From Atlanta’s “The Varsity” to the “Cherry Cricket” in Denver, Smithsonian Magazine recently named the top 20 Best Food Destinations in the United States. These top food stops include a few that I have visited on vacations, and also lists one of my absolute favorite Houston restaurants as well. While the list does not focus on top notch cuisine, it does offer a list of historic and nostalgic locations alongside delicious orders that represent diverse regions. But, for many of these businesses there is likely to be a wait as they are popular with tourists and in some cases the atmosphere and history might be the real draw, rather than the food. Still I think it is a fun list and I am always up for hitting up landmark eateries like these at least once.
I would image that a few of these might be tourist traps. For example, dining at the Union Oyster House in Boston is likely going to include at least an hour wait based on my past experience. But the history in those wooden ceiling beams, plank floors and booths make this an interesting stop nonetheless. It is the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the United States. It has been open since 1826. Known for its chowder and oysters (of course), it is a nice place to stop and have a beer and check out the oyster bar, the John F. Kennedy booth (he was a regular) and the art that looks like it has been hanging on the walls since the 1900s. Just don’t expect to be blown away by the food or the service, this is much more about the old world ambiance. Save your appetite and walk a little further to the North End to please your belly.
And at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, you will need to be ready to wait too – but in this case it is all for cafe au lait and beignets. Delicious sugary fried dough treats from this French Market coffee stand are a must on any visit to New Orleans. My advise is to show up early to avoid the crowds, but it does not seem right to leave New Orleans without a selfie photo covered in powdered sugar. The location near the French Quarter was established in 1862 and while they have other locations and a line of products for sale at the store and online, the only reason for these decadent delights is to mark your visit under their green and white striped awnings across from Jackson Square.
On the other hand, I do not think I ever had a long wait for Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, but that might have had something to do with the average time of day that I was there. I lived in LA for five years and Canter’s was a late night favorite for me, actually it was during this time that I met my husband. And Canter’s will always have a special place in because we had some of our first dates there. This classic LA spot in the Fairfax district has been open since 1931. It is a timepiece where the decor and the the servers look they having been working hard here since the 60s. It is a family-owned Jewish delicatessen and bakery that is open all night with a bright movie theater marquee that draws in the seniors in the morning and the Sunset bar hoppers in the early hours. With a menu of filling and hangover relieving meals such as bagel and lox, corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup, for me this was the last stop of the night on many weekends.
I have to admit that we have actually never eaten at Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, and part of the reason why is the large crowd that it draws near the Fisherman’s Wharf. Though we walk through this area, and have watched the bread demonstrations in the window, the crowds are such a turn-off for us that we have never actually made it inside. Established in 1849, they are known for their sourdough bread, which they not only have in classic shapes but also make into bear, turtle and alligator shapes. Dave’s family live in California and have frequent reason to visit San Fran, and this bread is something that they seek out and bring home any time that they have the chance.
Compared to the above samples from this list, I do think that Ninfa’s on Navigation stands out. When you head to the East side of Houston, do not expect a tourist trap. Though other restaurants have piggybacked on the location due to the popularity of Ninfa’s, the location was originally meant to be a tortilla factory and is located in an industrial, affordable area of town. But the food alone is worth the trek and while the restaurant expanded to include other locations, the staff and ownership put extra love and care into the original location that opened in 1973 with only ten tables. Honestly, other locations just do not compare, so make the drive. Though founder “Mama Ninfa” called her signature dish “tacos al carbon,” this dish would later become known as “fajitas.” Today the restaurant is credited with originating this dish and extending the popularity across Houston and the United States. This is just good Tex-Mex food that is certainly worthy of being on this list, and though it’s rich history is unique, the food is award-winning despite the nostalgia.
And so as we plan our trip to Seattle in a few weeks, I am excited to add Piroshky Piroshky to my list of top food destinations that I can check off. Of course, this list only gives me an excuse to visit these other cities and locations in the future as well, so hopefully there will be more additions to come…
Read the full article: The 20 Best Food Destinations Across America | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine.