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 venerable Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, as stellar as it is for what it does, really belong in the same ranking as a place like Manhattan's Eleven Madison Park, with its three Michelin stars? While they’re both celebrated establishments that serve incredibly delicious food, there’s simply no way to compare the two; it’s apples and oranges, pizza and foie gras. That’s why two years ago we decided to separate out the casual from the fancy with an initial ranking of 50 casual restaurants, expanded to 101 two years ago. From hot dog shacks to taco joints, from neighborhood hangouts to legendary barbecue spots, these are amazing restaurants where price is no barrier to entry and you'll feel right at home in jeans.
The highlight of Baltimore’s “Corned Beef Row” since it first opened its doors in 1915, Attman’s is a counter service landmark that’s a textbook Jewish deli, unchanged for decades and run by the fourth generation. Corned beef and pastrami come out of steaming kettles throughout the day, and the matzo ball soup, homemade pies, brisket, rare roast beef, knishes, and jumbo potato pancakes are spot-on. Regulars also swear by Attman’s jumbo hot dogs and the (decidedly un-kosher) barbecue ribs, and it’s one of the last places in Baltimore where you’ll find coddies, deep-fried balls of cod and potatoes sandwiched between two saltine crackers with a dab of mustard.
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.
Don't leave North Carolina having only eaten barbecue; the pressure-fried bird at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is an absolute must. The combination of steaming and frying makes the finished product tender and juicy, and a drizzle of honey — which renowned local chef Ashley Christensen includes as a tribute to her beekeeping father — gives this chicken a personal and literally sweet touch.
Roscoe’s does two things, and they do them very, very well: chicken and waffles. Founded in 1975 by Harlem native Herb Hudson and now with seven locations throughout the Los Angeles area, Roscoe’s helped to popularize a culinary combination that many consider strange until they try it. The wide and flat waffles pair perfectly with syrup-drenched fried chicken, which is fried according to a secret recipe until it’s light and crispy. Often imitated, never duplicated, Roscoe’s is the true original and a Los Angeles institution.
This counter service Greenwich Village gem has become one of the most popular restaurants in New York since it opened a couple years ago, with new locations popping up regularly. They’re serving some truly inspired creations at this vegan mini-chain, 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, and special sauce on a potato bun), a whiskey barbecue sandwich (smoky portobello mushrooms and seitan, sautéed kale, onion marmalade, grilled pineapple, and bourbon barbecue sauce on a potato bun), and mac and 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. Co-founder Chloe Coscarelli is no longer involved with the company, but former partner (and current owner) Samantha Wasser reportedly isn’t planning on straying from the original vision.
Arguably Nashville’s most legendary restaurant, Swett’s has been the standard-bearer for traditional Southern “meat and three” since it first opened its doors in 1954. Today it’s run by third-generation owner David Swett, and the cafeteria-style restaurant is a hangout for local movers and shakers, students, and culinary pilgrims alike. Meat and three, as the name might imply, means you pick one meat and three (okay, two in this instance) side dishes. Meats include fried chicken, meatloaf, pork chops, country fried steak, beef tips, and specials including fried fish and pigs’ feet; sides include mac and cheese, green beans, creamed potatoes, okra, turnip greens, and pinto beans. Choose wisely!
What started as a humble hot dog truck is now a full-blown Fairfield institution, with good reason: these are some insanely delicious hot dogs. “Super Doop” owner Gary Zemola makes all the chili and condiments from scratch, and they go atop a hot dog that’s split before it hits the griddle, allowing maximum flat-top exposure. Dogs are modeled after Zemola’s interpretations of regional styles, including the Chicagoan, the Californian, the Cincinnatian, and the New Yorker, but the true standout is the New Englander, an ode to the classic regional dog topped with sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish, and raw onion. It’s indeed super duper.
Santarpio's Pizza, which opened in 1903, sticks to its traditional roots when it comes to the infamous slightly chewy and satisfyingly wet slices. The menu consists of a variety of options, but includes a list of customers' favorite combos, like a pie that pairs sausage with garlic, ground beef, and onions, and even "The Works": mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, sausage, pepperoni, extra cheese, and anchovies. First-timer? Order Santarpio’s most popular pie — mozzarella, sausage, and garlic — to establish a baseline. (Regulars also swear by the pizzeria’s skewers of lamb, steak tips, and homemade sausage, grilled over charcoal — the only non-pizza items on the menu.)
This always-crowded Greenwich Village institution, a semi-dive bar (no real dive bar sells a line of branded casual clothing, or opens outposts in Long Island City), is justly famous for its big no-nonsense burgers, cooked under a salamander-like broiler, draped with American cheese (and crisscrossed with bacon for the signature Bistro Burger), and served on a classic sesame bun with the usual trimmings. Old-timers complain that it isn't what it used to be, but the burgers still taste darn good to us.
Michael U. /Yelp
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 few 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 in Brooklyn (as well as a fried chicken offshoot), Hill Country's spreading of the Texas barbecue gospel thankfully shows no signs of slowing down.
The most famous hot dog stand in the country, and still one of the best. Founded by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker in 1916, Nathan’s didn’t just rely on a quality product (the hot dog recipe was his wife Ida’s); its founder was also a shrewd businessman. He sold his franks for just 5 cents, making them the cheapest around, and reportedly hired actors to dress as doctors and eat there in order to convince folks that they were safe to eat. The business took off, and today there are more than 40,000 outlets selling Nathan's hot dogs.
A trip to the original stand in Brooklyn’s Coney Island is a pilgrimage that everyone should make at least once. Stand in the same line that millions of others have over the years, place your order, and snap into the perfect embodiment of a summer day: the sea, the boardwalk, and an original Nathan’s hot dog. There’s nothing else like it.
Photo Modified: Flickr/Larry Miller/ CC4.0
The fresh flavors and simple but perfect presentations at this casual, counter-service Santa Barbara landmark, known as Julia Child's favorite Mexican restaurant, continue to draw long lines of hungry customers. Though the vegetable tamales, cheese-stuffed pasilla chiles, chorizo quesadillas, and the like have strong followings, it's hard to beat La Super-Rica's exquisitely minimalist tri-tip tacos: grilled tri-tip (from the bottom of the sirloin) — the defining beef cut on California's Central Coast — heaped atop made-from-scratch corn tortillas (you can watch them being patted by hand through a window into the kitchen). Feel free to add pico de gallo or other condiments from the oft-refreshed salsa bar.
Ryan G Rice
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, Ben’s remains 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.
With the 1994 opening of Guelaguetza, the Lopez family introduced Los Angeles to authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Now the number of local Oaxacan restaurants trails only those of Mexico City and Oaxaca itself, at least according to respected critic Jonathan Gold — and much of that can be attributed to the success of this Koreatown spot. Named for Oaxaca’s famous traidtional summertime festival, Guelaguetza is a year-round destination for its tamales, memelas (chubby cornmeal cakes similar to sopes), unstuffed enchiladas, and of course, exquisite moles.
Since opening on St. Marks Place in 2001, Crif Dogs has been the standard-bearer for unique and exciting hot dogs in New York, now with 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).
Located inside a restored theater in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, El Real — co-owned by Daily Meal Council member Robb Walsh — serves Tex-Mex classics like chili con carne, nachos, and Frito pie, but we recommend you head directly for the San Antonio Puffy Taco Plate, with smoked chicken. The deep-fried and puffed-up shell gets a smear of refried beans, then the smoked chicken (smoked whole before being shredded) is liberally applied before lettuce and tomato are added on top. It’s a taco you’re not likely to forget any time soon.
With six locations, Dick’s is a Seattle institution, and its owners know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For nearly 60 years, Dick’s has been serving an unchanging menu of never-frozen, one-eighth-pound burgers that are delivered daily, hand-cut fries, and milkshakes. The Double Deluxe is the Platonic ideal of a hamburger: two patties, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle relish on a soft, squishy bun, sold for a whopping $2.90. Want onions? That’ll cost you an extra 5 cents, please. Dick’s is family-owned, and they treat all employees like family as well, offering full benefits, scholarships, child-care assistance, paid community service, and a starting hourly wage of $10.
A no-frills smokehouse with a smattering of picnic tables and not too much in the way of décor, Cooper’s nevertheless has been pulling in crowds for years thanks to its perfect Hill Country barbecue. Beef ribs and brisket are of course going to be top sellers (this is Texas, after all), but the goat, chicken, and pork chops are also spot-on. You can also snag a rib-eye (on Saturday nights), sirloin steak, or slab of prime rib as well. Just make sure you pick up a package of world-class beef jerky for the road.
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 a couple years ago — 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 of franks with some papaya drink, and be on your merry way, full, content, and out only a few bucks.
