100 restaurants we can’t lose without diminishing our national character

A song of praise for 100 unique restaurants that our country can’t afford to lose.

https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/restaurants/a34864761/restaurants-america-covid-19-pandemic-service-industry/?

100 Restaurants America Can’t Afford to Lose

We’re raising a toast to these spots around the country—old and new, scruffy and spiffy—because if we lose them, we lose who we are.

By Esquire EditorsDec 29, 2020restaurantsJACK X. LI (ANTEPRIMA). COURTESY (ALL OTHERS)

You know that bistro around the corner, the one where you and your partner first locked eyes across the table? The Southern barbecue joint where, back in the days before the pandemic, you and your comrades used to come together for sweet racks of ribs on Friday nights as another sorry workweek sputtered to a close? The bodega where you’re such a regular that no one has to ask how you like your breakfast sandwich. The taqueria where they nail the salsa verde. The place where you can watch a Korean grandmother making dumplings in the kitchen. The New England landmark with the picnic tables and lobster rolls. Or, wait, how about the trattoria with the long, honey-hued bar and the wine list that makes you want to throw away common sense and max out your credit card? related storiesThe CARES Act Doesn’t Care for Indie Restaurants15 Recipes From Laid-Off Restaurant Workers

What if those places were to vanish? What if you were to wake tomorrow morning and learn that that remnant of your life—and that portion of your community’s lingua franca—had been erased? Such a prospect has been a real threat all year, with the relentless tragedy of COVID-19 leaving many American restaurants, even established classics, on the brink of bankruptcy. The threat will only intensify as winter progresses and restaurateurs have to abandon the outdoor dining that has kept them treading water for months. We love restaurants here at Esquire, and we hope that during this holiday season you’ll consider making donations to Southern Smoke and the Lee Initiative and other organizations that are helping restaurant workers endure the crisis. We also hope you’ll raise a toast to these spots around the country—old and new, scruffy and spiffy—that we consider restaurants that America can’t afford to lose. Because if we lose them, we lose who we are. —Jeff Gordinier


Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (Noank, CT): Picnic tables on the grass by the water. Steamed lobsters, caught that day, with drawn butter in paper cups. A beer. —Ryan D’Agostino

Abyssinia (Philadelphia, PA): “Oh, I love that place.” That’s what I often hear from Philadelphians whenever I happen to mention Abyssinia. The connection runs deep. And that’s no surprise, because the warmth of the hospitality at this beloved Ethiopian spot makes you feel as though you’ve joined a family for dinner in their home—even if you happen to be dining alone. A little while back, when I was teaching a writing course at Drexel University, I used to catch an early train from Manhattan just so that I could get a quick, quiet lunch of injera and stews at Abyssinia before dashing to the classroom. But it’s even better with a big group. Let’s all gather here when the pandemic is over. We’ll have a feast. —JG

Alpino Vino (Telluride, CO): Some restaurants are worth the hike, literally. Alpino Vino is a 30-ish seat Italian restaurant burrowed into a cliff way above Telluride (a magical place in and of itself). There’s nothing easy about getting to the place—you can ski a narrow trail and, well, that’s your option—nor even anything easy about getting a seat. (See: my note about seating 30 people at a time.) But Telluride is the most important; it’s where I fell in love with my now husband; it’s where we took my family to celebrate our engagement; and it’s a place I return to twice a year like clockwork to remember all that. That Alpino Vino serves truly perfect food, both cozy and refined, and has one of the most amazing wine lists I’ll ever experience is just the proverbial cherry on top. No trip west is complete without a visit. —Madison Vain

abbot's lobster in the rough

Abbott’s Lobster in the RoughCOURTESY

Al’s Breakfast (Minneapolis, MN): Flapjacks on the griddle. Hazy morning sunlight through stained-glass awnings. Foreign currency tacked to a shelf, above the Magic Markered coffee mugs belonging to various regulars. A sign that says “Beware of Attack Waitress.” If a breakfast counter could be the IRL manifestation of a Replacements song, this would be it. —JG

American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island (Detroit, MI): They’re right next to each other on the same block in downtown Detroit, and the story is that theirs is a bitter and endless grudge match. Whatever. The point is that both of them raise a torch for a true regional delight: coneys, which are hot dogs flooded with funky chili, yellow mustard, and raw onions. —JG

Angler (San Francisco, CA): Decadence in the form of wild game and giant crustaceans and magnificent heads of radicchio, sometimes served raw or cooked over open fire, drizzled with truffles or XO sauce, and, on the side, copious amounts of caviar and oysters, atop a magnificent table made from the trunk of a centuries old redwood. Your memories of Angler will be like a hunting lodge fever dream you can’t wait to have over and over. —Kevin Sintumuang

Anteprima (Chicago, IL): The chef is not a celebrity. No Michelin Star. It’s not on the James Beard Foundation’s radar. These are the very reasons Anteprima is perfect to me. The dining room is always full. The owner greets you at the door. The waitstaff in their long white aprons remember your names and if you prefer sparkling or tap. Anteprima’s menu changes daily. With each micro season we see dishes pristinely representing fresh ingredients. Hakurei turnips, breakfast radish, ramps, and morels in the spring. Corn and tomatoes in the summer. Roots in the fall. Squashes, truffles, and alliums through the winter. I love this place. —Iliana Regan

Arnold’s (Nashville, TN): Nashville wouldn’t be Nashville without the red-tray, meat-and-three comfort of Arnold’s Country Kitchen. Locals and tourists, writers and musicians, and everyone in between line up cafeteria-style for juicy roast beef carved to order and creamy chocolate chess pies for dessert. No reservations, no pretense. Arnold’s simple, straightforward fare is the first thing on my mind when I think about Music City. —Omar Mamoon

Bamboo Garden (Brooklyn, NY): This massive dim sum restaurant is out in Brooklyn’s Chinatown in Sunset Park. With elaborate chandeliers and big banquet tables, it’s always filled with families celebrating special occasions. It’s so joyful. Every time we go we get the Peking duck, which is just perfect. —Kate Storey

Bar Tabac (Brooklyn, NY): Definition of a neighborhood eatery. Go for the Burgundy snails, and footie matches on the TV. —Nick Sullivan

Black-Eyed Susan’s (Nantucket, MA): They do breakfast and they do dinner and they do them well, for not many people (it’s tiny) and for cash only, and you’ll remember it. Especially the Pennsylvania Dutch pancakes made with a slice of Jarlsberg. —RD

