Home-Style Bites: The Top Mom-and-Pop Restaurants in the Country
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: Denny Culbert
Photo By: Bill Crabtree Jr.
Photo By: Danny Batista
Photo By: Jackie Alpers
Photo By: Robert Giordano c/o LaSpada’s Hoagies ©Robert Giordano / Design215.com
Photo By: John O’Groats
Photo By: Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant
Photo By: Mert’s Heart and Soul
Photo By: Rancho de Chimayó ©Chris Corrie Photography
Photo By: J.P. Graziano’s
Photo By: CANDACE WEST
Photo By: Keller + Keller c/o Alisson’s ©2010, Keller + Keller
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Photo By: Sam Hanna c/o Pelican Publishing Company ©Sam Hanna
Photo By: Heather Kadar c/o Café Daily Fare ©Heather Kadar
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, California)
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.
Wright's Farm Restaurant (Harrisville, Rhode Island)
In 1972 Frank and Joyce Galleshaw bought Wright’s Farm, and it has grown along with their family over the past 50 plus years. The family-style restaurant is home to their famous chicken dinners, which include home-style, tender chicken alongside mounds of marinara-coated pasta, fresh out-of-the-oven rolls, crisp French Fries and salad with their own tangy Italian dressing. Pop into the gift shop on property for fudge, candy and truffles that should satisfy any sweet tooth.
Woodman’s of Essex (Essex, Massachusetts)
In 1916 Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman fried the first clam at his namesake restaurant, and the rest is history. Now operated by the fifth generation of the Woodman family, this New England icon is renowned for those crisped clams — more than 1.5 million are served each year. Regulars also scout out the fresh-caught lobsters, steamers and clam chowder, along with ice cream served seasonally in the shop behind the restaurant.
Old Tyme Grocery (Lafayette, Louisiana)
Pierce's Pit BBQ (Williamsburg, Virginia)
In 1971, Julius C. “Doc” Pierce set out from Flat Creek, Tennessee, for Virginia with his family and their incredible barbecue sauce recipe. Shortly thereafter, Pierce’s Pit BBQ was born. Today Jay Pierce, Doc’s son, keeps the restaurant alive with the same Tennessee-style barbecue his father served. Hickory-smoked ribs topped with honey-barbecue sauce, pulled pork smothered in original sauce and sides like hushpuppies and Brunswick stew keep people lining up for great food and a family feel.
Jane (Santa Barbara, California)
Blue Bonnet Cafe (Texas)
Since 1929, this café has served homey American food to Texans. In 1981, regular customers John and Belinda Kemper took over and have helped millions around the country grow to love it. Known all over the country for their towering homemade pies in flavors like lemon meringue or German chocolate, the restaurant also serves an acclaimed all-day breakfast as well. Plates brim with homemade biscuits, pancakes as big as the plate and eggs served with a mound of hashbrowns.
Go to: Blue Bonnet Cafe
El Charro Cafe (Tucson)
In business since the early 1900s, this Arizona café is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant that’s continuously been owned by the same family. The restaurant focuses on Tucson and Sonoran cuisine, and legend holds that they invented the chimichanga when the original owner and chef, Monica Flin, mistakenly dropped a burrito into hot oil while making tacos. Today, people also appreciate the focus on natural beef and cage-free chicken, plus vegan and gluten-free variations on their favorite Mexican dishes.
Go to: El Charro Cafe
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.
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.
Al Johnson’s (Sister Bay, Wisconsin)
This Swedish restaurant is a centerpiece of the tourist-driven Sister Bay, in Door County. It’s beloved both for its traditional Swedish and Norwegian food and for its living, furry roof mascots. The roof of the restaurant is covered in grass, which feed real goats. The goats are a perfect distraction for those waiting on a table at the restaurant —a goat cam is available for anyone who wants to check in remotely. Once inside, diners dive into Swedish pancakes covered with cherries and served with traditional lingonberries and local Wisconsin butter. For something more savory, Swedish meatballs are a favorite, served by waitresses in traditional Swedish garb.
Los Barrios (San Antonio)
A San Antonio mainstay since 1979, this is the first of four restaurants from the Barrios family, a pillar of this Texas community for both their traditional Mexican cuisine and their dedication to those in need. Puffy tacos — a San Antonio tradition made with homemade tortillas that are quickly dropped in a fryer to puff up — are a house specialty; Los Barrios served them to President Obama at the White House. The menu runs deep with various nachos, brisket-stuffed gorditas and plenty of combination platters for those keen to try a little bit of everything.
