For travelers willing to spend some road time off the super highways, and homebodies who are okay with an occasional special outing some ways away, there are great culinary rewards for their trouble. (Here is a list of the can’t miss restaurants in every state.)
Outside the largest metropolises foodies will find it hard to satisfy their appetite for exotic ethnic food or gourmet tasting menus. But for most of us there are wonderful, homier eating options in some of the most remote corners of the country — whether above the Arctic Circle, in the middle of Oregon’s high desert, or on an island off the Atlantic coast.
Great food can be found in unpretentious cafés, diners, and restaurants that also pride themselves on friendly service, community spirit, and locally sourced menu items.
The best are often plain and simple, serving good, fresh, well-prepared food, while others are known for their specialty dishes, bakery items, local cuisine, or rich history. These are the places whose flavors and feelings linger in our fondest travel memories. Here are are America’s best places to eat in 2021 according to Yelp.
To assemble a list of the best hidden gem restaurants in every state, 24/7 Tempo consulted reviews and ratings on a wide range of websites, including Food & Wine, The Daily Meal, Gayot, Thrillist, Reader’s Digest, and Eater, as well as state and regional restaurant listings for every state.
Alabama: Dragonfly Foodbar
> Location: Fairhope
Dragonfly Foodbar has a devoted following, and for good reason. It has an inventive menu of tacos, bowls, and craft beers; indoor dining and outdoor picnic tables with fans on hot days; and meaty, fishy, and vegan options. Favorites include blackened ribeye tacos, firecracker tofu salad, tempura turnip fries, and pork skins with queso.
Alaska: Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café
> Location: Coldfoot
Located above the Arctic circle in the town of Coldfoot (population 159 in 2019), the café is a revelation for trekkers using Coldfoot Camp as a base for exploration. In the summer, dinners and breakfasts are served buffet style, with breakfast beginning at 5:00 a.m; before winter, only truckers can order from the menu. The food is basic but delicious and the service is friendly and welcoming. The camp itself is described as an oasis — don’t forget to fill up the tank.
Arizona: Indian Village
> Location: Cave Creek
Indian Village has a rustic dining room and patios, fronted by a souvenir shop. It is not impressive in the context of the surrounding tourist amenities in Cave Creek — a frontier town; horseback riding; and a nice grouping of cafés, museums, and shops — but visitors love the authentic Mexican and Indian food. Most famous for its Indian fry bread, the restaurant also serves the usual Mexican dishes, well prepared.
Arkansas: Low Gap Café
> Location: Low Gap (Jasper)
This cozy, friendly, and beloved café is tucked away in the tiniest of towns in the middle of the Arkansas wilderness. The menu offers classic and traditional fare, but expect a little flare. Chef and owner Nick Bottini once catered a Vegas birthday bash for Liberace and his 1,800 guests.
California: Jocko’s Steakhouse
> Location: Nipomo
South of San Luis Obispo, and off the beaten path, Jocko’s is owned by a family with deep roots in Nipoma’s history, operating various bars and eateries since the 1880s. The current establishment is all about steak, “aged, hand cut and cooked over a red oak fire,” supported by old-fashioned accompaniments, including crackers, relish tray and baked potatoes.
Colorado: The Pullman
> Location: Glenwood Springs
Described as “sophisticated but not pretentious” on the Glenwood Springs blog, The Pullman serves comfort food, but with panache. The bolognese is made with elk, the salmon is served with coconut rice, and the shrimp is grilled with watermelon.
> Location: Stonington
On the scenic and historic coast of Connecticut, Noah’s is a small chef-owned and operated restaurant that first opened in 1979. The “static” menu is made up of a few Mexican, Asian, and classic American dishes, but the heart and soul of the eatery are the specials and rotating homemade desserts, based on the availability of ingredients and the chef’s whims.
Delaware: Cantwell’s Tavern
> Location: Odessa
Cantwell’s is housed in a lovely old brick building built in 1822 as a hotel and well maintained in modern times by a local historical society. Both the food and atmosphere of the restaurant are simple but elegant, enhanced with a raw bar and contemporary “small plates.”
