60 Iconic U.S. Restaurants to Try Before You Die


View as:

Photo credit: Mega Pixel/shutterstock


Can't decide on a vacation spot? Maybe it's time to eat your way across America, sampling the unique dishes and unrivaled ambience at some of the country's most distinct restaurants. From greasy spoons to fine dining that's worth a splurge, read on to discover 60 of the most iconic places (as recommended by expert and customer reviews) to satisfy a grumbling tummy and get a taste of local flavor.

Related: 15 Restaurants with Crazy Lines That Are Still Worth the Wait

Related: The 30 Best Restaurant Patios in America

(Editor's note: This story has been revised since publication.)

Photo credit: The-Bright-Star/facebook.com


City: Bessemer, Alabama
Type of food: Seafood/Greek
What people say: This landmark opened in 1907 and is still worthy of a stop. A James Beard Foundation "America's Classic," it's as renowned for service as for food.
What to order: The snapper throats and gumbo are at the top of diners' lists, along with the homemade pies.

Photo credit: TheSaltryRestaurant/facebook.com


City: Halibut Cove, Alaska
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: The food is good, no doubt. But you're going for the pristine scenery. The Saltry is accessible only by boat, and diners are treated to sweeping views of mountains, glaciers, and forests from the outdoor tables.
What to order: The halibut and pickled salmon get nods from The New York Times, but just about all the fresh-caught seafood is delicious.

Photo credit: Jackie K./yelp.com


City: Scottsdale, Arizona
Type of food: Diner/soda fountain
What people say: When you want your sundae topped with a big dollop of nostalgia, this is where to go. Everything from the Formica tables to the Pepto-pink chairs seems to be yanked straight from the '50s, when this popular spot opened. It's made frequent appearances in "Family Circus" cartoons.
What to order: Skip the sandwiches and go straight for a sundae or a gooey banana split.

Photo credit: Hank R./yelp.com


City: Decatur, Alabama
Type of food: Barbecue
What people say: You can't miss the huge neon piggy that beckons you to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, which has been around since 1925. Don't expect anything fancy inside -- the barbecue is the star, and most visitors don't want it any other way.
What to order: Zagat recommends the chicken with signature white sauce, which combines mayo, black pepper, and vinegar.

Photo credit: SpagoBeverlyHills/facebook.com


City: Beverly Hills, California
Type of food: Californian
What people say: Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant remains worthy of a bank-account-emptying splurge, drawing an evenly divided crowd of tourists, locals, and, of course, celebrities. The romantic patio is a particular favorite, and service is top-notch.
What to order: It's almost impossible to pick, so the seasonal multi-course tasting menu is a good bet.

Photo credit: Ann S./yelp.com


City: San Francisco
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: This unassuming Nob Hill lunch counter will probably have a line, but it's worth the wait -- after all, it's another James Beard-designated "America's Classic." Just make sure to bring cash.
What to order: The oysters, of course. Reviewers also recommend the clam chowder.

Photo credit: BuckhornExchange/facebook.com


City: Denver
Type of food: Steakhouse
What people say: The taxidermy-filled walls and unique Western menu (think rattlesnake and Rocky Mountain oysters) make this an experience hard to match elsewhere.
What to order: If you like lean meat, go for the buffalo. Buffalo tenderloin and prime rib are dinner options; try a bison burger or Reuben for lunch.

Photo credit: Diana M./yelp.com


City: New Haven, Connecticut
Type of food: Burgers
What people say: This unpretentious hole in the wall claims to have invented the hamburger more than 100 years ago, and reviewers say time has stood still inside ever since.
What to order: A burger, of course. Just don't expect a traditional bun -- the patties are served on toast. The potato salad and pie also come highly recommended.

Photo credit: JessopsTavern/facebook.com


City: New Castle, Delaware
Type of food: Colonial American
What people say: It's housed in a nearly 350-year-old building, so it's only fitting that servers are outfitted in colonial dress. Despite that, reviewers say this isn't just a tourist trap -- the food is good, as is the service.
What to order: The shepherd's pie gets the nod -- washed down with one of the restaurant's Belgian beers.

