Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
May 22, 2002 12:08 AM

Unquestionably The Absolute Best In America:

  • j

French Fries: Dick's, Spokane, WA (McDonald's original
fries from '50's & '60's. Yes!)
Honorable mention: Arthur Bryant's,
Kansas City, MO (cooked in pure lard)
Thrasher's, Ocean City, MD (on the
Pizza: tie: Pepe's, New Haven,, CT
Sally's Apizza, New Haven, CT
White Pizza: Arcaro & Gemelli's, Old Forge, PA
Cake: Fresh coconut, K-Paul's, New Orleans, LA (A
serious contender for title of best American
dessert this is served over "Chantilly Whipped
Cream" laced with Courvoisier & Grand Marnier;
the "slice" is six inches thick, moist and heavy
with butter and coconut, cracked fresh for the
Pie: Johnny Ray's Cream Pies, Birmingham, ALA (better
than Emeril's Banana Cream)(Excellent chopped Q
BBQ: Pork: Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC (chopped)
Ardchibald's, Tuscaloosa, ALA (sliced)
Beef: Luling Market, Luling, TX
Clark's, Tioga, TX
(Hall of Fame: Original Kreuz Mkt, Lock-
hart, TX)
(Honorable Mention: Cooper's, Llano &
Louie Mueller, Taylor, TX)
Ribs: McClard's, Hot Springs, ARK (Tie)
Dreamland Drive Inn, Tuscaloosa, AL (Tie)
Lem's, Chicago, IL (Tie)
BBQ Sauce: Roadhouse of Des Plaines, IL. This thick,
textured unlike any other sauce makes even
Arthur Bryant's taste like orange vinegar.
Crab Cakes: Angelina's, Baltimore, MD
(Honorable Mention: Captain's Galley
Crisfield, MD)
Fried Chicken: Stroud's, Kansas City
Hamburger: 4 X 4 Animal Style at In 'n Out, CA, NV, AZ
Charcoal Pit, Wilmington, DE (1/2 lb)(tie)
Kincaid's, Ft. Worth, TX (tie)
Steak: Peter Luger, Brooklyn, NY
(Honorable Mention: Del Frisco's, Orlando-
NOT part of the Lone Star chain but almost
identical to the original from Dallas in the
Fried Clams: Bob's, Kittery, ME (tartar sauce in a tie
breaker over Woodman's of Essex, MA)
Ice Cream: Bart's, Northampton, MA
(Hall of Fame: Al Gelato, North Ave.,
Chicago in early '80's)
Ice Cream (From Store): Out Of A Flower. Tastes
legitimately homemade; priced as such
too @ $7.50 per pint)
Sundae: Graeter's Swiss Sundae, Cincinnati
Frozen Custard: Kopp's, Milwaukee, WI
(Honorable Mention: Carl's, Frede-
ricksburg, VA)
Tex-Mex: Original Ninfa's on Navigation Blvd., Houston
Cal-Mex: Taco Mesa, Costa Mesa, CA
Wine: Leonetti Merlot (year in and year out), WA
Submarine: Whitehouse Special, Atlantic City
Cheesesteak: Whitehouse, Atlantic City (Honorable
mention: Jim's, South St., Philadelphia)
Roast Beef Po Boy: Mother's, New Orleans
Italian Beef: Johnny's, Elmwood Park, IL
Beef on Weck: Schwabl's, Buffalo, NY
(extra hots)
Popcorn: Garrett, Chicago
Fisher's, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Ocean City, MD
Pickle: Guss' Pickles, New York City
Outside of America and best overall: Mrs.
Whyte's, Montreal, CANADA (Sour)
Potato Chips: Kitch'n Cook'd, Maui
Honorable Mention: Zapp's Cajun Craw-
tators, Metairie LA
Pancakes: Polly's, Sugar Hill, NH
Overall breakfast: Diner, Yountville, CA ("deceased")
Hottest Hot Sauce: Blair's Five O'Clock, NJ
Hot Pepper: Mama Lil's Hungarian Goat Peppers,
Seattle, WA
Hot Dog: Zab's (Red Hots), Rochester, NY
Best American Fast Food Restaurant: In 'n Out Burger
Cincinnati Chili: Camp Washington Chili
(With dessert at Graeter's)
Crabs: Jimmy Cantler's, Annapolis, MD
(Honorable Mention: Stoney's, Broome Island,MD
Lobster: Many including Twin Lights, Cape Elizabeth,
ME where you eat on picnic benches at the
edge of the Atlantic ocean.
Fried Shrimp: Herbie K's, Shreveport, LA
Oysters (any kind): Winchell's, Mobile, ALA
Cookie: Original David's Cookies, New York (from '70s)
Bread: Acme, Berkeley (Tie)
Bread Line (Wash., D. C.)(Tie)
Atlantic City Bakery (Sub rolls & dough only)
Drive In: Stewart's, because many of them haven't
changed in 60 years. Single best:
Huntington, WV where people come from 50
miles around and still CRUISE on Saturday
nights. American Graffiti is still alive!
Grocery Store (non gourmet): Wegman's, PA, NY
(honorable mention: Larry's Markets, (Seattle)
Chocolate: Hawaiian Vintage, Maui
Fudge: Bourbon Fudge, Monks of Gethsameni, KY
Overall Absolute Best American Food: Woodring's
Caramel Sauce sold in their stand at Pike Place
Market, Seattle. Unquestionably the most
fattening food available anywhere in America
today; also this handmade, hand stirred ultra
thick almost pure butter caramel sauce has a
flavor that speaks of county fairs and old time
ice cram parlors. Distinct, delicious and
perhaps the single best bite of any American
food today. Well over the top!
Overall Best Uniquely American Restaurant: Skylight
Inn, Ayden, NC. From the moment they open until
the moment they close one man spends the entire
day chopping whole hog bbq with two cleavers
over a wooden block, the same way it has been
done for almost 140 years. It tastes the
same today as it must have in 1865.
Overall Best American Beverage: Guernsey Milk. The richest of all milk. Served ice cold with Toll House cookies-the definitive American meal of childhood.

