101 Best Casual Restaurants in America
101 Best Casual Restaurants in America
Every year since 2011, we’ve set out to compile a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America. However, we’ve been hit with a dilemma: Does a restaurant like, say, the legendary 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 legendary 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 last year we decided to separate out the casual from the fancy with an initial ranking of 50 casual restaurants, and this year we’re excited to super-size it into our inaugural ranking of the 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America. From hot dog shacks to taco joints, from neighborhood hangouts to legendary barbecue spots, these are amazing restaurants where price is no bar to entry and you'll feel right at home in jeans.
#101 Jim's Steaks, Philadelphia
Since 1939, Jim’s Steaks has been the standard bearer for real Philly cheesesteaks. Pat’s and Geno’s may get more press, but ask native Philadelphians where they go when they want a great cheesesteak and they’ll most likely tell you Jim’s, which has three locations around town. What sets Jim’s apart from the pack? The beef is USDA Choice top round, sliced daily on-premises (and the oil it’s seared with contains a little lard); the fresh-baked rolls are from the iconic Amoroso’s; and toppings are spot-on. Their hoagies, especially the Special Italian (with Genoa salami, capicola, provolone, and ham), are also just about perfect.
#100 Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit
One of the culinary world’s greatest rivalries is between two neighboring downtown Detroit hot dog stands: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. The battle over which hot dog tastes better is on par with the fight between Pat’s and Geno’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia — but most locals will tell you that it’s Lafayette all the way, for several reasons. The hot dog has a juicy, salty, smoky snap, the Coney sauce is spot-on, and the fries are crisp. But it’s the experience that puts it over the top in our book: While American is shiny and a little charmless, Lafayette is a divey, weathered, eccentric sort of place that hasn’t been renovated in many years. Its charm is palpable, especially in the staff, who’ll most likely bring you your order in fewer than 30 seconds. In short: The perfect hot dog stand.
#99 Xi’an Famous Foods, Queens, N.Y.
With nine no-frills locations in New York, including outposts in Flushing, Chinatown, Greenpoint, and the East Village, Xi’an is one of the only places in the country to get your fix of the traditional foods of the western Chinese city of the same name. You’ll be glad you did: Go for any of the hand-pulled noodle dishes, like the spicy cumin lamb, or try the $2 lamb “burgers,” which are more like chopped spiced meat buns. The flavors you’ll try will be unlike any you’ve ever had, and we suggest you heed their warning and don’t take your order to go; those fresh noodles demand to be eaten immediately, before they begin to stick together.
#98 Bark Hot Dogs, Brooklyn
While some hot dog sellers are secretive about the origins of their product, the folks behind Bark, located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood (with a second location recently opened in Greenwich Village), are more than happy to let you know where they source their hot dogs (and all the rest of their ingredients, right down to the cabbage used in the sauerkraut). Upstate New York’s Hartmann’s Old World Sausage worked with them to create a stellar hot dog, which gets a basting of lard butter as it’s browning on the flat top before being placed into a grilled, buttered split-top bun from Pepperidge Farm. Toppings stay fairly traditional, but one of our guilty pleasures is their bacon Cheddar dog, which tops the dog with a sprinkling of diced Nueske’s bacon, a house-made Cheddar sauce, and diced pickled onions. All condiments are made in-house, except for the ketchup, mustard, and mayo. "Some things are just American classics," they explain on their menu.
#97 La Gloria, San Antonio
Johnny Hernandez may not be nationally known… yet, but people will soon learn what the folks in Texas realized several years ago about the tireless and imaginative San Antonio chef: he’s a powerhouse; a culinary inevitability. La Gloria (“The Heavens”), whose mission is to celebrate the street foods of Mexico’s interior, is Hernandez’s second San Antonio restaurant. It can be found on the edges of the Pearl complex, which some of the city’s coolest eateries call home (and, as of just earlier this year in Las Vegas, too). From the outdoor sculptures to the crafted plates, there’s no detail Hernandez hasn’t meticulously planned, and there’s nothing quite like restaurant’s vibrant energy. Beyond the delicious tacos, tortas, and ceviches, you’ll find coctéles de mariscos from Veracruz and Oaxacan tlayudas (think Mexican pizza), but make sure you don’t forget to order one of the unforgettably delicious molcajetes, a volcanic stone bowl filled with either hot queso in spicy tomato sauce, arrachera en adobo (skirt steak in chile pasilla sauce), or puerco en chiles, any of which will seem to keep bubbling for 20 minutes.
#96 Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern, Staten Island, N.Y.
Residents of the Forgotten Borough have long known what the rest of the city, and more recently the country, are just beginning to understand: When it comes to pizza, Staten Island doesn’t play around. And Denino’s has led the charge since 1951, when Carlo Denino took over the tavern his Sicilian father John Giovanni opened in 1937. After his father passed away, Carlo introduced pizza at the tavern, and locals have been ordering bar pies and downing them with pitchers of beer ever since. A third generation of DeNino’s runs the operation these days (and opened a second spot, in New Jersey), and they keep pulling in regulars for their sweet Italian sausage pie, with sausage tossed in chunks over a light, pliant crust.
#95 Irma's, Houston
Don’t expect to receive a menu when you sit down at this homey, kitschy Mexican restaurant near Minute Maid Park. The 16 offerings change daily, and are based on whatever fresh ingredients the chef is able to find at the local market. Your server (who may very well be Irma herself) will read off the day’s selections, and you’ll take your pick. Items like carne guisada, grilled mahi mahi, chicken mole or pork enchiladas, and queso will most likely make their way to the table; you’ll probably end up ordering far too much food, because it all sounds delicious; and if there’s anything you want that’s not on the day’s bill of fare, just ask. Don’t miss the fresh-made lemonade, either.
#94 Pink’s, Los Angeles
Is there anything about Pink’s that hasn’t been said? It’s hard to imagine. Even detractors define themselves by this famous casual spot. But you won’t find many naysayers — just check out the line at this family-owned hot dog stand that has been around since 1939. At our last count, owner Richard Pink said he sold 35 varieties of hot dogs and toppings and moves on average about 2,000 hot dogs a day. Credit much of Pink’s success to its chili, which once led then New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl to go dumpster-diving to figure out the recipe (true story). And while he wouldn’t divulge its ingredients, Pink did note in an interview with The Daily Meal that " it needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers."
#93 Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken, New York City
Charles Gabriel of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem has been pan-frying chicken since he was a kid growing up just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Using nothing but a couple of pans and his mother’s recipe (which calls for the chicken to be turned and flipped over frequently), Gabriel has made his shop a New York institution. This no-frills joint serves some of the best fried chicken in the country, not to mention other soul food specialties like smothered pork, macaroni and cheese, and oxtails. His $13.99 all-you-can-eat buffet dinner on weeknights is a certified steal.
#92 Una Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco
When Anthony Mangieri closed the East Village’s Una Pizza Napoletana in 2009 "to make a change," move West, and open somewhere he could get "a chance to use his outrigger canoe and mountain bike more often," it was the ultimate insult to New Yorkers. You're taking one of the city's favorite Neapolitan pizzerias and defecting to a temperate climate to serve people who denigrate New York's Mexican food? So you can canoe and mountain bike? Traitor! Good for Mangieri, and good for San Franciscans, who with Una Pizza Napoletana inherited one of the country's best Neapolitan pies (if only Wednesday through Saturday, until 5 p.m. when they're "out of dough"). Biting into a thin crust with chewy cornicione, a sauce that's tart and alive, an appropriate ratio of cheese... you could almost imagine yourself at the pantheon to pizza in Naples, Da Michele, where the pizza is poetry and pizza poetry is on the wall. Mangieri harkens to that same ethos on his website — check out the pizza poem "Napoli" — and delivers the edible version to his patrons. There are only five pies, all $25 (a $5 hike since last year), plus the Apollonia, a special Saturday-only pie made with eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella di bufala, salami, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. But when you’re this close to godliness, you don’t need extras. Keep it simple with the Margherita: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt, and tomato sauce.
