Every year since The Daily Meal’s 2011 founding, 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 four years ago we decided to separate out the casual from the fancy with an initial ranking of 50 casual restaurants, expanded to 101 in 2015. 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.
With all that in mind, what makes a restaurant casual, exactly? It goes far beyond the dress code. Our main criterion was the price factor: Can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding tip and alcohol? Other factors we took into account were an overall comfortable and relaxed ambiance, a “destination” status (that is, is the place worth traveling for?), and a proven reputation and longevity.
To assemble our ranking, we took a similar approach to the one that we have used when compiling our 101 Best Restaurants in America. We compiled a list of America’s best purveyors of pizza, burgers, hot dogs, tacos, and more, ending up with more than 500 restaurants that we believe represent a vast cross-section of America and the casual restaurants that make it great. From there we assembled a survey, and sent it out to a panel of hundreds of America’s leading culinary authorities. We asked them to vote for their favorites, but only ones that they’d dined at within the past two years.
In the end, we were left with a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America. It’s a list we can fully stand behind, and also one that supplements our ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America — which admittedly focuses on restaurants that are out of many people’s price range — with a collection of restaurants that are affordable and accessible to all. (We didn’t consider large chains like Shake Shack, and we left off restaurants that made it into our earlier ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, as well as Asian restaurants, which are so varied and expansive that they’re worthy of their own rankings.)
So loosen your belt and get ready for a culinary tour of the best that America has to offer, from the restaurant where burgers were invented to a seaside oyster bar, from life-changing Jewish delis to time-tested barbecue shacks. Read on to learn which 101 casual restaurants are America’s best.
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.
One of Nashville’s most legendary restaurants, 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!
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 among 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.
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.
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.
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. Trust us: It lives up to the hype.
La Camaronera might have exploded in popularity since it was recently featured on the Food Network, but it really is all it’s cracked up to be: the place in Miami for fresh seafood, cooked and served with no frills by people who really know what they’re doing. Their snapper sandwich, fried whole fish, and conch fritters are jaw-droppingly delicious, but don’t leave without ordering either the snapper or lobster sandwich: They’re made with huge pieces of the deep-fried seafood, topped with ketchup-based sauce and diced onions and stuffed inside a soft roll, and they’re quintessential Miami dishes.
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 few 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.
In Seattle, Paseo has been a household name for more than 20 years thanks to its Caribbean-inspired sandwiches. Just about everything on the menu is ridiculously delicious (seriously, repeated visits are necessary), but if it’s your first time, you need to order the Caribbean roast: pork shoulder that’s marinated and slow-roasted, pulled and tucked into a toasted baguette and topped (like all of their sandwiches) with aïoli, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, romaine lettuce, and caramelized onions. Other standouts include the Smokin’ Thighs (roasted skin-on chicken thighs, aïoli, cilantro, romaine, jalapeños, and caramelized onions) and the Paseo Press (roasted pulled pork shoulder, smoked ham, Swiss, aïoli, cilantro, banana peppers, and caramelized onions, pressed), one of the finest plays on the traditional Cubano you’ll find anywhere.
Located a couple of blocks from Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Tortilleria Nixtamal isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a tortilla factory. Opened in 2008, it quickly developed a reputation as one of New York’s premier taco spots, and with good reason: Just about everything they offer is astoundingly delicious. Tortillas are made from non-GMO corn, with no additives or preservatives, and meat comes from Franco’s, a local butcher. While the lamb barbacoa and homemade chorizo are certainly delicious, you won’t want to leave without trying the carnitas. Chunks of pork are slow-cooked for more than two hours in lard, and then simply topped with onion, cilantro, and a little hot sauce. It’s taco perfection.
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.
Abe Lebewohl was a true New York original: A Polish immigrant who came to America in 1950, his first job was as 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.
Charles Gabriel of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Country in Harlem, New York, has been pan-frying chicken since he was a kid growing up just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Using nothing but a couple of pans and his mother’s recipe (which calls for the chicken to be turned and flipped over frequently), Gabriel has made his shop a New York institution; this no-frills joint serves some of the best fried chicken in the city, and his culinary contributions were recently acknowledged by the James Beard Foundation, by which he was nominated for 2018’s Best Chef: New York City award.
