There are great restaurants all across America but few offer history so compelling and food so legendary that you have to try them at least once in your lifetime. These nine famous eateries fit that bill.
1. Mama's Fish House, Maui, Hawaii
Fishermen catch fish mere hours before it's served at Mama's Fish House, so meals are island fresh. But it's not just the food that makes this restaurant famous, with reservations going two weeks deep. Mama's is situated on a secluded beach (rare for a Hawaii restaurant) under tall palms, which makes for amazing sunset views and a romantic and elegant atmosphere.
The restaurant, opened in 1973, has old-school Hawaii vibes. The open-air dining rooms (with vaulted ceilings and made with local woods) have retro decor, including old Hawaiian paintings on the walls, colorful floral-print table cloth and real wooden canoes hanging from the ceilings. Tiki torches blaze at night for a feeling of "aloha."
TripAdvisor ranked Mama's Fish House one of the 10 best restaurants in the world.
Entrees average $55.
2. Katz's Deli, Manhattan, New York
Around 6 p.m. every day, you'll notice the long line outside Katz's Delicatessen, one of N.Y.C.'s most famous institutions. The Lower East Side deli, which dates back to 1888, is famous for serving up "mile-high" corn beef, pastrami and rueben sandwiches with fresh, house-made pickles.
The corned beef and pastrami is cured using a slow, 30-day method (as opposed to places that do it fast in 36 hours). This makes the meats fresh, more flavorful and juicier.
Inside, it's a blast to the past. The restaurant is one big open space, reminiscent of a cafeteria, with memorabilia and photos of famous guests on the walls, and a counter with up to six lines to order your meals.
You can even sit at the actual table where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal filmed the famous "I'll have what she's having" scene from 1989's "When Harry Met Sally."
Sandwiches average $20.
3. Snow's BBQ, Lexington, Texas
Located in Lexington, Texas, about 75 miles from Austin, Snow's BBQ is consistently voted the No. 1 barbecue joint in the state. People drive out as early as 8 a.m. to get in line for the fresh pork ribs and brisket every Saturday (the only day of the week it's open). With a wait that can take up to three hours, so some even bring lawn chairs to get comfy. The barbecue is served until it runs out.
Snow's is in the middle of ranch land, where visitors stand around an "al fresco" shed where pit masters fire up the brisket on three barbecue pits, the old fashioned way. Texas Monthly calls one of the pit masters, 83-year-old Tootsie Tomanetz, "legendary."
A meal costs about $14 a plate.
4. The French Laundry, Napa Valley, California
The French Laundry has been awarded three Michelin stars annually since 2006 (one of few restaurants in America with three stars). It's also ranked high among the best restaurants in the world by World's 50 Best Restaurants, ranking No. 1 twice (2003 and 2004, and the first U.S. restaurant to top the list). Chef and owner Thomas Keller is iconic in the culinary industry, winning dozens of highly coveted awards, like the Lifetime Achievement Award by Restaurant magazine.
Housed in a rustic, historic building, in the 1920s, the location was a French steam laundry, which inspired the restaurant's name. It's a big spot for celebrations, like anniversaries, proposals and birthdays.
The dinner lasts two to three hours with a tasting menu based on what's fresh that day (you only find out the menu when you arrive). The oysters and pearls amuse bouche (pearl tapioca with beau soleil oysters and white sturgeon caviar) is famous and frequently on the menu. Most produce is pulled from the on-site garden or nearby purveyors.
Dinner is at a minimum $300 per person (depending on the menu), and it can get more expensive with supplements to dishes, like Japanese wagyu ($100) or Kaluga caviar ($60), as well as wine, which can go up to $40 per glass.
5. Polo Lounge, Los Angeles, California
This iconic restaurant at Beverly Hills Hotel is casual yet highbrow (it boasts top notch service from staff in white suits), and it's a regular spot for A-listers meeting with their agents, publicists and Hollywood executives. Stars often sign deals and contracts right on the spot, which is why Polo Lounge is often credited as the original "power breakfast" spot.