Photo credit: Rob L./yelp.com


City: Miami Beach, Florida
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: Joe's has come a long way from its humble beginning as a lunch counter in 1913 -- now it's a large, swanky affair with servers in tuxes. One thing that hasn't changed, reviewers say, is the mouth-watering food.
What to order: The chilled stone crab legs are a must -- go for the jumbo size if you're extra hungry (and flush with cash) -- and cap it off with Key lime pie.

Photo credit: Michael W./yelp.com


City: Atlanta
Type of food: Southern
What people say: This family-owned spot has been serving Southern home cooking in an unpretentious atmosphere since 1927. It attracts a large, diverse crowd. Pass the wait for a table at the friendly, well-stocked bar.
What to order: Don't miss the fried chicken. Traditional sides such as collard greens and fried okra also have legions of fans.

Photo credit: alanwongshonolulu/facebook.com


City: Honolulu
Type of food: Hawaiian
What people say: Alan Wong's is for a truly special night out while on vacation in Hawaii, and it demands special-occasion prices. But diners say it's worth it. The cooking of the James Beard Award-winning chef is synonymous with modern Hawaiian cuisine.
What to order: Reviewers highly recommend the ginger-crusted onaga (a Hawaiian fish). If you can't decide, the tasting menu is worth a splurge.

Photo credit: beverlys7thfloor/facebook.com


City: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Type of food: American/Northwest
What people say: The sweeping views of Lake Coeur d'Alene are more than worth the trip, but this restaurant isn't coasting on location: It's one of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America's top spots in the U.S.
What to order: Start with the carpaccio. The wine menu might be the bigger star -- the restaurant boasts more than 14,000 bottles.

Photo credit: loumalnatis/facebook.com


City: Chicago
Type of food: Pizza
What people say: One of Zagat's picks in a city packed with great pizzerias, Lou Malnati's is among the best bets for an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza. Homesick Chicagoans can get Lou's pizzas shipped across the country.
What to order: Pizza, of course, complete with famous buttery crust. If you need something lighter to accompany the gut-busting pies, the Malnati salad is a hit too.

Photo credit: Kevin G./yelp.com


City: Chicago
Type of food: Italian/hot dogs/fast food
What people say: Although Portillo's has expanded into a chain, the original 1963 restaurant in Chicago's Near North Side neighborhood is worth a pilgrimage for the atmosphere and the food, which devotees say is as good as ever.
What to order: The Italian beef sandwich is beloved by almost everyone, and so are the Chicago-style hot dogs.

Photo credit: stelmosteakhouse/facebook.com


City: Indianapolis
Type of food: Steak/seafood
What people say: Conjure a steakhouse in your mind and it would probably resemble St. Elmo's, with its classic bar, nattily dressed servers, and photos of celebrities on the walls. It's been a downtown Indy staple since 1902.
What to order: The horseradish-heavy shrimp cocktail has attained near-legendary status, and reviewers say the steaks are almost always perfectly cooked.

Photo credit: Todd H./yelp.com


City: Ottumwa, Iowa
Type of food: Diner/fast food
What people say: Yes, this odd little restaurant is actually in an alley (just look for the neon sign), and that only adds to its appeal. Around since 1927, the Canteen and its tiny interior feature an old-school lunch counter. If there's a wait, it's worth it.
What to order: A loose-meat sandwich, washed down by a malt, and followed up by a slice of homemade pie.

Photo credit: John C./yelp.com


City: Salina, Kansas
Type of food: Diner/fast food
What people say: The Cozy Inn has been slapping sliders down on wax paper since 1922, and sitting at the small lunch counter feels like a time warp. The smell alone is worth the trip for some -- just don't expect extras such as cheese, lettuce, or tomato.
What to order: A burger, of course, which is served with only onions. The neon sign commands customers to "buy 'em by the sack."