Personal: Best bite of anything that I have ever tasted in my life: my first bite of a Hot Shoppes Mighty Mo in 1954. The next day I started my first diet.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. That's an impressive list you've got there. Thanks. What's a Hot Shoppes Mighty Mo, BTW?

    17 Replies
    1. re: Lindsay B.

      A primordial Big-Mac, only much better. Hot Shoppes Drive-In might have been only a DC-area thing. The other dominant chain was Topp's, which had a similar
      burger to the Mighty-Mo though I can't remember the
      name of it. The McDonald's back then were few and far
      between (if you can believe it) and were actually pretty good. At least, I thought so at the time. BTW,
      Joe--awesome compendium of chow knowledge, especially
      from the recollections of just one guy. You're a bonafide National Rescource and a public service. Like
      everyone else, there are a few things I would add. But
      I won't, out of respect.

      1. re: flavrmeistr

        Please do add. That's most of my purpose, to find places better than what I listed from those who have tried one of mine.
        Topp's had the Sir Loiner and the first McDonald's was on Richmond Highway in Hybla Valley. The second was on the Rockville Pike. Both had lines consistently out to far end of the Golden Arches during lunch and dinner hours.
        Thanks again for the nice words, sir.

        1. re: Joe H.

          Okay, since you asked...

          Best fried chicken--Dixie Chicken in Orlando, FL
          Best crabcakes--That seafood place next to the lighthouse in St. Michael's, MD
          Best fried 'gator--Conchy Joe's in Jensen Beach,FL
          Best steak'n cheese sub (not Philly)-- Mario's on Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA
          Worst pizza--Mario's on Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA
          Best hot fudge sundae-- Bridgeman's in Duluth, MN
          Best Peking duck--Peking Gourmet, Culmore (Falls Church),VA
          Best drive-in--The Disselfink Gettysburg,PA
          Best masas de puerco--Rey's Cafeteria Hialeah, FL
          Best potato sausage--Sportsman's Lounge Spooner, WI
          Best burger (fried)--Herbert's Deli Palm Beach, FL
          Best burger (wood-grilled)-- Melvin's Barbeque Charleston, SC
          Best cheap steak--Angel's Baytown, TX
          Best stone crab--Joe's Miami Beach, FL
          Best braised short ribs--The Pickwick Tap Room Duluth, MN
          Best smoked kingfish--Mrs. Peters Smokehouse Rio, FL
          Best collards and cornbread--Teach's Community Kitchen
          Overtown (Miami) FL.
          Best barbeque sauce--The Miracle Rib Ft. Pierce, FL
          (vinegary, mildly sweet with a peachy mellow afterburn)
          Best "hot brown" sandwich--Wolf's Tavern Henderson, KY
          Best chiurrasco and mixed grille--Carniceria Argentina
          Hialeah, FL.
          Best tomato sandwich--(my) Aunt Gloria's kitchen Glasgow, MO (around July)

