The 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America
May 22, 2019
These restaurants may not be temples of gastronomy, but they sure offer some mighty good food
Every year since The Daily Meal’s 2011 founding, we’ve set out to compile a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America. Each time, however, we encounter a dilemma: Does a restaurant like, say, the venerable Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, as stellar as it is for what it does, really belong in the same ranking as a place like Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, with its three Michelin stars? While they’re both celebrated establishments that serve incredibly delicious food, there’s simply no way to compare the two; it’s apples and oranges, pizza and foie gras. That’s why five years ago we decided to separate out the laid-back from the lavish with an initial ranking of 50 casual restaurants, expanded to 101 in 2015. From hot dog shacks to taco joints, from sandwich shops to legendary barbecue spots, these are amazing restaurants where price is no barrier to entry and you’ll feel right at home in jeans.
With all that in mind, what makes a restaurant casual, exactly? It goes far beyond the dress code. Our main criterion was the price factor: Can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding tip and alcohol? Other factors we took into account were an overall comfortable and relaxed ambiance, a “destination” status (that is, is the place worth traveling for?), and a proven reputation and longevity.
To assemble our ranking, we took an approach similar to the one that we have used when compiling our 101 Best Restaurants in America. We compiled a list of America’s best purveyors of pizza, burgers, hot dogs, tacos, fried chicken, breakfast and brunch spots and more, ending up with more than 500 restaurants that we believe represent a vast cross-section of America and the casual restaurants that make it great. From there we assembled a survey, and sent it out to a panel of hundreds of America’s leading culinary authorities. We asked them to vote for their favorites, but only ones that they’d dined at within the past two years.
In the end, we were left with a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America. It’s a list we can fully stand behind, and also one that supplements our ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America — which admittedly focuses on restaurants that are out of many people’s price range — with a collection of restaurants that are affordable and accessible to all. (We didn’t consider large chains like Shake Shack, and we left off restaurants that made it into our earlier ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, as well as Asian restaurants, which are so varied and expansive that they’re worthy of their own rankings.)
So loosen your belt and get ready for a culinary tour of the best that America has to offer. Read on to learn which 101 casual restaurants are America’s best.
#101 Tops Diner (East Newark, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Satyanas X.
In New Jersey, a state with no shortage of spectacular diners, legendary East Newark institution Tops Diner has risen to the top of the pack. Open since the 1920s and operated by current owners Jimmy and John Golemis since 1972, Tops opens at 6 a.m. daily and serves a menu that keeps regulars coming back again and again. Eggs are local and cage-free, and standouts include Eggs From Heaven (three eggs baked with cheesy grits in a spicy tomato jambalaya sauce with chorizo and toast), steak and eggs with a 12-ounce New York strip, multi-grain buttermilk pancakes topped with cinnamon and fresh fruit, Louisiana Benedict with spicy chorizo, chicken and waffles, and brioche French toast stuffed with peanut butter and spiced bananas. And that’s just breakfast! If you’re more in the mood for lunch, you can’t go wrong with the massive array of salads, sandwiches, burgers, pasta dishes and even ribs.
#100 Veselka (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Laura Jean O.
Veselka has been a port in the storm of New York’s East Village since 1954, serving traditional diner fare and Eastern European specialties 24 hours a day to NYU kids and graveyard-shift workers alike. Traditional diner fare includes pancakes and waffles made to order, challah French toast, Cobb salad, grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese, but their Ukranian comfort foods, including homemade pierogis, kielbasa, potato pancakes, goulash and borscht, are the stuff of legend.
#99 Guisados (Los Angeles, California)
With six locations in Los Angeles, California, Guisados celebrates the simplicity of Mexican food through a menu of tacos and quesadillas made with traditional, home-style braises served in fresh, handmade corn tortillas. Popular offerings include mole poblano, steak picado (simmered with bell peppers and bacon), cocinita pibil, shrimp and chorizo, and there are also plenty of vegetarian options. Wash it all down with a melon, lemon or hibiscus agua fresca.
#98 The Apple Pan (Los Angeles, California)
This charming U-shaped lunch counter in West Los Angeles hasn't changed much at all since it opened in 1947. The Apple Pan is best known for its no-frills, old-fashioned burgers; its signature Hickory Burger is a round of hickory-smoked ground beef on a standard bun topped with mayonnaise and a secret sauce that tastes like slightly spiced-up ketchup (spring for some Tillamook cheddar for an extra 50 cents). It’s a masterpiece (and everyone who goes there seems to order one), but other standouts include Southern baked ham and Swiss, perfect french fries, and flawless old-school pies.
#97 J’s Oyster (Portland, Maine)
Yelp/ MsHap D.
The no-frills J’s is located right on the Portland Pier and is a salty, divey kind of place, with a rustic Maine charm, a huge bar and some of the freshest lobsters, steamers and oysters around. Clam or haddock chowder, lobster stew, lobster rolls and baked stuffed oysters are all supremely comforting, but other highlights from the surprisingly expansive menu include seafood bouillabaisse, a crab and Swiss melt and Crabby Janice, essentially a casserole of crab Rockefeller, topped with mornay sauce.
#96 Chaps Pit Beef (Baltimore, Maryland)
Chaps Pit Beef opened in 1987 in a 12-by-15 shack with no phones or electricity; fast-forward 25 years and Chaps is renowned far and wide for its pit beef, a Maryland specialty that’s becoming increasingly difficult to find. To make this legendary sandwich, they take an entire bottom round and grill it whole before slicing it super-thin to order. It’s then grilled again to the perfect temperature before being piled onto a soft roll. They also make stellar burgers, hot dogs and sausage, ham, corned beef and turkey sandwiches (and yours can contain any combination of meats), but we suggest you keep it simple and top your pit beef with some raw onions and horseradish-kicked “tiger sauce.”
#95 Burger Bar (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Yelp/ Alex N.
Accomplished Alsatian-born chef Hubert Keller is serving a wide variety of top-notch burgers at his Las Vegas, Nevada, must-visit Burger Bar. The basic burger here is certified Angus beef on a plump bun with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bacon and American cheese, but the burger that Keller enjoys so much he put his name on it starts with a bison meat patty and is topped with caramelized onion, wilted baby spinach and blue cheese, and is served on a ciabatta bun alongside red wine shallot sauce. And if you just hit the jackpot, splurge on the Rossini, an Australian wagyu patty topped with foie gras and truffles, which sells for $65.
#94 Beasley's Chicken + Honey (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Yelp/ Jeremy H.
Chef and restaurateur Ashley Christensen is basically the queen of the Raleigh, North Carolina, dining scene at this point; her company AC restaurants is behind five casual restaurants and bars in the city, with a sixth (a Neapolitan pizzeria) opening within a few months, and she was awarded the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef for her efforts. For a good idea of what makes her and her cooking so beloved in this town, just visit Beasley’s Chicken and Honey. The fried chicken here is simply astounding, as are the creative Southern-inspired snacks and sides including pork and beans, pecan-smoked chicken legs with Alabama white sauce and crispy cheese grit fries with chow chow and malt aioli.
#93 The Pantry (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Yelp/ Joey M.
In business since 1948, The Pantry is one of New Mexico’s most famous restaurants, and it’s also home to the state’s best brunch. Eggs any style with bacon, ham, sausage, chorizo or carne adovada; blue corn cinnamon cakes; huevos rancheros; chile relleno omelet; and chicken fried steak and eggs are some of its most acclaimed brunch offerings, but there’s also a wide variety of sandwiches; burgers (including one topped with beans, cheese and chile sauce and served in a tortilla); New Mexican specialties including stuffed sopapillas, brisket tacos and chile rellenos; and comfort foods including house-made meatloaf.
#92 Pancake Pantry (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Hayley C.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is what you might call a pancake town, with no shortage of places serving amazing flapjacks. But the Pancake Pantry, in business since 1960, was the first pancake house in the entire state and remains the best. The century-old building is a gem in itself, and the pancakes served here (and everything that goes with them, including the whipped cream) are made from scratch. Twenty-four different pancake and crepe varieties are available, but their flagship old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes are light, tender and slightly chewy. (The Hayley Special, an off-menu item, is also popular with those in the know; these pancakes, topped with bananas, bacon and peanut butter syrup, are completely out of this world.) Egg dishes, waffles, burgers and sandwiches are also on offer.
#91 Tattooed Moose (Charleston, South Carolina)
Yelp/ Liz W.
