America’s 75 Best Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurants
April 5, 2019
These restaurants might not look like anything special, but they certainly are
A restaurant doesn’t need to be big, bright, flashy and expensive to be great. In fact, some of the best and most beloved restaurants in America are small, don’t really look like much from the outside, and can be considered “holes in the wall.” Today, we’re honoring America’s 75 best.
So what makes a restaurant a hole in the wall, exactly? First of all, it needs to fit the most literal definition of the term — by being small. Second, it has to be fairly inconspicuous, not exactly looking like a legendary restaurant (until you account for the perpetual crowds, of course). And third, it has to have an air of authenticity, that feeling that this is the place and that there’s nowhere else quite like it. A lived-in feel also helps, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be old. And in order to be called one of the best? Well, obviously, that’s the most important part: The food needs to be absolutely spectacular, because that’s the main reason why the crowds keep coming.
Some of these places are weather-beaten shacks, some are tiny storefronts, some are old railcar diners, some are tucked away where you’d least expect them. Some specialize in burgers, some hot dogs, some tacos, some dumplings. But they all have a couple things in common: They can be considered holes in the wall, and they’re all great places to eat.
Angelo’s Luncheonette (Wilmington, Delaware)
In business in Wilmington, Delaware since 1967, the picture-perfect corner lunch counter Angelo’s is run by August Muzzi, who inherited the restaurant from his father, Angelo, and can usually be found manning the griddle. Full of regulars and dripping with old-school charm, Angelo’s has just 12 stools and a handful of booths, and still retains many of its original fixtures and just about all of its original menu. The bacon, egg and cheese sandwich is a masterpiece of the form, the pancakes are flawless, and we’ll let you guess how great the grilled cheese is.
Baohaus (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Millie S.
Before Eddie Huang became a familiar face to anyone who regularly watches Vice, he and his brother were the brains behind Baohaus, which opened on New York’s Lower East Side in 2009. Their restaurant has since moved up to 14th Street (a Los Angeles location is also open), and it’s a narrow slip of a space with just a handful of stools sandwiched between two exposed brick walls. The brothers did a lot to bring gua bao (steamed buns folded and filled with, for example, pork belly, housemade relish, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar and cilantro) to the masses, and it’s every bit as good as it’s ever been.
Best Fish Taco in Ensenada (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Lena L.
If a restaurant is going to call itself Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, it had better be able to stand by it (especially in California), and this place is the real deal. It’s run by Joseph Cordova, who sources high-quality fish, shrimp and vegetables and turns them into something truly special. This little restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside though; the primary exterior aesthetic is that of rusty metal and a thatched roof.
Brooks Sandwich House (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Yelp/ Brian A.
Since 1973, the Brooks family has been serving some of North Carolina’s finest burgers in a small, no-frills, no-seating Sandwich House (twin brothers David and Scott Brooks took it over in 1991). Balls of freshly ground beef are flattened on the griddle to order, cooked until the exterior develops an enviable char, tucked into a super-squishy bun, and (if you order it “all the way”) topped with mustard, raw onion and a smoky, beefy chili that’s the restaurant’s other claim to fame.
Burger Joint (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Connor F.
To New York burger lovers and the tourists lining up in front of the ridiculously tall curtain it’s “hidden” behind, the idea that Burger Joint is a secret is, well, silly. It’s in a very satisfying setting, however: a fancy hotel’s corner pocket with scribbles on the wall, signs asking you not to scribble on the wall, bare booths, paper wrapping, servers who are rude (possibly with good reason, depending on your perspective) and buns taken straight out of the bag. It’s a delicious burger in a very surprising location.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (Charleston, South Carolina)
Yelp/ Shari S.
Founded in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2005 by Carrie Morey and already a beloved institution, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is serving biscuits filled with your choice of jam, country ham, pimento cheese, bacon or other substantial offerings like sausage, egg and cheese. It’s a small counter-serve establishment, though, so get there early and get in line. We suggest you take your order to go; the only seating is stools packed in against a wall.
Calumet Fisheries (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Carolyn I.
Calumet Fisheries in Chicago, Illinois is famous for smoking any seafood that comes to mind — including salmon, herring, eel, sturgeon, sable, rainbow trout and shrimp. It is currently only one of two smokehouses still allowed to burn wood and to smoke its fish in Chicago. It doesn’t look like it’s in the Windy City, however: Located a stone’s throw from the Calumet River since 1928, the squat white building with its faded red roof wouldn’t feel out of place on any New England waterfront.
