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Smithsonian Magazine's 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America

Smithsonian ran an article about the 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America. No information about how the selections were made, etc. The comments on the article have been pretty negative, wondering what hounds think.


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  1. Hmm, I think the problem is that everyone is now rating the restaurants as if the 'article' (how does one refer to these tedious compilations of images with marginally informed text?) is recommending the best of each place. The word 'iconic' is key here, since it addresses something beyond a good restaurant or even a classic; rather it identifies the place that many may have heard of. It is somehow representative, even if not the best (or even edible).

    As hounds we might recommend something else, but there's no denying (at least for the American cities I know) that these places loom in the mind of the visitor.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Lizard

      The Varsity in Atlanta has been there forever, but iconic? The South is not exactly known for its hot dog prowess, and it shows.
      I guess if 'iconic' includes well known but not the tastiest, then go ahead and call it that. I won't be taking my visitors there.

      1. re: kitchengardengal

        I don't think they're representing these places as having the tippy-top tastiest food you can find. The impression I get from their list is that their definition of "iconic" involves a place that people have been going to for a long time and enjoying some sort of a total experience--the neighborhood, the decor, the service, the clientele, the rituals, as well as their signature dishes. Going there is a beloved tradition for their fans. Some of these restaurants may actually have some very good food (or at least they serve a lot of people's idea of the ultimate example of a particular dish), but that's only part of the appeal. You don't go there just to eat, you go there to go there.

    2. iconic- I think of the word meaning very famous and representive of a particular time or genera---- so for food

      Iconic- Coney Island hotdogs

      Katz deli

      Cafe Dumonde benignets( even though I dont think they are best)
      The Four Seasons
      Le Meurice
      Tavern on the Green

      Rendezvous- ribs
      la circe- french
      they are places that are "known" for lack of a better word... like actressess who walk through the world saying "dont you know who I am" their reputations have long ago transended their food...

      7 Replies
      1. re: girloftheworld

        Tavern on the Green is no longer in existence. They only chose operating restaurants for the list. And where in the US is Le Meurice?

        1. re: ChefJune

          what? now I am sooo sad...All of these "to see places" are gone before I got to see them :(

          The Russian Tea Room
          Tavern On the Green
          Shea Stadium

          The Brown Derby

          Le Meurice is in Paris.. I hope.. it may be gone too..

            1. re: C. Hamster

              I guess I need to start getting out more

              1. re: girloftheworld

                Google Elaine's.

                When I'm in NYC (a lot) I'm maybe 3 blocks from there and regret being too lazy to go.

            2. re: girloftheworld

              Tavern on The Green had really become little more than a sit down ala carte banquet hall towards the end of its run. Better to have your images of its grandeur than what it's last few years were.

              Two things I will forever give it credit for is the way the decorated for the holidays and their lobster bisque. I brought my parents, inlaws and children there for dinner during the holidays it was breathtakingly decorated. I do agree if still open it should be iconic.

              Had lunch in Katz a couple weeks ago, never fails to please.

              1. re: jrvedivici

                True. And prior to that it was a tourist/romance destination and the food and service not much better than average.

        2. If you focus on the word ICONIC, the list makes better sense

          Union oyster house is total meh, but its sorta the definition of "iconic"

          2 Replies
          1. re: C. Hamster

            Yep. Most people in Philly would never actually go to Pat's or Geno's for a cheese steak (and whizz is an abomination for another board) . But according to tourists "that's where the locals go." They're icons, not the best.

            1. re: gaffk

              Sums up. They're icons, not the best.

          2. I feel like I gained 5lbs just from reading the list. While we can sit here and dissect the definition of "iconic" I can say in all honesty, after reviewing that list it's clear to me why we have a growing obesity problem in this country.

            Full disclosure; I am north of the 300lb mark myself so this is not a "fat" joke.

            1. Do I have to turn in my Chowhounder credentials if I have been to and eaten at 14 of the establishments on the list? (In my defense, I traveled a lot whilst young and foolish)

              7 Replies
              1. re: PuniceaRana

                Considering different categories of food, It is interesting there is not one pizza place on this list, and the place that hosts the July 4th hot dog eating contest, Nathans Coney island is not on here, and neither is Pinks. Now including a place that serves the chicago dog is great... but the Varsity over either Nathans or Pinks? Come on.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  I'm thinking "world's largest drive-in diner" might have a lot to do with the Varsity pick.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Am I the only one wondering whose job it is to go around the entire world measuring the size of drive-up diners?