Photo credit: Ginger S./yelp.com


City: Louisville, Kentucky
Type of food: American/fine dining
What people say: The AAA 4-diamond Brown Hotel is one of the most refined spots in Louisville, and dining here is a true throwback. The atmosphere is elegant but not stuffy, and reviewers appreciate the attentive service.
What to order: The Hot Brown, the signature open-face sandwich piled with turkey, bacon, and Mornay sauce invented right here in 1926. Start with a mint julep.

Photo credit: Cafedumonde/facebook.com


City: New Orleans
Type of food: Coffee shop
What people say: This French Quarter landmark started out as a humble coffee stand in 1862. Now it's a busy café welcoming tourists and locals alike 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
What to order: The beignets. These small, square doughnuts are served hot with a healthy amount of powdered sugar. The chicory coffee is also considered a must.

Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org


City: New Orleans
Type of food: Creole
What people say: It's worth the splurge to eat at this turquoise Victorian landmark, which served as a training ground for chefs including Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, and Jamie Shannon.
What to order: Don't miss the turtle soup. Other go-to items include the gumbo, shrimp and grits, and bread pudding soufflé.

Photo credit: Five-Islands-Lobster-Co/facebook.com


City: Georgetown, Maine
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: One of Travel + Leisure's top lobster shacks in Maine, Five Islands Lobster Co. boasts a gorgeous setting on Sheepscot Bay that couldn't be any more classic Maine if it tried. Come prepared for the weather; seating is outdoors only.
What to order: Anything lobster, of course -- whether you go for the hard shell, soft shell, or lobster roll, it won't disappoint. Reviewers also love the onion rings.

Photo credit: Lillian C./yelp.com


City: Baltimore
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: Housed inside the Westside's historic Lexington Market, Faidley's has been going strong since 1886. This isn't a place to kick back -- customers eat standing up at communal tables.
What to order: The jumbo lump crab cakes are the biggest draw, but patrons also recommend the fried oysters.

Photo credit: unionoyster/facebook.com


City: Boston
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: It's the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S. -- open since 1826 -- and a must-visit just for the atmosphere, reviewers say.
What to order: While many people come for the oysters, it's the thick, creamy clam chowder getting near-unanimous praise.

Photo credit: Erick P./yelp.com


City: Lansing, Michigan
Type of food: Breakfast/brunch
What people say: You won't miss Golden Harvest, which is covered inside and out in road signs and other kitsch. Expect long lines due to limited space inside, and bring cash.
What to order: Reviewers rave about everything, but many single out the omelets and the biscuits and gravy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org


City: Minneapolis
Type of food: Burgers/sandwiches
What people say: Yep, it's a dive, but in this case, that's a high compliment. Despite the name and vibe, it's family-friendly, but there may be a line. Bring cash.
What to order: An easy choice: Try the one and only Jucy Lucy -- that's a burger with the cheese stuffed inside.

Photo credit: La La F./yelp.com


City: Oxford, Mississippi
Type of food: Southern
What people say: It's hard to beat this casual spot, perched on Oxford's historic Courthouse Square, for a hearty plate of Southern cooking. It was reportedly one of NFL star Eli Manning's favorites while a University of Mississippi student.
What to order: Chicken and dumplings is an especially tasty dish, diners say. And the cornbread has been honored as best in state by Mississippi Magazine.

Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org


City: Kansas City, Missouri
Type of food: Barbecue
What people say: Kansas City is packed with good barbecue joints, but many say Arthur Bryant's is the king of 'em all. There's no pretense here -- grab a tray at lunch and scoot through the self-serve line.
What to order: All the sandwiches come highly recommended, but the pulled pork and burnt ends seem to get the most mentions. Others are devoted to the ribs, of course.

Photo credit: polebridgemerc/facebook.com


City: Polebridge, Montana
Type of food: Bakery
What people say: About 30 miles from Glacier National Park, Polebridge is remote -- but getting there on dirt roads is half the fun. The mercantile has been around since 1914, and it's among a small group of buildings now on the National Register of Historic Places.
What to order: You just can't leave until you try a huckleberry bear claw. If you're hankering for a full meal, head to the neighboring Northern Lights Saloon.

