Culinary Classics: The Most-Iconic Restaurants from Coast to Coast
Hungry for a bit of history? These steakhouses, coffee shops, burger joints and pizza stops are among the most-iconic destinations in the country.
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Photo By: Barney Greengrass
Photo By: Boston Public Library/Leon H. Ab
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Philadelphia: Pat's King of Steaks
As far as sandwich wars are concerned, this is probably the biggest. The venerable Philly cheesesteak has two shops battling it out: Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks. And they happen to be located just 262 feet away from each other. Pat's was founded by Pasquale "Pat" and Harry Olivieri, and the brothers claim they invented the sub sandwich that consists of an Italian roll layered with thinly sliced, well-done beef off the flattop, grilled chopped onions, and Cheez Whiz, American or provolone cheese. It wasn't until 1966 that Geno's came around and the rivalry began. The competition between the two, however, is friendly, with current Pat's owner Frank Jr. (grandson of Harry) and his childhood friend Geno Vento (founder Joey Vento's son) agreeing to keep prices the same.
Go to: Pat's King of Steaks
Seattle: Pike Place Market
With the city's population nearly doubling at the turn of the century, so increased the demand for food. Local farmers seized the opportunity to capitalize on this population surge by price gouging, which did not make Seattle folks too happy. A center for fair trade was proposed and, on Aug. 17, 1907, the Pike Place Market was born. Shortly thereafter the market went from a collection of 70 vendors on a wooden roadway to a brick-and-mortar structure with the glorious arcades that still stand today. It is also here, at 102 Pike St, where the original Starbucks opened in 1971. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this culinary hub continues to expand, most recently in 2015.
Go to: Pike Place Fish Market
Brooklyn: Peter Luger Steakhouse
This Brooklyn steakhouse, in operation since 1887, is often brimming with large tables filled with men, yet it is the women who rule what goes on behind the scenes at this classic institution. First established as Carl Luger's Cafe, Billiards and Bowling Alley by owner Peter Luger, the restaurant was purchased at auction by Sol Forman in 1950 after Luger died and the restaurant fell into disrepair. Forman, who ran a family flatware business across the street, previously entertained clients there and knew the critical piece of preparing a great steak was how the meat was sourced. Reportedly wearing a fur hat and white lab coat, his wife, Marsha, studied proper selection for two years under a former U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, spending hours in the plants in the gritty Meatpacking District. To this day the Forman women, led by Sol's granddaughter Jody Storch, handpick only the finest USDA prime cuts, which are then dry-aged in-house.
Go to: Peter Luger Steakhouse
Tucson, Arizona: El Charro Café
While Union Oyster House may be the longest operating restaurant in the United States, El Charro Café is the longest operating Mexican restaurant in the nation. Unlike the Union Oyster House, this Sonoran-style Mexican eatery has been run by the same family since 1922. It started with Monica Flin, who came to Arizona by way of France and ran the front of house and back of house all at the same time. The restaurant isn't just longstanding; it is also the place where Flin invented the chimichanga. According to the family, while Flin was preparing her ground beef tacos with her young nieces, one burrito shot up into the air and landed in the scorching hot oil, causing her to shout, "Chimichanga," which essentially means "thingamajig."
Go to: El Charro Cafe
Boston: Parker Restaurant, Omni Hotel
Politicians and celebrities have been checking into the Omni Parker House on Boston's famous Freedom Trail since the hotel's opening in 1855. Charles Dickens even stayed here while rehearsing A Christmas Carol, and the staff too has seen its own prominent members; Malcom X was a busboy, and Emeril Lagasse began his culinary career in the kitchens. But the hotel is really famous for its buttery Parker House Rolls. Those sweet, puffy buns were born by pure accident. The Parker Hotel explains that in the 1870s a disgruntled baker tossed unfinished dough into the oven, resulting in a unique pocketbook-like shape with a crisp, golden outer layer. More than 160 years later, the hotel still serves this bite of American culinary history.
Go to: Omni Parker House
Norfolk, Virginia: Doumar's
At the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, the ice cream cone made its debut thanks to an ingenious fellow named Albert "Abe" Doumar. Doumar, an immigrant from Damascus, Syria, noticed an ice cream stand shut down after it ran out of paper plates, while another vendor cranked out hot waffles served with a dollop of whipped cream. Curious, Doumar took that waffle, rolled it up and topped it with the ice cream. The marriage worked so well that Doumar, a traveling salesman, brokered a deal for the two vendors to create ice cream cones for the rest of the fair. Three years later Doumar opened his eponymous ice cream stand along the Atlantic Ocean in Norfolk, featuring freshly made cones from his specially engineered four-iron waffle maker.
