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21 of the Most Legendary Restaurants in America

February 06, 2018
Commander's Palace's famed teal exterior stands proudly in New Orleans.

Commander’s Palace

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Commander's Palace
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

When I spoke to the venerable Ti Adelaide Martin a few months back, I asked her about a typical night at Commander’s Palace. When she left work the night before, Ti Martin said she joined her 92-year-old mother, Ella Brennan, one of the country’s most iconic restaurant figures, for an Old Fashioned before heading home. If that doesn’t blare “New Orleans” I don’t know what does. You could say that about pretty much every detail regarding the white and teal castle, which by the way, is so renowned you can buy its famed blue color at local paint stores. The food has remained consistently excellent thanks to some megawatt chefs. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse were followed by the late Jamie Shannon. Now, Tory McPhail, winner of the James Beard Best Chef: South award in 2013, runs the kitchen. He continues to drive the restaurant’s menu forward while paying homage to its past.

A chef slices pastrami at Katz's Deli in New York City.

Katz’s Deli

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Katz's Deli
Katz’s Deli

New York City

YEAR OPENED: 1888

OWNER: Jake Dell

CUISINE: Jewish Deli

AVERAGE CHECK: $23 E

There are a lot of delis in New York. Jewish ones, too. But for anyone who grew up with a Jewish father from the Bronx (me) a trip to Katz’s was nothing short of a Big Apple birthright. Katz’s 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. It can serve up to 4,000 people on busy days. It’s also growing. The concept opened its first outpost—at DeKalb Market Hall, in the heart of downtown Brooklyn—this past summer.

Shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis.

St. Elmo Steak House

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St. Elmo Steakhouse
St. Elmo Steak House

Indianapolis

YEAR OPENED: 1902

OWNERS: Steve and Craig Huse

CUISINE: Classic Steakhouse

ANNUAL SALES: $19.4 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $147.87

Indianapolis’ oldest steakhouse in its original location, St. Elmo was founded by Joe Stahr in 1902 and named after the patron saint of sailors, St. Elmo. From 1947 to 1986 the restaurant was run by Harry Roth and Isadore Rosen. The team handed the reins to Stephen Huse when they left, who then brought on his son, Craig, as a partner in 1997. One look at the Wall of Fame will tell you about the restaurant’s reputation, which has thrilled everyone from rock stars to social leads to professional sports teams. Don’t leave without trying the world famous spicy St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail.

Steak, sides, bacon, and all the fixings at Peter Luger Steakhouse in New York City.

Peter Luger Steak House

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Peter Luger Steakhouse
Peter Luger Steak House

Brooklyn, New York

YEAR OPENED: 1887

OWNER: The family of Sol Forman

CUISINE: Steakhouse

AVERAGE CHECK: $100

This is also a NYC spot known to any local. (Zagat Survey has called it the city’s best steakhouse for three straight decades). But for many, it’s a mythical institution where your friends go and brag about the bacon (among other things). The history and ambiance are legendary. Story goes 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.

Columbia Restaurant's famed dining room, decked out as usual for guests.

Columbia Restaurant

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Columbia Restaurant
Columbia Restaurant

Tampa, Florida

YEAR OPENED: 1905

OWNERS: Richard and Casey Gonzmart

CUISINE: Spanish/Cuban

Owned and operated by five generations over 100 years, The Columbia Ybor City is Florida’s Oldest Restaurant (it’s even trademarked). The restaurant was founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. It also claims to be the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. The Columbia has grown to include locations in Sarasota, St. Augustine, Clearwater Beach, and Orlando. There are cafes in Tampa Bay’s History Center and the Tampa International Airport as well. On a personal note, I lived in St. Augustine for close to 11 years. The location there is beautiful. As is my wife, who worked there for close to a year.

Sleder's Family Tavern's famous moose, Randolph, which guests rub for good luck.

Sleder’s

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Sleder's Family Tavern
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

Sleder’s began in the heart of what was once known as Slabtown, a working class neighborhood in Traverse City, Michigan. It has remained a staple of the area’s culinary community since 1882. Its décor is as recognizable as its mahogany bar, which is the biggest in town and a well-trafficked hangout for Red Wings games and all things Michigan football. Numerous hunting trophies and stuffed animals decorate the walls at Sleder’s, and many patrons kiss a moose named Randolph for good luck. The “On the Porch” Concert Series has hosted renowned musical acts for over 20 years.

The bar at Huber's Cafe in Portland, Oregon.

