101 Best Casual Restaurants in America for 2016
May 31, 2016
These restaurants may not be temples of gastronomy, but they sure offer some mighty good food
#101 Bully's Soul Food, Jackson, Miss.
Yelp/ Anthony H.
Since 1982, Bully’s has operated out of a brick building built by owner Tyrone Bully himself, and since then this unassuming family-run spot has served some of the best soul food anywhere to local construction workers and tourists on pilgrimages alike.
You’ll find stunningly delicious versions of all the classics here: smothered oxtail, catfish fried to order, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, barbecue ribs, chitterlings, fresh greens, daily specials like meat loaf and sausage with red beans and rice, and blackberry cobbler for dessert. This place is the restaurant equivalent of a hug.
#100 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 the 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.
#99 Colony Pizza, Stamford, Conn.
This thin-crust bar pie institution in Stamford, Connecticut, is notorious for its no-frills demeanor, no-special-options policy, and for not making exceptions (which Colony’s website admirably calls “classic American charm”).
There are signs, though, that this reputation may be thawing. Consider the special corned beef and cabbage pizza for St. Patrick's Day, which makes sense when you consider "Colony" was the nickname of the Irish neighborhood in Stamford where Colony Grill was established by Irish owners in 1935. But now there are four locations (two more in Fairfield and Milford and one in Norwalk), and they’ve recently added a salad pizza to the menus. Go figure.
What you’re going to want to do is order the sausage pie with hot oil (chile pepper-infused oil) and a “stinger” pie (they’re thin so you’re going to need two). There’s almost the same amount of tasty sauce and cheese as there is crisp cracker crust.
There’s something special about the equal amounts of ingredients you likely won’t have had before, the way the pockmarked surface resembles some crazy dream where cheese covers the surface of the moon (all melty like you remember from the orange-oil-covered slice at your childhood favorite pizza place), and how the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want while savoring each bite.
#98 Blue Ash, Cincinnati
There are hundreds of chili parlors in Cincinnati, and most of them are chains of varying quality. But ask around, and plenty of people will tell you that Blue Ash is the place to go, chain or otherwise.
There’s a specific way of ordering your chili in this town: Two-way is a bed of spaghetti topped with beefy, umami-rich chili (made with a bevy of spices including cocoa, allspice, cumin, and chili powder); three-way adds Cheddar; four-way adds onions or beans; and five-way adds both beans and onions, while six-way adds fried jalapeño caps. A Cincy classic since 1969, Blue Ash has three locations in town as well as a roving food truck.
#97 Big Al's Burgers and Dogs, Fort Collins, Colo.
Big Al’s is what Guy Fieri would refer to as a “funky joint,” with recycled vintage knickknacks scattered throughout the dining room, great homemade veggie burgers, hand-cut Kennebec fries, custom-made natural casing hot dogs, and never-frozen burgers topped with a proprietary “Spicy Sauce.”
But what really put this place on the map is the 60/40 Burger, made with a patty that’s 60 percent beef and 40 percent bacon.
#96 West Egg Café, Atlanta
All-day breakfast is the name of the game at this local Atlanta favorite, which is only open until 4 p.m. during the week and 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Favorites include a country ham and egg sandwich with red eye aïoli; Georgia Benedict (a biscuit topped with turkey sausage patties, eggs, and sausage gravy; West Side Pileup (skillet potatoes topped with onions, peppers, cheddar, bacon, and eggs); and sour cream pancakes topped with syrup and honey butter. The lunch menu is on point, too; the “PB&J Burger,” two patties topped with pimiento cheese, bacon, and tomato jam is a serious standout. The owners work with a local coffee roaster to provide the best joe possible, and pastry chef Carrie Hudson is turning out some spectacular creations, like Coca-Cola cupcakes, gigantic cookies, seasonal pies, and homemade soft serve.
#95 B Spot, Various Locations
There are hyped-up dishes and chefs that win so many awards, whose praises are sung so widely and so often, that you feel sure they can’t possibly live up to the hype.
Those rules just don’t apply to Iron Chef Michael Symon. He’s won too many burger contests to recall, and with good reason — the man gets good food, he gets meat, and more importantly, he gets how to make a great burger. The Lola, one of the burgers he serves at B Spot’s 8 locations in Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, and Indianapolis, has a sunny-side up egg, bacon, pickled red onions, and Cheddar, the height of an Alfred Portale dish at Gotham Bar & Grill, and the expressive flavors to match the vibrant personality and hearty laugh that are so characteristic of the chef. It’s going to be on the rarer side, the saltier side, and the gooey-dripping side, and if you’re really into burgers, and really know the way chefs like to make them, well… you’ll be into that.
#94 Awash, New York
This popular Ethiopian spot has three locations in New York, and has done more to introduce New Yorkers to Ethiopan food since opening in 1994 than probably any other restaurant.
