-steel counter, and the original stainless-steel pipe foot rail is worn halfway through by the decades' worth of shoes that have rested on it. The sign is also a nod to the brand of quirky humor that's become as signature to the tavern as its homemade meat-and-bean chili (whose name is spelled with an "e" here) and the Cheesy Western, a hamburger topped with a scrambled egg, cheese and homemade relish. Texas Tavern is also locally known as Roanoke's Millionaire's Club everyone is treated like a millionaire here, and food is dished up with a side of banter (and a hearty helping of BS) from the guys behind the counter. Many of them have worked here since the 1980s and know regulars' orders by heart, but it doesn't hurt if you know the shorthand lingo for ordering: A "bowl" simply means chili, while a "bowl with" means it'll come topped with diced onions "hot" refers to a hot dog, which comes topped with a rich, beanless chili (fourth-generation owner Matt Bollington likes adding it to his Cheesy Western). Ask for your dog "walking" to get it to go, and don't even think about asking for ketchup &mdash unless you want to catch flak for getting "sissy sauce."
Maine: Becky's Diner
Housed in a former fish processing plant on the edge of Portland's Old Port waterfront, Becky's Diner is a staple for locals, fishermen and tourists alike. The diner opens at 4 a.m. to accommodate the fishing community and waterfront workers, so you'll find a dedicated group of regulars lining the counter and swapping stories over corned beef hash and Maine blueberry pancakes. Lobster may not seem like typical diner fare, but given the diner's location, it's no wonder the crustacean figures prominently on the menu &mdash general manager Zack Rand, son of owner Becky Rand, estimates that they go through up to 35 pounds of fresh-picked lobster meat daily and up to 100 lobsters weekly. You could eat lobster for every meal here if you wanted: a lobster omelet or lobster avocado toast for breakfast, a lobster roll at lunch, and for dinner, the baked stuffed lobster that took a starring turn on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. A whole lobster is split down the middle, packed with a seafood stuffing chock-full of scallops, shrimp and haddock, topped with buttery crackers and butter, then baked until brown and crisp. Weather permitting, snag a seat on the outdoor patio for a view of the very fishing and lobster boats that haul in the fresh seafood featured on the menu.
Nevada: The Coffee Cup
When it comes to dining in the Silver State, Las Vegas usually steals the spotlight. But 25 minutes from The Strip, in the town of Boulder City, The Coffee Cup is turning out classic and creative diner fare that locals, celebrities and tourists can't get enough of. Boulder City is near Lake Mead, so many families heading back from the lake make a pit stop at The Coffee Cup, as do road trippers traveling to the Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon. And Vegas hotel concierges often send guests here when they're craving home cooking. The chile verde omelet, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is a fan favorite, featuring a fluffy omelet folded with tender pork and a spicy green chile sauce. If you're in need of a hangover cure, get the Godfather Plate, three tostadas topped with hot Italian sausage, peppers, onions and cheese, all crowned with fried runny-yolk eggs. Or if you worked up an appetite water skiing, try the Kahuna Burger, a cheeseburger topped with sliced ham, pineapple and teriyaki sauce. Weekend waits can climb up to 90 minutes or more, so order a Bloody Mary, crafted with local vodka and Coffee Cup co-owner Carri Stevens' homemade mix, and head outside to watch the hot rods and Harleys ride past while you wait.
Rhode Island: The Middle of Nowhere Diner
Despite its name, The Middle of Nowhere Diner manages to draw hungry crowds from near and far to the town of Exeter. The cozy diner is full of vintage memorabilia and old photos, including a smattering of Elvis photos adorning the wall above the aptly named "Elvis Table," one of the most-requested seats in the house. The Cheers-like vibe means that the staff likely knows your name (or gets to know it), and custom dishes are often named after the customer who requests them. Crowd-pleasing comfort food classics include fluffy pancakes, meatloaf and lasagna, as well as seafood specialties that befit the diner's location in the Ocean State. Look for perennially popular picks like the fish and chips, clam cakes or calamari, but for a quintessential taste of Rhode Island, opt for the stuffies. They're quahog clam half-shells that are stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, butter and mixed clams (additional veggies or meats are sometimes added), baked till golden and served with lemon and hot sauce.
South Carolina: Stax Omega Diner
When you step into Stax Omega Diner, the first thing you'll likely notice is the bakery case. This is your tipoff to save room for dessert or get a slice of cake to go (try the maple butter pecan). The 16-page menu offers something for everyone. On the savory side, you can't go wrong with any of the Greek specialties, a legacy that owner George Koumoustiotis, whose father founded the diner in 1988, has upheld. He's put his own fresh, Mediterranean-Greek-inspired twist on the menu, including his personal favorite dish, Tuscan Chicken: All-natural chicken is paired with roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes, and it's all topped off with herb-infused extra-virgin olive oil imported from the Koumoustiotis family farm in Sparta, Greece. For a taste of low-country South Carolina, try the shrimp and grits, in which tender shrimp are simmered with andouille sausage, smoked bacon and aromatics, all served on a bed of cheesy grits.
Iowa: Drake Diner
Since it opened in 1987, Drake Diner has earned a reputation for hearty Midwestern fare that's so good servers often hear the ultimate compliment from diners: "It's just like Grandma used to make." The railcar diner retains its old-school charm, with neon accents, an open kitchen, counter seating and banks of booths. Regulars, Drake University students and campaigning politicians can't get enough of the bustling diner vibe and made-to-order breakfast classics, such as the signature omelet folded with local sausage, mushrooms and cheese, as well as "better-than-pie" pumpkin pancakes. At lunch, the half-pound burgers are a sure bet. Try the fan-favorite California, with lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise or the Rarebit Burger, an open-faced number topped with a spicy cheddar sauce. For a throwback meal, order one of the blue-plate-special sandwiches of roast beef, meatloaf or roast turkey piled onto bread, covered with gravy and served with smashed potatoes and vegetables. Be sure to save room for dessert. Shannon Vilmain, who has owned the diner with her husband Steve since 2001, has garnered a following for her pies, especially fruit pies like apple, cherry or peach-blackberry.
Missouri: Crown Candy Kitchen
Ask any local about Crown Candy Kitchen and they're bound to have a story. It's no wonder &mdash the old-school St. Louis soda fountain has been a local institution since 1913, when Harry Karandzieff and his best friend Pete Jugaloff opened it as a family-friendly eatery to showcase their Greek confectionary skills. Crown Candy remains a family affair &mdash Harry's son George took it over in the 1950s, and his three sons, Andy, Tommy and Mike, now run the place &mdash and little has changed over the decades, from the soda fountain to the old wooden booths built by Harry himself. Fittingly, the first thing you'll notice when you walk in is the candy case, which is lined with old-fashioned candies and chocolates like the signature Heavenly Hash, gooey marshmallows covered in chocolate and pecans. To satisfy the demand for seasonal treats like chocolate Easter rabbits, Andy starts hand-pouring them in January &mdash turning out 10,000 chocolate bunnies a season. Crown Candy makes its own ice cream, too, including flavors like black walnut, a regional specialty crafted with Ozark black walnuts, which are lauded for their rich, nutty-sweet flavor. There's plenty here to sate your sweet tooth, but the place has also earned a reputation for its sandwiches, especially the BLT. It's a monstrous, meaty masterpiece that boasts 15 slices of bacon piled high with lettuce and tomato on Texas toast slicked with Miracle Whip.
Alabama: Duck's Diner
Situated on Alabama's Gulf Coast, Orange Beach is a well-known haven for water-sports enthusiasts and beachgoing tourists. But the spot that locals want to keep a secret is Duck's Diner. It's a casual neighborhood joint that attracts legions of dedicated regulars who can't get enough of the laid-back vibes and homey Southern cooking. A classic "meat and three" is a sure bet &mdash try pairing the country-fried steak with turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato casserole, then mop up the pepper gravy with a cornbread muffin. You'll also find signature dishes to tempt you, whether your tastes skew sweet or savory, like the banana-stuffed French toast, which comes deep-fried, rolled in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with butter pecan sauce, or the Creole grit cakes, where smoked-Gouda-infused grits are deep-fried, topped with grilled tomato slices and smothered in a Parmesan Creole shrimp sauce. Now that the secret is out, here's one more tip: For the best view in the house, snag a seat at the bar overlooking the putting green at Orange Beach Golf Center.
Alaska: Kriner's Diner
Before Andy and Norann Kriner opened Kriner's Diner in Anchorage, they owned Sal's Klondike Diner &mdash and, happily for locals, they brought their friendly hospitality and the family recipe for their famous giant cinnamon roll with them. The Kriner Cinnamon Roll is so beloved that diners travel from across The Last Frontier just to snag one (don't even think about posting a photo on social media unless you're prepared to bring home extras!). The Kriners' baking game is strong &mdash they're also known for their huge loaves of homemade sourdough that they bake in coffee cans and use to craft sandwiches, burgers, French toast and garlic bread. Besides the oversize baked goods, Kriner's Diner is known for creative fare, printed on an equally distinctive menu that's chock-full of fun facts about Alaska, Kriner family stories and more. (It's become something of a collector's item, so don't be shy about asking to take one home as a souvenir.) Opt for Andy's Awesome Burger, a sweet-spicy winner where the patty comes topped with honey BBQ sauce, onion straws, bacon and homemade jalapeno cheese. The diner sells around 10,000 of these burgers every year, and a portion of the proceeds is donated a local charity called The Children's Lunchbox &mdash over $30,000 to date. The diner is also known for its free-to-all Thanksgiving dinner, complete with roasted turkey and all the fixins.
Ohio: Hathaway's Diner
Lloyd and Vera Hathaway opened their namesake diner in 1956 inside Carew Tower, which was then downtown Cincinnati's tallest building. The diner itself has gained a larger-than-life reputation by feeding generations of locals, from solo diners to curious foodies to longtime regulars, as well as a long list of famous folks, including Elvis Presley and President Eisenhower. The 1950s diner vibe is palpable: photos from Cincy's glory days on the wall, vibrant red accents throughout and golden oldies on the sound system. One of the waitresses, Geneva, has worked at the diner since 1979. The menu reflects a solid roster of dishes made with love, like the open-faced roast beef sandwich and the slow-smoked brisket. For a hyperlocal dish, order the goetta omelet or the GLT sandwich, both of which feature goetta, a strictly Cincinnati food that reflects the city's deep German roots. It's a meat-and-grain sausage typically made with pork and beef and bound together with pinhead oats, then prepared by mashing, mushing, slicing and frying it. Goetta can be an acquired taste, but those who love it will even eat it plain or doctored up with syrup or ketchup.
Florida: Peter Pan Diner
Since 1979, Peter Pan Diner has been fueling Fort Lauderdale locals and tourists with breakfast at any time of day. In fact, the breakfast offerings here are so popular that the diner goes through more than 1,000 dozen eggs every week. The prices hark back to another era too: Opt for the #4 and you'll get two pancakes, two eggs and two bacon strips for $4.50. If you've got a heartier appetite, get the Paulie Slam, which comes with three eggs, three pancakes, sausage and bacon. Besides the stellar breakfasts, Peter Pan is known for its Greek dishes. Even if the decor doesn't give that fact away, you'll likely notice the frequency of dishes like gyro platters, gyro meat served with Greek salad, fries, pita and a side of tzatziki sauce, and spinach pies being delivered to most tables. No matter the hour, save room for one of the scratch-made desserts. Order a slice of the perennially popular Chocolate Supreme, a chocolate cake with a whole cheesecake stuffed inside, or try the seasonal pumpkin swirl cheesecake, which hits the menu around Halloween and stays until New Year's.
