The 100 Greatest Cult Restaurants in America: 21-50
50. Billy Goat Tavern (Chicago, IL) Since the day in 1934 when its namesake limped into William Sianis’ Chicago bar, the Billy Goat Tavern has been a cult restaurant with stories to tell. From its early days as the home away from home of some for Chicago’s greatest journalists, to the infamous curse — don’t tell Cubs fans, but we side with the goat — it’s a great place to feel like a little part of history. Go for the stories, stay for the ‘cheezborger!’
49. Yuca’s (Los Angeles, CA) With only a handful of tables, clustered together and communal by necessity, the regulars get really close at this tiny Los Feliz taco stand. Yucatan-style food is the specialty here — particularly the succulent cochinita pibil — and they do it so well they’ve earned a James Beard Award and the title of “Best Taco in Los Angeles” by dozen of publications.
48. Café Habana (New York, NY) An easy place to miss if it wasn’t for the long line outside, Cafe Habana is a Cuban-Latin fusion restaurant in Nolita. You may feel uncomfortable dining among so many beautiful young people from neighboring SoHo, but get over it. The Cuban sandwich with juicy roast pork and the Mexican-style grilled corn will change your life — for only $12.20.
47. Triple XXX Family Restaurant (West Lafayette, IN) By looking at this classic, old-fashioned diner, you’d never know realize it was voted best burger at Purdue University by Sports Illustrated, visited by Food Network’s Guy Fieri, and listed in USA Today’s “51 Great Burger Joints “across the USA. What makes it so great? Sirloin is ground fresh daily, the creamy potato salad is better than your grandma’s, and house root beer comes in frosty mugs.
46. Memphis Minnie’s (San Francisco, CA) Memphis Minnie’s taught San Francisco that great barbecue needs no sauce. We suspect the loyalties to the Memphis sweet-smoked pork and the Texas beef brisket are so strong, that locals would come to blows to defend the honor of their chosen meat. Fortunately, thanks to a clever combo option, no one will ever have to decide. Add a side of Potlikker Greens and Minnie’s mac & cheese, and you’ve got a plate full of heaven on your hands
45. Joe’s Shanghai (Flushing, NY) Use the silver tongs to grab one soft, purse-shaped dumpling from the bamboo steamer basket. Place the dumpling on your soup spoon. Carefully, or seductively, or however you choose, nibble a small hole in your dumpling, allowing the steaming soup to spill out revealing crab or pork meat. Blow for a few seconds and pop the dumpling in your mouth, slurping up soup to finish. Follow this method exactly, and you will escape with an unburned mouth. The location in New York’s Chinatown is great, but head to the original location in Flushing, Queens if you can.
44. Hodad’s Burgers (Ocean Beach, CA) From the buns to meat to veggies, these sloppy and juicy burgers are also super fresh at this funky Ocean Beach spot. A legendary beach location that started in 1969, Hodad’s is now a second generation family restaurant — Mike “Boss Man” Hardin took over in 1991.
43. Central Grocery Co. (New Orleans, LA) It takes some seriously good food to legitimize an Italian-American grocery store within the Creole-Cajun ranks of New Orleans’ French Quarter. That’s where the muffuletta sandwich comes in. The muffuletta comes piled with salami, capicola, mortadella, provolone, and emmentaler, smeared with a house-made olive salad, and built on a base of sturdy focaccia-like bread.
42. Taqueria Cancun (San Francisco, CA) Want to know a secret? Stop any San Francisco hipster on the street, peek inside their messenger bag, and you’ll find a half-eaten super burrito. San Francisco is secretly fueled by the monster-sized wrap (which comes with rice, salsa, onions, cilantro, sour cream, avocado, and your choice of beans and meat). We would blame it on the price — less than five bucks for enough food to graze on for three days — if the burrito weren’t so addictive in its own right.
41. Scoops (Los Angeles, CA) If ice cream is a gift from the gods, then Scoops is nirvana in Hollywood. In a bowl or on a cone, this is what the after life should taste like. Their specialty gelato comes in a range of unique flavors, from chai tea to black truffle. Some recipes even include alcohol, like pear white wine, whiskey rhubarb, and even a few beer flavors. Brown bread, the most popular and delicious flavor, is made from Grape Nuts cereal. Yes, that does make it appropriate to eat for breakfast.
40. Katz’s Delicatessen (New York, NY) Yes, When Harry Met Sally. Yes, “Send a salami to your boy in the army.” And yes, the oldest delicatessen in New York City. But what really makes Katz’s so successful? Why do they sell about 1,000 pastrami sandwiches per day? Grab a ticket, make sure you stand in the right line, and you’ll find out. Cured meats hand-carved while you wait. Giant deli-style pickles. New York egg creams that contain neither egg nor cream. Steaming, potato-filled knishes. With so much to look at, make sure you don’t lose your ticket, which also serves as a receipt, or you’ll be charged $50. Seriously. They don’t fuck around.
