The Golden Lamb
The Golden Lamb is one of America's most historic inns, and Ohio's oldest continually operated business.

The Top 100 Independent Restaurants—The 1800s

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The FSR annual Top 100 report salutes restaurants that are legends and landmarks, and—in some instances—measuring success across centuries.

By Amanda Baltazar, Alex Dixon, Nicole Duncan, Connie Gentry, Danny Klein July 2017 Research

Imagine owning a restaurant that’s older than our Independence Day celebration. Impossible for most of us to grasp, but restaurants that have stood the test of time are lessons in excellence and entertainment. This collection of Top 100 Independents pays tribute to some of the industry’s oldest and most esteemed operations, including more than half of which have operated for 100 years or more. History always comes with its share of skeletons in the pantry, ghosts returning to haunt, and colorful stories—so to some extent there are restaurants among the group that are thriving on their own reputations.

READ MORE:

Check out the Top 100 Independent Restaurants from the 1600s and 1700s.

Check out the Top 100 Independent Restaurants from the 1900s.

The younger “oldies,” those that are 35 to 50 years old, are equally interesting because they’ve managed to succeed across decades without the benefit of historical precedence. Many of these independents have transitioned across multiple generations as well as through shifts in ownership and catastrophic events. Following the profile on Commander’s Palace, our Top 100 is presented from oldest to youngest, including some of the highest-grossing restaurants in the industry and others with modest, but sustained, performance.

Footnote: All sales reflect the annual revenue of the restaurant. The average check is per person and for food only, unless otherwise noted. Estimated figures are indicated as E.

1800s

Indies Settling in New Frontiers

The Golden Lamb
The Golden Lamb has been visited by a dozen U.S. presidents.

Golden Lamb

Lebanon, Ohio

Year opened: 1803

Owner: Bill Kilimnik, operating partner

Cuisine: Continental American

Sales: $4 to $4.5 million

Average check: $26

Essential item: Rational Combi Ovens

The family of the longest-serving innkeeper, Robert Jones, who purchased the property in 1926, still owns the Golden Lamb. It has been visited by a dozen U.S. presidents, ranging from John Quincy Adams to George W. Bush.

J. Huston Tavern

Arrow Rock, Missouri

Year opened: 1834

Owner: State of Missouri

Cuisine: American Comfort Food

Average check: $12

Built by Joseph Huston Sr., the tavern has been continuously serving the public for 180 years and is now owned by the State of Missouri. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the tavern initially served as the family home and then became a respite where immigrants heading west could spend the night and eat.

In 1923, a local resident, along with the Daughters of the American Revolution, persuaded the Missouri legislature to purchase the tavern for $5,000, making it the first building in the state set aside for historic preservation using public funds.

El Farol

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Year opened: 1835

Owner: David Salazar

Cuisine: Spanish tapas

Average check: $45 E

Flamenco shows could rival the food in popularity.

Delmonico’s

New York City

Year opened: 1837

Owners: Milan Licul, Dennis Turcinovic

Cuisine: Fine-dining Steakhouse

Average check: $87

Essential item: Chef Billy Oliva relies on the ChefSteps app.

Said to be the birthplace of American classics: the Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict, and Baked Alaska.

Antoines.com
Antoine’s has one of the most impressive wine selections in New Orleans.

Antoine’s

New Orleans

Year opened: 1840

Owner: The Blount Family, Rick Blount, CEO

Cuisine: French/Creole

Sales: $10 to $11 million

Average check: $87

Antoine Alciatore set up the restaurant, which has remained family-run and claims to be the inventor of Oysters Rockefeller. The current location opened in 1868, a block from the original restaurant. Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Pope John Paul II are only a few of the notables who have dined here. The Wine Cellar, which measures 165 feet by 7 feet, holds around 25,000 bottles.

Tadich Grill

San Francisco

Year opened: 1849

Owner: Michael L. Buich

Cuisine: Seafood

Claimed to be the oldest restaurant in this city, it was started by Croatian immigrants and went through a couple of names and temporary locations before settling on the name Tadich Grill in 1912.