          1. re: flavrmeistr

            Do you mean the Crab Claw in St. Michael's? I'll be in Orlando in a month or so and will try Dixie Chicken but Stroud's is really way over the top. I've been to Joe's Stone Crab and also had the same "hot brown." I totally agree. Disselfink is interesting-I've been there. I liked the Stewart's In Huntington because of the Saturday night cruising and it's a turnaround point. There's also a G-R-E-A-T drive in north of Baltimore (and frozen custard called the Arctic Circle and miniature golf) called the Churchville Drive In that still has working (some times) teletrays. The drive in theatre is right behind it. The whole area there is probably as authentically 1950's as anywhere I've ever been. In fact they also have "cruise ins" occasionally on Saturdays in the summer.
            I've printed out your list and give me some time but...

            1. re: Joe H.

              I go to Huntingtown every July for classes at Marshall
              U. Way happenin' little town! They have some decent
              little restaurants and, I think, 137 bars. Not bad for
              a city of 50,000. There's a little place up near the
              Uptowner Hotel that sells only two things; chili dogs
              and lard-fried donuts. I can't remember the name of it,
              but it hasn't changed a lick since about 1945. There is also a fairly decent Japanese place downtown, a block
              over from the Radisson. The Dixie Chicken is an Orlando
              landmark, the town having literally grown up around it.
              It's at Orange Ave. and Oak Ridge Dr. A friend of mine's mother worked there back in the 40's and she
              says it hasn't changed one bit. If I could remember the
              name of 1/4 of the places I like, I'd give you a run for your money. It's a fatal flaw as a chowhound.

              1. re: flavrmeistr

                Incidently, if you make it to south FL give me a holler
                on the Florida board. We'll do the backstreet tour of
                Hialeah and Miami. Great stuff, Jose.

                1. re: flavrmeistr

                  Thank you, sir.

                  Lard fried donuts! God! They must be good!

                  1. re: Joe H.

                    They are. It's like Homer Price in there.

              2. re: Joe H.

                Ain't Google great? second of searching led to....

                Big M restaurant and Bel Air drive in Movies in Churchville, MD. They say, "The Big M has been serving Harford County and the surrounding areas since 1952. The Big M is the only remaining Drive In Movie in Harford County" so I guess it's the place you're talking about. (Funny, they should say, "one of the few remaining Drive Ins in the USA.")


                1. re: James

                  And don't forget:

                  "Eat Lunch Free For Your Birthday - ID Required - $8.00 Maximum"

                  1. re: James

                    I wonder if the miniature golf course and the Artic Circle have different owners?

                    1. re: Joe H.

                      Joe H.,

                      You mentioned in one of your posts using "best of" types of lists as a resource. Do you know of the NJ Star-Ledger's Munchmobile? They drive all over NJ in search of the best of Chowhound type food, often based on recommendations I believe. The online version has archives from the start in 1998.


              3. re: flavrmeistr

                Oh, Lord, Flav!! Mario's in Arlington. A Mario's ham, steak and cheese sub is the best sandwich I have ever eaten. I was destined to love them, since I recieved them in utero. My mother used to eat the large ones when she was pregnant with me.
                The second best thing about Mario's is standing in line sharing stories with people who have been going there all their lives and now live in East Jesus, Egypt and are back for a sub!
                Same area, sadly no more is the frozen custard stand on Rt. 50 in Falls Church.
                Giffords in Annandale.
                Hot Shoppes.
                The tea room at Lord and Taylor Seven Corners.