Richly flavored stews served with rounds of teff-based flatbread called injera are the hallmark of Ethiopan cooking, and Awash has them down to a science. It may seem slightly intimidating at first, but the tibs wat (beef strips in a berbere sauce), doro alicha (chicken slow-cooked in Ethiopian butter with onions and green peppers), and shiro (ground spiced chick peas and split peas) are just about impossible to dislike. For the more adventurous, don’t miss gored gored, raw ground beef mixed with Ethiopian butter and berbere.
#93 Downtown Bakery, New York
Yelp/ Harry H.
Devotees tout the bakery’s breakfast burritos as some of the city’s best (and they’re available all day long), along with the croissants and horchata, both of which are made in-house daily. This place really knows how to treat meat and poultry, and the best example of its skill is the chicken mole tacos: marinated chicken in mole poblano sauce, Jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, hot sauce, and sour cream, all rolled into a double-layered white corn tortilla.
#92 White Hut, West Springfield, Mass.
Springfield is generally known as the birthplace of basketball (local phys-ed teacher James Naismith supposedly invented it to fill the gap between football and baseball seasons).
West Springfield doesn’t have quite as strong a claim when it comes to national recognition, but it deserves a nod for being the home to one of the country’s best burgers: the cheeseburger with fried onions at White Hut. White Hut has been through several different owners and generations, and it has the whole “White” reference that speaks to the success burger joints experienced when relabeling themselves with that adjective in the ‘20s in the wake of the uproar around meatpacking practices caused by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. However, there’s really only one thing you need to know about this spot. The burgers are legit, squashed cheesy affairs — the kind of cheeseburgers where the cheese is not just a topping, but an integral part of the cooking process, and as important an ingredient (or at least close to it) as the patty. Some might scoff at this. Scoff all you like, but that won’t change the facts. White Hut and its sweet, caramelized onions, squishy bun, and juicy patty cooked on an open griddle in front of the customer counter are delights made almost better by the authenticity and confidence of this unheralded gem’s just-off-prickly but genuinely local and good-hearted servers.
#91 Walter's, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
On the side of an unassuming road, in the unassuming little town of Mamaroneck, in New York's Westchester County, sits an odd, pagoda-shaped hot dog stand.
This is Walter’s, and the hot dogs here haven’t changed since Walter Warrington opened his first stand nearby in 1919. The copper-roofed pagoda was built in 1928, and is currently on the county's inventory of historic places. But it’s the hot dogs that have really made Walter’s so legendary. Warrington devised the recipe for these dogs himself, and to this day they’re still split down the middle, basted in a secret sauce as they grill, placed into a fluffy toasted bun, and topped with homemade mustard. There’s nothing else quite like Walter’s.
#90 Kuma's Corner, Chicago
Kuma’s Corner is a seriously rock and roll burger joint, and one of 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.
#89 Village Whiskey, Philadelphia
Chef Jose Garces has won heaps of praise for the burgers he’s serving at Village Whiskey, and it’s well-deserved.
His burgers are so lightly packed that they’re almost fluffy, and come on a house-baked pan au lait bun that’s similar to brioche but less eggy. The patties are well-seasoned, super-juicy, and full of beefy flavor, and if you’re looking for something especially decadent, go for the Whiskey King Burger, which is topped with maple bourbon glazed cippolini, blue cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, and foie gras for good measure. It’s a wonder to behold.
#88 Tan Dinh, New Orleans
Yelp/ Felice H.
With the legendary Pho Tau Bay’s future in question as the shopping center it called home is being redeveloped, New Orlenians are flocking to the new best pho shop in the city, Gretna’s Tan Dinh.
Family-owned and unchanged for more than 20 years, the pho here is rich and flavorful, and we suggest you double up on the beef flank and brisket as the meat option, with plenty of bean sprouts, mint leaves, and sliced jalapeños on the side.
#87 The People's Pig, Portland, Ore.
The People’s Pig got its start in 2009, when Illinois native Cliff Allen debuted a food cart in downtown Portland. Allen wasn’t sure about opening a brick-and-mortar shop, but luckily for all of us, he did. After finding the perfect place, Allen wasted no time creating one of the premier smoked meat sandwich shops in the Northwest.
One of the most popular items at The People’s Pig is the fried chicken sandwich, made using a special walnut-brown sourdough created especially for the restaurant. But the barbecue-style favorites, like the smoked pork sandwich, are not to be missed either.
#86 Rubirosa, New York
This relatively new addition to that “old guard of pizza newcomers” is Rubirosa in Nolita, a spot opened by former Esca cook Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo, who learned how to make a super-thin crust and barely there cornicione at the age of 12 at his father Giuseppe's Staten Island pizzeria.
