Brian Brainerd/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Food is the best lens through which we can get acquainted with a region’s history and culture, and in the United States, the cuisine of each state can tell you a lot about the state’s people and customs. Each of the 50 states, as well as the nation’s capital, has its own unique food scene, a tableau of flavors of various cultures and ethnicities as well as endemic ingredients and produce. And while each of these states has plenty of amazing eateries to explore, there’s always that single one that encapsulates its food culture best.
In order to determine which restaurant was the quintessential dining experience of each state, we started by combing through our own previous rankings of top restaurants both casual and upscale as well as iconic restaurant dishes. We then took a deep dive into existing rankings and review sites, both national and local, to get an idea of which restaurants are the most renowned and well-loved according to locals as well as tourists. Above all, we looked for restaurants that are emblematic of their state’s history, culinary traditions and preferred cuisine. For each state, we did our best to find a restaurant that isn’t just great, but also a true representation of how the locals dine out.
Highlands Bar & Grill has one of the best bars in the country, and it’s also a staple of the Birmingham food scene. Enjoy southern cuisine with a fine-dining, French-inspired seasonal menu that includes an oyster bar, a full drink menu and rotating entrees such as veal tenderloin and sweetbreads with white wine poached mushrooms, corn timbale and caramelized leeks or grilled tripletail with cherry tomatoes, spinach and lardons.
Club Paris claims to be Anchorage’s oldest steakhouse, serving juicy steaks and seafood since the late 1950s in what used to be a funeral parlor. Known for its 4-inch-thick, 14-ounce filet mignon, Club Paris cuts and ages its steaks on site while also offering fresh seafood like Alaska King crab legs and halibut filets.
Built out of salvaged lumber in 1953 by a man named Juan Delgadillo, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In is a historic stop along the iconic Route 66 highway. A drive-in restaurant serving American fare, Delgadillo’s is known for the quirk and humor it inherited from its founder. A neon sign lets customers know “Sorry, we’re open,” and a 1936 Chevy with the hardtop taken off brings attention to the place thanks to the Christmas tree sticking out of its trunk. In the garden, you’ll find other vintage automobiles as well as oddities such as a random toilet and phone booth. Inside, the walls are covered in business cards, money and photos and the menu lists offerings such as “dead chicken” and “cheeseburger with cheese.”
McClard’s Bar-B-Q has its roots in a motel run by Alex and Alice McClard, who, in 1928, were paid for their accommodations with what a traveler claimed was a recipe for “the world’s best barbecue sauce.” Already serving barbecued goat in their diner, the couple added the sauce to their meat and have been known for their ribs and fry plates since. Another popular menu item came onto the scene in the early 1970s when someone covered a tamale in Fritos, beef, beans, cheese and onions to make a tamale spread. Owned and operated by the McClard family to this day, McClard’s Bar-B-Q claims to serve up to 7,000 pounds of hickory-smoked beef, pork and ribs every week, as well as 3,000 hand-rolled hot tamales, 3,000 pounds of fresh-cut french fries, 250 gallons of spicy barbecue beans and 250 gallons of coleslaw.
Opening its doors in 1971, Chez Panisse is considered by many to be the birthplace of California cuisine. With world-renowned chef Alice Waters at the helm, Chez Panisse is a pioneer in the kind of cuisine that prizes organic and locally grown ingredients, and it remains the perfect spot to sample the Cal-Mediterranean cuisine for which the state is known. You can dine more casually in the café upstairs or go for a fine-dining experience in the restaurant on the ground floor. The ever-changing seasonal menu of three to four courses features dishes such as smoked black cod with baby red romaine lettuces and flowering coriander, and Wolfe Ranch quail grilled with lemon and thyme and served with fall squash purée, glazed Tokyo turnips and watercress.
Denver’s oldest restaurant, and home to the state’s first liquor license, The Buckhorn Exchange opened its doors in 1893 and remains one of the best steakhouses in the country. Aside from the steaks, Buckhorn also offers buffalo, elk, ostrich, game hen, yak, quail and alligator in addition to their baby back pork ribs and house-specialty Rocky Mountain Oysters. If all that red meat isn’t enough to give you a taste of the Old West, the historic restaurant is also decorated with 575 pieces of taxidermy, 125 guns and an antique bar that dates back to about 1857.
Open since 1925, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is the most famous home of the New Haven-style pizza (locally known as apizza, or “ah-BEETZ”) and has consistently topped our list of the best pizzas in America. Although there are a total of seven locations statewide (and four others out of state), a visit to the original New Haven location is a must. There, you can try the thin-crusted, coal-fired chewy deliciousness of Pepe’s pies — particularly the white clam pizza, which has freshly shucked littleneck clams with garlic, oregano, olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.
