Top 10 Places to Eat in the U.S.

I’m a simple man, with simple tastes. You won’t find me eating Sushi, and I’m not really even big on steak. When I’m traveling the country, foods like pizza, wings, and BBQ are what my pallet craves (although I also enjoy good Chinese or Mexican cuisine).

Having traveled quite a bit in the last 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to taste many of what people describe as the most amazing pizza, the greatest burger, or the best BBQ. Tastes definitely vary. The restaurants that were truly amazing have drawn me back again and again. So it’s time I compile a list of the greatest.

These are the places I’ve discovered that I will drive out of the way just to enjoy their food:

  1. Giordano’s Pizza, Chicago, IL (and in Tampa, FL as well). No other pizza touches Giordano’s. I’ve had all the other Chicago competitors (more about that here), and I’ve tried everything from New York to San Diego. Giordano’s is pure manna from heaven. I have considered leaving the airport on a layover and hailing a cab just to go get me some Giordano’s. My desire for Giordano’s is almost sinful.
  2. Las Placitas, Orangevale, CA. This place is 6 minutes from my house and has the best chicken enchilada in the country. Sorry Arizona, sorry Tex Mex. Las Placitas, a true hole in the wall (it’s next door to a pawn shop) reigns. If I have a really bad day…you’ll find me here in the corner booth drowning my sorrows in a basket of chips and salsa.
  3. Trolinger’s BBQ, Paris, TN. I’ve been to the so-called best BBQ places in Nashville and Knoxville. Honestly, I’ve been to BBQ places from Texas to both Carolinas. Sorry, no dice. Trolinger’s takes them all. Trolinger’s is nothing more than a deli in the back of a feed store in small town Paris, TN. You ask for a pulled pork samich and the lady behind the counter will ask, “Ya want slaw on it?” …and the rest is pure enjoyment. There are definitely some other great BBQ places in the U.S. The noteworthy ones are probably the Famous Dave’s chain and Sticky Fingers (in the Carolinas). But aside from Trolinger’s, the best I’ve probably tasted is Smokin’ Mo’s in Chico, CA.
  4. Alexander’s Famous Fish Co., Kihei, HI. This dive looks like nothing more than a Long John Silvers. The meals are fried, they’re amazingly fresh, and they’re usually ordered to go (so you don’t have to sit on their dirty tables). Best unhealthily cooked fish and shrimp you’ll ever eat!
  5. Leatherby’s Family Creamery Ice Cream Parlor, Citrus Heights, CA. Sorry Cincinnati, but as good as Graders is, I’d rather eat a Leatherby’s sundae off a locker-room floor than Graeters in a china bowl! Leatherby’s serves huge portions, extra creamy…not recommended for the lactose intolerant. Best ice cream in the nation. No comparison.
  6. Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW), nation-wide. Before you criticize me for including a “chain restaurant” in the mix, let me just tell you, I’d be prejudice to not include them, because hands down, they have the best wings. I’ve had Native New Yorker in AZ, I’ve had Quaker State in PA, I’ve even eaten in the restaurant in Buffalo where “Buffalo Wings” were apparently invented. None of them compare. BWW is the best, hands down. My life got one notch better a year ago when one of these moved about 4 minutes from my house (and my belt got one notch bigger).
  7. PF Changs, nation-wide. While I’m mentioning chains, I might as well include this chain of delicious Chinese restaurants. PF Changs and their sister restaurants Pei Wei are both amazing, better than most hole in the wall Chinese places.
  8. Munchies, Ashland, OR. I had to include a breakfast place in the mix, and this breakfast place is the one that sticks out to me. The restaurant is in the basement in the main strip of the artsy little town of Ashland Oregon. My wife and I discovered it one year while at Ashland’s Shakespear Festival. Amazing omelets and a really cute atmosphere.
  9. Legal Sea Foods, Boston, MA (and scattered places around New England). I first came upon this place in the Boston airport. Their amazing clam chowder has been served at the Presidential Inauguration of several U.S. presidents. I’m sure both coasts are full of good seafood places (I have to give a shout out to Brophy Brothers in Santa Barbara, CA, and Doogers in Cannon Beach, OR … both amazing as well), but Legal is probably my favorite.
  10. Barefoot Grill (Part of the Hula Grill) Ka’anapali, HI. This grill is right next to the beach in Ka’anapali, right next to Whaler’s Row. The food is great and the POG drinks are fresh and amazing. I’ve actually never eaten inside, because the barefoot bar allows you to eat at a nice table with your feet literally in the sand. I’ll drive across the island to catch a lunch here (I’d do the same with Alexander’s, mentioned above, and Matteos Pizzeria. Oh man. I wish I could afford to visit that island regularly!)

That’s it!

What about you?

If you’ve eaten at any of these places, what did you think? (Be nice!)

What are your favorite places to eat across the country (Mention the CITY, STATE of the location in ALL CAPS in your comments below if you are recommending a place).

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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15 Responses to Top 10 Places to Eat in the U.S.

  1. Dan says:

    Off the top of my head:

    Al’s Breakfast, DINKYTOWN, MINNEAPOLIS, MN – A true hole in the wall of a restaurant, where you may actually be expected to change seats before you finish your meal, but they serve an awesome breakfast. The blueberry pancakes are excellent.

    Hell’s Kitchen, MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Another of my favorite places in Minneapolis (and since my sister lives there, I get to discover new places just about every time I go). Get there early (or make a reservation) for breakfast/brunch on the weekends (especially Sundays). Get a cup of the porridge with your meal; it’s that good. And try the house-made peanut butter.

    Bluebird Cafe, NASHVILLE, TN – The food isn’t anything to write home about, but the floor show is what packs the house at this place. Another hole-in-the-wall restaurant, you’ll want to either make reservations or get there early. The early show features several local songwriters, and you may hear some songs before they become hits on country radio. The late show (which I haven’t made it to, but hope to next trip) often features up-and-coming Nashville stars before they hit it big, and the walls are lined with photos of those who have played there.

    West Egg Cafe, CHICAGO, IL – A cool little place in downtown Chicago, I actually just discovered it this past weekend on a trip with some of the seniors in our youth ministry. Try the Bacado; an omelette with bacon and avocado, topped with cheese. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, and even with our group of 8 and our varied tastes, everybody found something they enjoyed. Again, early arrival recommended.

    The Safe House, MILWAUKEE, WI – I may be a little biased in that this place is right in my backyard, but if you’re a fan of Bond or spy movies in general, you’ve gotta pay a visit. Pro tips: get a local to tell you where it is (hiding the entrance is part of the mystique), and ideally get them to take you early enough that you won’t have to give the password (no worries; you can still get in without knowing the password), and make sure you have a quarter so you can exit through the phone booth.

    I’m a semi-pro chef (and a foodie to boot), so believe me, this list could go on for quite a while! But, if you’re ever in Milwaukee, look me up, and I’ll take you to a few of my favorite places in town.

    • Okay… this Safe House sounds really cool. I’m gonna have to try that. I’m usually speaking near Milwaukee once or twice a year. Same with Chicago. I’ll have to try that breakfast spot. Thanks.

  2. carmen says:

    It is Graeter’s in Cincinnati. Looks like you could disagree with Oprah on their Butter Pecan…

  3. Angie says:

    TACO’S A GO-GO in HOUSTON, TX

  4. Chris says:

    The Stables in Tupelo, MS is a dive bar in an alley. However, they serve lunch plates during the week. Best cheeseburger…monster grilled chicken salads…pork chops…blackened catfish nachos. It’s amazing!

    The Atrium in Gatlinburg, TN. Everyone talks about the Pancake Pantry. But skip the long lines and visit the Atrium. Be sure to get the baked apple pancake. It will make your head spin it is so good.

  5. stephen page says:

    I love finding obscure places to eat and then realizing that you’ve hit on something magical . . . best one I can think of off the top of my head is the RIVERSIDE KITCHEN in GILBERT, ARKANSAS. In a town with a population of 37 people hides this amazing restaurant, order a side of ham and they bring one so big you think it might be the entire side of the pig that provided it – delicious home cooked food!

  6. Barb Ebersole says:

    Fricker’s in Findlay, OH………..hands down the best wings and chicken chunks!!

    Dirty Ernie’s Rib Pit in Fayettville, WV

  7. Josh Huff says:

    I’m a native Cincinnatian, and I will accept that Graeter’s is not you favorite. However, you must try Jeni’s in COLUMBUS, OH!!!! Hands down, best ice cream. Done and done. And while you are there, you might as well hit up Schmidts for an incredible German buffet and the best cream puffs!

  8. Joseph Pluth says:

    As a native Chicagoan, gotta agree with you about Giordano’s – greatest pizza on this planet! Any time I get an excuse to visit my folks, they know where we’re going for dinner! Another treasure if you’re ever in Ft. Collins, CO: Walrus Ice Cream – gotta try it to believe it! Amazing place!

  9. Jon forrest says:

    Too stinkin funny! I’ve been telling everybody that they have to go eat at this gas station in Paris and they think I’m crazy. There is an Amish butcher shop not far from Trolingers that I’m convinced supplies them. We had them butcher two deer we killed this year. Its called yoder bros. I say this as the manliest man I know, I love you Jonathan McKee. Next time you or David R are in Nashville do not rent a car. We are there.

  10. Sally Carroll says:

    I am old (55) and actually really like food. I’m sure these places that you have chosen are worthy and I’d like to try them. HOWEVER…Go to PENN STATE UNIVERSITY MAIN CAMPUS AND VISIT THE CREAMERY. I’D HEARD THEY ARE THE BEST AND THERE IS NO DISPUTE. JUST PICKED UP MY SON FOR THE SUMMER.BUT NOT ONLY DO I WANT YOU TO TRY THE ICE CREAM WHICH IS THE BEST I’VE EVER HAD…BUT THEY NEED TO HEAR ABOUT JESUS. A Buffalo Wings just opened locally. I will try it out.

  11. adam mclane says:

    Dude, this year at NYWC in San Diego I’ll have to take you “off campus” to show you a few of my favorite spots. You can trust a fat guy when it comes to good eats.

  12. Nate Patterson says:

    POWER’S HAMBURGERS. FORT WAYNE, INDIANA. This is the place for sliders–those tiny little hamburgers loaded with grilled onions. Bread comes from Perfection Bakery just down the street. Located just south of downtown in a cool little Art Deco building, Powers has been serving sliders up since by grandpa was a kid. Back in college at Taylor University Fort Wayne, my friends and I used to make the 10 minute or so drive up to Powers at all hours of the night. The restaurant maybe seats 15 people total and you’ll see more diversity in Powers than anywhere else in town. It’s not uncommon to see business men getting off of work seated next to police officers seated next to college students seated next to the rough and tumble, more colorful characters who show up in the wee hours of the night. Though coming from and headed to different places, all share a love for Powers. Fair warning: The grilled onion aroma at Powers meets you before you ever open the front door. And you’ll be wise to not wear clothing you can’t easily launder because that smell is going to stick in the fibers of your clothing until you wash them. My wife makes me change my clothes as soon as I come back home from a “Power’s Run.” Gotta love it!