Laid-back Charleston, South Carolina, dive bar Tattooed Moose (with a second, even more laid-back location on neighboring Johns Island) is one funky joint — so much so that it inspired a visit from Guy Fieri for an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Sandwiches like the duck club and Lowcountry Cuban keep locals coming back for more, but no visit is complete without a big, overflowing basket of the signature duck-fat fries. Partner them up with a local craft beer and a stellar burger, and you just might never want to leave.
#90 Toups South (New Orleans, Louisiana)
If you’re a “Top Chef” fan, then you know Isaac Toups; the gregarious New Orleans-based chef was a Season 13 fan favorite. But the Emeril Lagasse disciple is also a James Beard Award finalist, and his flagship restaurant, the upscale Toups’ Meatery, is a must-visit. Its more casual spinoff, Toups South, is worthy of plenty of acclaim as well, and with its unique spin on rustic Louisiana cuisine, it’s a true culinary playground. Start your meal with some of Toups’ signature pork cracklins and sourdough biscuits with crab fat butter, then move on to a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with braised greens and Gruyère, seared redfish, a house-smoked pastrami sandwich or a massive stack of fried pork chops. Toups’ cooking is really firing on all cylinders here, and it’s redefining Cajun cuisine in real time.
#89 Pecan Lodge (Dallas, Texas)
Yelp/ Matthew K.
One of the most award-winning barbecue joints in Texas (which is saying a lot), Pecan Lodge offers a real Texas barbecue experience. The smokers are fired up 24 hours a day with a mixture of mesquite and oak, sausages are made in-house, and just about everything on the menu is made from scratch, including the otherworldly sides: collard greens, mac and cheese, and fried okra that can’t be missed. Make sure you get there before they run out, and come hungry, because you’ll be ordering The Trough for the table: a beef rib, a pound of pork ribs and brisket, a half-pound of pulled pork and three sausage links.
#88 Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis, Missouri)
It might be Memphis-style barbecue in St. Louis, Missouri, but Pappy’s makes some of the best ribs in a city that’s renowned for them. The lines form early to get into this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and it closes as soon as the barbecue runs out. These ribs are smoked over apple or cherry wood, and have a kick of black pepper and rosemary. Brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, chicken, turkey and sausages are also smoked for up to 24 hours. The whole scene can be a bit of a madhouse, but just close your eyes and take a bite and you’ll be in your happy place in no time.
#87 Shapiro’s Delicatessen (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Yelp/ Luckie D.
Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria has been serving loyal customers in Indianapolis, Indiana, since 1905. Best known for its cured meats and sandwiches piled high on rye or egg buns, it’s also world famous for its smoked pickled tongue (don’t knock it ‘til you try it). Their corned beef is sourced from Vienna Beef in Chicago and the pastrami is shipped in from Brooklyn. Their most famous creation, however, is the house-made peppered beef, which is made by salting, washing, curing, peppering, smoking and seasoning lean beef, and it’s a must-order.
#86 Turkey and the Wolf (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Bethany W.
Saying Turkey and the Wolf is a sandwich shop is like calling the Kentucky Derby a horse race — sure, it’s accurate, but it’s so much more than that. This place is a certified New Orleans phenom, with lines around the corner on a daily basis. The ingredients are fresh and high-quality and just about everything is made in house, but this place has a real personality too — it’s the culinary playground of chef Mason Hereford, whom Bon Appétit calls “a cross between Jeff Spicoli from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ and Willy Wonka” (in an article naming the restaurant the best new restaurant of 2017, no less). Yes, the restaurant and its chef are zany, but schtick will only get you so far. Try the fried bologna sandwich (with locally-made bologna, hot English mustard, potato chips, shredded lettuce, Duke’s mayo and American cheese), the smoked ham (with ham, cranberry, herb mayo, aged cheddar and arugula) or the collard green melt (with slow-cooked collards, Swiss, pickled cherry pepper dressing and coleslaw), and chase it with a playful cocktail (one contains gin, fennel liqueur and Skittles) and you’ll understand.
#85 Peppermill (Las Vegas, Nevada)
No trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, is complete without neon lights, and you’ll find plenty of those at The Peppermill Restaurant. This 24-hour Las Vegas gem has been dishing up classic American fare on the Strip for more than 40 years, and its old-school décor (neon, neon everywhere!) and the classic booths are so distinctive that regular Penn Gillette had an exact replica installed in his house. The menu is expansive and creative, with something for everyone, from late-night revelers to early birds, and the burgers are legendary. If you’re in the mood for breakfast, you can’t go wrong with Joe’s San Francisco Special (scrambled eggs with spinach, onions, ground sausage and beef, served on crispy hash browns and topped with cheese sauce), and for dinner you can’t go wrong with the French dip, porterhouse steak, or ribs.
#84 Paseo (Seattle, Washington)
Yelp/ Sean G.
In Seattle, Washington, Paseo has been a household name for more than 20 years thanks to its Caribbean-inspired sandwiches. Just about everything on the menu is ridiculously delicious (seriously, repeated visits are necessary), but if it’s your first time, you need to order the Caribbean roast: pork shoulder that’s marinated and slow-roasted, pulled and tucked into a toasted baguette and topped (like all of their sandwiches) with aioli, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, romaine lettuce and caramelized onions. Other standouts include the Smokin’ Thighs (roasted skin-on chicken thighs, aioli, cilantro, romaine, jalapeños and caramelized onions) and the Paseo Press (roasted pulled pork shoulder, smoked ham, Swiss, aioli, cilantro, banana peppers and caramelized onions, pressed), one of the finest plays on the traditional Cubano you’ll find anywhere.
#83 La Camaronera (Miami, Florida)
Yelp/ Louisa L.
La Camaronera is the place in Miami, Florida, for fresh seafood, cooked and served with no frills by people who really know what they’re doing. Their snapper sandwich, fried whole fish and conch fritters are jaw-droppingly delicious, but don’t leave without ordering either the snapper or lobster sandwich: They’re made with huge pieces of the deep-fried seafood, topped with ketchup-based sauce and diced onions and stuffed inside a soft roll, and they’re quintessential Miami dishes.
#82 John’s of Bleecker (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Richard H.
Yes, John’s of Bleecker is on the tourist rotation, but there's a reason this place has become an institution. Pizza is cooked in a coal-fired brick oven the same way it's been done there since 1929. You can choose from the available toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sliced meatball, garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, ricotta, sliced tomato, anchovies, olives and roasted tomatoes), and you can scratch your name into the walls like the droves before you, but what you can't do is order a slice. Pies only, bud.
#81 Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Kansas City, Kansas)
Yelp/ Terry L.
Joe’s Kansas City, with its original location on the Kansas side of the city, offers smoky, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. This mini-chain began as Oklahoma Joe’s in 1995 in none other than a corner gas station. Since then, it’s opened two more eateries and has achieved a level of renown in the city. The large menu offers smoked turkey and ham, beef brisket, ribs, barbecue sausage and the house specialty, pulled pork. If you come in during lunch on Monday or Saturday, or at dinner on Wednesday, you may be lucky enough to indulge in Joe’s sought-after burnt ends (if you get there before the dish sells out). The menu also features chicken gumbo and a variety of sides, such as dirty rice and barbecue beans.
#80 Jim's Steaks (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Jim’s Steaks opened in 1939 and has been a quintessential Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, food stop ever since. With 80 years of experience under its belt, Jim’s is regarded as one of the best cheesesteaks you’ll find in the city that made them famous. The shop has a wall of fame covered in photos of celebrities who’ve visited, and glass windows into the kitchen so you can watch your sandwich being created. Their most popular sandwich is, of course, the Philly cheesesteak, made with USDA Prime or Choice top round, topped with Cheese Whiz, American or provolone. Breakfast sandwiches are also available all day.
#79 Domilese's (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Mona W.
The debate about where to find the best po’boys in New Orleans has raged for decades and will most likely continue for eternity, but Domilise's, on the unimpressive corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle streets at the end of a trolley ride fairly far west of Bourbon Street, gives any other po’boy shop a serious run for its money. The quintessential light bread characteristic of the genre, topped with supremely thin-sliced roast beef, dressed with a touch of Creole mustard and covered with gravy and “dressed” with tomato and shredded lettuce, is as close to po’boy perfection as you’ll find anywhere.
#78 Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous (Memphis, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Stacy A.
While there’s no shortage of barbecue joints in Memphis, Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous has been the standard for Memphis-style barbecue ribs since 1948. Rendezvous’ ribs are coated with a signature dry rub that originated from Charlie Vergos’ father’s Greek chili recipe. As opposed to being slow-smoked, the racks are grilled for an hour and 15 minutes, and given a vinegar wash to keep them juicy, and no sauce is necessary. The brisket and pork shoulder are also extraordinary, and if you want to really go above and beyond, call the restaurant a day in advance and order 5 pounds of barbecue shrimp.