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Bar TabacCOURTESY

Blueberry Hill (St. Louis, MO): I have been coming down here—to the loop in St. Louis, one of the greatest streets of food and music in America, that is—for (the very best!) burgers and live music quite literally since I got keys to a car. It made me feel like a rebel when I was young, out late hearing new bands, buying my own dinners, and it makes me remarkably nostalgic now that I’m not. Also, Chuck Berry played a monthly show here for 200 months in a row, so if you won’t take my word for it, perhaps his will do. —MV

Blue Moon Cafe (Shepherdstown, WV): Locals, tourists from D.C., professors from the small university, all sitting together enjoying buffalo chicken salads and black bean burgers and maybe somebody playing the guitar. —RD

Bouquet (Covington, KY): Maybe you’ve grown weary of the phrase “farm to table.” Maybe it’s lost its punch, in certain quarters of the country. But Bouquet is a restaurant that makes “farm to table” matter again—and in Mitch McConnell’s home state, no less. Chef Stephen Williams opened the restaurant in 2007 “as one of the first restaurants in the area to embrace local and sustainable farming as a cornerstone of its mission,” as the place’s website puts it, and that mission hasn’t lost an ounce of passion in the intervening years. The stuff on the menu sounds straightforward enough—deviled eggs, a green salad, meatballs, a pork chop—but everything soars because of the chef’s obvious reverence for the ingredients that he uses. Yes, that matters. —JG

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Brigtsen’s (New Orleans, LA): “If you’ve only got one dinner, I’m gonna ask you to leave the Quarter.” Can’t tell you how many times I’ve put first-time visitors to New Orleans in this conceptual bind. “Go to this little shotgun house on Dante Street and you’ll never forget it.” At 20 years old, this family-run bistro doesn’t pop up on “new and hot” or “TV chef” lists, but instead chugs along providing deep hospitality and interpreting Louisiana classics from the Creole, Cajun, and Southern canons that excite the palate and soothe the soul. A local boy and veteran of Paul Prudhomme’s opening brigade at K-Paul’s, chef Frank Brigtsen works magic in an impossibly tiny kitchen with abundant Gulf seafood and our year-round farm bounty. He’ll fry up bayou catfish to delicate, cracking perfection and lay you low with an impossibly savory roast duck on dirty rice. Broiled redfish with a lump crabmeat crust can make the most open-hearted dining companion fiercely territorial. Frank’s wife, Marna, and his sisters, Sandy and Rhonda, run the front of house with an effortless, enveloping friendliness that can turn a harried first-time guest into an instant regular. Also, pecan pie that will haunt your dreams. —Pableaux Johnson

Busy Bee (Atlanta, GA): When self-taught cook Mama Lucy Jackson opened Busy Bee Cafe in 1947, she did so on West Hunter Street, one of only two streets available to African American entrepreneurs at the time. Hunter would go on to be named Martin Luther King Jr. Drive after the restaurant’s (and Atlanta’s) most important patron. Back then it was the place for civil rights activists and organizers to safely meet and strategize. Today it’s known as the place with the best fried chicken in the city. The sides are exquisite renderings of Southern staples with the rice and gravy, collards, and mac n’ cheese shining particularly brightly. Don’t miss the cornmeal-dusted and encrusted catfish, made memorable with its steamy and silken flesh. —Stephen Satterfield

Canlis (Seattle, WA): If we tell you that Canlis is the “epitome of elegance,” which it is, you might get the wrong impression. For three generations, in a black masterpiece of modernist architecture that reaches up and out toward Lake Union like a swimmer about to leap off the starting block, the Canlis family has fine-tuned a form of hospitality so effortless that a “fancy” meal feels like a reunion with old friends. —JGCOURTESYAbita Beer Whole Grain MustardCochonlinkrestaurantgroup.com$9.00BUY

Casamento’s (New Orleans, LA): Even when there’s not a pandemic going on, sometimes Casamento’s stays closed for the day. Maybe it’s not the right season for oysters, or maybe somebody’s just not in the mood. Hey, it’s 101 years old, so go easy on the place. When it is open (nowhere near the frat-boy lures of the French Quarter, thank you very much), Casamento’s remains a tiled shrine to briny simplicity. You want a “loaf,” which amounts to a heap of fried oysters in between fat slices of white bread. We don’t have to tell you to use a lot of hot sauce, right? —JG

Celeste (Somerville, MA): He spins vintage Chicha, makes Peruvian arthouse films, and mans the fire. She transforms space with a graduate degree in experimental architecture and embraces guests with Guatemalan warmth. Together, husband and wife JuanMa Calderón and Maria Rondeau recast their at-home pop-up into a postmodernist brick-and-mortar paean of Peruvian and Andean spice. Art and aperitivos, pisco and purple corn, neon and neighbors, all pressed together in a tiny, bright vessel designed to amplify joy. The food is sublime, but Celeste (rhymes with “say yes: play”) is the greater alchemy of menu, mixtapes, and merrymaking that satiates a deeper kind of hungry. —Jason Tesauro

Cochon (New Orleans, LA): The last time I visited New Orleans, I went straight to Cochon from the airport. I began eating lunch alone at the bar, and I began texting my friends, and a couple of them asked whether I was drunk or high—that’s how effusive I got. A jambalaya studded with pork cheeks and andouille sent me over the edge. I actually started hollering with joy. A bartender asked me whether I was okay. I was humming like a lunatic. —JG

Cowan’s Public (Nutley, NJ): The craft-beer, proper-drink, good-food revolution arrived in this corner of North Jersey a few years ago with this simple but beautiful Art Deco restaurant. The town has embraced it like something it never knew it was missing. To lose it would be a step backward. —John Kenney

Cozy Corner (Memphis, TN): I told my friend Jay, in Memphis, I want the real thing. He suggested a couple of spots that didn’t sound right to me—too tidy, too bougie, too TV-friendly. I said, no, the real fucking thing, and that’s when we went to Cozy Corner, owned by barbecue matriarch Desiree Robinson. We got ribs and fries and a bologna sandwich and a whole Cornish hen practically lacquered in a shiny glaze of sauce. It was as real as real gets. —JG

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CúrateEVAN SUNG

Cunetto House of Pasta (St. Louis, MO): I know everyone thinks the best Italian food in America is in New York, but I’d argue they haven’t been to the Hill in St. Louis, Missouri. Driving down to these streets and bouncing between the cafes and bakeries and grocers felt like going on an exotic sojourn when I was very young, and the thought of losing any of these mom-and-pop establishments and the culture that goes with them fills me with dread. The crown jewel of the area is Cunetto’s. Aside from being the first place I tried veal (which ended in tears as my parents explained just what veal is), it’s a menu with absolutely no fuss but tons of flavor. Also, they serve amazing toasted raviolis, a St. Louis classic. —MV