There’s no shortage of great barbecue in St. Louis, but The Shaved Duck stands out from the pack with its commitment to serving unique spins on classic barbecue as well as a wide variety of non-barbecue dishes, made with high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. Ribs, pork, and chicken are slow-smoked over hickory and cherry, but you’ll also find tri-tip, wings, burnt ends, duck breast, meatloaf, and mozzarella coming out of the smoker. But with smothered fries (topped with pulled rib and pork meat, cheese sauce, and Cheddar), house-cured bacon, chili-topped mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, and a spectacular burger also on the menu, there’s plenty more to love here too. Come for the barbecue, stay for the fun (and the smothered fries).
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 (Don’t knock it ‘til you try it). 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.
Joe’s Kansas City, with its original location on the Kansas side of the city, offers smoky, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. This chain began as Oklahoma Joe’s in 1995 in none other than a corner gas station. Since then, it’s opened two more eateries and has achieved a level of renown in the city. 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 sought-after burnt ends (if you get there before the dish sells out). The menu also features chicken gumbo and a variety of sides, such as dirty rice and barbecue beans.
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.
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 6 locations in Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit, 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.
This "modern Mexican" restaurant does things its own way: There's a sea trout ceviche with pineapple-aji sorbet, a roasted cauliflower "steak" with chipotle-raisin purée and chile de árbol vinaigrette, and a lump crab tostada with green mango and grapefruit, among other things, so it's hardly surprising that the tacos are non-standard as well. The Arabicos 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 thing is just plain good.
Founded in 1946, this Carrollton landmark is nothing short of legendary. Undoubtedly one of the world’s finest diner-style restaurants, the crowds line up on a daily basis not just for the retro charm and friendly service, but for legendary chocolate pecan pie, double-scoop “freezes,” gigantic omelettes, perfect griddled 6-ounce burgers, waffles, and “Whole Meal Sandwiches.” While it’s quite possibly the best breakfast place in town, the best time to go is late at night.
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.
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.
“If you want a fancy ambiance with a fancy price tag, you'll have to go elsewhere,” warns Martha Lou’s website. But trust us: You don’t want to. The fried chicken alone — which is lightly dredged in flour and dipped in milk batter before being deep-fried to crispy perfection — is worth the trip to this tiny, 30-odd-year-old pink shack (or its second location, which opened last year in North Charleston). The menu features different classic soul food items every day of the week, but some things are permanent mainstays: the fried chicken, fish, pork chops, white rice, baked macaroni, lima beans, corn bread, and bread pudding. (Visit on Friday for barbecue ribs and you’ll be in for a real treat.) It’s truly a family operation; the restaurant is still run by 88-year-old Martha Lou Gadsen, along with her daughters and granddaughters.
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."
Santa Fe loves the green chiles from Hatch, down in the southern part of New Mexico, and their nearly supernatural ability to pair perfectly with just about any type of food you can think of. At The Shed, in business since 1953, the chiles are grown especially for the restaurant and brought in fresh daily, then processed on site. One of the best applications of this spicy green sauce that you’ll find in the city is on the restaurant’s taco plate: two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato. The chicken is perfectly cooked, but the chile is the real star of the show (as is the stellar posole that comes with it).
This hot dog joint with three New Orleans locations (and another in Lafayette, Louisiana) is quickly becoming a Crescent City institution, thanks to owner Constantine Georges' commitment to serving the highest-quality hot dogs and sausages possible — with a killer sense of humor. Menu standouts include a brilliant pairing of duck sausage with blackberry preserves as well as crawfish sausage, alligator sausage, and bratwurst, but make sure you save room to try their hot sausage, custom-ground by a local butcher and tucked into a bun that’s steamed then toasted, to make it both soft and crispy. The sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings, but you can’t go wrong with their addictive beef stock-based andouille sauce.