The slice at Rubirosa (which New York Magazine reported was named for a Florence, Italy, restaurant whose owners named it in turn after international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa) is the kind that inspires cross-section marveling and game-changing pizza paradigm shifts. Those who consider the city’s average dollar-slice crusts the New York baseline finally understand the nuance of pizza. This is one of the few places you can walk into and ask for a stracciatella pie (impressive enough), and there are nine standards on the menu that you’ll want to rotate through, including the classic, supreme, and "tie-dye" (vodka, tomato, pesto, fresh mozzarella), but the pie the restaurant singled out, and the one panelists voted vociferously for, was the vodka pie with fresh mozz.
#85 Weiner’s Circle, Chicago
If you’re not too intimidated to order (the infamously, ahem, rude environment can get a little rowdy at night, when employees and drunk customers share barbs), the move is a double chardog with everything.
The traditional Chicago hot dog is fairly represented at this Lincoln Park icon, with one exception. A Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun gets all the iconic Chicago toppings (raw onions, neon-green relish, pickle spear, tomato slices, and celery salt). The departure from the purist version? Wiener's Circle char-grills its dogs rather than steaming them. A double char is simply two blackened dogs underneath all those veggies on one bun.
#84 El Güero Canelo, Tucson, Ariz.
This hot dog is completely unlike any other in the country: the Sonoran Dog, a shining example of international cooperation.
John T. Edge first brought this hot dog into the spotlight in 2009, and even though it’s been around for more than 40 years, the Sonoran is having quite a moment in the sun. Here’s how it works: A hot dog is wrapped in bacon (good place to start), griddled until crispy, stuffed into a split-top bun that you won’t find outside of the region, and topped with any of a slew of condiments that usually involve beans, diced tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. There are stands all over Tucson selling Sonorans, but the most shining example is sold in the humble, ragtag El Güero Canelo, which got its start as a tiny cart run by Daniel and Blanca Contreras in 1993 and now has a semi-outdoor seating area, a massive array of toppings, and an ever-present jovial vibe.
#83 Ramen Totto, New York
There are three locations of Totto Ramen in Manhattan and one in Boston, and they still can barely keep up with demand.
What began as a tiny second-floor restaurant back in 2003 is now a certifiable juggernaut, largely thanks to its legendary Paitan Ramen: homemade al dente noodles in a rich chicken broth simply topped with roast pork, scallion, onion, and nori. Today nine ramen options are available, including ones topped with miso and ground pork, spicy sesame oil, or spicy fish, and you can also customize your own with more than 15 toppings.
#82 24 Diner, Austin
Yelp/ Ellie K.
If you’re looking for farm-to-table chef-inspired comfort food in Central Austin, 24 Diner is the place to go. Diner classics are “turned up about 10 notches,” according to the restaurant, with local cage-free eggs, housemade veggie sausage, Premium Gold Angus beef, and fresh-baked breads serving as the foundation for a spectacular menu from executive chef Andrew Curren.
Standouts include several types of hash made with house-cut potatoes, fried chicken on a housemade buttermilk biscuit, chicken and waffles, milkshakes in flavors like roasted banana and brown sugar, fresh-ground burgers topped with beer cheese and bacon, deviled eggs, Gulf shrimp and grits, and chicken and dumplings, all available 24 hours a day. Hungry yet? There really should be one of these in every town.
#81 Tacos Tequila Whiskey, Denver
Pinche Taquería, now known as Tacos Tequila Whiskey because “pinche” isn’t fit to translate on a family website (it’s something you’d say when you’re moved by extreme emotion), was originally a taco truck, and the name of the shop still harkens a bit of street attitude:. Given how good the restaurant’s pork belly “Agridulce” is, you, too, may be emotionally moved.
Chef Kevin Morrison has put a modern twist on Mexican street food, serving a sweet-and-sour-braised pork belly with candied garlic, cabbage and cilantro slaw, and a nuanced braising jus to add extra flavor and moisture.
#80 Chaps Charcoal Restaurant, Baltimore
Yelp/ Greg W
Chaps Charcoal Restaurant came from humble beginnings, but has grown to serve some of the best barbeque-style sandwiches on the East Coast.
It opened in 1987 in a 12-by-15 shack with no phones or electricity; fast-forward 25 years and Chaps is still in the same location and thriving (in a slightly larger space). The restaurant was on The City’s Paper “Baltimore’s Best” roundup from 1991 to 2013, and has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-in, and Dives and the Cooking Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Its best-known sandwich is without a doubt the Pit Beef sandwich, for which an entire bottom round is grilled whole before it is sliced to order. It’s then grilled again to the perfect temperature and placed on a roll with your choice of toppings. The restaurant provides an assortment of creative sandwich options, such as The Bulldog, which comes with pit beef, sausage, and cheese.