If you've been selling burgers since 1977 and your restaurant is always packed, you must be doing something right. At Chris Madrid's, the "macho" tostado burger made it into George Motz's book, Hamburger America, as well as the author's 25 Essential U.S. Burgers Checklist. Chris Madrid reinvented the Texas bean burger (hamburger, refried beans, Fritos, and Cheez Whiz), which is said to have been created at the now-defunct Sills Snack Shack in San Antonio, by subbing in Cheddar and house-made corn chips. The bun is soft and toasted crisp inside, but the weight of the burger and the moisture of the patty, beans, and cheese presses down on the bottom, condensing it and making it sweet. So you have that sweetness, the juiciness of the patty, the comforting refried beans, and cheese flowing out all over. What a burger!
The Blue Benn Diner is one of the only true railcar diners left in America, and crowds line up on a daily basis to snag a seat inside this tiny piece of living history. Prefabricated in New Jersey and open since 1948, Blue Benn hits all the right notes: plenty of stainless steel, a barreled ceiling, and a menu of all the familiar diner classics. The omelettes, French toast, and pancakes (topped with real maple syrup, of course) are perfect; and for dinner we suggest a real throwback, like grilled Hamburg steak with fried onions, roast pork with homemade dressing, baked meatloaf, or fried haddock. Time stands still in the best restaurants, and the clock here hasn’t moved in nearly 70 years.
Veselka has been a port in the East Village storm since 1954, serving traditional diner fare and Eastern European specialties to NYU kids and graveyard-shift workers alike. Traditional diner fare includes pancakes and waffles made to order, challah French toast, Cobb salad, grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese, but their Ukranian comfort foods, including homemade pierogis, kielbasa, potato pancakes, goulash, and borscht are the stuff of legend.
A true Chicago classic, Berghoff first opened its doors in 1898, serving free sandwiches to guests who bought a mug of beer. Over the years a full roster of German classics made their way onto the menu, but a look at this one from a very long time ago reveals that things haven’t changed very much: that pork shank and the Thüringer sausages with sauerkraut won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
In Detroit, there’s an epic rivalry going back decades between two neighboring hot dog stands, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, but both belong on our list for serving legendary hot dogs. Family-owned and -operated since 1917, American’s claim to fame is the classic Coney-style dog. A custom-made natural-casing hot dog from Koegel’s gets placed into a warm steamed bun, then topped with a Greek-spiced beef-heart-based chili sauce developed by founder Gust Keros, a heap of diced onions, and a squirt of mustard. No trip to Detroit is complete without a Coney dog.
Frank Pepe's, Sally's Apizza, Modern Apizza, and Bar and the Bru Room round out New Haven’s big four pizza names, but there's a lesser-known pizzeria on the other side of I-95 in West Haven that has been around almost as long: Zuppardi's. Zuppardi's has its own take on Connecticut's renowned thin-crust style. It’s as thin as, but less crisp than, New Haven's other pies, with a New York City crust that's lighter and airier than the ones you'll find in Gotham. The difference is in the edge, which is charred in places, and is thicker all around. The signature pie is the Special, topped with mozzarella, mushroom, sausage, and marinara, but there are two other pies worth noting: the market-price, freshly-shucked littleneck clam pie (there’s a cheaper and quicker clam pie, but why would you want that?) and a wet and juicy escarole and bean white pie, which features garlic and interspersed bites of crisp and wet escarole and soft bean. All good Italians know that escarole and bean soup is a great winter savior. Here, you get that on a pie. Salud.
What do you get when you combine a love of heavy metal and a passion for good food? A menu of some 16 burgers with names like “Napalm Death” and “Dee Snider” and topping combinations as unusual as you can imagine. Peanut butter, strawberry jam, bacon, and Sriracha? Fried chicken, Cheddar, bacon, maple, and hot sauce on waffle buns? You bet. Chef Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus of Grill ‘Em All rose to national prominence as winners of the first season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. The truck is still in operation, but like a fair number of successful food truck entrepreneurs of the past few years, the crew has since settled into a brick-and-mortar location. Grill ‘Em All’s crazy combinations are tasty, mostly because of their sound technique and sense of balance; if they go with an over-the-top bread, they’ll be sure there’s enough moisture to go with it, but there’s perhaps no better example of why they deserve to be on this list than the F.T.W. It’s just a big old juicy burger on a bun with cheese. And you have to respect that.
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.
This laid-back Charleston dive bar (with a second, even more laid-back location on neighboring Johns Island) is one funky joint (so much so that it inspired a visit from Guy Fieri for an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives), and sandwiches like the duck club and Lowcountry Cuban keep locals coming back for more. But no visit is complete without a big, overflowing basket of the signature duck-fat fries. Partner them up with a local craft beer and a stellar burger, and you just might never want to leave.