Caracas Arepa Bar (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Eric C.
Caracas Arepa Bar is perhaps the best spot in New York for Venezuelan food, specifically arepas, thick griddled corn-based patties split and loaded with meats and other fillings (try the classic pabellon, with shredded beef, black beans, cotija cheese and fried sweet plantains). The teeny-tiny original location opened in 2003 (there’s a larger one in Brooklyn now), and crowds line up nightly for one of the handful of seats.
Carnitas Lonja (San Antonio, Texas)
Yelp/ Dave S.
When a Texas taqueria has the word carnitas right there in its name, you know that they’re going to do it well. And at no-frills South Side showstopper Carnitas Lonja, chef and owner Alex Paredes cooks massive hunks of pork — skin, fat and all — in large cauldrons of boiling lard until the skin is crunchy and the meat is tender and caramelized, and it’s chopped and piled into spectacular handmade corn tortillas. The restaurant is pretty adorable, but there’s a reason why most diners choose to sit outside: It’s absolutely tiny.
Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Jason R.
Charles Gabriel of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem has been pan-frying chicken since he was a kid growing up just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Using nothing but a couple of pans and his mother’s recipe (which calls for the chicken to be turned and flipped over frequently), Gabriel has made his shop a New York institution; the restaurant itself is absolutely no-frills, tucked between a cell phone store and a (far inferior) fried chicken chain. Inside the narrow, recently-renovated restaurant you’ll find a handful of tables, a small counter and not much else.
Clover Grill (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Located on the quieter end of Bourbon Street (if such a thing is even possible) is the quaint and charming Clover Grill, a greasy spoon with a few tables and an 11-stool counter that serves stellar half-pound burgers, omelets, biscuits and gravy, sandwiches and pie à la mode. It’s the kind of place where what you see is what you get, and what you see is a Louisiana landmark.
Cozy Inn (Salina, Kansas)
Yelp/ Andrew S.
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kansas’ Cozy Inn is one of the last ones standing. A six-seat counter that opened in 1922, it gained local popularity for serving 1-ounce burgers griddled with chopped onions that came to be known nationally as sliders, and so is the birthplace of this beloved dish. To this day the grillmen are still doing it the old-fashioned way, in the same tiny room, with fluffy white buns made especially for them.
Danny’s Drive-In (Stratford, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Jennifer D.
Located off of I-95 in Stratford, Connecticut, the squat brick Danny’s has been serving its deep-fried hot dogs for 83 years, starting its 9-inch Hummel Bros. franks on the griddle and then crisping them up with a trip to the hot oil. The buns are nicely toasted, and the house specialty is the Bull Dog, topped with fried onions and a locally renowned super-spicy sauce called Kuhn’s Chili. If you can’t get a seat inside the tiny restaurant, you can sit at one of the new picnic tables outside.
Danny’s All-American Diner and Dairy Bar (Tampa, Florida)
The teeny tiny Danny’s is literally a shack on the side of a Tampa, Florida road, and it’s so small that guests sit on picnic tables outside. It has a surprisingly large menu, with a wide variety of sandwich options (including a killer Cuban), but the thing to order is Guy Fieri’s Triple D Triple Play (which Fieri created while there filming an episode of his TV show): a 6.5-ounce fresh-ground patty topped with slow-roasted pork, pastrami, Swiss, American, tomatoes, jalapeños, onion ring and mustard on sourdough.
Dan Sung Sa (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Christina C.
One of the most legendary Korean restaurants in a city that’s chock-full of them, Los Angeles’ Dan Sung Sa is small and windowless, with lots of cozy nooks and a big kitchen right in the middle of the dining room. A visit here is truly an experience, and that’s before you sample the extraordinary sweet-and-spicy chicken wings, corn cheese (corn niblets covered with melted cheese and mayo), grilled skewers (of everything from prime beef and Korean rice cakes to whole garlic, chicken gizzards and pork belly), broiled eel, bulgogi and fried dumplings.
Dottie’s Diner (Woodbury, Connecticut)
In 2006, Dottie Sperry purchased the Depression-era Phillips Diner, kept all of its historical touches, and renamed it Dottie’s. A no-frills menu of simple New England diner classics is topped off by stunningly delicious, simple doughnuts. Pancakes, French toast, clam chowder, sandwiches and stellar pot pies are all on offer, but we’ll repeat: Don’t leave without trying the doughnuts.