Maryland: Sip & Bite Diner
Olympian Michael Phelps may have put Sip & Bite Diner on the national map when he dined here, but this third-generation, family-run Baltimore diner has been a local fixture since 1948, serving all walks of life, including blue-collar workers, families, lawyers and Towson University students. For a breakfast of champions, try Michael Phelps' namesake French toast, which comes stuffed with Nutella and topped with strawberries, whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar, or the hangover-busting breakfast sandwich made with a runny-yolk egg, avocado, bacon, cheese and sriracha. If it's a taste of the region you're after, opt for anything that features crab cakes, crafted with locally sourced crab. You'll find them folded into scrambled eggs, anchoring eggs Benedict, sandwiched on a bun and served as part of a platter. Owners Sofia and Tony Vasiliades have also maintained their family's proud Greek heritage with an extensive roster of specialties like gyros, souvlaki and the best-selling spanakopita, a cheesy spinach pie that Guy Fieri fell hard for on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Utah: Idle Isle Cafe
The Idle Isle Cafe was established in 1921 on Brigham City's Main Street. It remains one of the oldest operating restaurants in Utah, complete with original fixtures like handcrafted wood booths, an antique grandfather clock and a marble-and-onyx soda fountain. The diner's homestyle, scratch-made cooking harkens back to a bygone era too, with old-fashioned specials like liver with bacon and onions, meatloaf, and corned beef and cabbage peppering the menu. For a timeless classic, opt for anything starring the diner's slow-roasted pot roast, served as part of a meal with all the fixins, on a chef salad, or piled onto sandwiches like a French dip or hot beef. Some customers travel from miles around on specific days for specials like mountain trout, grilled Reuben sandwiches or turkey dinners served with yeasty, fresh-baked rolls. Save room for desserts featuring idleberries, a sweet-tangy combination of blueberries and marionberries, which find their way into sweet treats such as cheesecake, milkshakes and the diner's signature pie, served warm (pro tip: get it a la mode).
Arizona: Harlow's Café
Before it was known as Harlow's Café, back in the day this Tempe diner was called May West (a play on the names of the original owner, Conrad May, and film star Mae West). In a nod to vintage Hollywood, the diner's wood-paneled walls are filled with photos and posters of classic movies. But you don't need to have a famous last name to get the A-list treatment, so it's no wonder that some regulars dine here twice a day. All walks of life gather here: Settle on a stool and you might share the counter with an Arizona State University student, a city employee or even the town mayor. Not much has changed since the diner's inception in 1976, including its reputation for hearty helpings of scratch-made fare. The menu is as oversize as the portions, but anything with homemade chorizo is a sure bet (the diner goes through about 200 pounds every week). Look for specialties under the South of the Border Breakfast section, like the Chorizo-rito Burro, or Chorizo & Eggs, served with hash browns and your choice of tortillas, toast or biscuits. You can also opt to get chorizo added to your Eggs Maximilian, which has rightfully earned its reputation as a hangover cure. It starts with a flour tortilla that's topped with hash browns, diced green chiles, onions, three large eggs, sour cream and the cafe's own salsa. To add a little hair of the dog, wash it down with a Bloody Mary.
Arkansas: Rolling Pin Cafe
Since the Rolling Pin Cafe opened in 1993 in Fayetteville, it has been a community staple, serving just about everyone from college students to retirees, the suit-and-tie set to blue-collar workers. Travis Freeman has worked at the diner since it opened, his wife Devona since 1997, and together the couple took over operations from Travis' parents in 2007. Since then, the two have worked side by side every weekend at the grill, where many regulars clamor for a seat at the counter for a glimpse of the cooking action. Try the fan-favorite omelet known as The John Wayne (after one of Travis' nicknames), a hearty combination of sausage, ham, bacon, tomatoes, onion, green peppers, jalapenos, sour cream and cheddar. The diner is also known for its biscuits and gravy, both savory (cream or sausage) and sweet (chocolate &mdash don't knock it till you try it!). Save room for one of Devona's sweet treats, like homemade pies made with fruit from local orchards or the weekend-only caramel rolls.
Georgia: The Silver Skillet
The Silver Skillet has been around since the 1950s, but really found its footing in 1967, when George and Louise Decker took over the place. Back in the day, George was a meat salesman and the Skillet was a customer when it was for sale, he jumped at the chance to own the place. His daughter, Teresa, and her husband Jeff, have run the venerable Atlanta diner for more than three decades, carrying on the greasy spoon's reputation for down-home Southern cooking. Snag a seat in one of the Naugahyde booths or, better yet, sidle up to the counter, where you're just as likely to be seated next to a local politician or Georgia Tech student as you are to a movie star in town for a shoot. If you're here for breakfast, opt for a Southern staple like chicken and waffles or country ham with redeye gravy (made with pan drippings and coffee), perfect for mopping up with a fluffy biscuit. Linger a little longer with another cup of coffee and work up the appetite for a slice of luscious lemon icebox pie, crafted after George's original recipe.
Hawaii: Rock Island Cafe
Rock Island started as a Waikiki Beach gift shop in 1969, but it's become a fixture for both tourists and locals (including singer Bruno Mars) since it became Rock Island Cafe in 1999. It's got a funky 1950s-diner-meets-tiki-bar vibe, and the whole place is decorated with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia and collectibles. It's all for sale too, so the decor evolves over time &mdash staff often joke that if a piece of memorabilia gets too dusty, they just mark down the price instead of cleaning it. The throwback vibe extends to the 45-rpm record that diners receive after they place orders at the counter. Elvis may be king, but on the menu kalua pork reigns supreme. It's prepared in the traditional Hawaiian luau way, cooked in an underground oven called an imu. The smoky pork anchors the signature Porky Pig sandwich, where the shredded strands are bolstered with a sweet barbecue sauce, but it also takes a starring turn topping nachos, hot dogs and pizza, too. Wash it down with a shake or a float from the soda fountain, or if you're feeling tropical, a mai tai.
Connecticut: Georgie's Diner
Georgie's Diner was built in 1956 in New Rochelle, New York. In 1967 it was moved to the coastal town of West Haven, Connecticut, where it's been a fixture ever since, serving neighborhood locals, tourists and students from the nearby University of New Haven. Greek immigrants George and Irene Anthis bought the diner in the early 1970s, and today their children, brother-and-sister team Nico Anthis and Georgette Kapetaneas, run the show. In 2009 they restored the diner to its original 1950s glory, complete with stainless steel fixtures, terrazzo floors, neon accents and red-and-white booths. The focus on food made from scratch is a constant as well: The team mill their own flours, grind their own meat, press their own juice and bake their own bread. Pull up a stool at the counter for the best view of the kitchen action to watch burgers, omelets and pancakes sizzle on the time-worn griddle. Don't miss the fan-favorite Seoul burger. A custom patty &mdash featuring a blend of 60-day dry aged rib eye, sirloin and brisket &mdash comes topped with kimchi, crisp bacon and the house cheese sauce, all piled onto a brioche bun. Dessert here is another must. Try perennial favorites such as Belgian Death Cake or New York cheesecake, or highly sought-after seasonal treats such as homemade toasted coconut ice cream or vegan Key lime tarts. After your meal, take a stroll on the boardwalk to soak up the beach vibes and ocean air.
Idaho: Jimmy's Down the Street
Though Jimmy's Down the Street has gone by many names since it was founded in the 1940s, the diner has retained its mom-and-pop charm. Because of its location in the resort town of Coeur d'Alene, it's a popular stop for water sports-loving tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, but it's locally beloved, too. Inside you'll find an old-school diner vibe, complete with vinyl booths, counter stools and old license plates adorning the walls, all of which are donated by patrons. The nostalgia-inducing menu reads like a roster of classic comfort food favorites, including dishes such as corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, and chicken-fried steak at breakfast, or burgers, meatloaf and chili at lunch. When Guy Fieri visited for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he was a fan of the chicken and dumpling soup, but the dish that stole the show was the oversize caramel-pecan cinnamon roll. The rolls are baked fresh daily by Gretchen Surber, who owns the diner with her husband Mike, and are so popular that they often sell out before the day's end.
Illinois: The Igloo Diner
The Igloo Diner has been a local institution in the Illinois Valley since 1937, so when Peru natives Rich and Chris Decker bought the place in 2010, they knew they were also buying a slice of history. The pair have continued to run the place as if the original owners, Louie and Stephanie "Pat" Mazzorana, were still in charge, much to regulars' delight. The Igloo, as it's known locally, is often the first stop for folks coming back into town, and is so consistently popular that you might even see four generations of one family dining together (and the older members likely ate here as kids, too). On the menu front, the diner's claim to fame is its pork tenderloin sandwiches, which feature a hand-trimmed, pounded and lightly breaded pork tenderloin that's deep-fried till golden-crisp. Order it with "the works" and it'll come with ketchup, pickles and onions (but no mustard) don't forget to include a side of hand-cut fries. It's worth it to check out the sandwich of the month, like The Carnivore, a triple-patty beast stacked with three cheeses, bacon, lettuce and tomato on a bun slicked with chipotle mayo, or The Oh-La-Laa, a burger inspired by French onion soup. Wash it all down with a glass of homemade root beer.
Kansas: Doo-Dah Diner
"Doo-Dah" is Wichita's nickname, and this diner has a vibe as whimsical as its name &mdash with mismatched thrifted dishware, hipster cocktail party music and an over-the-top menu of creative comfort food. The diner has a fan following that includes ESPN college basketball announcers, Broadway musical stars and even movie star Harrison Ford (who visits a few times a year when he's getting his plane serviced). Perhaps the most-devoted regular is local Richard Holmes, an octogenarian who has eaten at the diner nearly every day and writes the "Counter Chat" blog on the diner's website, chronicling his conversations with people he meets at Doo-Dah's breakfast counter. Don't miss the signature Banana Bread French Toast, slices of homemade banana bread that are fried and then topped with sauteed candied apples, apple butter, whipped cream, candied pecans and housemade vanilla-molasses syrup (as a bonus, it's gluten-free).
Kentucky: Wagner's Pharmacy
Kentucky is synonymous with horse racing, even when it comes to diners. Louisville's Wagner's Pharmacy, located across the street from Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), has long been a go-to for jockeys and racegoers. Leo Wagner founded it in 1922 after he purchased Hagen's Pharmacy looking to expand his business, he sold horsemen cigarettes and weekly goods on credit and then started serving breakfast and lunch to a dedicated group of jockeys and trainers. In 1965, he bought Becker & Durski, a well-regarded supplier of turf goods and tack products, and Wagner's became a go-to spot for horsemen to eat, dress and outfit their stables. (There are even a few horse ties in the parking lot in case a horseman is really in a rush!) The Wagners sold the pharmacy entity in 2014, but the diner remains a staple not just for jockeys, trainers and racehorse owners, but for University of Louisville athletes, tourists and loyal regulars, too. There's loads to love on the homey Southern menu: Try pairing the locally famous vegetable soup with a fried bologna sandwich or Derby sandwich, a toasty honey-glazed ham and Swiss. If you happen to be in town during the Kentucky Derby, don't miss the Kentucky Hot Brown, an open-faced hot turkey sandwich topped with tomatoes and Mornay sauce.