#91 Busy Bee Café, Atlanta, Ga.
An Atlanta landmark, the Busy Bee Cafe has been serving traditional soul food to hungry locals since first opening in 1947. The cozy restaurant features a long lunch counter and a handful of tables, and the food is homestyle, delicious, and inexpensive. You’d be hard-pressed to find better fried or smothered chicken, pork chops, fried fish, smoked ham hocks, oxtails, slow-smoked ribs, or baked macaroni and cheese anywhere else in town, and the desserts, including scratch-made cakes and Georgia peach and blackberry cobblers, are the stuff of legend.
#90 Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, DC
Ben's Chili Bowl
As bagels and pizza are iconic to New York, so the half-smoke is to the capital. 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, it's a more than 50-year-old bastion of downhome D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else — though the president eats for free.
#89 Summit Diner, Summit, N.J.
There was once a time when classic rail car-style diners, full of chrome and hungry regulars taking up every stool, were ubiquitous across New Jersey, but today there are precious few left. The no-frills, low-key Summit Diner is a holdout from an earlier era, and it’s perfectly frozen in time. Grab a stool at the counter and order the Jersey classic Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a hard roll, or opt for an omelette or pancakes, served with a pile of bacon and hash browns, which will somehow be better than just about any other you’ve ever had. When it comes to old-school diners, the Summit is just about perfect.
#88 Katzinger's Delicatessen, Columbus, Ohio
Family-run since it first opened in 1984, Katzinger’s is about as classic a Jewish deli as you’ll ever find. They don’t cut any corners: The corned beef is prepared fresh by nearby Sy Ginsberg’s United Meat, bread is hand-sliced and delivered daily by Pittsburgh’s Mediterra Bakehouse, brisket is marinated for 48 hours before being slow-roasted, the broth in the chicken noodle soup is made in-house from Amish chickens, and roast beef and fresh turkey are roasted every day. Sandwiches come in two sizes (normal and “Deli-Size”), there are 10 different Reubens to choose from, and the traditional Jewish specialties, including chopped liver, noodle kugel, and potato latkes, are quite possibly even better than those at Bubbe’s.
#87 Superdawg, Chicago
Topped by what has to be considered 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, across from Caldwell Woods, since Maurie Berman opened it in 1948. The recently returned G.I. designed the building, devised his own secret recipe, and set up a drive-in at what was then the end of the streetcar line. He planned to sell 32-cent Superdawg sandwiches to "swimming families and cruisin’ teens" for a few months during the summer to help put himself through school at Northwestern. In 1950, Maurie passed the CPA exam, but he and wife Flaurie decided to continue operating Superdawg and to keep the doors open year-round. The family-owned drive-in still serves superior pure beef dogs, "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."
#86 La Condesa, Austin
This "modern Mexican" restaurant does things its own way: There's a salmon belly ceviche with tomatillo salpicón, aji sorbet, and crispy lemon buckwheat; a quinoa-stuffed chile relleno with sunflower sprouts, and taleggio mornay; and smoked brisket pastrami on rye taquitos, among other things, so it's hardly surprising that the tacos are non-standard as well. The "Arabic" tacos, for instance, which get high marks for originality and intensity of flavor, combine seared venison with pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel pollen yogurt, and cilantro, wrapped in a tortilla made — in decidedly non-Arabic style — with bacon fat. Neither classic Mexican nor Tex-Mex, this place is just plain good.
#85 Domenica, New Orleans
Chef Alon Shaya (who recently opened a modern Israeli restaurant, Shaya, on Magazine Street) serves some of America's best pizza at John Besh Restaurant Group's New Orleans restaurant Domenica (Italian for "Sunday") in the renovated historic Roosevelt Hotel. You’ll have a hard time choosing between the 17 pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven. Just look at the photos — the slightly imperfect circles ringed with light, puffy, and black-blistered crusts; the center of the pie sauce-speckled and beautifully topped with stellar (and fun) ingredients like cotechino (sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind), bacon and eggs, apple and pecans, mortadella, spicy lamb meatball, roast pork shoulder, and duck with sweet potato — and you’ll see why ordering just one pizza is a tough call. So don’t. Get Domenica’s most popular pie, the Margherita (tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella), then wild-card your second and third choices. Try the tutto carne (fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and cotechino), the roasted carrot (which also includes goat cheese, red onion, Brussels sprouts, beets, and hazelnuts — wow!), or give the clam pie a shot. For an even more casual approach, check out the recently opened uptown spinoff Pizzeria Domenica.
#84 P.J. Clarke's, New York City
There are now seven P.J. Clarke's locations, including two in São Paulo, but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story Skidmore, Owings & Merrill skyscraper that now looms over it. It is also the one that originated the terrific pub-style burger known as The Cadillac — a juicy patty on a classic bun with smoked country bacon, American cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and shoestring fries on the side. The name, by the way, was bestowed on the thing by regular Nat "King" Cole, who dubbed Clarke's "the Cadillac of burgers." Burgers aren't the only draw here, though. The menu also offers, among other things, clams and oysters, three different lobster rolls, fish and chips and fish tacos, all kinds of sandwiches and salads, and an old-style chicken pot pie that's not to be missed.
#83 Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City
Don’t let its unlikely location in a gas station put you off from dining at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, formerly called Oklahoma Joe’s. Jeff Stehney named the restaurant for the first smoker he purchased, back in 1991: an Oklahoma Joe’s 24-inch model. Stehney and a handful of friends, who dubbed themselves the Slaughterhouse Five, started entering barbecue competitions with the smoker, and won eight grand championship awards. He began a partnership with Oklahoma Joe's smoker company founder Joe Don Davidson, opening his first restaurant in Stillwater, Oklahoma, site of Davidson's company headquarters, in 1996. Eight months later, he expanded to Kansas City. Three locations now serve chicken and pork plates and sandwiches, including the house specialty, a pulled pork sandwich.
#82 Bones, Denver, Colo.
The home page animation on Bones’ website shows old-timey Chinese warriors invading Paris, and that’s basically Bones in a nutshell: French-inspired Asian noodles and buns, with menu items you probably won’t find anywhere else on earth. Escargot potstickers; chilled vermicelli with shrimp ceviche and chimichurri; lobster ramen with edamame, beurre blanc, scallion, and miso lobster broth; green chile ramen with braised pork shoulder, hominy, queso fresco, and a fried egg… Wait, that last one isn’t French, it’s Tex-Mex! Well, whatever, it’s still insanely delicious. Bones is a culinary jumble in the best way imaginable.
#81 Domilese's, New Orleans
The conversation about New Orleans' best po'boys is serious enough to have set The Times-Picayune's own restaurant critic, Brett Anderson, on one of the city's most cherished endeavors: to find the best roast beef po'boy. Sure, that meant hitting up places like Mother's and Parkway, but it was at Domilise's, on the unimpressive corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle streets at the end of a trolley ride fairly far west of Bourbon Street, that you can expect to find one of New Orleans' best. 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 will certainly get tongues wagging. Consider Anderson's own words: "I’m prepared to defend these propositions: If a template for a classic New Orleans po’boy joint exists, it’s Domilise’s."
#80 Dick's Drive-In, Seattle
With six locations, Dick’s is a Seattle institution, and its owners know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For nearly 60 years, Dick’s has been serving an unchanging menu of never-frozen, one-eighth-pound burgers that are delivered daily; hand-cut fries; and milkshakes. The Double Deluxe is the Platonic ideal of a hamburger: two patties, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle relish on a soft, squishy bun, sold for a whopping $2.90. Want onions? That’ll cost you an extra 5 cents, please. Dick’s is family-owned, and they treat all employees like family as well, offering full benefits, scholarships, child-care assistance, paid community service, and a starting hourly wage of $10.