Eat-Rite Diner (St. Louis, Missouri)
St. Louis, Missouri’s beloved Eat-Rite Diner, a perfectly-preserved 1930s-era old-school diner with red swivel stools and plenty of gleaming white tile, closed in 2017 after the owner decided to retire, but thankfully a local couple took it over and re-opened it last year. The menu at Eat-Rite is as classic as it gets, with eggs, hotcakes, burgers, chili, grilled ham and cheese, milkshakes and hot tamales all top sellers. If you’re really hungry, go for the Slinger, with breakfast meat, two eggs, potatoes and chili.
Eisenberg’s (New York, New York)
トモ T./ Yelp
A humble, no-frills lunch counter on tony Fifth Avenue, just south of Madison Square? That’s Eisenberg’s, which has been going strong, against all odds, since 1929. This no-frills diner, with its 25-foot-long stone counter and photos of celebrities on the walls, has remained essentially unchanged since opening nearly 90 years ago. All the diner staples are here, including burgers, tuna melts, hot open sandwiches and pancakes, but don’t miss the opportunity to sample some Jewish classics, including a Reuben, knockwurst, chopped liver, and lox, eggs and onions. Make sure you wash it all down with a lime rickey.
El Huarache Azteca (Highland Park, California)
Yelp/ Angelique L.
El Huarache Azteca is famous for its breakfasts, showcasing items like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, but it also does an excellent job with its mole verde and mole rojo, as well as its fajitas and namesake huaraches. It’s located inside a small, unassuming building, but wonders await inside.
El Pique (Wilmington, Delaware)
Yelp/ Michael H.
The tiny El Pique gets packed on a daily basis, but it's still easy to pass by. Head inside and you'll encounter just a few tables and, behind the counter, a plancha manned by two ladies cooking an astounding variety of proteins, including hard-to-find cuts like pork snout (trompa), beef head (cabeza) and a combo of all different types of offal (surtida). The best move is to go for the birria, made with lamb.
El Saboroso (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Matt E.
El Saboroso has the unique distinction of being the only restaurant (if you can even call it that) on our list to be located inside an office building loading dock. When we say this place is a hidden gem, we mean it: A small sign tacked onto an anonymous Garment District door is all that indicates the wonders that await. Every lunch hour, local workers — some in suits, some in hard hats — file in to sample the Ecuadorian specialties prepared by proprietor Tony Molina, who’s been running the place since 1996. Stewed chicken, pernil, beef stew, roast chicken… whatever he’s cooking, it’s bound to be spectacularly delicious, all piled atop red beans and yellow rice. And you definitely don’t forget that you’re in a loading dock: There are a few tables and chairs scattered about, but the bulk of the action happens in Tony’s kitchen, with a few stools providing a front-row seat.
Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ William E.
Fat Johnnie’s is a small, ramshackle, white-paneled hut that’s just a bit taller and just a bit wider than a canoe, on an industrial stretch of Western Avenue, a 20-minute drive from the Loop. You order through a tiny window in wonderment at how someone can fit inside the shack, but the hot dogs really are worth the visit, especially the Chicago-style dogs and tamales. Try the Mighty Dog — a hot dog and tamale on a bun with chili and cheese.
Fleetwood Diner (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
The small, trailer-style Fleetwood Diner caters to Ann Arbor locals and University of Michigan students and faculty alike, who jockey for tables at which they can dig into burgers, gyro platters, omelets and Fleetwood’s famous Hippie Hash — a layer of hash browns topped with grilled vegetables and feta cheese.
Flo's (Cape Neddick, Maine)
Yelp/ Gary R.
The tiny Flo’s Hot Dogs in Cape Neddick, Maine, is a family-owned and -operated establishment that has been slinging sausages from a small, red shack on the side of the road since 1959. They specialize in steamed hot dogs that only need a sprinkle of celery salt, relish and mayo. Know what you want to order by the time you get to the front of the line, and look for a spot at the six-seat counter inside, but if it's full (as it normally is), don't worry — picnic tables are provided outside.
Frank’s Diner (Kenosha, Wisconsin)
Frank’s was built as an old railcar-style diner in 1926 and opened in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin later that year. A seven-booth dining room was added in 1935 and the kitchen was expanded in the 1940s, but not much else has changed since then. Settle into a stool at the original counter and order up pancakes, biscuits and gravy or a burger — or do as the regulars do and opt for the famous Garbage Plate: three or five eggs, scrambled into hash browns with peppers, onions, meat (go for the house-made corned beef hash), cheese and vegetables, served with homemade bread.