Massachusetts: Corner Lunch Diner
Corner Lunch Diner was built in 1955 in New York. In 1958 it was moved to Worcester, on the corner of Lamartine Street and Lafayette Street, where it has remained a local landmark ever since. You can't miss this old-school diner &mdash it's one of the city's largest and boasts a baked-enamel finish in '60s shades such as pastel yellow and green. Regulars love being treated like family (with a healthy dose of sarcasm included) and snag counter stools early for breakfast specials like Two for the Day, a plate of two eggs, two pieces of bacon (or sausage), home fries, toast, a fluffy buttermilk pancake and coffee that will set you back just $5.59. If you're packing an appetite, opt for The Mess, a breakfast that owner Charles Boukalis whipped up at a customer's request. Seasoned hash browns are folded with onions, peppers and scrambled eggs, plus ham, bacon or sausage (or all three, if you want), then the whole lot is topped with cheddar sauce. On Fridays, locals clamor for New England specialties like fish 'n' chips and clam chowder, and those in the know always save room for scratch-made desserts like summer-ready strawberry shortcake.
Michigan: The Fleetwood Diner
The towns of Ann Arbor and Lansing may make national headlines for their college sports teams, University of Michigan and Michigan State University, respectively, but The Fleetwood Diner has earned local fandom with two locations of its classic 24/7 diner. The throwback vibes are the real deal &mdash the original Ann Arbor location has been around since 1949 &mdash with stainless steel, neon signage, black-and-white checkered tiling and vinyl counter stools. There's something for anyone, anytime of day, but the dish The Fleetwood is most famous for is Hippie Hash. Crispy homemade hash browns are topped with a medley of grilled green peppers, onions, tomatoes, broccoli and mushrooms, and blanketed with feta cheese, adding up to a cheesy, savory bite that's perfect for refueling after an all-nighter (whether from studying or partying we're not here to judge). Order it "meaty" and it'll come with a hearty helping of homemade corned beef hash, or swap in tempeh if you want to keep it vegetarian.
Wyoming: Luxury Diner
The Luxury Diner opened in Cheyenne since 1926 when it closed for a month in 2015 and rumors circulated that it was going to become a pizzeria, Sherrie Lyle bought it to keep a slice of Highway 30 history alive. One side of the diner is a repurposed trolley car that, local lore has it, ran in Cheyenne from 1894 to 1912. For the best seat in the house, ask for the round table in the front of the trolley for views of the kitchen, dining car and expanded dining room. Some of the recipes are decades old too, like the homemade sausage gravy and the green chili, which is so popular that the diner goes through at least five gallons daily and 10 on weekends. Try it on the popular Santa Fe Burrito, a 12-inch flour tortilla wrapped around refried beans, housemade salsa, scrambled eggs and shredded cheddar, all topped with a large ladle of green chili. For a taste of the region, order the chicken-fried steak, a piece of tenderized round steak that's dredged, fried and covered in sausage gravy to supremely savory effect. Finish sweet with an oversize homemade cinnamon roll for the table &mdash it's so big that just one has been known to feed up to eight people.
Montana: Shellie's Country Cafe
After toiling in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, from serving to bartending to cooking to management, Shellie Mitchell decided to test her grit and open her own place. In 2007, she opened Shellie's Country Cafe in the mountain town of Helena with just seven tables and a small bar. When lines consistently formed around the building (and then some), Mitchell knew it was time to expand and moved to a larger location along Highway 12 in 2018 she opened a second location on the opposite side of town. Open 24/7, the diner is a hub for just about everyone: truck drivers, families, late night-revelers, students, retirees, outdoor enthusiasts and visitors to Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. Shellie's lays claim to the largest short-order menu in the state, turning out dishes that span every meal while abiding by the motto "nothing fancy, just good food." The diner is especially known for its Holy Cow menu, which boasts double-size portions of some of the cafe's signature dishes, including chicken-fried steak, breakfast burritos, omelets and one-pound burgers (try a bison burger for a truly local taste). Save room for a scoop of locally made huckleberry ice cream from Wilcoxson's the berries grow wild here and taste like a cross between a blueberry and a cherry. Or opt for a slice of the locally famous homemade cream pies. Mitchell's daughter Aimee bakes more than 23 flavors, including the peanut butter chocolate and the fan-favorite chocolate Oreo.
Nebraska: Hi-Way Diner
The Hi-Way Diner is indeed located on a highway &mdash Highway 2, to be exact &mdash making it a popular pit stop for road trippers. But for more than three decades, the 24/7 eatery has also fed generations of Lincoln residents, many of whom eat there as kids and then, years later, return with their own kids. The vibe harks back to another era too, with loads of antiques, porcelain signs and neon accents adorning the space, and a menu of simple, home-style cooked dishes. Given Nebraska's reputation for top-notch beef, you'd be wise to order accordingly. Try the chicken-fried steak with country gravy (particularly popular for breakfast here), or opt for owner Scott Walker's favorite, a hot beef sandwich featuring thick slices of tender chuck roast piled atop a slice of grilled Texas toast, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. But perhaps there's no beefier taste of the heartland than the Gorilla burger, featuring a burger that weighs two-thirds of a pound and is topped with three slices of American cheese and three strips of bacon, all piled onto grilled Texas toast. After hours, the late-night crowd here is partial to a dish with the tongue-in-cheek name the Hot Stripper, featuring a combo of grilled Texas toast, hash browns and three chicken strips, all topped with a ladle of sausage gravy (you can gild the lily by adding eggs and cheese).
New Jersey: Summit Diner
The Summit Diner was built in Elizabeth and dropped off in the town of Summit in 1939, where it has operated continuously to this day. Jim Greberis' uncle and father-in-law bought it from the original owners in 1964, and he and his wife Michelle have run the place since 1980. Not much has changed over the decades: The facade is the same stainless steel with green-and-white enamel lettering, and inside, the mahogany walls, the Italian black marble countertop and the tiling on the floor, walls and counters are all original. You won't hear any music playing, as the intimate space and buzzy chatter provide enough of a soundtrack throughout the day. The menu includes eggs any way by day and hearty fare like roast beef, ham or turkey dinners by night. You'll find a smattering of Greek specialties like moussaka (an eggplant-based dish), spinach pie and pasticcio, which is like moussaka layered with wide spaghetti, chopped meat and a bechamel sauce topper. For a true Jersey breakfast, opt for the Taylor ham (a brand of pork roll), egg and cheese sandwich.
New Hampshire: Four Aces Diner
The Four Aces Diner was manufactured in Worcester, Massachusetts, so it evokes a classic East Coast diner feel, with art deco flair, colorful ceramic tiles and a stainless-steel finish. Since Four Aces arrived in West Lebanon in 1952, it's been a mainstay to generations of Dartmouth students and working-class regulars, so much so that you can see where the countertop has been worn down by people's elbows over the years. Four Aces is best known for its breakfast, including homemade corned beef hash (the diner goes through 250 pounds of it a week), pancakes, malted Belgian waffles and eggs Benedict. Expect nothing less than pure New Hampshire maple syrup to accompany your 'cakes, whether you order buttermilk or the signature pineapple upside-down pancakes. For a taste of New England, try the red flannel hash, a corned beef hash that's studded with diced beets and served with a side of maple baked beans. Save room for a maple-glazed sour cream doughnut, or bag one for the road. If you really want to treat yourself, order it grilled and it'll come sliced in half, filled with whipped cream and drizzled with maple syrup.
New Mexico: Lindy's Diner
The history behind its name is murky, but Lindy's Diner is well-documented as being one of the oldest restaurants on Route 66 in New Mexico. Since 1929, the Albuquerque diner has welcomed folks of all stripes, including businesspeople, the mayor, TV and movie stars (over 32 movies have been filmed here!), the homeless and even President Clinton (and his Secret Service entourage), who gave a speech at its front door. Even four-legged, furry friends are welcome on the dog-friendly patio. Look for signature dishes like the Cowboy Breakfast (often ordered outside of morning hours), a chicken-fried steak smothered in green chili (made with local Hatch chiles) and cheese and paired with pinto beans, hash browns and eggs, plus a tortilla and a grilled jalapeno. The burgers are as creative as they are huge, like the Green Chile Cheeseburger, a half-pound patty topped with Hatch green chiles and American cheese on a toasted brioche bun. In a nod to the Greek roots of the Vatoseow family, who have owned the diner since 1971, the Spartacus Burger is topped with sliced gyro and feta and served with a cooling side of tzatziki sauce.
New York: The Square Diner
The staff at The Square Diner in New York City's Tribeca often joke that it could be called Square Diner Studios because of all the movie, TV and photo shoots it has hosted. Even if you've never set foot inside it, there's no denying the old-school charm and nostalgic appeal radiating from the vintage train-car-style diner. The timeless vibe is echoed by the oldies tunes, quirky signage and ample booth seating. The clientele is as diverse as the Big Apple, ranging from law enforcement to office workers, tourists to celebrities (like true New Yorkers, the staff don't name names), but most everyone agrees that the homemade corned beef hash makes for a stellar brunch choice (and hangover cure). The buttermilk pancakes, scattered with toppings like berries, chocolate chips or coconut flakes, are a fan favorite among kids (and kids at heart). For a taste of classic New York, opt for one of the signature sandwiches, like a turkey club or the NYC Classic, which stars corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss on grilled rye (the dairy-averse can opt for corned beef on rye with mustard for an equally nostalgic New York throwback). Snag a seat at one of the sidewalk tables for a side of people-watching with your meal. (33 Leonard Street, New York, NY 10013)
North Carolina: Smith Street Diner
"Country style cooking, eight days a week." Smith Street Diner's tagline, printed on the side of the building, on the door and on the menu, is one of the quirky inside jokes that has stuck since the Greensboro diner's inception in 2005. The place is justly famous for serving the biggest biscuit in the 'Boro: There are about a baker's dozen styles of biscuits in the South, and the one served here is a cathead biscuit (so named because it's as big as a cat's head). The buttery, crumbly rounds are a fine match for all manner of breakfast fixings, like scrambled eggs, bacon or local Neese's sausage with a side of sausage gravy. Doctor up your breakfast biscuit with a glug or two of tangy Boar & Castle sauce (invented by an old-school Greensboro restaurant of the same name) or take things sweet with a side of homemade apple butter. Don't miss the fried chicken special on Thursdays, when owner Beth Kizhnerman (who is a classically trained chef) fries up her signature birds dredged in buttermilk and hot sauce.
Oklahoma: Shortcake's Diner
Glen and Gayla Higgins opened Shortcake's Diner in 1984, and it has remained a family-run restaurant in the heart of Stillwater. All six of their kids and even some of the grandkids have worked at the restaurant, and daughter (and current co-owner) Charley even remembers sleeping under one of the booths while her parents worked the crazy hours required to get a 24/7 diner up and running (they have since reduced the hours). The decor is minimal, but just about everything from the booths to the bar stools is bright orange, a nod to nearby Oklahoma State University's team colors. Scores of students and local regulars clamor for a taste of home cooking, especially hungry athletes. Former OSU and NBA basketball star Bryant "Big Country" Reeves used to order two Country Breakfasts at a time, for a hearty helping of eggs, breakfast meat and pancakes (or waffles or biscuits). Another fan favorite is the chicken-fried steak, featuring hand-breaded and fried cube steak from local meatpacking company Ralph's, paired with eggs at breakfast or on a sandwich anytime.