#79 Slows Bar BQ, Detroit
Barbecue might not be the first thing you think of when you’re in Detroit, but it should be. That’s because Detroit is the home of Slows Bar BQ, which serves some truly amazing barbecue, sandwiches, and beer in the heart of downtown Detroit. Baby back ribs, St. Louis spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken and turkey, and smoked garlic pork sausage are the primary meats, all of which are hormone-free and raised humanely on family-owned farms. They’re smoky and delicious on their own, but we suggest you try them tucked into one of their stellar sandwiches, available with Zingerman’s toast or a poppy seed roll. The Yardbird (smoked pulled chicken mixed with mushrooms and cheese and topped with bacon), Triple Threat Pork (bacon, pulled pork, and ham), and the Longhorn (beef brisket with onion marmalade, smoked Gouda, and special sauce) will forever haunt your dreams. But don’t miss out on the sides; the macaroni and cheese in particular is outrageously delicious.
#78 Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Portland, Ore.
“Chicken and rice. That’s all we do,” is the tagline for Portland’s Nong’s Khao Man Gai, which started in 2009 as a cart and has since expanded to a second cart and a sit-down restaurant. They’re not lying. The menu is based squarely around this universal dish, which is made with poached organic chicken and rice cooked in stock and Thai herbs. It’s served with a sauce made with fermented soybeans, fresh ginger, garlic, Thai chiles, vinegar, and soy sauce and garnished with cucumbers and cilantro, along with a small cup of house-made broth on the side. Nong’s Khao Man Gai does one thing, and they do it very, very well.
#77 Ramen Shop, Oakland, Calif.
Ramen Shop has been absolutely slammed since three Chez Panisse alumni first opened the doors two years ago, and with good reason: Even though there are only six appetizers, three ramen varieties, and a few desserts available, everything is made from scratch (the noodles are made in-house on a Japanese noodle machine), organic, sustainable, and incredibly inventive. The menu changes daily, but a typical appetizer is sweet and spicy pork ribs with toasted peanuts, cilantro, mint, Siamese cabbage, mung bean sprouts, kohlrabi, and fennel; in the ramen section, you may find Hokkaido miso ramen with ground pork belly, shoyu-marinated egg, chicken fat potatoes, snap peas, spring onions, purple cabbage, and a spicy fermented bean paste called tobanjan (spring for chashu — a slab of slow-cooked pork belly — for an additional $4). The flavor combinations might sound insane, but they work better than you could possibly imagine.
#76 Louis’ Lunch, New Haven, Conn.
A conversation about Louis’ Lunch is never simple. Is it the birthplace of the hamburger? Supposedly, one day in 1900, a gentleman hurriedly told proprietor Louis Lassen "he was in a rush and wanted something he could eat on the run," resulting in a blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast, with which the gentleman was sent on his way. But was this a "burger," or was it a "sandwich" — because it wasn't a ground-beef patty on some form of yeast bun? Sandwich, hamburger, whatever. So what do you get at Louis'? A flame-broiled burger made in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the burgers 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. But do you really need all that? You can practically taste the nostalgia. And that never disappoints.
#75 LC's Bar B-Q, Kansas City
This no-frills dive is exactly what you look for in a barbecue joint: A handful of tables (each with a roll of paper towels on it), paper plates and utensils, a few mounted bass and a Chiefs schedule for décor, and a TV in the corner. LC’s is low-key to the max, but that’s just how it should be, because the barbecue here speaks for itself. While the ribs (available by the slab, short end, or long end) are stellar, you’ll want to make sure you try the cut-to-order burnt ends (either beef or pork). Smoky, fatty, insanely flavorful, served in a massive pile on white bread, and doused with celery seed-flecked barbecue sauce, they’re one of the hallmarks of Kansas City barbecue. Nobody does them better than LC’s.
#74 Parkway Bakery, New Orleans
Spend the afternoon among locals at this homey tavern in the more-than-a-century-old building that overlooks the Bayou St. John. The beer is cheap, and the po’boys might just be the best in town. Opt for the fried oyster version if available, or go for the home-cooked hot roast beef with gravy or hot bar-b-q beef (they’ll now let you add bacon if you want it). You just might never want to leave.
#73 Gray's Papaya, New York City
Gray’s Papaya (not to be confused with Papaya King) is down to only one location, on the Upper West Side, after the one on Eighth Street in the West Village unceremoniously closed and was replaced with a chain juice bar last year — but it remains 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 with some papaya drink, and be on your merry way, full, content, and out only a few bucks.
#72 Anchor Bar, Buffalo
As legend has it, on the evening of March 4, 1964, Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar while his mother Teressa manned the kitchen. When a group of his hungry friends showed up, Dominic asked Teressa to whip up some food for them, so she took some chicken wings that were intended to go into the stockpot and instead tossed them in the deep fryer. She concocted a simple butter- and hot sauce-based sauce, mixed them together, and Buffalo wings, arguably the greatest bar food of all time, were born. This is the place that started it all, and many would argue that they’ve been often imitated, never duplicated. The wings are juicy, crispy, spicy, and served to teeming hordes of hungry masses, and those who make a pilgrimage here never leave unsatisfied (especially after knocking back a few tap Genesee Cream Ales).
#71 Ruth's Diner, Salt Lake City
Since 1930, Ruth’s Diner has been a SLC standby, serving an expansive menu of omelettes, sandwiches, salads, seven-ounce burgers, and diner staples like pot roast, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and chicken fried steak to the lucky folks who have the opportunity to dine here. Southwest specialties like chili verde, migas, and enchiladas are also right at home on the menu, as are some of the best biscuits you’ll ever eat. This is some gut-busting stuff (cinnamon roll French toast is listed on the menu under “The Lighter Side”), but this is one of those menus where literally everything on it sounds delicious. Make sure you save room for dessert; the chocolate malt pudding, made the old-fashioned way with semi-sweet chocolate, barley malt syrup, heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla, will be the best you’ve ever had.
#70 Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn
Understanding the intricate history behind one of Brooklyn’s most storied pizzerias isn’t required for you to enjoy a slice of its famous pizza, but here goes. Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria. He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem. Lancieri’s nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened his own place, also called Patsy’s, in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1990, but was forced to change its name to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name to a corporation. Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton Street to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 40 restaurants in the tri-state area and Midwest. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building right next door on 1 Front Street. That’s when Patsy came out of retirement and swooped into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s. Here’s what it comes down to: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members who were trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s space, and Grimaldi’s is right next door. With all that said, you’re just about at the front of the line to get inside (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a Margherita pie made in a coal-fired oven that heats up to 1,200 degrees F and requires about 100 pounds of coal a day. It’s crispy, smoky, tangy, cheesy, and delicious.
#69 Grand Sichuan, New York City
Chinese cooking in New York City was better and more diverse 25 years ago than it is today — many of the great older chefs who immigrated to America during the Cold War have retired, and the demand is now too high in China itself to encourage anyone to leave. That said, chef–restaurateur Xiaotu "John" Zhang's Grand Sichuan restaurants — of which the Ninth Avenue branch is considered the best example — are a bright spot on the local food scene. The cooking holds true to ancient roots but embraces the evolution of modern cuisine, redefining the familiar "take-out" that New Yorkers have come to love (and depend on) while suggesting a more vibrant future for Chinese food in America. In addition to all the standards you'd expect, done well, the menu offers more uncommon fare — for instance, crab and pork soup dumplings, sliced conch with "wild pepper" sauce, eel with garlic sauce, shredded duck with bitter melon, and ox tongue and tripe in hot sauce.
#68 Hugo's Regional Mexican Cuisine, Houston
Hugo’s opened in 2002 in a restored Latin-inspired building designed by Joseph Finger (also responsible for the Art Deco–style Houston City Hall) and launched into a diverse regional approach to Mexican food. Chef Hugo Ortega, a finalist for the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, cooks food that’s elegant, inventive, and inspiring. Order the much-heralded lamb barbacoa braised in garlic and chiles then slow-roasted in agave, and, for the name alone, the manchamanteles — described on the menu as the “tablecloth stainer” — a sweet mole-stewed pork and chicken dish.