#77 Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (Charleston, South Carolina)
Yelp/ Lily F.
Founded in 2005 by Carrie Morey and already a beloved Charleston, South Carolina, institution, the quaint and narrow Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is serving biscuits filled with your choice of jam, country ham, pimento cheese, bacon or other substantial offerings like sausage, egg and cheese. You can even buy jams, flavored butters, and even gravy a la carte, as well as biscuits by the dozen and boxed lunches containing biscuits, jam, cookies, and coffee. It’s a small counter-serve establishment, though, so get there early and get in line.
#76 Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q (Decatur, Alabama)
Yelp/ Kevin W.
Bob Gibson worked for the L & N Railroad and hosted barbecues in his backyard on the weekends, and in 1952, he opened Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Sixth Avenue in Decatur, Alabama. Today it’s helmed by legendary pitmaster Chris Lilly, who invented the rubs used on the meat as well as the sauces, the most famous of which is a zippy mayo-based Alabama-style white sauce that pairs perfectly with his smoked chicken. But that’s not all they offer: pulled pork, beef brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, and Brunswick stew are also worth seeking out.
#75 Dat Dog (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Dat Dog
Dat Dog is quickly becoming a Crescent City institution, thanks to owner Constantine Georges’ commitment to serving the highest-quality hot dogs and sausages possible — with a sense of humor. Menu standouts include a brilliant pairing of duck sausage with blackberry preserves as well as crawfish sausage, alligator sausage and bratwurst, but make sure you save room to try their hot sausage, custom-ground by a local butcher and tucked into a bun that’s steamed and then toasted to make it both soft and crispy. The sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings, but you can’t go wrong with their addictive beef stock-based andouille sauce.
#74 Martha Lou’s Kitchen (Charleston, South Carolina)
Yelp/ Pat C.
“If you want a fancy ambiance with a fancy price tag, you’ll have to go elsewhere,” warns Martha Lou’s website. But trust us: You don’t want to. The fried chicken alone — which is lightly dredged in flour and dipped in milk batter before being deep-fried to crispy perfection — is worth the trip to this tiny, 36-odd-year-old pink shack (or its second location, which opened a couple years ago in North Charleston). The menu features different classic soul food items every day of the week, but some things are permanent mainstays: the fried chicken, fish, pork chops, white rice, baked macaroni, lima beans, corn bread and bread pudding. (Visit on Friday for barbecue ribs and you’ll be in for a real treat.) It’s truly a family operation; the restaurant is still run by 89-year-old Martha Lou Gadsen, along with her daughters and granddaughters.
#73 Koko Head Café (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Yelp/ Melissa Jean A.
You might have spotted chef Lee Anne Wong on Food Network and “Top Chef” (she was a contestant in season one and made a brief cameo in season 15), but you might not know that she also happens to run one of the hottest, funkiest brunch spots in Hawaii, in a quiet Honolulu neighborhood (quiet, that is, until brunch rolls around). Koko Head Café has a huge menu of baked goods, pancakes, egg dishes, and skillets, as well as a lovely assortment of Asian- and Hawaiian-inspired dishes including black sesame yuzu muffins; breakfast congee (with bacon, Portuguese sausage, ham, soft-poached egg and cheddar); omelets filled with miso smoked pork or poke; Wong’s spin on loco moco; and breakfast bibimbap.
#72 Olneyville NY System (North Providence, Rhode Island)
Yelp/ Chris E.
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, Rhode Island, claims to serve “Rhode Island’s Best Hot Wieners,” and while that will always remain a point of contention, they’re certainly the most legendary. The New York System dog is a regional specialty: Small franks (in this case, from Little Rhody) are steamed, placed atop a steamed bun, and topped with a cumin-heavy meat sauce, yellow mustard, diced onions and celery salt. You’re going to want to order a few of these, because they’re little and addictive (see how many of them the counterman can balance on his arm). Whatever you do, make sure you chase them with a glass of that other Rhode Island culinary specialty, coffee milk.
#71 Sqirl (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Jam Y.
Yes, chef Jessica Koslow’s insanely hip Los Angeles restaurant, Sqirl, is a must-visit (and must-Instagram) hotspot, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it; it’s really that good. Its menu is loaded with healthy, unique, well-composed and stunningly beautiful dishes, many of which have already begun to influence menus nationwide. Try the sorrel pesto rice (with preserved Meyer lemon, lactofermented hot sauce, watermelon radish, French sheep feta, poached egg and house-made bacon); the Mosca Breakfast Sandwich (with a sheeted egg, chicken sausage, Turkish-style tomatoes and peppers, green herbs and halloumi on a nigella whey brioche bun); long-cooked chicken and rice porridge (with dried lime, ginger, turmeric, cardamom ghee, frizzled onions, cilantro and a poached egg), and one of the various toasts (avocado, house-made ricotta) and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
#70 Guelaguetza (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Gina T.
With the 1994 opening of Guelaguetza, the Lopez family introduced Los Angeles to authentic Oaxacan cuisine, and it’s still widely regarded as the standard-bearer for Oaxacan food in the U.S. Named for Oaxaca’s famous traditional summertime festival, Guelaguetza (pronounced GAY-la is a year-round destination for its tamales, memelas (chubby cornmeal cakes similar to sopes), weekend-only lamb barbacoa, chilaquiles, unstuffed enchiladas and, of course, exquisite moles, available in six labor-intensive styles served over chicken or pork.
#69 Pink’s (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Y L.
Founded as a pushcart at the height of the Great Depression, Pink’s has gone on to become one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated culinary institutions, all on the back of the humble hot dog. Sure, its location a stone’s throw from Hollywood might have something to do with it, but so do the charming 1946 building, the custom-made Hoffy dogs, the chili devised by co-founder Betty Pink back in the early days, the insane amount of charm and the massive variety of toppings. Try the Southern Comfort Dog (with grilled steak, coleslaw and barbecue sauce), the Bacon Burrito Dog (two dogs, cheddar, bacon, chili and onions wrapped up in a tortilla) or the Mulholland Drive Dog (with grilled onions and mushrooms, nacho cheese and bacon), or keep it simple with a classic chili cheese dog.
#68 Maxine's Chicken & Waffles (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Yelp/ James B.
Ollie and Maxine Bunnell met in 1939 and had 10 children, who in 2007 came together to open a restaurant, Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles, that celebrated their mother’s home cooking as well as their own family recipes. The end result is a restaurant that certainly serves some fabulous fried chicken wings made according to Maxine’s recipe, but there’s also Jolene’s Fish N’ Grits, Dusty’s Waffles, Ms. Faye’s Salmon Croquettes, Shirley’s Biscuits and Gravy, Randy’s Pan Fried Chicken, and a variety of other Southern classics. Maxine’s isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a family cookbook come to life.
#67 Nathan’s (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Henry T.
The most famous hot dog stand in the country, and still one of the best. Founded by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker in 1916, Nathan’s didn’t just rely on a quality product (the hot dog recipe was his wife Ida’s); its founder was also a shrewd businessman. He sold his franks for just 5 cents, making them the cheapest around, and reportedly hired actors to dress as doctors and eat there in order to convince folks that they were safe to eat. The business took off, and today there are more than 40,000 outlets selling Nathan's hot dogs. A trip to the original stand in Brooklyn’s Coney Island is a pilgrimage that everyone should make at least once, though. Stand in the same line that millions of others have over the years, place your order, and snap into the perfect embodiment of a summer day: the sea, the boardwalk and an original Nathan’s hot dog. There’s nothing else like it. The crinkle-cut fries are pretty great, too, and the neon-bedecked original location also offers lobster rolls, fish and chips, fried clams and even frog legs!
#66 Howlin’ Ray’s (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Brittany T.
Howlin’ Ray’s owner Johnny Ray Zone has spent time working for some of the world’s most renowned chefs, but he found his true calling on a trip to Nashville. What started as a food truck is now a tiny storefront located inside a Chinatown shopping mall serving fresh-from-the-fryer hot chicken made screamingly hot with help from cayenne and extracts of habanero, ghost pepper and red savina. Be prepared to wait up to two hours to sample it, though; the lines get really long!
#65 JG Melon (New York, New York)
The legendary JG Melon burger is simple and classic: a healthy slab of ground beef sizzled on the griddle and served draped with American cheese on a toasted bun, with pickles and red onions on the side. It’s served in a no-frills old dining room on a checkerboard tablecloth with a side of cottage fries. JG Melon is the kind of place where many burger memories are made, and a fine example of a classic, old-school New York City burger.
#64 Brennan & Carr (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Rosa W.
Tucked away in Brooklyn’s quiet Sheepshead Bay neighborhood is an anachronous little building that’s been serving some of the city’s finest roast beef sandwiches since 1938. This is Brennan & Carr, an absolute Brooklyn icon, a worthy food pilgrimage for locals and tourists alike and a culinary remnant of a much earlier time. Along with some serious old-time charm (so much wood paneling), the real draw here is the hot roast beef. Top round is slow-roasted and thinly-sliced to order, then dunked into a bubbling vat of beefy, salty jus before being piled onto a soft kaiser bun (which can, and should, also be dunked into the jus). Cheese and onions are optional, but not necessary. It’s a simple, and perfect, sandwich.
#63 Ben’s Chili Bowl (Washington, DC)
Yelp/ Michael P.
As bagels and pizza are iconic to New York, so the half-smoke is to Washington, D.C. The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben’s Chili Bowl’s city landmark status, and the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant’s chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order “dogs”; they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified, Ben’s remains a more-than-50-year-old bastion of downhome D.C.
#62 Duckfat (Portland, Maine)
Yelp/ Julie Z.
Portland, Maine, has about as many restaurants as a city of its size can manage, but the small, low-key Duckfat has managed to stand out from the pack. Essentially a fry and sandwich shop, Duckfat has managed to capture lightning in a bottle thanks to the ingenuity of its owners, Nancy Pugh and Rob Evans, who opened its doors in 2005 and picked up a James Beard Award for their efforts in 2009. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, you can start with the fries, which are made from hand-cut Maine potatoes, fried in (what else?) duck fat, and served Belgian-style in a cone with a variety of dipping sauces. When topped with local cheese curds, duck gravy, duck confit and a sunny side-up egg, they reach levels of deliciousness heretofore unknown to man. But if you can tear yourself away from the poutine, then the homemade soups, sandwiches loaded with house-smoked brisket or turkey, homemade meatloaf, slow-roasted pulled pork and citrus-scented doughnut holes (one guess what they’re fried in) will have you literally dreaming about your next visit.
#61 White House Subs (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Ben F.
It’s hard to imagine a trip to Atlantic City without a stop by the White House Sub Shop to get one of their legendary submarine sandwiches. The family-owned shop opened in 1946 and quickly became one of the most iconic sandwich purveyors on the East Coast. You’ll see how popular it is when you arrive — the line often extends out to the street.
White House Sub Shop has over 25 different sandwiches (including chicken parm, top round cheesesteak and cheeseburger), but one reigns supreme: the White House Special. It starts with a soft, chewy sub roll from Formica Bros. Bakery, which is absolutely loaded with Genoa salami, ham and provolone. They also add lettuce, tomatoes, onions, red peppers, oil, vinegar, dried oregano and salt and pepper. There’s a second location inside the Hard Rock, but there’s nothing like the original.
#60 Mamoun’s (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Mamoun’s Falafel
If you went to NYU, or have spent any time carousing Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street in the past 40-odd years, then the odds are pretty high that you’ve been to Mamoun’s Falafel. New York’s first falafel shop (opened in 1971) is still one of its best, and a big part of its charm is that it’s absolutely miniscule: a narrow nook with a few booths along one wall and just enough space for everyone else to line up for their turn to order from the counter along the other. Mamoun’s holds a special place in the hearts of thousands (or millions, most likely), and after one visit it’ll work its way into yours, too.
#59 Weiner’s Circle (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Silv V.
Weiner’s Circle is an Illinois icon, perhaps best known for its somewhat rowdy atmosphere and sharp-tongued employees (especially late at night on the weekends). But it also serves some spectacular traditional Chicago-style hot dogs, with one exception. A Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun gets all the iconic Chicago toppings (raw onions, neon-green relish, pickle spear, tomato slices and celery salt). The departure from the purist version? Wiener’s Circle char-grills its dogs rather than steaming them.
#58 Las Cuatro Milpas (San Diego, California)
Yelp/ Tyler L.
Located in an unassuming Barrio Logan back alley, Las Cuatro Milpas has been serving some of San Diego’s best tacos since 1933. Order up front, grab your table in the middle, and watch tortillas being made in the back. With the tortillas deep-fried to order, these crunchy tacos are filled with beef, chicken or pork, but opt for the shredded pork, topped with lettuce and tangy, crumbled goat cheese. The hot sauce — which is made by simmering chiles and spices in lard — isn’t for the spice-averse, but is addictively good.
#57 Second Avenue Deli (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Heather F.
Abe Lebewohl was a true New York original: A Polish immigrant who came to America in 1950, his first job was as a soda jerk at a Coney Island deli, where he graduated to counterman. In 1954 he invested his life savings in opening a small luncheonette on Second Avenue and 10th Street in Manhattan, which over the years became the beloved institution known as the Second Avenue Deli. In 1996, at the height of the restaurant’s success, Lebewohl was murdered while walking to the bank to make a deposit, and his death made national news.
The original location closed in 2006 after a landlord dispute and is now a bank (such is sadly the way of many New York institutions), but Lebewohl’s legacy lives on at the two locations that have opened in Manhattan since. One of just a handful of strictly kosher delis remaining in New York, Second Avenue is the place for authentic Jewish cuisine in New York: kasha varnishkas, knishes, matzoh brei, cholent, noodle kugel, kippered salmon… The possibilities are endless, artery-clogging and delicious. If you have to order one thing, though, make it the hot pastrami on rye. Thinly sliced, perfectly spiced and smoky, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. So drop by, raise a glass of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray to Abe, and enjoy some real-deal Jewish deli fare.
#56 Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand (River Grove, Illinois)
Yelp/ Ann S.
Gene and Jude’s was founded in 1946 as a little stand on Polk and Western Avenue, serving hot dogs topped with fries (a combination purportedly dreamed up by founder Gene Mormino at a Cubs game) along with a few other items on the menu. Mormino supposedly lost the original stand in a card game, but opened another one in 1950 in River Grove that’s now run by his son, Joe. The hot dogs are a mess — covered with and rolled up with soft fries — but that introduction of saltiness and textural variation makes them more nuanced than many other Chicago dogs. And their hours — 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., when many of Chicago’s other iconic eateries are closed — make them a Sunday hot dog savior.
#55 Mr. Beef (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Shuang C.
Italian beef is a quintessential Chicago sandwich, slow-cooked thin-sliced beef drenched in cooking juices and tucked into a soft long roll and topped with a spicy pickled vegetable relish called giardiniera. For a true Italian beef experience, a visit to the 40-odd-year-old Mr. Beef should be in the works. Not only is the sandwich easily in the running for the city’s best, but the space itself, with a simple counter, a little space to lean on while you eat your sandwich, and some framed photos and clippings on the wall, is essentially the perfect old-school Chicago eatery.
#54 Casamento’s (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Paul W.
Going strong since 1919 in a narrow, tiled space that’s barely changed since then, Casamento’s is synonymous with one thing: Gulf oysters. This legendary New Orleans seafood spot dishes up hundreds of the bivalves daily, on the half-shell, in a creamy stew, deep-fried, charbroiled or fried and “fully dressed” on two slices of thick-sliced bread in its famous oyster loaf. And once you’ve had your fill of oysters, the gumbo, fried catfish and trout, and soft shell crab are pretty spectacular as well. Casamento’s is a must-visit in the Big Easy, but make sure you go when it’s open: It’s closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as the entire months of June, July and August.
#53 Kreuz Market (Lockhart, Texas)
Yelp/ Yewon K.
Kreuz Market, originally a meat market and a grocery store, was founded by Charles Kreuz (pronounced "krites") in 1900. Like most markets at the time, it pit-barbecued the better cuts of meat and made sausage out of the lesser cuts. Customers bought barbecue, sausage and garnishes like bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes and cheese from the grocery store, eating it straight off butcher paper. The business was passed on to Kreuz’s sons, who ran it until 1948. That year, Edgar A. “Smitty” Schmidt bought the place; he phased out the groceries but continued to serve the same barbecue and sausage. Schmidt’s son, Rick Schmidt, bought the business, and when he and his sister Nina went their separate ways, he moved, along with the Kreuz name, to a cavernous new 560-seat location in 1999. Nina kept the old location and named it Smitty’s. Today, Kreuz boasts eight 16-foot pits for barbecuing meat (it cooks for four to six hours, a short period by industry standards) and for grilling approximately 15,000 rings of sausage each week. The original menu has expanded to include baked beans, German potato salad, sauerkraut and dipped ice cream.