39. Daikokuya (Los Angeles, CA) Who would have thought you could crave ramen after college? Daikokuya has perfected the art of Tokyo-style bowls in Los Angeles. This noodle palace is filled with ramen cooked exactly right, with tender pork and the best broth you’ll ever slurp up. It’s rich, buttery, savory, and it goes down soft and easy. The teriyaki sauces and sesame seeds, green onions and eggs just add to the flavorful experience. The equally popular gyoza and rice bowls are also worth a shot in this Little Tokyo location, but the soup is where it’s at.
38. Saigon Sandwich (San Francisco, CA) “If I am ever in the Civic Center/Little Saigon area, my internal foodie homing beacon always draws me to Saigon Sandwich. Around lunch time, the line to get inside the door of this two-seat hole-in-the-wall is insane, sometimes wrapping around the block. It moves pretty quick, though, so don’t let that, or the oh-so colorful Tenderloin surroundings, deter you from enjoying what is hands-down the best bahn mi in the city. At about $3.25 each, sandwiches are made to order. Fresh, crusty baguettes are stuffed with tender roasted chicken, pork, or creamy pate (for the veggies out there, the tofu option is de-licious!), and the traditional shredded carrots, cilantro, and green chiles. The kicker is whatever sauce they using on these things — I can’t put my finger on it, but it is definitely the pièce de résistance of what makes these sandwiches seriously delectable.” — Nicole Sheikh
37. Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (Memphis, TN) When your restaurant is located south of the Mason-Dixon, you have to be pretty ballsy to claim to have the best fried chicken in the world. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and worth taking a road trip for, this chicken might just be the reason Interstate 40 veers so sharply south after Nashville.
36. Pat’s King of Steaks (Philadelphia, PA) Philly and the cheesesteak go hand in hand, and we may have Pat’s to thank. Whether the famous sub was created here or not, one thing’s for sure: Pat’s is selling ‘em 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since 1930, people have been flocking to this modest sandwich shop — including Humphrey Bogart, Tony Bennett, and Barack Obama, for the chopped steak in a soft bun with grilled onions, and choice of cheese (those in the know go with the Whiz).
35. Porto’s Bakery & Cafe (Glendale, CA) Cubano sandwiches on pillowy bread, crispy potato balls stuffed with savory ground meat, and silky-sweet guava danishes — just three of the reasons this Glendale bakery entertains crowds so large it had to expand to a 20,000-square-foot space. That’s right — a bakery the size of a bowling alley.
34. Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco, CA) Bi-Rite’s ice cream attract daily swarms for good reason: they do weird and wonderful stuff with organic and local ingredients. Unique flavors like spicy Mexican chocolate, olive oil, lavender, green tea, and ginger are good enough to have their own cult followings, but the city-wide favorite is the salted caramel.
33. Ramen House Ryowa (Mountain View, CA) Ah, the house that broth built. Standard broths like sesame, miso, or soy are good here, but its the tonkotsu and butter-corn varieties that set it apart. This downtown Mountain View noodle house is notorious for its tight quarters (if you’re lucky enough to get a seat at the counter, your knees will knock against it while you slurp your lunch), its cheap prices, and its high-tech clientele.
32. Papalote Mexican Grill (San Francisco, CA) In the city of burritos, it is hard to rise above the crowd. Papalote achieved its place of honor by using fresh ingredients skillfully prepared. The juicy carne asada and spicy soyrizo burritos are both stellar, satisfying herbivore and carnivore alike, but what really sets this place apart is the salsa. The oh-so-spicy, chipotle-packed, slightly creamy (yes, creamy) concoction might be the greatest salsa the world has ever known. The recipe is a secret, but that doesn’t stop the regulars from coming back three times a week to try to figure it out. UPDATE: It’s come to our attention that there is no chipotle in this salsa. Which begs the question: What the hell makes it so delicious?
31. Hash House A Go Go (Las Vegas, NV) When regulars think of this place, they think of glorified chicken and waffles. The boneless chicken is coated with a sweet and savory glaze and the fluffy waffles have full slices of bacon in them. It’s the perfect combination of a candied treat and a mouth-watering meat. It is the best casual and comfortable breakfast food to get you going for the rest of the day — so good, that hungover Vegas visitors happily line up.
30. Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs (Denver, CO) When it comes to Biker Jim, there is no such thing as a normal hot dog. Whether you stop in his store or find him on the street, expect nothing less than the best wild game a Denver street vendor has to offer. Wild boar, elk, reindeer, and buffalo are just a few of the meats this outlaw will pile up with jalapeños and onions. Jim even adds rich cream cheese to complement the spiciness of the meat. Consider this a fast-food hot-dog stand with exceptional quality and service.