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. Its best-known sandwich, though, is DiNic’s 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.
New York City’s most famous soul food restaurant was founded in Harlem by the late Sylvia Woods in 1962, and it’s still pulling in the crowds every night of the week (and especially on weekend afternoons). Fried or smothered chicken, barbecue ribs, baked ham, chicken and waffles, and beef short ribs with brown gravy (especially when partnered with collard greens, garlic mashed potatoes, baked macaroni and cheese, or cowpeas and rice) are second-to-none, but the food is only half the experience; the huge restaurant, with its large crowds of happy customers, puts you in a good mood the minute you walk in the door.
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.” Maurie passed away at 89 in 2015, but Flaurie is still kicking.
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-B-Q, 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.
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.
Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria has been serving loyal customers in Indianapolis since 1905. Best known for its cured meats and sandwiches piled high on rye or egg buns, it’s also world famous for its smoked pickled tongue. Their corned beef is sourced from Vienna Beef in Chicago and the pastrami is shipped in from Brooklyn. Their most famous creation, however, is the peppered beef, which is made by salting, washing, curing, peppering, smoking, and seasoning lean beef, and it’s a must-order.
Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger joint Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, has been hailed by Hamburger America's George Motz, Roadfood authors Jane and Michael Stern, Food Network, and even Bon Appétit as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers in the U.S. of A., period. A dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took over the business 14 years ago, means that they had to pack up and move to a new location with a new name, Santa Fe Bite. Despite the change in venue, the restaurant’s ginormous house-ground, boneless chuck, 10-ounce burger, cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns, remains one of the nation’s best burgers.
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.
What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretension. It has the wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean, to the point, and just about perfect. You’ll find great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, Spanish mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But let’s face it: you're there for the Office Burger, which many people in LA refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing frou-frou about it, just arugula, bacon, caramelized onion, Gruyère, and Maytag Blue. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor.
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.
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, claims to serve "Rhode Island’s Best Hot Wieners," and while that will always remain a point of contention, they’re certainly the most legendary. The New York System dog is a regional specialty: Small franks (in this case, from Little Rhody) are steamed, placed atop a steamed bun, and topped with a cumin-heavy meat sauce, yellow mustard, diced onions, and celery salt. You’re going to want to order a few of these, because they’re little and addictive (see how many of them the counterman can balance on his arm). The "wiener sauce" is so popular that people have been requesting the recipe for years; you can purchase a packet of seasoning online and make it yourself at home.
Loveless Cafe, named after founders Lon and Annie Loveless, has an ironic name. Not only is their fried chicken one of the city’s most beloved dishes, but a lot of love goes into their food — and has for over 60 years. The fried chicken recipe, which has remained unchanged since 1951, uses self-rising flour and a special house blend of spices. Other famous items from the Loveless Cafe menu include Kentucky Bourbon Peach Shortcake and the Bee Sting Moonshine Cocktail.
Food Network’s Chicago-born Ecuadorian Iron Chef Jose Garces (who runs some of Philly’s most acclaimed restaurants, like Amada, Village Whiskey, and Volver) serves nachos, ceviches, huaraches, tamales, enchiladas, and moles here that Philadelphians recognize as some of the most satisfying versions on the East Coast. The somewhat gaudy, pink, loud, huge restaurant is dedicated to the cuisine of Mexico City, which is a rich source of inspiration.
One of the culinary world’s greatest rivalries is between two neighboring downtown Detroit hot dog stands: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. Most locals will tell you that it’s Lafayette all the way, though, 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.
Brooklyn’s Fette Sau is one of the few smokehouses in America to use exclusively heritage animals from regional farms. 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 (cut from the upper portion of the chuck); and all manner of pork cuts from Duroc, Berkshire, and Red Wattle hogs. Hungry locals line up daily to sample 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.
Paulie Gee’s, run by self-taught pizzaiolo Paul Giannone, is a pizza lover’s haven, a clean, rustic space that looks like a barn but puts out a pie to rival every Naples memory you’ve had or dreamed of having. There are some 19 pies to choose from, all great in their own right and featuring clever names and great topping combinations — In Ricotta Da Vita, Ricotta Be Kiddin’, and the Luca Brasi (no anchovies) — but the Regina is their signature: mozzarella, tomatoes, pecorino romano, olive oil, and fresh basil.