Cúrate (Asheville, NC): Great restaurants are like rocket boosters for neighborhoods: Attach a hot spot to a sad stretch of sidewalk and watch everything begin to move. Katie Button’s Cúrate has been that kind of engine for the city of Asheville, giving the local food scene a shot of adrenaline along with all that paella and garlic shrimp and jamón ibérico. She also happens to serve the single best bean dish in America: an Asturian stew called fabada that’s luscious with the fat of housemade chorizo and morcilla. —JG

Waste Not: How To Get The Most From Your FoodCúratecuratetapasbar.com$49.00BUY

Diamond Head Grill (Honolulu, HI)This takeout counter on the mauka (mountain) side of Diamond Head isn’t a scenic spot — just a sun-beaten parking lot with a few picnic tables along a concrete wall — but the plate lunches spill over with the likes of miso ginger salmon, kalbi beef and char siu pork, plus a heap of rice: white, brown or, the best, hapa, brown and white together. —Ligaya Mishan

Dino’s Pizza (Chicago, IL): It was my family’s go-to place for pizza on Friday nights when my brother and I were kids. And it still is for my parents. Nothing fancy. Not trendy, not even in a post-ironic hipster kind of way. (Thank God.) It’s on the edge of Chicago, right next to the suburb where I grew up. The bar attracts mostly cops and firefighters. We’d do carryout, which means when I visit my folks my dad and I leave a few minutes early to pick up the pizza so we can sneak in a beer and a shot before heading home. Important to note that they don’t specialize in deep-dish pizza, but the other kind of Chicago pizza—the much better kind of Chicago pizza—which is pub style: cut into squares, soft but not thick. —Michael Sebastian

Ditch Witch (Montauk, NY): Not a restaurant, traditionally speaking, but this food truck just off Ditch Plains beach in Montauk is half the reason you’ll want to go to the beach at all. Their Tomahawk bowl packed with fresh tuna is worth waiting in line for—and you’ll have to. —Ben Boskovich

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Ditch WitchDITCH_WITCH_MTKINSTAGRAM

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant (New Orleans, LA): Fried chicken, green gumbo, and the strength of legacy. For the better part of her 97 years, different communities in New Orleans turned to chef Leah Chase for sustenance, strength, and good counsel. In the 1960s, civil rights leaders asked for her advice and a meeting place to hash out the end of the segregationist era (over bowls of her gumbo, of course). When levee failures following Hurricane Katrina deluged the city, shocked and displaced citizens took solace and strength from Ms. Leah’s words and determination—even as she mucked out her own dining room and oversaw renovations from a FEMA trailer parked next to the landmark restaurant in Treme. Her passing in June 2019 broke the hearts of many and put the onus on her family to continue her work, her Holy Thursday traditions, and a successful generational transition—tricky for restaurants even in pre-pandemic times. Thanks to her grandson Edgar “Dooky” Chase IV in the kitchen and daughter Stella at the helm, locals can still gussy up for lunch buffet (including Ms. Chase’s legendary fried chicken) or indulge on the “regular menu” come Friday. Whatever your choice, make sure somebody orders the Creole classic Shrimp Clemenceau—shrimp, crispy potatoes, ham, and mushrooms in garlic—and mask up to meander through the late doyenne’s outstanding African-American art collection. —PJ

Dove’s Luncheonette (Chicago, IL): Okay, here’s the deep secret knowledge possessed by all professional food writers. Are you ready? If you keep wanting to go back to a place, that place is very good. That’s it. And I go back to Dove’s Luncheonette every single time I’m in Chicago. Like clockwork. Usually for breakfast, because breakfast is very important to me, and because the Mexican/Southern mashup served at Dove’s speaks to my Los Angeles soul. Do I want the pozole rojo with carnitas, or should I get the burnt-ends hash with two fried eggs and Texas toast? Doesn’t matter, either way, because I know I’ll be back to try the rest. —JG

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Duarte’s Tavern (Pescadero, CA): Located along a desolate stretch of Highway 1 in northern California, this restaurant has been in existence since 1897. The recipient of a James Beard award for classic American restaurant in 2003, Duarte’s is firmly not fancy. But what they lack in pretense they make up for in dishes that are at once comforting and offer up a taste of nostalgic coastal California cuisine. Think: artichoke soup, local petrale filet of sole, olallieberry pie. Oh, and the bar is super fun, serving up cheap, tasty martinis and typically packed with colorful locals. —Danny Dumas

Egan and Sons (Montclair, NJ): Remarkably good British/Irish pub food in a bright and open and airy set of rooms. At the heart of it is a soccer bar that draws somehow-not-annoying fans from all over. Best place to watch an EPL match over fish and chips and an oatmeal stout. —JK

El Rey de las Fritas (Miami, FL): Yeah, South Beach is fun, but you haven’t really made contact with Miami’s Latin American spirit until you’ve experienced the initiation of the frita. A frita (as interpreted by El Rey, which was founded in the 1970s by Cuban exiles Benito and Gallega Gonzalez) is basically a burger on an airy Cuban bun with an avalanche of shoestring fries and a sweet paste of sautéed onions. It’s a monument, of sorts, to a crucial period in Florida history, and it’s also a damn good snack. —JG

miami, little havana, el rey de las fritas, server with ajiaco soup photo by jeffrey greenberguniversal images group via getty images

El Rey de las FritasJEFF GREENBERGGETTY IMAGES

Fork (Philadelphia, PA): I got my first restaurant job at Fork restaurant when I was just out of college. Fork had recently opened and added an elegant vibe to Philadelphia’s Old City. My entire family has dined at Fork and loved every meal—from shrimp and grits at brunch to Champagne roasted chicken (takeaway) dinners during quarantine. Every experience at Fork is edifying. Ellen Yin has maintained this gem for more than two decades and I hope it lasts at least another twenty years. —Klancy Miller

Franklin BBQ (Austin, TX): There’s a reason for all those lawn chairs lined up outside the place. And yes, it’s the brisket, but it’s also so much more. And all of it has to do with the guy whose name is on the sign. Aaron Franklin gives a damn about what he’s doing, who he’s doing it with, and whom he’s serving. Wait your turn and you’ll see. —BBCOURTESYFranklin BBQ T-Shirtfranklinbbq.com$21.00BUY

Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder, CO): Don’t let the white truffles and caviar scare you off. Frasca may look exclusive if you’re peeking in the window, but inside it’s a house party. Wine guru and manager Bobby Stuckey is a captain of hospitality in the truest, most soulful sense: He makes everyone feel welcome and loved. —JG