#67 Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco
San Francisco’s Mission District may have changed quite a bit over the past decade, but as Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer noted, Mission visionaries and Pizzeria Delfina owners Craig and Anne Stoll haven’t lost a step even as they’ve expanded their empire to four locations. Not only is it "as popular as ever," he said, but also, "the food is still among the best Italian-inspired fare in the city." Pizzas are inspired by Craig’s memories of the New York-style pies from his youth and pizza from Naples’ best pizzerias. The menu features nine "Neapolitan-inspired" thin-crust pies and two specials that change daily. You’ll be intrigued by options like the Panna (tomato sauce, cream, basil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), and a cherrystone clam pie with tomato, oregano, and hot peppers. But your first move should be the Salsiccia: house-made fennel sausage, tomato, bell pepper, onion, and mozzarella.
#66 Santa Fe Bite, Santa Fe, N.M.
Flickr/ Marshall Astor
Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger joint Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, has been hailed by Hamburger America's George Motz, Roadfood's Jane and Michael Stern, Food Network, and even Bon Appétit as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers in the U.S. of A, period. A dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took over the business 13 years ago, means that they had to pack up and move to a new location with a new name, Santa Fe Bite. Despite the change in venue, the restaurant’s ginormous house-ground, boneless chuck, 10-ounce burgers, cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns, remain one of the nation’s best burgers.
#65 Gus' Fried Chicken, Memphis, Tenn.
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.
#64 Mi Tierra, San Antonio
Locals and visitors alike fill this big, boisterous, absolutely dependable Tex-Mex restaurant 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 possibly 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.
#63 Sal's Pizza, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Flickr/ David berkowitz, Flickr/ Wendy Seltzer
Sal’s has been around for 50 years, it has a line out the door, and while the round pies are some of the most exemplary you may have ever had, they’re not the point. You’re here for the Sicilian — a thick and heavy, cheesy mess with a significant crunch outside, a touch of grease, and a delicate, pillowy bite. According to The Journal News, this is where Joe Torre would stop after home games to pick up a pie on the way home — and he’s supposedly lactose-intolerant. What else could you possibly want to know, other than the directions? Sal DeRose opened on Mamaroneck Avenue in 1964. There have been lines ever since. Now go! Can't get there anytime soon? Pizza delivery is never a fair way to judge a place, but you can order their pizzas from across the country.
#62 BrisketTown, Brooklyn
New York has shed its reputation as a barbecue wasteland in large part because of the influence of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, an annual festival launched by Danny Meyer and company that has been acquainting Gothamites with great barbeque from some of America's most significant pitmasters for more than a decade. The city has even been called a new capital of American barbeque. That's a bit much, but if there's anyone in New York City who deserves attention for great Texan brisket, it's Daniel Delaney, the man behind BrisketTown in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sure, he's from Jersey, but after several years of experimentation ("brisket labs"), Delaney has given New York City more barbeque cred than it could possibly have imagined. The brisket has the proper salt and pepper coating and falls apart, well... the way it should. It’s as close to Aaron Franklin's Austin brisket paragon as you're likely to find beyond the Franklin Barbecue parking lot.
#61 Zero Otto Nove, The Bronx, N.Y.
For many New Yorkers, Arthur Avenue is a storied area of the Bronx where, supposedly, it’s possible to find the "authentic" Italian food no longer available at the Chinatown-encroached tourist traps of Little Italy. Whether or not you believe that the Italian Shangri-La matches the perception, Salerno native chef Roberto Paciullo is one of the driving forces behind this legend. The success of his first spot, Roberto’s, led to the pizzeria Zero Otto Nove ("0-8-9"), which was named for Salerno’s area code (Salerno being the port city about a 45-minute drive south of Naples), which has a second location in New York’s Flatiron District. The Neapolitan wood-fired pies cook under 900-degree heat for about 45 seconds, and they are exemplary. We can vouch for almost the entire menu, which includes pies with gorgonzola and tomatoes, sliced potatoes and sausage, and the more adventurous Cirilo, which features butternut squash purée and cream of truffles. But start off with the Margherita, which features a tangy, balanced sauce and a crust that’s light and a little chewy — far too good to leave behind as pizza bones.
#60 Hawker Fare, Oakland
Flickr/ Neil Conway
This trendy local spot is serving classic Thai street food and washing it all down with some stellar cocktails. Fried chicken, skewers of coconut milk-basted pork shoulder, and fried soft shell shrimp tossed with tamarind and garlic are a few of the shareable items, and rice bowls come topped with grilled lemongrass chicken, 24-hour braised five-spice pork belly, satay beef short ribs, and coconut milk-simmered tofu and pumpkin. Seven dollar cocktails and $1.50 pineapple-spiced rum Jell-O shots also ensure that any evening spent at Hawker Fare will be a memorable one.
#59 Tom's Restaurant, Brooklyn
Lines stretch around the corner on a weekly basis to get into Tom’s, a cash-only Crown Heights staple since 1936. Those who line up enjoy free coffee, cinnamon toast, and fruit while they wait, and once they get inside they’re treated to a just-about-perfect diner experience. The soda fountain décor is authentic (nothing in this place has changed for decades), and the roster of classic diner fare, including steak and eggs, challah French toast, fresh roast beef, and burgers, is timeless and flawlessly executed. The stars of the menu, however, are the pancakes. Available in varieties like pumpkin walnut, sweet corn and cranberry, lemon ricotta, sweet potato, and (of course) chocolate chip, they’re served with four varieties of butter: cinnamon, strawberry, lemon, and regular. Wash it all down with a fresh-made lime rickey, and you’ll see how a trip to Tom’s can be a restorative and paradigm-shifting experience.
#58 Mile End, Brooklyn
Flickr/ Or Hiltch
When the husband and wife duo of Noah Bernamoff and Rae Cohen opened Mile End in a small converted garage in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood in early 2010, they shook up the New York Deli scene in a way unlike anything since Harry and Sally went to Katz’s. The claim to fame here is the Montreal-style “smoked meat,” which is more juicy and peppery than pastrami and smokier than corned beef. And with the opening of Mile End, poutine — fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, another Montreal specialty — finally became a household word in New York; their smoked meat-topped version is something everybody should try once (but probably not too many times more than that if you value your arteries). In a nod to Buffalo, they also offer a stellar beef on weck, jus-dipped roast beef on a caraway-studded roll. Cohen and Bernamoff have since opened a second outpost in Manhattan and ply their wares at markets and festivals. They have rightfully claimed their places in the New York culinary pantheon.
#57 Motorino, New York City
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th Street and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease, renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat. Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil, and Gaeta olives; and the cremini mushroom with fior di latte, sweet sausage, and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the best move is the Brussels sprouts pie (fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something both Hong Kong natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts in 2013.
#56 Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles
Flickr/ Lynn Friedman
Roscoe’s does two things, and they do them very, very well: chicken and waffles. Founded in 1975 by Harlem native Herb Hudson, and now with seven locations throughout the Los Angeles area, Roscoe’s helped to popularize a culinary combination that many consider strange until they try it. The wide and flat waffles pair perfectly with syrup-drenched fried chicken, which is fried according to a secret recipe until it’s light and crispy. Often imitated, never duplicated, Roscoe’s is the true original, and a Los Angeles institution.
#55 Fette Sau, Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s Fette Sau is one of the few smokehouses in America to use exclusively heritage animals from farms in its region. The full list of meats served by the restaurant is like a reference book of heritage breeds: Piedmontese beef; a mysterious delicacy called Akaushi Beef Zubaton; and all manner of pork cuts from Duroc, Berkshire, and Red Wattle hogs. Hungry locals line up daily to sample some spectacular and unique barbecue from a constantly rotating deli counter: Berkshire pork cheeks one day, pulled lamb another, house-cured pastrami the next. No matter what, you’ll always leave full and happy, having enjoyed some of the country’s most creative barbecue.
