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What does 'hole in the wall place' mean in the US?

In the UK (to the best of my knowledge and experience) a hole in the wall place is a wall, with a hole in it. (i.e. a serving hatch). But many US posts seem to imply that a hole in the wall place has seating and so perhaps has a door, and tables.
So what, from a US point of view, is a 'hole in the wall place'?

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  1. Just a small, inconspicuous shop/eatery.

    1. In the US, a hole in the wall generally means a local, small, indistinct place. Like a small restaurant run out of a place that wasn't always a restaurant, with little to no ambiance and usually a quite casual place where you wouldn't imagine a restaurant.

      I most frequently use the phrase when describing something like mexican or thai "yeah, that great little hole in the wall has great margaritas". You don't go there for the atmosphere, or the decor, or service, but because the food is great. If it was what you are describing, I describe it as a carry out or even "walk through" (versus "drive through"

      1. I like this post because it just highlights how words and phrases change meaning as you move around the world.

        in the us - a "hole in the wall" is typically a small, local, not fancy at all, "place". It could be a restaurant or it could just be a bar.

        In my opinion, they are typically dark, not particularly clean, definitely local hangouts. I would use it to describe a bar or restaurant that if you didn't like or have any affection for you might call a "dump" (which might be another word that doesn't translate all that well to the Queen's English - haha)

        I'm curious how others will define it!

        6 Replies
        1. re: thimes

          Maybe more 'dive' than 'dump'?
          Or if there's no bar - a 'caff' (as opposed to a 'cafe').

          ARE there actual hatch serveries in the US? I know of a few in my home town in the UK - basically buildings with no public access, just a serving hatch that opens in the evening.

          1. re: Peg

            Yes - "dive" is a much better word than "dump" - correction noted!

            Honestly I don't know of any "hatch" places in the US. There may be a few in New York City that are in more community neighborhoods but I couldn't name any.

            I have been to a few places that do have walk-up hatches but they almost always have an inside area (even just a very small one) as well. We do have food trucks - which are kind of like hatch serveries but out of a truck - so not exactly the same but probably the closest thing we have in the US on any large scale.

            1. re: Peg

              Does a "hatch" mean a restaurant where there is no seating indoors? In Southern California, there are numerous roadside, fast food restaurants where one places and receives orders at a window. Sometimes, there is limited outdoor seating. Other times, there isn't any seating at all.

              1. re: Peg

                Miami is full of Cuban "coffee windows" where you walk up and get the best sugary espresso shots or cafes con leche or guarapo (fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice), always with croquetas de jamon or empanadas or pastelitos or quesitos. No public entrance or seating, just the window.

                1. re: Peg

                  Your description of hatches makes me think of the set up at many ice cream shops here- order at the window, eat at a picnic table if you aren't getting back in your car right away.

                  1. re: Peg

                    I can think of a few fast food stands in Chicago - serving stuff like Italian beef, gyros, burgers, and Chicago hot dogs - that don't have seating. Some custard stands are like that too. And there are quite a few chain pizzeria locations which are strictly take-out. But we don't have an overall category of seatless eateries like you do.

                2. My personal US definition is it's a small owner operator place that usually specializes in a specific type of food. Not very big, basic tables or booths, paper napkins and utensils. They may or may not speak English very well. Not a lot of frills. The glasses and dinner ware aren't necessarily going to match.

                  So yes, not completely a take out (or take away I believe is the UK term?) window only. It will have tables and seating.

                  1. And sometimes, a hole-in-the-wall is not any old hole-in-the wall. . .
                    http://www.holeinthewallaustin.com/