                1. re: Kim Shook

                  GW Frozen Custard at Annandale Rd. and Rt.50 was the
                  best. I've never seen any frozen custard like it. Instead of coming out of a tap in a little swirl like
                  every other soft-serve place, it was produced in huge
                  frozen loaves and served by the scoop. And was it good,
                  or what? The butterfat content was through the roof.
                  As for Mario's steak'n cheese, there is no peer. I think it may be the dry slaw, sweet pickle and cherry pepper combination that puts it over the top. Have to
                  hit it at least once whenever I'm back in the area. Sure nice to hear from one of the faithful, Kim!

                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                    well, you're not going to like this but I respectfully disagree. Carl's in Fredericksburg, which also has an ElectroFreeze machine from the early 50's, in my opinion, was always better than the Frozen Dairy Bar. Having said that neither of them is/was as good as Klein's in Harrisonburg which is the only other Virginia frozen custard stand with an original ElectroFreeze machine.
                    I honestly believe that Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly is as good as the Frozen Dairy Bar using a new machine similar to the originals wherein they also scoop the ice cream. Milwaukee uses 11% butterfat and Carl's, I believe, is 10% butterfat. All four (including Klein's and the Frozen Dairy Bar) have very, very little air which gives a heavier consistency to what is essentially a relatively low butterfat product. (Gifford's was 18% butterfat and, a reminder, is still available at York Castle in the 9200 block of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. The Gifford's in Bethesda is a name and nothing more that was purchased. York Castle didn't buy the name rather Gifford's ice cream maker just moved up the street and opened his own store when Gifford's closed. He uses the EXACT same base and swiss fudge sauce, etc.)
                    I actually had a discussion about this with Al, the owner of Milwaukee Frozen Custard, who is as obsessed with frozen custard as any of us are with anything. He got into talking about Shenandoah Dairy providing the "base" for all of these while his base came from, I believe, a New Jersey dairy.
                    He himself admits that the best frozen custard he has ever had (and myself too) is Kopp's in Milwaukee which is the absolute best on earth. Better than Ted Drewes, better than anything in Buffalo or Rochester.
                    Sixteen per cent butter fat frozen custard is unbelievable combined with so little air. I'll go one step further and say that Kopp's has several flavors that I will pick over any store bought ice cream, gelato, etc. in the world and I've been to Bertillion in Paris and eaten my way through Italy. I've also made ice cream using Lewes Dairy/Chrome Dairy Pasteurized heavy cream and a White Mountain hand cranked freezer and I honestly believe that Kopp's was about as good for some of their flavors as well as the texture and density of the custard.
                    One thing I never like about the Frozen Dairy Bar when they moved to Lee Highway was that their prices went through the roof. Not only was the ambience gone but I thought it was outrageous they were charging something like $3.50 for a pint of frozen custard when Carl's at the same time was $1.95.
                    Kopp's last summer was, I think, about $3.25 but a whole lot richer which dramatically runs up the price.
                    The key to all of these is the machine that you noted wherein the custard comes out in slabs and is scooped.

                    1. re: Joe H.

                      What's not to like? This is great information.

            2. re: flavrmeistr

              I think there were also some Hot Shoppes along the New York Thruway into the 1960s.

          2. That's quite a list Joe... I really enjoyed it.

            even though you're wrong on a couple:

            Thrashers fries really aren't that good anymore, certainly not as good as the fries at Allen & Sons in NC.

            Angelina's is no match for Frank & Sammy's on rt. 50 for crabcakes, and nowhere in annapolis can challenge the crab shacks two blocks over from Ocean Highway on the north end of O.C.

            Also don't forget the concrete shakes at Dayton bros across the b'walk from Thrashers, particularly the cookies and cream.

            and where's the pit beef sandwich mention?

            but seriously, great list.