Founded by brothers Jon and Adam Schlegel in Denver in 2006, Snooze now has eight Colorado locations and a handful each in California, Arizona, and Texas. Open daily from 6:30 a.m., Snooze’s menu is divided into five sections: Flavors from the Hen (omelettes, scrambles, house-made corned beef hash, breakfast tacos and burritos, and a pot-pie twist on biscuits and gravy); The Art of Hollandaise (six Benedicts, including one topped with pulled pork and chili verde); Sammies (including sausage, egg, and cheese on a pretzel roll and a play on a traditional Cubano); Sweet Utopia (several varieties of pancakes and French toast, including hot cocoa pancakes topped with Mexican hot chocolate); and Light as a Feather (healthier options including a quinoa breakfast bowl and an egg white and vegetable frittata). There are plenty of gluten-free and vegan options available as well, and substitutions aren’t just available, they’re encouraged.
Going strong since 1919 in a narrow, tiled space that’s barely changed since then, Casamento’s is synonymous with one thing: Gulf oysters. This legendary New Orleans seafood spot dishes up hundreds of the bivalves daily, on the half-shell, in a creamy stew, deep-fried, charbroiled, or fried and “fully dressed” on two slices of thick-sliced bread in its famous oyster loaf. And once you’ve had your fill of oysters, the gumbo, fried catfish and trout, and soft shell crab are pretty spectacular as well. Casamento’s is a must-visit in the Big Easy, but make sure you go when it’s open: It’s closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, as well as the entire months of June, July, and August.
Once upon a time, the District of Columbia was a pizza desert, a land where khaki-wearers bided their time until the fortunes tied to two-, four-, or six-year cycles became clear, resigning themselves to late-night calls to Domino’s and hoping Manny & Olga’s wouldn’t turn them off pizza for good. They suffered locals’ misplaced love for Ledo’s and watched with frustration as Adams Morgan’s jumbo slices edged increasingly close to the half-smoke as one of the city’s signature dishes. Thankfully, those days are over. Thanks, 2Amys. 2Amys’ membership in the D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means its pizzaiolos adhere to the guidelines of what the Italian government deems a pizza should be. When you take a bite, you know you are getting a quintessential, traditional pie. Their menu is broken into D.O.C pizza offerings, stuffed pizzas, and more traditional but uncertified options, but panelists voted the namesake pie (with tomato sauce and mozzarella) the best.
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.
Husband-and-wife team Karl and Sarah Worley began Biscuit Love as a truck in 2012, but have since opened three brick-and-mortar spots with a much larger menu and even more mouthwatering biscuit sandwiches. Their hot fried chicken on a biscuit is as good as ever, though, as is their “Easy Nasty” — fried chicken thighs on a biscuit with aged Cheddar and sausage gravy. Other standouts include “bonuts” (biscuit-dough doughnuts with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote); Southern Benny (shaved country ham, two fried eggs, and sausage gravy on a biscuit); and Pork Chop & Eggs (two eggs, cheese grits, a buttermilk biscuit, jam, and two pork chops). Make sure you get some sweet and spicy thick-cut “chronic” bacon on the side.
Opened in 2007, but named in honor of a famous restaurant and nightclub that co-proprietor Josh Wolkon's great-uncles owned in Boston for several decades in the middle of the last century, Steuben's is a neighborhood diner serving American regional specialties. Representing Colorado's neighbor, New Mexico, the menu presents what is regularly named the best green chile (or chili, as Steuben's puts it) cheeseburger in Denver. Said to be inspired by the classic version at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico, it's a fat burger patty topped with American cheese into which green chile strips seem to melt. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and mustard ornament the burger, which is served on a challah bun.
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 10-ounce burger made of house-ground, boneless chuck, 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.
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.
"There’s no mystery to my pizza," Bronx native Chris Bianco was 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 visited 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 worst for some of the best food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco starting to serve lunch and the opening of an additional Phoenix location (as well as spinoffs Pane Bianco and Bar Bianco). Another location is coming to Los Angeles, making it one of the city’s most hotly-anticipated openings.