Established in 1851 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Deer Park Tavern is built on the site of an inn that is believed to have accommodated the likes of George Washington and Edgar Allen Poe. The historic tavern’s logo is based on Poe’s famous poem “The Raven” and rumor has it that Deer Park’s basement was part of the Underground Railroad network that ran during the Civil War. Located near the University of Delaware, Deer Park is a popular spot for locals and college students who come to enjoy a pint along with some burgers, wings, nachos and sandwiches.
Joe's Stone Crab/Yelp
Joe’s Stone Crab is a tourist trap worth eating at, serving up some of Miami Beach’s best seafood since 1913. Because its specialty is its Florida stone crab claws (served with Joe’s signature mustard sauce), the restaurant is only open from mid-October through May for stone crab season, during which time you’ll also want to stop by for a bite of Joe’s famous fried chicken or key lime pie.
Enjoy the best of Southern cuisine and culture at H&H Soul Food, an iconic Georgia landmark in the charming town of Macon. Founded in 1959 by Inez Hill and Louise Hudson, the restaurant was made famous during the 1970s when it was frequented by members of the Allman Brothers Band and gained even more fame in 2007, when it was featured on an episode of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” Classic soul food on the menu includes fried chicken, smoked turkey, barbecue brisket and more, with a rotating menu of vegetables that includes collards, squash, lima beans, black-eyed peas and okra.
Roy's Hawaii Kai/Yelp
Roy’s is now a chain, but the original outpost that’s been around since 1988 is the place to go to enjoy both the best of regional Hawaiian cuisine and a traditional, homey vibe. Combining far east Asian flavors with European culinary techniques, Roy’s refers to its food as “Hawaii inspired Euro-Asian cuisine” with inventively delicious sushi such as its Outta Control Roll, made with soft shell crab, maguro, fire roasted peppers, garlic chips and chili pepper aioli, or the macadamia nut-crusted hawaiian fish with lobster sauce.
Serving the beautiful lakefront town of Coeur d’Alene since 1907, the Hudson family is known for selling fresh burgers without any fries whatsoever. All you need are pickles, onions and their secret recipe hot sauces, as well as cheese, if you like. Also on the menu at Hudson’s Hamburgers are ham and egg sandwiches and delicious slices of homemade pie.
A Chicago institution, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is a tourist trap that even the locals love, open since 1971. It’s home to some of America’s best deep-dish pizza, which makes sense considering the founder’s father, Rudy Malnati, allegedly helped develop the recipe for Chicago-style ‘za. Order the most popular item, the Malnati Chicago Classic, which features lean sausage, vine-ripened tomato sauce and extra mozzarella.
Known for its legendary shrimp cocktail, St. Elmo Steak House has been open since 1902, earning a name for its delicious steak and seafood in the decades since. It’s also known to be the most expensive restaurant in the state, but the price tag is worth it. The menu is filled with deliciously juicy steak cuts, grilled racks of lamb, fresh fish, crab-stuffed shrimp, loaded baked potatoes, house-made onion rings, and desserts like a double chocolate mousse pie or the St. Elmo creme brulee.
Sara Beth D./Yelp
Iowa’s oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar, Breitbach’s Country Dining, opened in 1852 and has been owned and operated by the Breitbach family since 1862. Breitbach’s is the epitome of Iowa dining, serving Midwestern classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring homemade soups and salads, and leave room for delicious homemade pies.
Formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que was named one of the “13 Places to Eat Before You Die” by the late Anthony Bourdain, who declared it “the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.” Located in what used to be a gas station, Joe’s is especially well known for its pulled pork, which you can enjoy in the form of the best sandwich in the state.
Located in the hipster-friendly Louisville neighborhood known as the Highlands, Jack Fry’s still has the same old-school vibe as when it opened its doors in 1933. Its eponymous founder had a love for horse races and boxing matches and was known for his discreet bookmaking and bootlegging. The history of the place is still present in the many vintage photographs decorating the walls and in the live jazz setting the ambiance of the early 20th-century South. Enjoy its delicious beef filet along with spicy oysters and regional favorites like shrimp and grits and (of course) a mint julep.
With such a long and fascinating history and love for the culinary arts, New Orleans is home to plenty of iconic spots for Cajun and Creole cuisine. Commander’s Palace, however, stands out with its instantly recognizable turquoise facade and striped awning that’s been a landmark of the charming, tree-lined Garden District of New Orleans since 1893. Over the decades, Commander’s Palace has earned a name for its haute Creole fare, which includes its legendary turtle soup, andouille-spiced gulf shrimp and creole gumbo. It also has one of the best brunches in America — a jazz brunch featuring buttermilk biscuits with smoked oysters and housemade andouille gravy, 16-hour barbecued cochon de lait with eggs benedict and all sorts of creative Southern cocktails.
Enjoy a picturesque meal below a lighthouse on the shores of Cape Elizabeth at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, one of the best seafood shacks in the country. While it’s especially well known for its lobster rolls, the Lobster Shack also serves clams, fish, scallops, burgers and more to enjoy at picnic tables along the shore or in its dining room, which boasts fantastic ocean views.
A crab cake from Faidley Seafood is the absolute best thing to eat in Maryland, where crab cakes are an essential part of local cuisine. Since 1886, Faidley Seafood has been a staple of Baltimore’s Lexington Market, and it now even offers next-day air shipping. The jumbo lump Maryland blue crab meat is mixed with broken saltines, Old Bay seasoning and a secret mayonnaise-based sauce before being flash-fried to create some of the best crab cakes you’ll ever taste.
Established in 1826, Union Oyster House claims to be the oldest restaurant in continuous service in America and, located on Boston’s Freedom Trail, the nationally registered historic landmark is undeniably one of the city’s many significant stops for history buffs. In addition to fresh oysters, the menu features clams, shrimp scampi, broiled sea scallops, all kinds of fish and its classic clam chowder, the best soup you’ll find in the state.
Matt’s Bar & Grill is one of two Minneapolis bars that claims to be the birthplace of the Juicy Lucy, a cheeseburger with cheese oozing out of the center instead of melted on top of the patty. Whether it’s the original or not, Matt’s Jucy Lucy (Matt’s foregos the “i”) is definitely one of America’s best burgers.
The French-inspired Southern cuisine from James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence has turned City Grocery into the leading fine-dining destination in Mississippi. Enjoy comfort food classics like shrimp and grits and a roast beef po’boy or try the bourbon-braised short ribs or adobo-stewed chicken for a decadent meal. And don’t forget to head upstairs for a more casual vibe at The Upstairs Bar, one of the best bars in the country.
The history of Arthur Bryant’s is believed to go back to 1908, with a restaurant called Perry’s Barbecue, owned by Henry Perry, widely considered the “father of Kansas City barbecue.” This restaurant was taken over by Charlie Bryant, who left it to his brother Arthur after his death. Arthur Bryant was known as the “King of Ribs,” and his restaurant has earned iconic status, with its homemade barbecue sauce drawing in diners from around the country. Its beef and fries, pulled pork, burnt ends and barbecue sandwiches have all helped this joint earn a reputation as one of America’s top casual restaurants.
The Burger Dive owner and head chef Brad Halsten was crowned the “Burger Champion” at the 2016 World Food Championships, and you can try three of the burgers that helped him win that title at his restaurant in downtown Billings. The Best of the Bash Burger — a blackened one-third pound Angus patty with goat cheese, bacon, fresh-cut onion ring, arugula, sriracha and garlic basil mayo on a locally baked bun — is one of the best burgers in the country, and definitely worth the visit.
The Drover Restaurant & Lounge is known for the unusual marinade used on its steaks: whiskey. For more than 40 years, Drover’s secret whiskey marinade recipe has earned it acclaim in the Omaha restaurant scene, with each steak soaked for 15 minutes and served alongside a baked potato or french fries.
The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge/Yelp
If you eat one thing while in Nevada, let it be Peppermill’s nachos, a wonderful mess of tortilla chips, refried beans, jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, olives, various cheeses and chicken or ground beef. Open 24 hours on the Las Vegas Strip, the neon-lit Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge is a fun and flashy place that’s still decidedly low-key, and has been featured in countless films, television shows and music videos. Have a top-notch steak, burger or rack of ribs, or go for a hearty breakfast like the Joe’s San Francisco Special — scrambled eggs with ground sausage and beef, spinach and onions, topped with cheese sauce and served over hash browns.
Try some of the most delicious pancakes at a small-town restaurant that’s more than 90 years old, located inside a rustic building with a cozy interior. At Polly’s Pancake Parlor, you can choose small pancakes made from six different batters (plain, whole wheat, buckwheat, gingerbread, cornmeal and oatmeal buttermilk) and a choice of four different add-ins (blueberries, chocolate chips, walnuts and coconut). Also on the menu are waffles, French toast and other breakfast staples, as well as pure New Hampshire maple syrup.
No one does diners better than New Jersey, and the best diner in the country is East Newark’s Tops Diner, open since 1942 and serving more than 15,000 people every week. Particularly well known for its take on a Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwich — an iconic American breakfast — Tops Diner also serves perfect meatloaf, lobster mac and cheese, red velvet pancakes and cheesecake made fresh from scratch.
El Pinto started as a one-room restaurant in 1962, but today sits on 12 acres of land that’s home to a 5,000-square-foot salsa and hot sauce manufacturing facility as well as a restaurant that has five patios, three indoor dining rooms and a cantina. With enough seating for 1,200 hungry customers, the restaurant claims it’s the largest New Mexican restaurant in New Mexico,. Enjoy burritos, red chile ribs, enchiladas and huevos rancheros with El Pinto’s own brand of salsas and sauces, along with all kinds of handcrafted margaritas at the tequila bar.
An icon of New York City, Katz’s Delicatessen is America’s best Jewish deli, gaining even more fame after being featured in one of the most memorable scenes of the 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally.” Katz’s Deli has been a favorite of both tourists and locals since it opened its doors in 1888, and its corned-beef-and-pastrami-on-rye sandwiches are especially legendary. Every week, Katz’s reportedly serves 15,000 pounds of pastrami, 8,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 4,000 hot dogs.
Beloved by University of North Dakota students, Red Pepper has been a mainstay of the Grand Forks food scene since the 1960s. The most popular menu items are the tacos and grinders, and nothing beats the Everything Grinder (white sauce, lettuce, hot sauce, Swiss cheese and ham, salami, turkey and/or taco meat on a roll), North Dakota’s best sandwich.
The Golden Lamb/Yelp
With origins that can be traced back to 1803, The Golden Lamb claims to be the oldest continually operating business in Ohio. Since opening its doors, the Golden Lamb has served all kinds of workers and travelers, including 12 presidents, and writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. The menu features hickory-roasted prime rib, seared Faroe Island salmon, Ohio fried chicken and, of course, braised lamb.
Oklahoma City’s oldest continually operating restaurant, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is one of the best inexpensive American steakhouses and has hosted many big names, such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan (pre-presidency), Reba McEntire and President George H. W. Bush. Cattlemen’s locally sourced steaks are charcoal-broiled and served with natural jus for lunch, dinner and even breakfast.
At Restaurant Beck, you’ll be treated to lovely ocean views and innovative New American cuisine made with the finest locally sourced ingredients. Served from Tuesday through Sunday, the dinner menu changes daily, but sample dishes include pork belly with caramelized miso ice cream and sea beans; halibut with celery root, fiddlehead ferns, garlic vinaigrette, pork belly lardon and bittercress; and duck confit with a leek and carrot confit, orange miso, leek ash, orange supreme and petit mustard greens.
The buffet at Shady Maple Smorgasbord is open for breakfast as well as lunch, but it’s at dinner time that you really get your money’s worth with the best all-you-can-eat deal in the state. Take your pick of 46 salad-bar items, eight homemade breads and rolls, eight meats, 14 vegetables, three soups, four cheeses, three hot desserts, 10 cold desserts, six cakes, eight pies, a sundae bar and all kinds of beverages. Line it all up and you’ve got about 200 feet of authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, feeding almost 1.5 million people every year.
In addition to an award-winning wine list, Hemenway’s serves fresh seafood purchased from New England’s many fishmongers and purveyors. Try the signature shellfish platter at the restaurant’s raw bar, or the crab cakes, seafood salads and paella made with saffron rice, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, swordfish, chourico, pimentos and English peas.
Husk, which was the restaurant that put now-legendary Southern chef and restaurateur Sean Brock on the map, utilizes local ingredients and modern approaches to give classic Southern cuisine a fresh and upscale twist. Its lunch-only fried chicken and cheeseburgers are among the nation’s best, and its daily-changing dinner menu also may include items such as smoked sausage and cornmeal fritters with Kentucky bacon and housemade peach jelly; crispy catfish with Carolina Gold rice and peanuts and green curry broth; and Heritage pork with sweet potato fingerlings, apples, spiced pecans and sorghum.
A cowboy-themed destination since 1931, Wall Drug has earned notoriety for its billboards up to 1,000 miles out — and even around the world — and welcomes people with a promise of free ice water. The South Dakota attraction is home to a drug store, gift shop and other stores as well as a gallery of more than 300 original oil paintings of Western art that also serves as a restaurant. Dig into a hot beef sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, or try out the buffalo burgers or homemade donuts, and wash it all down with a glass of wine or a 5-cent coffee.