Gilley’s PM Lunch, Portsmouth (New Hampshire)
Yelp/ Don W.
Gilley’s is an adorable little restaurant that’s been in business since 1940; it started life as a lunch cart that was towed by horse into Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Market Square every day and has been in its present (permanent) home since 1974. The menu is simple — burgers, hot dogs, fries and sandwiches — but just about everything on the menu is the best you’ll find for miles around.
Gus’s (Birmingham, Alabama)
Yelp/ Douglas S.
Gus’s is one of the few places left in Alabama serving a Greek Dog, made with char-grilled Zeigler pink franks topped with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, a few chopped onions and a special sauce that was formulated by Gus Alexander himself when he opened the stand around 1940 — a cross between barbecue sauce and New York-style stewed onions. If this place looks like it’s tucked away in the corner of a parking garage, well, that’s because it is. The atmosphere has an unassuming air; it’s small and quaint, with a TV in the corner, making it clear that, in here, it’s all about the dogs.
Howlin’ Ray’s (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ David L.
Howlin’ Ray’s owner Johnny Ray Zone has spent time working for some of the world’s most renowned chefs, but he found his true calling on a trip to Nashville. What started as a food truck is now a tiny storefront located inside a Chinatown shopping mall serving fresh-from-the-fryer hot chicken made screamingly hot with help from cayenne and extracts of habanero, ghost pepper and red savina. Be prepared to wait up to two hours to sample it, though.
Hui Tou Xiang (San Gabriel, California)
Yelp/ Carrie L.
Hidden away inside a San Gabriel strip mall, the small and inconspicuous Hui Tou Xiang serves a massive array of dumplings (pan-fried, steamed and boiled) as well as wontons and noodles (both in and out of soup). Try the signature hui tou, long rectangular dumplings filled with pork or beef and pan-fried to a perfect crisp, or the spot-on soup dumplings.
Ishkabibble’s (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yelp/ Elias F.
A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania institution since 1979, Ishkabibble’s is a hole in the wall with a few seats at the counter inside and a walk-up window facing the shaded sidewalk. While they pride themselves on being the inventor of the increasingly ubiquitous “chicken cheesesteak” (made with chicken tenders instead of steak), you should still order their cheesesteak. A fresh loaf of bread is lightly toasted and piled with steak that’s grilled with onions and chopped to order. While purists can stick with the Whiz, a combination of both Whiz and provolone takes this sandwich to the cheesesteak stratosphere.
Joe’s Pizza (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Joe’s Pizza
Since 1975, Joe’s Pizza has served fresh, hot, cheesy slices to tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York City landmark. It’s as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Everyone has a favorite slice joint, but if the city were to have just one, this would be it. It’s the quintessential slice joint, too: a tiny storefront, with just a counter and a little bit of standing room inside.
John’s Roast Pork (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yelp/ RunAway B.
Since 1930, the corner of Weccacoe and Snyder avenues has been home to a tiny one-story building housing John’s Roast Pork, a South Philly institution if ever there was one. Their roast pork sandwiches — made with an old family recipe and house-roasted daily — are the stuff of legend. But their cheesesteak is every bit as good as the roast pork, and arguably better.
Kai Feng Fu (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Vivian C.
Located in Brooklyn’s primary Chinatown, in the neighborhood of Sunset Park, Kai Feng Fu is turning out some of the city’s best dumplings — made entirely from scratch, including the dough — in a town that’s full of them. You’ll get five for a whopping buck fifty; the décor of this tiny restaurant isn’t much to speak of, but that’s not what you’re here for.
Kihei Caffe (Kihei, Hawaii)
Yelp/ Praveen M.
Located a stone’s throw from the ocean, the charming counter-service Kihei Café serves some of Hawaii’s finest breakfasts from a menu 40 items strong, and to keep those early-morning surfers happy, it opens at 5 a.m. daily. The huge cinnamon rolls and classic Hawaiian loco moco (with two eggs, a burger patty, white rice and brown gravy) are the real deal, and the big, fluffy pancakes are just about perfect, especially when stacked high and topped with bananas and macadamia nuts or pineapple and coconut. The restaurant itself is tiny, however, with not much of a dining room to speak of and a handful of outdoor tables.
La Flor de Yucatan (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Jennifer B.
