25 Retro Restaurant Dishes We Might Never See Again

Source: Tom Kelley Archive / Getty Images

Food fashions come and go just like fashions of any other kind. Availability of new ingredients, increased familiarity with different cuisines, the imagination of chefs and restaurateurs, and simply changing consumer tastes all help shape what restaurant serve. Every era writes its own menus. These are food fads from the decade you were born.

Until Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters elevated pizza in their trendy California restaurants, that well-loved Italian specialty was almost never seen away from pizza parlors. Now it’s a dining staple, even at white-tablecloth establishments. Twenty years ago, the average U.S. diner had never heard of, much less tasted, burrata, romesco, kimchi, pork belly, or grilled octopus, while today, it sometimes seems as if half the menus in America list these items.

By the same token, many of the choices available in this country’s eating places back in the 20th century can be hard to find today. Some basics — Caesar salad, fettuccine Alfredo, roast chicken, steak frites, etc. — have proven to be immortal. But when was the last time a modern restaurant customer sat down to a meal of consommé madrilène, brook trout amandine, and baked Alaska? (Menu permutations aren’t the only transformations that occur. These are 20 ways restaurants are going to change in 2021 and beyond.)

To be sure, there are still places serving such retro dishes, ironically or not, but they are undeniably an endangered species. Sometimes the raw materials they’re based on are endangered species, too, like abalone and snapping turtle. Other times, we’ve just grown too sophisticated (or think we have) to eat fussy old-style fare like turkey Tetrazzini or steak Diane.

The all-but-extinct former menu classics on this list are all worth sampling, whether or not you’d want to make them part of your steady diet. If you do encounter them somewhere, give them a try before they disappear completely.