Compared to most types of businesses, restaurants have a miserably high failure rate. Someone can invest their heart and soul (not to mention their life savings) into opening a restaurant, only to see it go belly-up in a matter of months. But some restaurants are the lucky ones; they stand the test of time, earning themselves legions of fans and a place in culinary history along the way. These are in the small and vaunted canon of restaurants that can be considered old-school, and we’ve tracked down America’s best.
So what exactly makes for a great old-school restaurant? For one, you know it when you see it. When you walk into a great old-school restaurant, it’s almost like stepping back in time. Time stands still at these joints, and the menu rarely, if ever, changes. You can order a burger at some of these places in 2018, and it’ll taste exactly the same as it did in 1964.
In order to compile our list, we took a deep dive through America’s culinary heritage and identified restaurants that have taken on a rarefied air in their years since they’ve opened, in most cases exceeding well over 50 years. None of these restaurants are expensive (even though we can certainly think of plenty of old-school steakhouses), so you can eat a little bit of history and be on your merry way without breaking the bank.
Something about dining at a classic old-school restaurant, be it an old Italian red sauce joint, a legendary fried chicken shack, or a classic burger joint, can be a soul-nourishing experience. Whether it’s your first or 50th time there, setting foot into a restaurant that’s seen decades upon decades of history connects us to a deeper culinary heritage, and also gives us a glimpse into how we ate way back when. Read on to learn which of America’s old-school restaurants are the greatest.