25+ American Tourist Restaurants that Locals Swear By

These restaurants may be listed in every guidebook, but they evoke fierce hometown pride from those in the know and are actually great places to eat.

By Erin Zimmer (Serious Eats) with additional reporting by Rachel Mount and Perri O. Blumberg from Reader's Digest Magazine | July/August 2012
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    Chowder at Pike Place Market (Seattle)

    This daily extravaganza has brought together farmers, fishmongers, and bakers since 1907. Make sure to check out the iconic fish toss: “Hali-! Hali-! Heyyyyyy!” Next thing you know, that slippery fishy is being hurled over your head and slapped onto a bed of ice. For lunch, head to Pike Place Chowder for a bacon-laced bowl of creamy goodness.

    Hot Dogs at Pink's (Los Angeles)

    The slow-moving lines at Pink’s just give you time to read the menu, full of frankfurters named for various stars who have visited this Hollywood institution. The signature ten-inch stretch chili dog is steamed, then topped with Betty Pink’s meaty chili, mustard, and raw onions.

    Barbecue at Arthur Bryant's (Kansas City, MO)

    The line at this legendary locale stretches to the door well before noon—and it includes locals and major-league baseball players waiting for their fix. This barbecue is all about the sauce: Try both the sweet house sauce and the spicier version. And make sure to include an order of “burnt ends,” the crispy scraps and trimmings from a beef brisket.

    Pizza at Frank Pepe (New Haven)

    New Haven pizza: Everyone has to experience it, and landmark Pepe’s still turns out a phenomenal pie. It’s smoky from the coal oven and covered in gooey cheese and sausage. Huge charred bubbles pop up like miniature volcanic islands, and the haphazard cutting job is charming.

    Pastrami at Katz's Delicatessen (NYC)

    When a restaurant has been going strong for more than 120 years, it must be doing something right. Locals return over and over for that only-in-New York energy emanating from the bounty of neon signs and, oh yes, that incredible pastrami in all its forms. May we suggest the Three Meat Platter (sliced pastrami, brisket, and corned beef), advertised to feed “three tourists or one regular customer”?

    Hotcakes at Pamela's Diner (Pittsburgh)

    VIPs like President Obama swing by Pamela’s when they’re in town—we’re guessing they crave the famous hotcakes with their crazy, crispy edges. The signature dish is like a cross between a crepe and a pancake that has all the good qualities of each: slightly spongy and buttery with that caramelized surface. They come two to a plate, all rolled up and as big as burritos, stuffed with fresh strawberry slices, brown sugar, and tangy sour cream.

    Hot Doug's (Chicago)

    Hot Doug's, the self-described encased meats emporium and sausage superstore, will likely have a line snaking down the block when you arrive, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when Doug Sohn serves his duck fat fries. And it's no surprise they're so popular: The Foie Gras Dog, for example, has creamy chunks of foie gras strewn on top. Then you have the regular Chicago dogs, which are really good Chicago hot dogs augmented by caramelized onions. Bonus: you'll see Doug himself behind the counter taking orders.

    Shake Shack (NYC)

    If you're a burger enthusiast, you really can't leave New York City without at least one ShackBurger. It comes with a single American-cheesed patty, two slices of Roma tomato, a single piece of green leaf lettuce, and a few squirts of their not-so-secret ShackSauce (the secret ingredient = pickles) all on a buttered and toasted Martin's Potato Roll. Unlike large, grilled burgers which can dry out, a thin griddled ShackBurger maintains a good deal of juiciness with a browned crust. Try to visit during an "off-peak" hour to avoid the long lines which wrap onto the sidewalk!

    Leon's or Kopp's Frozen Custard (Milwaukee)

    Frozen custard is thicker and smoother than ice cream due to the higher percentages of eggs and cream. A Milwaukee rivalry of Geno's vs. Pat's cheese steaks proportions has developed over the years between Kopp's and Leon's. We say, why choose? The frozen custards are made in large machines that kind of resemble soft serve machines, except the custard drips slowly. You can get cups or sundaes, milkshakes, or malts.

    Peter Luger (Brooklyn, NY)

    While the steakhouse genre long ago descended in to self-parody, Peter Luger retains a level of authenticity—by virtue of the fact that it is their menu that almost everyone else mimics. That epic, vaguely mythical "porterhouse for two" you may have heard your grandfather recall or your boyfriend praise, comes sputtering and sizzling angrily as it is paraded through the dining room and it was popularized, if not created, at Peter Luger. While others may have been doing it as long or even longer—Keens and The Old Homestead, for example—Luger remains the steakhouse by which others are judged.