Huber’s Café

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Huber's Cafe
Huber’s Café

Portland, Oregon

YEAR OPENED: 1879

OWNERS: Lucille, James, and David Louie

CUISINE: American

SALES: +$2.5 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $36.20

Claiming to be Portland’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s opened in 1879 at the corner of 1st and Morrison in downtown. In those early days, customers would buy a drink and be handed a free turkey sandwich with coleslaw. 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. “We started doing the coffee 42 years ago and had no idea it would get this big,” he says. “Someone taught me to light a match with one hand so the presentation made it so special. Now, we’re the largest independent restaurant user of Kahlua in the States.” Original fixtures such as spittoons and cash registers remain in place. 

Steak being grilled at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Oklahoma City.

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

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Cattlemen’s Steakhouse
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

Oklahoma City

YEAR OPENED: 1910

OWNER: Dick Stubbs

CUISINE: Steakhouse

ANNUAL SALES: $10 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $19

Cattlemen’s history stretches back to 1910, when the restaurant opened to serve cowboys, ranchers, cattle haulers, and more in The Stockyards City area. The location was a buzzing cross section of herders driving cattle to Oklahoma City in a seemingly unending stream. By 1926, the area housed two major meat processors and became known as “Packing Town.” H.V. Paul took over the restaurant in 1926 and its penchant for staying open after sundown made it a local legend. During Prohibition, the restaurant’s home-brewed “liquid delights” weren’t exactly the best-kept secret. It has remained famous throughout the decades. The dining room walls of Cattlemen's include drawings of famous diners who have stopped there throughout the years, including Gene Autry, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Reba McEntire, and George Bush.

Stone crab claws at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami.

Joe’s Stone Crab

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Joe's Stone Crab
Joe’s Stone Crab

Miami Beach, Florida

YEAR OPENED: 1913

OWNERS: Stephen Sawitz and his mother, Jo Ann Bass

CUISINE: Seafood

SALES: $36 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $80

As the story goes, when Joe Weiss opened up a small lunch counter on Miami Beach in 1913, he didn’t envision he would serve stone crab. The indigenous crustacean wasn’t viewed as a culinary delicacy until a Harvard ichthyologist came to do research at a local aquarium. The researcher met Joe—who was serving crawfish and other seafood—and asked if he would serve them. “Nobody will eat them,” Joe reportedly told the researcher, who brought a burlap sack to the restaurant full of the crabs. Legend has it that Joe threw the stone crabs in boiling water, serving the claws chilled and cracked, with hash brown potatoes, coleslaw, and mayonnaise. It was an instant success. Even though Joe’s closes early August to mid-October each year, the restaurant is one of the country’s highest grossing, reportedly topping $36 million in sales last year.

The front of McGillin’s Olde Alehouse in Philadelphia.

McGillin’s Olde Alehouse

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McGillin’s Olde Alehouse
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

The oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia survived the Civil War, Great Depression, and Prohibition. The original owners lived upstairs with their 13 children. The restaurant has kept the beer flowing since 1860, shortly after the Liberty Bell cracked (maybe. This is a story told many ways by many people). Currently, the restaurant is well known for its house specialty beers made by Stoudt’s Brewing: McGillin’s Genuine Lager, McGillin’s Real Ale, and McGillin’s 1860 IPA. The concept says it also serves up the only stout brewed exclusively in Ireland, to go with 30 beers on draft.

The grand, green-trimmed Rex Room at Antoines in New Orleans.

Antoine’s

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Antoines.com
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

Inventor of Oysters Rockefeller, Antoine’s makes the claim as the country’s oldest family-run restaurant. Antoine Alciatore stopped in New York before arriving in New Orleans and setting up a restaurant that has endured for more than 170 years. The current location opened in 1868 on St. Louis Street, just a block from the original restaurant. Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Brad Pitt, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Buffet, and Whoopi Goldberg are only a few of the names who have dined there over the years. The Wine Cellar, which measures 165 feet long by 7 feet wide, holds around 25,000 bottles when fully stocked.

Steak and sides at New York City's famed Delmonico’s.

Delmonico’s

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Delmonico’s
Delmonico’s

New York City

YEAR OPENED: 1837

OWNERS: Milan Licul, Dennis Turcinovic

CUISINE: Fine-dining Steakhouse

AVERAGE CHECK: $87

The birthplace of American classics: the Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict, and Baked Alaska, Delmonico’s calls itself the first fine-dining restaurant. The restaurant started in 1837 when NYC was still evolving into a culinary destination. The Delmonico brothers were inspired by their success selling classically prepared pastries, fine coffee, and chocolate, bonbons, wines, and liquors, as well as Havana cigars. They then purchased a plot of land at the intersection of Beaver, William, and South William Streets, where they opened Delmonico’s and began the legend. Right away it was luxurious—private dining rooms, the largest private wine cellar in the city. And in those early years Chef Alessandro Fellippini began developing the house special, Delmonico Steak, an iconic menu item that has been copied and copied and copied again over the years by chefs everywhere. The prime cuts of beef served today are still prepared to original specifications.

Red Fox Inn & Tavern, one of Virginia's most iconic restaurants, shown at night.

Red Fox Inn and Tavern

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Bill Phelps Photography
Red Fox Inn and Tavern

Middleburg, Virginia

YEAR OPENED: 1728

OWNER: The Reuter Family

CUISINE: American

AVERAGE CHECK: $31 to $60

Known as the nation’s “horse and hunt capital,” Middleburg, Virginia, has attracted visitors from all over the country for centuries. Even before the town was established in 1787, it was the site of The Red Fox Inn and Tavern, which opened in 1728 under the name Chinn’s Ordinary. Set in a stone building in the heart of Middleburg, The Red Fox has been owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter family. Throughout its history, notable politicians and celebrities have dined here, including John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Tom Cruise. During the Civil War, The Red Fox was used by the Confederacy, and the pine bar was even used as an operating table for wounded soldiers who were cared for in the tavern rooms. A menu staple throughout its history has been the Virginia Peanut Soup, and other dishes include the popular signature crab cakes served with goat cheese grits, spinach, and cauliflower gratin with a lemon caper cream sauce. 

The front of Atlanta's famed restaurant Atkins Park.

Atkins Park

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Atkins Park
Atkins Park

Atlanta

YEAR OPENED: 1922

OWNER: Sandra Spoon

CUISINE: New Southern American

SALES: $1.5 to $2 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $25

With claims as the oldest continuously licensed tavern in Atlanta, the restaurant focuses on fresh by partnering with local farmers in the spring and summer to source its produce.  The Atkins Park Tavern Restaurant group was created by Warren Bruno in 1983 and is now owned and operated by his wife, Sandra Spoon, friend Kevin Drawe, and the management staff of the individual restaurants. The original location started as a deli in 1922. The cuisine has certainly been elevated over the years. Andrew James Smith and Richard Ryan Hamlin devise the menus for Virginia Highlands and Smyrna, respectively, with menu items like Pappardelle Bolognese, Cornbread Crusted Georgia Trout, Korean Chicken Ramen, and N’awlins Blackened Salmon showcasing the locally sourced offerings.

Steak cooked medium rare at Weber’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Weber’s Restaurant

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Weber's Restaurant
Weber’s Restaurant

Ann Arbor, Michigan

YEAR OPENED: 1937

OWNER: The Weber Family

CUISINE: American

SALES: $7.3 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $35

Added a hotel in 1970, but has the “attitude” of being a restaurant first—albeit one with late-evening meals and dancing. Founded in 1937 by Herman Weber and his older brother Rheinhold, the name changed two years later from Hi-Speed Inn to Weber’s. After 20 years of success, the business faced two potentially devastating circumstances: an encroaching interstate system and “dry” laws. Herman decided to move inside the “wet” city limits, and this location opened in 1963. Herman died in 2014, soon after his 100th birthday, but the restaurant continues to be led by his son and grandsons.

Tableside dinner at L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin.

L’Etoile

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Samantha Egelhoff
L’Etoile

Madison, Wisconsin

YEAR OPENED: 1976

OWNERS: Chef Tory Miller, Krys Wachowiak, Tracey Solverson, and Dianne Christensen

CUISINE: Global and Seasonal

SALES: $1 to $2 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $150

Odessa Piper carried the Madison landmark to national acclaim, winning the James Beard Best Chef: Midwest award in 2002. In 2005, Piper’s chef de cuisine, Tory Miller, purchased the restaurant and has continued that impressive legacy. In 2012, Miller, who now owns Graze, Sujeo, and Estrellón as part of Deja Food Restaurant Group , captured the same award and was a 2016 semifinalist for the James Beard: Outstanding Chef. Miller also beat Bobby Flay in a recent Iron Chef Showdown that aired on the Food Network in early January. 

