There are great restaurants all over America today, in both cities and the countryside, from simple family-run places — some serving time-honored diner fare, some with vivid accents (Latin, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, European) — to internationally recognized temples of gastronomy. (Fourteen of those around the country have even been awarded three Michelin stars, considered the highest honor in the restaurant world.)
Whatever their level of culinary sophistication, certain restaurants attain iconic status over the years. Sometimes, that’s due to their age; any place that has lasted 80 or 100 years, even if it’s changed addresses and owners along the way, automatically earns some respect. Other times, it’s because a place, however recently opened, encapsulates the spirit of a certain corner of the country, whether by celebrating local ingredients and recipes or simply by having evolved into a metaphor for the community it serves.
That might mean a glamorous destination restaurant run by a celebrity chef, an upscale steakhouse, a favorite that is famous for one food (pizza, stone crab claws), or a roadside diner where the main attractions are hamburgers and milkshakes. Speaking of which, here’s the best place in every state to get a shake.
In compiling this list of can’t-miss restaurants around the country, 24/7 Tempo faced a challenge, because most states have numerous establishments that have made themselves essential stops for various reasons. In choosing just one in each of the 50 states, we’ve considered numerous factors, but above all not just the quality of the cooking but the standing of a restaurant within its environment — what it means to regulars and/or what it will tell visitors about its locale.
Though you’ll eat well (even if sometimes modestly and predictably) in all of these, in other words, they aren’t necessarily the kinds of places you’d find on a list of the best restaurants in America.
Instead, they are restaurants that, in one way or another, define their home states or at least portions of them — the kinds of places your food-loving friends might say, “You went to [wherever] and you didn’t eat THERE???”
To assemble this list of can’t-miss restaurants around the country, 24/7 Tempo consulted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Zagat, as well as numerous roundups of iconic and/or important restaurants from a wide range of online publications, including Food & Wine, Eater, Thrillist, the Travel Channel, and The Daily Meal, as well as numerous city- and state-specific sites. We also studied menus and historical information on restaurant websites, making the final choice editorially based on all these sources.