With three locations in Los Angeles, Guisados celebrates the simplicity of Mexican food through a focused menu of tacos made with traditional, home-style braises served in fresh, handmade tortillas. They offer different options for each main taco group, including steak, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetarian. As for the pork tacos, diners can sample chicharrón, chorizo, chuleta en salsa verde, and cochinita pibil. Wash it all down with a melon, lemon, or hibiscus agua fresca and you’ll find yourself in taco heaven.
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 Anderson found 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."
Joe’s Kansas City offers smoky, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. This chain began in 1995 in none other than a corner gas station. Since then, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que has opened two more eateries and has been the Zagat #1 Rated barbecue in Kansas City every year from 2004 to 2013. The large menu offers smoked turkey and ham, beef brisket, ribs, barbecue sausage, and the house specialty, pulled pork. If you come in during lunch on Monday or Saturday, or at dinner on Wednesday, you may be lucky enough to indulge in Joe’s much sought after burnt ends (if the dish is not sold out). Joe's menu also features chicken gumbo and a variety of sides, such as dirty rice and barbecue beans.
It might be Memphis-style barbecue in St. Louis, but Pappy’s makes some of the best ribs in a city that’s renowned for them. The lines form early to get into this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and it closes as soon as the barbecue runs out. These ribs are smoked over apple or cherry wood, and have a kick of black pepper and rosemary. The whole scene can be a bit of a madhouse, but just close your eyes and take a bite and you’ll be in your happy place in no time.
It’s hard to imagine a trip to Atlantic City without a stop by the White House Sub Shop to get one of their legendary submarine sandwiches. The family-owned shop opened in 1946 and quickly became one of the most iconic sandwich purveyors on the East Coast. You’ll see how popular it is when you arrive — the line often extends out to the street.
White House Sub Shop has over 25 different sandwiches, but one reigns supreme: the White House Special. It starts with a soft, chewy sub roll from Formica Bros. Bakery, which is absolutely loaded with Genoa salami, ham, and provolone. They also add lettuce, tomatoes, onions, red peppers, oil, vinegar, dried oregano, and salt and pepper. A second location on the boardwalk sadly closed down with the Trump Taj Mahal, but that just means that you’ll have to experience the original.
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.
Ask anyone in Kansas City where to get a true Kansas City barbecue experience, and odds are they’ll point you in the direction of the nearest Gates. There are six locations in the Kansas City metropolitan area, all carrying on a family tradition dating back to 1946. As at any Kansas City classic, the sauce here is legendary — sweet, slightly smoky, tangy, and just a little bit spicy — but the meat stands on its own. Ribs come via full slab, short end, center cut, or long end (something you rarely see in most barbecue joints), and you can also get chicken, sausage, mutton, beef, ham, turkey, or pork by the pound or in a sandwich. When in Kansas City, don’t miss Gates.
After its humble beginnings on the East Coast in Jersey City, this 24-hour Jewish deli has been a Los Angeles staple since 1931. Its bakery is the heart and soul of the operation, where it pumps out items like bagels, rye bread, pumpernickel, and challah several times daily. All of its signature sandwiches like pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, or oven-roasted turkey are served on rye, unless the customer requests otherwise. Today, it also caters to the vegetarian and gluten-free communities by offering gluten-free buns, bagels, and matzoh. A Las Vegas outpost is currently in the works.
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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.
Apizza Scholls serves some of the best pizza in Portland — and, some argue, the best north of San Francisco. But if you want to choose toppings for their 18-inch pies, follow the guidelines: only three ingredients, and no more than two meats per pie.
So choose wisely from a list of toppings that, in addition to classics like anchovies, red onions, garlic, pepperoni, house-made sausage, and basil, includes Olympia Provisions capocollo, house-cured Canadian bacon, cotto salami, arugula, and pepperoncini. (Yes, you can also top pies with jalapeños, mushrooms, pepperoncini, ricotta, green and black olives, and, sigh, truffle oil.) Just remember: Bacon is not available on custom pies.
If you aren't up to building your own pie, there are 13 classics to choose from with names like "Pig & Pineapple," "Tartufo2 The Electric Boogaloo," and "Sausage & Mama." Among them, you’ll find the signature Apizza Amore: Margherita with capocollo (cured pork shoulder) that has a spicy kick offset by the somewhat sweet mozzarella and balanced sauce. That’s amore!
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Hickory-smoked ribs are the claim to fame at Corky’s, a 32-year-old Memphis institution that boasts six Tennessee locations, two in Arkansas, and one in Mississippi. Corky’s ribs are rubbed, basted, and smoked for 18 hours, and are available dry or wet (that is, with or without sauce). Pork shoulder, smoked chicken and turkey, and smoked sausage are also worth the visit, as are Memphis staples like the smoked sausage and cheese plate and fried catfish. You’ll also find some unexpected treats, like chili-topped hot tamales and an onion loaf. Come hungry!
