The Best Traditional Restaurant in Every State
For food that reflects your state's culinary culture, look no further than its best traditional restaurant
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Restaurants that stand on tradition
America was built upon tradition. And while we love trendy eating experiences (hello, food trucks) as much as the next person, there’s something comforting about settling into a seat in a traditional restaurant. From sea to shining sea, these dining spots offer the best expressions of each state’s individuality, from famous state foods to new traditions reflecting the ever-evolving cultures throughout the American experience.
Our picks for the best traditional restaurant in each state include eateries serving dishes that reflect the locale, iconic establishments and places locals rave about. Some are fancy enough for special occasions (think an anniversary or Valentine’s Day dinner), while others offer outstanding food in a casual environment. All serve up what will soon become your new favorite foods, a lesson in culinary anthropology and the joy of knowing the people and places that make the nation’s palate so interesting.
The buckle of the barbecue belt, Alabama takes a couple different approaches to this succulent smoked meat, depending on what part of the state you’re in. But when George and Paulette Archibald first started serving their hickory-smoked ribs out of this small Northport joint in 1962, folks lined up around the cinder-block building, including legendary University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant. Now with two locations and three generations of Archibald pit masters at the helm, the family eatery serves those same highly acclaimed ribs, pulled pork and other delicacies—like wings, fried catfish and whiting—along with a host of homemade sides and desserts.
Alaska: Diaz Cafe
Since the 1700s, immigrants have been coming from the Philippines to America’s coldest state and bringing their foodways with them. Today, there are more than 30,000 Filipinos in Alaska—and stellar restaurants that serve up traditional Filipino fare. A community staple since the 1940s, family-owned and -operated Diaz Cafe in the town of Ketchikan represents Alaska’s largest minority and delights locals in an otherwise cruise ship–saturated area with favorites like generously sized lumpia and “the best sweet-and-sour spare ribs ever,” according to one customer review. There’s nothing fancy here, just great Filipino and Chinese American cuisine at an affordable price, all made with love.
Arizona: El Charro
Part of the UNESCO gastronomy list, Tucson boasts a myriad of historically significant culinary must-visits. But none outshine Arizona’s first Mexican restaurant, El Charro. Monica Flin opened the restaurant in 1922 (as the story goes, she’d later accidentally invent the chimichanga), and it has served up Sonoran- and Tuscon-style Mexican food ever since.
Chef, author and Flin’s great-grandniece, Carlotta Flores, continues the legacy with acclaimed dishes such as Carlotta’s Chicken Mole, tableside guacamole made from fresh avocados, and tamales that can be shipped straight to your door. Celebrate this traditional restaurant’s 100th anniversary at one of its five area locations. While you’re there, order The 1922, a margarita made with Cazadores Añejo (also established in 1922), triple sec and lime.
Arkansas: Stoby’s Restaurant
The OG of cheese dip, Arkansas takes its claim pretty seriously. Just don’t confuse the classic dish—little more than processed cheese, Ro-Tel, and a smidge of taco seasoning—with queso unless you’re ready for a heated debate with your Texas friends. (But y’all can duke it out at the World Cheese Dip Championships in Little Rock each October.) You can hardly sling a block of Velveeta without hitting a restaurant serving up this liquid gold, but Stoby’s Restaurant in Conway and Russellville is the real deal. Order a cheese dip to start (it took home second place at the championships), then dig in to a loaded sandwich. If you just can’t get enough, stock up on Stoby’s cheese dip at area supermarkets.
California: Chez Panisse
Widely known as the farm-to-table movement’s matriarch, chef and food activist Alice Waters opened Berkeley’s Chez Panisse in 1971 with a rotating menu of freshly harvested food in response to the upswing in commodity crops and processed food. Epitomizing Californian cuisine with a mission to create beautiful dishes sourced as close as its own backyard, Chez Panisse continues to serve as a hub for sustainable agriculture in a state responsible for more than $33 billion in yearly agricultural revenue. So if you’d like to explore where exactly your food comes from—and have cash to drop on what will be a pricey but spectacular meal—take a road trip through California and taste it for yourself.