Colorado: Durango Diner
Durango, a picturesque mountain town in southern Colorado, has earned its reputation as a travel destination with its beautiful summer weather, extended fall leaf-peeping season and superb winter skiing. No matter your reason for visiting, no trip to Durango is complete without a stop at the Durango Diner. Gary and Donna Broad have owned the landmark eatery on historic Main Avenue since 1980 and still pride themselves on cooking everything from scratch, from huevos rancheros to the "biggest and best in the West" hotcakes (a nod to the plate-size pancakes Gary ate at Long Island diners as a kid). Snag a stool counter or one of a handful of tables, then peruse the menu. Anything with Gary's housemade green chili is a solid option try it in the The Cure, where it's lavished over grated-to-order local potatoes that are covered in cheese and scattered with your choice of toppings. The green chili and the Southwest salsa are so popular that they've been permanent fixtures at local grocery stores for more than 20 years, and Gary estimates the diner ships out at least a case a day.
Oregon: Fuller’s Coffee Shop
When Jack Fuller opened Fuller's Coffee Shop in North Portland in 1947, his aim was to give the working-class neighborhood a place to eat homemade food at a fair price. That ethos has remained a constant throughout the decades, despite inevitable change: In 1960, the diner relocated to Portland&rsquos Pearl District in 1979, Jack handed over the reins to his son, John and in 2019, Fuller's became a division of locally owned Urban Restaurant Group. Owners Mark and Carla Byrum have preserved the lunch counter's retro charm with fast, friendly service and a menu of classic American eats, plus signatures like homemade bread and a bottomless cup of joe. Pull up a stool at the counter and sip a cup while you peruse the menu. Breakfast is available all day, and you can&rsquot go wrong with classics such as corned beef hash or golden slabs of custardy French toast, which also take a starring turn in the Monte Cristo, a grilled ham, turkey and Swiss sandwich. If you&rsquore in the mood for lunch, the recommended move is the Fuller's Burger &mdash a perfectly seared thin patty, crisp lettuce, tomato, pickles and secret sauce piled onto a squishy bun &mdash paired with a creamy milkshake.
Delaware: Kozy Korner
Kozy Korner has been slinging breakfast and lunch to Wilmington families for generations, so it's no surprise that servers know their regulars' orders by heart and have their drinks waiting for them. The family-run diner was founded in 1922 by John Vouras in downtown Wilmington, where it flourished, and was eventually was passed on to his son Nick in 1964, who ran the business for 20 years before the building was replaced by a high-rise hotel. In 1992, Nick revived the diner at its current location in the Hilltop neighborhood, where the photos on the wall proudly pay homage to the original location. Third-generation owner John Vouras maintains the diner's legacy, including the Greek specialties for which it has become well-known. Spanikopita, moussaka and John's personal favorite, marinated-chicken gyros, share the menu with American classics like chipped beef, a throwback dish of dried beef and cream sauce on top of toast. For a taste of the Mid-Atlantic, try scrapple: pork scraps combined with cornmeal, formed into a loaf, sliced and pan-fried. Whether or not you're a vegetarian, the veggie Reuben is a sleeper hit, featuring a satisfying medley of sauerkraut, Swiss, tomatoes, onions and Thousand Island dressing sandwiched between slices of grilled Jewish rye.
Tennessee: Pete's Restaurant
Since opening Pete's namesake Knoxville restaurant in 1986, Pete Natour and his wife Rita have earned a loyal following among locals, tourists and University of Tennessee students for their family-friendly atmosphere and home-cooked meals. The couple started the diner as newlyweds, and the walls reflect the family and diner's history with family photos, pictures of patrons and loads of University of Tennessee memorabilia. Pull up a counter seat and pore over the classic diner menu. If it's morning, opt for Pete's breakfast, which comes with two eggs, bacon or sausage, home fries, and toast or a biscuit (you want the biscuit, with gravy). Each of the family members have dishes named after them too, like Rita's Chicken Salad, or The Joey Burger, a cheeseburger named after one of the Natours' sons (who now co-owns Pete's), which features a patty topped with a duo of American and Swiss piled onto Texas toast. For a taste of down-home Southern cooking, opt for one of the daily meat-and-three specials, like meatloaf or pulled barbecue pork accompanied by sides like coleslaw, mac 'n' cheese or hash brown casserole.
Washington: Marblemount Diner
Because of its location just outside Washington's Cascade National Forest, the historic town of Marblemount is also known as the "entrance to the American Alps," making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and families. After spending summers camping here with their family, Jim and Charlene Mullen loved the area so much that they decided to buy the Marblemount Diner, a local fixture that's especially popular among the hikers, bikers, kayakers and campers looking to fuel up for a day on the trails. The Mullens' motto is "Keep Calm and Eat Pie," and it's fitting, given that many regulars start with a slice of homemade pie (don't miss the locally famous Triple Berry) before deciding what to order. The Marblemount Burger is a sure bet, a beefy masterpiece of a one-third-pound patty topped with sliced ham, thick-cut bacon, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, all crowned with a fried egg and garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. If you manage to polish that off but don't have room for pie, take a slice to go &mdash we bet it'd make an excellent post-hike snack. If the weather's nice, snag a spot in the sunny outdoor seating area for alfresco dining with a side of gorgeous mountain views.
West Virginia: Ruby & Ketchy's
Since Ruby and Wilbur "Ketchy" Nicholson opened their namesake Morgantown diner in 1958, they've made it their business to get to know every customer, whether it's the visitor's first time or hundredth (one regular is over 100 years old!). It's an ethos that truly gives the place a Cheers-like vibe, and one that is maintained by its servers, some of whom have worked here for more than 40 years. Snag a seat at the bar to listen to the breakfast regulars swap stories, or slide into one of the wooden booths to study the vintage photos of West Virginia University athletics and of the '60s- and '70s-era stock cars that raced across the street at the Morgantown Speedway. The diner's menu mainstay since day one has been the Silver Star ham dinner, a generous portion (we're talking 12 to 14 ounces, here) of the namesake baked ham, sliced thick and accompanied by classic sides like salad and potatoes. For a taste of the region, opt for the Thursday special of soup beans and cornbread, a hearty dish of slow-simmered beans in a saucy broth that has sustained generations of Mountain State families. It continues to sate comfort food cravings and fuel Morgantown locals do as they do and crumble the cornbread and the accompanying chopped onions right on top of the beans, or save the cornbread for the end to sop up the bean gravy. The diner is still family-owned and operated, with Ruby and Ketchy's granddaughter Jane Dinardi at the helm. She insists that guests save room for a slice of one of the signature cream pies, which come in flavors such as chocolate, coconut or lemon, each boasting an impressive towering layer of fluffy meringue.
Wisconsin: Delta Diner
Todd Bucher and his wife brought their restored 1940s Silk City Diner &mdash then known as the Chevrolet of diners &mdash from Ohio to Delta in 2003. The Delta Diner has a steady stream of regulars who come from within a 30-mile radius, but it's also a destination eatery for visitors to the nearby Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Snag a counter stool to watch the action at the grill while you scan the menu. At first glance, it reads like classic diner fare, but everything is kicked up a notch. Pancakes, for example, are not your average flapjacks. Instead, they're Norwegian-style pancakes, which are thin, a little bit sweet, and ideal with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Breakfast is served all day, and there's even a dedicated grill to cook Todd's platonic ideal of a fried egg: over easy, with silky-smooth, cooked whites and a golden-yellow runny yolk. Try one atop stuffed hash browns, paired with local applewood-smoked bacon. For a taste of the region, stop by for a Friday night fish fry or try a PBLT, butterflied, deep-fried yellow perch that's sandwiched with bacon, lettuce and tomato between slices of Delta Diner Bread, a custom-baked sourdough whole-wheat loaf from local outfit Ashland Baking Company.
Pennsylvania: Dor-Stop Restaurant
When Jennifer and Justin Berger met one another after college at Pittsburgh's Eat'n Park, where Jennifer was a waitress, they never dreamed they'd someday own their own greasy spoon. In 2015, they took over another venerated Pittsburgh spot, the Dor-Stop Restaurant, which has been a local fixture since 1986 (the name is a portmanteau of the Dormont neighborhood and the trolley stop one block away). You can't go wrong here, but the diner's pancake game is especially strong. Try the signature hotcakes, dense pancakes that strike a textural balance with a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, and can be customized with different batters (regular, oatmeal or pumpkin) and a medley of toppings like nuts, chocolate chips and fruit. But the Dor-Stop is no one-trick pony. On the savory front, don't miss the Jumbot, a mixed plate of ham, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions and cheese, or request Guy Fieri's version. When he visited for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he swapped in hot sausage for the ham and jalapenos for the peppers. For a hyperlocal taste, try the Pittsburgh Turkey sandwich: turkey, coleslaw, french fries and Swiss cheese, piled together onto Italian bread. Finish sweet with an order of raspberry French toast, filled with raspberry cream cheese and finished with a raspberry drizzle.
10 Great American Food Trail Road Trips
On the North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Trail, each of the 24 stops had to meet the strict criteria of being in the business for 15 years or more, cooking on wood or charcoal pits, creating their own sauces, and earning positive reputations within their communities. Much of the action takes place near Lexington, but stops are spread out across the state beginning in Ayden and continuing to Murphy. Smoked pulled pork sandwiches are a staple dish at most trail locations, and sauces vary between vinegar or tomato-based blends.
New York States’ Finger Lakes region contains more than 100 wineries thanks to sloping vineyards and lakes that created a micro climate especially favorable to Rieslings. The beautiful setting is even more spectacular during vibrant fall foliage. There are three wine trails with similar appeal: Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake (pictured), and Keuka Lake—Seneca Lake is the largest with 35 wineries and two cider producers. Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards and Glenora Wine Cellars are two of the oldest on the trail.
With influences from Cajun and Creole heritage, Louisiana is a culinary dream, and the Bayou Bounty Trail shines with unbelievable food and a steady soundtrack of Zydeco music. The trail spans from Houma to its main hub of Lafayette. To earn a spot in the network, each location must serve authentic Louisiana cuisine, so there are dishes such as pork and crawfish boudin at Legnon’s Boucherie in New Iberia, alligator tenderloin at Cafe Vermilionville in Lafayette, or breakfast biscuits with crawfish étouffée at Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge, known for Zydeco music in the mornings.
Following the release of a book called 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die, the state introduced a culinary map. Each restaurant is voted on by a panel, with menus showcasing Alabama classics like Southern tomato pie and fried catfish as well as trendy, contemporary dishes that follow the farm-to-table concept. On the Northern Trail, don’t miss Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur (pictured), a landmark that got its start in 1925. Or, combine the Northern Trail with the Magic City Trail to discover the Irondale Café, the inspiration for the Fannie Flagg book (and film), Fried Green Tomatoes—which also happens to be a delicacy cooked to perfection at many stops on the trail.
Route: I Love Alabama Food trail map
Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon and Congress declared it America's only native spirit. Formed in 1999 to teach the science of producing bourbon, in the past few years the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has boomed, attracting millions of visitors from around the globe. It takes about three days to complete, and tours (current guides are listed on its website) include transportation so you won't have to worry about driving after a rough day of tastings. Household names such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark (pictured) are found on the trail—which can also be combined with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to discover lesser-known distilleries. A free Bourbon trail passport grants a tee-shirt for those who collect all nine stamps.
Colorado has 2700 craft breweries and counting—more per capita than any other state. With such an overwhelming number spread in such a large area, the Denver Beer Trail is a great place to start. The trail includes more than 20 breweries often coupled with food trucks for a truly happy combination. Located in an old garage, Denver Beer Company’s Platte Street Taproom (pictured) has one of the city's largest open-air seating areas and excellent brews on tap such as Graham Cracker Porter and Incredible Pedal IPA. Fiction Beer Company takes a literary approach to beer, with events that include author signings and book clubs. Travelers can appreciate themed beers like Old Bums and Beat Cowboys, a pale ale inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Wisconsin’s love affair with cheese dates back 175 years and today, it's an art form that manifests in more than 600 varieties. The state produces 2.8 billion pounds of it each year, and with so many options, Travel Wisconsin created the Great Wisconsin Cheese Tour, a three-day itinerary that begins in Madison and blends hands-on learning with tastings and some of Wisconsin’s best beer. Start things off at Fromagination (pictured) for tastings of local artisan cheese as well as classes (for larger groups), or take a tour of the Emmi Roth Cheese Factory in Monroe and view the production process.