#52 Rainbow Drive-in (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Yelp/ Monique A.
Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In, going strong since 1961, is absolutely legendary, and with good reason: It’s arguably the best place in the state for that uniquely Hawaiian creation, the plate lunch. The plate lunch is customizable, but it always contains a protein, two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad or slaw. As for the protein? It’s up to you, but options here include barbecue beef or pork, fish, beef of pork cutlets, chili, burger patties and beef stew. Other only-in-Hawaii specialties include loco moco (with rice, two burger patties, eggs, brown gravy and macaroni salad); Hawaiian-style barbecue beef or pork sandwiches; pork long rice (pork cooked with rice noodles, pork stock and ginger); shoyu chicken (chicken thighs braised with soy sauce, sugar, ginger and garlic); and saimin, Hawaii’s take on ramen.
#51 Cutty’s (Brookline, Massachusetts)
Yelp/ Yuan J.
The tiny, 18-seat Cutty’s sandwich shop has achieved astounding levels of renown in Massachusetts since opening in 2010, but that’s what meticulous ingredient sourcing and attention to detail will get you. Just about every ingredient here is either made in house or locally sourced, and owners Rachel and Charles Kelsey were trained at the Culinary Institute of America and met while working as test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen. So what happens when chefs of this caliber focus all their culinary know-how on sandwiches? You end up with the Beef 1000 (with slow-roasted beef, crispy shallots, Thousand Island and sharp cheddar on brioche); the Spuckie (with fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, mozzarella and olive-carrot salad on ciabatta); the Greens Shallot (with Swiss chard, crispy shallots and saffron yogurt on ciabatta); and the Sunday-only Pork Fennel (with slow-roasted pork, pickled fennel and roasted garlic on a sesame seed roll). There’s also a very nice selection of breakfast dishes, soups, salads and desserts. This is the rare restaurant where every single thing on the menu is a masterpiece.
#50 Pizzeria Mozza (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Dean C.
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton runs Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison to the innovative, creative fare. The pizzeria, which is attached to the main Osteria Mozza, offers a variety of Italian specialties from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan-style pizzas steal the show. Their list of 21 pies ranges from a simple flatbread of olive oil, garlic, mozzarella and fontina to a more unique pie with squash blossoms, tomato and burrata cheese — a delicious and simple pizza that transports through the quality and nuance of its ingredients.
#49 Big Bad Breakfast (Oxford, Mississippi)
Yelp/ Leslie F.
When it comes to dining in Oxford, Mississippi, John Currence knows what’s best. The renowned chef and restaurateur started his career with the casually elegant City Grocery, located in the heart of town. Since then, he’s opened a catering company along with six other restaurants, one of them being a popular brunch spot with an intimidatingly cool name of Big Bad Breakfast. The menu is chock-full of classic breakfast staples like shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles and flapjacks, and biscuits and jellies are made from scratch. If you go for lunch, be sure to try the Southern Belly sandwich, loaded with house-made pimento cheese, house-made bacon, bread and butter pickles, local tomatoes and fresh slaw.
#48 Red Iguana (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Yelp/ Devin O.
Red Iguana has been going strong since 1985, is still family owned, and is absolutely renowned in Utah. Its massive menu features six different moles (each meticulously handmade), pork doused in red or green chile sauce, slow-roasted cochinita pibil, eight enchiladas, a variety of tacos and burritos, and some outrageous breakfast dishes, among dozens of other specialties.
#47 Johnnie’s Beef (Elmwood Park, Illinois)
Yelp/ Rick I.
Johnnie’s Beef is legendary for two things: beef and ice, both of the Italian variety. Chicagoland has no shortage of places selling Italian beef sandwiches, but what sets Johnnie’s apart from the pack is the secret recipe of seasonings that go onto the slow-braised beef and into the jus; when thin-sliced, tucked into a soft long roll, dunked into jus and topped with sweet peppers or giardiniera, and followed up by a big cup of house-made lemon ice, it’s pretty much perfect.
#46 Loteria Grill (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Jeannie J.
Chef Jimmy Shaw’s Loteria Grill is a Los Angeles institution, serving a wide variety of breakfast dishes, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and other Mexican fare. For a true appreciation of what makes the place so great, your best bet is to order the Probaditas, 12 mini corn tortillas each topped with a house specialty including mole poblano, carne deshebrada (shredded beef), cochinita pibil, chicharrón en salsa verde papa con rajas and tinga de pollo.
#45 Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix, Arizona)
Yelp/ Julio H.
Even though Chris Bianco no longer personally makes every pie that Pizzeria Bianco turns out, the pizzas at this legendary Phoenix, Arizona, restaurant gave the chef his initial claim to fame. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Margherita will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.
#44 Bob’s Clam Hut (Kittery, Maine)
Yelp/ Michael U.
While Bob’s Clam Hut has been renowned for its fried clams and other seafood since it first opened in 1956, the lobster roll here is a thing of beauty. Place your order, pay, get your number, get your food, and grab a spot at a picnic table. The lobster is slightly chilled, slicked with just a little bit of mayo, served on a bun that’s been buttered and toasted on both sides, and is just about as simple and delicious as a lobster roll can get. The fried combination platters are classic Maine, and if you can’t make it all the way out to Kittery, a second location opened in Portland in 2018.
#43 Taylor’s Maid-Rite (Marshalltown, Iowa)
An Iowa staple that’s a true Midwestern regional specialty, the “loosemeat” sandwich (also called a tavern sandwich) can be thought of as a sloppy Joe without the sauce: crumbled seasoned ground beef on a bun, topped with mustard, pickles, and chopped onions. Even though you can find it in plenty of small local restaurants, the one to visit is Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. Going strong since 1928, it’s a truly historic institution (as well as a trip back in time); there are franchised locations all across the Midwest (just called Maid-Rite), but the original is the one to visit.
#42 Flour Bakery + Café (Boston, Massachusetts)
Yelp/ Sherry H.
Pastry chef Joanne Chang and her husband, restaurateur Christopher Myers, struck gold in 2000 when they opened Flour Bakery + Café in Boston’s South End. Today there are eight locations in Boston and environs, and they’re serving some of the finest baked goods you’ll find anywhere (please don’t visit without trying the sticky bun). But this is a ranking of restaurants, not bakeries, and it’s the sandwiches that we’re praising today. The breads are all house-made, of course, as are many of the fillings; they’re all artfully composed and downright “cheffy.” Highest marks go to the smoked turkey sandwich with zucchini relish, pecorino-black pepper mayo and arugula; the spiced lamb toast with smoked eggplant puree, tzatziki, sweet pea-radish salad; mint and feta; homemade hummus with pickled daikon, cucumber, vegan Sriracha aioli and cilantro; and the grilled cauliflower melt with Oaxaca cheese, smoked poblano relish and pumpkin seed butter. Seriously, these sandwiches are in a league of their own.
#41 Pat’s King of Steaks (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yelp/ Elaine Y.
On the intersection of South Ninth Street, Wharton Street and East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia are two cheesesteak giants: Pat’s and Geno’s. They both have a fiercely loyal clientele, each of which will tell you that their favorite is superior. Pat’s claims to have invented the cheesesteak as we know it: As the story goes, in May 1933 brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who owned a hot dog stand on the corner, thinly sliced a steak and fried it with onions, and a legend was born.
Pat’s and Geno’s serve a similar product (with both using thinly sliced rib-eye steak), but there’s one main difference: Pat’s chops up its meat while it’s on the grill, and Geno’s keeps its slices whole. Which one you order comes down to personal preference, but the only way to find out is to try them both. Just make sure you learn the lingo first — “wit” means with onions, “wit-out” means without onions — and know which kind of cheese you want (Cheez Whiz, provolone, American, mozzarella or none) before you start your order.
#40 The Shed (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Yelp/ Jonathan E.
Santa Fe loves the green chiles from Hatch, down in the southern part of New Mexico, and their nearly supernatural ability to pair perfectly with just about any type of food you can think of. At The Shed, in business since 1953, the chiles are grown especially for the restaurant and brought in fresh daily, then processed on site. One of the best applications of this spicy green sauce that you’ll find in the city is on the restaurant’s taco plate: two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato. The chicken is perfectly cooked, but the chile is the real star of the show (as is the stellar posole that comes with it). Other New Mexico specialties include green chile stew, posole, enchiladas, green chile burritos and pollo adobo.