Colorado: The Fort Restaurant
Just southwest of Denver, in Red Rocks country, Morrison is home to a full-scale adobe replica of Bent’s Fort, a famous fur-trading outpost from the 1840s. “The Fort is noteworthy because it has maintained a commitment to explaining and serving Western food to a worldwide audience, including many United States presidents and foreign leaders,” says Adrian Miller, a culinary historian and author of The President’s Kitchen Cabinet. Serving more buffalo than any other independent restaurant since the 1960s, The Fort Restaurant finds inspiration in traders, trappers and First Americans from the 1800s.
Its menu is packed with wild game dishes like Roasted Bison Marrow Bones, William Bent’s Grilled Quail and Elk Medallions, along with not-so-traditional homemade desserts, such as its signature dessert, Negrita—Myers’s rum whipped into dark chocolate and served in a chocolate cup. If you’re hungry for more food history, learn about the invention of pizza.
Connecticut: Guilford Lobster Pound
Nothing screams New England quite like the lobster roll, a dish invented in the Nutmeg State in 1929. Guilford Lobster Pound, owned by one of the last remaining lobstermen on the Long Island Sound, carries on the tradition with its fresher-than-fresh “Connecticut Style” roll. It’s loaded with fresh-picked lobster meat and paired with a side of hot butter for dipping. Other standout items include the clear-broth clam chowder and, for the little ones, a classic hot dog. Soak up views of nearby Faulkner Island, Grass Island and protected salt marsh wildlife from the restaurant’s waterfront deck. And whatever you do, don’t skip the clear-broth clam chowder.
Delaware: Grotto Pizza
Founded in 1960 in Rehoboth Beach by then-17-year-old Dominick Pulieri, Grotto Pizza became one of the most successful pizzerias in the United States and, in 2015, earned an induction into the Pizza Hall of Fame. Known for their swirls of sweet tomato sauce and cheddar cheese, the pies draw crowds from surrounding states and are now served up in locations throughout Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It might not be as famous as a New York slice, but it’s certainly some of America’s best pizza.
Florida: Columbia Restaurant
What started out as a small corner café in a Tampa community steeped in Spanish tradition has since ballooned into the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Columbia Restaurant is the state’s oldest eatery, and more than 100 years later the same family runs its seven locations. Throughout its long history, the restaurant has lured guests from all walks of life (including celebrities like Marylin Monroe and Liza Minnelli) with flamenco dancers, live music and an expansive menu of traditional Spanish favorites, such as tapas and paella. Once you’ve enjoyed your fill of small plates, coffee, cigars and dancing, check out some of these other Florida beach towns.
Georgia: Piassa Restaurant & Mart
Atlanta may be known as the home of civil rights leaders like the late John Lewis and musicians like Gladys Knight, but its Black history reaches well beyond the American South. In fact, the city has one of the nation’s largest Ethiopian populations, creating a diverse Southern diaspora within the traditional restaurant scene of Atlanta. From Ethiopian-inspired artwork to authentic dishes like kintot—a blend of lamb, goat, beef, onions, peppers and garlic served with injera for dipping—everything about Piassa Restaurant & Mart will make you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to Addis Ababa.
A thoughtful list of Ethiopian wines along with tej (honey wine) and other traditional Ethiopian libations make great pairings. Each Sunday, there’s a traditional Ethiopian coffee service, during which the servers are dressed in authentic clothing—an experience you won’t want to miss.
Hawaii: Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Helena Chock opened her humble Hawaiian eatery in 1946, sharing her classic Hawaiian recipes with locals while introducing tourists to fare that would eventually earn her a James Beard Award in 2000. Her grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, currently helms Helena’s Hawaiian Food with the same loving attention Chock did all those years ago.