Florida: Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm
> Location: North Fort Myers
Rosy O’Dell King, a trained chef, sommelier, and sheep farmer, found her dream and her calling on 100 acres of Florida farmland, where she now grows delicious food and serves it in an open-air restaurant. Everything is organic, and the livestock is raised slowly, humanely, and hormone free. The menu changes with the season, as Rosy’s herbs, fruits, and vegetables become ready for harvesting.
Georgia: Gumbeaux’s Cajun Café
> Location: Douglasville
The menu says it all: shrimp, crawfish, oysters, catfish, and gator, served as appetizers, sandwiches, platters, salads, gumbos, dips, and étouffée. Gumbeaux’s is a New Orleans-style Cajun restaurant that prides itself on serving fresh, local seafood, cooked to order. As for vegetables, fried green tomatoes, of course.
Hawaii: Mama’s Fish House
> Location: Paia (Maui)
Upscale, pricey, and beautifully decorated with Polynesian antiques, Mama’s serves exceptional dishes, mainly seafood, with a Hawaiian touch: ginger, garlic, and tropical fruits and nuts. The open-air dining room offers an ocean view.
Idaho: Blackboard Café
> Location: Wallace
Just off Interstate 90, but otherwise what most people would call remote, tiny Wallace, Idaho, is home to a handful of good eateries. The best one, according to its patrons, is the Blackboard Café. The menu is standard Italian fare without a lot of flash, but it is cooked from scratch and is consistently delicious.
Illinois: The Longbranch
> Location: L’Erable
There isn’t much to the town of L’Erable, described as being in the middle of nowhere, but for the devoted fans of The Longbranch it is worth the drive. The food is solid American fare, cooked well at a reasonable price. The place fills up with mostly locals, but everyone gets a friendly welcome.
Indiana: Nick’s Kitchen
> Location: Huntington
The original owner, Nick Freienstein, claimed to have invented the breaded pork tenderloin — BPT in Indiana — after he opened this restaurant in 1908. Nick’s serves delicious homestyle breakfast and lunch, and is still famous for its BPT sandwich, and for its hand-dipped shakes and sugar cream pie.
Iowa: Archie’s Waeside
> Location: Le Mars
Despite its off the beaten path location, Archie’s has won awards and national recognition for its high quality aged steaks and other cuts of beef. The restaurant has been in the family for over 70 years, with each generation learning the methods of its founder, Archie Jackson. The restaurant is also known for its seafood dishes.
Kansas: Cozy Inn
> Location: Salina
Cozy Inn has gained fame in travel articles and television shows as being one of the last remaining “six stool diners” in America. It started in an even smaller shop in 1922, copying and competing with another tiny hamburger joint, White Castle. Saved by a popular outcry when Salina was being revitalized, it remains a landmark, with upgraded decor and sidewalk picnic tables.
Kentucky: The Glitz
> Location: Nonesuch (Versailles)
Housed in an antique shop known as Irish Acres, the Glitz is only open for lunch and with only a fixed price menu, and it is an elegant bargain. For $29.95, diners are served an appetizer, entree, and dessert, all inventive, beautifully presented, and delicious. The menu changes every three weeks. It’s a good idea to call ahead.
> Location: Manchac (Akers)
Located in a Louisiana community surrounded by swamps, wildlife preserves, and gator tours, Middendorf’s has a storied history and local fame. The restaurant had several iterations and makeovers through the years, and was finally transformed from a family owned fine dining establishment in the last century to the current family-friendly, and quite popular, seafood restaurant, famous for its thin sliced fried catfish.
> Location: Cape Neddick
A family owned business, Flo’s has been serving steamed hot dogs since 1959. The hot dogs are extremely popular but the hot dog stand’s larger claim to fame is Flo’s Relish, which is proclaimed to be “also very good on hamburgers, steaks, eggs and beans.” The recipe is a secret, but you can buy it online.
> Location: Berlin
Opened in 2014, Blacksmith caught the farm-to-table, local-sourcing wave early on, and continues to develop relationships with local bakers, farmers, and brewers. The restaurateur/chef, Justine Zegna, has put together a trendy-chic menu with a variety of Asian, Mexican, and Southern dishes, and, of course, craft beers and cocktails.