Most burger purveyors griddle, grill, or pan-sear their patties, but since 1959, Ted's — in the historic community of Meriden, Connecticut, north of New Haven — has steamed theirs. Steamed meat? Yep. Steamed Cheddar cheese, too. Cooked in custom-designed steam boxes, the burgers, served on kaiser-like rolls, lose very little bulk while cooking and hence stay very moist. The steamed cheese is spooned over the patties and cloaks them thickly. Add lettuce and tomato (or complimentary sautéed onions and/or mushrooms) and you've got an unusual, and unusually good, burger.
Sally's Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location in Wooster Square where Sal Consiglio and his wife Flo opened it in the late 1930s. Today it’s run by their sons, Richard and Robert, and their pizza is a traditional thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." The pies look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which, as any New Haven pizza believer will note, is because the man who opened Sally's is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally's will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but as for their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese)… well, Sally’s has the original beat.
Rubirosa was opened in 2011 by the late former Esca cook AJ Pappalardo, who learned how to make a super-thin crust and barely-there cornicione (the raised rim of the pizza) at the age of 12 at his father Giuseppe's Staten Island pizzeria, Joe & Pat’s. 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.
Chicago-based Big Star is run by executive chef Paul Kahan, whose goal it is to provide a menu of Mexican-inspired street food with a Californian vibe. The restaurant has a stellar beverage program, highlighting plenty of tequilas as well as single-barrel bourbons picked by staff members at distilleries in Kentucky. The menu keeps it simple with dishes like taco al pastor (marinated, spit-roasted pork shoulder with grilled pineapple and green onions) and torta ahogada, a roasted beef chuck sandwich with spicy árbol chile salsa and lime-soaked onions.
On the intersection of South Ninth Street, Wharton Street, and East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia are two cheesesteak giants: Pat’s and Geno’s. They both have a fiercely loyal clientele, each of which will tell you that their favorite is superior. Pat’s claims to have invented the cheesesteak as we know it: As the story goes, in May 1933 brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who owned a hot dog stand on the corner, thinly sliced a steak and fried it with onions, and a legend was born.
Pat’s and Geno’s serve a similar product (with both using thinly sliced 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.
Lombardi's may generally be considered to be "America's first pizza," but as Nick Azzaro, owner of Papa's Tomato Pies, isn't shy about telling you, Papa's — founded in 1912 — is actually America's oldest continuously operating family-owned pizzeria. For Papa’s, the family behind the pie is just as important as the slice, as the recipe has been passed down through generations. The Azzaro family cooks up the made-to-order pies that can be customized in a variety of ways. Customers can choose from everything from garlic to mushrooms and pepperoni to meatballs, or add some anchovies for the extra kick. But for the Azzaros it’s the tradition that makes their restaurant unique, so you’ll be ordering the tomato pie.
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th Street, left New York City, and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease and renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat.
Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil, and Gaeta olives; and one with cremini mushrooms, fior di latte, sweet sausage, and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the move is the Brussels sprouts pie (on which that oft-maligned vegetable is joined by fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil), something Hong Kong, Singapore, and Manila natives and Brooklynites can now attest to since Palombino opened (and moved and reopened) his Asian and Williamsburg outposts in 2013. The exception to Brussels sprouts’ primacy is in late spring, when you’ll want to order the special seasonal ramp pie.
Literally everyone from northern New Jersey has heard of the Tick Tock Diner, and just about all of them have dined there as well (seriously, ask them). The reason? It’s located on Route 3 in Clifton on the way to/from New York City, and it’s also really, really good. All chrome, neon, and glass brick, this diner is a quintessential New Jersey hangout, with a menu about as long as War & Peace. If you get one thing, however, make it the Disco Fries, Jersey’s answer to poutine: fries topped with melted mozzarella and brown gravy.
It may have started as "The Dog House" in 1963, but with more than 30 locations in Illinois and a menu that goes far beyond Chicago-style hot dogs — think ribs, salads, burgers, and crazy-good Italian beef sandwiches (among others) — Portillo’s seems more chain than hot dog stand. But the original Chicago location is nothing if not iconic, even if additional locations can now be found in Arizona, California, and Indiana (lucky them).