#79 My Ceviche, Miami Beach
My Ceviche is a fast-casual seafood spot that’s become a Miami standby, with five locations throughout the city.
Ceviche (made with your choice of three types of seafood and in six styles), burritos, bowls, and salads are all solid options, but don’t miss the tacos, which are available with fish, shrimp, octopus, chicken, or raw tuna. It may be unexpected, but raw tuna is the way to go: It’s chopped into tiny pieces and piled into a corn or flour tortilla with a bright combo of pickled red onions, julienned matchsticks, shredded queso fresco, and cilantro; we suggest you ask for some sliced avocado on top as well.
#78 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.
#77 Carnegie Deli, New York
Yelp/ Greg W.
The family owned and operated Carnegie Deli has been a bonafide New York City landmark (as well as a certified tourist trap) since 1937, and it recently reopened after an extended city-mandated closure due to a gas hookup.
All of the meat is smoked from its own factory based in Carlstadt, New Jersey. The deli is known for its double-sized corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, but is also unique as it makes its own cheesecake on premises and cures its own pickles. Other Jewish specialty dishes include matzoh ball soup and knishes. There’s really no other place quite like the Carnegie.
#76 4 Rivers Smokehouse, Orlando
4 Rivers is the brainchild of Florida barbecue master John Rivers.
Since opening in October 2009, it has become incredibly well-respected, with 11 operating smokehouses across the state and three more in the works. Rivers’ backstory is certainly nontraditional: He spent 20 years in the health care industry, but during his travels he decided to learn everything there is to know about barbecue, and after retiring he set about perfecting his own recipes. The smoker at each location is on at full blast throughout the day and night, smoking everything from Angus brisket, St. Louis ribs, pork shoulders, and chicken to wings, jalapeños, and a “brontosaurus” beef rib. The meat alone is enough to leave you happy and satisfied, but don’t forget about the sandwiches, like the famed Texas Destroyer: smoked brisket, onion rings, jalapeños, and melted provolone smothered in house barbecue sauce.
#75 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.
#74 Tony's Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco
It’s one thing to be considered an expert on how to make Neapolitan pizza — and with too many awards to count (eight-time world champion pizza acrobat, first-place world champion pizza maker, first-place Roman pizza world championships of pizza makers) Tony Gemignani is definitely considered that.
It’s another thing to also proudly offer, and be commended for being a master of, any and all pizza styles. But that’s what goes on at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Of course the signature pie is Tony’s pizza cup winner in Naples, Italy: dough mixed by hand using San Felice flour then proofed in Napoletana wood boxes, and topped with San Marzano tomatoes, sea salt, mozzarella, fior di latte, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil; just 73 of these champion pizzas are made each day, so get there early if you want one for yourself. But the menu also offers critically-acclaimed versions of pizza in the styles of California, St. Louis, Italy, Sicily, New York, Rome, classic American, and even Detroit. You could accuse Gemignani of just showing off, but then again there’s the old expression: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
#73 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.
#72 Taqueria Vallarta, San Francisco
At this beloved Mission District taquería, more than a dozen meats stay warm on a circular iron comal. When you place your order it gets a quick crisping before heading into a warm tortilla (also heated on the comal), then topped with your choice of grilled or fresh onions, grilled jalapeños, fresh cilantro, and a splash of killer green salsa from a self-serve counter.
Opt for the pineapple-flecked pork al pastor, which is crispy and melt-in-your-mouth.
#71 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. 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.
#70 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. 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.
#69 Pizzeria Locale, Denver/Boulder
It shouldn’t be surprising that Frasca, one of America’s best restaurants, launched an offshoot that serves some of the best pizza in the country. What happens now that restaurateurs Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have teamed up with Chipotle to launch the restaurant as a fast-casual concept, however, remains to be seen, but this restaurant really knows how to bring it.
The pizzeria has two Denver locations, one in Kansas City, and one in Cincinnati (with another Cincinnati location and two in Overland Park in the works), and it offers 11 “Classics,” (seven red, four white), but you’re probably going to want to build your own from a selection of more than 25 toppings, including eggplant, Calabrian chiles, corn, smoked mozzarella, pork meatballs, and prosciutto. The 11-inch beauties that emerge from the oven have the potential to revolutionize the fast-casual game. If this is the future of pizza, we’re all for it.
#68 Kitchen No. 324, Oklahoma City
The ovens are fired up at this rustic café and craft bakery every morning at 4 a.m., and the fresh breads, pastries, kolaches, and other baked goods the staff cranks out are quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
Biscuits with chorizo gravy, perfect cinnamon rolls, and chocolate croissants make for a satisfying breakfast; fried chicken pot pie, hand-carved French dip, and chicken salad with fennel, grapes, tarragon, and yogurt are ideal brunch dishes; and when dinner rolls around short rib ragu, cauliflower steak, and romesco-crusted salmon are crave-worthy. Located in one of OKC’s most historic buildings, Kitchen is a must-visit.
