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Top-Rated Traditional Dining Spots in Each State

    Top-Rated Traditional Dining Spots in Each State

    In the last 20 years, haven’t we seen it all? Thrills, crashes, twists, and turns at breakneck speed. And now we’re here discussing the menu.

    At the very least dating back to the Great Depression and perhaps much earlier this century, restaurant cultures in cities throughout the United States have expanded at an unprecedented rate. When the passage of time slowed down around the year 2020, we all took a deep breath, temporarily caring less about what was coming next. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter where you went to eat—even the oldest pizzerias in New Haven and Trenton or the oldest Jewish delis in New York would do.

    Think of this as a map, or at least a sketch of one, something you might find scribbled on the back of a napkin, meant to spark memories or nudge you toward a deeper understanding of our common culinary past. Get out while you still can; at least a dozen of our favourites have closed their doors since Food & Wine last published this list at the beginning of 2020, and everyone who has been paying attention knows that it is not getting simpler to manage a restaurant.

    1. Alabama

    Picture yourself as a banker in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1980s. You’re looking at a youthful and energised Frank Stitt, a former philosophy major turned culinary fanatic who has just returned from Europe with grand intentions to create a restaurant that merges French technique with products and traditions from his home state of Alabama. Are you going to welcome his rather out-of-the-ordinary perspective, or are you going to almost kick the person out of the office? The family and friends of the industrious chef were instrumental in getting the restaurant off the ground, and the Highlands Bar & Grill is now widely recognised as one of the best in the South. The restaurant is temporarily closed but will return this year; in the meanwhile, its sister establishments Chez Fonfon and Bottega are still operating.

    2. Alaska

    One of the nicest things about living in the north is experiencing summer. Is it possible to have a meaningful conversation about those sunsets that last forever? King crab season, which begins in the late autumn or early winter, is a long way off from all that midnight light. Still, if you’re interested in dining on the great (greatest?) crustacean (drawn butter, please), you should be here right now to sample them at their peak of freshness. While king crab can be found just about anywhere during its brief season, few restaurants can compare to Anchorage’s classic Crow’s Nest, located twenty stories above downtown with panoramic views of the Chugach range; dress to impress in business casual, select a bottle from the restaurant’s 10,000-plus bottle wine cellar, and settle in for a once-in-a-lifetime seafood extravaganza.

    3. Arizona

    Every pizza fanatic should be familiar with the backstory by now. Chris Bianco, originally from the Bronx, moved to Phoenix in the 1980s on a whim. In response to the topic of how one of the best pizza restaurants in the nation, Pizzeria Bianco, came to be in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, we can learn that he was just intended to be visiting but ended up wanting to remain when he opened a pizza business inside a local grocery. Alongside far earlier greats like the bordello-like (so much red!) steakhouse on Central Avenue founded by a former Vegas pit-boss in the 1950s, Durant’s continues to be one of the Valley’s most prominent restaurants today. Remember to use the rear entrance, just as the natives do. In contrast to Tucson’s El Charro Cafe, which claims to be America’s oldest Mexican restaurant and to have invented the chimichanga, also known as the deep-fried burrito, the much more casual Fry Bread House has been serving this everyday Native American staple alongside good pozole and menudo since the early 1990s, which is practically yesterday.

    4. Arkansas

    The Delta’s hazy peace and quiet could definitely be bottled and marketed as a sleep aid, but that doesn’t mean we should. Getting a Jones Bar-B-Q sandwich in Marianna, which has finely chopped, slaw-topped pork on white bread, is like getting your hands on one of the best barbecue sandwiches in the nation. In fact, the restaurant has been there since the 1960s thanks to the efforts of pitmaster James Jones, but the Jones family, which includes many generations of cooks, has been claiming the title of “oldest Black-owned restaurant in the nation” for quite some time.

    Try buffalo meat before? Fish ribs have been a staple at Little Rock’s Lassis Inn since long before the restaurant gained notoriety as a gathering place for civil rights activists during the Civil Rights Era. Around here, they’re talking the Ictiobus, or buffalo fish, a freshwater staple often confused with carp, except it’s not.

    5. California

    In case you’re curious about the precise moment when public opinion started to shift away from processed foods, we’ll lay out the timeline for you. In 1971, when food activist Alice Waters launched Chez Panisse in Berkeley with the charmingly simple objective of bringing customers as near to the source as possible, things really started to heat up. Few American restaurants can make such a bold claim, and while it may have taken a while for the thing to go wide, the seeds planted long ago were critical in getting us to rethink where our food comes from, to reconnect with the joys (and just plain common sense) of eating locally and seasonally, a concept that is now essentially mainstream. The Bay Area didn’t need anybody to teach it how to eat properly, but if it hadn’t already been one of the greatest places to dine in the nation, Chez Panisse may not have opened.