Fraunces Tavern (New York, NY): Because Washington said farewell to his officers upstairs, of course, but also because it’s actually still a cozy tavern with surprisingly good food and a warm feeling in the older rooms. The whiskey bar up front is the snuggest place you can be on a winter night in Manhattan. —JK

Freedman’s (Los Angeles, CA): An unassuming location with unbelievable Jewish-American fare. You’ll get out of the Uber thinking “where am I?” and leave wondering how you’ll possibly follow up that meal with anything else. The latke waffle and lox will rock your world. —BB

Galatoire’s (New Orleans, LA): There may be no finer example of Food As Theater / Food as Culture than this Crescent City landmark known for its marathon, booze-saturated Friday lunch. A few months back I fretted to my friend Pableaux, whose family goes way back in Louisiana, that Galatoire’s ran the risk of becoming a mere tourist trap. Pableaux shushed me and set me straight. Galatoire’s matters, he let me know, and Galatoire’s will always matter. —JG

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Galatoire’sCOURTESY

Genova Bakery (Stockton, CA): One of the best towering stacks of Toscano salame, turkey, cheddar, provolone, shredded lettuce, red onion, light mayo, heavy on the mustard on a soft and chewy Milk Roll comes from a 102-year-old bakery in the sepia-toned San Joaquin Valley. As soon as your hand touches the handle on Genova Bakery’s antediluvian wooden screen door, you involuntarily envision the bakery’s inception in 1918. Founded by Angelo and Giovanni Rolleri—at the location it still occupies—Genova Bakery is now owned by Tim Canevari, who’s been working at the bakery since he was in high school. This is the place to grab your Italian goods: bulk biscotti, olives, beans, pasta, in-house made focaccia, and myriad Panettone during Christmas. Canevari took over the business in 2004 and has changed nothing. Nothing. Okay, Canevari added a few additional bread styles such as Dutch crunch, wheat, and sourdough. However, nothing has changed, from the quality of the fresh baked bread, the height of the sandwiches, the narrow-plank original hardwood floors, to the warmth of the employees. All of the character of Genova is intact. Genova Bakery was declared a historical landmark in 1985, for this place is the soul of Stockton. —Illyanna Maisonet

Han Oak (Portland, OR): I still have dreams about Han Oak—actual dreams. I dream about moving to the Pacific Northwest and living with chef Peter Cho and his beautiful family, helping out in the kitchen, learning how to make Korean dumplings, studying the nuances of kimchi. Which isn’t entirely illogical—Han Oak blends into the Cho family’s backyard, and a meal there has the casual vibe of a family reunion around a picnic table. The mere thought of never being able to return to Han Oak makes me heartsick. —JG

Havana (Bar Harbor, ME): A Cuban restaurant in Maine? No: A fantastic Cuban restaurant in Maine. Get the paella with local lobster, a Havana Martini, and call it a night. —RD

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Havana.COURTESY

Huynh (Houston, TX): Visiting Houston without eating Vietnamese food would be like going to Bologna and neglecting the pasta. There’s always a wait for a seat at this family-owned strip-mall jewel, but the tables turn fast, and everyone with any sense in Houston will tell you that for ten bucks, you’re not going to find a more satisfying and delicious meal than the gingery, herbaceous duck salad known as Goi Vit. —JG

Irvington Delight (Irvington, NY): Amal Suleiman rolls her stuffed grape leaves by hand, and you can tell. In fact, the original vines were brought to the United States from Jordan in the 1980s, so she and her family actually grow the grape leaves and pick them in a backyard in suburban Westchester County. (I like to give the grape leaves a quick scorch in a cast iron skillet so that their surface gets a little blackened and feathery and the spices really bloom.) Suleiman makes the hummus, too, and the hot sauce and the muhammara, and this is why people drop into a seemingly random convenience shop (across the street from a gas station) wanting nothing more than a bag of potato chips and a soda—but wind up leaving with a stockpile of handmade Middle Eastern treats to bring home for dinner. Irvington Delight is but one example of countless corner stores and bodegas around the United States where people carefully, passionately honor the cuisine of a home country that they left behind. It is no exaggeration to say that these are the places that keep us alive. —JG

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J&J’s Family RestaurantJ&J’S FAMILY RESTAURANTFACEBOOK

J&J’s Family Restaurant (Pittsburgh, PA): A greasy spoon diner in a city full of greasy spoon diners worth talking about. J&J’s isn’t the one you’ll see on TV, though. A true family-owned joint that sits atop the city’s historic Mount Washington. Assorted coffee mugs that don’t match. Serving sizes that’ll last you all day. A dining experience that makes you feel like family. —BB

Jitlada (Los Angeles, CA): You haven’t really experienced Los Angeles in all its polyglot glory until you’ve gone to Jitlada with a big, hungry group of friends. Even if you know Thai food pretty well, the menu is so expansive that it’s impossible for first-timers to navigate, but you can’t go wrong. Ask irrepressible owner Jazz Singsanong to choose for you, or just point your finger at random—jungle curry crispy pork, spicy crab claw morning glory, turmeric catfish, mussels in green curry—and prepare your mind and palate for a psychedelic wallop of flavor. —JG

Kalaya (Philadelphia, PA): No punches are pulled by chef/owner Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon and her remarkably spicy, funky, practically vibrating Thai dishes that are a snapshot of her mother’s recipes she learned while growing up in Southern Thailand. —KS

Keens (New York, NY): In a city of restaurants filled with history, none has more powerful old-school vibes than Keens Chophouse. Walk through the wooden double doors on 36th street and the history hits you as if all of the pipes lining the ceiling were still wafting smoke. Once you take in the antiques and memorabilia, settle on the order: definitely the porterhouse or the mutton chop, always the creamed spinach and the hashbrowns for sides, and yes, you’ll be having a martini. —KS

Kopitiam (New York, NY): For a few slow months in late 2019 and early 2020, before the pandemic overtook us, I found myself asking friends to meet me for a Malaysian breakfast at Kopitiam. This didn’t make geographical sense, because Kopitiam sits a few blocks from the East River, at the southern end of Manhattan, and I live along the Hudson River in a suburban county north of Manhattan. Which meant that to enjoy this breakfast, I needed to take a Metro-North commuter train into the city, walk from Grand Central to the subway station in Bryant Park, then catch the F train to East Broadway. None of that bothered me. Desire can be impossible to resist. As I took my journey south, I daydreamed about Kopitiam’s oyster omelet, and the triangles of minced chicken gift-wrapped in pandan leaves, and the nasi lemak (fried anchovies and coconut rice make such a perfect pair), and the hand-pulled coffee with condensed milk. Chef Kyo Pang and restaurateur Moonlynn Tsai and their crew have created, with their menu at Kopitiam, a welcome celebration of the Nyonya cuisine of Southeast Asia. But they’ve also built a space you can’t help but linger in, a gentle coffeehouse where you want to wait around and study how morning light alters as the afternoon approaches. New York City can be hard on people; sanctuaries like Kopitiam make the days a little bit kinder. —JGCOURTESYKopi O BeansKopitiamkopitiamnyc.com$20.00BUY