Go to: Los Barrios Restaurant
Katz's Deli (New York)
This New York icon started in the Katz family, and then after 100 years its ownership switched to the Katzes’ good family friends the Dells. Son Jake Dell took over in 2009 and modernized many of the operations. The deli, which has been the backdrop for many movies, touts its famous deli classics like its slow-cured pastrami and corned beef. Tourists and locals flock for a taste, checking out the pieces of classic decor that still remain, such as autographed celebrity photos, and signs from the campaign that made Katz’s famous – “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” Although New Yorkers are strongly opinionated about their delis, this one still tops many lists.
Mission (Newport, Rhode Island)
This wildly popular burger joint packs in crowds nightly for locally raised beef burgers, hot dogs and falafel. The Mission sauce â aioli with ketchup, cornichons, capers, herbs and a splash of brandy â elevates each burger. Optional house-made toppings include sweet pickles, caramelized onion sauerkraut and grilled jalapenos. The no-frills spot only has a handful of tables, with signs spotlighting local vendors of their meat, potatoes and vegetables. Though the food is seriously good, the staff has a sense of humor, offering toy dinosaurs and other figurines to determine where to deliver your order.
Go to: Mission
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.
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.
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.
Chris' Hot Dogs (Montgomery)
Since 1917, this hot dog stand has brought together members of the city of Montgomery to enjoy a taste of Americana. President Frankly Roosevelt used to visit for boxes of hot dogs, as did Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis Presley. A century after opening, the oldest family-owned and operated restaurant in Montgomery still serves their famous hot dogs slathered in chili and topped with tangy kraut, mustard and onions, alongside burgers, fries and chicken tenders.
Flakowitz of Boynton (Boynton Beach, Florida)
The snowbirds flock to Florida, and many crave a taste of home while beachside. They can find it at this traditional New York deli and bakery. The menu is expansive, with deli classics like tuna melts and tender brisket, traditional Jewish delicacies like knishes, and smoked fish platters for breakfast. The front of the no-frills restaurant has a grab-and-go area for housemade bakery treats, such as marble cake and giant sprinkle cookies for the little ones (or little ones at heart).
Clanton's Cafe (Vinita, Oklahoma)
Many making the drive along the infamous Route 66 stop into Clanton’s Café, the oldest continually owned family restaurant on the highway. Since 1927, the Clanton family has served home-style dishes like flash-fried calf fries (a regional specialty) and a giant chicken-fried steak smothered with country gravy. Save room for some made-from-scratch pie.
Go to: Clanton's Cafe
Homestead (Tacoma, Washington)
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.
Cabbage Key Inn (Cabbage Key, Florida)
A throwback to a bygone era in Florida, this restaurant sits on an island accessible only by boat. Often referred to as the “bar with money on the walls” the open-air space does, indeed, have dollar bills hanging from the ceilings and the walls, including many bills signed by notable people. Jimmy Buffett sang fondly of their cheeseburger in Cheeseburger in Paradise, but many diners flock for their mahi-mahi and famous frozen Key lime pie.
Go to: Cabbage Key
Farmingdale Diner (Farmingdale, New York)
The Fish House (Key Largo, Fla.)
Gwyn's Snowmass (Snowmass, Colorado)
A restaurant mid-mountain may seem like an atypical place to find a mom-and-pop restaurant, but Gwyn Knowlton and George Gordon have been going strong with Gwyn's since the late 1980s. During ski season, the restaurant offers something for everyone with more upscale dishes like lobster and shrimp fondue, alongside grab-and-go options like burgers and wraps, for those ready to hit the slopes. Although the food may lean towards modern, customers get an old-school welcome once they step off the chairlift into the Colorado cabin.
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.
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.
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.
Looney Moose (Stratton, Maine)
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.
Mama’s Fish House Restaurant and Inn (Maui, Hawaii)
Roma Cafe (Detroit)
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.
Pot Pie (Kansas City, Missouri)
Sarah and John Williams don’t advertise their restaurant, which they opened in 2003, because they don’t have to. This intimate American diner puts the Williams’ own twist on the pot pie, showcasing versions on an ever-rotating chalkboard menu that often includes mussels and homemade desserts. The draw is still the namesake: their take on the pot pie. Each is stuffed to the brim with meat and vegetables and covered with a flaky top.
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.