Whether it a hole-in-the-wall diner with a loyal following, an out-of-the-way gem yet to be discovered or a longtime favorite that locals want to keep secret, a low profile is sometimes a big part of what makes a restaurant great. Ignore the buzz of the latest trendy opening and instead seek out the country's best under-the-radar restaurants where you'll find fantastic food and plenty of low-key charm. To help you in the search, we've tracked down the best-kept secret in every state — just don't let the locals know we told you.
ALABAMA: DRAGONFLY FOODBAR
Alabama chefs from miles around can be found on off-days heading to the tiny artists' community of Fairhope. The menu at Dragonfly Foodbar is geared towards foodies and chefs. Using farm-to-table ingredients, the regular menu boasts creative tacos, noodles, and rice bowl combinations. Try the The Three Little Pigs, house-made pork skins that make a base for pulled Boston butt and a bacon-flavored aioli.
ALASKA: KINLEY'S RESTAURANT & BAR
Reviewers call the James Beard-nominated Kinley's a seafood paradise. Chef Brett Knipmeyer named this local favorite after his daughter, Kinley, and turns out a lunch and dinner menu that boasts creative seafood, beef, and vegetarian fare. Make sure to try the oysters of the day, cornmeal-dusted rockfish, or the authentic German-style bratwurst platter.
ARIZONA: CLIFF DWELLERS LODGE & RESTAURANT
Tucked away on the road that connects the South and North rim of the Grand Canyon, this eclectic hidden gem offers a diner-like menu with house-made specialties like shrimp and pork served with polenta, meatloaf, fish tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast fare like their bestelling corned beef hash. The jaw-dropping views and ambience elevate the entire dining experience in this quaint spot.
ARKANSAS: THE FARMER'S TABLE CAFE
Rob and Adrienne Shaunfield created The Farmer's Table Cafe in 2014 and make a point of supporting local food producers. The classic flavors of the Ozarks, from smoky ribs to farm-fresh egg dishes, are served in a home-like setting. Those traveling with dogs and vegans will also feel right at home.
CALIFORNIA: DENICA'S REAL FOOD KITCHEN
Denica's offers samples of the kitchen's fresh-baked treats to customers to take the sting out of the sometimes lengthy wait for a table. Mexican specialties are a standout, as the kitchen roasts fresh tomatoes for the salsas. Only real whipped cream is served on massive pancakes, and the bakery churns out huge cookies and muffins, too.
COLORADO: THE PULLMAN
Fans of The Pullman recommend the mac n' cheese made with Gruyere, white cheddar, and mustard-sage bread crumbs as a tasty starter. The short rib ramen is another standout, but the menu has lots of choices. Order the large plate of autumn vegetable cianfotta with Parmesan broth, basil pesto, and — house-made grilled bread.
CONNECTICUT: CAFE SOL
Cafe Sol is the sort of neighborhood place where the regulars are known by name, but newcomers are always welcome. The walls are adorned with local art and the chalkboard menu frequently changes to reflect the seasonal ingredients. All of the salad dressings and sandwich sauces are made from scratch, and healthy options abound. Get there early as whole wheat wraps and gluten-free bagels sell out. Try the smoked salmon salad paired with The Blue – a turkey sandwich with blue cheese creme and fig spread.
DELAWARE: MRS. ROBINO'S
Mrs. Robino's offers old-school Italian meals inside a 1940-era renovated row house. Home-style traditional Italian cooking is the hallmark of this cozy spot, where traditional recipes rule and the locals keep the dining room full. Homemade spaghetti and classic lasagna are some dishes people rave about in reviews. Order fried calamari, one of the changing crab specials, and the garlic butter spaghetti with lump crab and grilled garlic.
FLORIDA: ROYAL THAI
The locals know about this family Thai restaurant, and in a city flush with chain restaurants, Royal Thai is worth seeking out. The assorted curries, larb gai, thom ka gai, choo-chee prawns and oodles of appetizers are all very well reviewed. The restaurant boasts authentic Thai dishes and Americanized favorites like pad thai and fried rice. Save room for one of the Thai iced coffee or tea drinks too.
GEORGIA: BENNETT'S MARKET & DELI
An under-the-radar gem is Bennett's Market & Deli, which is about to celebrate it's 5-year anniversary. Victoria Bennett started the homey deli in her neighborhood and uses locally-sourced products. She also curates some of the best wine and craft beer selections in the city. It's a local favorite in a big city filled with great eateries.
HAWAII: OLIVE TREE CAFE
Described by locals as laid-back and charming, the family-owned Greek spot Olive Tree Cafe boasts a delicious lamb shank entree as well as classics like souvlaki, avgolemono soup and falafel. Delicious food has turned this once quiet "locals only" spot into a restaurant that has lines out the door. Organic chicken, New Zealand lamb, fresh fish and other locally sourced food items keep the reviews and the raves going strong.
IDAHO: DELSA'S ICE CREAM PARLOUR
In operation since 1922, Delsa's Ice Cream Parlour is an old-school diner with homemade ice cream that the locals rave about. From cheeseburgers, baskets of fried fish, french fries, and killer onion rings to tots and hand-pulled milkshakes, this Boise gem is an affordable spot for casual dining.
ILLINOIS: PUNCH HOUSE
Punch House specializes in creative renditions of its namesake fruit-based party drink, but the food is a big part of the appeal as well. A $25 pot of fondue, a Thai sausage sandwich, and a grilled juicy Lucy are just a few of the items on the limited menu. Unsurprisingly, nobody in the neighborhood wants the word out on this gem.
INDIANA: TAXMAN BREWING COMPANY
Taxman Brewing Company is not only a brewery but a gastropub with sandwiches, salads, ribs and even oysters Rockefeller on the menu. Do not leave without trying the grass-fed beef burgers, Belgian-inspired double-fried fries ("frites"), pork shanks, and savory bread pudding.
IOWA: POPOLI RISTORANTE & SULLIVAN'S BAR
Jude Villafana and master mixologist Jet Evangelista are the proprietors of this neighborhood gem, located inside a historic bank building. Italian fare like fresh antipasti, pastas, fish, and grilled meats dominate the main menu at Popoli. Make sure to start off with mushroom arancini, mussels bianco, daily bruschetta or crab fritta. Vegetarians and vegans have choices, too.
KANSAS: CEDAR RIDGE RESTAURANT
Rustic and down-home, Cedar Ridge Restaurant serves a set menu meal on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights that locals love. All meals come with a fresh salad wedge and choice of dressings, homemade beef and barley soup, and a choice of pan-fried chicken, pan-fried fish, or BBQ ribs. On the side diners get mashed potatoes with cream gravy, buttered corn, and biscuits and honey. Dessert is fresh-baked cobbler and ice cream. Non-alcoholic drinks come with the meal.
KENTUCKY: THE BLUE RAVEN
This refined Appalachian gem serves a unique and tasty regional menu that features jumbo lump crab cakes, house-made pizzas, plus gooey sides like baked mac n' cheese and fried corn to full-on entrees ranging from burgers to house-made ramen concoctions. Don't miss the perfect hand-cut filets tor the savory pork belly risotto.
LOUISIANA: DOMILISE'S PO BOYS & BAR
Since 1924, fresh oysters and shrimp have been fried to perfection and served up in a gut-busting sandwich with all the trimmings at Domilise's Po-Boys and Bar. This unpretentious diner-like place is a local hang, well removed from the tourist track. Be sure to seek it out, and do not leave without ordering the fresh catfish po'boy of you can make room.
MAINE: THE RED BARN
If you love seafood, go no further than The Red Barn. Since 1977, this lesser-known spot has been a Maine mainstay and with lines of locals out the door. Lobsters rolls, crispy-light onion rings, scallop rolls, Laura's seafood stew from scratch, steamers, and assorted local seafood baskets served with fries and a downhome friendliness keep regulars (and out-of-staters) coming back.
MARYLAND: MOCO'S FOUNDING FARMERS
Founding Farmers is renowned for their spatchcock chicken ($17), a quarter-bird quick-roasted in an 800-degree oven. Tuck into locally-sourced scallops Meuniere or slow-braised beef short rib if chicken doesn't appeal. People rave about the house-made chicken pot pie and chicken and spinach enchiladas, too.
MASSACHUSETTS: MOMI NONMI
Momi Nonmi may be a mouthful to say, but the Japanese-heavy menu ranges from the Seafood Dynamite hot dish to a chilled Hawaiian poke that locals swear is as good as what one would find in the islands. This restaurant is a gluten-free paradise, too. Make sure to order the Wagyu beef dumplings and finish the meal with the green tea ice cream.
MICHIGAN: TURKEY ROOST
Since 1955, this quaint, family-owned establishment has served up gut-busting breakfast dishes and turkey plates with all the fixings. There are also deals galore for seniors. Unpretentious and a local favorite, Turkey Roost is a definite must-visit on Wednesdays to try the famous house-made turkey pot pie.
MINNESOTA: MARLA'S CARIBBEAN CUISINE
Foodie and chef Andrew Zimmern counts Marla's Caribbean Cuisine as one of the best hidden gem restaurants in his native state. Marla is a native Trinidadian who serves up everything from curry channa to vegetarian and vegan options like callaloo with tofu. Everything is tailored to the level of spice requested. Locals devour the sweet potato pies by the ton, but Marla's is still at risk of shutting down due to rent increases.
MISSISSIPPI: TALLAHATCHIE GOURMET
A daily-changing chalkboard shows the menu's Southern roots at Tallahatchie Gourmet ranging from shrimp and grits to chicken-fried steak and fried catfish. Biscuits and desserts are not to be missed, and locals swear by the family-sized casseroles that serve four or more and veer heavily into Italian and Cajun specialties.
MISSOURI: LABINNAH BISTRO
Opened in 2008, LaBinnah is an intimate spot open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Make sure to order the Gemini, a baked, boneless chicken breast with fresh spinach and mushrooms sauteed in lemon and white wine, or try the Ajvar chicken breast with pureed eggplant, tomato, peppers, and spices. This unassuming bistro knocks it out of the park with an eclectic, Middle-Eastern fusion menu.
MONTANA: THE PEARL CAFE
The Pearl Cafe stands out for serving country fare as interpreted by chefs who picked up a few ideas traveling in France. The restaurant serves up a beloved French onion soup, and the charcuterie plate stands out for having elk in the mix.
NEBRASKA: THE GREY PLUME
Chef Clayton Chapman's The Grey Plume emphasizes farm-to-table meals with duck-fat fries and Wagyu beef tartare to start, melon soup as a second, and main plates that range from Santa Barbara sheephead fish to house-made buttermilk agnolotti. The Grey Plume also conducts seasonal cooking classes and sells in-house items like roasted coffee, handmade pastas, butter, and artisan breads.
NEVADA: TODD'S UNIQUE DINING
In a place filled with over-the-top dining experiences, a local favorite and lesser known is Todd's, a gem serving up chef Todd's fresh Alaskan and east coast seafood, prime steaks and house made fixings and sides. His risottos and fish dishes are raved about as are his holiday menu specials. Make sure to try the desserts, always changing and given top review marks.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: THE CRYSTAL QUAIL
The Crystal Quail can be a challenge to find in a lesser-traveled part of the state, but the journey is just part of the appeal. The fixed price menu ($75) allows diners to bring their own wine (no corkage fee), and meals range from free-range veal to fresh fish and vegetables from the restaurant's organic garden. Desserts range from Belgium gateau au chocolate to crème caramel.
NEW JERSEY: TITO'S BURRITOS AND WINGS
There really is a Tito at Tito's Burritos and Wings, and he's brought Baja Mexican cuisine to New Jersey. There are now three locations in the state, but the family-run business is dedicated to the perfect casual plate with fresh ingredients, homemade tortillas, salsas, and specialties like the Mac Daddy, a flank steak burrito locals love. Vegan options are available as well.
NEW MEXICO: BELLA'S MEXICAN GRILL
This homey spot has a regional take on Mexican cuisine. Bella's Mexican Grill is beloved for its mole sauce and blue corn tortillas, plus Southwest classics like house Mexican rice and elote (roasted corn on the cob). Make sure to start with queso fundido con hongos, a melted blend of asadero cheese, Mexican oregano, and roasted mushrooms meant to be scooped and served inside warm corn tortillas.
NEW YORK: ALLEN STREET HARDWARE
Come hungry, as this charming spot inside a historic 19th century building serves a huge menu, from a cheese board with croustades and fruit to elk or bison burgers, A 10 oz. New York strip steak is served grilled and sliced on a hoagie roll with provolone, onions, and peppers. Entree plates at Allen Street Hardware include all-American favorites like meatloaf and fried chicken, too.
NORTH CAROLINA: BIDA MANDA
Laotian cuisine with Southern touches make Bida Manda a find. Order the pho vieng chan, a traditional Chinese five-spice beef and rice noodle soup served with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, and Lao condiments. The basil stir-fry with vegetables, a poached egg, and a choice of beef or tofu is another local favorite. Diners rave about the duck and the beef larb, too.
NORTH DAKOTA: HODO RESTAURANT
Located in the historic Hotel Donaldson in Fargo, HoDo offers unique tasting menus plus local favorites like house-made linguini with 30-hour tomato ragu, hangar steak and hand-cut fries, and a shredded chicken torta. Too full to leave? Get a room in the remodeled hotel.
"Mod Mex" is how they describe chef Eric Williams' fresh take on classic Mexican cuisine at Momocho. Small bites like Mexican street corn and guacamole with goat cheese, and red pepper margaritas are popular. Pepita-crusted trout and chile rellenos are a few of the many entrees served up, too.
OKLAHOMA: WHITE RIVER FISH MARKET AND RESTAURANT
Landlocked Oklahoma has a surprisingly good seafood spot with White River Fish Market and Restaurant. The menu boasts boiled and fried oysters, shrimp, and calamari. Local favorites include frog legs, flounder, catfish, and crab too. The smoked salmon and buttermilk pie is often mentioned in rave diner reviews.
The owners' Nordic roots show in the menu's baked eggs, Swedish pancakes with huckleberries, fried potatoes, and a smoked bluefish plate with hardboiled eggs and house pickles. Portland is a foodie town, and Radar brings the good stuff, country ham with red eye gravy, latkes, and a charming spot that makes it one to call your own before the rest of Oregon finds it.
PENNSYLVANIA: KATIE'S KITCHEN
Katie's serves homemade Amish fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pennsylvania Dutch favorites like homemade chicken pot pie, crab cakes, chicken croquettes and always homemade meatloafs have a faithful fan following. Don't leave without ordering Amish desserts like warm apple dumplings and soft-serve ice cream.
RHODE ISLAND: CELESTIAL CAFE
Family owned since 2002, Celestial Cafe proudly offers chowder made with local clams, eggplant towers, pork nachos, and much more. Thin crust pizzas, burgers, and creative entrees and salads make this a beloved local haunt.
SOUTH CAROLINA: THE CODFATHER
Billed as the best fish and chips outside of London, the highly-rated Codfather has a menu including all the proper sides like mushy peas, curry sauce, and brown gravy, plus their malt vinegar is imported from England. This South Carolina favorite is known for oversized, quality fish portions as well as chicken and mushroom pies.