Photo credit: The-Drover-Restaurant-Lounge/facebook.com


City: Omaha, Nebraska
Type of food: Steakhouse
What people say: There's a reason this old-school '70s-era steakhouse, complete with dark wood and leather booths (although jeans are allowed) was recently featured on "Man v. Food Nation" on the Travel Channel.
What to order: A steak of your choosing soaked in the Drover's famous whiskey marinade. "Man v. Food" host Adam Richman recommends the bone-in ribeye.

Photo credit: Golden-Steer-Steakhouse-Las-Vegas/facebook.com


City: Las Vegas
Type of food: Steakhouse
What people say: Near the Strip but a world away from its flashy restaurants, the Golden Steer is Vegas' oldest steakhouse, opened in 1958. Don't let its strip-mall location fool you: Patrons have included Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, and Muhammad Ali.
What to order: Go for the Caesar salad and bananas Foster to begin and end the meal -- both are prepared tableside. Many recommend the prime rib for a main course.

Photo credit: pickityplace/facebook.com


City: Mason, New Hampshire
Type of food: American
What people say: Reserve one of three seating times to enjoy a five-course, locally sourced gourmet lunch at this impossibly picturesque little cottage, the inspiration for "Little Red Riding Hood" illustrations in 1940s-era Little Golden Books. Herbs are grown on the property.
What to order: Menus change monthly, but all meals include soup, salad, entree, bread, and dessert.

Photo credit: Tops-Diner/facebook.com


City: East Newark, New Jersey
Type of food: Diner
What people say: For many, New Jersey and diners are synonymous, and this one gets the nod as one of America's best from Food & Wine magazine, which praises its "novel of a menu," huge portions, and long list of cheesecakes.
What to order: Before the cheesecake? A burger or the chicken and waffles.

Photo credit: ElPintoRestaurant/facebook.com


City: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Type of food: Mexican
What people say: Come for the atmosphere as much as the food -- this behemoth of a restaurant can seat more than 1,000 diners on the hacienda-like grounds. It boasts several lovely patios and plenty of greenery.
What to order: It's hard to go wrong with a margarita and some enchiladas. Save room for the sopaipillas, which are on the house.

Photo credit: Leonard Zhukovsky/shutterstock


City: New York City
Type of food: Delicatessen
What people say: Many consider Katz's the best of New York's many kosher-style delis -- established in 1888, it's certainly one of the oldest. Bring cash and expect a crowd.
What to order: If you dine here only once, there's one clear choice: Get the pastrami.

Photo credit: KeensSteakhouse/facebook.com


City: New York City
Type of food: Steakhouse
What people say: Pricey, yes. Stuffy, no. The dark wood and antique pipes create an atmosphere that's hard to match, and the service is top-notch.
What to order: Reviewers rave about almost everything, but the prime rib and thick-cut smoked bacon appetizer, in particular, have diners drooling.

Photo credit: Bill C./yelp.com


City: Raleigh, North Carolina
Type of food: Steakhouse/Southern
What people say: This massive restaurant -- yes, it's a barn -- can serve more than 700 at a time. It retains a rustic charm that makes it a go-to for special occasions.
What to order: The prime rib has a lot of fans. The chocolate chess pie has even more.

Photo credit: Jeff C./yelp.com


City: Fargo, North Dakota
Type of food: German
What people say: The authentic German food and bierkeller atmosphere live up to the hype. But the biggest draw might be the good service and dozens of beers on tap.
What to order: The wursts are the best, but try some spaetzle dumplings or spaetzle mac and cheese on the side.

Photo credit: campwashingtonchili/facebook.com


City: Cincinnati
Type of food: Chili/diner
What people say: Cincinnati chili -- a tangy concoction served over spaghetti -- is as beloved by locals as it is disdained by Texans and others from regions with their own takes on the dish. Camp Washington has been the place to get it since 1940.
What to order: Go for the 5 Way: That's sweet chili, spaghetti, onions, beans, and cheese.