    6. Colorado

    To think, you might have gone your entire life without knowing about the sugar steak, the specialty of the house at Bastien’s in Denver, a serious steakhouse trapped, and happily so, in the body of a 1950s West Coast coffee shop-style structure, with whimsical, oversized neon signage out front to complete the illusion. The production of the signature here is simple, yet quite potent. Even the toughest bone-in ribeye becomes incredibly delicate when white and brown sugar are added to the flavorful rub, which is why we never proudly offer our steaks any more than medium-rare.

    7. Connecticut

    Chapel Street has been the main thoroughfare connecting New Haven and Yale for decades. Architecturally, it is a treat, a delightful mash-up of seemingly disparate styles ranging from the ancient to the cutting edge. Union League Cafe, owned by Jean-Pierre Vuillermet and located in a Beaux-Arts super-townhouse that was originally constructed as the home of a wealthy industrialist on the site of the original homestead of founding father Roger Sherman, stands at the centre of it all and has been in operation since 1973. This beautiful ancient building with its sweeping arches, dark wood trim, and white tablecloths has a hard time turning away the romantics of Connecticut. Enjoy duck à l’orange and foie gras torchons while reclining on one of the banquettes.

    8. Delaware

    Every day, nearly 100,000 people take I-95 across the Delaware River, but only a small percentage of them ever get off the highway at the foot of the Memorial Bridge and take the five-minute drive through boring suburbia, then out across the marshes, and into New Castle’s immaculately-kept historic district, which is home to one of the country’s most exciting collections of well-preserved architecture from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Jessop’s Tavern, which claims to have been in business since the 1670s, is one such establishment where you may drop in on a regular basis and have the place to yourself. The building has been a popular hangout since the late 20th century, in part because of the staff’s dedication to serving only the finest Belgian beers. There’s good food, too. Get the skillet lobster macaroni and cheese, zipped up with Chimay and topped with Old Bay-seasoned bread crumbs.

    9. Florida

    Nothing can ever really prepare you for that first meal at Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant, with her that’s-so-Tampa devil crab croquetas, the iconic, made to a 1915 recipe, house Cuban sandwich, the iceberg lettuce salads mixed tableside, by waiters in jackets. The oldest restaurant in the state, going back to 1905, and still in the same family, isn’t just a another date with history, it’s a city within a city.

    At capacity, there will be roughly 1,700 people seated, spread across fifteen different and distinctive spaces, each imbued with its own energy, each no doubt with countless stories to tell. Half as old, but equally memorable, and no doubt inspired by its predecessor, Bern’s Steak House, also known as the other Tampa restaurant that’s a whole thing, feels more like a theme park dark ride for carnivorous grown folks. If there’s a window in here, we’ve never found it, though there’s a lot of ground to cover, admittedly.

    10. Georgia

    Launching in the heart of Buckhead over a quarter century ago, Anne Quatrano’s Bacchanalia has been one of Atlanta’s finest restaurants ever since, an authentic celebration of good, local produce, some of it from Quatrano’s own farm. Some of the city’s most talked-about chefs have come through the restaurant, which recently moved for the third time, to a part of the city that couldn’t be any less central, but by now everyone knows.

    If Quatrano and husband/partner Cliff Harrison are betting on a neighborhood, they probably know exactly what they’re doing. Fried chicken livers, or broiled if you’re watching your figure, tomato aspic, Waldorf salad, and all sorts of other things you had forgotten were even a thing still fly out of the kitchen at The Colonnade, an Atlanta icon since the 1920s. The restaurant, sometimes referred to as a gathering place for the gay and gray, moved to its current location in 1962 — once again, nobody seemed to have any trouble finding the new address. Back west, soul food staple Busy Bee Cafe has stayed put since 1947, surviving segregation, the Civil Rights Era and desegregation, the flight to the suburbs, divestment, and now, gentrification. Their fried chicken, brined for twelve hours and fried in peanut oil, could have a lot to do with that.

    11. Hawaii

    The Maui that Floyd and Doris Christenson first fell for, back when the flight from California took more than twice as long, was a very different place than the visitor finds today — no resorts, few restaurants, and few roads, for that matter. In 1974, after years of living on a catamaran in the South Pacific with their growing family, the Christensons changed the island forever by opening Mama’s Fish House, which they and their now-adult family still own and operate today.

    Never mind the fresh, typically local fish, and the fun little traditions, like the sweet, warm poppyseed bread delivered to your table before you start, the complimentary poi, the beautiful, hand-sewn tablecloths; the setting alone is worth the price of admission — a not-so-secret tropical garden, bursting with good vibes, and scented with sea air and tropical blooms, opening up to its very own beach.

    12. Idaho

    Let us never forget that Sun Valley has been a thing since the end of the Great Depression, and that it was also home to the world’s first chair lift — even Switzerland is said to have come second. Pretty much from day one, habitués of America’s winter Nantucket have been mingling over fondue at The Ram, a rustic chic base village institution, where a piano player tickles the ivories, most nights; ask about the restaurant’s heritage menu, a nightly revival of Sun Valley classics. Even with this crowd, the Hungarian goulash remains a hit.

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