La Esperanza Panaderia (Sacramento, CA): Opened in 1969 by Salvador Plasencia, it’s now being operated by Salvador’s grandchildren. All I have to do is walk into this 52-year-old panaderia that anchors Franklin Boulevard in my hometown of Sacramento to bask in the throngs of childhood nostalgia at warp speed. The smell of gingerbread puerquitos, jammy niños, crusty and soft bolillios, churros y mas will bash you in the face as soon as you open the storefront door, and leave you bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Bide your time in the queue by counting the original black and white tiles on the floor, catching glimpses of the frantic bakers through ajar doors, and impatiently staring into the display cases filled with fresh pan dulce made on-site. Staring into the display case is critical. This way you know what you want as soon as you get to the counter and aren’t one of those pandejos who’s constantly asking “…ooh, and what’s this?…” You don’t need to know which region every different bread is from, or if it was made with organic heirloom purple Oaxacan corn. You’re holding up the line! Shut up, point, order, move down the line, shove it into your gob. Celebratorily, of course. —IM

Larder (Cleveland, OH): America can’t afford to lose the old but it also can’t afford to lose the new. Larder is both. Jeremy Umansky and his fermentation-mad merry pranksters make pickles and pastrami good enough to rival your favorite ancient Jewish deli, but they do so while amping up the kind of panoramic innovation you find at spots like Noma in Copenhagen. Everything tastes familiar, yet better than what you remember. That’s progress. —JG

La Super-Rica (Santa Barbara, CA): Yeah, we know, Julia Child made it iconic when she announced that this Milpas Street taco stand was her favorite restaurant in America. But for those of us who’ve spent a portion of our years chilling in Santa Barbara, La Super-Rica is just that slow, breezy, griddle-scented joint on the corner where everyone democratically waits in line (hey, is that Jackson Browne behind me?) for the pure pleasure of hand-pressed tortillas and sizzling pork and melted cheese and potent salsas. Locals know: If there are special tamales or enchiladas on the tiny chalkboard menu, you need to get them. —JG

lehja

LehjaCOURTESY

La Taqueria (San Francisco, CA): People often ask: tacos or burritos? Usually the answer depends on the restaurant, but at La Taqueria, it’s both. Owner Miguel Jara grew up in Tijuana and opened his beloved restaurant in 1973 in the Mission District—it’s been a destination for both locals and visitors since. I always like to start with a taco appetizer before moving on to a burrito, which comes packed with proper proportions of plump pinto beans, your protein of choice (I choose charred then chopped carne asada), green guacamole, creamy crema, and melty cheese (there’s no rice at La Taqueria; Jara says it simply acts as filler). The burrito is tightly wrapped in foil, nice and compact, like a mini missile ready to launch into your mouth. In-the-know regulars get both burritos and tacos “dorados,” so that the tortillas are fried until golden and crispy. Whatever you do, don’t forget the salsa. —OM

Lehja (Richmond, VA): Because spice, hospitality, and wine aren’t luxuries—they’re essentials. Because even in a time of scarcity and fear, chef-owner Sunny Baweja dishes up generosity and joy (and chaat!). Because this unassuming, unexpected jewel in a Virginia mall is one of the very best Indian restaurants in America. —JT

Leo’s Taco Truck (Los Angeles, CA): I’ve had the privilege of eating at the following three-Michelin-star restaurants: The French Laundry, Sukiyabashi Jiro, Lung King Heen, Single Thread, Alinea. I get just as much satisfaction consuming a platter of al pastor tacos from Leo’s as I do with any of those fancy spots. Leo’s is firmly on the lowbrow/brilliant end of the spectrum—the OG location is in the parking lot of a gas station on South La Brea and Venice—but show up on a Friday night at 2 a.m. and the line consistently spills around the block. Ask 100 different Angelenos where the best tacos are in the city and you’ll get 200 answers. But I bet a lot of those responses will have Leo’s in the number one spot. —DD

Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, TX): I remember taking my older kids here a few years ago. They had to be patient. We waited in line, and the line moved slowly. Margot and Toby studied the greasy blackness of the walls—like the smoke smudges in a French cathedral—until we placed our order. We snagged a table. Margot picked up a beef rib that seemed to weigh more than she did. She bit into the juicy meat and her eyes rolled back and she emitted a squeak of unfiltered delight. She polished off the whole rib and then asked for another. They say a father is only as happy as his children are. In that moment, I was happy. —JG

Lowell’s (Seattle, WA): Oh, so you think Pike Place Market is nothing but a tourist trap? Here’s a secret. Go early. Go at dawn, when the only people you’ll see are the stall owners arranging fresh fish on hills of shaved ice, and wait outside the doors of Lowell’s (look for the sign that says “Almost Classy Since 1957”) so that when the place opens at 7 sharp, you can get one of the tables overlooking Elliott Bay. You want an omelet stuff with Dungeness crab—you’re in a fish market, after all—and maybe also a Hangtown Fry with eggs and bacon and fresh oysters all scrambled together. —JG

Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier (Washington, D.C.): In twenty-one years on Pennsylvania Avenue, how many big fish were fêted, state secrets spilt, and will-you-marry-me’s uttered behind the curtain at Table 28? How many tinned tons of Sevruga, kilograms of white truffles, and pieds du roi of boudin blanc were squired from copper pan to bone china to shining cloche to starched table again and again in flawless ballet like the Bolshoi? Nowhere in Washington, D.C., is fine-dining done finer. Nowhere is it easier to feel thoroughly at home in a tuxedo. The stewards of slow luxuries must never die. —JT

neptune oyster oct 30, 2019 food

Neptune OysterANA M. REYES

Metzger Bar & Butchery (Richmond, VA):Schnitzel, schupfnudeln, and schadenfreude. 2020 saw far too much of one and not nearly enough of the other two. Chef Brittanny Anderson opened her little German joint in 2014—an outpost of modern exceptionalism in a historic yet overlooked district. She planted a tiny garden, built dining room furniture from a single tree, put her DJ husband behind the bar spinning drinks and funk, and started serving local takes on trout rillettes, rabbit, and pork chops with carafes of Zweigelt. Every neighborhood needs a place where you can eat three times a week and not get bored or go broke. —JT

Mosquito Supper Club (New Orleans, LA): Crispy, delicate soft-shelled shrimp. Browned cabbage smothered down in salt pork. Rustic seafood gumbo—okra, crab, and shrimp—that can’t be rushed. Seasonal, savory, and capped with a story or two. Well before chefs the world round embraced “blackened everything” as Cajun identifier, south Louisiana folk made magic with simple foods linked to the waters, skies, and land around them. For years chef Melissa Martin ran a series of deep Cajun pop-ups that showcased the foods of her childhood far from the relatively bright city lights of New Orleans. Finally settled for a spell, Martin cooks the seafood-dominant dishes from her coastal hometown of Chauvin, Louisiana (population 2700), in a double-shotgun frame house tucked away in the residential Uptown neighborhood. Her dedication to her family’s traditional foods and family-style hospitality make the Mosquito Supper Club a relaxed, home-style experience that gets you deep into a culture you thought you understood. —PJ

Nanina’s in the Park (Belleville, NJ): Okay, this one’s actually a banquet hall, but it’s a keeper. Generations of Newark-area Italian-Americans and those who love them have celebrated weddings, graduations, and first holy communions at this grand and slightly gaudy (so just about right) Italian villa planted at the north end of Branch Brook park. It’s a banquet hall that actually does Italian food really well, because it has to. An institution. —JKCOURTESYNom Wah Tea Parlor “OG” T-Shirtnomwah.com$20.00BUY

Neptune Oyster (Boston, MA): My friend Jason urged me to go here and order the johnnycake. I was skeptical. I don’t like sweet breakfasts and, speaking candidly, I thought the collision of smoked bluefish, caviar, and honey butter sounded bizarre. I waited in line (as instructed) outside Neptune on a chilly morning, got the first seat at the bar, and hedged my bets with oceanic delights I knew I’d love: raw oysters, dayboat scallops, a lobster roll. All spot-on. Then the johnnycake arrived and everything else became a blur. I was dumbstruck, delirious. Salty, creamy, sweet—it all made sense. Listen: People are waiting in line for that damn johnnycake, and they’re not fools. —JG

Nom Wah Tea Parlor (New York, NY): Nom Wah Tea Parlor occupies a bent-elbow corner in the heart of the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown. As of this year it has been around for a full century, and yet, under the protective watch of owner Wilson Tang, it has never been more vibrant. The OG egg roll, as crisp and feathery as a deep-fried cloud, is like a history lesson that lasts for two minutes, max, because that’s how long it takes you to wolf it down. —JG

nom wah tea parlor

Nom Wah Tea ParlorBARBARA LEUNG

Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Portland, OR): Chicken and rice—that’s what you’re getting. Nong Poonsukwattana’s mission is to deliver the comforting balance of a particular Chinese dish (a.k.a. Hainanese chicken) that’s ubiquitous in her native Thailand. It looks simple on the plate: poached chicken, white rice, sliced cucumbers, a sauce, a soup. But each bite reveals the care that she and her team have poured into it, and a lunch here leaves you feeling the way you feel after you’ve had matzo ball soup in a dependable diner: nourished. —JG

Noonie’s (Middlebury, VT): It’s a sandwich shop. Homemade honey oat bread, homemade brownies, local cheddar—all of that. —RD

Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis, MO): What is America without our smokehouses and pitmasters? Pappy’s, a casual outpost in STL, has only been open since 2008, but it’s been a heavy hitter since its launch. It’s routinely been voted the best BBQ in town, and its ribs have been recognized as the best in America—by someone other than me. I stop by every time I’m in town, and I send anyone passing through in this direction. It’s the bite of food that, for me, most tastes like home.
MV

pappy's bbq

Pappy’s BBQAMY SCHROMM

Pie ‘n Burger (Pasadena, CA): Life was slower in 1963, when Pie ‘n Burger opened, and the dining room (Formica counter, clattery cash register, sizzling griddles) feels like a museum diorama designed to showcase what an afternoon in the early Sixties used to look and sound like. The cheeseburger remains the gold standard of the thin-pattied Southern California style, with a curling wave of iceberg lettuce and a veritable pool of Thousand Island dressing, and the slices of pie are thick and sweet. But Pasadena locals (I grew up a few blocks away) know that the coolest move is to swing by for breakfast. The hash browns are soft and steamy underneath a crust of gold. The toast is (get this) homemade: Yes, the folks at Pie ‘n Burger started baking their own bread back when tykes like Bien Cuit and Tartine were just gleams in a sourdough mother’s eye. —JG

Au Poivre SauceRaoul’sgoldbelly.com$20.00BUY

Pioneer Saloon (Ketchum, ID): After a day skiing Sun Valley, the Pio’s burger will fill you back up. But make sure somebody gets the Idaho rainbow trout, so you can have a bite. This is a place you never want to leave. —RD

Proto’s Pizza (New York, NY): It’s our neighborhood spot. Very solid New York slice—the Margherita is more than solid—but more than that, I’ve known all the guys for years and we’ll sit around talking soccer. When my favorite (English) team loses, my buddy there—a Kosovan who has been behind the counter forever—will angrily demand answers when I walk in like I’m coaching the team. On Friday nights, he absolutely holds court until 4 a.m. as the East Village partiers come crashing in. —Jack Holmes

Public Greens (Indianapolis, IN): When you walk into Martha Hoover’s Public Greens, there’s a sign by the front door with the outline of the state of Indiana and this slogan: “Real food belongs in all zip codes.” Public Greens matters not just because it sells farm-fresh goodness at affordable prices (imagine if Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened a laid-back cafeteria), but because its profits are devoted to feeding hungry schoolkids around the state. Hoover puts the heart back in heartland. —JG

Raoul’s (New York, NY): The steak au poivre is great, tequila Negroni even better, but for me it’s about the circus. There’s the fortune teller upstairs next to the bathroom where who knows what’s gone on over the years, but even at your booth the whole thing feels like an event. The last time I went, it made perfect sense when another table sent us a round of espressos for no reason at all. I would not have been surprised if they were delivered by someone on a trapeze. The staff are not just personable, they are incredibly cool, and they help create this private alternate reality—entrance on Prince Street. —JH

red iguana

Red IguanaCOURTESY

Red Iguana (Salt Lake City, UT): A dude was recently testing me to see whether I really knew where to eat in various American cities. He said, “Salt Lake City.” I said, without a beat of hesitation, “Red Iguana.” He said, “Holy shit. You do know.” In a state that’s not exactly famous for its flavor bombs, the Iguana delivers Mexican classics—mole negro, mole poblano, enmoladas, carnitas, fish tacos, enchiladas suizas—with as much respect for tradition and attention to detail as anyplace in Los Angeles or Chicago. Now you know. —JG