Breitbach’s Country Dining

Balltown, Iowa

Year opened: 1852

Owner: The Breitbach family

Cuisine: American

Within a span of just 10 months in 2007 and 2008, Breitbach’s was destroyed by fire twice, but managed to rebuild both times.

Parker’s Restaurant

Boston

Year opened: 1855

Owner: Omni Hotels

Cuisine: New England

Average check: $51 E

It’s the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie, Parker House Rolls, and Boston Scrod. Culinary and political history abounds: Emeril Lagasse got started in this kitchen; John F. Kennedy is said to have proposed to Jackie here; Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh served as a baker from 1912 to 1913; and Malcolm X was a busboy in the 1940s.

Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington, D.C.

Year opened: 1856

Owner: Clyde’s Restaurant Group

Cuisine: American

Average check: $43 E

Said to be the oldest saloon in Washington, D.C., it’s existed in a number of locations and has welcomed presidents dating back to Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt.

Hays House

Council Grove, Kansas

Year opened: 1857

Owner: Flint Hills Investors, Tim Tyner, president

Cuisine: American

Essential Items: Fresh peach and strawberry pies.

Opened as a restaurant and trading post by Seth Hays—Daniel Boone’s great-grandson—Hays House has been the site of many activities, from church services to theatrical performances. Tavern bottles were allegedly covered on Saturday night so church services could be held Sunday morning, and legend has it that the restaurant served Jesse James and George Armstrong Custer.

Thomas Robert Clarke Photography
McGillin’s Olde Alehouse's house beers are legendary in Philadelphia.

McGillin’s Olde Alehouse

Philadelphia

Year opened: 1860

Owners: Mary Ellen and Chris Mullins Sr. and son, Christopher Mullins Jr.

Cuisine: Homemade Comfort Food

Sales: +$2 million

Essential item: Stoudt’s Brewing makes the house beers: McGillin’s Genuine Lager, McGillin’s Real Ale, and McGillin’s 1860 IPA.

The oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia survived the Civil War, Great Depression, and Prohibition. The original owners lived upstairs with their 13 children.

Old Angler’s Inn

Potomac, Maryland

Year opened: 1860

Owners: Sara and Mark Reges

Cuisine: American

Average check: $58 E

The Reges family has run this restaurant for 60 years, since attorney John Reges bought it in 1957 for his wife, Olympia. Since taking over management, their son Mark has made it a destination for dining out as well as weddings and catered events.

Old Clam House

San Francisco

Year opened: 1861

Owner: The Dal Bozzo family

Cuisine: Seafood

Average check: $44 E

Has always remained in the same location and initially was connected to the city by about two miles of plank road. All guests are served a glass of clam juice as soon as they are seated.

The Cliff House

San Francisco

Year opened: 1863

Owners: Dan and Mary Hountalas

Cuisine: Bistro

Average check: $50 E

Survived the 1906 earthquake, but the building burned down in 1907 and was rebuilt.

Scholz Garten

Austin, Texas

Year opened: 1866

Owner: Austin Saengerrunde

Cuisine: German and Texan

Average check: $15

German pretzels, sausage, and schnitzel headline the menu, along with homemade rolls baked fresh daily.

Jacob Wirth

Boston

Year opened: 1868

Owner: Kevin Fitzgerald

Cuisine: German and American Pub Food

Sales: $3 million

Average check: $20.75

The walls are lined with more than 600 tap handles of beers that have been served across the years, including one of the original Jacob Wirth beers. The restaurant relocated across the street in 1871, and has been under the ownership of just two families.

Weidmann’s

Meridian, Mississippi

Year opened: 1870

Owners: Charles and Trish Frazier

Cuisine: “Eclectic” Southern

Sales: +$3 million

Average check: Lunch $16, Dinner $26

Essential item: Fried green tomatoes with 1870 sauce of shrimp, mushrooms, and tomato cream.

Each table contains a handmade crock filled with peanut butter, a practice that dates to a shortage of butter during World War II.