You’ll feel like you are at a real-life luau with the sampling of traditional dishes, starting with a small side of poi, a nutrition-packed staple derived from the taro root. Move on to Kalua Pig, which the restaurant cooks using an ancient technique and an underground oven called an imu. The menu features an array of other traditional dishes—all are worth a taste, but make sure you save room for haupia, a coconut milk pudding that locals love. Don’t live on the island? Consider this motivation for planning that Hawaiian vacation.
Idaho: The Basque Market
As the Gold Rush compelled a growing number of European immigrants to settle westward during the 19th century, Basque sheepherders made their way to the Boise Mountains, creating in Idaho one of the largest American Basque populations. Enjoy Spanish-style pintxos (Basque for tapas) at The Basque Market, which also features a large selection of Basque wines and other culinary products, such as sheepherder bread, for purchase. If the market piques your interest in the Basque culture, mark your calendar for Boise’s annual San Inazio festival, which takes place within the city’s Basque Block each July.
Illinois: Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse
Located in the heart of the River North neighborhood, Gene & Georgetti is the Windy City‘s oldest steakhouse. Inside, you’ll find an old-school atmosphere—think red leather chairs, white tablecloths and walls lined with photos of famous patrons. A Chicago institution since 1941, Gene & Georgetti is beloved for its traditional Italian dishes, like chicken Vesuvio, eggplant parmesan, homemade lasagna and, of course, huge and flavorful steaks.
Indiana: St. Elmo Steak House
Home to the nation’s first female self-made millionaire and the world’s largest one-day sporting event (the Indianapolis 500, naturally), Indianapolis shares a wealth of stories of historic proportions. St. Elmo Steak House is part of that narrative. Founded in 1902, the city’s oldest steakhouse is still in its original location. While St. Elmo serves a fine selection of prime cuts, it’s the shrimp cocktail that has reached legendary status. (Truly: The place sells more than 135,000 shrimp cocktails yearly.) When the downtown restaurant first opened, the horseradish-laced sensation sold for a mere dime. These days, the appetizer goes for significantly more, but it’s worth it for a taste of St. Elmo’s famous cocktail sauce.
Iowa: Victoria Station
Iowa loves the breaded pork tenderloin—so much so that the Iowa Pork Producers Association holds an annual contest for the best pork tenderloin sandwich. Victoria Station in Harlan claimed the coveted title in 2021. From the historic train station turned steak house, co-owners Richard and Angela Buman serve up hand-cut pork that’s tenderized, marinated and dredged in buttermilk batter. You’ll swear you’re in hog heaven. The Bumans recommend topping your sandwich with their house-made garlicky aioli. Save room for a slice of homemade pie.
Kansas: Joe’s Kansas City
Kansas City–style barbecue isn’t just legendary; it’s the very definition of tradition, dating back to the early 1900s. The food is prevalent throughout the state, but if you’re looking for a can’t-miss meal, stop at award-winning Joe’s Kansas City. Though there are now multiple locations in the state, the original was born in 1996 on the Kansas-Oklahoma state line, in a former gas station near owners Joe and Joy Stehney’s home.
Most renowned for its Z-Man Sandwich—a toasted kaiser roll topped with slow-smoked beef brisket, provolone cheese and crispy onion rings—the restaurant serves plenty of other smoked meats and sides. Anthony Bourdain named Joe’s Kansas City one of the “13 places to eat before you die,” so it’s no wonder the line for a seat snakes out the door.
Kentucky: Holly Hill Inn
Situated in the heart of bluegrass country is Holly Hill Inn, helmed by James Beard Award–winning chef Ouita Michel and her husband, Chris Michel. The historic mansion Holly Hill calls home was built in 1845 in Midway and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The moment you step onto the grand steps of this Greek Revival home, you know you’re in for a treat. Featuring food from regional producers, the seasonal dinner and brunch menus offer course options like Summertime Spoonbread and Glazed and Grilled Stone Cross Farm Chicken, all of which pair well with an award-winning wine list and a library of more than 100 bourbons from surrounding distilleries. Suffice to say, Holly Hill’s roots run deep within the tradition of Southern hospitality.