#39 Biscuit Love (Nashville, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Xander N.
Husband-and-wife team Karl and Sarah Worley began Biscuit Love as a truck in 2012, but have since opened three brick-and-mortar spots with a much larger menu and even more mouthwatering biscuit sandwiches. Their hot fried chicken on a biscuit is as good as ever, though, as is their “Easy Nasty” — fried chicken thighs on a biscuit with aged cheddar and sausage gravy. Other standouts include “bonuts” (biscuit-dough doughnuts with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote); Southern Benny (shaved country ham, two fried eggs and sausage gravy on a biscuit); and Pork Chop & Eggs (two eggs, cheese grits, a buttermilk biscuit, jam and two pork chops). Make sure you get some sweet and spicy thick-cut “chronic” bacon on the side.
#38 Fat Choy (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Yelp/ Fat Choy
Located off the Las Vegas strip inside the tiny Eureka Casino, Fat Choy is fusing Asian and American comfort foods with some astonishing results (think pancakes topped with crispy pork belly, bacon and sausage; Peking duck bao; and burgers topped with short rib and bacon), and is a thing of seriously cultish devotion in Sin City among those in the know. The menu’s ultimate indulgence is the short rib grilled cheese: melted provolone and cheddar kicked up with shredded short rib and onion jam, all fused between two thick slices of buttery toasted bread. It’s late-night Nevada eats at its finest.
#37 Loveless Café (Nashville, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Leslie A.
Loveless Cafe, named after founders Lon and Annie Loveless, has an ironic name. Not only is their fried chicken one of the city’s most beloved dishes, but a lot of love goes into their food — and has for over 60 years. The fried chicken recipe, which has remained unchanged since 1951, uses self-rising flour and a special house blend of spices. The biscuits are absolutely legendary, as are other specialties like pit-cooked barbecue pork, country fried steak, the pimento cheese and bacon burger, and basically anything on the sprawling all-day breakfast menu. Be sure to start your meal with a Bee Sting Moonshine Cocktail and finish with Kentucky Bourbon Peach Shortcake.
#36 Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (Noank, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Garrett S.
The legendary, BYOB, counter-service Abbott’s is located right on the Mystic River and has been steaming lobsters since 1947 in cast-iron low-pressure steam ovens, and it’s only open during the summer months. Their lobster rolls come in a few varieties: First, there’s the Maine-style lobster salad roll, cold lobster tossed with celery and a mayo-based dressing in a toasted split top bun. Then there’s the piece de resistance: their famous Connecticut-style hot lobster roll, a full quarter-pound of lobster meat (a little more than what you'd get out of one whole small lobster), drenched in butter and heaped on a toasted, sesame seed-topped hamburger bun. Want more lobster? Get the OMG Hot Lobster Roll, which packs in almost half a pound, or the LOL Hot Lobster Roll, which contains a full pound of lobster meat. But there’s a lot more to the menu than lobster rolls: Equally praiseworthy are the clam chowder (in two styles), lobster deviled eggs, steamed clams and ice cream sandwiched inside fresh-baked cookies.
#35 Razza (Jersey City, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Shawn H.
Razza opened just across the Hudson River from New York in Jersey City in late 2012, and it quietly became renowned locally for its wood-fired pizzas prepared by chef-owner Dan Richer, who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Award. Not only has Richer perfected his crust — it’s crisp from end to end and its inside is soft with a complex flavor — he’s also meticulous about his toppings, which he sources locally. The mozzarella on his bufala pie, for example, comes from water buffalo from Jersey’s Sussex County; he had to wait years for the herd to grow large enough to ensure a steady supply of the notoriously difficult-to-perfect cheese. And as for the sauce, Richer told The New York Times that he waits for the latest vintages of tomatoes from California, New Jersey and Italy to be canned each January before blind-tasting and grading them all, then blending them like fine wine. When assembled, the pizza is damn near perfect.
#34 Versailles Restaurant (Miami, Florida)
Yelp/ Shawn H.
The cornerstone of Miami’s Cuban community since 1971, Versailles is a Miami institution that serves some of the finest Cuban fare outside of Havana. The menu is absolutely massive, but you can’t go wrong with the shrimp Creole, empanadas, roast pork, picadillo, vaca frita (shredded beef with onions and Cuban mojo) and grilled “Palomilla” steak. The selection of sandwiches is also pretty astounding, though, and that’s where you’ll find the most famous menu item: The Cubano. Fresh Cuban-style white bread loaves are baked in house; ham is glazed with brown sugar, pineapple juice, and cloves before being baked; whole pork legs are marinated and slow-roasted for three hours daily; and imported Swiss is sliced thick. A good Cuban sandwich depends on the quality of its ingredients, and the ingredients at Versailles are just about perfect.
#33 Mi Tierra (San Antonio, Texas)
Yelp/ Tim C.
Locals and visitors alike fill the big, boisterous, absolutely dependable Mi Terra cafe and bakery — bedecked with Christmas lights and open 24 hours a day — for fajita platters, enchiladas, quesadillas and more (including first-rate menudo for breakfast). The flour-tortilla tacos are among the best in town — especially the ones filled with carnitas Michoacán: pieces of pork marinated in orange juice and spices, perfectly fried and presented with guacamole, pico de gallo and beans. A place like this warrants repeat visits, though, so make sure you come back for the queso flameado (melted cheese topped with housemade chorizo), pollo en mole poblano, El Rancho Special (beef or pork tips simmered in a pepper sauce) and carne asada. And, of course, don’t forget to wash it down with a stellar margarita (or two).
#32 Arthur Bryant’s (Kansas City, Missouri)
Arthur Bryant’s grew out of a place owned by Henry Perry, the so-called “father of Kansas City barbecue.” When Perry died in 1940, Charlie Bryant, one of his employees, took it over, and after his death, his brother Arthur assumed ownership. Locals and tourists alike have flocked to it ever since for its hickory-and-oak-smoked ribs slathered in a tangy vinegar sauce, burnt ends and barbecue sandwiches. Arthur Bryant passed away at 80 years old in 1982, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
#31 Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (Nashville, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Scott E.
Like fried chicken? Then no trip to Nashville should be complete without a trip to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, a homespun restaurant started by William and Thornton Prince more than 60 years ago that serves the platonic ideal of Nashville-style fried chicken, known for its spiciness. There’s only one thing to decide: Do you want your chicken mild, medium, hot or extra hot? If the name of the restaurant doesn’t warn you, even the “mild” is fairly spicy, so be careful. Served with white bread and pickle coins, the chicken itself is crispy, crunchy and fall-off-the-bone tender. A trip to Prince’s is one you’re not likely to forget, especially if you order it extra hot!
#30 Langer’s Deli (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Paul V.
Opened by Russian immigrants who relocated from New York to Los Angeles, Langer’s is a deli steeped in tradition. The deli is best known for its No. 19 sandwich, made with hot pastrami, coleslaw, a slice of Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on hot rye bread. The deli also serves a soul-satisfying chicken-in-the-pot, loaded with matzo balls, chicken, noodles and vegetables; the house-made pastrami is also steamed until it’s falling apart and then sliced by hand.
#29 Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena, California)
Yelp/ Kate D.
Gott’s Roadside has a handful of Bay Area locations, but the original (and most iconic) is located in the heart of Napa Valley’s main drag, an old-fashioned walk-up hamburger stand beckoning Wine Country visitors with fish tacos, ahi tuna burgers, top-notch salads and picture-perfect third-of-a-pound grilled Niman Ranch burgers. Cooked medium-well, but served “a little pink inside,” topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and secret sauce on a toasted egg bun, Gott’s cheeseburger gets pressed lightly in a machine at the end of the line to both steam and toast the bun at the same time. Go big and go for the Western Bacon Blue Ring, topped with bacon, crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese, pickles, red onion, barbecue sauce and a thick fried onion ring.
#28 Gray’s Papaya (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Tiffany P.
Gray’s Papaya is an iconic New York institution, and a great place to get a near-perfect hot dog. These colorful purveyors of old-school New York character grill their natural-casing Sabrett dogs on a flat top, nestle them inside a lightly toasted bun, and top them with mustard, sauerkraut or the classic “onions in sauce,” also made by Sabrett. Lean up against the ledge, wash down a couple of franks with some papaya drink, and be on your merry way, full, content and out only a few bucks. There used to be a handful of them in New York, but today there’s only two, on the Upper West Side and in Midtown.
#27 DiNic’s (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yelp/ Hiram M.
