Taste of Home: Top Mom-and-Pop Restaurants
Cozy up to sauce-smothered plates of pasta, crisp fried chicken perched on golden waffles and more comforting dishes at these classic spots across the country.
Photo By: John O'Groats
Photo By: Beach Break Cafe
Photo By: Rancho de Chimayó ©Chris Corrie Photography
Photo By: Robert Giordano c/o LaSpada’s Hoagies ©Robert Giordano / Design215.com
Photo By: Keller + Keller c/o Alisson’s ©2010, Keller + Keller
Photo By: John O’Groats
Photo By: Mert’s Heart and Soul
Photo By: J.P. Graziano’s
Photo By: Heather Kadar c/o Café Daily Fare ©Heather Kadar
Photo By: Citizen Pictures
Photo By: Sam Hanna c/o Pelican Publishing Company ©Sam Hanna
Photo By: Christian Dalbec c/o Betty’s Pies ©Christian Dalbec Photography
Photo By: Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles
Photo By: Country Corner Café
Photo By: Boniello’s
Photo By: A & M Cafe
Photo By: Geraci’s
Photo By: Word of Mouth Bistro
All in the Family
Mom-and-pop spots do something many restaurants can’t do: make you feel like you are dining among family. These often no-frills places, many of which have been around for eons, have magnificent stories and menus full of recipes passed down through generations. Here are the spots from coast to coast that will make you feel like you’re home the minute you walk in the door.
Beach Break Cafe (Oceanside, Calif.)
Located off the historic Highway 101 that runs along the California coast, halfway between downtown Los Angeles and the Mexican border, this surf-inspired diner serves American fare with a California twist. People taking a break from the beach or those who want a pre-ocean meal flock here for the moist, cinnamon-laced coffee cake drizzled with frosting and the giant and inventive four-egg omelets and scrambles. While dining they can check out the colorful surfboards, surfboard-inspired ceiling fan and surf photos that decorate this breakfast-and-lunch-only spot. The Banana Crunch French Toast is a favorite, dipped in oats for the crunch and then topped with bananas and a healthy dose of whipped cream. The wait can be long on weekends, but owners Gary and Zell Dwelley set up an honor-system coffee station.
Rancho de Chimayó (Chimayo, New Mexico)
This 2016 James Beard Foundation Award winner for American Classic restaurant has served delicious and authentic New Mexican food from “Mrs. J” (owner Florence Jaramillo) in the state’s northern mountains for over 50 years. Housed in a historic hacienda and focusing on authentic New Mexico ingredients like red chiles and pinto beans, the Jaramillos’ restaurant serves fresh guacamole, housemade tamales and carne adovada with posole and Spanish rice. The Chimayó cocktail is a favorite, made with local apple cider, tequila and a few of Mrs. J’s secret ingredients.
LaSpada’s Hoagies (Fort Lauderdale)
This hoagie shop may please palates across Florida, but the LaSpada family’s history is actually deeply intertwined with the creation of the hoagie in Pennsylvania. Antonio LaSpada migrated from Sicily and opened his first Italian sandwich shop in Atlantic City in 1938. When the family migrated to Chester, Penn., they noticed many shipyard workers eating Italian sandwiches on bread as big as hogs. Thus the name “hoagie” was born, and the LaSpada family decided to fill the void for those who weren’t getting the sandwiches from their home kitchen. In 1973, one of the family members left to open a shop in Florida, and the rest is history. The sandwiches, big cuts of Italian bread stuffed with Italian meats, are topped Chester-style: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, sweet peppers, hot peppers, oil and vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper.
Alisson’s (Kennebunkport, Maine)
Alisson’s may now be in the fourth generation of the Condon family and much larger than the original location that opened in 1973, but its purpose has remained the same: to be a great place for families and locals to gather. The menu is full of Maine-lobster delights: signature lobster rolls, fried lobster pops and a full selection of pub favorites. The New England clam chowder has been greeted with such fanfare that the restaurant sells make-at-home kits for the deliciously creamy soup.
John O’Groats (Los Angeles)
Started by a Scottish couple, Angelica and Robert Jacoby, in 1982, and later taken over by their son Paul, this quaint California spot has won over regulars with its crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside biscuits and its highly lauded breakfast menu. With selections like Mango Macadamia nut pancakes and Huevos O’Groats — their take on Huevos Rancheros, on a tortilla made of biscuit dough — there is something for everyone. Even the ultra-health-conscious can choose from a variety of selections from the Ziggy’s Get Fit menu. One night a month, the restaurant plays homage to the founding family’s Scottish descent with a three-course menu of Scottish favorites like Steak and Kidney Pie.
Mert’s Heart and Soul (Charlotte, N.C.)
Mert’s may not have appeared in Charlotte until the late 1990s, but it quickly wove itself into the fabric of the Charlotte community. The staff dishes out heaping helpings of soul food for brunch, lunch and dinner, including their “famous” Cajun salmon cakes, Southern fried chicken, fried catfish and cornbread. Locals James and Renee Bazelle, who started Mert’s, want their restaurant to introduce Queen City residents to soul food, but also to low country and Gullah-inspired dishes like shrimp and grits and red rice.