Anybody interested in tracing America’s love affair with pizza to its origins will find the way to Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1897, and in 1905 he started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to workers of Italian descent who took them to work (because most couldn’t afford a pie, it was sold by the piece). The pizzeria was run by the Lombardi family — first by Gennaro’s son, John, then his grandson, Jerry — until it closed in 1984, and was reopened 10 years later a block from the original location by Jerry and John Brescio, a childhood friend.
These days, Lombardi’s is almost always packed. There’s a thin crust, a cornicione without much bubble, and a thorough sauce layering that’s tangy and not overly sweet or salty. There’s no shredded mozzarella layering, but the fresh stuff, spread out. Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of cheese on your pie, you’ll probably like this.
A conversation about Louis’ Lunch is never simple. Is it the birthplace of the hamburger? Supposedly, one day in 1900, a gentleman hurriedly told proprietor Louis Lassen "he was in a rush and wanted something he could eat on the run," resulting in a blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast, with which the gentleman was sent on his way. But was this a "burger," or was it a "sandwich" — because it wasn't a ground-beef patty on some form of yeast bun? Sandwich, hamburger, whatever. So what do you get at Louis'? A flame-broiled burger made in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the burgers on both sides at the same time; a hamburger sandwich supposedly made from a blend of five cuts of ground steak. If you want condiments, you’ll have to ask. Otherwise, all you’ll get is cheese, tomato, and onion. No mustard, ketchup, or mayo. But do you really need all that? You can practically taste the nostalgia. And that never disappoints.
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 Antonio 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 raw 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.
Back in 2011, Taylor's Automatic Refresher, a popular California hamburger mini-chain, 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.
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.
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 from 5 p.m. until "out of dough"). Biting into a thin crust with chewy cornicione (crust rim), 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.
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.
Is the burger served at Chicago’s 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, and 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. The line to get into this place stretches literally around the block every day, so owner Brendan Sodikoff (who’s rumored to be opening an outpost in New York) is clearly doing something right.
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 to 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.
There are now seven P.J. Clarke's locations, including two in São Paulo, but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story skyscraper that now looms over it. It is also the one that created the terrific pub-style burger known as The Cadillac — a juicy patty on a classic bun with smoked country bacon and American cheese as well as lettuce, onion, and tomato, with shoestring fries on the side. The name, by the way, was bestowed on the thing by Nat "King" Cole, who dubbed Clarke's "the Cadillac of burgers."
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.
City Market is one of Texas’ great barbecue joints and a true claim to fame for the city of Luling. You’d be hard-pressed to find better brisket, and the ribs are simply out of this world. 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 the beautifully smoked ribs, brisket, and turkey.
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.
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 Chicagoland. 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, of course. The beef sirloin is dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend, super-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.” When topped with their signature giardiniera, a tart and spicy minced vegetable blend, Al's Italian beef is quite possibly the greatest sandwich you’ll ever eat.
"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 in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center (about 10 minutes from the original). This is another case where any pie made by the pizza prince of Arizona 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).
Like fried chicken? Then no trip to Nashville should be complete without a trip to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, a homespun restaurant started by William and Thornton Prince more than 60 years ago that serves the Platonic ideal of Nashville-style fried chicken, known for its spiciness. There’s only one thing to decide: Do you want your chicken mild, medium, hot, or extra hot? If the name of the restaurant doesn’t warn you, even the mild is fairly spicy, so be careful. Served with white bread and pickle coins, the chicken itself is crispy, crunchy, and fall-off-the-bone tender. A trip to Prince’s is one you’re not likely to forget (especially if you order extra hot).
Opened in 2009 in New Orleans’ warehouse district (right next door to chef/owner Donald Link’s legendary restaurant, Cochon), Cochon Butcher fancies itself a “butcher shop, sandwich counter, and wine bar, offering small plated, daily lunch specials, and dinner entrees.” House-made meats go into a selection of astoundingly delicious sandwiches (seriously, try the muffaletta here and at Central Grocery and let us know which one you think is better); gutbusting small plates like head cheese with chow chow and mustard, brisket sliders, mac and cheese, and hot boudin are the stuff of legend; and daily entrée specials like red beans and rice with a fried pork chop, barbecue ribs with baked beans and slaw, and meatloaf are essentially perfect. Make sure you pick up some sausages and jerky from the butcher case on your way out.
While there are tons of barbecue joints all over Memphis, Charles Vergo's Rendezvous has been the standard for Memphis style barbecue ribs for over 60 years. Rendezvous' ribs are served in the Rendezvous signature dry rub that originated from Charlie Vergos' father's Greek chili recipe. These 18-inch racks of meat are grilled for an hour and 15 minutes, and given a vinegar wash to keep them juicy. With its smoky charcoal flavor and its unique dry rub “seasoning,” the moist ribs have a nice complexity in spice and flavor and certainly don't need to be slathered in any sauce to be enjoyed.