Massachusetts: Roy Moore Lobster Company
> Location: Rockport
Nothing fancy here, just “lobster in the rough” and other fresh seafood and sides, with outdoor seating on the water. The secret to the success of Roy Moore Lobster Company is that people who love lobster don’t want pretense.
Michigan: Legs Inn
> Location: Cross Village
Housed in an unusual, hand-crafted historic building on a historic road dubbed the Tunnel of Trees, Legs Inn has a spectacular setting in the Northern Michigan woods, right on Lake Michigan. The menu lists authentic, homestyle Polish dishes, along with a number of offerings made with locally caught whitefish. Stay for a little break from it all; the owners also rent cottages. Like the restaurant, they close for the season at the end of October.
Minnesota: Estelle’s Eatery & Bar
> Location: Harmony
In a small community well off of Minnesota’s well-worn routes, Estelle’s offers a fun, contemporary menu of tacos, burgers, rice bowls, and salads. The menu changes with the season, and there is an emphasis on local sourcing, particularly in the craft beer selection and the spirits that give life to the craft cocktails.
Mississippi: Old Country Store
> Location: Lorman
Just off the Natchez Trace in an unassuming, weatherbeaten building, Mr. D serves up fried chicken that customers — among them, Alton Brown of the Food Network — say is the best they’ve ever had. The menu is 100% comfort food, cooked with pride, and if you come for lunch, the all-you-can eat buffet far outshines the typical franchise fare. If you’re lucky, you will hear Mr. D. sing about his grandma’s cooking.
Missouri: The Rebel Pig
> Location: Palmyra
The Rebel Pig is the big reason to visit this small city several miles off the interstate. Its owners’ goal is to serve joy. They also serve praiseworthy barbeque and Southern dishes, with special nights for tacos or chicken-fried steak. Visitors love the lunch buffet.
Montana: Western Café
> Location: Bozeman
Family owned and community spirited, Western Café is a long-time Bozeman landmark. Using local suppliers whenever possible, it offers “simple food, simple environment, simple comforts.” Expect hearty breakfasts and satisfying lunches.
Nebraska: Kerry’s Restaurant & Catering
> Location: McCool Junction
McCool Junction is as small as the name suggests, and Kerry’s is equally unassuming. The food is retro-American: homestyle, simple dishes without frills or fanfare. The prices are also retro; for the excellent quality, Kerry’s is a bargain.
Nevada: The Pink House
> Location: Genoa
The gothic revival Pink house, originally white, was built by a mill owner in 1855 and was home to some of Genoa’s most celebrated citizens over the course of decades. It’s restoration and period furnishings has earned it a place on the list of National Historic Places. It is now a stately but comfortable luncheon destination, with a variety of beautifully curated soups, salads, sandwiches, and its famous cheese and charcuterie boards.
New Hampshire: Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery
> Location: Hanover
Lou Bressete, the “Lou” of Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery, a WWII Marine war vet, opened this eatery in 1947. It is currently owned by another Marine vet and his wife. Jarett and Cailin Berke are passionate about retaining the quality, locally sourced, up-to-date diner menu — and delicious from-scratch bakery items — that made Lou’s a legend. Lou’s is open for breakfast and lunch with vegan and gluten-free options.
New Jersey: Canal House Station
> Location: Milford
The charming Canal House Station is currently open four days a week and only for lunch and dinner, but it is worth putting on your calendar. The owner/chefs are food writers, with several books, a blog, and a James Beard award to their credit. The lunch menu is short but gorgeous and tasty, and the dinner is a fixed price, delectable, four courses with options. As one reviewer wrote, “It seemed like I was eating inside a cookbook.” BYOB.
New Mexico: La Cueva Café
> Location: Taos
The owners, originally from Mexico, brought years of restaurant experience to La Cueva Café, where they serve lunch daily in this small, faux-pueblo-style Mexican eatery. They pride themselves on authenticity and fresh food, prepared daily. There are vegetarian options, and the entire menu is gluten-free. Favorite dishes are chicken mole enchiladas and fajitas.