Louisiana: Dooky Chase’s
What started out as a Treme sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet in 1939 soon became one of the first Black-owned fine dining spots in the country. Dooky Chase’s was founded by Emily and Dooky Chase in 1941 as a family restaurant and bar, as well as a meeting place for music, entertainment, civil rights discussions and culture in New Orleans. In the late ’40s, Leah Chase—dubbed the Queen of Creole cooking—turned it into the fine-dining spot it is today.
And though Leah passed away a few years ago, joining the ranks of the revered civil rights activists who’ve graced its halls (including Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall), Dooky Chase’s remains the premier restaurant for authentic Creole cuisine. The Tuesday through Friday lunch buffet features favorites like red beans and rice, gumbo and po’boys, while the expansive Friday and Saturday night menu offers a selection of Creole comforts, such as Crawfish Étouffée, Shrimp Clemenceau and the famous Southern Fried Chicken.
Maine: Bob’s Clam Hut
“No summer is complete without a trip to the lake. In Maine, we call this going to ‘camp,'” says Erin Magee, author of This Is Camp. Whether you’re headed to camp or a stretch of beach along the Maine coastline, Magee says you can’t go wrong with Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery. The bar is set high in a state known for its seafood, and this lobster shack delivers with a no-frills setup and fried seafood that’s been making the must-visit list since 1956. After a long day at the beach, pop in for a basket of clams or a lobster roll.
Maryland: Cantler’s Riverside Inn
Face it: Admitting you don’t crave crab is a justifiable reason for having your Marylander card revoked. And since so many Maryland restaurants serve the local treat, outsourcing crab is a regular practice. But not at Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis. The Cantler family has worked in the seafood industry for five generations. So when Jimmy and Linda Carter opened Cantler’s in 1974, their commitment to locally sourced seafood (no imitation crab meat here!) proved a recipe for success. While Maryland blue crab is the main event at Cantler’s, local, wild-caught rockfish, clams and other fruits de mer draw a crowd regularly. And here’s a perk: The place offers free docking for customers arriving by boat.
Massachusetts: Union Oyster House
Located on the Freedom Trail, near Faneuil Hall, Boston’s Union Oyster House is recognized as the nation’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation. Housed in a pre–Revolutionary War building, the historic landmark entered the culinary scene in 1826, dishing up freshly shucked oysters, chowders and other New England staples, just as it does today. This mother of all culinary legends receives regular accolades and has even hosted famous patrons like senator Daniel Webster, who regularly indulged in oysters and a tall tumbler of brandy and water during the 1840s and 1850s.
Michigan: Zingerman’s Roadhouse
When Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig founded their flagship Jewish deli in 1982, they launched a food family that would soon go beyond one of the state’s best delis. Forty years and 10 businesses later, they also lay claim to one of the best traditional restaurants too: Zingerman’s Roadhouse. The seventh Zingerman’s brand serves traditional, full-flavored dishes from breakfast through dinner. During the summer months, indulge in signature recipes like creamy mac and cheese and tender pit-smoked barbecue in the Roadhouse Park just outside the restaurant.
Minnesota: Matt’s Bar & Grill
Now a Minneapolis landmark, Matt’s Bar & Grill quickly became an institution after opening in 1954. As the story goes, a customer asked founder Matt Bristol to customize a burger with a slice of cheese sandwiched between two beef patties. Bristol exclaimed, “That’s one juicy Lucy.” Today, the burger joint is known for its Jucy Lucy (somewhere along the way, the “i” was dropped), a juicy burger oozing with cheese. If you find it on other menus spelled correctly, you’re not getting the real deal, according to Bristol, who continues a friendly burger battle with the nearby 5-8 Club, which also lays claim to the famous molten burger.