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.
Locals and visitors alike fill the big, boisterous, absolutely dependable Mi Terra cafe and bakery — bedecked with Christmas lights and open 24 hours a day — for fajita platters, enchiladas, quesadillas, and more (including first-rate menudo for breakfast). The flour-tortilla tacos are 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.
Kuma’s Corner is a seriously rock and roll burger joint, and the best in Chicago. It’s not a quiet place to eat — the restaurant’s slogan is "Support your community. Eat beef. Bang your head." But with all the pyrotechnics that go off when you take a bite, the heavy metal doesn’t just make sense — it’s a perfect fit. There are burgers with tomatillo salsa and fried chiles, and burgers with Sriracha and grilled pineapple, but you have to start with the signature Kuma Burger: bacon, sharp Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a fried egg.
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.
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 offer one hint in an interview with The Daily Meal: "It needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers."
A diner unlike any other, Little Goat is chef Stephanie Izard’s follow-up to her acclaimed (and perpetually mobbed) flagship, Girl & the Goat, which is a perennial member of our 101 Best Restaurants in America club. The menu includes all-day breakfast featuring items like dark chocolate chip crunch pancakes, Fat Elvis Waffles (with banana, peanut butter, and bacon maple syrup), and the insanely delicious Ooey Gooey Cinnabun. Sandwiches include the Los Drowned (braised beef, avocado, butterkäse cheese, pickled peppers and onions, and spicy mayo); a pork belly scallion pancake with hoisin, bok choy salad, and ginger maple dressing; a sloppy Joe made with goat meat; and a grilled cheese filled with smoked Gouda, MontAmore cheese, pork guanciale, and smoked tomato. And we haven’t even gotten to the burgers, salads, and desserts! Go and see for yourself how delicious the food here is.
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 building (formerly a bank) 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. Now that you’ve spent the time learning the history, 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.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizza Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. (and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.) for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. 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 when the underside of the pizza can tend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can make a very strong case for being America's best pizza. And if you stand at the counter and watch Dom make your pizza by hand, pull it from the ripping hot oven with his bare hands, and snip some fresh basil over it with a pair of scissors, it just might be America’s best pizza experience as well. Dom’s children occasionally step in to make the pies when Dom gets tired, but they’ve been watching him do it for so many years that the pies always turn out exactly the same.
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 and burritos. That challenges both the restaurant 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.
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.
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 in 2015 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.
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.
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 graduated to counterman. In 1954 he invested his life savings in opening a small luncheonette on Second Avenue and 10th Street in Manhattan, which over the years became the beloved institution known as the Second Avenue Deli. In 1996, at the height of the restaurant’s success, Lebewohl was murdered while walking to the bank to make a deposit, and his death made national news.
The original location closed in 2006 after a landlord dispute and is now a bank (such is sadly the way of many New York institutions), but Lebewohl’s legacy lives on at the two locations that have opened in Manhattan since. One of just a handful of strictly kosher delis remaining in New York, Second Avenue is the place for authentic Jewish cuisine in New York: kasha varnishkas, knishes, matzoh brei, cholent, noodle kugel, kippered salmon… The possibilities are endless, artery-clogging, and delicious. If you have to order one thing, though, make it the hot pastrami on rye. Thinly sliced, perfectly spiced, and smoky, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. So drop by, raise a glass of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray to Abe, and enjoy some real-deal Jewish deli fare.
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn versus 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 (and its next-door offshoot, Blanca, 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.
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; he 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.
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, with a wink in his eye, 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.
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest establishment, which traces its roots back to 2009 and a turquoise trailer. The 90 people who show in the next half-hour wait in vain; a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas's greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to be. (Former turkey-pardoner Barack Obama, by the way, is apparently the only person who has been allowed to cut the line here.) 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.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria — whose "clam pie" has taken first place in The Daily Meal's ranking of The 101 Best Pizzas in America nearly every year. 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.
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, is legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot pastrami sandwich.
Katz’s opened its doors in 1888, originally serving many of the immigrant families on the Lower East Side who landed in New York. 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. The corned beef is brined and steamed, the 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 for any other deli in New York, 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 29-year-old owner Jake Dell (as well as a quick-serve location coming to Brooklyn and plans to ship worldwide) have guaranteed that thankfully this New York legend won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.