Classic Dining Map of America

Here you’ll find over 200 classic restaurants in cities from all 50 states.  It is perhaps the most comprehensive nationwide guide to traditional high-end and historic dining yet compiled.  Generally, the selections can be described as “upscale,” such as steakhouses, white tablecloth seafood restaurants, high-end ethnic restaurants and, of course, continental style fine dining.  Not included are diners, coffee shops, or roadside restaurants that have been well documented by others.

Yet, this list is by no means complete or exhaustive and I apologize if I left out your favorite restaurant.  To add your recommendations, please comment below, providing enough information for me to verify that the establishment meets my classic dining criteria.

Be sure to consult the restaurant’s website before venturing forth, because unfortunately some of these restaurants may have closed.  As for the food and service, I can’t vouch for either as restaurants do change.  Keep in mind that online reviews often focus on food and service while giving short shrift to the historic setting.  To me, authenticity, character, and atmosphere are just as important – perhaps more so in a world of chain restaurants and trendy but short-lived upstarts.

Classic restaurants with their smells, flavors, sounds and ambiance connect us to our past – sometimes several generations back – in ways that newer establishments simply can’t.  That’s the magic of classic dining.

Go forth and enjoy!

10 Responses to Classic Dining Map of America

  1. tacomanj says:

    I enjoy restaurants like this. But it must be hard to strike a balance between “classic” and obsolete/irrelevant.

    Unfortunately, some older restaurants tend to get worn-out, dirty, and even dive-y as time goes by. Then they just seem old, tired, and kitschy, and no longer project that ambiance of shiny, mid-century luxury. For example, Melvin’s in Palm Springs could do with some kind of makeover. It looks like it was remodeled in the 80s or 90s and then left to deteriorate.

    On the other hand, when such restaurants do renovations, such as Dal Rae’s new lit exterior signage (which does still retain the old design aesthetic) then people complain!

    And then there are some newer operations which have the older-style presentation, but they don’t get included on lists like this because they don’t have the history. For example, there are the El Gauchos restaurants in the Seattle, WA area. They are upscale, and serve things like flaming meat swords and have table-side service including Caesar salad, chateaubriand, cherries jubilee, and bananas foster. This is exactly the kind of experience that we are talking about here, but these El Gauchos more of a revival, and not necessarily closely tied to the original El Gaucho restaurant that existed in Seattle in the 50s, so I guess it doesn’t get to go on this list.

    Further, there are restaurants that get to be on “classic dining” lists like this because they have been around for many decades, even though they have changed SO MUCH that they hardly resemble the way they actually were in the Mid-century era. For example, there is Canlis’ in Seattle. John Wayne used to go up the coast on his boat to eat there. Canlis’ is very popular. It is quite upscale, and has been in the same family and in the same mid-century modern building since the early fifties. But aside from the house salad prepared table-side, the majority of their current menu is VERY “nouvelle.” I would dare say that some of it borders on “molecular gastronomy”…. And this is what makes it a hit in this day and age. It’s undeniably good, but absolutely nothing like the old steakhouse/broiler menu with foods that people actually ate in the mid-century period.

    Anyway, before I got to thinking about all this, I was going to say…… try Clyde’s Prime Rib in Portland, OR! The building has had a prime rib restaurant in one form or another for decades. The building exterior is like a stylized fairytale castle, like something you would find in Disneyland. The interior features older decor such as velvet booths and wood paneling, and they have a rolling metal cart to carve and serve the prime rib table-side.

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    • I just wrote a very long and detailed response that was deleted somehow because I wasn’t properly logged in. So, I will summarize my thoughts because I’m too frustrated to recreate it.

      Thanks for your insights. I’m much more forgiving of classic restaurants because they still exist. Throughout the U.S., classic restaurants have been vanishing such that a substantial number identified in my book have since closed. As such, I focus less on the food and more on the atmosphere and service, and most aren’t dirty or dive-y. Your recommendations for Seattle are excellent. I will be visiting the El Gauchos and Clyde’s Prime Rib. I still love Canlis for its midcentury modern architecture and atmosphere despite the updated menu.

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  2. Durant’s in Phoenix AZ is about as Classic as one can get. http://www.durantsaz.com

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  3. Pingback: From the bookshelf: Classic Dining – Herb Lester Staging

  4. I love going to new restaurants and trying new foods. I am so excited to be able to travel and see new restaurants all across the country. It is always so fun and exciting to try new things.

    Eliza Lawrence | http://www.hottunavb.com

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  5. Pingback: From the bookshelf: Classic Dining – Herb Lester Dev

  6. Peter,

    Got your book for Christmas and have been enjoying it.

    If you’re ever in the Hudson Valley, definitely check out the Ship Lantern Inn on Route 9W in Milton, N.Y. (While you’re at it, also check out the Walkway over the Hudson, a few miles north, which is fantastic.) The neon sign out on 9W advertises their “Cuisine Continental Since 1925,” and the interior will take you back to the 1940s. They are known for their caesar salad and bananas foster, both of which are prepared tableside. A true classic.

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  7. Hi Peter,

    Just got your book today…really fun!

    I hope you’ll check out The Pub in Pennsauken, NJ, outside Philadelphia. (http://www.thepubnj.com/) We’ve eaten there for special occasions since I was a child. It used to be much more formal…jackets required…but the menu is largely the same as it was then and the huge building hasn’t changed at all. Definitely a time warp worth checking out.

    Also, I was surprised to see Michie Tavern in the listing in back. I’ve been there and it was anything but “classic” dining…more like what you’d get in Frontierland at Disneyland or the Hoop de Doo Revue…fried chicken and some generic vegetables served on pewter. I have to think that Virginia has better offerings more in-line with the other restaurants in your book. I know that any list is subjective, but I think you’ve elevated them a bit.

    Look forward to trying out many of the surviving restaurants as I travel!

    Many thanks,
    Bill

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  8. paulschapman says:

    Hi Peter,

    Just got your book today – excellent job! Just wanted to give you a couple more restaurants in the Chicago area for your next edition:

    – Sabatino’s (http://www.sabatinoschicago.com/) – this place fits the bill for what defines a classic restaurant. Tuxedo’d maitre’d’s, classic menu, tableside preparation by Enzo or Angelo (Steak Diane, Bananas Foster), piano bar, etc. Classic dining on the northwest side of Chicago.

    – The Charcoal Oven (http://www.charcoalovenrestaurant.com/) – this is an old school joint in Skokie, IL (just northwest of Chicago). The restored neon sign alone draws you in, and the place has been there for ages. Classic menu.

    Love the book!

    Thanks,
    Paul

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