#54 Distrito, Philadelphia, Pa.
Chef Jose Garces is a Philadelphia legend, and he’s done a mighty fine job of bringing Mexico City right into the heart of University City (as well as to other locations in Scottsdale, Arizona, Palm Springs, California, and Moorestown, New Jersey) with Distrito. Drop by weekdays between 5 and 7 p.m. for a great happy hour ($5 tacos, guacamole and margaritas, $2 chips and salsa, and $3 Tecates or Modelos), but stay for dinner and you’ll be treated to menu items like grilled Spanish octopus with jalapeño purée, potato confit, and caper béarnaise; queso fundido with duck barbacoa and poblanos; flat iron steak tacos with truffled potatoes, tomato horseradish escabeche, and Yukon fries; and a huarache topped with carnitas, chorizo, serrano ham, potato, and queso Oaxaca. Ready for your entrée? Opt for the pancita pibil, slow roasted pork belly with achiote, pineapple and citrus, and a red chile tamale, and you’ll start planning your next visit before you even leave.
#53 Joe Boston's Italian Beef, Chicago
Chicago is known for three major foods: pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches. Al’s and Mr. Beef may get most of the hoopla, but ask the locals and they’ll point you toward the intersection of West and Chicago Avenues, to an ancient-looking brick shack where the roast beef is still pink inside, the gravy is rich and redolent of oregano and garlic, and the giardiniera is just the right amount of spicy. Order it dipped with hot or sweet peppers, hunch over so you don’t get it all over your shirt, wash it down with a Mountain Dew (on tap!), and pat yourself on the back for discovering this little corner of sandwich paradise.
#52 The Shed, Santa Fe, N.M.
Santa Fe is known for its green Hatch chiles 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 them and are brought in fresh daily, then processed on-site. They make appearances all over the menu in items like green chile pork stew, chicken enchilada verde, and an insanely delicious green chile-topped burrito (filled with pinto beans, Cheddar, and onion). One of the best applications of this spicy green sauce that you’ll find in the city, however, 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).
#51 Guisados, Los Angeles
With three locations in Los Angeles, Guisados celebrates the simplicity of Mexican food through a focused menu of tacos made with traditional, home-style braises served in fresh, handmade tortillas. They offer different options for each main taco group, including steak, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetarian. As for the pork tacos, diners can sample chicharrón, chorizo, chuleta en salsa verde, and cochinita pibil. Wash it all down with a melon, lemon, or hibiscus agua fresca and you’ll find yourself in taco heaven.
#50 Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand, River Grove, Ill.
Flickr/ born to me
A trip to Wrigley Field in 1945 by Gene Mormino and friends turned into the inspiration for a Chicago institution, one that many people claim serves the best hot dog in a city known for great ones. "While at the game, the group ordered some hot dogs and drinks," reads Gene and Jude’s website. "Looking down at the food in his hands, he felt something was missing. The wheels started turning and by the time he got home the experiment had begun. He came up with an idea so good he used it to open a little stand in 1946 on Polk and Western Avenue, serving hot dogs and fries 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 which is now operated by his son Joe. The hot dogs are a mess, covered with surprisingly soft fries, but the introduction of saltiness and textural variation makes them more nuanced than many other Chicago dogs. And their 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. hours, when many other of Chicago’s iconic eateries are closed, makes them a Sunday hot dog savior.
#49 Nickel Diner, Los Angeles
Flickr/ vanesser III, Flickr/ Ed Kwon
A Downtown Los Angeles legend, Nickel Diner is comforting in just about every way imaginable. It’s a spot-on recreation of a World War II-era diner, complete with a lunch counter, vintage wallpaper, scuffed tile floors, and red leather booths; service is friendly and just slightly sassy; and the food is outstanding (and outstandingly gut-busting). Eggs are available in every style imaginable, and other breakfast specialties include the Dutch Baby (a caramelized apple pancake), biscuits and gravy (weekends only), and the 5th and Main (spicy BBQ pork hash topped with two poached eggs). Lunchtime items include a killer pozole, salads, sandwiches, and one of LA’s best burgers, and for dinner, don’t miss the fried chicken drumettes with bacon jam on polenta, the beef stew, or the double-stuffed chicken. And the doughnuts! Don’t forget about the doughnuts!
#48 Roberta’s, Brooklyn
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick, six stops out of Manhattan on the L train, and it’s one of the city's best restaurants (it even serves one of New York’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city's best. Yes, some of them have names like "Family Jewels," "Barely Legal," and, inspired by disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Wiener, "Carlos Danger," but you can afford not to take yourself seriously — in an environment where Brooklyn hipsters and everyone else tolerate each other — when your pizza is this good. As much as the Amatriciana may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
#47 Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
Flickr/ Nick Sherman
Sally's Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven's Wooster Square. Their pizza is a traditional thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." The pies look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which, as any New Haven pizza believer will note, is because the man who opened Sally's is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally's will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese)…well, they have the original beat.
#46 Guelaguetza, Los Angeles
If you’re looking for authentic Oaxacan cuisine in Los Angeles, look no further: Guelaguetza very well might serve the best not only in Southern California but in the country. The expansive menu ranges from breakfast dishes like huevos rancheros to chicken enrobed in red and black moles (complex sauces made from chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, and Oaxacan chocolate), from grilled meats and carnitas to barbacoa roja de chivo (slow-cooked young goat in a bowl of broth). The comfortable restaurant also boasts one of the country’s largest mezcal selections, and if you find yourself craving more mole, they also sell it by the jar.
#45 Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
Kreuz Market, originally a meat market and a grocery store, was founded by Charles Kreuz (pronounced "krites" in these parts) 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, phased out the groceries, but continued to serve the same barbecue and sausage. Cabbage knives were chained to the tables so that customers could cut their meat (but not take home the cutlery). 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 (No. 32). 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.
#44 Canter's Deli, Los Angeles
Flickr/ Jeff Rosen
Mick has eaten here. So has Barack. And Axl Rose, Taylor Swift, Wayne Gretzky, Don Draper… The list goes on pretty much 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which happens to be when this classic Hollywood-style Jewish deli is open. Its round-the-clock chopped liver, cheese blintzes, matzo ball soup, towering corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, and, OK, cheeseburgers, chili, and Caesar salads — along with the fact that the extensive breakfast menu is served at any hour — have made it a favorite of musicians both local and touring (in 1961, Canter's opened the Kibitz Room, a next-door cocktail lounge, once famous for its jam sessions and still filled with live music nightly). But you're just as likely to sit next to construction workers, traveling salespeople, or senior citizens who've lived in the Fairfax District since Eisenhower was president, out for a treat. Is this the best deli food in America? Maybe not, but it's not bad, and (as the old joke goes) there's so much of it. In its own time-honored, trend-proof way, Canter's is much hipper than its almost next-door neighbor, the trendy Animal.
#43 Cheese Board Pizza, Berkeley, Calif.
Flickr/ angelo angelo
Cheese Board Pizza gets pizza lovers in Berkeley lining up outside and sitting down on the grass median between traffic. That has to be some good pizza, right? You bet. And the whole idea behind Cheese Board is cool, too. But you probably know the story by now: Cheese Board opened as a small cheese store in 1967, and four years later, the two owners sold it to their employees, creating a 100 percent worker-owned business called Cheese Board Collective. Cheese Board's pizza program started in 1985. During shifts, as the legend goes, employees "started making pizzas for [them]selves by cutting off hunks of extra sourdough baguette dough, grabbing favorite cheeses from the counter, and throwing on vegetables from the market next door." After regular hours on Fridays, they began serving one vegetarian pizza, using fresh ingredients and unusual cheeses atop a thin sourdough crust. What’s the best pie to get? Whatever they’re serving that day. Just make sure to go enjoy it under the sun on the median.