Even though Bianco no longer makes every pie the restaurant turns out (a bout of “baker’s lung” nearly killed him), Pizzeria Bianco is now an American classic. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Margherita will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
Razza opened just across the Hudson River from New York in Jersey City in late 2012, and it quietly became renowned locally for its wood-fired pizzas prepared by chef-owner Dan Richer, who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Award and is so meticulous about his craft that he was nicknamed “the Jiro of Bread,” after the sushi chef featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. But it wasn’t until New York Times critic Pete Wells showed up last year that pizza lovers across the river really took notice. Wells gave it about as glowing a review as possible, even going so far as to deem it “the best pizza in New York.” Not only has Richer perfected his crust — it’s crisp from end to end and its inside is soft with a complex flavor — he’s also meticulous about his toppings, which he sources locally. The mozzarella on his Bufala pie, for example, comes from water buffalo from Jersey’s Sussex County; he had to wait years for the herd to grow large enough to ensure a steady supply of the notoriously difficult-to-perfect cheese. And as for the sauce, Richer told the Times that he waits for the latest vintages of tomatoes from California, New Jersey, and Italy to be canned each January before blind-tasting and grading them all, then blending them like fine wine. When assembled, the pizza is damn near perfect.
Since 1958, El Parasol has been serving traditional Mexican classics as well as no-frills American fare like burgers, hot dogs, and chili cheese fries. Only three types of tacos are available (chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef), but what tacos these are: The shell is deep-fried and crackling, and the standout shredded beef is boiled until it’s falling apart and then mixed with a sauce that’s a long-kept secret. Topped with either guacamole or salsa, it’s a crunchy, beefy, Tex-Mex (New-Mex-Mex?) classic.
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.
While this restaurant has been renowned for its fried clams and other seafood since it first opened in 1956, the lobster roll here is a thing of beauty, and so is the ordering ritual: Peer inside the takeout window while trying to give your eyes a chance to adjust (they won’t), place your order, pay, get your number, get your food, and grab a spot indoors at either the no-frills counter or a table, outdoors at a picnic table, or if all else fails, in your car. No matter: The lobster roll here is so fresh and plentiful that nirvana will find you as soon as you take that first bite. The lobster is slightly chilled, slicked with just a little bit of mayo, served on a bun that’s been buttered and toasted on both sides, and is just about as simple and delicious as a lobster roll can get.
My Ceviche is a fast-casual seafood spot that’s become a Miami standby, with six 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 radishes, shredded queso fresco, and cilantro; we suggest you ask for some sliced avocado on top as well.
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!
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.
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. The biscuits are absolutely legendary, as are other specialties like pit-cooked barbecue pork, country fried steak, the pimento cheese and bacon burger, and basically anything on the sprawling all-day breakfast menu. Be sure to start your meal with a Bee Sting Moonshine Cocktail and finish with Kentucky Bourbon Peach Shortcake.
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.
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.
In Portland, 27-year-old Becky’s Diner is nothing short of legendary, opening bright and early at 4 a.m. daily and serving a menu of flawlessly executed breakfast dishes from a comfortable dining room with a long counter. Omelettes with home fries and toast (try the lobster and Swiss), homemade corned beef hash, pancakes, French toast, fruit bowls, and the usual breakfast breads are on offer. Once dinnertime rolls around, you can avail yourself of some of the city’s finest no-frills seafood, including clam cakes, fried or broiled haddock and scallops, fried local shrimp and whole belly clams, homemade chowder, and, of course, lobster.
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.
This standalone counter-only burger-and-pie place in West Los Angeles hasn't changed since it opened in 1947 (well, except for the prices). The Apple Pan's signature Hickory Burger is a juicy round of hickory-smoked ground beef on a reasonably standard bun anointed with mayonnaise and a secret sauce that tastes like slightly spiced-up ketchup (spring for some Tillamook Cheddar for an extra 50 cents). It’s a masterpiece (and everyone who goes there seems to order one), but other standouts include Southern baked ham and Swiss, perfect French fries, and flawless old-school pies.