What started as an effort to promote New Hampshire’s dairy farms after years of decline has grown to more than four dozen participants. In addition to ice cream shops selling Northeastern favorites such as maple walnut and moose tracks, visitors can meet professional ice cream makers at places like Brookford Farm (pictured) and Connolly Brother’s Dairy Farm to get a reminder where the milk comes from. The state has an affection for its quaint ice cream stores, and there are plenty of them, such as Dewey’s Ice Cream Parlor and Café, located near New Hampshire’s natural attractions like beautiful Lake Winnipesauke.
The Willamette Valley in Oregon is home to more than 500 wineries and tasting rooms that are easily accessible from Portland. The region is renowned for pinot noir and is broken into several wine routes with enough options to keep travelers busy for weeks. On the Northern Willamette trail, visitors will find great wineries, and on winding route 47, some more unusual options including a sake brewery and a cider producer, plus fabulously scenic wineries such as Montinore Estate and Apolloni Vineyards.
The Best Breakfast Places in America
Our unranked, incomplete, and unimpeachable list of the best breakfasts across the country. No brunch allowed.
Our unranked, incomplete, and unimpeachable list of the best breakfasts across the country. No brunch allowed. Does your favorite joint make it? Plus: Dishes chefs make in the morning, the ultimate pantry, and our all-you-can-eat guide to breakfast
The lines are long, and the service is perpetually overwhelmed, but the Waysider offers a subtle red-eye gravy and the most straight-up cheese grits in the free world.
1512 Greensboro Avenue 205-345-8239
The corned-beef hash comes out perfectly round and at least as good. Also, the homemade strawberry preserves for the biscuits come in a squeeze bottle. Somehow, it works.
805 Donaghey Avenue 501-327-5447, stobys.com
If you've never had a Japanese breakfast, give yourself over to the gohan (rice with raw egg), sliced fish cakes, broiled salted salmon, pickles, spiced seaweed, and miso soup &mdash a sane and fortifying idea for breakfast, as it turns out, particularly if you'll be climbing San Francisco's hills.
I always get the perfect seat and don't have to ask twice for coffee. I don't know if it was deliberate on their part, but the community table in the open kitchen makes good on its promise by seating 11, so it can't be all twosomes. The chef is Amaryll Schwertner, who studied neuroscience before turning to cooking. She makes the classics, but she proves that breakfast isn't routine with preparations that sound fancy but are worshipful of the flavors of breakfast: hot beignets with yogurt and rosemary-scented raspberry sauce ricotta with coffee-poached dates, pistachios, and sunflower honey and poached eggs with Dungeness crab, sesame oil, and Japanese sea salt. &mdash Francine Maroukian
1 Ferry Building Marketplace 415-399-1155, bouletteslarder.com
*After breakfast on a Saturday, you're only a few steps away from one of the biggest farmer's markets in California. Find Blue Bottle Coffee &mdash they'll take a few long minutes to craft your cup, but it will change the way you think about coffee.
Walk up to O'Groats early on a weekend morning and there is a sure sign that the place is good: By 7:15, they have an urn of coffee and a cooler of water set up on the sidewalk to sate the crowds that will soon line up for breakfast.
We couldn't figure out what LewMarNel meant, but we're thinking Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and something else. If Bonnie is working, ask her what to eat. If not, get the pancakes.
901 Park Avenue 530-542-3468
Park your bike by the berms of sand blown from Hollywood Beach down the street. Sit at the counter &mdash always the counter &mdash among the regulars from the Navy base. Observe the patriotic murals and the collection of American flags, five of which have flown over Iraq. Then order one of the bazooka-sized breakfast burritos, or the French toast with cool strawberries, or the huevos rancheros with their soft chunks of tomatoes and jalapeños. Ask for the home fries, the thick ones grilled all morning in paprika, garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, and probably some other stuff. On summer Sundays, sing along as Brim, the owner, leads the whole packed Hut in a chorus of "God Bless America." It won't seem weird at all. &mdash Mattew Belloni
117 Los Altos Drive 805-985-9151
Larry King had quintuple-bypass surgery more than 20 years ago, and that makes a man diet-conscious. His usual breakfast, on page eight of the menu at Nate 'n Al, is the Larry King Matzo Brei. It's fried matzo with egg whites using very little oil. Just don't order it the way Larry does &mdash burnt. "I was raised on well-done," King says. "I like steak well-done. I like fish well-done. I like my toast burnt. I was eating in a French restaurant in New York once. I ordered a cheese omelet. I never order eggs. I hate eggs. So I said, 'I want it burnt. A lot of cheese, and burn it.' The chef came out holding up the slip with burnt cheese omelet written on it and said, 'Who ordered this?' I raised my hand. He said, 'You! Leave!' " Nate 'n Al's will serve it the way you like. Even burnt. &mdash Cal Fussman
414 North Beverly Drive 310-274-0101, natenal.com
The waitresses call the regulars by name, guys like Vic and Lou, as in "No lotto ticket today, Lou?" They come for the country-fried steak, smothered in sausage gravy and so tender you can cut it with your fork.
1100 South Santa Fe Drive 303-733-0795
A few years back, a group of locals rallied to save the Quaker's famous sign when it was threatened by zoning laws for being too big. They did it because the sign represents the simple magnificence of the place &mdash the hash and eggs, the pancakes, the toast, all peerless for miles. They were fighting for their breakfast. And they won.
Across from Oakland Cemetery, where Margaret Mitchell is buried, tatted-up chef Ria Pell (the one on her neck says HATE) plays around with Southern classics while respecting the basics. Worth the small-parking-lot hassles and long wait.
421 Memorial Drive SE 404-521-3737, riasbluebird.com
CLICK HERE for the fish and grits recipe from Ria's Bluebird
The Heap comes in its own skillet. Spuds. Onions. Cheddar jack. Green peppers. Two eggs. Two slices of bacon. The Heap warms the soul. Especially when you add a quarter bottle of Tabasco.
1617 White Way 404-768-3776
The breakfast burrito is open to interpretation, which is both its genius and its potential downfall. Using the kitchen-sink approach, anything that can be jammed into a tortilla along with eggs &mdash rice, bacon, beans, onions, sausage, sour cream, enough cheese to pave a road &mdash is considered a fine addition. But as the cooks at Mana Foods demonstrate each morning, the key to perfection is restraint. Mana's contains only organic scrambled eggs accented with just enough cheddar to let you know it's there, small potato chunks sautéed in butter, and a sprinkle of diced green pepper. &mdash Susan Casey
The tender corned beef, cooked on the premises by a loving Irish chef, is served best as hash, beneath two fried eggs and a frothy hollandaise, alongside the local favorite, the inexplicable, unbeatable Irish mimosa, a three-layered glass of orange juice, champagne, and Guinness.
The original burned down, but the Inn lives on through second-generation owner and professional clown Dave Panther. Dishes like the Hawkeye Hog (eggs, sausage, hash browns, cheese, gravy) exhibit the kind of nasty glory that hones the famous midwestern physique. &mdash Jennifer Wilson
214 North Linn Street 319-337-5512, hamburginn.com
Were it not for Ann Sather's restaurants, I'd know nothing about Swedish cooking. Actually, I still know almost nothing, except that the Swedes evidently like turkey necks. But the only food that matters at Ann Sather is its spectacular cinnamon buns, the size of a baby's head. They're the backbone of the business, a local legend, more beloved at Chicago offices than any box of flaccid doughnuts. It is a great and simple truth: This is what happiness is. Sugar. Flour. Spice. And butter. &mdash Ted Allen
*They aren't set up to handle mail order &mdash overnight shipping for two dozen of the famous cinnamon buns can come to $100 &mdash but call Andy at the minichain's Belmont restaurant and he'll help you out. (773-348-2378)
If you know the real Chicago, you know Manny's Coffee Shop and Deli. You knew it when Jefferson Street and Roosevelt Road were gritty stretches of schmatte shops and dress boutiques southwest of the Loop. Now, if you really know Chicago, you knew Manny's back when it was Sunny's, before the Raskin family bought the joint in 1942 and figured they'd save money buying just two letters instead of a whole new sign. If not, no matter. It's the same as ever, that certain kind of cafeteria-style Jewish deli that will never go out of (or into) style. Fluorescent lights and Formica tables. Cops, tradesmen, and local pols. Plastic trays and blistering-hot coffee. And, of course, great steaming piles of scrambled eggs and potato pancakes. &mdash Ted Allen
1141 South Jefferson Street 312-939-2855, c
*The golden-fried potato pancakes are $65 for two dozen at tastesofchicago.com
Let me say one thing: bacon pancakes. Let me say another: potato pancakes with both applesauce and sour cream on the side. Let me say one more: whipping cream for your coffee. You know this place. You saw it in Ordinary People. It's where Timothy Hutton last sees his friend before she kills herself. It's the original pancake house, and it's better than any pancake house since. &mdash David Granger
The sides arrive on paper plates and the photos hang crooked, but fresh biscuits appear every few minutes. At Kentucky Derby time, old horseplayers and owners, celebrities and cops, trainers and backside workers all head to Wagner's for ham and eggs, a side of tomatoes, and a glass of malted milk.
3113 South Fourth Street 502-375-3800
There are no cars on Monhegan, ten miles off the Maine coast. No paved roads. There are 50 or so year-round residents, old houses, and cliffs facing the sea. At the Island Inn, a beautiful rambling old thing on the hill above the ferry dock, the breakfast includes endless buffet trays of scrambled eggs crowded with chunks of buttery lobster which came in on the boats you can see out the window.
CLICK HERE for the recipe to The Island Inn's lobster scrambled eggs
You'll feel like you're in a John Waters movie among the kitsch, but order the bacon, avocado, and Havarti omelet, home fries, and a shake and you'll be fine.
227 West Twenty-ninth Street 410-889-4444, papermoondiner24.com
Tucked away on a quiet, wooded stretch of Route 23, this borderline-ramshackle roadhouse serves the usual breakfast basics and serves them well. Ask a local, though, and he'll tell you to settle at one of the half dozen cozy tables, start in on a strong cup of coffee, and order the postcard-worthy pancakes &mdash auburn, pillowy, and available in three sizes, the largest of which handily eclipses the plate on which it's served. It's gluttonous, but for a good cause. For 30 years, Roadside has been owned and operated by nearby Gould Farm, a community for people with mental illnesses, and staffed by its residents under the supervision of seasoned restaurant people. Service is what you might call "variable," though always friendly, and the farm-fresh food is worth whatever time you spend perusing the Berkshire Eagle while you wait. &mdash Kendall Hamilton
275 Main Street 413-528-2633
Al's claims to be the narrowest restaurant in town, though the blueberry and buttermilk pancakes are the real draw (with or without corn or sour cream). Paul Westerberg's wife used to wait the counter at this classic neighborhood hash house, where regulars can use coupons instead of cash.