#67 Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Portland, Ore.
Yelp/ Michael U.
There's been a cultish love for it in Portland ever since. There are gigantic Douglas Fir beams, sliding glass windows, and an open kitchen with a Le Panyol wood-fired oven, which guests can marvel at while digging in at tables made from salvaged wood from the late Jantzen Beach Big Dipper rollercoaster — once they get inside, that is (there tends to be a wait).
The thin-crust pies, baked in about two minutes and inspired by the co-founders’ visits to Europe, are known for their tangy, orange-red sauce, featuring heat and savory notes, and a style that, as the name of the restaurant states, is more artisanal than Neapolitan.
#66 JG Melon, New York
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.
#65 Henry's Puffy Tacos, San Antonio
Henry’s may not be able to verify its authorship of the term “puffy tacos,” but it does claim to be the “home of the original ‘Puffy Tacos’ in San Antonio since 1978.”
Whether it invented the genre and the name (Ray’s Drive Inn claims the latter honor) or not, Henry’s is an iconic spot for San Antonio’s signature dish (one that has since spread significantly beyond San Antone to Dallas and Austin). Henry (who actually grew up in California) is retired, but his legacy continues at the family’s friendly, eponymous strip mall restaurant run by his sons Rick, Robert, and Jaime and their sister Imelda Lopez-Sanchez. The famed tortillas are made in-house and fried so that they puff out, creating a fun way to eat what otherwise is a relatively conventional Tex-Mex taco. The puffy tortilla shell is filled with the meat of your choice (spicy beef fajita is the most popular), then topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, grated cheese, sour cream, and guacamole. With truly great puffy tacos, the shell shatters a little, adding textural variation to each bite, and that’s exactly what happens here.
#64 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, Berman 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."
#63 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.
#62 El Mago de Las Fritas, Miami
The frita is a perfect representation of the American influence on Cuban culture, and vice versa.
It was created in Cuba and brought over to the States after the revolution, and the one served at Little Havana’s El Mago de las Fritas is arguably the best. Here’s the breakdown: A fresh-ground patty of spiced beef (possibly with some chorizo mixed in) is pressed flat onto the griddle along with some diced onions and a mysterious red sauce, then tucked into a fresh Cuban roll. It’s topped with freshly fried potato sticks (not from a can here, as they are at some other places), more diced onion, and a squirt of ketchup. It’s mind-blowingly delicious and unlike any other burger you’ll ever try.
#61 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.
#60 City Market, Luling, Texas
It’s a comfortable, air-conditioned restaurant (a nice change of pace from some of the state’s more rustic establishments), and while the sauce is some of the best you’ll ever have, it’s completely beside the point on these beautifully smoked ribs.
#59 Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, Nashville
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.
#58 Gott's Roadside, St. Helena, Calif.
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.
#57 Black's Barbecue, Lockhart, Texas
In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024, making Lockhart the official barbecue capital of the Lone Star State.
One of the best of the pack on this hallowed turf is Black’s. Opened back in 1932 (and still using the same massive pits as the ones the original pitmaster built back in the 1940s), the place is a local institution, and it offers three different kinds of ribs: pork baby back, pork spare, and beef. They’ve all been smoked over post oak wood — the preferred wood of most Texas barbecue pitmasters — but the pork spare ribs are just a little more satisfying than the baby back variety. For diversity, you might as well order a massive beef rib while you’re at it, as each bone averages nine inches in length and weighs about a pound.
#56 Big Bob Gibson's 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.
#55 Mi Tierra, San Antonio
#55 Mi Tierra, San Antonio
Locals and visitors alike fill this big, boisterous, absolutely dependable Mi Terra cafe and bakery — bedecked with Christmas lights and open 24 hours a day — for fajita platters, enchiladas, quesadillas, and more (including first-rate menudo for breakfast).
The flour-tortilla tacos are 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.
#54 Din Tai Fung, Multiple Locations
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House is a popular Taiwan-based chain of dumpling shops that got its start in 1958.
Today there are locations all throughout Asia, and seven in the United States: three in Los Angeles (in Arcadia and Glendale), one in Costa Mesa, one in Santa Clara, and two in Seattle (in Bellevue and the University District).
As the name might suggest, Din Tai Fung sells a wide variety of dumplings, with fillings including pork, pork and crab, fish, chicken, vegetable, pork buns, soup dumplings, and shao mai. But there are also a wide variety of appetizers (fried pork chop, pork rice bun, soy noodle salad), soups (braised beef, chicken, wonton, hot and sour), noodles (with minced pork sauce, spicy sauce, pickled mustard seed and shredded pork, plus wontons with sauce), fried noodles (with pork, chicken, or shrimp), fried rice, greens, and desserts, including red bean buns.