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 traditional 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.
Located in an unassuming Barrio Logan back alley, Las Cuatro Milpas has been serving some of San Diego’s best tacos since 1933. Order up front, grab your table in the middle, and watch tortillas being made in the back. With the tortillas deep-fried to order, these crunchy tacos are filled with beef, chicken, or pork, but opt for the shredded pork, topped with lettuce and tangy, crumbled goat cheese. The hot sauce — which is made by simmering chiles and spices in lard — isn’t for the spice-averse, but is addictively good.
4 Rivers is the brainchild of Florida barbecue master John Rivers, and since opening in October 2009, it has become incredibly well-respected, with nine operating smokehouses across the state. 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, and the end result is some first-class barbecue. The smoker at each of the 14 Florida locations 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.
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.
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 has opened as well.
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.)
With three locations around Los Angeles, Loteria Grill is a bit of an LA institution, and the one in Hollywood holds the reputation as the best of the lot. Many repeat customers will encourage you to order the taco platter, but if we had to pick just one variety, we’d go with the carne deshebrada: braised shredded beef, cilantro, guacamole, onions, and salsa roja.
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. The brisket and pork shoulder are also extraordinary, and if you want to really go above and beyond, call the restaurant a day in advance and order five pounds of barbecue shrimp.
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. The deli also serves a soul-satisfying chicken-in-the-pot, loaded with matzo balls, chicken, noodles, and vegetables; the house-made pastrami is also steamed until it’s falling apart and then sliced by hand.
Sure, it’s touristy, but the tourists are there for all the right reasons: the no-frills J’s is located right on the wharf and has a huge bar, a wide selection of oysters, and world-class lobster rolls. For $13, you get a toasted hot dog bun, some lettuce, and a pile of fresh-picked lobster meat, and that’s it. A couple packets of mayo and a container of butter come on the side so you can dress it up yourself, but the real star of the show here is the lobster, served with as few bells and whistles as possible. And thankfully it’s not too filling, so you can also get your fill of steamers, whole belly clams served in a big bucket.
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 barbecue beef (the staff will let you add bacon if you want it). You just might never want to leave.
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.
Raved about by famished travelers and locals alike, the chile relleno burrito at La Azteca Tortilleria is a thing of beauty and a destination unto itself. They offer other options like carnitas and carne asada, but the cheese-stuffed, perfectly fried chile relleno that makes up the bulk of this burrito is what sets it apart, elevating the humble poblano to heights of Tex-Mex greatness (while you’re at it, you might as well have them add some carne asada to it as well). It’s everything you look for in Tex-Mex cuisine all in one perfect bite.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
There’s pizza on the menu at both Pizza Domenica and Domenica, which is Italian for Sunday (the former is in Uptown, the latter in the renovated and historic Roosevelt Hotel. The slightly imperfect circles are ringed with light, puffy, and black-blistered crusts, the centers of the pies sauce-speckled and beautifully topped with stellar (and fun) ingredients like salami and mortadella, provolone and eggs, mascarpone and Brussels sprouts, and traditional muffuletta components — you’ll have a hard time choosing between the pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven.
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.
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.
Veselka has been a port in the East Village storm since 1954, serving traditional diner fare and Eastern European specialties 24 hours a day 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.
The team behind Butcher & Bee, which opened in Charleston in 2011 and has since opened a second location in Nashville, uses local, seasonal ingredients to craft a wide assortment of fine dining-inspired small plates and sandwiches at lunchtime and larger dishes at dinner, rounded out with a massive array of delicious pastries. There’s some Middle Eastern influence at play here, evident in dishes like Turkish hummus, whipped feta, shakshouka, falafel, braised lamb pita, and chicken shawarma, but inspiration is really all over the map, in the best way possible: This is the kind of place where a roast beef sandwich with smoked onion jam, red peppers, miso mayo, and roasted tomato on pan de cristal and stuffed French toast with chocolate tahini, whipped crème fraîche, and strawberries feel just at home as a brown rice bowl with seasonal veggies, poached egg, and almond butter and “migas” with spicy scrambled eggs, pita strips, tahini, and cilantro. Oh, and did we mention the pastries are amazing?