413 Fourteenth Avenue SE 612-331-9991
Surrounded by original Ralph Steadman art, wolf down homemade bison-sausage bread made with toasted walnuts, black currants, and coffee. Or Mahnomin Porridge, adapted from the journals of 19th-century trappers &mdash men who knew how to survive &mdash made with Ojibwa-harvested wild rice, dried berries, and cream. &mdash Jennifer Wilson
*Hell's Kitchen's Toasted Sausage Bread, stuffed with homemade bison sausage and excellent for breakfast, is available through the Website by mail order as part of a gift box that includes homemade ketchup, among other things.
When I visited my grandparents, who were farmers, we'd all sit around the table, half asleep, eating pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits, and corn bread every morning. And some days before school my dad would take me to a diner in New Orleans with a short-order line where everyone was screaming and there were bursts of fire and knives flying and excitement. When I opened Big Bad Breakfast, I wanted to serve foods that taste the way I remember them. I use butter and bacon fat. We make our own sausage and bacon. And I don't serve a Denver omelet, because I'm not bringing in bell peppers that'll go bad right away. Instead we serve the Awesome &mdash an omelet made with any ingredient you can find on our menu. It's fun, the way breakfast used to be before we all got too busy for it. I'm not going to retire and buy a house in the south of France on breakfast. But by God, I'm not going to let it die on my watch. &mdash Owner John Currence, as told to Meryl Rothstein
719 North Lamar Boulevard 662-236-2666, bigbadbreakfast.com
Six kinds of bread, baked fresh each morning: oatmeal, cinnamon raisin, anadama, whole wheat, cayenne cheddar, and whatever other kind Serina feels like baking.
121 Congress Street 603-430-2154
*They don't officially do mail order, but call and they'll be glad to head down to the post office and send you a loaf made fresh today. It's worth it.
Greek civilization seems to have peaked a while back, at least in terms of philosophy, science, and epic poetry, but that doesn't mean they don't honor the tradition of serving a killer breakfast in dozens of diners across the breadth of northern New Jersey. It's a heritage: In Plato's Symposium, there's a dialogue between Socrates and some yold named Agathon, clarifying the true nature of the feta-and-spinach omelet. Agathon finally yields to the logic behind the bagel on the side instead of toast, there being nothing to sop up.
"I can't find any way of withstanding you, Socrates," he says. "Let it be as you say."
"Not at all," says Socrates. "It is truth that you find impossible to withstand. Truth, and the way the butter melts, filling the bagel's creviced form."
This ancient expertise is on display around the clock at two of the three local diners I frequent, the Nevada and the Tick Tock. I can't vouch for the Eagle Rock's hours or breakfast: I eat there only after bowling with my son, which means two or three sides of bacon, fries, a vanilla shake, and a spirited dialogue about gutter balls and anger management.
The Nevada and the Tick Tock both offer vast menus, gigantic plates, and lousy coffee. The major difference is that the Tick Tock is on Route 3, a major artery between here and New York City, which means it attracts a breakfast clientele ranging from seething truckers just beginning their day to seething drunks just ending theirs the Nevada is a local joint packed by seething Bloomfield cops. At both diners, what the waitresses lack in beauty they make up for with grim indifference, not that you really want another cup of that coffee &mdash you're just waving hi to the drunk with the torn, bleeding earlobe.
I'm telling you, none of this matters. I've never had a breakfast at either place that wasn't superb. Omelets of many nations, pancakes the size of hubcaps, sausage links fat with flavor, eggs over easy atop mounds of corned beef &mdash all hot, all tasty as hell, and plenty of it.
I can't honestly say that the hash browns are as crisp on top and tender below as I like them every time, or that the kitchen won't short the lox in my lox-and-onion omelet once in a while. It happens, but not often. And if it should happen to you, blame me. Just don't stiff the waitress &mdash not unless you want your tires slashed. &mdash Scott Raab
The 10 Best Burgers in America
The hamburger is one of the culinary world's most storied, yet simplest, creations. It's just a patty of ground meat, on a bun. That's it. Yet this deceivingly simple dish is also one of the most difficult to perfect, and when it fails, it fails miserably. But when it succeeds, it can be life-alteringly delicious (Credit: Craigie on Main).
The burger as we know it traces its roots back to the Mongol Empire, and their tradition of mincing horsemeat was passed onto the Russians, who in turn brought it to the major port of Hamburg, Germany, in the early 19th century. The most common destination for ships departing from Hamburg was New York, and by the late 1800s restaurants in New York began serving Hamburg steaks, seasoned and cooked patties of ground beef, to German immigrants. According to Josh Ozersky's The Hamburger: A History, the oldest mention of a Hamburg steak on a menu was at New York's Delmonico's, a recipe developed by the great chef Charles Ranhofer.
The exact origin of the modern-day hamburger remains unknown, but there are several contenders for its creator. Perhaps the most well-known is Louis Lassen, who introduced a hamburger steak sandwich at his New Haven, Conn., restaurant Louis Lunch in 1900. Others claim that "Hamburger Charlie" Nagreen actually invented the dish at Wisconsin's Outagamie County Fair in 1885, and still others claim that the Menches brothers did it at an 1885 fair in Hamburg, N.Y.
Regardless of whomever first applied ground meat to bread, this quintessentially American food quickly caught on in popularity, not only because the concept of meat enclosed in dough is one that's nearly universally beloved (Cornish pasties, empanadas, Chinese roast pork buns, etc.) but because a burger is so customizable.
Everyone has his or her own perfect burger. It's the local burger place you grew up going to. It's the burger you ate that summer in your uncle's backyard. It's the burger you ate at three in the morning after partying all night with friends. Some will say that the perfect burger is a thin patty of ground chuck, cooked on a flattop until the exterior is browned and crispy, served on a steamed seeded Wonder bun with a slice of melted cheese and raw onion. Others will tell you that the perfect burger is a half-pound puck of short rib, sirloin, and brisket, adorned with balsamic caramelized onions, roasted tomato, and goat cheese, and nestled into a house-baked bun.
Even though the definition of a perfect burger is open to opinion, when you ask some of the country's most respected authorities on the subject, certain requirements become obvious, even though patty size and topping preferences may differ. The use of high-quality beef is crucial, for one, cooked with skill and care, served juicy and well-seasoned. "It should have spring if you poke the patty a light crust is welcome, too," said one expert.
A great burger should also be well-proportioned and not overpowered by any one component. "The stack should not require an eater to unhinge his or her jaw," said one expert "The perfect burger is greater than the sum of its parts and should offer synergy and balance," another agreed.
A truly transcendental burger, if we're going to get metaphysical here, also hits you on a deeper level than a run of the mill one, and you simply know it when you experience it. "The perfect burger is one that when it hits your mouth makes you forget about everything else that is happening around you," another said.
To come up with our ranking of America's best burgers we collected a list of our favorite burgers across the country, as well as iconic burgers we've heard about but have yet to try. Be it an offering from a high-end restaurant or a tiny, hidden hole in the wall, no burger was off-limits. We spent days combing through cities' best-of lists both in print and online, and reached out to a group of some of the foremost experts on burgers in America.
Authorities we received nominations from include chefs Jonathan Waxman and Jimmy Bradley, The Washington Post's Tom Sietsema and Tim Carman, writers John T. Edge, Josh Ozersky, and George Motz, Foodmancing the Girl's Charles Powell, Wicked Good Burgers' Andy Husbands, Burger & Bourbon's BJ Coleman, Burger Conquest's David Ciancio, and A Hamburger Today's Nick Solares.
Our quest for America's best burgers took us down some interesting roads. We considered PYT in Philadelphia, for example, whose recent specials include a burger topped with bacon, goat cheese, and a Tastykake Koffee Kake, and one that replaces a bun with slices of deep-fried lasagna. We also came across Superior, Wis.' Anchor Bar, whose best-seller is a burger toped with Swiss cheese, onions, and raw cashews.
When it comes to burgers, the varieties really are infinite, which made it even more important that we assemble our list in the most scientific way possible: We divided our initial list of about 150 candidates into geographic regions, and recruited a panel of 30 noted chefs, restaurateurs, and food writers (including those mentioned above) to then place their votes for their favorites. The results were tallied, and our final list was then assembled.
We also made sure to keep it to just beef burgers, so while the lamb burger at New York's The Breslin would have ranked highly, that's a roundup for another day. You'll also notice that chains with more than 15 locations haven't been included, in order to give even the smallest burger joint its fair shake those have been broken out into a separate slideshow.
So join us on a journey through 21 states in every region of this great country, as we present the finest examples of that quintessential and perfect American food, the burger. Click here for America's 40 Best Burgers.
After four decades traversing the country in search of America's best food, Jane and Michael Stern know a thing or two about eating well on the road. The pair first met as grad students at Yale in 1970, and after they'd earned their diplomas, they decided to pursue their passion for food by hitting the road in search of the best America had to offer. They captured the results in the revered, award-winning Roadfood books, which became the go-to, indispensable guides to the best bites along America's freeways and backroads alike. In 2017, the Sterns marked the series' 40th anniversary.
As lifelong road-trippers, the Sterns have a few pieces of tried-and-true advice when it comes to scoping out a worthy place to stop for a meal — and what to order once you do. "One (somewhat irrational) tip is to look for restaurants with giant statues of whatever it is they serve on the roof: a cow, a chicken, a crab," Michael says. Once you're seated? "Look around at other people's plates. If nine out of 10 customers are all eating the same thing, that's a good indication that there is at least one very alluring regional specialty on the menu."
Before you hit the road this Summer, scope out the Stern's picks for the can't-miss food in every state — and visit Roadfood for even more of their enthusiastic expertise.
Best American Restaurants Across the Country Slideshow - Recipes
Chefs Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery
I’ve thought about what it was that compelled me to go back the next day, this time to the take-out window, for another omelet sandwich, sliced in three segments and set in a little white box of just the right size. And a crispy pork katsu one. And the egg salad one made Instagram-famous by its orange-yellow yolk half-moons. And also the carrots with weirdly good dip that turned out to be blitzed shishitos and pistachios.
I’ve thought about my next visit to L.A., when I vowed not to leave without one of Konbi’s coveted croissants, of which only 36 are made daily. I showed up at 11 a.m.: sold out. I returned early the next morning: They weren’t out of the oven yet. I came back 90 minutes later: The last two chocolate croissants were mine!
This experience should have made me resent Konbi, a place that actually prompted me to describe the process of buying a pastry as Kafkaesque. But I didn’t (obviously). Because as I stood there, on an Echo Park sidewalk in front of the shop next door that sells vegan cheesecakes and crystals, and shamelessly covered myself in the deep-golden crumbs of a croissant so fresh that the ample amount of chocolate inside hadn’t yet returned from its melted state, I knew: This was the best croissant I’d ever had, and it was worth it.
This is the thing about Konbi, a tiny sandwich shop that has received, since before it even opened, an inordinate amount of attention. Its sheer popularity should make it a maddening place (and a maddening choice for best new restaurant). If only everything about it, from the croissants to, yes, the hand soap, weren’t so perfect. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owners Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery
THE SETUP: Daytime-only Japanese sandwich counter, with stellar French pastries
THE ORDER: Layered omelet sandwich, potato salad, chocolate croissant
THE MOVE: Time your visit around 9:30 to (try and) snag one of the 36 chocolate croissants.
At Konbi they crack dozens of eggs each day for the signature pork katsu sandwich.
Whisking water into the eggs makes sure the panko coating isn’t too thick.
Cooks dip the pork cutlets in egg yolk, letting the excess drip off.
Next up is a dip in panko. Konbi uses Miyako brand.
Cutlets get a drizzle of tonkatsu sauce, then mustard.
Each sandwich gets a layer of cabbage.