If you’re looking for authentic dumplings, Din Tai Fung is the place to go. If you need any more prodding, the New York Times named the Taiwan flagship one of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993, and its Hong Kong branches have even been awarded Michelin stars.
#53 Al's #1 Italian Beef, Chicago
Way back in 1939, Al’s #1 Italian Beef started as a small food stand, later morphing into the iconic Chicago franchise, with 11 different locations in Chicago and shops in Las Vegas, Dallas, and Dubai.
During the Depression, when food was scarce, owner Al Ferrari and his family began slicing meat very thin and placing it on small fresh loaves of Italian bread, accidentally creating a now-legendary style of sandwich.
The essential choice here is the Italian beef sandwich. The beef sirloin is dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend, thinly sliced, put inside its loaf, and then dunked in Al's signature “gravy” (commonly referred to as au jus). Customers can choose how much or little broth to add, but Al’s encourages customers to get their sandwiches wet and enjoy the savory sauce. When topped with their signature giardiniera, a tart and spicy vegetable blend, Al's Italian beef is quite possibly the greatest sandwich you’ll ever eat.
#52 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, 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.
#51 The Cheese Board Collective, Berkeley, Calif.
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.
#50 Ray's Drive-In, San Antonio
With more stuff on the walls and floors than a T.G.I. Fridays (including a 1924 Model-T dump truck), a wonderfully raucous jukebox, and an atmosphere that suggests a funky roadhouse more than an urban Tex-Mex place, Ray's — which opened in 1965 — turns out fine versions of the local standards, along with hot dogs, hamburgers, and fish sandwiches.
It is particularly famous, though, for its puffy tacos, which weren't invented at Ray's, but may have first been named here. They're light, crisp, and flavorful, and the meltingly soft carne guisada (stewed beef) filling is perfectly spiced and not at all greasy.
#49 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 fetishization 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.
#48 Peking Gourmet Inn, Falls Church, Va.
Yelp/ Eric O.
A banquet hall in the style of Beijing’s grand eateries, this paean to Peking duck roasts one killer bird — and certainly the best in the D.C. area.
Granted, it will run you $40, but it easily feeds three hungry diners so the end cost isn’t absurd even by takeout standards. Another standout item is the Szechuan Beef Proper, with crispy shredded meat glazed, glistening, and covered in sesame seeds.
#47 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, Guelaguetza also sells it by the jar.
#46 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.
#45 Modern Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
Established in 1934 as State Street Pizza, Modern is known for its coal-fired brick oven that still puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. You'll likely hear it described as the place "locals go instead of Pepe and Sally's."
Perhaps. The atmosphere is great — wood paneling, friendly servers, a clean feeling — but it doesn't play third-string because it's not on Wooster. Modern's pies are slightly topping-heavy with weak structural integrity. Given the topping focus, the Italian Bomb is the pie to try: It’s topped with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, and pepper.
#44 Gus' Fried Chicken, Memphis
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.
#43 Peter Chang, Fredericksburg, Va.
The famously peripatetic chef Peter Chang, known for his superior Szechuan cuisine and a propensity to disappear… er… move about in the American southeast, has been a little easier to find over the past five years since forming a business partnership with Gen Lee, a semi-retired Chinese chef.
Indeed, the question has gone from, “Where is Peter Chang?” to “Which of his seven Virginia restaurants is the chef cooking at on any given day?” The quality is good at all of them, and the menus are almost identical. Peter Chang in Fredericksburg, neither the oldest nor the newest of his establishments, is a good place to start — but any of Chang's locations (also including Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Short Pump [Richmond], Arlington, and Virginia Beach, and Rockville), all in Virginia, will provide a similarly satisfying (and spicy) experience. Try Chang's famous scallion bubble pancakes with curry sauce, and/or the Sichuan-style dry-fried eggplant, spicy dan dan noodles, fried boneless whole fish with pine nuts, pigs’ feet stir-fried with dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and most anything on the “Chefs’ Specialties” section of the menu.
#42 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. The hoagies, especially the Special Italian (with Genoa salami, capicola, provolone, and ham), are also just about perfect.
#41 Mile End, Brooklyn
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.
#40 Hawker Fare, Oakland
Yelp/ Joanna I.
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.
#39 Grand Sichuan, New York
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.
#38 Geno's, Philadelphia
Wikimedia Commons/ J Reeding
Holding down the corner with longtime rival Pat’s, Geno’s Steaks was founded in 1966 by Joey Vento, who was a regular fixture there until he passed away in 2011 (His son, Geno, who was named after the restaurant, now runs it).
The walls and even the roof are decorated with memorabilia and framed photos of celebrities who have dined there, and the seating areas are utilitarian at best, but really, it’s all about the cheesesteak.