Go to: Doumar's
New Orleans: Sazerac Bar
New Orleans may be world-famous for its Mardi Gras celebration, but its biggest claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of the modern cocktail. The official pick-me-up of the city is the Sazerac, reported by historical sources as America's very first cocktail. Who and where it was invented has been disputed, though many believe it was during the 1800s at Antoine Amedee Peychaud's pharmacy on Royal Street. The one thing that is not debated is the preparation: Muddle a cube of sugar with water in an old-fashioned glass, add rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters and Angostura bitters, then stir and strain into a second old-fashioned glass lightly coated with absinthe, and finally garnish with a lemon twist. You can sip this ruby-red cocktail at dozens of New Orleans bars, including the eponymous Sazerac Bar inside the historic Roosevelt Hotel.
Go to: The Sazerac Bar
New York City: Lombardi's
Everyone can thank Gennaro Lombardi for starting America's pizza addiction. Lombardi's is officially the first pizzeria in the U.S., feeding workers a to-go tomato pie from its grocery store at 53 1/2 Spring St back in 1905. The addition of a coal oven helped expand the restaurant’s footprint, along with a move to 32 Spring St, their current home. Lombardi’s has stood on the edge of Little Italy ever since, welcoming throngs of locals and tourists. Duck inside and you'll find Old-World charm, with red and white checkered tablecloths and brick walls lined with old photos of the pizzeria's history and many celebrity diners. But in the back is where you can catch a glimpse of the pizzaiolos pulling steaming pies of fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce on long paddles. Tip: Lombardi's is cash only and serves whole pies only, no slices.
Go to: Lombardi's Pizzeria
Los Angeles: Philippe The Original
When a sandwich is so revered, it's not uncommon for a few people to lay claim to it. Such is the case with the invention of the French dip sandwich, fought over by Philippe The Original and Cole's, both in Los Angeles. However, most Angelenos believe that Philippe's story edges out Cole's, especially because Philippe's has served the iconic sandwich for nearly a century. Founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, the restaurant ascribes the French dip discovery to pure accident when, in 1918, Mathieu inadvertently dropped a French roll into the roasting pan filled with beef au jus. A police officer happily gobbled down the sandwich despite the soaked bread and returned the next day with his pals, requesting the "dipped" sandwich once again. It landed on the menu helped make Philippe's a treasured culinary destination.
Go to: Philippe, The Original
New York City: Barney Greengrass
This classic New York delicatessen and Upper West Side institution has been sporting the same wallpaper and Formica tables since moving to its "new" digs in 1929. Dubbed "the Sturgeon King" for his smoked fish prowess, Barney Greengrass died in 1956, to which Groucho Marx remarked, "He may not have ruled any kingdoms or written any great symphonies, but he did a monumental job with sturgeon." Considered the primo fish, the Greengrass sturgeon is imported from the lakes of northern Canada, skinned, boned and gently smoked in-house, then sliced to order. But the sturgeon is not the only favorite. Barney Greengrass is the go-to spot for fresh bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon (nova, lox and gravlax are all available), whitefish salad, chopped liver, and the savory lox, onions and eggs. Lines on weekend mornings stretch out to Amsterdam Avenue, proving fans have never stopped worshipping this temple of smoked fish.
Go to: Barney Greengrass
Boston: Union Oyster House
Boston's Union Oyster House, originally named Atwood and Bacon Oyster House, is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the entire United States. Located near the famous Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, also a great culinary destination, the restaurant is housed in a historic 1717 brick building and first saw customers in 1826. Aside from John F. Kennedy, who frequented the place when in Boston, Daniel Webster was a regular, ordering a half-dozen oysters at a time, often up to six plates, which he would chase with brandy and water. Today people come for shrimp cocktail, classic Boston clam chowder, lump crab cake, lobster rolls, fresh-shucked oysters and a variety of local fish.
Go to: Union Oyster House
For a satisfyingly juicy steak and an old-school vibe, step back in time to this Denver gem, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places. This self-proclaimed home of the Sugar Steak has been a family operation since 1937. Though purists might shun a prime cut that isn't merely salted and peppered, here at Bastien's the New York strip (either a 16-ounce or 10-ounce order) is coated in sugar and grilled, giving it a deep caramelization and crunch on the outside. This throwback still boasts its 1950s neon signage, along with a period-appropriate menu of retro cocktails like the Rusty Nail.
Go to: Bastien's Restaurant
Chicago: The Berghoff
Founded in 1898, this Chicago institution maintained a men-only bar until 1969, when seven brave ladies from the National Organization for Women grabbed seats at the bar and demanded service. As beloved as the Windy City's Cubs, the iconic German eatery was known for its Dortmunder beer, originally sold at founder Herman Berghoff's tavern for a nickel (a mug even came with a free sandwich). In order to continue to operate during Prohibition, the tavern was forced to expand to a full-fledged restaurant, but it received Chicago's No. 1 liquor license after the 21st Amendment passed. It still welcome thousands of diners each day who come for the German fare of wienerschnitzel, knockwurst, bratwurst, smoked thuringer and steins of Dortmunder brew.