There are precious few restaurants in the U.S. that specialize in Yucatecan cuisine, but La Flor de Yucatan is serving wonderfully authentic fare from the once-isolated peninsula. Traditional classics including chirmole, puchero de tres carnes, papadzules and (of course) cochinita pibil are on offer, as well as a wide array of pastries, and the shop itself is small and cozy, occupying a narrow, triangular corner storefront.
Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle (Flushing, New York)
Yelp/ Steven L.
Flushing, Queens, is a labyrinth of life-changing Chinese street food, and some of the finest food in the neighborhood can be found in the basement of a food court called the Golden Shopping Mall. Wandering through its corridors can be a little intimidating, so do yourself a favor and make sure you stop at Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle. You can find it by following the thwacking sound of dough on a wooden block, slowly being transformed into some of the best noodles you’ll find anywhere. Try them cold, mixed with chile oil, sesame paste and cucumber.
Taqueria La Pasadita (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Rob P.
A no-nonsense 40-plus-year-old taquería, La Pasadita makes its presence known with a screaming-yellow exterior. Inside you’ll find a simple dining room where hordes of loyal regulars down tacos, burritos and tostadas loaded with carne asada, chicken, barbacoa, lengua or a chile relleno, washed down with horchata.
La Super-Rica Taqueria (Santa Barbara, California)
Yelp/ Torie L.
It’s not much to look at — just a small, one-story white shack with turquoise trim, on a corner with palm tree fronds setting the scene behind it — but La Super-Rica has the kind of reputation that draws a crowd. The late culinary star Julia Child, who divided her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Santa Barbara, mentioned La Super Rica Taquería on “Good Morning America” as her favorite taquería. Some standouts: the Frijol Super-Rica (a bowl of pintos with chiles, bacon and chorizo); Super-Rica Especial (pork with pasilla chiles); and the tacos de adobado.
Lindy’s Diner (Keene, New Hampshire)
Constructed in New Jersey and shipped to New Hampshire in 1961, the all-American Lindy’s Diner has been a must-visit for presidential candidates for decades, and the menu is chock-full of diner staples as well as home-style New England classics. The patty melt, mac and cheese and blueberry pancakes are spot-on, but don’t pass up the opportunity to sample standards like fried belly clams, homemade cod cakes, pickled fried tripe and Yankee pot roast.
Los Tacos No. 1 (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Kim G.
Three close friends from Brawley, California, and Tijuana opened Los Tacos No. 1 to bring their truly authentic Mexican tacos to the East Coast, and they succeeded with flying colors. The menu was crafted entirely from family recipes and offers a variety of tacos, quesadillas and tostadas. Diners can choose from a variety of fillings such as carne asada, pollo asado and nopal (grilled cactus) to incorporate into any taco or tostada.
Louis’ Lunch (New Haven, Connecticut)
Yelp/ tc t.
You can practically taste the nostalgia at the diminutive Louis’ Lunch, widely heralded as the birthplace of the burger as we know it. Well, not exactly as we know it: The burgers here are served between two slices of white toast instead of a bun. Flame-broiled burgers are cooked 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. The burger is indeed delicious, but this tiny restaurant, with its handful of well-worn tables and huge dose of history, is worth the visit alone.
Mamoun’s Falafel (New York, New York)
If you went to NYU, or have spent any time carousing Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street in the past 40-odd years, then the odds are pretty high that you’ve been to Mamoun’s Falafel. New York’s first falafel shop (opened in 1971) is still one of its best, and a big part of its charm is that it’s absolutely miniscule: a narrow nook with a few booths along one wall and just enough space for everyone else to line up for their turn to order from the counter along the other.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen (Charleston, South Carolina)
Yelp/ Gina K.
“If you want 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.
Motz’s Burgers (Detroit, Michigan)
Yelp/ Al M.
Serving some of America’s best sliders since the 1930s inside a tiny circa-1929 White Castle, this humble Detroit mainstay is a must-visit for any burger lover passing through the city. Located inside a quiet industrial neighborhood, Motz’s is bright, cheerful and welcoming. Grab one of the six round stools and watch the magic happen: One-and-a-half-ounce balls of fresh-ground sirloin are smashed down onto an ancient griddle with a hefty spatula and thin-sliced onions are pressed on, then it’s flipped, cheese is applied, the toasted top bun is placed on top to steam, and the finished product is served with a squirt of ketchup and mustard.
Mr. Beef (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Earl G.