#42 JG Melon, New York City
Flickr/ James Nord
According to legend, burgermeister George Motz wanted to include JG Melon's definitive bar burger in the first edition of his book Hamburger America, but nobody at the place would return his calls — maybe because they were too busy actually turning out the darn things. The burger is simple and classic: a healthy slab of ground beef (exact formula not revealed) 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.
#41 Ippudo, New York City
The big, slurp-worthy bowls of America’s best ramen draws customers back again and again to the to this original Manhattan location in the East Village of one of Japan's best-known ramen chains (there is now a second location on the West Side). Sometimes you can see them sidling up to the bar to drown themselves in sake to make the wait at the glass-covered ramen bar at the front of the restaurant bearable. Once you do sit down… joy! There’s always the Shiromaru Hakata Classic, described as "the original silky 'tonkotsu' (pork) soup noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma [fermented bamboo shoots], red pickled ginger, and scallions." But the various limited-time-only specials are most often the fun way to go. A recent example is the Szechuan-style spicy tonkotsu ramen with black sesame sauce, topped with "niku-miso dame" [Japanese meat sauce], chashu pork, cabbage, cilantro, fragrant shrimp oil, and fresh lime.
#40 Lombardi's, New York City
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza back to its beginning will inevitably be led to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905 he started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string. His customers were mostly workers of Italian descent who took them to their jobs (because most couldn’t afford the entire pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family — first by Gennaro’s son, John, and then his grandson, Jerry — until it closed in 1984. It was reopened 10 years later a block away from the original location by Jerry Lombardi and John Brescio, his childhood friend. These days, Lombardi’s almost always seems packed. There’s a thin crust pizza: a cornicione that doesn’t have much bubble or puff, and that boasts a thorough layering of a sauce that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty. There’s no shredded mozzarella — just the fresh stuff, well spread out. Even if you’re not a fan of fresh cheese on your pie, you’ll probably love it. Is it New York City’s best pizza? No. Still, Lombardi's is a touchstone. And when looking out on New York's pizza landscape, the devotion to a pie from a time when pizza didn't mean artful charring and contrived, golden-tiled ovens is comforting, even if that just means the pizza of 1994.
#39 Pecan Lodge, Dallas
Dallas’ most award-winning barbecue joint, 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. So 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.
#38 La Casita Mexicana, Bell, Calif.
La Casita Mexicana
Chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu already had the distinction of running one of Los Angeles’ most essential Mexican restaurants before they moved into a neighboring space that allowed them to considerably expand beyond the moles, chilaquiles, enmoladas, and chiles en nogada that made them so popular. The expanded menu includes bone marrow in adobo and blackberry mole, and the wine list offers an exploration of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.
#37 Gott's Roadside, St. Helena, Calif.
Flickr/ Jeffrey Simpson
Back in 2011, Taylor's Automatic Refresher, a popular California hamburger stand, renamed its four locations (Napa, St. Helena, Palo Alto, and San Francisco's Ferry Building) because its owners, brothers Joel and Duncan Gott, didn't own rights to the original name and couldn’t persuade its owners to let them trademark it. It may have been jarring to see the name change and the neon-lit red G, but what didn’t change when they adopted the family name Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet was the storied 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 (employees say this steams the bun, but leaves the underside toasted-crunchy). The effect is thick and juicy. An icon.
#36 Kuma's Corner, Chicago
Flickr/ Steven Vance
Kuma’s Corner is a seriously rock and roll burger joint, and the best in Chicago. 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.
#35 Chichen Itza, Los Angeles
This family-run business showcases cuisine from the Mexican state of Yucatán, in the southeastern corner of the country. Chef and owner Gilberto Cetina has created a menu that highlights the area’s Mayan, Spanish, and Lebanese influences. One traditional appetizer is the kibi (ground beef and cracked wheat patties seasoned with mint and spices), which was brought to the region by Lebanese immigrants. The tacos de chicharrón (friend pork crackling with pico de gallo and sliced avocado) are served in an order of two. They also offer a stellar version of the rice-based Mexican drink horchata.
#34 Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, Nashville, Tenn.
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.
#33 Charles Vergos Rendezvous, Memphis, Tenn.
Flickr/ Ramblin Rose
Charles Vergos Rendezvous is consistently ranked among the best barbecue joints in the country, and you do not want to miss out on their ribs. What makes these ribs so good is the rub — or, as they call it, "the seasoning" (word is that it’s not called a rub because it’s not rubbed in). The baby back ribs are cooked hot and fast, which might seem against the grain, but the proof is in the pudding: the technique works. Don’t miss the pork shoulder, and if you give them 24 hours’ notice they’ll whip up a skillet with five pounds of barbecue shrimp for you.
#32 Smitty's Market, Lockhart, Texas
Smitty’s Market, housed in the space originally occupied by the equally-legendary Kreuz Market, is considerably smaller than the transplanted Kreuz, but has a time-worn ambience — as well as its original pits. These well-seasoned pits turn out some of the tenderest, most succulent brisket you’ll ever encounter (with a smoke ring so large it should have its own zip code), and sausages that snap perfectly as your teeth break the skin. Nina Schmidt Sells keeps things simple, serving barbecue and sausage with just bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes, avocado, and cheese on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays only.
#31 Patsy's Pizzeria, New York City
Some would say that this is the only existing place where you can get a proper and authentic coal-oven slice in the universe, given that its founder Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri supposedly opened Patsy's after working with the godfather of New York City pizza, Gennaro Lombardi. True or not, this 1933 East Harlem original can claim pizza heritage most only dream of, and was reportedly one of Sinatra's and DiMaggio’s favorite joints. Still, the original location is one of the most underrated and un-hyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing, given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. The pizza at Patsy’s is unusually thin, and relatively short compared to many other New York slices — you could easily scarf down six slices while standing at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do, by the way; there’s something about the pizza at Patsy’s where it’s miraculous right out of the oven, but just as exponentially unimpressive if you let it wait. This move here is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat — do not reheat.
#30 La Super-Rica Taqueria, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Flickr/ Larry Miller
It’s not much to look at — just a small, one-story white shack with turquoise trim, on a corner with palm tree fronds setting the scene behind it — but this place has the kind of reputation that draws a crowd. The late culinary star Julia Child, who divided her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Santa Barbara, mentioned La Super Rica Taqueria on Good Morning America as her favorite taqueria. Some standouts: the Frijol Super-Rica (a bowl of pintos with chiles, bacon, and chorizo); Super-Rica Especial (pork with pasilla chiles); and the tacos de adobado.
#29 Mother’s, New Orleans
If you’ve ever been to Mother’s, the very mention of it will get your mouth watering. Since 1938, folks have been lining up daily outside its doors to enjoy heaping breakfasts and traditional Cajun specialties. But the real star of the show here is the carving station, where po’boys that are just about perfect are served to those who come to worship at their altar. Your best bet would be to order the Ferdi Special, filled with homemade baked ham (did we mention the amazing ham?), roast beef, gravy, and a special addition that’s one of the most delicious foods on earth: debris (pronounced “day-bree”). What’s debris, exactly? Shreds of meat and char that fall from the roast beef as it slowly cooks, steeping in rendered fat and juices. You’re welcome.
#28 Willie Mae's Scotch House, New Orleans
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, the legendary restaurant located in New Orleans’ Fifth Ward 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 time there, take a cue from the regulars and pilgrims alike. The chicken, perfected by Willie Mae Seaton (who’s 101 years old) and today safeguarded by her granddaughter Kerry, is, simply put, otherworldly. Fried to order, the crust is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy, and shatteringly crisp and crunchy, coming away cleanly as you take a bite without dragging the rest of the breading with it. Underneath, the chicken is impossibly moist and juicy. We almost lost Willie Mae’s after it was destroyed during Katrina, but the community banded together to rebuild the restaurant exactly as it was before.