    Cafe du Monde (New Orleans)

    Down in the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde gets all the beignet tourists. Sit under the huge enclosed patio for seconds-old beignets. They hit your table, finger-burning hot, with crisp shells and soft, doughy interiors. They're best washed down with a chicory-laced cafe au lait.

    Neptune Oyster Bar (Boston)

    Boston's North End is full of tourist traps, but don't write off the entire neighborhood. We'll happily point you toward Neptune Oyster Bar, which has been proclaimed the New England favorite by plenty of national and local publications. It will also cost you $25 for a lobster roll (lobster roll prices multiplied by touristy place prices) but if you're willing to pay that much, it's a serious one. They do a hot lobster roll with butter (pictured) and a cold one with mayo. Either way, such an overflow of perfectly-cooked, buttery lobster requires a fork.

    Tartine (San Francisco)

    Yes, you may have heard about it a hundred times, but Tartine deserves all the praise that's heaped upon it, even when that results in a 30-minute line (for a takeout counter!). Stroll in, mid-morning on a Wednesday for Tartine's French-style pastries, which are flaky, perfectly bronzed, and best split by three people. They're probably best known for their morning bun: soft and exquisitely buttery dough woven with cinnamon and orange, coated in sugar, and nearly always warm from the oven. But chocolate aficionados may be better off opting for the double pain au chocolat, with its double barrel of dark, almost spicy, melted chocolate. If your co-worker points out crumbs on your shirt later, don't blame us.

    Puka Dog (Hawaii)

    Ahhh, the vast beaches, active volcanoes,daunting expanse of natural wonders and....The Puka Dog. Behold, this is no regular dog: The Puka Dog is the culmination of 60 years of island hot dog evolution. Puka means "hole" in Hawaiian. Special loaves are baked on a custom contraption, creating a perfect tunnel for the Polish sausages, which are grilled and jammed into the hole. Puka dogs are dressed with any combination of secret sauces, tropical mustards, and fruit relish (think habanero, lemon, mango, coconut, papaya, guava, et cetera) but try yours with the traditional lemon garlic sauce (similar to aioli) that's bound to ensure that Hawaii's majestic tropical wonders won't be the only thing that stands out from your trip.

    Al's #1 Italian Beef (Chicago)

    No one pulls off Italian beef so thinly sliced, haunted with as many spices (rumored to be clove and/or nutmeg), or served with a jus with such a strong beefy presence as Al's. This 72-year-old shrine of Chicago still doesn't have a single table or seat, unless you plan to eat it outside on the picnic table in January. Why no seats? Well, conquering a sandwich as messy as this one proves safer to eat standing up. Sane people might get the sandwich "wet," which means you'd like some of the roasting juices from the beef to wet the inside of the bun. But the real way to go is "dipped." The whole sandwich gets dunked in a bath of pure beefy goodness. The sandwich toppings are all about accentuating the beef: "sweet" comes decked out with roasted bell peppers, while "hot" is giardiniera made up of crunchy vegetables, lacquered in oil, and spiked with red pepper flakes.

    Langer's Deli (Los Angeles)

    Open since 1947, the pastrami from James Beard Award-winning Langer's Deli may well be the best pastrami sandwich you ever eat...NYC Katz' devotees, fret not, we're talking about on the West Coast here. The meat is thickly cut, juicy, and has just the right amount of fat. Compared to the Katz's pastrami in NYC, the meat is spicier and a bit more peppery. Wedged between two pieces of very flavorful rye bread that's double-baked to ensure crispiness and that special chew, this serious sandwich is best split by two.

    Graeter's (Cincinnati)

    Made the old-fashioned way, two gallons at a time by five generations of Graeter's, no stop in Cincinnati is complete without stopping by one of their locations for hand-crafted ice cream. Where a typical pint of ice cream can weigh as little as 8 ounces, a Graeter’s pint weighs close to a pound. And rest assured, you'll taste every ounce of that rich creaminess from your first bite to your last. Just remember three words when walking into the multi-award-winning Graeter's: Black Raspberry Chip. (And Cookies 'n Cream and Elena's Blueberry Pie.) For those who don't think they can stomach a heaping helping of ice cream after a long day of sightseeing, try one of their lighter, but equally delicious, sorbet flavors.

    Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (Nashville)

    It's not really a question of what you're going to order at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (the chicken, obviously)—it's how you will order it: mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. Each order comes covered with two slices of white bread (Wonder Bread style) and pickle coins, both of which you'll pick at between mouth-burning bites. To play it safe, they bag the "Hot" orders separately, clearly marking the bags. As fiery as this chicken is, and as handicapped as your tongue will feel after attempting a bite, you can still tell that it's always fall-off-the-bone tender. Yelp praises exclaim, "I want it I want it I want it!  Give me more!...Eating Prince's Chicken for the first time one year ago was a life-changing experience," and natives swear by it. This joint doesn't accept credit cards, so be sure to come prepared with cash, lest you miss out on the grub Dixie Chickens and Tennessee Lambs alike dream about.

    In-N-Out (Los Angeles)

    Of all burger chains, In-N-Out Burger—founded in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948—has one of the most devout  followings. They're famous for serving never-frozen, well-balanced, tangy Special-sauced creations. And they're equally famous for what's not on the menu, like ordering your burger "animal style" with with hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, a mustard cooked beef patty; add pickle, extra spread, with grilled onions or "protein style" where you wrap your burger in lettuce in place of a bun.

    Primanti's (Pittsburgh)

    Even the shortest visit to the Steel City will teach you that Pittsburgh pride runs deep—starting with the Steelers, and bridging its spectrum of hometown love all the way through to the sandwich. Every Primanti's sandwich begins with an inch-plus foundation of soft Italian bread (the kind you can leave thumbprints in). Moving from the ground up, it's piled with your meat and cheese (or eggs, or sardines) of choice, hot fries (a very crucial layer), slaw, tomatoes, and a second bread slice that somehow balances on top. You may have recreated a garbage bin sandwich of sorts with leftover fries and cold cuts at home, but we promise it won't live up to this Pittsburgh special.

    Lafayette Coney Island (Detroit)

    A true Detroit Coney starts with a grilled, natural casing, beef-and-pork "Vienna"—sort of a hybrid between a milder German wiener and a Chicago-style all-beef dog. It's slightly spicy, reddish-pink, just a bit longer than the bun, and blanketed with mustard, diced onions, and so much Coney sauce that it needs to be served on a plate with a knife and fork. Along with the awesome frankfurter, the Coney sauce is what really vaults the Detroit Coney far above the competition. It's a rich, deep, yet mildly spiced and intensely meaty sauce—made with things like beef hearts and kidneys, and maybe even ground up hot dogs or cracker meal. Don't question the ingredients, just dig in.

    Kruez's Market (Lockhart, TX)

    Texans make some serious barbecue. About 30 minutes south of Austin, head to Lockhart for some at Kreuz's or Smitty's. Texas barbecue comes in two styles: with or without sauce. Brisket, sausage, and beef ribs are the cuts Lone Star lovers drool over. Kreuz Market was founded in 1900 by Charles Kreuz as a butcher's shop and market, but over the years, it evolved into a barbecue joint. In true Texas tradition, dishes are served with onion, avocado, tomato, pickles, and cheese, and come on brown paper and accompanied by a plastic knife and your choice of bread or crackers.

    Ferry Plaza (San Francisco)

    Come to this bustling farmer's market seven days a week for an eater's paradise inside the Ferry Building: 4505 Meats for a breakfast sandwich with maple sausage and Gruyere, Blue Bottle for New Orleans-style iced coffee, Acme for a crusty, sweet baguette. If you venture to this destination spot on Saturday, you might want to carve off at least half your day there! Every side of the enormous building is lined with stands, including avocado farmers, fish-smokers (pictured here are the open-faced sandwiches from Cap'n Mike's), cheesemakers, butchers, jam-mers, and produce of all sorts. Unfortunately, a ferry to ship all the goodies back to your hotel is not included.

    Zingerman's Delicatessen (Ann Arbor, MI)

    No matter what owners Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig get their hands into, things tend to blow up (culinarily speaking). They run a successful deli and gourmet carryout store, a coffeehouse, a coffee roaster, a slightly upscale roadhouse, a bread-baking operation, a creamery, a catering operation, and even a staff-training consultancy, all based in picturesque Ann Arbor, the Midwest's most underrated foodie den. The crown jewel of their empire though is doubtless the Zingerman's gourmet deli. Few others do such a solid, hand-cut pastrami sandwich, especially in this part of the country where Grandma's recipes reign.

    Tomasita's (Santa Fe)

    Just about every New Mexico guidebook will recommend Tomasita's, and we're all for it. Your order should involve green chile, particularly if it's smothering enchiladas. If enchiladas aren't your thing, revert from your cool as a cucumber ways into hot tamale mode with the deep fried jalapeno poppers. You also won't want to miss the sopaipillas, as a basket of golden fried dough is pretty impossible to resist. Warm and comfortable, it's easy to feel at home even if you're an out-of-towner. ¡Salud!

    Clam Box (Ipswich, MA)

    Everyone rhapsodizes about the Clam Box, but with good reason: They're perfectly fried and customized to your Level of Optimal Fried-ness (LOF). Want them well-done and darker? They'll do it. Want them lighter to let the clam flavor dominate? That's allowed too. (When was the last time you got a special-order at a clam shack?) They use only the full-bellied Ipswich clams unless they're dealing with bad weather or really high demand, in which case they'll turn to Maine suppliers. If summer clam bakes have you all clammed out, indulge in shrimp, oysters, calamari, or haddock. Just please don't be the one guy who orders chicken fingers. (Although, picky eater alert: they have that too.)

    Ben's Chili Bowl (Washington, DC)

    What do Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., Donny Hathaway, Roy Ayers, and Bill Cosby have in common? At some point in time, they could all be found hanging out at  "The Bowl." Go for their signature dish (and a favorite of Cosby's), the Original Chili Half-Smoke. A half-smoke is basically a processed meat tube that's a lot plumper than your average hot dog (about twice the girth) with more of a spicy kick (look for the red pepper flakes inside). And as for the "half?" A few theories exist: It's only smoked halfway. It's cut in half when on the grill. It's often made from equal portions of beef and pork. Who knows? Ben's signature half-smoke comes smothered with chili, but it's perfectly acceptable to go the mustard-and-onions route. Besides Ben's, the sausage is sold all over the city, many from street carts along the National Mall.

    Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard (St. Louis)

    The "Concrete" is an ultra-thick interpretation of a milkshake, made with frozen custard (vanilla) and rounded out with optional mix-ins like nuts, candy, fruit, and other sundae-style fixings.  In fact, these concretes are so dense that the servers make a show out of holding the them upside-down with the spoon suspended in the mix without any danger of it sliding out of the cup. The Dutchman—vanilla custard blended with butterscotch, chocolate, and pecans—is wobbly-knees good. 

    Drago's (New Orleans)

    The grilled oysters from Drago's are cooked until the bottoms of the shells are blackened with soot but the oyster meat stays tender and juicy. Parmesan, something you might not think you'd want on seafood, boosts the savory flavor of the oysters as the cheese browns and gets crusty on the rims of the shells. Keep gnawing on the oyster shell edges once the meat is gone and soak up all the precious buttery liquid with crisped French bread. Unintentional bonus: All those oysters might also work wonders to soak up all that partying in the Ninth Ward.

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    Your Comments

    • Jeff

      Check out Trackside Grill in the Birthplace of the American Railroad just a few steps down from an amazing museum that houses a replica of the Stourbridge Lion, the first locomotive to run on commercial tracks in America!  Honesdale, PA is a great town chock full of history and fun stuff to do!

    • Lewislr

      c.j.’s  on flint street in downtown lake orion, michigan. after bike ride on the paint creek or polly ann trail, greatest place to eat, chat and refill your water bottle.

    • Jess

      Zingerman’s is completely and utterly over-rated. It’s high priced, imported deli meat. Out of all the places to go in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s is at the bottom of that list. 

    • Jess

      Zingerman’s is completely and utterly over-rated. It’s high priced, imported deli meat. Out of all the places to go in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s is at the bottom of that list. 

    • Jess

      Zingerman’s is completely and utterly over-rated. It’s high priced, imported deli meat. Out of all the places to go in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s is at the bottom of that list. 

    • ghostiekitty

      Um, not all that much partying going on in the Ninth Ward these days.  Maybe the UPPER Ninth/Bywater or 8th Ward/Marigny area, but not so much the Ninth…

    • ghostiekitty

      Um, not all that much partying going on in the Ninth Ward these days.  Maybe the UPPER Ninth/Bywater or 8th Ward/Marigny area, but not so much the Ninth…

    • ghostiekitty

      Um, not all that much partying going on in the Ninth Ward these days.  Maybe the UPPER Ninth/Bywater or 8th Ward/Marigny area, but not so much the Ninth…

    • ghostiekitty

      Um, not all that much partying going on in the Ninth Ward these days.  Maybe the UPPER Ninth/Bywater or 8th Ward/Marigny area, but not so much the Ninth…

    • ghostiekitty

      Um, not all that much partying going on in the Ninth Ward these days.  Maybe the UPPER Ninth/Bywater or 8th Ward/Marigny area, but not so much the Ninth…