New York: Salt of the Earth Bistro
> Location: Lake Placid
Serving “twisted foods from traditional roots,” chef/owner Andrea Lautenschuetz is from Buffalo, giving credence to her restaurant’s name, but the food is internationally inspired. The menu is packed with enticing revelatory dishes, such as Filipino spiced pork belly, Venison Brunswick stew, and Gambian peanut stew, along with more traditional beef, chicken, and fish choices served with unique garnishes and sides.
North Carolina: Clawson’s 1905 Restaurant & Pub
> Location: Beaufort
The original Clawson’s was a grocery store and bakery, and the current owners honor the past with decor and memorabilia from the building’s storied history. The menu offers barbeque, seafood, and traditional sandwiches, and a nice variety of local beers.
North Dakota: Fried’s Family Restaurant
> Location: Mandan
Although it advertises authentic German food, there are few items on the menu — mainly as occasional specials — that are not all-American semi-retro comfort food. Stil, the restaurant gets high marks for its hearty servings, reasonable prices, extensive children’s menu, and homemade buns and pies, particularly its caramel roll.
Ohio: Rebecca’s Bistro
> Location: Walnut Creek
Rebecca and husband, Jim, opened their cozy restaurant, housed in a renovated 18th-century cabin, in 2002, with welcoming arms and a community spirit. Using locally sourced and fresh ingredients, Rebecca’s is praised for the quality of its dishes — homestyle, unfussy and fresh. The breakfast menu has the usual and more: creamed eggs on toast, stuffed French toast, and baked oatmeal. The lunch offerings include classic sandwiches, salads, soups, and quiche.
Oklahoma: Katie’s Diner
> Location: Guthrie
Begun as a family restaurant with a staff of three,16 years ago, Katie’s has grown with its clientele to be a favorite eatery in Guthrie. The menu screams hearty: breakfast “platters” and “bowls”, and three-egg omelettes; lunches labeled “dinners,” and “plated meals,” along with meaty sandwiches.
Oregon: Cowboy Dinner Tree
> Location: Silver Lake
The name predates the shack that now bears its name; the tree was a stop on historic cattle drives where the chuck wagon did its important work. The rustic restaurant is meant to evoke the wild west, and the big appetites of the cowboys. There is a two-item menu: your choice is a thick sirloin steak closing in on two pounds, or a whole roast chicken, both served with a salad, baked potato, fresh yeast rolls, dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage.
Pennsylvania: Katie’s Kitchen
> Location: Ronks
Touting authentic Amish cooking, Katie’s serves what looks much like all-American comfort food, with a very pub-like menu of the usual salads, sandwiches, and deep fried appetizers. A few items jump out as unpub-like, however, like pork with sauerkraut and chicken croquettes. The desserts are another exception, old-fashioned and seemingly at home in the heart of Amish Country: apple dumplings, cake rolls, and homemade pies.
Rhode Island: Lindy’s Tavern
> Location: Forestdale
The original Lindy’s opened in the 1950’s, but its current ownership and larger configuration began in 2008. Essentially a steak and seafood restaurant, Lindy’s has an extensive menu of appetizers, burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, and, of course, a lot of seafood and landbound choices, notably steak and prime rib. Lindy’s doesn’t take reservations, so there is often a wait.
South Carolina: Luvans Old South Fish Camp
> Location: Conway
Beloved for its out of the way, no-fuss Southern feel and large portions, Luvans is all about seafood, though it also serves burgers, chicken and steaks. Fan favorites are the seafood platter, fried okra, and oysters. Luvans doesn’t take credit cards or serve alcohol. BYOB.
South Dakota: The Sled Haus
> Location: Lead
The Sled Haus is a German restaurant, described by one patron as looking like a biker bar, in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota. Patrons love the well-prepared German dishes, generous portions, and expansive beer menu. Also touted are the “New York style” burgers, which, as determined from the reviews, means big and juicy. They don’t take cards, but there is an ATM on site.