Italian beef is a quintessential Chicago sandwich, slow-cooked thin-sliced beef drenched in cooking juices and tucked into a soft long roll and topped with a spicy pickled vegetable relish called giardiniera. Al’s Beef is perhaps the best-known (and is basically a local chain at this point), but for a true Italian beef experience, a visit to the 40-year-old Mr. Beef should be in the works. Not only is the sandwich itself easily in the running for the city’s best, but the space itself, with a simple counter, a little space to lean on while you eat your sandwich, and some framed photos and clippings on the wall, is essentially the perfect old-school Chicago eatery.
Mustard’s Last Stand (Evanston, Illinois)
Yelp/ Rohan D.
In Evanston on Central Street, in a shack that’s barely 700 square feet, Mustard’s Last Stand serves hot dogs with a pedigree that few others have from a restaurant that has a counter, a few seats, a couple gumball machines and not much else. Go in, order a Chicago dog and dig into a great dog in a classic setting.
Myung In Dumplings (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ John T.
Myung In is a traditional Korean dumpling shop in LA’s Koreatown, specializing in huge, meat-filled mandu, steamed dumplings. There are plenty of other styles of dumplings on offer as well, and to be honest, they’re all pretty spectacular. The space is simple and low-key, hidden away in a strip mall, but always satisfying.
Nic’s Grill (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Yealp/ Russ E.
Grab a seat at the counter in Oklahoma City’s diminutive Nic’s Grill, joining the hordes of other pilgrims who line up here daily, and watch chef/owner Justin “Nic” Nicholas work his burger magic. He forms massive patties by hand and sears them on a hot griddle, and if you order yours (as encouraged) “with cheese and everything” it’ll be served with plenty of cheese, griddled onions, pickles, mustard, mayo and ketchup on a perfectly steamed bun.
Otis Café (Otis, Oregon)
Otis, Oregon’s small and homey Otis Café is a beloved Highway 18 destination, a small roadhouse with a vintage sign and a decidedly old-fashioned interior. Just about everything on the menu, from bread to sausage gravy, is homemade, and while the burgers and chicken-fried steak are spot-on, the German potatoes are the most famous dish on the menu: crispy hash browns topped with green onions, white cheddar and anything else you desire.
Panchos Mexican Taquería (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Eron L.
Atlantic City, New Jersey’s small and unassuming Panchos Mexican Taquería was opened to cater primarily to employees of the local casinos, but it quickly achieved a level of local renown. Why? For one, the tortillas aren’t just homemade, they’re made to order. Second, tacos and huaraches are filled with a wide variety of expertly prepared proteins like steak, chicken, brisket, goat, tripe, chorizo and carnitas. And third, their mole poblano enchiladas are life-changing.
Parkway Bakery (New Orleans)
Yelp/ Joe D.
Spend the afternoon among locals at the homey Parkway Bakery, in a 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.
Paseo (Seattle, Washington)
Yelp/ Phil K.
In Seattle, Washington, 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 might be surprised just how tiny this place is: It’s just a little red building with a counter and a handful of seats and perpetual lines out the front door.
Pete’s Grille (Baltimore, Maryland)
Going strong for more than 50 years in Baltimore, Maryland, Pete’s is a family-run affair (owners Dave and Darlene are there every day), and it’s the kind of place where the head waitress is named Debbie and she’s been there for more than 30 years. It’s open at 7 a.m. during the week and 8 on weekends, and if you go, don’t forget that it’s cash-only.
Prince Street Pizza (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Chris L.
Prince Street Pizza started serving “SoHo Squares” in 2012, and since then it’s gone down as one of the city’s finest pizzerias. Don’t leave without trying the Spicy Spring: It’s topped with tangy-sweet fra diavalo sauce, fresh mozzarella and spicy soppressata that turns into crispy circles that cradle shimmering pools of oil. Unfortunately, if you want to try this legendary slice for yourself, you’ll have to wait in line and cram into the tiny pizzeria, which is standing room-only.
Red Arrow Diner (Manchester, New Hampshire)
This New Hampshire diner is a certified institution, and not just for the food: Red Arrow is a must-visit for every presidential candidate on the campaign trail, making it a political institution as well. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are on offer 24/7, with perfect versions of old-school diner favorites including pancakes, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, Monte Cristo sandwiches, turkey dinner, meatloaf, liver and onions and homemade beans being served to the hungry masses since 1922. Don’t forget to wash it all down with an Arrow root beer or cream soda, made just for the diner.