Mississippi: Bozo’s Grocery
Named by Mississippi’s first people, the Choctaw nation, the city of Pascagoula literally means “bread eater.” Go ahead and break bread like a local at Bozo’s Grocery, a community favorite in Jimmy Buffett’s hometown for more than 60 years. Po’boys are on the ready at the quick-serve counter, along with fresh Gulf Coast fish, shrimp and crawfish harvested mere miles away. Grab a bite to eat in, but don’t forget to bring your cooler, because you can purchase seafood by the pound to tide you over till your next Coastal Mississippi visit.
In the small town of Columbia, which three colleges call home, university students and alumni join locals in the ritual of grabbing breakfast at Ernie’s. Ernie Lewis opened the place in 1938. Back then, you and your sweetie could order a “date steak” and still have money left for a show at the Missouri Theatre nearby.
While some things have changed over the restaurant’s 84 years, some have stayed the same, like the original artwork, which was created by Chester Gould, creator of Dick Tracy. Gould’s daughter attended Stephen’s College in the 1940s, and Gould enjoyed Ernie’s Chopped Cow while in town. You can still order it for lunch—you’ll get a burger served with barbecue sauce for less than $5, unless you opt for the double.
Montana: Bayern Brewery
More than 27 percent of Montana residents are of German descent, which calls for a hearty “Prost!” at Bayern Brewery in Missoula. Now in its 35th year, Bayern is the only German brewery in the Rocky Mountains that specializes in Bavarian recipes, and it features the ever-popular Edelweiss Bistro on-site. There, you’ll find Bavarian fare—traditional dishes such as käsespätzle and weisswurst—sourced from area farmers and German producers, making this one-of-a-kind experience a hit. Wash it all down with a Bayern beer, which is brewed with the big Montana sky as its muse.
Nebraska: 801 Chophouse
Omaha Steaks are famously succulent, but mail-order meat has nothing on the real deal. For the most tender, juicy beef, sink your teeth into an 801 Chophouse steak. Omaha’s premier steakhouse is located within The Paxton hotel, a cornerstone of the city’s Old Market District. Modeled after the steakhouses of the 1920s, this charmer can now be found in cities across the Midwest, where corn and cattle are as American as it gets. Dinner is pricey, but if you’re on a budget, Omaha’s best traditional restaurant offers a $48 three-course menu on Sunday nights.
Nevada: Star Hotel
Here’s a fascinating Nevada food fact for you: Basque people from France and Spain arrived in Nevada during the Gold Rush, accepting sheepherding jobs in the state’s high desert. During off-seasons, they came down to traditional Basque boardinghouses, where they enjoyed family-style meals, played traditional games and conversed with others in their native language. The Star Hotel in Elko was opened in 1910 by Pete Jauregui with the goal of offering the sheepherders a home away from home. The renowned beacon continues to be a gathering place for Basques and others who come for the hearty meat, garlic-heavy meals and lively atmosphere. Get there early to catch the ringing of a large bell, which signals dinner is served.
New Hampshire: Polly’s Pancake Parlor
Neighboring Vermont may be the top maple syrup producer in the country, but New Hampshire is no slouch, and there’s no better place to appreciate its contribution than at Polly’s Pancake Parlor. In the 1930s, Polly and Wilfred Dexter opened the restaurant as a way to grow their maple business. It stayed in the family and has become one of New England’s favorite breakfast joints.
Housed in an 1830s building boasting views of the New Hampshire countryside, Polly’s still grinds its own flour for the acclaimed buckwheat, cornmeal, oatmeal buttermilk, gingerbread and whole wheat pancakes, all of which are served with granulated maple sugar and maple spread that’s produced on the farm using a process perfected when the joint first opened.
New Jersey: Knife & Fork Inn
You can’t talk old-school Atlantic City without talking about gentlemen’s clubs of years gone by. Knife & Fork Inn was established in 1912 by then–Atlantic City mayor William Riddle, Commodore Louis Kuehnle, and their cronies as an exclusive men’s drinking and dining club with a special “ladies lounge” located upstairs. Naturally, women were prohibited entry until summoned by the men.