Go to: Berghoff's Restaurant
Portland, Oregon: Stumptown Coffee
While Berkeley's Peet's Coffee & Tea established the espresso-based coffee sensation, and Starbucks followed, you could say the third wave of the coffee movement is coming out of another city in the Pacific Northwest: Portland. It's there that Duane Sorensen founded Stumptown Coffee and turned his passion into a brand, actually purchased by Peet's in 2015. Born and raised in Seattle, Sorenson set up his first cafe and roastery inside a hair salon in the SE Division neighborhood in 1999. While Stumptown has expanded its footprint in Portland and beyond (stretching to New Orleans, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles, and with its Cold Brew available in supermarkets), the original location at 45th and Division still remains a gathering spot for coffee aficionados.
Go to: Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Hot Springs, Arkansas: McClard's Bar-B-Q
Legendary McClard’s Bar-B-Q smokes meat in the childhood town of former president William Jefferson Clinton. Lore says that a weary traveler staying at Alex and Gladys McClard's Westside Tourist Court could not afford to pay his rent. The most-valuable possession he could offer instead was his secret hot sauce recipe. Rather than receive nothing at all, the McClards accepted his offer. After lacquering their goat meat with this best-tasting sauce, they officially changed their Westside Tourist Court housing into Westside Bar-B-Que. In 1942 the McClards tweaked the name when they moved the operation to its current home; in 2006, nearly 80 years after opening, the restaurant catered the 42nd president's 60th birthday celebration.
Go to: McClard's Bar-B-Q Restaurant
Coney Island, New York: Nathan's
More than 500 million hot dogs have been sold since Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant, first peddled his homemade frankfurters from a cart on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1916. Handwerker decided to undercut the competition by a whole 5 cents, which was pretty significant back when the going rate for a hot dog vendor was a whopping dime. Business grew enough that he soon opened his now-legendary stand on the corner of Stillwell and Surf, working with his his wife, Ida, 17 to 20 hours a day to sell the signature all-beef hot dogs. A century later, Handwerker's hot dogs can be found in supermarkets across the country, but it is much more satisfying to sit outdoors by the bright yellow stand and bite into a hot-off-the-grill snappy frankfurter — or two.
Go to: Nathan's Famous
Keene, New Hampshire: Lindy's Diner
If you are campaigning for president and you don't visit Lindy's, don't expect to win the New Hampshire primary — or so the legend goes. That could explain why the Paramount-style diner, opened since 1961, has seen former Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan walk through its doors. When election season ends, regulars still flock here for the homemade American breakfast fare.
Wall, South Dakota: Wall Drug Store
Downey, California: McDonald's
While it’s not as prominent a SoCal tourist destination as Disneyland or Universal Studio, the longest-operating McDonald’s is a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. Opened in 1953, before Ray Kroc led the chain to behemoth burger status, the Downey location was the third restaurant of the brand started by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. Eventually the location folded into the rapidly expanding empire. Though declining sales once led the company to consider demolition, fans and preservations united to help secure protection by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. McDonald’s restored the retro building, maintaining its walk-up service window and the store’s original Golden Arches, which stretch 30 feet high.
Quincy, Massachusetts: Dunkin’ Donuts
Massachusetts loves its Dunkin’ Donuts, which is fitting, since it’s the chain’s home state. But it didn’t always have that clever alliterative name. The shop was known as Open Kettle when it opened in Quincy in 1948. It was not until 1950, when Owner Bill Rosenberg sought a catchier name, that he renamed the doughnut restaurant. While you won’t see vintage pricing — a dozen donuts were just 69 cents in 1950 — you can still visit the original shop with the brand’s initial cursive signage, doughnut-topped tables and a question mark-shaped counter.
San Francisco: Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House
In the 1840s the California Gold Rush caused the first wave of Chinese immigrants to land in the city of San Francisco. Some who emigrated opened Chinese dim sum houses. The oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the United States, and the first dim sum house, Hang Ah Tea Room, opened its doors in 1920 at 1 Pagoda Pl. Tucked away in an alley, this tiny and no-frills eatery with red facade and old-fashioned beverage advertisements has seen a change of ownership during its nearly 100-year history, but it still provides an array of steamed buns filled with barbecued pork or egg custard and dumplings that are fried, steamed or filled with soup.
New York City: Chelsea Market
Newport, Rhode Island: White Horse Tavern
Napa, California: Stag's Leap
Validity was given to California winemaking when Stag's Leap Wine Cellars won a competition that pitted the wines against France's famous vintages. In a blind taste test at the prestigious 1976 Paris Tasting, also known as the Judgement of Paris, Stag Leap's 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon bested four top-ranked Bordeaux, including first-growths Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion. This sent a clear message to the rest of the world: California wines are as good as, and even better than, the French. The winery, open to the public, is celebrating its 125th year in 2017 and is not only award-winning, but it's also one of the oldest wineries in California, with 90 acres of vineyards to roam.