The historic neighborhood of Algiers Point, a short ferry ride across the Mississippi from the boozy French Quarter, is the city’s second-oldest ward. The Dry Dock Cafe, immediately opposite the ferry terminal, occupies Algiers’ oldest continuously operating restaurant space, dating back to 1901. It also happens to be a fine place to grab some classic N’awlins cooking—at classic prices.
Owner Casey, a retired oil services businessman, bought the Dry Dock in 2013 with no restaurant experience—but several generations of NOLA in his blood. Asked if he’s changed the menu, he says emphatically, “Not. At. ALL!” then he confides in his soft, distinctly New Orleanian accent, “Look, it’s pretty hard to screw up seafood in New Orleans, right? So…most people come to NOLA for three or four days, and after a day and a half of the French Quarter, they’re looking for something else to do. For two bucks they take a ferry across the river to see New Orleans from the opposite side. They get off the ferry, see the Dry Dock, walk in, and immediately realize that everything is half the price of what it is on the other side of the river.” He laughs. “Now you’ve made friends for life—every time they come back, we’re their first stop!”
On a sleepy stretch of State Highway 15 in Hortonville, Wisconsin, sits a time capsule of kitschy car culture: Charlie’s Drive-In. Family owned since 1965 and currently operated by the brother-and-sister team of Rachel and Carl Mann, Charlie’s proudly dials back the clock and rocks around it for locals and road-trippers alike. “Every Tuesday is classic car night,” Carl tells us. “You come in with a vintage car, you get a free root beer with your sandwich.” And the locals do just that, lining up their Bel Airs and Packards to collect their perfectly chilled mugs of free root beer— made the old-fashioned way, with homemade syrup stirred by hand in a giant barrel.
Ask any food aficionado, and that tasteful traveler will likely tell you that discovering a great diner is an experience akin to uncovering a genuine corner of paradise.
Entrepreneur Clarence Loflin surely stumbled upon that sacred connection in the mid-1980s when he was trying to figure out how to make good use of his tomato-packing building in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The price of tomatoes had dropped dramatically—marketing the fruit was no longer profitable—but there he was, the owner of an edifice equipped with two large freezers. Because the building was already refrigerated, Loflin opted to turn it into a diner. But what would he call his new enterprise? The morning light was illuminating the clouds that blanketed the mountain side—and gave him his answer. The view reminded him of scenes he’s seen in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a mere twenty miles away, beautiful, otherworldly, heavenly.
Lofin decided upon the name “Smoky Mountain Diner.”
The eatery was originally a pet project of Socrates “Louie” Toton, a Boston restaurateur who retired to Wells in 1953. Current owner Richard “Dick” Henry tells us, “He was mostly interested in working in the garden. He didn’t even open in the summer. It was a hobby, obviously, because [that’s] the only time you can make money here.” When Louie passed away, he left the diner to his sisters—who had no interest in the restaurant business.
Fortunately, someone nearby did. Dick and his two brothers—Myles, who worked across the street at the still-operating Bull and Claw seafood and steak house, and Bruce—pooled their resources, and raised enough money to buy the diner and the adjoining house (now a gift shop) in 1983. “The only way we were able to afford it is that the house came with it. So we had housing and we had food, and we paid ourselves $50 a week,” Dick says.
If you are a presidential candidate in the New Hampshire primary, you eat at local diners. And the diner in New Hampshire’s largest city is the Red Arrow. This classic custom-built, twenty-four-seat eatery proudly displays brass name plates that indicate where each presidential hopeful has rested his or her derriere while enjoying some local fare and chatting with voters on the campaign trail…
The Red Arrow opened in 1922 and was one of four eateries in Manchester founded by David Lamontagne. It is now owned by Carol Lawrence. The name originated from the large red arrows on the diners’ signs and had nothing to do with the Red Arrow of comic book fame. In fact, the diner opened nineteen years before the character appeared in print. That’s not to say the Red Arrow doesn’t have its own super sidekick. Its mascot is Moe Java, an anthropomorphic coffee mug painted on plates and drawn in neon on the walls. Moe first appeared in New Hampshire magazine in 2006, a reminder that when the candidates, press, and pundits leave town, the Red Arrow returns to its roots as a terrific American neighborhood eatery.