#27 Hill Country Barbecue, New York
The brisket, sausage, pork ribs, and smoked prime rib at Hill Country pay homage to — where else? — the Texas Hill Country. They’re peppery, delicately scented with wood smoke, and in need of no sauce. It’s a honky tonk-style restaurant with meat carved to order, weighed out, and served on butcher paper with plenty of down-home sides and delicious desserts, now under the direction of pitmaster Charles Grund Jr. since executive chef Elizabeth Karmel left last year to pursue other opportunities. You’ll eat more than a few bites before you even realize that there's no sauce involved — because it’s completely unnecessary. With a second location in Washington, D.C., and a third recently opened in Brooklyn, Hill Country's spreading of the Texas barbecue gospel thankfully shows no signs of slowing down.
#26 Big Bob Gibson BBQ, Decatur, Ala.
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 Decatur's Sixth Avenue. Gibson’s grandson, Don McLemore, took over in 1972. When the restaurant burned down in 1988, the family rebuilt it next door, salvaging the original neon sign. 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.
#25 Parm, New York
When Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone opened a small restaurant called Torrisi Italian Specialties in 2009, serving sandwiches by day and an inexpensive tasting menu by night, they likely had no idea what a phenomenon it would become. The place blew up immediately, with lines out the door on a nightly basis, and in 2011 they opened a small annex next door called Parm, focused just on sandwiches. And what sandwiches these are. Their humble turkey sandwich has been praised by many as the city’s best, meatballs are brilliantly in patty instead of ball form, and the chicken parm sandwich is, hands down, the best in the country. There’s nothing too crazy about this sandwich. It’s simply made using only the highest-quality, freshest ingredients, all put together with a very deft hand. The sandwich starts with a freshly baked soft round semolina roll from nearby Parisi Bakery. The bottom gets a layer of long-simmered tomato sauce, and a freshly fried chicken cutlet gets placed atop that, then another spoon of sauce. Fresh mozzarella is melted on top, and it’s finished off with a few leaves of fresh basil. And that’s it. It’s served in a waxed paper-lined basket, and tastes just like the chicken parms you’ve always eaten. Except it’s just better.
#24 Night + Market, West Hollywood, Calif.
“Our restaurant is very small, very cramped, and very loud,” notes Night + Market’s website. You can almost imagine chef Kris Yenbamroong warning, “Know what you’re getting yourself into!” While Yenbamroong has no formal culinary training, he’s not without a Thai food pedigree; he’s the son of the family behind the well-respected West Hollywood Thai restaurant Talesai. But Night + Market dances to its own beat, serving Northern Thai street food in the nightclub district of the Sunset Strip with a style and philosophy Yenbamroong describes using the Thai term “aharn glam lao,” which he explains means making “the most delicious and authentic Thai food to facilitate drinking and fun-having amongst friends." Fried pig tail, fried pig ear with chile and garlic, Isaan-style grilled fatty collar, lots of Thai beer, and Mekhong whisky (actually more like a rum) are served in a setting that has been described as a G.I. Bar in '70s Bangkok.
#23 Di Fara, Brooklyn
Flickr/ Zagat Buzz
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizza Wednesday through Saturday (noon to 8 p.m) and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. Yes, you're better off getting a whole pie than shelling out for the $5 slice. Yes, it's a trek, and sure, Dom goes through periods where the underside of the pizza can trend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara is a strong contender for the title of America's best pizzeria. If you want to understand why before visiting, watch the great video about Di Fara called “The Best Thing I Ever Done.” You can’t go wrong with the classic round or square cheese pie (topped with oil-marinated hot peppers, which you can ladle on at the counter if you elbow in), but the menu’s signature is the Di Fara Classic Pie: mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onion, and, of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom.
#22 Langer's Deli, Los Angeles
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. What makes the rye bread so special is the process of double-baking. The bread is received from the bakery, and then re-baked at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes to give it a crispy crust. They also serve a soul-satisfying chicken-in-the-pot, loaded with matzo balls, chicken, noodles, and vegetables.
#21 Second Avenue Deli, New York City
Flickr/ Gandhu and Sarah
Abe Lebewohl was a true New York original. A Polish immigrant who came to America in 1950, his first job was a soda jerk at a Coney Island deli, where he eventually 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 (sadly, such is the fate of many New York institutions), but Lebewohl’s legacy lives on at the two locations that have since opened in Manhattan. One of just a handful of strictly kosher delis remaining in the city, Second Avenue is the place for authentic Jewish cuisine in New York: kasha varnishkes, knishes, matzo 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 soda to Abe, and enjoy some real-deal Jewish deli food.
#20 Totonno’s, Brooklyn
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist anymore. Consider first that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Then factor in the fire that broke out in the coal storage area, ravaging the entire place, in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, when four feet of water destroyed everything inside the family-owned institution. You’ll probably agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should be counting its lucky stars that Totonno’s is still around. And yet Totonno’s is so much more than “still around.” It doesn’t just keep a storied pizza name or nostalgia for simpler times alive. Owners Antoinette Balzano, Frank Balzano, and Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri don’t simply bridge our modern era’s festishization of pizza to the days of its inception at Lombardi’s. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce… this is how you make pizza.
#19 Kesté, New York City
Flickr/ Anthony Bianciella
"This is it. New York’s #1," notes Kesté’s website. And yes, that’s actually what the restaurant’s name Kesté means in Neapolitan dialect: "This is it." Hard to argue that it doesn’t at least belong in the conversation. “Pizza maestro” Roberto Caporuscio was born and raised on a dairy farm in Pontinia, Italy, an hour outside Naples. He’s the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN — Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers), the Italian governing body that teaches the 150-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza-making and certiﬁes adherence to authentic procedures. Pizza at Kesté has that signature chewy crust, the soft, slightly soupy middle, the right balance of quality ingredients. The eponymous pie, with tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Gran Cru, and olive oil takes the restaurant’s name proudly, and doesn’t let it down.
#18 Ivan Ramen, New York City
Ivan Orkin is one of those rare chefs who found his calling in the cuisine of a far-off land; in this case, Japan. He took the Tokyo noodle scene by storm and then returned back to his hometown to spread the gospel, and spread it he did. At his narrow Lower East Side shop, you can get the full Tokyo ramen experience; opt for the Tokyo Shio ramen with pork chashu, egg, and roast tomato if you want to go authentic, or if you’re looking for something spicier, go for the red chili ramen with dashi, chicken broth, minced pork, smashed egg, and rye noodles.
#17 The Whale Wins, Seattle, Wash.
Flickr/ Stu Spivack
In a quaint white and blue converted warehouse, the team behind Seattle’s acclaimed the Walrus and the Carpenter are drawing influence from chef Renee Erickson’s favorite restaurants in Southern Europe and England, turning out simple, stellar food based around seasonal vegetables and wood oven-roasted meats and fish. The menu changes daily, but guests can expect to find items like house-made pickles, roasted carrot and fennel salad with harissa and yogurt, roasted clams with pumpkin curry cream and leeks, and oven-roasted côte de bœuf with sauce verte and potatoes.
#16 Lexington Barbecue, Lexington, N.C.
Flickr/ Southern Foodways Alliance
Wayne Monk opened Lexington Barbecue in 1962, and today it is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. His son-in-law, Bub Wright, is now the pitmaster, and he heavily salts pork shoulders before smoking them for 10 to 11 hours. As is customary with most barbecue places around Lexington, they wait to chop the shoulders and douse them in their vinegar-based sauce — “dip,” to the locals — until it’s time to serve. The choice of cuts is what distinguishes this restaurant from its neighbors. Customers can order their barbecue pork chopped, rough chopped, or sliced, and can specify whether they would like white or “brown” meat, the latter of which includes some of the thin layer of skin that’s left on after butchering. The thicker outer layer of skin is saved and fried; it tastes like very smoky bacon, but has an even more satisfying crunch. Seats can be scarce on a busy Saturday, as Wright and his team serve 1,600 to 1,800 hungry diners, but the fare is definitely worth the wait.