Red’s Eats (Wiscasset, Maine)
Widely regarded as serving one of the best lobster rolls in America, Red’s Eats is a small roadside stand in the small town of Wiscasset, Maine. It’s a tiny waterfront shack, and looks more like an ice cream stand than an establishment that serves one of America’s finest culinary creations. Expect to wait an hour or more for your roll during peak times, but the roll itself is heaping with fresh, wet lobster — so much it falls all over. It tastes just-cooked and -picked, and it’s a great deal.
Scarr's (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Mike C.
When pizzaiolo and co-owner Scarr Pimentel opened his retro-looking Scarr’s on the Lower East Side just a few blocks from the Manhattan Bridge, the area was still no-man’s-land enough that you could have been forgiven for mistaking it for an old-school pizza holdout from the ‘70s. Since then, it’s established itself as one of the city’s premier slice shops, and it’s got a seriously old-school look: a narrow sliver of a storefront with a narrow counter up front, a few retro-style booths in the back and not much else.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Chinese Restaurant (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Chris E.
From the outside, Shu Jiao Fu Zhou looks like any of the countless other restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and, well, it basically looks like all the others from the inside as well. It’s totally no-frills, with fluorescent lighting, a tile floor and some tables and chairs. But take a peek backstage and you’ll find cooks hard at work making dumplings, thin and thick noodles, wheat noodles, meat-filled rice balls and other doughy delights, and they’ve earned legions of followers.
Sofia Pizza Shoppe (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Jay Y.
Midtown Manhattan has fewer great slice joints than you might think, and this inspired Tom Degrezia and Matthew Porter to open their own pizzeria on First Avenue, Sofia Pizza Shoppe. The spinach-dip slice is a masterpiece, meticulously dolloped so as to fashion some in each bite, and the seasonal heirloom tomato grandma tastes like a summer day. But be prepared to take your slice to go; aside from a counter, there’s just a couple small wooden shelves to lean on.
South Street Diner (Boston, Massachusetts)
The old-school, chrome-detailed South Street Diner has been going strong since 1947, when it was built by the Worcester Dining Company to feed local factory workers. Today it’s a favorite among the local college students and artists, and is widely regarded as the best late-night eatery in Boston, Massachusetts. (It’s open 24/7.) The menu includes a variety of breakfast items (including the super-popular Boston crème pancakes), more than a dozen Benedicts, burgers, sandwiches, frappes (a New England spin on the milkshake) and a surprisingly good beer list.
Summit Diner (Summit, New Jersey)
The Summit Diner is the quintessential New Jersey railcar diner, dating back to 1929. The state’s oldest diner is also one of its best-preserved, with a long counter, some booths, plenty of old wood and an ancient griddle. The only menu is up above the counter, and you can’t go wrong with the burger or any of owner Jimmy Greberis’ Greek fare. But the must-order is the slider, which isn’t what you’re thinking: It’s actually a Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwich, the classic Jersey breakfast.
Sushi by Bou (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Three P.
David Bouhadana is one of New York’s star sushi chefs, a master craftsman who also happens to not be even the least bit Japanese. His skills are second-to-none, and he’s found a perfect showcase at Sushi by Bou, which opened at New York’s Sanctuary Hotel in 2017 and has since spawned an additional five locations. The original is still the one to visit, and it’s where you’re most likely to find Bouhadana himself behind the counter, but there are a few things to know in advance: There are only four seats at the counter, the restaurant itself isn’t much larger than that, you’ll have exactly 30 minutes to enjoy your 12-piece omakase, and it’ll cost you just $50, extremely affordable by sushi’s (and Bouhadana’s) standards.
Swan Oyster Depot (San Francisco, California)
Crowds line up long before the doors open at indispensable San Francisco institution Swan Oyster Depot, a narrow 18-seat counter that’s been faithfully serving some of the city’s freshest seafood for more than 100 years. Oysters, seafood cocktails, fresh Dungeness crab, chowder, crab Louie and all sorts of other seafood preparations are made fresh to order by seasoned veterans, and there’s just something about sitting at the ancient counter that makes it all taste better.
Tacomiendo (Los Angeles, California)
Yelp/ Aimee T.
At the no-frills, order-at-the-counter Tacomiendo, where you'll hear much more Spanish than English spoken, the tortillas are homemade, the prices are reasonable and the tacos are big. Burritos are a favorite here, but the tacos get high marks, too. It’s located in an unassuming strip mall, and has just enough room for 18 seats and a small counter; there’s enough room for a salsa bar, though.
Taste of Lebanon (Chicago, Illinois)
Yelp/ Phil S.