Let’s just say more than a few barriers have been busted in the century since. The Ladies Lounge welcomes all who care to take in those gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean, while the main dining room warmly invites guests (yes, women as well) to a feast of sustainable surf and turf surrounded by decor that evokes yesteryear. After the meal, take a stroll along one of the best beach boardwalks in America.
New Mexico: The Shed
A go-to institution for Southwestern fare since 1953, The Shed features the best that Northern New Mexico has to offer, both in cuisine and hospitality. This traditional restaurant, located in historic Sante Fe, is family-owned and -operated and is helmed by the third generation of Carswells. You’ll want to savor The Shed’s enchiladas, but leave room for desserts like fresh lemon soufflé too.
via Moosewood Restaurant/Facebook
New York: Moosewood
Any vegetarian worth their weight in kale most likely owns one of the best-selling Moosewood cookbooks. While you could whip up a few recipes at home, eating them at the restaurant they hail from makes for a bucket list–worthy occasion. Located in the Finger Lakes region of Ithaca, Moosewood Restaurant could easily be considered health food’s mothership.
The menu caters to veggie lovers—you’ll find a Dinosaur Kale Salad, Spicy Coconut Curry and a side of Lemon Tahini Broccoli—but you don’t have to be the sort of vegetarian or vegan who chows down on meatless meat to appreciate the quality fare. Even carnivores will enjoy the fresh flavors and selection of Finger Lake wines. You’ll swear you hear the tunes of Woodstock dancing in your head.
North Carolina: Seabird
Historic Wilmington’s Seabird may not have a legendary history, but this newcomer is already championing an essential connection to Wilmington’s culinary land and seascapes. Celebrating the Atlantic’s bounty of fresh seafood, the restaurant serves up locally caught fish, including barbecue oysters, swordfish schnitzel and fried smoked catfish. Wash it all down with wine or a craft beer, then plan how you’ll spend the rest of your days in this beach community (we suggest beginner surfing lessons).
North Dakota: Kroll’s Diner
Known for its knoephla soup, a potato-rich, German-style dumpling soup that warms the locals during North Dakota’s brutal winter months, Kroll’s Diner has been welcoming guests with down-home fare since 1969. Guests get a kick out of the Kroll’s ladies, sassy older women who sternly say the restaurant’s tagline—”sit down and eat”—in its humorous commercials. And they go wild for the traditional diner fare served at its four 24-hour locations, in Fargo, Bismarck, Mandan, and Minot.
Ohio: Price Hill Chili
Famous for its Mediterranean-style chili featuring notes of earthy cinnamon and a mound of spaghetti, Cincinnati is the place to go for a thick, meaty bowl of the spicy stuff. Cincinnati chili culture is alive and well at Price Hill Chili, where the iconic food shows up throughout the menu. Order it by the bowl in one of five different ways, or eat it atop a hot dog or in a chili cheese sandwich. A fixture in the city since 1962, the traditional restaurant features a packed menu that offers something for everyone (including salads for the health conscious). Grab a table in the Golden Fleece Lounge, where you can order cocktails and catch a Bengals game on the multiple large-screen TVs while demolishing a bowl of Price Hill’s chili.
Oklahoma: Cattlemen’s Steakhouse
The oldest continually operated restaurant in the state (it opened in 1910), this casual American classic builds all its menus (yes, even breakfast) on steak, steak, and more steak. You’ll find it within Oklahoma City’s historic Stockyards City, a fun place to visit after you’ve eaten your fill at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Try the hand-cut, USDA Prime and Choice cuts of beef, or get adventurous and order the lamb fries. But be warned: The latter is a gracious way of denoting lamb testicles. And though beef rules the menu, there are fish options if you’re looking for a lighter meal.
Oregon: Amalfi’s Restaurant & Mercado
This iconic Northeast Portland Italian restaurant still uses the same recipe for its pizza dough as it did when it opened in 1959, topping its famous pies with Alfredo, artichoke hearts and everything in between. It’s worth a trip for the pizza alone, but you’ll also find a slate of pasta dishes, red-sauce staples, cocktails and scoops of spumoni for dessert. Make sure to dip into the market to pick up fresh, house-made foods, local delicacies, products imported from Italy and wine by the bottle.