DiNic’s is one of the most beloved sandwich shops in the City of Brotherly Love. The store began in 1918 as a family-owned butcher shop called Nicolosi’s in the city’s renowned Reading Terminal Market. Gaetano Nicolosi, the original owner, passed the store on to his sons, who in 1954 began offering sandwiches. This new option quickly became a hit, and in 1977, Benny Nicolosi and Franky DiClaudio (Benny’s cousin) joined together to open DiNic’s.
DiNic’s serves a lineup of classic Italian sandwiches such as slow-roasted brisket of beef and Italian-style pulled pork. The best-known sandwich, though, is DiNic’s roast pork sandwich, which is thin-sliced and topped with broccoli rabe and aged provolone. Trust us: It lives up to the hype.
#26 Kuma’s Corner (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Eric L.
Kuma’s Corner is a seriously rock ‘n’ roll burger joint. It’s not a quiet place to eat — the restaurant’s slogan is “Support your community. Eat beef. Bang your head.” But with all the pyrotechnics that go off when you take a bite, the heavy metal doesn’t just make sense — it’s a perfect fit. There are burgers with tomatillo salsa and fried chiles, and burgers with Sriracha and grilled pineapple, but you have to start with the signature Kuma Burger: bacon, sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and a fried egg.
#25 PJ Clarke’s (New York, New York)
Yelp/ PJ Clarke’s
There are five P.J. Clarke’s locations (including one each in D.C. and Philly), but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story skyscraper that now looms over it. It is also the one that created the terrific pub-style burger known as The Cadillac — a juicy patty on a classic bun with smoked country bacon and American cheese as well as lettuce, onion and tomato, with shoestring fries on the side. The name, by the way, was bestowed on the thing by Nat “King” Cole, who dubbed Clarke’s “the Cadillac of burgers.”
#24 Patsy’s (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Serene N.
Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri founded Patsy’s in East Harlem in 1933, and it’s one of the handful of New York pizzerias that are still allowed to cook their pies in a coal oven. The thin-crusted, perfectly proportioned pizza is some of the best in the city, and enough to spawn several additional locations in town. The narrow dining room of the original location, with hanging lights and framed photos lining the walls (which now encompasses a few adjacent storefronts), is a quintessential New York pizza pilgrimage, and it’s easily one of the best old-school pizzerias in the country.
#23 Philippe the Original (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Kari O.
Countless restaurants serve French dip sandwiches, but the definitive version can still be found at the restaurant where it was invented: Los Angeles’ Philippe the Original. Because it’s been around for more than 100 years, the exact origins of the sandwich are disputed, but the process behind this masterpiece is no mystery: Bottom round is seasoned with salt, pepper and mashed garlic, slow-roasted until medium-rare, and sliced and placed onto a fresh French roll from a local bakery that’s been dunked into jus made with homemade stock and the intensely flavored pan drippings. You can swap the roast beef for roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey, pastrami or ham if you prefer (each dunked in its own natural jus), and can top it with your choice of cheese and/or spicy hot mustard, but if it’s your first time, beef, jus and bread is the way to go. The chili and beef stew are also seriously on point.
#22 Motorino (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Masa T.
Motorino offers some of New York’s finest traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas, and the tiny original East Village location has spawned two more in the city as well as five in Asia. Pizzaiolo Mathieu Palombino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil and Gaeta olives; and one with cremini mushrooms, fior di latte, sweet sausage and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the signature pie is the Brussels sprout pizza, with fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta and olive oil.
#21 Superdawg (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Christopher V.
Topped by what has to be some of America’s best signage — a flexing hot dog showing off his muscles to a winking wiener girl — Superdawg has been an institution on Milwaukee Avenue since Maurie and Flaurie Berman opened it in 1948. The family-owned drive-in still serves superior pure beef dogs, which they describe as “the loveliest, juiciest creation of pure beef hot dog (no pork, no veal, no cereal, no filler) formally dressed with all the trimmings: golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions and a memorable hot pepper.” Maurie and Flaurie have both passed away within the past several years, but the family-run operation is still going strong: Their great-granddaughter worked her first shift there in 2015.
#20 Black’s Barbecue (Lockhart, Texas)
Yelp/ Marie L.
Opened back in 1932 (and still using the same massive pit that the original owner’s son built back in the 1940s), Black’s is a local institution in the official “Barbecue Capital of Texas” and has three additional Texas locations. Nine different meats are offered, including brisket (of course), spare ribs, chicken, pork chops and giant beef ribs, and they’re all smoked over post oak wood — the preferred wood of most Texas barbecue pitmasters. Whatever you do, don’t visit without trying the sausage, handmade in house according to an 80-year-old family recipe.
#19 Al's #1 Italian Beef (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Erwin M.
Way back in 1939, Al’s #1 Italian Beef started as a small food stand, later morphing into the iconic Chicago mini-chain, with nine Chicagoland locations. During the Depression, when food was scarce, owner Al Ferrari and his family began slicing meat very thin and placing it on small fresh loaves of Italian bread, accidentally creating a now-legendary style of sandwich.
The essential choice here is the Italian beef sandwich. The beef sirloin is dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend, thinly sliced, put inside its loaf, and then dunked in Al’s signature jus. When topped with their signature spicy giardiniera, Al’s Italian beef is quite possibly the greatest sandwich you’ll ever eat.
#18 Swan Oyster Depot (San Francisco, California)
Yelp/ Barbara S.
Crowds line up long before the doors open at indispensable San Francisco institution Swan Oyster Depot, a narrow 18-seat counter that’s been faithfully serving some of the city’s freshest seafood for more than 100 years. Oysters, seafood cocktails, fresh Dungeness crab, chowder, crab Louie and all sorts of other seafood preparations are made fresh to order by seasoned veterans, and there’s just something about sitting at the ancient counter that makes it all taste better. Don’t miss the off-menu “Sicilian sashimi,” thin-sliced raw salmon, scallops and tuna topped with olive oil, peppers, lemon and capers.
#17 Pequod’s (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Iris N.
Pequod’s originator, the late Burt Katz, is a Chicago pizza legend, and one bite of the pizzeria’s deep-dish will give you great respect for the man. Known for the “caramelized crust,” Pequod’s pies earn points for their chewy, crusty, quasi-burnt cheese crust that forms the outer edge of this cheesy casserole, made by spreading a thin layer of cheese along the outer part of the crust where it darkens against the side of the pan. Save room (if you can) for the Italian beef sandwich, which is also seriously on point.
#16 Rutt’s Hut (Clifton, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Sara L.
Rutt’s Hut, located in blue-collar Clifton, has perfected the art of the Ripper — a pork-and-beef Thumann’s link that’s deep-fried in beef fat until it rips apart — and it’s quite possibly the country’s most delicious hot dog. Hang out with fellow pilgrims in the stand-up dining room, or pull up a chair in the adjoining tap room, where you can drink cheap beer and chat with old-timers. Whether you order an “In-And-Outer” (just a quick dunk in the oil), a Ripper, a well-done “Weller,” or the crunchy, porky, almost-overcooked “Cremator,” make sure you get it “all the way”: topped with mustard and a spicy, sweet, onion- and cabbage-based relish.
#15 Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (Memphis, Tennessee)
Yelp/ Renzo I.
If you find yourself in Memphis and in the mood for quite possibly the best fried chicken you will ever eat, head on over to Gus’s — or even better, visit the original location, a small shack located 40 miles outside of town. You’d be wise to order a half-chicken so you can try a little bit of everything. Supremely crisp and crunchy on the golden-brown exterior, it remains moist and juicy on the inside. Seriously, time stands still while you’re eating this chicken. It’s insanely good. Make sure you get a slice of chess pie for dessert.
#14 Sally’s Apizza (New Haven, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Jackie O.
Sally’s Apizza is New Haven royalty, operating from the same location where it opened in the late 1930s in New Haven’s Wooster Square. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, classic New Haven-style, topped with tomato sauce, garlic and “mozz” by request only. (In New Haven, cheese is considered a topping.) Of course, the pies at Sally’s look pretty similar to what you’ll find down the street at Frank Pepe, because the man who opened Sally’s (Salvatore Consiglio) was Pepe’s nephew.
#13 John’s Roast Pork (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yelp/ Nobel V.