A spread of Southern food favorites at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah, Georgia.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

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Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

Savannah, Georgia

YEAR OPENED: 1943

OWNERS: Marcia and Ronnie Thompson

CUISINE: Southern

SALES: $700,000 to $1 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $22

On a street shaded by live oaks thick with Spanish moss, Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room could pass for a private residence. But unlike its West Jones Street neighbors of historical row houses, the building has a long line snaking all the way around the corner with Whitaker Street. Ryon Thompson runs the Savannah restaurant along with his parents Marcia and Ronnie Thompson. Marcia Thompson is the granddaughter of the original founders. In 1943, Sema Wilkes and her husband Lois opened Mrs. Wilkes as a boardinghouse. As such accommodations went out of style, the business evolved into a standalone restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner family-style. Mrs. Wilkes has since scaled back to only lunch Monday through Friday but the defining features remain. The dining room, which sits about 70, still serves family-style with decidedly Southern fare—fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, beef stew, rice and gravy—and produce that varies with the season: okra and tomatoes, pickled beets, and candied yams. 

Bottles and bottles and bottles of wine at Bern's Steak House in Tampa.

Bern's Steak House

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Bern's Steak House
Bern's Steak House

Tampa, Florida

YEAR OPENED: 1956

OWNER: David Laxer

CUISINE: Steakhouse

AVERAGE CHECK: $50 to $75

The largest private wine collection for a restaurant in the world, Bern’s was the winner of the 2016 James Beard Award: Outstanding Wine Program. Bern’s has more than 6,800 different selections and more than half a million bottles. The restaurant’s famed dry aging room is the stuff of legend. All Strips, Delmonicos, Porterhouses, and T-Bones are U.S. Prime only, and all are aged 5—8 weeks. They are trimmed and cut after being ordered, and broiled over real charcoal. There’s also the world famous Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was built in 1985 using redwood wine casks to create 48 private rooms where guests can enjoy nearly 50 desserts, wines, ports, sherries, and madeiras.

A chef slices up steak at Angus Barn, a famous restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Angus Barn

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Angus Barn
Angus Barn

Raleigh, North Carolina

YEAR OPENED: 1960

OWNER: Van Eure

CUISINE: Classic Steakhouse

SALES: +$15 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $60

Owner Van Eure swears by the legend that her father, Thad Eure Jr. and his partner, Charles Winston—the two founders of the restaurant—flipped a coin to see who’d keep Angus Barn and who’d start a different a concept. Her dad won the toss, and Big Red has been part of the Eure family for 57 years and counting. The restaurant is open 363 evenings a year and is consistently among the nation’s 50 highest-grossing independent restaurants in the nation. Today, Angus Barn serves an average of 22,000 steaks per month, but the menu also features poultry, seafood, and pasta.

Chicken and waffles at Sylvia's in Harlem, New York.

Sylvia’s

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Sylvia's
Sylvia’s

Harlem, New York

YEAR OPENED: 1962

OWNER: The Woods Family

CUISINE: Southern/Soul

AVERAGE CHECK: $39 E

The restaurant sells cookbooks, prepared foods, skincare items, and a children’s book written by founder Sylvia Woods, the “Queen of Soul Food.” Woods was born and raised on her mother’s South Carolina farm. She moved to Harlem and started working at Johnson’s luncheonette. In 1962, the owner sold her the locale and the concept was born. It started as a small luncheonette consisting of 15 stools and six booths. Currently, the family-owned enterprise includes Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, Sylvia’s Also, a full-service catering hall, Sylvia’s Catering and Special Events Division, a nationwide line of Sylvia’s Food Products, two deliciously amazing cookbooks, and ATOC, Inc., a real estate holding company.

A waiter sets the table at City Tavern in Philadelphia.

City Tavern

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City Tavern
City Tavern

Philadelphia

YEAR OPENED: 1975

OWNER: Walter Staib

CUISINE: Classic American

SALES: $3.8 million

AVERAGE CHECK: $35

The original City Tavern opened in 1773 and was an integral part of American history, including visits by Paul Revere and many of the founding fathers from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson. Chef Walter Staib, the owner since 1994, hosts the PBS show “A Taste of History.” Chef Staib is an author, Emmy Award-winning TV host, James Beard-nominated chef, and unquestionably, a culinary historian. He cooked throughout Europe and founded Concepts By Staib, Ltd. in 1989. Overall, Chef Staib has opened more than 650 restaurants worldwide. City Tavern is a recreation of an original 18th century tavern and the company’s flagship operation. In 1772–1773, 53 prominent citizens commissioned the building of the City Tavern. It opened in December 1773 and featured five levels, including kitchens, a bar room, two coffee rooms, and three dining rooms, as well as the second largest ballroom in the New World, five lodging rooms, and servants quarters. Revere arrived at the Tavern in May 1774 to announce Parliament’s closing the port of Boston. The history goes on and on from there, including America’s first Fourth of July celebration and George Washington turning it into the official headquarters of the Continental Army for three days in 1777. The newly rebuilt tavern opened in 1976, just in time for the bicentennial.