Pennsylvania: Rex at the Royal
Philadelphia’s culinary history is more than the sum of its steak-and-cheese parts. With that in mind, chef and archaeologist Jill Weber set out to create a tribute to those left out of certain American history stories. She founded Rex at the Royal as an homage to the Southern Black chefs who moved to the city a century ago, during the Great Migration, and adapted their foodways, including many from the South Carolina Lowcountry, Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic.
One such chef, Harry Franklyn Hall, grew to fame in Philly and went on to pen 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish, which served as an inspiring tenet for the Rex at the Royal’s menu. Stop by for dishes like shrimp and grits, braised collard greens, frogmore stew and the must-order She Crab Soup.
Rhode Island: Al Forno
One in five Rhode Island inhabitants claims Italian roots, so it should come as no surprise that the state’s best traditional restaurant offers a taste of the motherland. Since the 1980s, owners (and chefs) Johanne Killeen and George Germon have offered guests at Providence’s Al Forno restaurant dishes that reflect the area’s bounty with ingredients plucked from New England farms and waters. The riverfront restaurant’s signature is its array of grilled pizzas, but other hits include the Dirty Steak with Hot Fanny Sauce, Clams Al Forno and made-to-order desserts (just try passing on the hand-churned ice cream).
South Carolina: Soby’s
For a quarter of a century, Soby’s has been synonymous with Greenville’s food scene. The restaurant has served up “new Southern” cuisine since 1997, with many of those original dishes still appearing on the menu today. More than 3 million guests have savored the restaurant’s Southern cuisine (it’s whipped up more than 5 million garlic-and-cheddar biscuits since opening day), and they’ve placed countless orders for shrimp and grits, pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, meatloaf and other Southern staples.
South Dakota: Wall Drug
For miles and miles along I-90, as you head toward the dramatic landscape of Badlands National Park, a series of vintage billboards greets drivers. They’ve led the way to Wall Drug, situated smack-dab in “the geographical center of nowhere,” for more than 80 years. Since 1931, Wall Drug has served as an oasis for weary South Dakota travelers in a town of only about 800 year-round residents.
Ads promising travelers free, ice-cold water helped keep the business afloat throughout the Great Depression and now serve as iconic reminders of Wall Drug’s long history. Its compound comprises shops and other attractions, but the restaurant is the crowning jewel. It’s known for, among other things, its legendary hot beef sandwich, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. Sip on five-cent coffee, grab one of the popular homemade doughnuts or head over to the Soda Fountain ice cream shop for a treat for the road.
Tennessee: Arnold’s Country Kitchen
The meat-and-three meal concept (pick your meat, then add three fixings) is as much a part of the Southern food experience as biscuits and cornbread, and it has deep roots in Nashville, where it is believed to have first surfaced when farm work transitioned to city life. No trip to the city is complete without a visit to Arnold’s Country Kitchen. For more than three decades, the Arnold family has served staples like fried chicken, collards, mac and cheese, banana pudding and fresh-baked pies.
As chef and owner Kahlil Arnold says, “It’s the melting pot of Nashville.” You’re as likely to see a country music star as a volunteer from the nearby homeless shelter in line. Still, it’s the attention to quality ingredients and the love poured into each dish that keeps people coming back to this James Beard Award–winning Music City star.
Texas: Joe T. Garcia’s
The Garcia family first came to the forefront of Fort Worth’s food scene in 1935 with the opening of Joe T. Garcia’s. The memorabilia peppered throughout the James Beard Award–winning restaurant plays homage to that history, as do the original recipes featured on the menu today. Mainstays include classic fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas and the extra-strong trademark margarita (two per guest is the limit!). Soak up the mild Texas weather on the oversize patio, which is overflowing with bright flowers and features a picturesque water fountain. Not from around here? Plan a Texas road trip, and stop in as you pass through.