Palace Restaurant and Saloon

Prescott, Arizona

Year opened: 1877

Owner: Dave Michelson

Cuisine: American

In 1900, The Palace was destroyed by the Whiskey Row fire, but patrons managed to save the ornately carved 1880s Brunswick bar, which is still in use.

Original fixtures, including cash registers, remain on display at Huber’s Café.

Huber’s Café

Portland, Oregon

Year opened: 1879

Owners: Lucille, James, and David Louie

Cuisine: American

Sales: +$2.5 million

Average check: $36.20

Essential item: Chef Julius Baliola’s favorite kitchen tool is his 12-inch chef’s knife.

The signature drink is Spanish coffee (Bacardi, Bols Triple Sec, Kahlua, coffee, fresh whipped cream, nutmeg)—a flaming drink done tableside and developed by David Louie 42 years ago. Original fixtures such as spittoons and cash registers remain in place.

Sleder’s

Traverse City, Michigan

Year opened: 1882

Owners: Deb and Brian Cairns

Cuisine: Burgers, Mexican, Perch, and Smelt

Sales: $1.5 million,

Average check: $15

Numerous hunting trophies and stuffed animals decorate the walls at Sleder’s, and many patrons kiss a moose named Randolph for good luck.

P.J. Clarke’s

New York City

Year opened: 1884

Owners: Philip Scotti and Arnold Penner

Cuisine: American

Average check: $51

True Love Ways: Buddy Holly proposed to his wife here.

Keens Steakhouse

New York City

Year opened: 1885

Owner: Bleiburg Restaurant

Cuisine: Steakhouse

Average check: $76 E

Once a classic old boys’ club, it has a collection of more than 50,000 pipes and is known for its Mutton Chop, priced $52. In 1905 an actress, Lillie Langtry, petitioned the restaurant and won women the right to dine here.

Restaurant Marliave

Boston

Year opened: 1885

Chef/Owner: Scott Herritt

Cuisine: French, Italian, New England

Average check: $51 E

The restaurant opened an espresso bar on the lower level to serve coffee, tea, snacks, and pastries.

Horseshoe Cafe

Bellingham, Washington

Year opened: 1886

Owners: Adam Groen, Barb Groen, Kate Groen, Joe Russell, and Brian Waller

Cuisine: American Diner

Average check: $18 E

A 1958 photo of the restaurant’s open kitchen and drop-down hood inspired “the Shoe’s” 2015 renovation. There’s no chef on staff, just lots of cooks.

Peter Luger Steak House

Brooklyn, New York

Year opened: 1887

Owner: The family of Sol Forman

Cuisine: Steakhouse

Average check: $100

Legend has it that after Peter Luger died, the steakhouse fell into disrepair and Sol Forman was the only person who showed up at the auction to bid on the restaurant. For the price of the real estate, Forman was able to acquire his favorite eatery in 1950. Since then, three generations of his family have led the steakhouse to widespread acclaim.

Katz's Delicatessen
In New York City, Katz’s Deli is the “the one constant," says owner Jake Dell.

Katz’s Deli

New York City

Year opened: 1888

Owner: Jake Dell

Cuisine: Jewish Deli

Average check: $23 E

A New York City institution and the oldest deli in the city, it has stood in the same place for the past 100 years, since it was moved there due to construction of the city’s subway system. Now it serves up to 4,000 customers on busy days.

The Jewish deli opened its first outpost—at DeKalb Market Hall, in the heart of downtown Brooklyn—earlier this summer. The market will be a grab-and-go location, serving the restaurant’s top-selling dishes, says Jake Dell, who officially took over operation of the restaurant in 2009, but says he’s been working in it since the moment he was born.

In a city where everything changes, “we’re the one constant,” Dell says. The restaurant caters to regulars and tourists, many still coming thanks to the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” It has also grown its shipping business. Meats, mustard, pickles, and soups are all part of the shipping business, which launched during World War II when the owners’ sons were serving in the armed forces. The family sent food to them and developed the slogan “Send a salami to your boy in the army.”

Merchants Café

Seattle

Year opened: 1890

Owners: Darcy Hanson & Jose Ricardi

Cuisine: American Pub Fare

Sales: $2 million

Average check: $22

Ghost stories? Of course there are ghosts roaming Seattle’s oldest restaurant!