Red Rooster (New York, NY): Outdoor dining can be charming, but if there’s one Manhattan hotspot where you want to be in the damn room, it’s Red Rooster. Many a restaurant can be described as the “heart” of a community, but the Rooster actually feels like one, pulsing and pumping, bringing nightly oxygen to Harlem with a never-ending bacchanal. You can’t really attempt to “drop in” for a quick snack of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s yardbird or shrimp & grits, because before long you’re caught up in conversations with neighboring tables, and the hours hum by, and somehow you forget to leave. —JG

Roadside Store and Cafe (Monterey, MA): The best little roadside dinner with pancakes you order by the size and come as big as hubcaps. It’s in a beautiful town in the Berkshires and it’s supplied by Gould Farm, a therapeutic community for people with mental illnesses. The people who grow, cook, and serve the food work and live at Gould Farm. We went several times last summer and my son had so many questions about where the food came from, they gave us a tour of the farm. It’s a really special place. —Kate Storey

Roberta’s (Brooklyn, NY): Roberta’s gets cred as a revolutionary pizza joint with a knack for wood-firing pies. To me, it’s just my neighborhood’s de facto backyard. We squeeze around picnic tables on the ramshackle patio, talking about wish-list concerts while making serious dents in pizza boxes from the take-out kitchen. We lounge under umbrellas on a sunny afternoon, drinking cans of cheap beer after painting a friend’s apartment. We reunite under the tarps on a rainy Brooklyn night (ignoring the restaurant portion of Roberta’s with actual seating under an actual roof) after not seeing each other for too long. To me, that’d be revolutionary even if the pizza were trash, which it absolutely is not. —Sarah Rense

roberta's

Roberta’sCOURTESY

Sam Wo (San Francisco, CA)love the new-school takes on SF Chinatown from chefs like Brandon Jew. But Sam Wo’s represents something else, something deeper. The origins are murky but the original restaurant probably sprang up right after the 1906 earthquake. For decades it hosted famous patrons—Bukowski, Ginsberg, Conan O’Brien—along with hungry Bay Area residents, including my family. This is probably why I took my wife on our first date there. Esquire has written, in recent years, that tech money has turned San Francisco restaurants into a reflection of Silicon Valley; there’s a lot of technical mastery but the soul is missing. Restaurants like Wo’s are more important than ever, serving as a connection to the past, without dipping into schmaltz or nostalgia. —DD

Senia (Honolulu, HI)Far from Waikiki, on a prosaic street in Chinatown, Senia is always packed — with locals, not tourists. (It’s ours!) The inventive, ambitious cooking is polished but rooted in Hawaiian traditions, from poke to kalua pork. It’s a restaurant that makes kama‘aina (people of the land) proud of who we are and how we eat, with service that you might call island formal: that is, not formal at all, just warm (and perfect). —LM

sam wo

Sam WoCOURTESY

Seviche Restaurant (Louisville, KY): Fifteen years in, Seviche’s alchemy of Southern heat and Latin beat continues to thrill. Chef Anthony Lamas’s Mexican mama’s posole verde is quite possibly the most delicious, nourishing, last-night’s-fog–clearing dish on earth. Add in a Puerto Rican father, southern California upbringing, love of farming/fruit stands/taco trucks, and you’ve got a Latin pantry missionary sharing the gospel of flavor in the land of bourbon and Benton’s Bacon. There are many paths to bliss. Don’t miss the one that goes like this: caipirinha –> chicharrones de calamares –> ahi seviche –> churrascos de Argentina –> George T. Stagg with one cube. —JT

Shady Glen Dairy (Manchester, CT): They do this thing where the cheese on the cheeseburgers curls up into crispy corners. And homemade ice cream sundaes. —RD

Shatila Bakery (Dearborn, MI): For any lover of sweets, a step into Shatila’s 10,000-square-foot palace of pastry feels like a glimpse into paradise. But for Dearborn’s sizable population of families with roots in the Arab world, the colorful displays of cookies and cakes at Shatila represent something more: a bedrock community center, a village square for customers old and young, as well as a living link to the flavors and textures of the Middle East. —JG

Shiro’s (Seattle, WA): You can roam the world emptying your wallet at hipster omakase temples, if that is your jam, but if you really deeply love the ritual and tradition of Edomae-style sushi, chances are that something keeps drawing you back to Shiro’s. It opened in 1994 and, in its modest way, it remains the West Coast peak of Japanese hospitality and fish/rice artistry. —JG

Silver Grill Café (Fort Collins, CO): I have been around the world, people, and I am here to tell you that I firmly believe that the Silver Grill, founded in 1933, cooks up the best breakfast in America. And it’s a big breakfast. Steel yourself. Maybe skip dinner the night before. It’s the kind of breakfast you start to see as you amble through the Southwest—a breakfast in which Southern ideas merge with Mexican ideas in a style that makes it utterly natural for chicken fried steak to share menu space (plus space on a plate) with hominy, chorizo, and tamales. Everyone talks about the cinnamon rolls but I would board a plane right now for the potatoes, which are crisp and fluffy at the same time, as if hash browns and home fries had finally gotten over their bickering and made a baby. —JG

solo farm  table

SoLo Farm & TableCOURTESY

Slyman’s Deli (Cleveland, OH): Clevelanders tend to hold tight to ornery beliefs: Our skyline is impressive, our weather is great, this is finally the year of a sports championship. Nonsense like that. So Slyman’s, home of a beloved Reuben sandwich piled too high with what I swear is the best corned beef, has us pridefully saying stuff like, we have the best corned beef in America. But we do. And you can’t take that away from us, unless of course you take away Slyman’s. Sadly, its namesake, Joseph Slyman, died at 83 last week. —SR

SoLo Farm & Table (South Londonderry, VT): The wife used to run front-of-house at Per Se. The husband used to cook for big-time places in NYC. Then they bought a farmhouse in Vermont and turned it into a New England dining destination. —RD

St. Elmo’s (Indianapolis, IN): Out of all the great old steakhouses across the American landscape, St. Elmo’s might be the strangest. Its signature dish is a shrimp cocktail so brutally overloaded with horseradish that it makes your nostrils go nuclear. (The waiters will warn you. You won’t listen. Eating it will make you feel as though you’re being hazed, and then you’ll understand where Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut got his sense of humor.) For room after room, the walls are absolutely crammed with photos of celebrities, from the Rolling Stones and proud Hoosier John Mellencamp to Playboy playmates from the ‘80s and sitcom stars you’ve never heard of. You could spend an entire night here and not even come close to getting bored. —JG