Utah: Log Haven
Calling to mind wildflowers, waterfalls and fine canyon dining, Log Haven is situated on 40 private wooded acres in a historic log mansion within the Wasatch National Forest, just outside Salt Lake City. A haven for lovebirds since its opening in 1920, the Utah classic is routinely deemed the most romantic restaurant in the state. Whether you order the grilled quail, the coffee-and-cocoa-rubbed elk strip loin or something else, dinner is guaranteed to be an affair to remember.
Vermont: Blue Benn Diner
When Sonny and Marylou Monroe purchased the Blue Benn Diner in 1973, they didn’t have the foggiest idea of what a legend the eatery would become. Though the place served up traditional favorites, it was Sonny’s elevated diner fare and his approach to healthy food (such as falafel and nut burgers) that set this traditional restaurant apart from the rest. After Sonny’s death in 2019, Marylou passed the Blue Benn baton to John Getchell, a Bennington College alum who fondly remembers his college days spent at Vermont’s best diner. With one bite of a signature omelet or hot open-faced sandwich, you’ll know pretty quickly why folks fall in line for a seat at Blue Benn Diner.
Virginia: The Regency Room
Opened in 1938, The Regency Room has served ever since as Hotel Roanoke’s cornerstone of culinary tradition, earning a rare AAA Four Diamond designation, one of only three restaurants in the entire state that can make such a claim. Loaded with seasonal dishes, the French-inspired Southern menu is best known for the peanut soup (which isn’t actually French at all). The dish, an African staple, eventually became a Virginia classic. The Regency Room’s version is rich, creamy and perfect for dipping the classic spoonbread. Soak up the Blue Ridge Mountain air and prepare to cut a rug on the dance floor—there’s live entertainment each weekend.
Washington: The Willows Inn
Bordering the San Juan islands and just west of Bellingham, peaceful Lummi Island spans about nine square miles and can only be accessed by a tiny open-air car ferry. It’s worth making a trek to the somewhat secluded island where one of the finest dining experiences in the Pacific Northwest—and perhaps one of the best restaurants in the country—awaits. With award-winning chef Blaine Wetzel at the helm, The Willows Inn restaurant offers a multicourse prix-fixe masterpiece focused on foraged, farmed and fished ingredients that ensure each seasonal expression is worth every penny.
West Virginia: Appalachia Kitchen
Appalachian cuisine is a go-to for many Southern chefs, and its tradition isn’t lost on some of the very ground it was built upon in West Virginia. The owners of Appalachia Kitchen in Snowshoe, Kristin and David Billings, and its chef, Scott MacGregor, proudly source from Appalachian farmers and producers to create a fresh approach to traditional Appalachian cuisine. Located on Snowshoe Mountain in the Corduroy Inn complex, the restaurant offers farm-to-table dishes such as smoked trout tartare, venison meatloaf and fruit cobbler.
Wisconsin: The Old Fashioned
Although supper clubs originated in New York City, Wisconsin lays claim to using the nightclub-and-restaurant concept as a cover for its real business: illegal booze during Prohibition. There are more than 250 supper clubs across the Badger State, and one such institution sits steps from the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. The Old Fashioned is regularly recognized for what many consider the best cheese curds in the state, along with a great combination of traditional Wisconsin supper club fare: the walleye sandwich; Wisconsin fondue; a lazy Susan with relishes, smoked fish, and mustard; beer cheese soup with popcorn; fish fry; and, of course, local beers and cocktails.
Wyoming: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel
Built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill after he founded the town of Cody, the Irma Hotel is an authentic Wyoming landmark that captures the essence of Western hospitality. It was named after Buffalo Bill’s youngest daughter, Irma, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant‘s famous cherrywood bar—which stretches the length of the room and is still in use today—was presented to Buffalo Bill by England’s Queen Victoria, who was charmed by the showman’s Wild West show. Locals brag that the prime rib is the best in the West.
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