SOUTH DAKOTA: MERIDIAN CORNER
This quaint former gas station serves everything from small bites to big plates. Order crispy onion rings and chislic (lamb), or for heartier fare try their famous Big Norwegian burger. Meridian Corner has an eclectic menu that runs from house-made pizza to Rocky Mountain oysters, as well as ethnic tasty treats like fleisch kuchele (fried seasoned hamburger in pie dough).
TENNESSEE: STOCK AND BARREL
Beef, beer, and bourbon of every stripe can be found here. Order the house-fried pickles and fried green tomatoes, and be sure to peruse the lengthy burger menu. Stock and Barrel emphasizes farm-to-table ingredients and a community vibe. Save room for beer-battered onion rings and house-made s'mores, too.
Houston is a multicultural dining hub, and the city adores this Asian-inspired restaurant. Reviews cite its "New York-style vibe" and fans praise dishes like the Yusheng salmon crudo and Japanesian Brussels sprouts, a dish of flash-fried Brussels sprouts with ponzu and kecap manis (an Indonesian sweet soy sauce) topped with Parmesan.
Salt Lake City
Bambara is a local critical fave and locals' pick for good eats. The spot boasts grand arched windows and original brass fixtures, creating a chic setting for chef Nathan Powers' menu of small and entree-sized plates. Maine scallops, beef short ribs, lemon thyme potato gnocchi, and small bites like spring pea and duck confit toast or Utah smoked trout deviled eggs are all delicious choices.
VERMONT: THE BACKROOM
Co-owners Kevin Lasko and Katie Stiles prepare a fresh menu weekly (though the restaurant is closed from May to Thanksgiving) for set time seatings at The Backroom, but don't look for it online — they don't post the information. But local reviewers and food critics rave about this communal-style, farm-to-table gem that serves Friday and Saturdays only. The meal begins with cocktails and snacks followed by a three-course, local-sourced dinner menu.
Commune only serves breakfast and lunch, but the choices are hearty enough you may not want dinner. Heirloom tomato tartine, cornmeal waffles, biscuit eggs Benedict, plus a long list of inventive breakfast sandwiches that drift into lunch territory like their popular fried catfish sandwich are all made with ingredients sourced from local artisan dairies, meat and fish purveyors, and farms.
WASHINGTON: THE DEPOT RESTAURANT
Located between Seattle and Portland, The Depot Restaurant in Long Beach Peninsula is a hidden gem. Housed in a restored train depot, the restaurant has a coastal setting and fresh seafood that can't be beat. Highlights include Dungeness crab, wild-caught salmon, Willapa Bay oysters, calamari and exotic meats such as wild boar, quail, lamb, and more. Don't miss the award-winning clam chowder, either.
WEST VIRGINIA: LOT 12 PUBLIC HOUSE
Chef Damian Heath serves eclectic, seasonal New American fare in a 1913 home at Lot 12 Public House. Try their shrimp and grits to start, then the Cajun-grilled swordfish with grilled shrimp, hoppin' john w/ andouille and tasso ham, jasmine rice, and braised collard greens.
WISCONSIN: PAT O'MALLEY'S JET ROOM
Since 1977, Pat O'Malley's Jet Room has been a huge hit with locals who come to the Dane County Regional Airport for the grilled perch filet, homemade chili and cheddar cheese omelet, and the fried cheese curds. Monday through Friday order the egg dishes the Halfa Benny, the Line Shack Stack, the 1x1x1, or The Elevator.
WYOMING: THE COOP ROTISSERIE HOUSE
The Coop Rotisserie House is an an out-of-the-way spot that fans say does chicken right. The top-sellers are the rotisserie meals sold with sides of your choice, and Sonia's Chicken Taquitos, rotisserie chicken taquitos dressed with cabbage, creamy red tomato lime sauce. The Buffadilla, a mozzarella cheese quesadilla with rotisserie chicken bathed in wing sauce and served with fresh guacamole and red or green salsa is also a hit.