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.
So what makes a restaurant casual, exactly? It goes far beyond the dress code. Our main criterion was the price factor: Can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding tip and alcohol? Other factors we took into account were an overall comfortable and relaxed ambiance, a “destination” status (that is, is the place worth traveling for?), and how long each restaurant has been around for.
To assemble our ranking, we took a similar approach to the one that we used when compiling our ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America in years past. We began by reaching out to a panel of more than 500 of the nation’s leading food writers, bloggers, and journalists, representing a wide spectrum of the American culinary landscape, and asked them to send us the names of their favorite casual restaurants.
Of course, we didn’t stop there. We beefed up our initial list with additional restaurants culled from our existing rankings of America’s best purveyors of pizza, burgers, hot dogs, wings, and more, ending up with more than 500 restaurants that we believe represent a vast cross-section of America and the casual restaurants that make it great. From there we assembled a survey, classifying each restaurant according to both location and cuisine, and sent it back out to our initial panel. We asked them to vote for their favorites, but only ones that they’d dined at within the past two years.
In the end, we were left with a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America. It’s a list we can fully stand behind, and also one that rounds out our ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America— which admittedly focuses on restaurants that are out of many people’s price ranges — with a collection of restaurants that are affordable and accessible to all.
Our list spans the country as well as the entire gastronomic spectrum. The majority of the restaurants in our ranking are located in New York, California, and Texas (30, 20, and 10, respectively); however, 23 states and the District of Columbia are represented — nine more states than last year. Some 21 pizzerias, 14 barbecue spots, 13 Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants, 11 Asian places, nine burger joints, seven fried chicken and soul food joints, seven hot dog stands, six Jewish delis, six sandwich shops, five diners, and two establishments in categories of their own made the cut.
So loosen your belt and get ready for a culinary tour of the best that America has to offer, from the restaurants where burgers and Buffalo wings were invented to a classic railcar-style diner, from cutting-edge ramen houses to time-tested barbecue shacks. Read on to learn which 101 casual restaurants are America’s best.
#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.
Additional reporting by Arthur Bovino.
#101 Jim's Steaks, Philadelphia
#100 Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit
#99 Xi’an Famous Foods, Queens, N.Y.
#98 Bark Hot Dogs, Brooklyn
#97 La Gloria, San Antonio
#96 Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern, Staten Island, N.Y.
#95 Irma's, Houston
#94 Pink’s, Los Angeles
#93 Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken, New York City
#92 Una Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco
#91 Busy Bee Café, Atlanta, Ga.
#90 Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, DC
#89 Summit Diner, Summit, N.J.
#88 Katzinger's Delicatessen, Columbus, Ohio
#87 Superdawg, Chicago
#86 La Condesa, Austin
#85 Domenica, New Orleans
#84 P.J. Clarke's, New York City
#83 Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City
#82 Bones, Denver, Colo.
#81 Domilese's, New Orleans
#80 Dick's Drive-In, Seattle
#79 Slows Bar BQ, Detroit
#78 Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Portland, Ore.
#77 Ramen Shop, Oakland, Calif.
#76 Louis’ Lunch, New Haven, Conn.
#75 LC's Bar B-Q, Kansas City
#74 Parkway Bakery, New Orleans
#73 Gray's Papaya, New York City
#72 Anchor Bar, Buffalo
#71 Ruth's Diner, Salt Lake City
#70 Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn
#69 Grand Sichuan, New York City
#68 Hugo's Regional Mexican Cuisine, Houston
#67 Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco
#66 Santa Fe Bite, Santa Fe, N.M.
#65 Gus' Fried Chicken, Memphis, Tenn.
#64 Mi Tierra, San Antonio
#63 Sal's Pizza, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
#62 BrisketTown, Brooklyn
#61 Zero Otto Nove, The Bronx, N.Y.
#60 Hawker Fare, Oakland
#59 Tom's Restaurant, Brooklyn
#58 Mile End, Brooklyn
#57 Motorino, New York City
#56 Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles
#55 Fette Sau, Brooklyn
#54 Distrito, Philadelphia, Pa.
#53 Joe Boston's Italian Beef, Chicago
#52 The Shed, Santa Fe, N.M.
#51 Guisados, Los Angeles
#50 Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand, River Grove, Ill.
#49 Nickel Diner, Los Angeles
#48 Roberta’s, Brooklyn
#47 Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
#46 Guelaguetza, Los Angeles
#45 Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
#44 Canter's Deli, Los Angeles
#43 Cheese Board Pizza, Berkeley, Calif.
#42 JG Melon, New York City
#41 Ippudo, New York City
#40 Lombardi's, New York City
#39 Pecan Lodge, Dallas
#38 La Casita Mexicana, Bell, Calif.
#37 Gott's Roadside, St. Helena, Calif.
#36 Kuma's Corner, Chicago
#35 Chichen Itza, Los Angeles
#34 Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, Nashville, Tenn.
#33 Charles Vergos Rendezvous, Memphis, Tenn.
#32 Smitty's Market, Lockhart, Texas
#31 Patsy's Pizzeria, New York City
#30 La Super-Rica Taqueria, Santa Barbara, Calif.
#29 Mother’s, New Orleans
#28 Willie Mae's Scotch House, New Orleans
#27 Hill Country Barbecue, New York
#26 Big Bob Gibson BBQ, Decatur, Ala.
#25 Parm, New York
#24 Night + Market, West Hollywood, Calif.
#23 Di Fara, Brooklyn
#22 Langer's Deli, Los Angeles
#21 Second Avenue Deli, New York City
#20 Totonno’s, Brooklyn
#19 Kesté, New York City
#18 Ivan Ramen, New York City
#17 The Whale Wins, Seattle, Wash.
#16 Lexington Barbecue, Lexington, N.C.
#15 Mission Chinese, San Francisco
#14 Little Goat, Chicago
#13 Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
#12 Winstead’s, Kansas City, Mo.
#11 Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
#10 Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, Mo.
#9 Flour + Water, San Francisco
#8 La Taquería, San Francisco
#7 Shake Shack, Various Locations
#6 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
#5 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
#4 Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.
#3 Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
#2 Katz's Delicatessen, New York City
#1 Franklin BBQ, Austin