Tennessee: Cool Café
> Location: Franklin
The menu here lists just four entrees: pot roast, fried chicken, “HOT” chicken, and BBQ chicken. The variety comes with the sides. Listed as veggies, they include mac and cheese and a couple of potato dishes. Pricing is based on the number of sides ordered, “meat & 1,” and so on, which explains the many awards for their “meat and three” meals. There are also specials, “cool” salads, and famous deserts, the most famous being banana pudding.
Texas: Blue Bonnet Café
> Location: Marble Falls
The Blue Bonnet, allegedly named for the hat and not the famous Texas flower, has been around since 1929, with the current owners taking it on in 1981. Charitable and involved in the community, the restaurant has earned its reputation for friendliness, and for its fair treatment of its employees, who tend to stay on for years. The place has won numerous “best breakfast” awards and regularly makes “best restaurants in Texas” lists. It also serves delicious Tex-Mex and classic American lunches and dinners, and a long list of homemade pies.
Utah: Twin Rocks Café
> Location: Bluff
Twin Rocks serves an innovative blend of Southern, Mexican, standard American, and a smattering of Navajo fare, mostly built around the café‘s famous fry bread. The owners offer to fill your water bottle with fresh artesian well water, and they pride themselves on giving employees a living wage.
> Location: Stowe
In a cozy, somewhat rustic building in Vermont’s ski country, owners Aaron and Jennifer Martin declare their menu to be “California inspired — Vermont made.” Their dinner only restaurant is open only five evenings a week, and reservations are recommended. The menu is short on the number of choices, but long on quality, with inventive appetizers, burgers, pasta, classic American plates, and a variety of fabulous desserts — all beautifully prepared and presented.
Virginia: AJ’s on the Creek
> Location: Chincoteague Island
Founded by jazz pianist A. J. Stillson, AJ’s on the Creek was family-run until it changed hands in the spring of 2021. Reviews indicate that the restaurant continues its reputation as a quality seafood eatery in one of the country’s most scenic locales, the island of Chincoteague off the coast of Virginia. AJ’s serves dinner most nights and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. There is seafood, of course, with both contemporary and retro appetizers (oysters Rockefeller and clams casino), but also steaks and chops with tantalizing sauces.
Washington: Blue Moose Café
> Location: Port Townsend
This cute and friendly restaurant serves breakfast “all day,” which is to say, until 2 p.m., when it closes. And what a breakfast: dozens of variations on scrambled eggs and omelettes. There are also a lot of happy surprises: corned beef hash with actual roasted corned beef, not from a can; french toast made from cinnamon buns; and many unique vegetarian options, such as veggie hash, and dishes built around vegetarian scrapple, pecan sausage, and chorizo.
West Virginia: Stardust Café
> Location: Lewisburg
A casual café with an upscale menu in the middle of rural West Virginia, Stardust hits all the marks: locally sourced and organic ingredients, recycled and biodegradable everything that can be, free trade coffee and tea, sustainably caught fish, and grass-fed beef. Patrons love the tasty, innovative, and aesthetically pleasing offerings; the chicken curry and sticky toffee pudding are favorites.
Wisconsin: Franks Diner
> Location: Kenosha
Frank’s diner has many claims to fame: dating from the 1920’s, it is the oldest continuously operated diner in the country; it has been featured in a range of media outlets, from the New York Times to the CBS Evening News to the Food Channel; and, over the years, it has hosted a long list of celebrities, from the Three Stooges to the pop band Badfinger. It offers typical diner fare, with its own take on the hearty breakfast: the “garbage plates” include piles of eggs, meat, and veggies, with the prices based on the number of breakfast meats involved.
Wyoming: Cowboy Café
> Location: Dubois
A small, down-home restaurant with Western charm, the Cowboy Café has a big breakfast menu with a few unusual offerings (elk and buffalo sausage) and fancified dishes (a Mediterranean skillet and pesto tomato sourdough bread). Lunch is a good variety of burgers, sandwiches, and homemade soups; dinner is mostly about steak. Stay for dessert — there is an impressive list of homemade pies that brings customers back again and again.
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