                  2. re: PuniceaRana

                    Nooooo not at all, it's just with regard to what we as a nation consider "iconic". More power to you if you've been to one or all, but making them iconic of American dining culture I think is a shame.

                    1. re: PuniceaRana

                      I applaud you. I love places with a sense of history and survive in their own unique way. The quality of the cooking is totally subjective. If it wasn't, about 95% of all restaurants would cease to exist. But whose 5% would survive?

                    2. Interesting. I don't know all the cities, or all the places but three struck me particularly...

                      1. Boston: Old Union Oyster House is definitely iconic, even the only thing edible in the place are the raw oysters. It is the oldest continually operating restaurant in the US. Still, I might have chosen Durgin-Park as "the" iconic restaurant in Beantown.

                      2. Chicago (my home town); Although Superdawg started there, I don't think it's nearly as typically "Chicago" as Al's Italian Beef (or Johnny's - take your pick).

                      3. Kansas City: Cannot imagine why they chose that barbecue place as THE place over Arthur Bryant's. I sure hope it wasn't just because Anthony Bourdain said it was good. After poring over this list, outstanding taste was clearly not the prerequisite for being chosen... ;)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ChefJune

                        I expected Bryant's or Gate's BBQ in Kansas City over Oklahoma Joes.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Bryant's is certainly iconic... OK Joes has been winning awards for things like best ribs in the nation. Never have been a Gates fan.. LCs burnt ends are to die for. Joes as a location is in a gas station so it is quirky/iconic in and of itself.

                        2. I agree with others that iconic does not automatically mean the best. That does not mean that I would not make an effort to search out the 10 I am missing. Mostly in Boston and the Pacific coast.

                          Trying local and iconic foods is one of the main reasons for me to travel. And I have gotten some really nasty stuff along the way. But that does not stop me from doing research and asking locals what is good. Lists like this are simply another resource. And a guideline.

                          So if you had only 1 place to go for a tube steak in Chicago, would it be SuperDawg or Hot Doug's? I would support either one.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                            SuperDawg is probably more representative of the iconic Chicago dog, so go with them is you want that experience.

                            Hot Doug's has some very interesting variations, but not necessarily traditional (plus duck fat fries). Personally I would go here.

                          2. I agree that the four locations that I'm familiar with can be considered iconic. Faidley's for crabcakes in Bmore, Geno's and Pat's for cheesesteaks in Philly, Ben's Chili Bowl for half smokes in DC, and Union Oyster in Boston for oysters. Not the best, but they are well known and associated with their cities. Frequently on these boards those are the restaurants that tourists mention when they are looking for recommendations. Inevitably the local hounds will try to steer them somewhere else or at least try to steer them to the "safe dishes".

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: viperlush

                              I'm a hardcore Baltimorean, and Faidley's is indeed in the upper tier of crabcakes. They use only domestic crab (many places use the cheaper Asian swimmer crab). Their fish sandwich, which is a giant fillet of fried cod sticking out of both sides of two slices of white bread. Get a coddie or two to go with your lunch. I frequently recommend Faidley's to tourists with no hesitation.

                            2. Its not about anything other than page views.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sal_acid

                                i think the person wrote the whole thing from their Ikea couch ..using google

                              2. I can't speak for most of these places, but they sure as hell dropped the ball in Los Angeles. Canter's is not as awful as some L.A. Board CHers say now and then, but to see a picture of a pastrami sandwich with any name but Langer's under it is just wrong somehow. Norah Efron ruffled some New York feathers when she declared Langer's pastrami superior to any she'd had in NY, but she also got a good deal of agreement. Canter's does have the advantage of being open around the clock; Langer's used to until the neighborhood got dangerous, and now they're strictly breakfast through late lunch, closing at 4 pm, even though the area has revived a lot.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  I think either Canter's or Langer's could be considered Iconic for LA, but certainly Pink's Hot dogs is more so, and Philippe's (French Dip) would be a strong contender as well.

                                  I do tend to wonder if "iconic" restaurants can even be selected by the people who live somewhere or if they have to be picked by people from out of town.

                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    I would put Original Tommy's ahead of Pink's on the iconic list for Los Angeles, myself. Waiting in line there at 3 am, then eating your sloppy, greasy chiliburger on a shelf at the edge of the parking lot as all the hippie vans, USC frat boys' BMWs, lowriders, Porsches, limos, and all the rest of the world cruised in and out... I moved away 35 years ago and I can still smell their chili.

                                  1. Piroshky Piroshky in Seattle is fantastic.

                                    1. How can they leave out one of NYC's iconic steak houses like Peter Luger's, Sparks, Old Homestead or Palms?