When you’re a tourist in a new city, it can be hard to know where to eat. You know the locals have their favorite spots, but even with the help of the Internet, finding those holes in the wall, specialty restaurants, and hidden gems can be impossible. So, of course, you default to the most famous restaurants, the spots in bustling, busy neighborhoods, and standbys.
And, yes, some of those places are overpriced, overly busy eateries with bland food and crappy service. But for every spot like that, you’re going to find iconic restaurants with charming atmospheres, great views, a friendly wait staff, and incredible food. These places may be touristy, but make no mistake: Locals eat here too. From a small chili joint in Washington, D.C., to one of the most famous doughnut shops in the United States, these 35 “tourist trap” restaurants earn their bustling crowds and destination restaurant status.
The line can get ridiculously long at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., and that may seem ridiculous for this no-frills, cash-only establishment, but the wait is worth it. If some of the best hot dogs and chili in America don’t prove that, take the word of celebrity frequenters like Barack Obama, Denzel Washington, and Hillary Clinton.
Boudin Bakery & Café/Yelp
There are a lot of things to eat and drink down in New Orleans, but the finest food and beverage pairing is a piping hot bag of fresh beignets and a cup of coffee at the Café du Monde in the French Quarter. The line is long and the restaurant is packed to the brim, but one bite of that pillowy, powdered sugar-covered beignet will make it all worth it.
One could argue that all of Walt Disney World in Orlando is a tourist trap, and that wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s worth it to brave the screaming toddlers, stressed out parents, and oblivious tourists to nab a reservation at the California Grill in the Contemporary Resort. Not only is the food phenomenal and the service excellent, but if you book a reservation at the right time, you have the absolute best views of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks on property.
The Los Angeles-based Jewish deli Canter’s Deli is one of America’s finest casual dining establishment, so when we say that it’s worth braving the crowds for, you have to believe us. The breads here — rye, pumpernickel, bagels, and challah — are the true stars. But the pastrami, chopped liver, and oven-roasted turkey are nothing to bat an eye at either.
Corky’s BBQ is a certifiable barbecue institution, so if you find yourself in Memphis, this place is a must-do. Their hickory-smoked ribs are far and away the thing to order there. They’re rubbed, basted, and smoked for 18 hours and are so tender they simply fall off the bone. Want to get served right away? Pro tip: Eat at the bar.
The lines at Franklin BBQ are legendary. You’ll be standing and waiting for hours and hours and hours. But, at the end of that ridiculously long queue are the finest ribs in Austin, and that’s saying something. This place is beyond hyped, but the hype is worth it. The peppery ribs are so tender and flavorful, you don’t even need one of the joint’s three sauces. But you should probably try them anyway.
Gaaltoire’s 33 Bar & Steak/Yelp
OK, yes. You do still need to wear a jacket at Galatoire’s in New Orleans, but it’s worth suiting up for. Since 1095, this Creole restaurant has been serving regional classics like oysters en brochette, seafood okra gumbo, and black bottom pecan pie. The décor and the food is a bit of a time warp, but it’s a trip down memory lane worth taking.
You can’t miss Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia; the bright neon signs guarantee that. But fight the lines and all of the tourists, and you’ll find an iconic cheesesteak. The meat is in slices, giving a decadent, juicy feel to this classic sandwich. Order it with onions and Cheez Whiz to eat like a true Philadelphian.
If Geno’s Steaks isn’t your flavor, go around the corner to visit their arch nemesis: Pat’s King of Steaks. They claim to have invented the cheesesteak, and they’re chopped up ribeye steak tastes truly iconic. To find out which Philly spot is your favorite, you’ll just have to try them both (which isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon).
Golden Steer Steakhouse/Yelp
If you’re looking for an old school Las Vegas steakhouse, look no further than Golden Steer. Restaurants turn over frequently in Sin City, so the fact that this restaurant has been cooking steaks to perfection since 1958 is a testament to its excellence. It’s the oldest steakhouse in Vegas, so it really appeals to tourists, but one taste of their signature prime rib, and it will all be worth it.
Grand Central Oyster Bar/Yelp
No city is home to more tourist trap restaurants than New York City, and no area of NYC is more tourist trap filled than Midtown Manhattan. But fight through the slow walking visitors and rushed locals at Grand Central Station to check out the iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar. The landmark restaurant is so gorgeous it recently won a James Beard Design Icon Award, their oyster list spans over five pages, and they serve up some of the finest Oysters Rockefeller in the city.