As opposed to Pat’s, where thin-sliced ribeye is chopped up on the grill, at Geno’s the sliced steak stays whole. Vento was always in favor of provolone, but you get your choice of Cheez Whiz, provolone, or American. You can also order a pepper, mushroom, or pizza steak, or a roast pork sandwich. Save the roast pork for the third or fourth visit, though; a cheesesteak from Geno’s, whether it’s with onions or without, or with provolone or Whiz, is something that every Philly visitor should experience.
#37 Co., New York
Yelp/ Liz B.
Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Co. (pronounced Company) opened in 2009 in a competitive pizza market.
With nearly a dozen different restaurants at every corner, Co. was up against some stiff competition. But these quality pies proved to have staying power. Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, opened Co. to offer his spin on Roman-style pizza to Chelsea residents, and to focus on the communal dining experience.
#36 Patsy's Pizzeria, New York
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. This move here is to order the plain cheese, eat, and repeat — do not reheat.
#35 by CHLOE, New York
This counter service Greenwich Village gem has become one of the most popular restaurants in New York since it opened less than a year ago.
Co-founders Chloe Coscarelli and Samantha Wasser are serving some truly inspired creations there, including a quinoa taco salad (spicy seitan chorizo, black beans, sweet corn, avocado, tomato, tortilla strips, crema, and agave-lime vinaigrette), an already-legendary veggie burger (a tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty, pickles, onion, beet ketchup, special sauce, on a potato bun), a whiskey barbecue sandwich (smoky portobello mushrooms and seitan, sautéed kale, onion marmalade, grilled pineapple, bourbon barbecue sauce, on a potato bun), and mac n’ cheese with sweet potato-cashew cheese sauce, shiitake bacon, and almond parm. Cold-pressed juice, brunch, dairy-free ice cream, pastries, and rotating specials keep the crowds coming back. With new locations set to open around the country, you’ll be hearing a lot more about this place.
#34 White Manna, Hackensack, N.J.
A North Jersey legend, White Manna is one of the last remaining diner-style burger joints that arose in the tradition of White Castle.
What’s served here is the perfect interpretation of that form, perfected over decades and decades, unchanging. You walk up to the tiny counter, place your order with the grillman, and watch as he smashes a small wad of meat onto the flattop with a handful of thin-sliced onions, keeps careful track of it as it cooks, and sandwiches it into a Martin’s bun. Make it a double with cheese, and the burger that will end up on your plate next to some pickle chips won’t be pretty. It’s astonishingly delicious, however. Order a few — you won’t regret it.
#33 Pat's King of Steaks, Philadelphia
They both have a fiercely loyal clientele, each of which will tell you that their favorite is superior. Pat’s claims to have invented the cheesesteak as we know it: As the story goes, in May 1933 brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who owned a hot dog stand on the corner, thinly sliced a steak and fried it with onions, and a legend was born.
Pat’s and Geno’s serve a similar product (with both using thinly sliced ribeye steak), but there’s one main difference: Pat’s chops up its meat while it’s on the grill, and Geno’s keeps its slices whole. Which one you order comes down to personal preference, but the only way to find out is to try them both. Just make sure you learn the lingo first — “wit” means with onions, “wit-out” means without onions — and know which kind of cheese you want (Cheez Whiz, provolone, American, mozzarella, or none) before you start your order.
#32 Hill Country Barbecue Market, New York
Yelp/ Michael U.
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 a couple years ago 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.
#31 Au Cheval, Chicago
Is the burger served at Chicago’s relative newcomer Au Cheval "the perfect griddle burger?" According to Bon Appétit, it is.
Its beauty lies in its simplicity: two patties (or three if you order a double) of no-frills ground beef topped with Cheddar, Dijonnaise, a few thin slices of pickles, and served on a soft toasted bun from Chicago’s Z Baking. The patties are wonderfully crusty, the fries are fried in lard, and just about everything about this burger is perfect.
#30 Tito's Tacos, Culver City, Calif.
This Los Angeles Westside institution is famous for its plump burritos (like one with chili con carne and refried beans that people dream about), but for good old American-style tacos — the kind purists scorn — it's hard to beat this place.
The beef is long-cooked and shredded, not ground. The shredded Cheddar is tart, and the julienned iceberg is crisp and cool. It’s nothing short of hard-shell taco perfection.
#29 SriPraPhai, Queens
Yelp/ Joe E.
Consistently lauded by critics and Yelpers alike as the most authentic Thai restaurant in New York, SriPraPhai boasts a menu as large as its reputation, from papaya salad with dry shrimp and crushed peanuts to fried fish with green mango sauce by way of classic pad thai and sautéed pork leg with chiles, garlic, and basil.
Feeling overwhelmed by the spread? Ask a member of the friendly and knowledgeable wait staff for a recommendation, but be forewarned: Things may get spicy.