J.P. Graziano (Chicago)
In Chicago’s trendy West Loop, which is packed with celebrity-chef spots, J.P. Graziano is an Italian sub shop and grocery that has served hungry locals since 1937. Changes have occurred over the years, with the addition of the sub shop thought up by fourth-generation family member and current owner Jim Graziano, but the attentiveness to authenticity has remained the same. The favorite among locals is the Mr. G sub, made with layers of sharp imported provolone, hot soppressata, Prosciutto di Parma and Volpi Genoa salami that’s drizzled with a truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette and hot oil, and topped with marinated Roman-style artichokes, fresh basil, lettuce, a splash of red wine vinegar and oregano.
Café Daily Fare (Flagstaff, Ariz.)
Owner Nancy McCulla and her husband renovated an old warehouse to create a space that now houses Café Daily Fare and its sister catering company, Simply Delicious. The cafe focuses on simple fare like salads, soups and sandwiches, with Southwest flair. The Chef’s Playground section of the menu is where McCulla can show her creativity with dishes like Blackberry Duck Tacos — blackberry-marinated duck with habanero aioli, local Arizona Fossil Creek goat cheese, arugula and jicama.
The Fish House (Key Largo, Fla.)
Tujague’s (New Orleans)
This restaurant has seen New Orleans through it all, dating back to 1856, even before the city was named. Although ownership has shifted among a few families, Tujague’s has always stuck to its roots and kept classics on the menu. These include the kicked-up spicy shrimp remoulade and the off-menu garlicky Chicken Bon Femme brought to the restaurant by Madame Clemence Castet, the madame of the dining room from 1914 to 1969. The bar, one of New Orleans’ first stand-up bars, is the birthplace of the grasshopper and whiskey punch cocktails. A trip to this historic family-owned establishment is a must when in the French Quarter.
Betty’s Pies (Two Harbors, Minn.)
Now a favorite for those traveling to Minnesota’s north shore, Betty’s started as a small shack serving coffee and doughnuts to local fishermen, and later grew into a breakfast-and-lunch spot that became famous for its pies. Although founder Betty has passed, people still drive to this red-white-and-blue-decorated diner for the tangy Bumbleberry Crunch Pie — a mixed-berry delight with a crunchy oatmeal-and-brown sugar topping — or the five-layer Chocolate Mint Pie with dark chocolate, cinnamon meringue and a touch of mint. For a savory treat, Betty’s serves its version of a pasty, stuffed full of chicken, beef or vegetables.
Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles (Indianapolis)
Although the restaurant is fairly new by mom-and-pop standards (opened in 2007), the history behind Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles makes it feel like it’s been around forever. Opened by the children and grandchildren of Ollie and Maxine Bunnell, the place is a culmination of Maxine’s best recipes and the Bunnell family’s memories — there are even dishes named after various family members. The namesake Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles — three jumbo chicken wings on their signature-recipe waffle — and the crispy catfish dinner have already become favorites among diners who really feel like they are eating in the Bunnells’ kitchen.
Country Corner Café (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)
This quaint upstate New York cafe, owned by Roseann Hotaling, has served its menu full of classic cafe favorites — like charbroiled burgers, grilled Reubens and a variety of wraps — for 25 years. The all-day breakfast menu is where the creativity shines. A favorite is the PBJ Cristo, made with Saratoga organic peanut butter, housemade strawberry jam and sliced bananas on egg-battered Texas toast. The menu also has five varieties of eggs Benedict, including Sunrise, made with potato pancakes stacked with poached eggs, roasted red peppers and scallions.
Boniello’s (Riverdale, N.J.)
Almost a half-century ago, Cosmo Boniello started cooking Italian cuisine. He passed his skills along to son Tony, who opened this place, where the Boniellos entertain everyone as if they were already family and friends, as they would in their own house. The specialty is the Chicken ala Boniello, lightly breaded chicken sauteed with mushrooms in a pink sauce and served over housemade fettuccine. Their strombolis are also a must-try: Gargantuan, they can be stuffed with your choice of a variety of fillings, such as veggies, meatballs, or chicken or eggplant Parmesan.
Flakowitz of Boynton (Boynton Beach, Fla.)
Mama’s Fish House Restaurant and Inn (Maui, Hawaii)
Roma Cafe (Detroit)
Katz’s Deli (New York)
A & M Cafe (Grinnell, Iowa)
This no-frills, cash-only, small-town family-owned diner is housed in an old car repair shop, and the decor pulls in some of that history through old-timey automobile tin signs throughout the space. The menu leans in the greasy-spoon direction, with giant breakfast plates piled with eggs, crispy hash browns and cheesy omelets. Regulars know it’s a misstep to bypass the amazing freshly baked pies made daily by the M in A & M, owner Merle.
Ask any native Clevelander where to get pizza and they’ll likely send you to Geraci’s. Still owned by the Geraci family, this Italian restaurant hasn’t changed much since it opened 50 years ago. Natives of the city come back from all parts of the country, bringing new generations of family members into the restaurant. It is still cash-only and has a menu of classics like chicken Marsala and spaghetti and meatballs. Regulars clamor over the pepperoni pizza, which has thicker-than-usual slices and perfectly charred pepperoni.
Word of Mouth Bistro (Salem, Ore.)
Salem locals clamor for the delectable platters that come out of this pintsize breakfast house. But don’t let the size fool you: The from-scratch, local-whenever-possible dishes have a cult following. They include the Flying Biscuit, a homemade biscuit piled high with buttermilk fried chicken, a fried egg, melted cheddar cheese and bacon with a pour of hearty sausage gravy. The creme brulee French toast and the inventive selection of hashes make this a neighborhood favorite. Owners Becky and Steve Mucha’s eagerness to serve the neighborhood only enhances the experience.