State Bird Provisions (San Francisco, CA): Yes, the hype may have faded a little from Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s SF hot spot that serves up creative, California-inspired dishes dim sum-style, but I don’t think there’s any restaurant that captures the state’s madcap collision of culture and flavors quite like State Bird. —DDCOURTESYAtomic Hot SauceState Bird Provisionssquare.site$8.00BUY

Swan Oyster Depot (San Francisco, CA): If there’s one thing to order at Swan Oyster Depot, the famed San Francisco seafood institution, it’s the off-menu “crabsanthemum”—a dish that features nothing but plump pieces of sweet crab meat arranged in a beautiful floral pattern on a plate. The crab is steamed ever just so, somehow simultaneously achieving a soft and firm texture, and is expertly cracked such that the legs are completely extracted yet still intact. The crabsanthemum is an exercise in restraint, a study in simplicity, and a display of time, patience, and skill honed by the Sancimino family. A squeeze of lemon or a dip made in-house or crab fat vinaigrette are respectable but optional choices—the crab really needs no accompaniment but an ice-cold Anchor Steam. —OM

Terre (Brooklyn, NY): Fresh, homemade pasta and natural wines in the heart of Park Slope. You’ll get to know the staff quickly, and fall in love with them even faster. Your server probably made one of the specials himself, and you can tell because his eyes light up when you order it and when he sees your empty plate. —BB

Tessaro’s (Pittsburgh, PA): Don’t play around. Don’t walk in here and start getting precious about your Instagram picture—people will look at you funny. Just order a beer and a burger and keep your mouth shut. Listen. Look around. Everyone’s getting the same burger, as big as a flattened softball, salty juices seeping into the bun. Yinzers know. —JG

the grey

The GreyCOURTESY

The Beachcomber (Wellfleet, MA): Local oysters and steamers in a clam shack on the sand. —RD

The Grey (Savannah, GA): The symbolism of the Grey isn’t subtle, and it’s often the first thing people talk about: how a black female chef (Mashama Bailey) and a white guy from Staten Island (Johno Morisano) teamed up to build a world-renowned restaurant right on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, repurposing the shell of a once-segregated Greyhound station. All of which is, in and of itself, a triumph in a state still poisoned by racism. But symbolism is only part of the triumph. What makes the Grey soar, in the end, is Bailey’s bountiful, brilliant cooking, which weaves together threads of culinary insight from West Africa and the American South and her years spent in the kitchen at Prune in Manhattan: her pasta with blue crab and ruby red shrimp, her barbecued mackerel with cornbread dressing and collard stems, her short ribs with ground nuts and turnips. It could be argued that the Grey is the most important restaurant in America. It could also be argued that the Grey is the best restaurant in America. —JG

Black, White, and The Greyamazon.com$28.00 $18.39 (34% off)BUY

The Narrows (Grasonville, MD): Semi-fancy, waterfront place with good prices, good crab cakes, and a lot of people who probably just took the boat out for the day. —RD

The Pizza Stone (Chester, VT): Kooky people, unique pies, craft beers. —RD

The Reel Inn (Malibu, CA): Drive just north of Topanga Canyon and you’ll spot this little seafood shack on the land side of PCH. Pull in. Order from the blackboard menu—the fish is offered grilled, Cajun style, or sautéed with two sides (go for the Cajun rice and the slaw), grab a beer and a picnic table, and wait for your name to be called. Soak in this funky old bit of Malibu that’s become rarer and rarer. —KS

The Shrimp Box (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ): The Shrimp Box is so important to my family that on one crazy summer afternoon, when our twins were still newborns, my wife and I suddenly put the babies in the car and drove three hours on the Jersey Turnpike because I had determined, in my sleep-deprived fog, that I needed some fried seafood and the kids needed to be exposed to the Jersey Shore air in the beach town that my dad’s people had originally come from. This was a stupid thing to do. When we arrived at the Shrimp Box, there was a two-hour wait for a table, and we were stuck there, hours from home, holding two weary, smelly babies. Did I perhaps let it slip that my grandmother was the late Thelma Gordinier, who in her time was the empress of the Shrimp Box? Did a table happen to materialize within minutes? When you’re a father, you do what you must. —JG

The Squan (Manasquan, NJ): The best red-sauce joint on the Jersey Shore has been serving since the sixties. Packed every night, naturally. This right here—this East Coast alchemy of tomatoes and cheese, sausage and pasta and crust, oregano and olive oil and mouthfuls of bright Chianti—this is why we keep going back for Italian American food on Friday night. —JK

the reel inn

The Reel InnCOURTESY

The Stand (Laguna Beach, CA): Hey, even carnivorous Californians crave an avocado-and-sprouts sandwich now and then. Think of it as a West Coast version of a hoagie. The Stand (which looks like an actual farm stand a few steps from the Pacific Coast Highway) opened in 1975, back when the word “vegan” might’ve sounded like surfer slang. Menu items like date shakes, carrot juice, sunflower sprout salad, and guacamole burritos might explain why no one in Laguna Beach seems to age. We could all use a date shake right now. We could also use the Stand’s unofficial slogan: “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be groovy and amazing.” —JG

Veselka (New York, NY): As I told a friend recently, if we lose Veselka, we lose New York. It’s the anchor of the East Village, the coolest diner on Earth, the open-around-the-clock Ukrainian hearth for those moments when one’s beaten soul cries out for stuffed cabbage and beef stroganoff and pierogi. We need Veselka now more than ever. —JG

Virtue (Chicago, IL): A meal at Virtue can feel like a much-needed hug from an old family member. Chef Erick Williams and his team imbue so much love and spirit into all of their dishes, whether it’s a velvety mac ‘n cheese, or a shrimp rémoulade served atop fried green tomatoes, or the delicately fried gizzards that will immediately make you a fan of gizzards for life. —KS

Yank Sing (San Francisco, CA): If you’ve become accustomed to average dim sum, the always lively Yank Sing is the place that will make you realize what you’ve been missing all of your life. The classics are next level: The siu mai are plump with shrimp and pork, you’ll marvel at the paper-thin wrapping of the har gau, and the xiao long bao are filled with a beautifully fragrant broth that makes for one of the most exemplary soup dumplings you’ll ever slurp. Don’t forget to pick up a jar of the house-made chili oil on the way out. —KS

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