It’s possible to eat very well today in virtually every corner of America. It could be homemade waffles or classic burgers at a popular diner, vivid foods from other cultures (such as Thai or Colombian or Moroccan), or refined Michelin-starred dining in some temple of gastronomy — or anything in-between. (Here are 14 restaurants around the country that have been deemed worthy of three Michelin stars, considered the highest honor in the restaurant world.)
In every state, however, there’s inevitably at least one establishment that has attained iconic status, a place emblematic of its surroundings — a restaurant no food-lover should miss when in the vicinity.
Sometimes these places are plain, sometimes they’re fancy. They might be relative newcomers to the dining scene or have been around for a century or more. What matters is that, in one way or another, they represent and define their time and place — sometimes simply by perfecting some unique local specialty. (These are the signature dishes from 50 American cities.)
These days, of course, nobody’s traveling around the U.S. very much. The average New Yorker probably doesn’t care what constitutes a can’t-miss eating experience in Arizona, and it’ll be quite some time before a typical North Dakotan is thinking about an essential dinner in Louisiana.
But current restrictions on traveling and dining out won’t last forever, and chances are good that when COVID-19 is vanquished, one of the first things many people will want to do is to hit the road and enjoy a meal in a good restaurant. When that happens, these institutions will be worth knowing about. They’re the kinds of places of which somebody might say, “You went to [wherever] and you didn’t eat THERE???”
For now, remember that every state or city has rules governing social distancing and mask-wearing in public places as well as capacity limits and restrictions on hours of operation, and that these rules change constantly as cases of COVID-19 increase and decrease locally. (These are some examples of restaurant reopening restrictions in every state.)
The listings below note whether restaurants are now closed temporarily or offering only limited options, but since these particulars tend to vary from week to week, it’s always important to double-check the situation before making dining plans.
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.