Photo credit: Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant/yelp.com


City: Columbus, Ohio
Type of food: German
What people say: This is a kitschy biergarten at its best, and the charming neighborhood surrounding Schmidt's is more than worth an after-dinner stroll.
What to order: Don't miss the hickory-smoked, expertly spiced Bahama Mama sausages, and save room for a half-pound jumbo cream puff.

Photo credit: Lynn G./yelp.com


City: Oklahoma City
Type of food: Steakhouse
What people say: Oklahoma City's oldest continuously operating restaurant still knows how to turn out a steak -- which is also a large part of the breakfast menu at this Stockyard City landmark.
What to order: Any steak, aged according to a secret in-house method, is sure to please. And don't miss the lamb fries (similar to Rocky Mountain Oysters), as either appetizer or entree.

Photo credit: Jennifer V./yelp.com


City: Portland, Oregon
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: A staple in downtown Portland for more than 110 years, this is the place to sample fresh Pacific seafood. Reviewers call the dining room refined without being stuffy, and they praise the top-notch service. The happy-hour menu offers great value too.
What to order: For a decadent seafood splurge, try the Dungeness crab and bay shrimp stuffed salmon. Cap the meal with the cobbler.

Photo credit: Eddy A./yelp.com


City: Portland, Oregon
Type of food: Bakery/doughnuts
What people say: Voodoo Doughnut is just plain weird, and Portland doesn't want it any other way. Prepare to wait in line, and bring cash.
What to order: The bacon maple bar, a long doughnut topped with bacon and maple frosting, may be tops, but the Captain My Captain, covered in vanilla frosting and Cap'n Crunch cereal, is also a hit.

Photo credit: Ian K./yelp.com


City: Philadelphia
Type of food: Cheesesteaks
What people say: In the famous battle of Pat's vs. Geno's, the flashy rival across the street, Pat's is the classic choice -- it is older than Geno's, at least. In classic Philly style, some insults may be served up with the grub.
What to order: A "whiz wit" -- that's a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and onions.

Photo credit: Jeff H./yelp.com


City: Philadelphia
Type of food: Italian
What people say: This timeless spot is among the oldest family-owned restaurants in the United States, and while the dining room can get crowded, the South Philly service stands out.
What to order: It's hard to go wrong with any of the pasta. The veal and the eggplant parmigiana are also popular.

Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org


City: Pittsburgh
Type of food: Delicatessen
What people say: Make your way to the original Primanti Bros., which opened in Pittsburgh's Strip District in 1933, for the most authentic experience -- the restaurant's many offshoot locations just don't offer the same feel.
What to order: All the massive sandwiches, served between thick slices of Italian bread, have their fans. Whichever you choose, the meal isn't complete without fries and coleslaw layered in.

Photo credit: Audrey E./yelp.com


City: South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Type of food: Seafood
What people say: It's always packed, with good reason: Matunuck serves seafood caught right out in front of the restaurant -- think "pond to plate." Nab a seat on the waterside deck for views, especially at sunset.
What to order: Anything from the raw bar, especially oysters and littleneck clams. The lobster roll gives Maine a run for its money.

Photo credit: Gina K./yelp.com


City: Charleston, South Carolina
Type of food: Soul food/Southern
What people say: This salmon-colored dive is known as an absolute must for inexpensive soul food classics. It's small, so expect a wait, but the friendly staff and good eats quickly make up for that.
What to order: Don't miss the fried chicken, mac and cheese, or collard greens.

Photo credit: Ian B./yelp.com


City: Hill City, South Dakota
Type of food: German/steakhouse
What people say: This quaint Gold Rush-era inn is mostly a lunch joint featuring German specialties that reviewers call spot on, as well as exceptionally cheap. Bring cash and prepare for a wait.
What to order: Filet mignon is one of only two dinner selections, but it's superb.

Photo credit: Belly G./yelp.com


City: Memphis, Tennessee
Type of food: Chicken
What people say: There's no pretense at Gus's, where fried chicken and homestyle sides are served on Styrofoam plates and red-checkered tablecloths.
What to order: The fried chicken, of course, which has a kick without being too spicy. The baked beans also come highly recommended.