There’s a lot of love (and top-notch homestyle Southern cooking) at Loveless Café, known for its iconic biscuits and gravy and amazing fried chicken served since 1951, when Lon and Annie Loveless first opened the doors of this great old-school restaurant. Its country ham and red-eye gravy are also well-loved, and breakfast is available all day, every day.
At Franklin Barbecue, run by renowned pitmaster Aaron Franklin, meat lovers have been known to line up as early as three hours before doors open at 11 a.m., and the food is clearly worth waiting for, considering it’s usually sold out by 2 or 3 p.m. Topping our list of the nation’s best casual restaurants, Franklin Barbecue serves brisket, pulled pork, ribs, turkey and sausage by the pound and in sandwiches, which you can pair with slaw, pinto beans and potato salad before finishing up with a slice of bourbon banana, pecan or key lime pie.
Located inside a trolley car from the early 1900s, Ruth’s Diner has been serving classic Southwest-style comfort food since 1930. Most notable are Ruth’s giant, fluffy biscuits, as well as the huevos rancheros, chicken fried steak, chili verde, pulled pork Benedict and deep-fried mac and cheese. Relax on the patio and take in a lovely view of the nearby creek while finishing off your meal with an old-fashioned chocolate malt pudding, root beer float or peach and blueberry cobbler.
Hen of the Wood celebrates the best of Vermont’s farmers, cheesemakers and other artisanal purveyors via a farm-to-table al fresco dining experience, with umbrellas providing shade on a serene patio and a beautiful brook and waterfall providing a peaceful atmosphere. This idyllic backdrop will enhance your enjoyment of the simple yet elegant menu, which includes items such as oysters with cocktail sauce, crispy rabbit loin with maple-candied bacon, hanger steak with buttered sweet potato and grilled radicchio with smoked creme fraiche.
Rappahannock Oyster Company dubs Merroir its very own “tasting room,” where their gourmet oysters, farmed on the banks of the Rappahannock River, can be sampled raw or grilled, and served alongside small plates (try the Angels on Horseback, baked oysters with Edwards ham and herb butter). As the seasons change, so does the menu, but the high quality of these Chesapeake Bay mollusks remains the same.
Built on the edge of a cliff outside the city in the mid-century modern Northwest architectural style, Canlis is a refined and romantic place to dine, with breathtaking views of both Seattle and Lake Union. The menu represents the best of high-end contemporary Northwest cuisine with dishes such as their iconic Canlis salad (romaine lettuce, mint, oregano, bacon and Romano with a dressing of olive oil, lemon and coddled egg), black cod (served with Walla Walla onions, sweet pepper tapenade and corn veloute) and dry-aged lamb leg and belly (served with cauliflower and mustard greens cooked in pear vinegar).
Washington D.C.’s oldest saloon opened in 1856 and has served most U.S. presidents, starting with Ulysses S. Grant. The legendary watering hole, which has moved multiple times (it’s been in its current location since 1983), sits less than a block from the White House, and it’s one of the best bars in the country, with bartenders that can make nearly any cocktail in addition to a dozen seasonal offerings. Come to Old Ebbitt Grill for Oyster Happy Hour, go for a cheese sampler or salad if you’re simply feeling peckish, or dive right into a plate of Maryland day boat scallops or a cornmeal-crusted Chesapeake Bay catfish sandwich.
You’ll find that world-class hotels have some of the best restaurants, and the Main Dining Room at The Greenbrier is no exception. The best hotel in West Virginia, the Greenbrier is a state landmark and has been serving guests for more than 100 years as a luxury destination. Jackets are required in the Main Dining Room, and the menu is up to scale too, with dishes like its acclaimed five onion soup, roasted Cornish game hen and poached dover sole.
Franks Diner is a fantastic hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s particularly well known for its Garbage Plate: a large omelet cooked with hash browns, onions, green peppers, meat and cheese. The lunch-car-style diner seats just 55 people, and also serves meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, gigantic burgers, buttermilk pancakes and drinks like bloody marys and screwdriver cocktails.
A true Jackson Hole fine-dining destination, Snake River Grill features the best of New American cuisine as well as an impressive bar featuring 300 wines and signature cocktails. The menu includes delights such as elk carpaccio, steak tartare pizza, crispy pork shank, truffle fries and pecan-crusted Idaho trout. Add in the fact that its acclaimed Eskimo Bars — ice cream dipped in chocolate and caramel — have been featured on Food Network’s “The Best Things I Ever Ate,” and you’ll understand why this restaurant is just one reason Jackson is one of America’s best foodie towns.
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