            4 Replies
            1. re: ben f

              Ah...exactly the post I was looking for!
              O. C.'s concrete shakes are copied from Ted Drewes which is a St. Louis tradition going back to at least the 20's. They were the first place (with original electrofreeze machines, of course) that actually turned the cup upside down. Spokane's Dick's Drive In has McDonald's original fries which I believe are better than Thrasher's O. C. boardwalk at their best. But I will try Allen and Sons which, if I'm not mistaken, is a bbq joint isn't it?
              I will try Frank and Sammy's in the next three or four weeks but Angelina's is awfully good, better than every other place, in my opinion, that has even claimed to have a great crab cake. By the way, Angelina's crab imperial is even better. But I will go to Frank and Sammy's.
              Cantler's really only has crabs-I don't care for their sides, even their crab cakes or soup. But it's the on the pier ambience with MD jumbos in season that drives it. There are a number of others as good from Stoney's in Broome Island where you sit on a floating barge outdoors to Happy Harbor in Deale, MD to Robertson's in Pope's Creek. There was also a place near Salisbury (or Cambridge, it's been a while) that was a converted chicken coop. I think it was called the Red Barn or something like that.
              I do know the O. C. places and will try them this summer. There's also a Captain's Galley in O. C. but it's not as good as the original in Crisfield.
              Pit Beef? The place I loved closed years ago. That's a topic to introduce on the Balt/DC board for where the best is.
              Thanks again. I will try your suggestions.

              1. re: Joe H.

                I will try angelina's when I'm in B'more in June. I know what you mean about all those (Michael's) places that claim to have the best crabcakes.

                I had no idea that the concrete was a copy of something from St. Louis. clearly I need to take a trip...

                thanks again for the great list.


                1. re: ben f

                  In the D. C. area try Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly or Manassas for their version of a concrete. But if you ever go to Milwaukee itself Kopp's is worth going of your way for as is Ted Drewes in St. Louis.

                2. re: Joe H.

                  That would be Chap's, just inside the Baltimore City line, on Pulaski Highway/Route 40. I look forward to having to get my or my SO's car's exhaust tested because it's right around the corner from the inspection station.

              2. Nice list, I'll have to hold on to it in case I happen upon any of those locations. I am kind of put off by the notion that ANYTHING can be "Unquestionably the Absolute Best", but I'll throw you a bone and go with it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Alan H

                  I love hyperbole. If someone has been to a place I mention and feels another place is better I will try it. I travel 125 days a year throughout the U. S. and Europe doing 12,000 mile driving trips through both continents. I've been doing this for 20 years. Sooner or later I will get there.

                2. What a great post, Joe! You've given me some great targets!! Also brought back some wonderful memories. Thrasher's ffs are the absolute best I have ever had. One of the joys of my life is introducing people to them - they always start out with the attitude that "fried potatoes are fried potatoes - what's the big deal?". And they end up devotees!
                  Fisher's caramel corn is one of the best things I have ever eaten! I try to tell people about it, but don't have the right words!!
                  How I miss Hot Shoppes! I would love a Mighty Mo or a Teen Twist right now! They also had THE BEST chocolate fudge cake of anyone. And didn't they have a dreamsicle shake or something orange and vanilla?
                  Thanks again, Joe!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kim shook

                    I had not had McDonald's fries since they were replaced with frozen in 1967. Two years ago I found Dick's in Spokane making them EXACTLY the same way, using 70% animal fat and peeling fresh potatoes themselves, leaving some skin on the outside and then hanging them in baskets after blanching. The McDonald's in Downey, CA has a museum which has photos as well as the recipe for making them. The owner of the Spokane Dick's (different from Seattle) actually worked in a McDonald's in the 50's before opening his restaurant. Thrashers and Bonita's Frites didn't measure up to the original Mcdonald's.
                    But the best french fries that I have ever had anywhere were in Belgium. When I was eating them I actually couldn't believe that America didn't have the best fries.
                    Thanks for the nice words.

                    1. re: kim shook

                      You can still get the EXACT SAME HOT FUDGE ICE CREAM CAKE as Hot Shoppes' original at the Charcoal Pit on Route 202 in Wilmington, Delaware. Only this location, not another. This is the original. If you go also get a half pound hamburger which is one of the best in America.

                    2. Wow, Joe, you're certainly not one to shy away from superlatives...but no problems here.

                      You left out your risotto, which I made on Sunday and was absolutely terrific. Thanks for the recipe. "Better than anything you can get at a restaurant here in Chicago", according to my lucky in-laws.



                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Aaron D

                        Aaron, thank you very much. There are very few restaurants that do not take shortcuts and actually have someone who can stand and stir for 15 minutes. Also the cost of dolce and reggiano along with excellent butter (Kay's is $5.95/lb in D. C.)and decent chardonnay. In America it is very rare to find a restaurant that uses carneroli or violane nano.
                        Any risotto made correctly and using absolutely the best ingredients you can find will be better than what you will have in most restaurants.