For almost a century, famous celebrities have dined here. In fact, if you're looking for a celebrity sighting, most locals will point you in this direction. Stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich were fans and Booth No. 1 was Charlie Chaplin's preferred table, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which named Polo Lounge one of the top 25 power lunch spots. In the 1940s, stars like Will Rogers and Tommy Hitchcock, would come here after polo matches, which is how the spot got its name.
Polo Lounge serves California cuisine both indoors and on the outdoor patio. Breakfast entrees average $25 to $30; lunch entrees average $45; dinner entrees average $52.
6. Arnaud's, New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is known for its dynamic dining scene, famous for Creole, Cajun and southern cooking. There are a number of fine dining institutions that have been in business for more than 100 years, including Commander's Palace, Galatoire's, Antoine's and Arnaud's. All the restaurants are recommended but if you need to pick one on which to splurge, Arnaud's, opened since 1918, takes up almost an entire block in the French Quarter with multiple dining spaces as well as a second-floor balcony overlooking Bienville Street.
Arnaud's interiors are a time warp with Italian mosaic tile floors, vintage light fixtures and original beveled glass windows, fluted columns and doors. Classic and modern French Creole dishes are served, like shrimp creole ($26.95), frog legs provencale ($27.95) and Pontchartrain sauteed filet ($36.95).
Dinner for two with wine averages $150.
7. Husk, Charleston SC
Since opening in Charleston, South Carolina, in November 2010, Husk was named Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit (2011), 101 Best Restaurants in America by The Daily Meal, The Best Restaurants in America by Eater and The Diners Club World's 50 Best Restaurants.
It's been so successful, owner and chef Sean Brock has since opened a Husk in Nashvillee, Tennesse; Greenville, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.
The original location in downtown Charleston, in a restored, pre-Civil War mansion, serves farm-to-table, low-country Southern food, with modern riffs on classic dishes like house-made Pimento cheese with grilled crostini, pickle relish, crispy ham and chives; the famous Husk fried chicken with chilled farro and field pea salad; and a deli ham melt with Tennessee cheddar, carrot and cabbage slaw.
The menu changes daily based on seasonality and freshness, and all ingredients are regionally sourced.
A meal for two averages $80.
8. Prince Street Pizza, Manhattan, New York
New York City is home to bucket list-worthy pizza joints, but there's one that is often cited as the best: family-run Prince Street Pizza is both a fan favorite and N.Y.C. institution. It serves Sicilian pizza, which is rectangular and has a thick crust.
Located in the NoLita neighborhood of Manhattan, Prince Street Pizza is known for the "Spicy Spring Pie," covered in thick-cut pepperoni, for which fans line up day and night.
Prince Street Pizza has the best Sicilian pizza in the city, according to Nino Coniglio, the 10-time World Champion Pizza Maker at The International Pizza Expo and owner and pizza maker at Williamsburg Pizza. The pizza is also considered among the best pizzas in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, and Prince Street Pizza is one of N.Y.C.'s most iconic pizzerias by Eater New York.
The original slice with marinara and mozzarella is $2.95; the Spicy Spring Pie is $3.50.
9. In-N-Out Burger, multiple locations
There is no other chain in America that has a cult following like In-N-Out Burger. Celebrating its 70th birthday this year, the fast food joint is known for its delicious burgers that are never frozen and cooked to order, including the famous "Double Double." It also serves hand-cut French fries and there's a "secret menu" with burgers that don't appear on the regular bill of fare.
"People fetishize In-N-Out, and it's cool to know the brand and doubly cool to know its secret menu," Culinary Institute of America associate professor and food anthropoligist Willa Zhen told QSR magazine.
At the end of the day, the high-quality burgers for cheap are a must when visiting California (it's based out of Irvine) or locations in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and Oregon.
A Double Double Burger is $3.45; a cheeseburger is $2.40.