The beauty of the burger served at Au Cheval 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 will be bringing Au Cheval to New York at some point in the near future) is clearly doing something right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The legendary JG Melon 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, and a fine example of a classic, old-school New York City burger.
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.
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 the one to order if you’re a first-timer.
There are now four P.J. Clarke's locations, with one coming soon to Philly, 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."
Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton runs Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison to the innovative, creative fare. The pizzeria, which is attached to the main Osteria Mozza, 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 $12 for a simple flatbread of olive oil, garlic, mozzarella, and fontina to $25 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 they’ve taken a stab at duplicating the success of this model pizzeria, opening locations in Newport Beach and Singapore.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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."
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 Fahrenheit and requires about 100 pounds of coal a day. It’s crispy, smoky, tangy, cheesy, and delicious.
Countless restaurants serve French dip sandwiches, but the definitive version can still be found at the restaurant where it was invented: Los Angeles’ Philippe the Original. Because it’s been around for 105 years, the exact origins of the sandwich are disputed. (The most commonly held belief is that it was created as a way to soften up day-old bread, but nobody knows where the “French” part came from.) However, the process behind this masterpiece is no mystery: Bottom round is seasoned with salt, pepper, and mashed garlic, slow-roasted with a mirepoix until medium-rare, and sliced and placed onto a fresh French roll from a local bakery that’s been dunked into jus made with homemade stock and the intensely flavored pan drippings. (The “single dip” means that just the top half is dunked, but the more popular “double dip” includes both halves.) You can swap the roast beef for roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey, pastrami, or ham if you prefer (each dunked in its own natural jus), and can top it with your choice of cheese and/or spicy hot mustard. The chili and beef stew are also seriously on point.
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 Taqueria has for tacos and burritos. That gives it, and its tacos (carnitas among them, quite arguably the best), quite a heavy reputation to live up to. La Taqueria, just one of the Mission’s many casual Mexican joints, does Mexican the way it should be done: fresh. As if the amazing rice-free burritos weren’t enough (you’d never notice its absence), there are the tacos. To prepare the carnitas, chef/owner Miguel Jara slow-cooks chunks of pork shoulder in cauldrons of bubbling lard until tender, then roasts it until it’s crispy. When it's tucked into a double layer of corn tortillas (or a fresh flour tortilla) and topped with your choice of pinto beans, onions, pico de gallo, cheese, crema, or guacamole (or none of the above), there’s no better taco, or burrito, in America.
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.
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 plates, 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.
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.
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, the legendary restaurant located in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood 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.
A Charleston must-visit, this comfortable and inviting 22-year-old landmark showcases the classic Lowcountry cooking of chef Robert Stehling as well as his dedication to using only the finest ingredients available. Stehling is taking the best aspects of Lowcountry cuisine — grits, biscuits, she-crab soup — and bringing them to new heights: Shrimp and cheese grits are kicked up with scallions, mushrooms, and bacon; biscuits are stuffed with fried chicken and Cheddar and topped with sausage gravy; and grits come topped with your choice of roasted mushrooms and leek cream, slow-smoked pork belly, or sesame-fried catfish with Geechee peanut sauce. Other brunchtime standouts include heirloom buckwheat pancakes with peach syrup and sorghum butter, an heirloom cornmeal waffle with hot chicken thighs and strawberry syrup, and some of the finest fried green tomatoes on Earth. Should you visit (and you should), remember that last year the restaurant stopped serving dinner, and is now only open until 3 p.m. daily.
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.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964 after coming to America from Caserta, Italy. 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.
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 (a devastating fire last year destroyed the smokehouse and caused $350,000 in damages, but it reopened four months later without skipping a beat). 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. Katz’s isn’t just one of the best casual restaurants in America; it’s one of the best restaurants in America, period.
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