#15 Mission Chinese, San Francisco
Chef Danny Bowien’s San Francisco landmark is still going strong, and very well just might be the most famous Chinese restaurant in America today, commanding hours-long waits that are only somewhat assuaged by kegs of free beer for those who decide to stick around. Thankfully, you can order takeout, so it’s possible to enjoy quirky, non-traditional dishes like kung pao pastrami, barbecued pig ear terrine, and an upmarket twist on beef with broccoli that incorporates tender brisket and smoked oyster sauce without being crushed by hipsters. The New York location, which was shuttered by the city’s Department of Health in October 2013, re-opened with much fanfare last December.
#14 Little Goat, Chicago
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, butter case 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! So go and see for yourself how delicious the food here is.
#13 Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
Unpretentious, classic Southern dishes are key at downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, where chef–owner Robert Stehling serves up stone-ground grits, house-made sausages, and fried green tomatoes in what was once a barbershop. The classic 1950s diner signage, extra-comfortable wooden chairs, and seasonal desserts like persimmon pudding embody everything comfort food stands for. The restaurant’s signature smoked pork and chicken are roasted over a brick pit. The chicken is served with vinegar-based white sauce and the pork has a vinegar-based tomato sauce — though some diners insist on using the white sauce on the pork and ribs. Sides include a barbecue-stuffed baked potato. Save room for a slice of coconut cream Heaven High meringue pie, chocolate Heaven High meringue pie, or the lemon icebox pie.
#12 Winstead’s, Kansas City, Mo.
Winstead’s is a household name in the Kansas City area, serving diner staples and "steakburgers" for more than 70 years. These burgers are what the locals crave when they leave the city: fresh-ground Choice beef, served with mustard, ketchup, pickles, and a thick slice of onion (with cheese lettuce, tomato, and bacon if you want it), all on a soft white bun. The double is the way to go: it consists of two 2-ounce patties, smashed down on the griddle until they’re essentially just crust, but with some moisture retained. If this is your preferred type of burger, then you probably agree with Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, who proclaimed it one of the best burgers in the world. Get cheese, order a limeade and fries, take in your surroundings, and enjoy what Hamburger America’s George Motz calls "the perfect diner eating experience."
#11 Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno offers a quintessential Italian dining experience for those who can’t afford the flight to Italy itself. Husband-and-wife owner–chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. The restaurant bakes their pies in wood-burning ovens as well as on grills over hardwood charcoal fire. Their most notable grilled pizza? The Margherita. It’s served with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil. Just about everyone who sets foot in the restaurant orders a pizza, but save room for pasta dishes like handmade bread gnocchi and linguine with creamy egg, pancetta, and arugula.
#10 Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, Mo.
This is probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America — thanks largely to the efforts of Kansas City-born writer Calvin Trillin, who in 1974 wrote in Playboy that it was "possibly the single best restaurant in the world." 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. Baseball players and fans alike, along with U.S. presidents, movie stars, and other notables, have flocked to it ever since for its hickory- and oak wood-smoked ribs slathered in a tangy vinegar sauce. Arthur Bryant passed away at 80 years old in 1982, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
#9 Flour + Water, San Francisco
Although this San Francisco restaurant whips up some spectacular house-made pastas, their pizza is formidable. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the thin-crust pizza at Flour + Water blends Old World tradition with modern refinement, according to chef and co-owner Thomas McNaughton. Pizza toppings vary depending on what’s in season, making each dining experience unique, but Flour + Water’s textbook Margherita is amazing. Heirloom tomatoes, basil, fior di latte, and extra-virgin olive oil… if only the simplicity implied by the restaurant’s name could be duplicated in pizzerias across the country.
#8 La Taquería, San Francisco
When it comes to leaders of a culinary genre, there are few restaurants in America with greater gravitas for their respective focus than San Francisco’s La Taquería has for tacos. That challenges it, and its tacos (carnitas among them, quite arguably the best), with quite a reputation to live up to. Just one of the Mission’s casual Mexican joints, La Taquería does things the way they should be done: fresh.
#7 Shake Shack, Various Locations
America’s best fast-food burger is Shake Shack. Yes, it’s better than In-N-Out, and yes, it has its own secret menu… kind of (it’s called Danny Meyer’s hospitality philosophy). What started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 has made history. In 2004, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group won the bid to open a permanent kiosk in the park, and the lines, buzz, cult following, and even a begrudging review from The New York Times followed. This year, Shake Shack went public with a $1.6 billion IPO. Why is it so good? Quality. And one of the juiciest cheeseburgers (100 percent all-natural Angus beef, no hormones, no antibiotics) you’ll ever find on a soft, grilled potato roll (ask for pickles and onions!). Shake Shack’s has a vigorous expansion program — Theatre District, Coral Gables, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Las Vegas — so you really never know where the next one will show up. Cross your fingers that one opens near you; these burgers are just about perfect.
#6 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
"There’s no mystery to my pizza," Bronx native Chris Bianco was once quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Sicilian oregano, organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, purified water, mozzarella I learned to make at Mike's Deli in the Bronx, sea salt, fresh yeast cake, and a little bit of yesterday's dough. In the end great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance. It's that simple.'' Try telling that to the legions of pizza pilgrims who have made the trip to the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 20 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the longest for food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco opening for lunch, and the opening of Trattoria Bianco, the pizza prince of Arizona’s Italian restaurant in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center (about 10 minutes from the original). This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (try the rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature marinara will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic (no cheese).
#5 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria — whose "clam pie" has taken first place in the Daily Meal's ranking of The 101 Best Pizzas in America for two years in a row. Frank Pepe opened his doors in New Haven, Connecticut’s Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Neapolitan-style pizza. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant Since its inception, Pepe’s has opened an additional seven locations. What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams; an intense dose of garlic; olive oil; oregano; and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
#4 Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.
When Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in 2008, he took the Pacific Northwest, and many of the nation’s most devoted eaters, by storm with his refined approach to Southeast Asian street food. The menu takes some time to wrap your head around, but you’ll definitely want to sample the sweet and spicy Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings and Papaya Pok Pok, a spicy, shrimpy green papaya salad. In April 2012, he opened Pok Pok NY on Brooklyn’s off-the-beaten-path Columbia Street Waterfront, and it proved so popular that a couple years ago it was forced to move into bigger digs up the street (his Whiskey Soda Lounge opened in the old space) — but his Portland original remains Ricker's definitive establishment.
#3 Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton teamed up with Italian culinary moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich to open Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison with the innovative, creative fare. Their pizzeria, which is attached to the main restaurant, 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 $11 for a simple flatbread of tomato, oregano, and olive oil to $23 for 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. So it’s no surprise that Batali and Bastianich have taken a stab at duplicating the success of this model pizzeria, opening locations in Newport Beach and Singapore.
#2 Katz's Delicatessen, New York City
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Their corned beef and pastrami, made on-premises and sliced to order, are 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. It opened its doors in 1888, originally serving many of the immigrant families on the Lower East Side who landed in New York. Word to the wise: You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you leave without sampling the corned beef and pastrami on rye with some deli mustard. Corned beef is brined and steamed, pastrami is cured and smoked, and nobody does it better. Receiving a small plate with a taste of what’s to come from the counterman as he hand-slices your meat is one of those can’t-miss New York culinary experiences, surpassed only by the first bite of your sandwich. Katz’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience. And more so than any other deli in New York (especially that touristy one near Times Square), no visit to the city is complete without a trip to Katz’s.
#1 Franklin BBQ, Austin
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest establishment, which traces its roots back to 2009 and a turquoise trailer. The 90 people who show in the next half-hour wait in vain; a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas's greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to be. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You've heard the buzz. You’ve seen Franklin on TV. You’re heard his acolytes’ brisket gospel. It's not hype. It really is that good. In fact, it’s the best casual restaurant in America.