Amrheins

Boston

Year opened: 1890

Owner: Stephen Mulrey

Cuisine: American

Average check: $43 E

Claims the oldest hand-carved bar in the U.S.

Emily Alber
Roma Cafe claims to be the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit.

Roma Cafe

Detroit

Year opened: 1890

Owner: Janet Sossi Belcoure

Cuisine: Italian

Average check: $60 per couple

Essential item: A pasta machine imported from Italy years ago.

Any person in charge of a classic restaurant understands the demands of the loyal guest. Janet Sossi Belcoure, owner of Detroit’s Roma Cafe, believes nostalgia goes a long way: Add a dish to the menu? Just make sure you don’t take anything off.

Three years ago, Roma Cafe hired a new chef, and people started complaining about the red sauce. “It wasn’t different,” she says. “The same people who had been making it forever were still here—but that just shows you how sensitive people are to change at a place they love.”

The Roma Cafe is a true institution in the Motor City. We’re talking 127 years of perfecting a type of cuisine that people never tire of. The venue, which calls itself Detroit’s oldest Italian restaurant, opened in 1890 after the Marazza family developed a culinary reputation at its boarding house. The business was sold to John Battaglia and Morris Sossi in 1918. Sossi’s nephew, Hector, began working as a busboy in 1940 and bought the restaurant in 1965. He held the reins for the next 50-plus years.

Belcoure, despite swearing to never enter the restaurant industry, has made sure Roma Cafe remained in the family. Her brief flirtation with a different career, by the way, ended 35 years ago.

“I have a master’s degree in guidance counseling,” she says, laughing. “But I ended up back in the business and have worked it with passion for the past 35 years.”

Around 15 years ago, she really took over the operation. Having the chance to work with her father, she says, allowed her to truly appreciate Roma Cafe for its nuances and its hold on the community. She has a server who has been here as long as she has. The chef, who just retired, manned the line for 33 years. Waiters last decades, not days.

“The great-grandchildren of people I served are coming in now,” she says.

Renovations at The Buckhorn Exchange will double the size of the line and allow for more creativity.

The Buckhorn Exchange

Denver, Colorado

Year opened: 1893

Owners: William Dutton, general manager, and a group of investors

Cuisine: American and Exotic Meats

Sales: $3.5 to $4 million

Essential item: Chef Cesar Garcia says blast chillers and infrared broilers.

This restaurant survived Prohibition by opening a grocery in front, and legend says the owner hid bottles of alcohol in hollowed-out loaves of bread. Under the men’s room is a secret passageway through which guests escaped during Prohibition raids. Four presidents—Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan—dined here, and not a lot has changed, according to general manager William Dutton. “We offer Old West hospitality and exotic meats,” Dutton explains.

However, there’s only so much the past can offer, and even Buckhorn has found it has to innovate. This year it will undergo a complete renovation of its “very old and very small” kitchen. “We don’t have a very exciting kitchen for the new crop of chefs, and recruiting has been hard,” Dutton explains. The renovation will double the size of the line and allow for more creativity. “We need to do this to make sure The Buckhorn Exchange is successful for the next 100 years.”

The Rathskeller

Indianapolis

Year opened: 1894

Owner: Dan McMichael

Cuisine: German, Contemporary American

Sales: $5.5 million

Average check: $40 to $50

The entire building is in authentic German style.

The Berghoff Restaurant calls itself "The Most Iconic Restaurant & Bar in Chicago."

The Berghoff Restaurant

Chicago

Year opened: 1898

Owner: Pete Berghoff

Cuisine: German-American

Average check: $25.95 E

Essential item: Chef Matt Reichel’s favorites are the spiralizer and food processor.

Commander's Palace

New Orleans

Year opened: 1893

Owner: Ti Adelaide Martin, Lally Brennan, Ella Brennan, Dottie Brennan, Brad Brennan

Cuisine: Haute Creole

Average check: $60 to $65

Essential item: Turtle Soup