29. Rosamunde Sausage Grill (San Francisco, CA) “Because of my recent decision to start a brewery combined with my deep appreciation for craft beer, Toronado is a frequent destination for me. The perfect addition to craft beer is a tasty traditional sausage. I love that I can place my order at Rosamunde, and by the time I’m done battling the lines at Toronado for a beer, my tasty sausage with kraut, grilled onions, and spicy mustard is finished. I can then take my sausage into the bar and enjoy it alongside a crisp, hoppy Pliny the Elder IPA. For less than $10, I can enjoy these two wonderfully paired tems side-by-side. Overall, beer and sausage will always be a winning combo. For the price, quality, and beer pairings I will be going back to Rosamunde for years to come!” — Bryan Hermannsson
28. Phil’s BBQ Restaurant (San Diego, CA) When it comes to a full slab of mesquite baby-back ribs at Phil’s BBQ, you’re gonna need a large amount of paper towels. Even though the portions are huge, you’ll be left licking fingers and clearing the plate down to the bones. This San Diego location has a sign outside that reads “approximate wait time from this point: 21 minutes, 14 seconds” and that wait is well worth it. This barbecue joint is also home to some of the best battered and crispy onion rings in Southern California.
27. Cafe Iberico (Chicago, IL) This popular River North restaurant and bar is known for tasty Spanish tapas, strong sangria, and nightly crowds. With flavorful, authentic small plates, reasonable prices, and a lively atmosphere, it’s no wonder people are willing to wait outside for an hour on the weekends. The creamy baked goat cheese, spicy patatas bravas, and saffron-scented paellas are worth the wait.
26. Smitty’s Market (Lockhart, TX) Smitty’s has been doing its part to hold up the local barbecue tradition that dates back to 1924. When you enter into the old market building, you’re led straight to the greasy smoke pit, where slabs of meat are chopped and served right in front of you on butcher paper. Here, barbecue is scrounged with your hands. The open-fire wood pit is filled with delicious hickory and oak, and whether it’s from the sausage rings, beef brisket, or prime rib, you’ll be left drooling over the tender and juicy meat that emerges.
25. Falafel’s Drive In (San Jose, CA) More like a parking lot than a proper drive-in, this San Jose favorite helped bring the falafel gospel to Northern California. The burgers here are excellent, but it’s not called Falafel’s Drive In because of the burgers. One taste of the namesake nosh and you’ll find yourself dragging everyone you’ve ever met back here. Good as it is, the falafel isn’t even the most popular thing on the menu — that honor goes to the frothily amazing banana shake.
24. Dan’s Super Subs (Woodland Hills, CA) A tiny shop on a busy stretch of Ventura Boulevard, Dan’s would be hard to find if it weren’t for the lines of cars attempting to navigate its Tetris-style parking lot. Dan’s is like a beacon, guiding sub lovers from far and wide into the depths of the San Fernando Valley for giant cold-cut subs doused with an addictive house-made Italian dressing. With a drink and a bag of chips, a regular sub is more than enough for two meals.
23. Sultan’s Market (Chicago, IL) “Sultan’s Market is really all about the falafel. They claim to have the best falafel in town and the fried chickpea goodness lives up to the hype. Their falafel is just crispy enough that it doesn’t fall apart after the first bite, but not so deep fried that it leaves a burnt aftertaste. The sandwich combines falafel with warm pita, tomato, onion, hummus, and Jerusalem salad all for $3.75. The level of spice is to the diner’s discretion. Although the falafel is star, the spinach pie and full Middle Eastern salad bar add to this joint’s appeal and charm.” — Alysse Dalessandro
22. Pho Xe Tang Tank Noodle (Chicago, IL) Uptown’s Tank Noodle offers a unique eating experience with its big cafeteria feel. For an affordable, light dinner people love the different variety of phos (noodle soups). The beef broth comes with rice noodles, fresh bean sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, peppers, and lime wedges. Some popular appetizers include the spring roll and the shrimp and Vietnamese pancakes.
21. Pommes Frites (New York, NY) We have the Belgians to thank for so many things — Belgian waffles, Belgian beers, Belgian chocolates, and of course, Belgian fries. Pommes Frites offers authentic hand-cut fries, twice-fried for a golden crispy shell and served in a paper cone. The fries are good, the paper cone allows for easy transport, but it’s the sauce that keeps you coming back. Try the pomegranate teriyaki mayo or the Vietnamese pineapple mayo. If you are intimidated by the 26 different sauces, get a combination of 3, or ask for a few free samples. The line is long but you’ll need the greasy snack after a night of dive-bar hopping in the East Village.