New York City is known for its pizza, of course, and you’re bound to find a phenomenal slice no matter where you land. But there’s something special about the coal-fired pies at Grimaldi's Pizza located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge underpass, in case you didn’t know where it was). Don’t overthink it. Be ready to wait in line, bring cash, and order a Margherita pie. That long line is worth it.
Want to know where to find some of America’s best prime rib? Well, look no further than San Francisco’s House of Prime Rib. This legendary steakhouse is always packed to the brim, but book a reservation when you’re in town to enjoy one of the coziest atmospheres around and a prime rib that has been dry-aged to perfection over 21 days and slowly roasted in a blanket of rock salt.
Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks/Yelp
Hilton Head is a classic East Coast vacation destination, and Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks is its most popular seafood shack. The crowds start coming early, so if you arrive any time after 5 p.m., be prepared to wait. But your patience will be rewarded with freshly steamed fish, perfectly fried hush puppies, and a stunning waterside view. The sunset in Hilton Head never looked so good.
You can wait over two hours to get a table at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, but locals and tourists alike are willing to brave the crowds for the massive seafood menu at this South Beach hotspot. As the name implies, you don’t want to miss the stone crab. Go ahead and order a jumbo. And in a state that has no shortage of amazing key lime pie, Joe’s takes the prize.
A pastrami sandwich that costs $21.45? Yep, that’s what you’ll find at Katz’s Delicatessen, which is a bona fide New York City institution. The sandwiches are as sky high as the prices, so you won’t feel bad at dropping all your cash at this iconic Jewish deli. Katz’s leans into its tourist trap designation. Its walls are lined with celebrity photos and there’s a sign designating where the infamous “I’ll have what she’s having line” from When Harry Met Sally was spoken. You won’t just find tourists here; locals are known to stumble in and enjoy a drunken meal at Katz’s, too.
You better pay attention at Lambert’s Café, because you might get pelted in the face with a roll. Perhaps the most famous roadside restaurant in the U.S., this Southern joint is best known for throwing its rolls across the restaurant, but that’s not the only reason to stop by Sikeston, Missouri. The Southern comfort food here is top notch, from the country fried steak to the fried okra to the meatloaf. Just, seriously, watch out for the hot rolls.
There are many, many fine deep dish pizza places in Chicago, but the best one is also the most famous: Lou Malnati’s. Hang out and wait for your table. You’ll need an empty stomach to polish off a Malnati Chicago Classic, which contains lean sausage, some extra mozzarella, and vine-ripened tomato sauce. This pie is practically a Chicago icon at this point.
Not too far from Yale University, there is Louis’ Lunch, where Louis Lassen is believed to have invented the hamburger back in 1895. Is this story true? We’re not sure, but this burger joint is one of America’s oldest restaurants. Whether or not it’s the first, the “hamburger sandwich here” is phenomenal; it features a hand-shaped patty served between toast with cheese. Just be prepared to wait in line and leave shortly after you arrive; this place gets slammed with hungry customers and students.
There’s a lot of good Southern cooking in Nashville, but drive a little ways away from downtown and head to the Loveless Café. Their biscuits are legendary, and though their jams are spectacular, these little dough disks of delight barely need any jazzing up. The wait is long, but one bite of those biscuits and a little (OK, a lot) fried chicken will make it all worth it.
Mi Terra Café & Bakery/Yelp
There’s no shortage of amazing Mexican food in Texas, but even locals will brave the crowds to get the tacos at Mi Tierra in San Antonio. Since 1941, this festively decorated restaurant has been serving some of the best tacos in the country. Our recommendation: The Carnitas Michoacán. Fried pork served with freshly-made guacamole? Say no more.
Any place that has a nationally-televised eating contest is going to be swarming with tourists, but the original Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island is not overrated. The hot dogs snap when you bite into them, and they pair perfectly with the crinkle cut French fries and an ice cold Coney Island lager. Take a ride on the Cyclone, eat here, and then head to the beach for the perfect summer day.
The Peppermill Restaurant / Yelp
No trip to Las Vegas is complete without neon lights, and you’ll find plenty of those at The Peppermill Restaurant. The line goes out the door for this lounge space, but if you’re willing to wait, you’ll find one of the city’s finest brunches, specialty frozen cocktails, and portions that are as big as your head for price that will leave you with plenty of money left for gambling.
Peter Luger is in an odd part of Williamsburg, but tourists brave a trip on the train for this truly iconic, old school steakhouse. It’s a meat lover’s dream, with thick cut bacon, perfectly-cooked steaks, and thick cut lamb chops. The atmosphere is old school (as are the grumpy waiters), and it’s a trip back in time worth taking.
Tourists and locals alike love an old-fashioned deli, and in L.A., it doesn’t get older or more iconic than Philippe the Original. Established in 1908, this iconic restaurant serves up the finest French dip sandwich on the West Coast. Unlike many touristy spots, the prices here are reasonable. You can get a sandwich, drink, and dessert for cheap.
Pike Place Market is one of the best markets in America, period. You’ll be hard pressed to find fresher seafood or produce in the country than you will here. But if you want to be your food already cooked (and cooked flawlessly), this Seattle spot is great for that, too. Piroshky Piroshky has some of the best Russian pastries for every palate; Matt’s in the Market has a stunning view of the city and fantastic sandwiches; finally, you can’t leave a fish market without a bowl of chowder from Pike Place Chowder.
There are a lot of landmark hot dog stands in America, but Pink’s in Los Angeles is in a league of its own. The original location, on the corner of La Brea and Melrose will have lengthy lines, but to say you’ve dined at this famous LA restaurant is worth any sort of time in a queue. The bacon chili cheese dog is a classic, even if the calorie count isn’t Hollywood approved. If you want ultimate kitsch, get a dog named after a celebrity like the Martha Stewart (mustard, relish, onions, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, bacon, and sour cream).
Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl/Yelp
There are plenty of places to get a great Chicago-style hot dog in the Windy City, but locals will all tell you one thing: Forget the rest and just go to Portillo’s. This chain has over 40 locations across Illinois and the rest of the United States, but the flagship location on W. Ontario St. is a fun spot to visit thanks to its many funky signs and goblets of Daisy Cutter pale ale. Get a Chicago-style hot dog with all the fixings (duh) or an Italian beef sandwich.
Primanti Brothers has opened new restaurants across the region since it first opened its doors in 1933, but the original location in Pittsburgh’s Strip District is a must-visit. Not only was it deemed a classic American restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, but the sandwiches are darn good. The Primanti sandwich is their namesake and their most iconic dish. It contains French fries, the meat of your choice, coleslaw, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese between two soft slices of Italian bread. Bring your appetite.
The Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia can get packed, but if you’re able to maneuver through the crowds, you’ll find some of the absolute best food and drinks in Pennsylvania. This historic market has over 100 merchants to choose from, but going here without a visit to Miller’s Twist for America’s very best soft pretzel, a roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s, or a coffee from Termini Bros. is a crime. You may need to make multiple trips to get everything you want (and need) to try.
If you want the perfect view of both the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls, you cannot beat Top of the Falls in New York. Unlike many top of the world restaurants, the dishes here aren’t fancy. But the beef on weck, Buffalo macaroni and cheese, and fish and chips are all solid dining options.
If you want to see Boston, and we mean really see all of Boston, you can’t beat the view at Top of the Hub. It’s one of the toughest tables to get in the city, but if you manage to nab a reservation at the very top of the Prudential Building, you’ll have one of the most amazing rooftop views in the world. Fittingly, the food is expensive and the experience is varied, but the Boston skyline looks simply spectacular.
Union Oyster House/Yelp
Union Oyster House is one of America’s oldest restaurants, which makes sense due to its historic Boston location. So, yes, it is a tourist trap, but here you’ll find some of the coldest, freshest, and tastiest raw oysters in New England. You’ll also find some wonderfully executed Boston classics, such as New England clam chowder and broiled seafood platters.
VooDoo Doughnut is very famous, and the shop is very tiny. So it logically follows that there’s always a sizable line to get some. But, that line is beyond worth it. Here you’ll find the best doughnuts in Oregon, from the simple yet perfect Portland Cream to the outrageous Memphis Mafia: a banana fritter topped with a drizzle of chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate chips, and peanuts.
Now that you know what restaurants are worth visiting, be sure to check out the 10 weirdest roadside tourist traps in America.