Taste of Lebanon is one of Chicago’s best Lebanese restaurants, serving up spot-on hummus, falafel, fatoush, baba ghannouj and shawarma. To say that it doesn’t look like much is an understatement, though: It’s a small dining room with a few four-top tables and chairs along each wall, a generic beach scene mural and a little counter in the back where you place your order. But after one visit, you’ll already be planning your return.
Tasty Dumpling (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Anna R.
Chinatown’s Tasty Dumpling is one of those places where, once you know about it, you can’t decide whether to shout its praises from the rooftops or keep it as a secret all to yourself. The small, unassuming storefront is home to some of the city’s best dumplings, cabbage and pork-filled pancakes and noodle soup. It’s all very inexpensive and supremely satisfying, a college kid’s dream.
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Christopher P.
You haven’t truly experienced Chinese noodles until you’ve had them at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles, located on tiny, crooked Doyers Street. Offering Chinatown’s best noodles, this restaurant has a noodle for everyone: thin hand pulled noodles, thick and frilly knife-peeled noodles (made by shaving strands from a dough log over boiling water), thick rice noodles and skinny rice noodles, and they’re all flawless. The storefront is inauspicious to say the least, and the dining room is about as no-frills as it gets, but those noodles are all that really matters.
Ted's (Meriden, Connecticut)
Yelp/ Sarah V.
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. 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. If you want to sample this rare regional specialty, you’ll have to squeeze in at the tiny lunch counter, which has just a handful of stools and a few small booths.
The Clam Shack (Kennebunkport, Maine)
Yelp/ Dave F.
The Clam Shack is the first stop for many Kennebunkport visitors, and is located right smack dab in the middle of town, right off Dock Square. Its lobster rolls and central location have put it on the map, but just the fact that it’s a perfect little lobster shack, with a tiny dining room and an even busier front window (along with a few tables and chairs outside), make it a perfect eatery.
Tian Jin Dumpling House (Flushing, New York)
Yelp/ Christian W.
If you visit one dumpling stand (as opposed to a noodle stand, which Lan Zhou already has covered) in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall, make it Tian Jin, a tiny little stall right in the middle of the slightly claustrophobic space. Dumplings here are boiled to order, and are absolutely worth the trek alone. But you’ll definitely want to save some stomach space for the stall’s other offerings, which include marinated tofu, marinated cucumbers and Chinese sausages.
Uncle Boons Sister (New York, New York)
Yelp/ Cassie N.
Uncle Boons is one of New York’s most popular Thai restaurants (it’s earned a Michelin star), and its newer offshoot, Uncle Boons Sister, has also achieved very high praise. The restaurant itself is absolutely tiny, with just 12 seats and counter service only, so if you want to sample some fabulous lab, mataba and khao num ghai without waiting for one of the precious few tables, we suggest you take your order to go.
Varenichnaya (Brooklyn, New York)
Yelp/ Stefany V.
Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach is home to a thriving Russian community and is nicknamed Little Odessa. Tucked away on a side street is one of the neighborhood’s (and the city’s) true hidden culinary gems, called Varenichnaya. As the name might imply, this tiny, nondescript restaurant specializes in vareniki (the Russian equivalent to ravioli), along with other Russian comfort food like pelmeni (smaller filled dumplings), blintzes, borscht and beef stroganoff. Grab a couple bottles of Baltika from the bodega around the corner and go wild.
Village Coffee Shop (Boulder, Colorado)
The tiny Village Coffee Shop, tucked inside a Boulder, Colorado strip mall, is a bona fide time capsule, with wood-paneled walls, a long counter, a handful of tables and not much else. But it’s a quintessential neighborhood hangout, and the staff is super-welcoming and friendly. Go for the blueberry pancakes, French toast, hash browns, and chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy.
White Hut (West Springfield, Massachusetts)
Yelp/ Steven P.
One of the country’s best burgers is the cheeseburger with fried onions at White Hut. There’s really only one thing you need to know about this adorable little counter-only restaurant, in business since 1939: The burgers are legit, squashed, cheesy affairs — the kind of cheeseburgers where the cheese is not just a topping, but an integral part of the cooking process, and as important an ingredient (or at least close to it) as the patty.
White Manna (Hackensack, New Jersey)
Yelp/ Carlos R.
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, honed over decades and decades, unchanging. 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 potato roll. Not only is this an ideal burger eating experience, it’s also easily one of the very best burgers in America.
More From The Daily Meal: