If you want to have a meal at a particularly popular restaurant, the odds of having to physically stand in a long line to wait for a table tend to be pretty slim. Most in-demand restaurants take reservations (even if those reservations are tough to come by), and even the ones that don’t will let you check in and then notify you with a text or via a buzzer when your table is ready. But at some restaurants, you wait in line. And when a restaurant is popular enough and good enough, people have no problem waiting for hours for a table. The following 50 restaurants are worth the wait.
The burger at Au Cheval in Chicago is one of America’s best burgers. But if you want to sample it, or any of the restaurant’s other gut-busting specialties like honey-fried chicken or crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy, you’re going to have to get in line.
Perhaps the most famous eatery in Washington, D.C., Ben’s Chili Bowl has been going strong for more than 60 years, serving one of the foods you absolutely need to try in America: the half-smoke. This regional specialty is a thick, smoky link topped with mustard, onions and a spicy chili sauce. College kids, old-timers and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else.
Biscuit Love’s “East Nasty,” a biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, cheddar and sausage gravy, is a wonder to behold, but a plain biscuit with sausage gravy (or chocolate gravy, one of those foods you’ll only find in the South) is the dish to order when in Nashville. As expected at a restaurant this popular, though, the wait for a table can feel like an eternity, especially if your stomach is grumbling.
It’s really true that no visit to New Orleans is complete without a trip to Café du Monde, home to the humble beignet, a square of fried dough topped with a mound of powdered sugar that’s a local specialty. Wait in line for your table (the wait is never as long as it looks) and make sure you order a coffee to wash it all down.
Located in Charleston, South Carolina, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit serves biscuits, one of those things Southerners always have on their breakfast table, that are essentially perfect. They’re sandwiched with your choice of jam, country ham, pimento cheese or more substantial offerings like bacon, egg and cheddar. It’s a small, counter-serve establishment though, so get there early and get in line. Even if you’re not hungry when you arrive, you will be by the time you get your food.
This Berkeley, California, spot makes only one type of pizza per day, and it’s always vegetarian. If you want to sample that day’s offering, be prepared to wait. It’ll be worth it though — Cheese Board Pizza is up there with the best pizza in America.
J Giggles L./ Yelp
Clinton Street Baking Company in New York City is well-established for serving some of the best pancakes in America, but if you wake up on a Sunday morning and expect to roll out of bed and stroll right in, you’ll be in for a jolt. Wait times during brunch are long.
A perfect example of a great old-school pizzeria, Di Fara in Brooklyn, New York, has been overseen by Domenico De Marco (and now his children) since he opened it in 1965. If you stand at the counter and watch them make your pizza by hand and snip some fresh basil over it with a pair of scissors, the experience is worth braving the perpetual crowds.
Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese chain that has expanded to the West Coast, where there are a handful of locations in California, Washington and Oregon. It specializes in soup dumplings and buns, and during peak hours folks flock to each location, and have no problem waiting an hour or more for a table.
The queue at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, is one of the most notorious lines in America and a rite of passage for barbecue lovers everywhere. People start lining up long before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m., and the wait is going to be anywhere from two to six hours, so bring a lawn chair and some beer and consider the wait a part of the experience. It’s all worth it, though. A barbecue plate here is one of the most iconic dishes in America.
Located near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, the legendary Grimaldi’s Pizzeria still commands long lines, even if it has become a beloved pizza chain. It’s a splendid destination to hit up after strolling the Brooklyn Bridge, but remember, it’s cash only.
Nashville-style hot chicken is up there with the biggest restaurant trends, and one of Nashville’s most famous purveyors of spice-drenched fried chicken is Hattie B's Hot Chicken. The restaurant is insanely popular, and opening more locations hasn’t done much to stem the tide of hungry visitors. Those who’ve braved the wait — and the heat — have said that it’s well worth it, though.
High Five Ramen/Yelp
A tiny “subterranean ramen lair,” Chicago’s High Five Ramen draws crowds for its impeccable tonkotsu, shio, shoyu and maitake ramen. It’s a funky, dimly lit space with coconut painkiller slushies on tap (as great a cocktail as you’ll find anywhere), so it’s no surprise that the wait for a seat can be a long one.
Howlin’ Ray’s started as a food truck and is now a tiny Chinatown storefront serving fresh-from-the-fryer hot chicken, and it’s some of the best fried chicken in America. Nashville hot chicken has made its way to Los Angeles in a big way, but if you want to sample it, you’re going to have to wait in line.
Katz’s Delicatessen is one of the best Jewish delis in America, serving untouchable pastrami, corned beef, hot dogs and other classic deli fare. The squat, sprawling Katz’s Deli has a peculiar ordering system: You wait in a line that regularly stretches far beyond the front door, take a ticket and order at the counter. Then you take your food to an open table and hand them your marked-up ticket to pay on the way out. It’s old fashioned, but it works.
Consistently rated one of the very best Mexican restaurants in the country, Las Cuatro Milpas is a San Diego icon, with lines snaking down the block almost constantly. Once you try those rolled tacos and tamales, though, you’ll likely believe the wait was worth it.
Leon’s Oyster Shop is one of the hottest restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. A fun and inviting space with a long bar, Leon’s is home to a stellar raw bar, some of the city’s best fried chicken and a fun and slightly divey ambiance. Reservations can be tough to come by, but you’re best off trying to make one before visiting. If you drop in unannounced, you can expect to wait.
If you want to sample some brisket and ribs at Phoenix, Arizona, hotspot Little Miss BBQ, you’re going to have to get in line. Go on the weekend to try the beef ribs, which are only available on Friday and Saturday, but know you’re going to have to wait even longer.
A true culinary historic landmark, Louis’ Lunch is widely regarded to be the birthplace of the hamburger as we know it. The burger remains one of America’s best burgers, still made according to the original recipe on the same upright broilers. The building itself, however, is absolutely tiny, and it gets pretty packed during the lunch rush. So if you want one of the OG burgers, you’re going to have to get there early, and you’re going to have to wait in line.
Pizza might as well be the official food of Brooklyn, and Lucali might be the best pizza in town. This spot is quite spread out, so there’s basically always a wait to get in. In fact, would-be patrons sometimes arrive hours before the restaurant opens to get in line. If you show up during primetime, expect to camp out for a couple hours.
Are the buttermilk pancakes served at San Antonio’s Magnolia Pancake Haus the best in the world? Many people who have eaten the creatively topped pancakes on the menu would say so. Unfortunately, if you decide to find out for yourself during prime brunch time, your wait for a table will be a long one.
The cozy Mama’s on Washington Square in San Francisco is one of America’s best breakfast spots, serving top-notch omelets, pastries, French toast and eggs Benedicts for more than 50 years. If you want to visit, however, you’re going to have to work for it. The line to get in forms long before the restaurant opens and can stretch on for hours.
Since 1938, folks in New Orleans have been lining up outside Mother’s doors to enjoy heaping breakfasts and traditional Cajun specialties. But the real stars of the show here are the po’boys. Try the one with roast beef, gravy and a special addition that’s only found in New Orleans: debris — shreds of meat and char that fall from the roast beef as it slowly cooks, steeping in rendered fat and juices.
The most famous hot dog stand in the country, Nathan’s original stand in Brooklyn’s Coney Island is a place every American should visit in a lifetime. 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.
The narrow, elegant Neptune Oyster is one of Boston’s most beloved restaurants, serving oysters, clam chowder, lobster rolls and other seafood specialties that are just as good, if not better, than what you’ll find at America’s best seafood shacks. But the combination of being very small, very good and very popular (and not accepting reservations) has led to very long lines to get in.
San Francisco’s Nopa is bright, casual, fun and perfect for just about any meal. It has a wide-ranging and accessible menu, which means one thing: it’s packed — pretty much always. If you want to visit this restaurant, which is one of the 101 best restaurants in America, you better try to make a reservation a month in advance or be prepared to wait for a table.
There’s no lock on the door at The Original Pantry, which is one of America’s best 24-hour diners. Cash-only and with no shortage of long lines, this 90-plus-year-old staple is renowned for its ample portions, perfect pancakes and sourdough French toast, apple pie and steaks.
Paseo is a Seattle institution, serving real-deal Caribbean food and satisfying sandwiches, including the famous Caribbean Roast, with roast pork shoulder, cilantro, jalapeños, caramelized onions and garlic aioli. The original location isn’t much more than a tiny shack, though, and lines often stretch far beyond the front door.
A beloved Dallas 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, and just about everything on the menu is made from scratch, including the otherworldly sides: collard greens, some of America’s best mac and cheese and fried okra. Get there early to grab your spot in line.
Countless restaurants serve French dipped sandwiches, but the definitive version can still be found at the restaurant where it was invented: Los Angeles’ Philippe the Original. As the creator of one of America’s most legendary sandwiches, it’s one of LA’s most famous and popular restaurants. It’s a tourist trap that even the locals love, so be prepared to line up accordingly.
Crystal L./ Yelp
Pink’s Hot Dogs has been serving some of America’s best hot dogs to celebrities and tourists in Los Angeles since 1939. The bacon chili cheese dog is a classic, even if the calorie count isn’t Hollywood approved. These dogs (and the whole Pink’s experience) are worth the wait in line.
Pizzeria Bianco has become renowned for its spectacular pies since it opened in Phoenix back in 1988, and it remains a restaurant that’s beloved by both locals and tourists alike. If you love pizza and happen to find yourself in Phoenix, it’s a must-visit, but don’t be surprised if there’s a wait.
Pittsburgh's Primanti Brothers’ Almost Famous Sandwiches are distinctive. French fries are placed between two thick slices of soft Italian bread, along with meat of your choice, melted provolone cheese, coleslaw and tomatoes. If you visit the original location, you should expect to wait in line, but Primanti Bros serves one of America’s most legendary sandwiches.
Good pizza is easy to find in the New York City area, but truly great pizza, like the one served at the no-reservations Razza Pizza Artigianale in Jersey City, New Jersey, will always be in high demand. That’s why folks line up early to sample the masterful creations there — they’re eager for a taste of some of the best pizza in the world at one of America’s best casual restaurants.
The best Mexican restaurant in Utah, Red Iguana has a massive menu with six marvelous moles, eight enchiladas, a variety of spectacular tacos and burritos and some comforting egg dishes, among dozens of other specialties. If you’re planning on visiting, however, make sure you get there early, or otherwise be prepared to wait.
Widely regarded as serving one of the best lobster rolls in America, Red’s Eats is a small roadside stand in the town of Wiscasset, Maine. The wait actually begins in your car — this place causes a traffic jam before people even park and get in the actual line. Expect to wait an hour or more for your roll during peak times, but the roll itself is heaping with fresh lobster.
Regina Pizzeria is one of Boston’s most beloved pizzerias and has been a North End destination since 1926. It’s spawned plenty of additional Massachusetts locations, but the original is still the one to visit. So get in line, make some friends and don’t worry about the long wait: the end result is some of the best pizza in America.
Rino’s Place is a real-deal Italian restaurant in East Boston, serving a wide variety of homemade Italian favorites. It’s widely regarded as being up there with America’s best Italian restaurants, so much so that waits can easily extend to two or three hours for one of the handful of tables.
Rose’s Luxury’s small menu showcases international flavors with a decidedly American twist. Even though the selection is small, it’s always big on flavor and creativity. If you want to dine at one of the hottest restaurants in town, however, you’re going to have to wait in line, even though a limited number of reservations are accepted.
Snooze has locations in Colorado, California, Arizona, North Carolina, Missouri and Texas, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to wait for a table. This restaurant, which serves some of the best brunch in America, is open only until 2:30 p.m. daily and no matter which location you visit, you’re going to have to be patient, even if you put your name on the online waitlist.
The insanely hip Los Angeles restaurant Sqirl is a must-visit Instagrammable hotspot. Its menu is loaded with well-composed and stunningly beautiful dishes, and the breakfast menu stars some of the best breakfast dishes around. If you want to sample that famous sorrel pesto rice, though, be prepared to wait.
More than 30 small, clever plates are served via dim sum-style rolling carts at State Bird Provisions. This San Francisco spot was one of the first non-Chinese restaurants in America to utilize this method, and its very limited reservations policy means that if you want to sample the food, you’re going to have to line up.
Crowds line up long before the doors open at indispensable San Francisco institution Swan Oyster Depot, a narrow, counter-only hole in the wall that’s been faithfully serving some of the city’s freshest seafood for decades. Seafood cocktails, fresh crab, chowder 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.
Occupying a cozy corner storefront in a cute Brooklyn neighborhood since 1936, Tom’s is a true honest-to-goodness old-school diner, and when brunchtime rolls around, the crowds show up. Lines are known to stretch around the block on the weekends, but the wait is worth it to experience one of the very best diners in America.
It’s hard to imagine a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, without a stop by the White House Sub Shop to get one of the 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.
The chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House is, simply put, otherworldly. The crust is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy, and shatteringly crisp and crunchy. Underneath, the chicken is delightfully juicy. The humble restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so get there early or expect to wait in a long line for a table. But the end result will be worth it, as it's quite possibly the very best fried chicken in America.
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