Since 1930, the corner of Weccacoe and Snyder avenues has been home to a tiny one-story building housing John’s Roast Pork, a South Philly institution if ever there was one. Their roast pork sandwiches — made with an old family recipe and house-roasted daily — are the stuff of legend. The key to their delicious pork is the family recipe that has been used for over 90 years. It’s a closely guarded secret — only three people currently know how to make it. The pork is deboned in house and then seasoned with the family’s spices and roasted for four hours. After that, the meat is soaked in its own gravy, sliced and served on a torpedo roll with aged provolone and spinach. But their cheesesteak is every bit as good as the roast pork, and arguably better. Ask the Philly locals where to find the city’s best cheesesteak, and they’ll tell you to forget about Pat’s and Geno’s and head to John’s instead.
#12 White Manna (Hackensack, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Rachel L.
A North Jersey legend, White Manna is one of the last remaining diner-style burger joints that arose in the tradition of White Castle. What’s served here is the perfect interpretation of that form, perfected over decades and decades, unchanging. You walk up to the tiny counter, place your order with the grillman, and watch as he smashes a small wad of meat onto the flattop with a handful of thin-sliced onions, keeps careful track of it as it cooks, and sandwiches it into a Martin’s bun. Make it a double with cheese, and the burger that will end up on your plate next to some pickle chips won’t be pretty. It’s astonishingly delicious, however. Order a few — you won’t regret it.
#11 Louis’ Lunch (New Haven, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Koichiro H.
You can practically taste the nostalgia at the diminutive Louis’ Lunch, widely heralded as the birthplace of the burger as we know it. Well, not exactly as we know it: The burgers here are served between two slices of white toast instead of a bun. Flame-broiled burgers are cooked in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the patties on both sides at the same time; a hamburger sandwich supposedly made from a blend of five cuts of ground steak. If you want condiments, you’ll have to ask. Otherwise, all you’ll get is cheese, tomato and onion. No mustard, ketchup or mayo. The burger is indeed delicious, but this tiny restaurant, with its handful of well-worn tables and huge dose of history, is worth the visit alone.
#10 Di Fara (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Joemm B.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizzas for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience (even though 84-year-old Dom spends less and less time making pizzas these days). It might come as something of a surprise to first-time visitors that his pizzeria is actually quite small and ordinary, but the real attraction is the personality behind the counter — and the fantastic pizzas coming out of the oven.
#9 Au Cheval (Chicago, Illinois)
The beauty of the burger served at Au Cheval lies in its simplicity: two patties (or three, if you order a “double”) of no-frills ground beef topped with cheddar, Dijonnaise and a few thin slices of pickles and served on a soft toasted bun from Chicago’s Z Baking. Lots of visitors add on a fried egg and thick-sliced bacon, but that’s just gilding the lily. The patties are wonderfully crusty, the fries are fried in lard, and just about everything about this burger is perfect. The line to get into this place stretches literally around the block every day, so owner Brendan Sodikoff (who recently opened a long-awaited New York location) is clearly doing something right. If you go once, get the burger, but don’t pass up the opportunity to try the fried house-made bologna sandwich, roasted marrow bones with beef cheek marmalade or crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy on return visits.
#8 Totonno’s (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Michael U.
Opened in Coney Island (in a nondescript area far from the boardwalk) in 1924 and still going strong through fire, flood and urban blight, Totonno’s serves as a perfect representation of the bridge between the Neapolitan style brought over from the Old World and today’s omnipresent New York slices. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce… These pies are works of art, and the restaurant, with its black-and-white tile floors, tin ceilings (and walls) and no-nonsense waitstaff, is as much a time capsule as the pizza.
#7 Willie Mae's Scotch House (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Sarah S.
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, the legendary restaurant located in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood since 1956. Look around the two no-frills dining rooms and you’ll see nothing but fried chicken, even though other offerings, like smothered veal, are available (and delicious). But if it’s your first (or second, or third) time there, get the chicken. Perfected by Willie Mae Seaton (who passed away in 2015 at age 99) and today safeguarded by her granddaughter Kerry, the chicken is, simply put, otherworldly. Wet-battered and fried to order, the chicken is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy and shatteringly crisp and crunchy. Underneath, the meat is impossibly moist and juicy. This fried chicken will change your life.
#6 La Taquería (San Francisco, California)
Yelp/ M L.
When it comes to tacos and burritos, it’s hard to argue that any restaurant in America can compete with what’s being served at San Francisco’s La Taqueria. The fabled restaurant, just one of the Mission’s many casual Mexican joints, does Mexican the way it should be done: fresh. To prepare the carnitas, chef-owner Miguel Jara slow-cooks chunks of pork shoulder in cauldrons of bubbling lard until tender, then roasts it until it’s crispy. When it’s tucked into a double layer of corn tortillas (or a fresh flour tortilla) and topped with your pinto beans (boiled before being slowly fried in lard), onions, pico de gallo, cheese, crema or guacamole (or none of the above), there’s no better taco, or burrito, in America. Unless you try the carne asada, made from thin-sliced top sirloin brushed with garlic and beef fat as it’s grilled. Come to think of it, just get one of each.
#5 Cochon Butcher (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Yelp/ Ramon V.
Opened in 2009 in New Orleans’ warehouse district (right next door to chef-owner Donald Link’s legendary restaurant, Cochon), Cochon Butcher fancies itself a “butcher shop, sandwich counter and wine bar, offering small plates, daily lunch specials, and dinner entrees.” House-made meats go into a selection of astoundingly delicious sandwiches (seriously, try the muffaletta here and at Central Grocery and let us know which one you think is better); gutbusting small plates like head cheese with chow chow and mustard, brisket sliders, mac and cheese, the pork-based burger (dubbed “Le Pig Mac”) and hot boudin are the stuff of legend; and daily entree specials like red beans and rice with a fried pork chop, barbecue ribs with baked beans and slaw, and meatloaf are essentially perfect. Make sure you pick up some sausages and jerky from the butcher case on your way out.
#4 Little Goat Diner (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Wiseley F.
A diner unlike any other, Little Goat is chef Stephanie Izard’s follow-up to her acclaimed (and perpetually mobbed) flagship, Girl & the Goat, which is a perennial member of our 101 Best Restaurants in America club. The menu includes all-day breakfast featuring items like dark chocolate chip crunch pancakes, Fat Elvis Waffles (with banana, peanut butter and bacon maple syrup), and the insanely delicious Ooey Gooey Cinnabun. Sandwiches include the Los Drowned (braised beef, avocado, butterkäse cheese, pickled peppers and onions and spicy mayo); a pork belly scallion pancake with hoisin, bok choy salad and ginger maple dressing; a sloppy Joe made with goat meat; and a grilled cheese filled with smoked Gouda, MontAmore cheese, pork guanciale and smoked tomato. And we haven’t even gotten to the burgers, salads and desserts!
#3 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (New Haven, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Stryceelyn J.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is a checklist destination, one you’ll have to make a pilgrimage to if you want to discuss the topic of America’s best pizza with any authority. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925, and today there are 10 locations in the Northeast. Pepe’s serves the quintessential New Haven-style pie: fired in a coal oven, with a thin, crisp and chewy crust, a slightly oblong shape and some amount of charring along the outside. Its signature clam pie is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe’s serves the best of all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. It’s a combination that makes this pie one of the most iconic dishes in America.
#2 Katz’s Delicatessen (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Brian G.
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Its corned beef and pastrami, made on the premises and sliced to order, is legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot pastrami sandwich.
Katz’s opened its doors in 1888, originally serving many of the immigrant families on the Lower East Side who landed in New York, and the corned beef and pastrami on rye with some deli mustard are two of the best sandwiches in existence. The corned beef is brined and steamed, the pastrami is cured and smoked, and nobody does it better. Katz’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience. And more so than for any other deli in New York, no visit to the city is complete without a trip to Katz’s.
#1 Franklin Barbecue (Austin, Texas)
Yelp/ Shari B.
Pitmaster Aaron Franklin and his wife Stacey started selling barbecue from an Airstream trailer in 2009, and today they’re running one of the most highly-praised restaurants in America, serving barbecue that’s widely regarded as the very best you’ll find anywhere. How did they get there? For one, attention to detail. The quality of the meat, the care and attention put into the seasoning, the wood, the smoking process and the carving… Franklin literally has it down to a science, and the crowds show up in droves every day to sample the fruits of his labor. Salt and pepper, meat, smoke and time are all that go into his brisket, ribs, pulled pork and turkey, and the end result is, well, perfect. Visiting Franklin Barbecue is a pilgrimage that all barbecue lovers should make, but it requires some planning: Folks show up as early as 8 a.m. to claim a place on line, the doors open at 11, and they close up shop as soon as the meat runs out, usually around 3. But don’t worry, this place is definitely worth waiting in line for.
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