Each sandwich gets sliced into three perfect segments.
Showing off the interior for maximum photogenic-ness.
There are approximately 12 dishes on the menu at Khao Noodle Shop , each only a few bites or spoonfuls, and none costs more than $8. So in my attempt to understand what exactly the chef and owner Donny Sirisavath was trying to do, it was easiest just to order them all.
After one slurp of painstakingly handmade noodles in a savory, complex pork blood broth, the restaurant’s roots came through clearly: This is the cooking of Laos, the country the chef’s mother fled after its civil war before resettling in Texas in 1977. Sirisavath, who was born in Amarillo, grew up helping his mom in the kitchen of her Thai restaurant, learning how to make pad kee mao and wok-fried rice. Years later, after his mom died, he began hosting Lao pop-ups as a side project (he was a Hewlett-Packard engineer by day), then left his job to open Khao Noodle.
Now, in a strip mall in East Dallas—an area once home to many Southeast Asian refugees in the late ’70s and early ’80s—Sirisavath serves a menu inspired not by books or classes or other restaurants but by his own singular vision, rooted in family and place. This is a rare thing to find, and I felt lucky just to be there.
But Khao Noodle Shop is not a restaurant that looks only to the past. From the laid-back vibe inside—the high-top tables, the stools spray-painted by friends, the tight-knit staff, the sheer fun of the place—I could feel Sirisavath’s excitement at doing things his way. And once I tried the deep-fried tripe chicharrones and the musubi-like moutsayhang (a two-bite stack of crispy pork patty, sticky rice, and a thin layer of omelet), it was clear that Sirisavath was telling a story all his own. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owner Donny Sirisavath
THE SETUP: Snack-size Laotian at high-top communal tables, day and night
THE ORDER: Boat noodles, khao soi, moutsayhang (spiced pork-and-rice bites), shrimp bites
THE MOVE: Don’t share—each dish is only a few bites. Oh, and BYOB!
Small dishes help create a Lao street food experience.
Sirisavath says he learned everything he knows about restaurants from his mom, Phaysane.
Moutsayhang is a play on Hawaii’s Spam musubi.
Sirisavath and his friends designed and built out Khao's space themselves.
Sirisavath makes his noodles the old-fashioned way, by ladling the batter onto a stretched cloth over a vat of boiling water.
Making noodles from scratch isn't easy or fast, but Sirisavath says you can taste the labor and the love that goes into them.
Khao Noodle Shop is full of photos of Phaysane Sirisavath and other personal mementos.
Sukiyaki with glass noodles, fermented tofu, coconut cream, and a soft boiled quail egg
Food is served in bowls, baskets, and dishes brought back from trips to Laos and Thailand.
Wet khao soy with rice noodles, mushrooms, and fermented pork
Longoven is the most unlikely standout fine-dining restaurant in America. The chefs—Andrew Manning, Megan Fitzroy Phelan, and Patrick Phelan—have little name recognition outside their hometown. Their restaurant is housed in a nondescript building in a rapidly developing neighborhood clamoring more for taprooms and barbecue joints and taprooms-slash-barbecue joints than for an austere-looking tasting-menu spot. That neighborhood (Scott’s Addition) is in a city (Richmond) that’s only very recently begun to draw attention as a dining destination.
And that doesn’t even begin to tell the circuitous 15-year epic of the three chefs behind it. (Let’s just say it involves a stint in Alba, Italy, and many arduous hours in the catering world.) Eventually they reconnected and decided to move to Richmond, where they launched Longoven pop-ups in 2014. I stumbled into one at Sub Rosa Bakery in 2016. Given what they were able to pull off with a wood-fired oven and two camping burners, I was very curious about how they’d do in an actual kitchen.
Well, spoiler alert: The brick-and-mortar Longoven , which finally opened last year, is mind-bogglingly good—each dish so technically precise, so truly dedicated to ingredients, not to mention so, so pretty. This is very beautiful and very serious food served in a very beautiful and very serious space. Yet there is none of the “staged-at-Noma-once” ego trip that has mucked up many similarly ambitious projects. Instead, there’s a refreshing graciousness and hospitality—a sense that everyone is actually happy you’re here. Behind it all is the earnestness and maturity of three people who have worked harder than I can imagine to get to this place and who take none of their (unlikely) success for granted. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owners Andrew Manning, Megan Fitzroy Phelan, and Patrick Phelan
THE SETUP: Tweezer food you actually want to eat
THE ORDER: The tasting menu
THE MOVE: Make a reservation. Wear something nice. Go all in.
Course 1: Snacks at Longoven mean a tiny nasturtium-covered carrot-mole tart, a fried squid ink “churro,” and nori crackers with smoked mackerel.
Course 2: The staff loved the Meyer lemon kombucha at family meal so much that Manning made it into the base of this refreshing scallop crudo.
Course 3: Manning emulsifies foie gras with cream and gelatin until airy, then tops it with hazelnuts, grapefruit, and a snow cap of carbonated ginger ale.
Course 4: As a play on Caesar salad, the plate is streaked with sea urchin, clam-infused buttermilk dressing, and romaine brushed with ramp vinegar then grilled.
Course 5: Manning serves his fava-bean-and-mushroom salad with grilled Maine lobster.
Course 6: Manning turns pig ears into paper-thin sheets, then crowns them with peas and beans of all types.
Course 7: That grated white stuff? Not parm it’s scallops that have been cured, cooked with mushroom scraps and dashi, and then dehydrated and shaved over charred maitake mushrooms.
Course 8: Beneath the tangle of agretti (a chive-like Italian vegetable), there’s roast lamb loin, and next to it is a pool of blackened sunchoke purée.
Course 9: For dessert, Fitzroy Phelan transforms house-made fig leaf oil, the staff’s beloved condiment, into a sorbet paired with pickled blueberries.
Course 10: “Super cute!” That’s how most guests respond to Fitzroy Phelan’s mushroom-shaped chocolate cake dusted with dried porcini and cocoa.
Course 11: The black-sesame-tahini-chocolate gold bar now has a cult following, but don’t sleep on the blueberry macarons, pâte de fruit, and sage-caramel bonbons.
8:43 a.m. I’m at Ochre Bakery , and the first thing I’m eating today is a danish, the crumbly, deep-golden pastry barely holding on to the squiggles of still-juicy rhubarb in the center.
8:46 a.m. Watching the guy behind the counter make a cortado, I realize that this is as much a Serious Coffee Shop as it is a bakery, which makes sense given that it’s owned by Jessica Hicks and Daisuke Hughes, the same people behind Detroit’s much-loved Astro Coffee. I’m getting lost in the idea that I could live in Detroit and this could be my coffee shop and I could eat this Danish every morning when…
8:57 a.m. My plate of scrambled eggs shows up, but to call it a plate of scrambled eggs is kind of rude given that it’s eggs softly scrambled with turmeric tzatziki with slivers of kohlrabi a big pile of bitter greens a very generous serving of very good butter two holey slices of country bread and a tiny handmade ceramic bowl of cumin seeds, Aleppo-style pepper, and flaky salt that I can sprinkle over whatever I like.
8:58 a.m. Can we talk about this bread? I was so fixated on the pastry case, I didn’t notice the room behind the counter where cult local baker Max Leonard babysits the sourdoughs. So not only does this place turn out pastries and coffee and savory food at the highest level, but there’s also a high-key bread program?
9:18 a.m. I’m the person taking pictures of the blue and ochre (duh) tiles hand-painted by Hicks.
9:28 a.m. Yeah, I’m going to need a slice of the lemon-pistachio loaf cake, a piece of the chocolate banana bread, and one of every cookie (espresso shortbread, chocolate-hazelnut, oaty Anzac) to go. Or maybe I’ll just never leave. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owners Jessica Hicks and Daisuke Hughes
THE SETUP: The dream of a sun-soaked bakery/café
THE ORDER: Spiced scrambled eggs with tzatziki, a seasonal Danish, and an Anzac cookie
THE MOVE: Grab one of everything from the pastry case to go—and a loaf of bread too.
Server Solomon Gaut grabs a slice of layer cake for a very lucky (and smart) customer.
The muffin selection changes with the seasons: These are Apple-Honey-Pecan.
Outside of lunch hours, Ochre is open all day for espresso and pastries.
Server Destany Colagrossi works the lunch shift.
The Chocolate-Hazelnut Cookies are too small to share (at least that’s what we told ourselves).
Chef-owner Jessica Hicks decorates the Lemon-Pistachio Loaf.
Muffins and Lemon-Pistachio Loaf in the pastry case.
Seven-month-old Yuka Hughes scrutinizes the offerings.
I had a feeling about the Hotel Peter & Paul. Not a good feeling. Something about sleeping in a former convent gave me the creeps. As much as I tried otherwise, I kept picturing the World War II–era schoolhouse in Au Revoir les Enfants (a strangely seminal movie in my childhood). Then I showed up to meet a friend for a drink at the hotel’s restaurant, the Elysian Bar, which occupies the ground floor of a building that used to be the rectory. And I realized: Sometimes I am kind of an idiot.
Calling this a bar is an understatement. First of all, it’s a full-on restaurant, from chef Alex Harrell and the team behind the beloved NOLA hangout Bacchanal. You can make a meal out of gulf shrimp showered in bottarga breadcrumbs or steamed mussels in smoky tomato broth—this is not a town that messes with dainty bar snacks. Second, this is less a defined space and more a multiroom wonderland, with a sunny patio, elegant parlor rooms, and a cozy bar that feels straight out of a Hollywood movie set. The complex has been revived by Nathalie Jordi, a former journalist, in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based developer ASH NYC (also behind Providence’s The Dean hotel and The Siren in Detroit) and NOLA’s StudioWTA. Together they transformed the 1860s Catholic church and schoolhouse into 71 hotel rooms unlike any other—plus magical open-to-the-public spaces like this very bar.
At a time when design trends come and go so fast (ahem, pink neon), it’s unusual to step into a space with such a deep sense of character. There’s not much more I could have asked for in this setting than a cool vermouth spritz, a perch on one of the custom cherry-leather stools, and a long, lazy afternoon with nowhere else to be. Turns out, you can have all that, with a flawless caviar-topped omelet too. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Managing partner Joaquin Rodas, chef Alex Harrell, general manager Lisa Nguyen
THE SETUP: 19th-century-church becomes old-world hotel bar
THE ORDER: Duck egg omelet with caviar and any spritz you feel like
THE MOVE: Book a room at the Hotel Peter & Paul pretend you live here.
Designed to resemble a tree trunk, the bar’s back wall was crafted by Kern Studios, which also carves the Styrofoam figures on Mardi Gras floats.
Design firm ASH NYC modeled these barstools after a midcentury stool from Italian furniture maker Bonacina.
The Kir Royale (right) comes in a Nick & Nora glass with subtle lace etching made by British company Steelite.
Monet’s dining room in Giverny inspired the breakfast room, and the dish set he used there inspired these hand-thrown custom plates from ceramist Jono Pandolfi.
This cart-slash-magazine holder was bought from a Parisian textile dealer who had been using it as a display.
Is it possible to love someone without really knowing them? What about a restaurant? I fell for Kopitiam in its first iteration, a hole-in-the-wall Malaysian coffee shop on the border of Chinatown. I’d duck in among the neighborhood regulars for sesame noodles or nasi lemak: a coconutty rice bowl topped with crispy-crunchy crumbles of teeny little fried anchovies dressed in a sweet-spicy sambal.