Spero Dionysopoulos’ father, Nick, knew a good story when he heard one. And he shared such stories with his son.
“When I was growing up,” Spero says today, “my father didn’t tell me fairy tales. He told me myths.”
Greek myths, that is: accounts of Hercules and other heroes who sailed with Jason and the Argonauts in quest of the famed golden fleece—a glistening woolen coat of a magical ram that could fly. And that’s hardly surprising; after all, in 1970, Nick and his brother, Bill, opened the Golden Fleece Restaurant in the center of Detroit’s Greektown with high hopes of their own…
There’s that song—or is it several songs?—about driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, top down, sunshine on your shoulder, redhead at your side, wind blowin’ in your hair, Beach Boys blaring, waves crashing on the shore, lookin’ for adventure. It must seem impossible that such a cliché California experience could exist in reality, but it can and does (convertible and redhead optional) along the sunny stretch of California Highway 1 north of Malibu. And the place to stop for lunch in that California Dream is Neptune’s Net, the iconic roadside seafood joint across the road from the world-famous County Line surf break.
There’s a palpable sense of déjà vu walking into the place. It’s where FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) meets waitress/ surfer Tyler (Lori Petty) in Point Break, and serves as a background for meals in The Fast and the Furious, Iron Man 3, and The Hills. “With every filming, the restaurant attracts new clientele eager to come and eat at the restaurant filmed in their favorite TV show or movie,” says Margaret Cho (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name.) Cho’s parents, Michelle and Chong Lee, purchased the restaurant from longtime owners Paul and Dolly Seay on July 4, 1991, after seeing an ad in the local Korea Times newspaper… the original structure built by original owner Jacob Eastman in 1956…
In 1865, the world was Samuel’s Clemens’ oyster—and his clam and his mussel. Under the pen name “Mark Twain,” he had just scored a nationwide hit with his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Now a literary luminary, he promptly ensconced himself in San Francisco’s finest hotel and commenced consuming mass quantities of local shellfish of the variety purveyed at the Oakdale Bar and Clam House. Since renamed The Old Clam House, the establishment opened in 1861 and is still shoveling shellfish to its patrons over a century and a half later, making it the oldest original-location restaurant in San Francisco.
The original Pig’n Whistle opened in 1908 as a candy shop and soda fountain in downtown Los Angeles. By the 1920s it had grown to a successful restaurant chain with outlets all along the West Coast. is location, adjoining Sid Grauman’s Egyptian eater, opened in 1927—ironically, the same year that e Jazz Singer heralded the end of the silent-film era. But as Hollywood’s Golden Age faded, so did the Pig’n Whistle. The Hollywood location closed in 1952. The space eventually devolved into a Numero Uno pizza joint.
Cut to the late 1990s, when Breed and his partner, Alan Hajjam, fresh from success with the celebrity-studded Roxbury supper club on the Sunset Strip, determined to transform the center of Hollywood from its sordid state—beginning with the Pig’n Whistle. “I felt threatened when I first got here,” Breed recalls. “There were metal shutters on all the shops. I was one of the first people to tear them out and put a patio out on Hollywood Boulevard.” He and Hajjam also demolished Numero Uno’s drop ceiling and found the Pig’n Whistle’s elaborately carved oak beams underneath. Some original tiles were discovered in the basement and incorporated into the décor. The restaurant reopened in 2001, aside the recently restored Egyptian. “We brought the glam back to Hollywood,” Breed says proudly. “We threw a party for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston when they were still together. I sat here, at this table, with Jack Nicholson and Kevin Costner.”
When Louis’ Lunch of New Haven, Connecticut, claimed that they had created the hamburger in 1900, scholars, politicians, and brand-loyal customers of other burger joints cried malarkey. Many still hold this idea in strict scrutiny, looking for contrary evidence on a daily basis.
But you should know that Louis’ Lunch holds that title as recognized by the United States government; the Library of Congress has officially designated Louis’ Lunch as the birthplace of the hamburger…