#28 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."
#27 La Taquería, San Francisco
La Taqueria, Yelp/ Andre B.
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.
#26 Xi'An Famous Foods, New York
With 10 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. A larger, sit-down outpost called Biang! recently moved from Queens to the East Village, introducing a new generation to this exciting regional cuisine.
#25 Second Avenue Deli, New York
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. Drop by, raise a glass of Dr. Brown’s soda to Abe, and enjoy some real-deal Jewish deli food.
#24 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.
#23 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 (the staff will let you add bacon if you want it). You just might never want to leave.
#22 Gray's Papaya, New York
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.
#21 John’s of Bleecker, New York
Megan K/ Yelp
Yes, John's of Bleecker is on the tourist rotation, but there's a reason this place has become an institution.
Pizza is cooked in a coal-fired brick oven the same way it's been done there since 1929. You can choose from the available toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sliced meatball, garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, ricotta, sliced tomato, anchovies, olives, and roasted tomatoes), and you can scratch your name into the walls like the droves before you, but what you can't do is order a slice. Pies only, bud. And in this case, you’re going with either a Margherita pie or what the guys at John's like to call, the "Boom Pie," (according to a manager, they say "Boom!" to themselves right before they serve it): oven-roasted tomato, garlic, and basil.
#20 Ivan Ramen, New York
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 chile ramen with dashi, chicken broth, minced pork, smashed egg, and rye noodles.
#19 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! Go and see for yourself how delicious the food here is.
#18 Mission Chinese Food, 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, reinvented after a lengthy closure and move, has become an institution in its own right as well.
#17 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."
#16 Crif Dogs, New York
Since opening on St. Marks Place in 2001,Crif Dogs has been the standard-bearer for unique and exciting hot dogs in New York, and it now has a second location in Brooklyn.
No offering sums up its “kitchen sink” approach to the hot dog better than the Good Morning, which transforms a hot dog into one of the great breakfast sandwiches: It starts with a bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog (Crif’s claim to fame), and adds a slice of melty American cheese and a fried egg. Other insane creations include the Garden State (wrapped in Taylor ham and sopped with chopped pepperoncini, American cheese, and mustard) and the Tsunami (bacon-wrapped and topped with teriyaki, pineapple, and green onions).
But if you’re looking for quite possibly the most elevated hot dog experience in the country, step into the phone booth at the East Village location, pick up the phone, and wait for the secret door to open. You’ll step into an intimate cocktail lounge called PDT (or Please Don’t Tell, one of the city’s best), with a menu of hot dogs created by some of the city’s leading chefs, including David Chang (bacon-wrapped and deep-fried, topped with Momofuku kimchi) and Wylie Dufresne (deep-fried and topped with battered and deep-fried mayo, tomato molasses, shredded lettuce, and dried onions).
#15 Canter's Deli, Los Angeles
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.
#14 Di Fara, Brooklyn
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964.
Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizza until 8 p.m. daily (Monday service was recently reinstated after an eight year absence, but occasionally with one of Dom’s sons at the helm) 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.
#13 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
"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).
#12 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.
#11 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. 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.
#10 Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn
Yelp/ Adrienne M
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!). 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.
#9 DiNic's, Philadelphia
DiNic’s is one of the most beloved sandwich shops in the City of Brotherly Love. The store began in 1918 as a family-owned butcher shop called Nicolosi’s in the city’s renowned Reading Terminal Market. Gaetano Nicolosi, the original owner, passed the store onto his sons, who in 1954 began offering sandwiches. This new option quickly became a hit, and in 1977, Benny Nicolosi and Franky DiClaudio (Benny’s cousin) joined together to open DiNic’s.
DiNic’s serves a lineup of classic Italian sandwiches such as slow-roasted brisket of beef and Italian-style pulled pork. DiNic's best-known sandwich, though, is the roast pork sandwich, which is thin-sliced and topped with broccoli rabe and aged provolone. It’s been named Travel Channel’s “best sandwich in America” and was featured on Man v. Food.
#8 Busy Bee Café, Atlanta
An Atlanta landmark, the Busy Bee Café 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.
#7 Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington
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.
#6 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. As much as the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and cream) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is Roberta’s pizza Lothario.
#5 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. The deli also serves a soul-satisfying chicken-in-the-pot, loaded with matzo balls, chicken, noodles, and vegetables.
#4 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 ofThe 101 Best Pizzas in America for three 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.
#3 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 passed away last year at age 99) 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.
#2 Franklin BBQ, Austin
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.
#1 Katz's Delicatessen, New York
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Its 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. While a towering high-rise is currently under construction next-door, the sale of the restaurant’s air rights by 28 year-old owner Jake Dell have guaranteed that thankfully this New York legend won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.