But the more dishes I tried, the more I realized I’d only scratched the surface. On weekends there were rounds of new specials: fragrant assam (tamarind) curry slow-cooked beef rendang. As Lower East Siders with white sneakers and AirPods crammed into the space, Pang seemed to only dig deeper. And finally I learned her story: how her cooking is influenced by her background as Baba-Nyonya (sometimes called Nyonya or Peranakan), the descendants of Chinese settlers in Malaysia. How she sought asylum in the U.S. a decade ago as an openly gay woman. How she hasn’t seen her parents in 11 years. How her cooking connects her back to her family.
There was so much more I wanted to know about Pang, about Kopitiam. That’s why, of course, I have to keep coming back. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef/co-owner Kyo Pang and co-owner Moonlynn Tsai
THE SETUP: Counter-service Malaysian, any time of day
THE ORDER: Lobak (ground pork wrapped in tofu skins), nasi lemak, kuih lapis (layer cake), teh tarik (pulled tea)
THE MOVE: Ask about the daily specials on weekends and you will be rewarded.
After a rent hike forced Pang to close her original location, she and Tsai teamed up to open this expanded, sunny space in June 2018.
Kaya butter toast, with a thick layer of pandan leaf and coconut jam sandwiched between two golden slices of fluffy bread, is a must-order.
The deeply savory pandan chicken, a compact triangle of minced chicken, is wrapped in aromatic pandan leaves that impart a sweet and grassy aroma.
The small menu is chock full of noodles, rice dishes, and more plates inspired by the Baba-Nyonya food Pang ate growing up in Malaysia.
To make the crispy-crunchy topper for her nasi lemak, Pang fries small dried anchovies until crisp and tosses them with toasty peanuts and sambal.
A restaurant’s generosity can take many forms. A half-empty wine glass topped off with a wink. A gratis dessert when service is slow. But the particular brand of radical generosity on display at Tailor , the brick-and-mortar evolution of chef Vivek Surti’s beloved Nashville pop-up, exists on a higher plane. It’s personal, direct, honest. Because before each course in the “dinner-party-style” tasting menu—eight to 10 dishes, two seatings each night—Surti stands in front of the room and gives.
Born outside of Nashville to parents who emigrated from Gujarat in western India, he gives of his heritage when he explains to 30-odd mostly white diners that the fragrant amber-tinged diamond under a layer of toasted coconut and sesame seeds is called dhokla, a common breakfast halfway around the world. He gives of his craft when he goes into how the tangy ranch-esque dressing for a bowl of young lettuces and crisp radishes is inspired by chaas, a fermented dairy-based hot-weather tonic (like yogurt Gatorade, if you will). And he gives of his own history when he shares that this drink is what his mom gave him after basketball practice.
Surti’s storytelling suffuses the space and the food served within it with so much vulnerability and personality and love that you could not possibly be anywhere but “our home,” as he refers to the restaurant. Which is exactly where you want to be. To dine at Tailor is to be his guest, fully and completely. And that’s a rare kind of generosity indeed. —A.S.
THE PLAYERS: Chef/managing partner Vivek Surti
THE SETUP: Gujarat meets the American South via a set menu
THE ORDER: That’s up to Surti and the seasons.
THE MOVE: Book a seat at the bar counter for the best view of the action.
After years of running his pop-up restaurant VEA, Surti can turn any space into a kitchen, including the bar counter of Tailor.
Chefs Patrick McCandless and Allie Evans (right) sprinkle cilantro over baigan ravaiya, local eggplants stuffed with coconut and lady peas.
It’s Surti’s party and he’ll slice spiced roast pork if he wants to.
Surti seasons boiled peanuts with chile and coriander, which “is very Indian” but reminds him of Cajun-spiced ones from gas stations in the South.
"The most iconic dish Indians make at home," says Surti: Sweet-and-Sour Dal Bhat
This is not the first restaurant to serve French classics in a cozy, warmly lit, slightly ramshackle bistro setting. But if there’s any place in the country that’s making this quintessential genre feel fresh and new and fun and youthful, it’s Baltimore’s Le Comptoir du Vin .
It all starts with the delightful couple who opened it: Rosemary Liss, an artist whose residency at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen involved making a quilt out of dehydrated kombucha mothers, and Will Mester, who was chef de cuisine at the restaurant that used to be in this same space, Bottega. The pair built Le Comptoir as an homage to a neighborhood restaurant in Lyon of the same name, which Mester liked so much that he convinced the chef to let him spend a night in the kitchen.
Like the Lyonnaise original, the scrappiness of the Le Comptoir operation is its charm. Mester didn’t want to be the type of chef who oversees lots of stations the kitchen is just he and his sous-chef, Kelsey Martin, who runs point on the bread and baked goods.
And yet: They turn out the silkiest chicken liver pâté. They hand-cut a tartare that practically glistens, the steak tossed in colatura (anchovy sauce) and served with roughed-up golden hunks of potato that made me question how I ever could’ve enjoyed steak tartare any other way. For dessert they make crazy things like Grandpa toast, in which foie gras is shaved onto a piece of well-crisped bread, and it’s exactly what you think a frozen waffle smothered in butter and maple syrup is going to taste like but never does.
For as satisfying and timeless and rustic as these dishes are, the food is not even really what Le Comptoir is about. It’s about having a place where you feel immediately welcomed. A place where you can settle into a worn wood chair under a wall-mounted marlin and drink glass after glass of delicious natural wine from the scribbled list. A place where you just wanna hang out, as golden hour fades, hoping the night never ends. —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef/co-owner Will Mester and co-owner Rosemary Liss
THE SETUP: Come-as-you-are natural wine bar-slash-French bistro
THE ORDER: Chicken liver pâté, steak tartare, Paris-Brest (and Grandpa toast if it’s on the menu)
THE MOVE: Try something you’ve never had before from the short-and-quirky wine list.
Paris-Brest with pistachio cream
Owners Will Mester and Rosemary Liss
Egg yolk ravioli with ham, peas, and brown butter
Pig’s head terrine with pickled fennel
The restaurant’s ever-changing chalkboard menu
Roast chicken with fried potatoes and mojo rojo
Le Comptoir's menu changes almost daily, tied to both the seasons and whatever wines Liss is excited about.
There are two things in this package that are going to upset a lot of people in Texas. One: naming Dallas our restaurant city of the year , which I have a feeling a lot of people in Houston and Austin are, uh, not gonna like. Two: what I’m about to say about a breakfast-taco joint…that’s also a barbecue joint…that’s in the most un-Texas location imaginable—Portland, Oregon. Please don’t hate me.
The person to blame for this is Matt Vicedomini. He’s an unsuspecting character for a barbecue icon: from Long Island, learned how to smoke meat at a cowboy-themed restaurant in Australia, has never lived in the Lone Star state, though he has made many, many brisket-oriented pilgrimages there. He eventually settled in Portland and opened a trailer—Matt’s BBQ—in the parking lot of a pawnshop. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of competition for Texas-style ’cue, but nevertheless Matt’s immediately became known as the best in the city.
This winter Vicedomini followed that up with not one but two new spots, both of which show off his legendary brisket, simply seasoned but expertly smoked, low and slow, over oak for 10-to - 12 hours. The first is Eem, a Thai barbecue collab with the folks from Portland’s celebrated Langbaan and pop-up cocktail bar Shipwreck. The second is Matt’s BBQ Tacos, which opens at 8 a.m., with that brisket and pork belly burnt ends and more smoked meats. They all come piled with scrambled eggs and potatoes and salsa onto unbelievably puffy flour tortillas made with rendered lard.
The pleasure of Matt’s BBQ Tacos is pure and simple: When I think about where I was the happiest on the road this year, my mind immediately goes to sitting in the sunshine (yes, in the Pacific Northwest!) at one of the picnic tables next to the trailer, folding up the most irrefutably delicious tacos one after the next, pausing only to dip a fresh-fried tortilla chip into creamy queso. What’s to hate about that? —J.K.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owner Matt Vicedomini
THE SETUP: Breakfast-and-lunch food trailer with picnic tables
THE ORDER: Sliced brisket taco, migas breakfast taco, chips and queso
THE MOVE: You want the (deliciously lard-y) flour tortillas.
Vicedomini’s got a thing for trailers—they remind him of Texan barbecue titans (Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue) but feel distinctly Portland, with all its food carts.
The key to the perfectly chewy flour tortillas at Matt’s BBQ Tacos? Leftover lard from his restaurant Eem.
Is there anything better than a thick, wobbly slice of brisket, topped with pickled red onions and guacamole and wrapped up in those flour tortillas?
Fact: Breakfast tacos just taste better outside.
Meet the barbecue taco crew, from left to right: Chris Robblee, Matt Vicedomini, Matt Billups, Josh Fisher, Derek Burrus, and Dustin Reum.
I think we can all agree that the Wolf’s Tailor really needs to chill out. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely into the fact that I can start my meal with a hot puffy disk of chef Kelly Whitaker’s heirloom-grain piada bread straight from the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. But don’t you think that the binchotan-fueled Japanese robata grill, the one they use to sizzle skewers—a juicy chicken meatball, or crispy-edged mortadella—to succulent perfection is kind of gilding the lily? Just a little?
Another great example of way-too-muchness: the pasta program. The toothy mafaldine I had one night—made from local grains milled in-house and tangled up with morsels of grassy whey-braised Colorado lamb and tender little peas—was the single most exciting plate of pasta I ate this year. But did Whitaker really have to take the leftover bran from milling that flour and use it to ferment all sorts of electric, eyebrow-raising pickled vegetables? Again: I love those pickles. But you have to admit it’s a little…extra, right?
And how is it even fair that Whitaker nabbed chefs Kodi Simkins and Sean May, of Frasca Food & Wine fame, to make his whole freaky vision come alive? Or that he brought on the Michelin-starred pastry chef Jeb Breakell to whip up as-fascinating-as-they-are-lovable desserts? (That red miso panna cotta!)
And the generous big-meat family-style entrées. And the tight, well-curated natural wine list. And the Japanese highballs made with ice so crazy-clear I could see through the cubes halfway across the room (and nearly spilled half my drink trying to do so). And, and, and.
Enough is enough! Is it too much to ask that they save some of the fun for everyone else? —A.S.
THE PLAYERS: Chef-owner Kelly Whitaker, culinary director Sean Magallanes, chefs de cuisine Kodi Simkins and Sean May, pastry chef Jeb Breakell
THE SETUP: Handmade pasta and robata, so well executed that it works
THE ORDER: House pickles, chicken skewers, any pasta, large-format pork ribs
THE MOVE: Desserts are wild and not to be overlooked.
The egg yolk dipping sauce served with the chicken meatball skewers is topped with a zesty house-made yuzu kosho and dehydrated chives.
King trumpet mushrooms are grilled over a mix of Japanese binchotan and Pok Pok charcoal for skewers.
Whitaker installed the wood-fired oven specifically for baking his signature piada, a fluffy, hot, pita-like disk of bread made with heirloom grains.
Piada bread served with farmer's cheese, edamame purée, garden herbs, and benne.
The bran leftover from milling grains into flour is used to make fermented pickles, like this Napa cabbage seasoned with Calabrian chiles and dried anchovies.
We've adapted these addictive ribs so you can make them at home with excellent results. Get the recipe: Miso Pork Ribs with Chile-Honey Glaze
The pasta drying room features a large glass window that looks into the restaurant's main dining room.
The Wolf's Tailor uses an extruder to make various pasta shapes, such as the paccheri and mafaldine shown here.
The tasting menu option comes with a bowl of this cozy, congee-like porridge. Get the recipe: Rice Porridge with Dashi
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