Photo credit: TheSaltLickBBQ/facebook.com


City: Driftwood, Texas
Type of food: Barbecue
What people say: The views of Texas Hill Country alone are worth the drive from Austin. A BYO beer policy and authentic open pit add to the experience.
What to order: It's hard to go wrong with the family-style dinner of all-you-can eat beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, and beans.

Photo credit: David M./yelp.com


City: Salt Lake City, Utah
Type of food: Mexican
What people say: Red Iguana isn't much to look at, and the small interior means there will probably be a wait. Devotees say neither matters as long as you're a fan of authentic Mexican, and this little cantina has been recognized as one of the city's best restaurants year after year.
What to order: Red Iguana is known for its wide range of moles. Reviewers recommend getting a sampler of the sauces before committing to a main dish.

Photo credit: Hen-of-the-Wood-Waterbury/facebook.com


City: Waterbury, Vermont
Type of food: American/fine dining
What people say: Housed in an old, converted grist mill by a dazzling waterfall, Hen of the Wood has ambience in spades. But the locally sourced food and attentive service match the atmosphere. Reservations are recommended.
What to order: The gnocchi and hanger steak are particularly recommended, but expect frequent menu changes at this farm-to-table spot.

Photo credit: Go B./yelp.com


City: Washington, Virginia
Type of food: American/fine dining
What people say: Prepare to spend big on an unforgettable special-occasion meal at the 5-diamond Inn at Little Washington. Is it worth it? Yes, for the sumptuous surroundings and chef Patrick O'Connell's inspired American cuisine.
What to order: Diners choose from three tasting menus that change frequently.

Photo credit: Stan Y./yelp.com


City: Seattle
Type of food: Japanese
What people say: First opened in 1904, Maneki continues to draw crowds with its simple, fresh Japanese dishes and reasonable prices. Reviewers recommend reserving a seat to get a tatami room. Waits can be long at this James Beard-recognized restaurant.
What to order: The expertly marinated black cod collar miso is almost universally loved.

Photo credit: OldEbbittGrill/facebook.com


City: Washington, D.C.
Type of food: Seafood/American
What people say: The self-proclaimed oldest saloon in D.C. is popular with everyone -- locals, tourists, and powerful politicians. Check out the old-school decor, including gas lamps and taxidermy.
What to order: The oysters draw particular raves, but any of the seafood is a good bet.

Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org


City: Washington, D.C.
Type of food: Chili dogs/burgers
What people say: Ben's kept the lights on during the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and has been a landmark in its ever-changing U Street neighborhood ever since.
What to order: The original chili half-smoke: a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage topped with mustard, onions, and chili sauce on a steamed bun, served with a side of fries.

Photo credit: hillbillyhotdogs/facebook.com


City: Lesage, West Virginia
Type of food: Hot dogs
What people say: You can't miss it. After all, this joint is a mashup of a shack and a couple of school buses for extra seating. Sign your name on something, meaning anything, while eating -- it's part of the experience.
What to order: Dive into the Homewrecker, a 15-inch dog piled with jalapeños, sautéed peppers and onions, nacho cheese, habanero, chili sauce, mustard, slaw, lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese.

Photo credit: Peter Q./yelp.com


City: Kenosha, Wisconsin
Type of food: Diner
What people say: "Be nice or leave!" is the motto at this unpretentious spot, housed in a converted railcar put in place in 1926. It can get crowded but is worth the wait.
What to order: The garbage plate -- eggs mixed with hash browns, green peppers, and onions, with a choice of meat or corned beef hash and cheese -- served with toast.

Photo credit: The-Irma-Hotel/facebook.com


City: Cody, Wyoming
Type of food: American
What people say: It's all about the history here: Buffalo Bill Cody built the Irma Hotel in 1902 and welcomed characters including Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. The tin-ceilinged restaurant retains all the Wild West ambience you'd expect.
What to order: The prime rib or the buffalo burger, followed by bread pudding with whiskey sauce.