Whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall diner with a loyal following, an out-of-the-way gem yet to be discovered or a longtime favorite that locals want to keep secret, a low profile is sometimes a big part of what makes a restaurant great. Especially when employee shortages and supply chain problems leave small businesses struggling, it’s smart to seek out under-the-radar restaurants with fantastic food and plenty of low-key charm. To help in the search, we’ve checked reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor along with local news reports to track down the best-kept secret in every state and Washington, D.C. — just don’t let the locals know we told you.
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Alabama chefs from miles around can be found on off-days heading to the tiny artists’ community of Fairhope. The menu at Dragonfly Foodbar is geared toward foodies and chefs. Using farm-to-table ingredients, the regular menu boasts creative tacos, noodles, and rice bowl combinations. Try the house-made pork skins that make a base for pulled Boston butt and a bacon-flavored aioli.
Related: 27 Amazing Bacon Dishes Across America.
Reviewers call the James Beard-nominated Kinley’s a seafood paradise. Chef Brett Knipmeyer named this local favorite after his daughter, Kinley, and turns out a lunch and dinner menu that boasts creative seafood, beef, and vegetarian fare. Make sure to try the coconut-dusted rockfish or the authentic German-style bratwurst platter.
Tucked away on the road that connects the South and North rim of the Grand Canyon, this eclectic hidden gem offers a diner-like menu with house-made specialties such as meatloaf, fish tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast fare such as a bestselling corned beef hash. The jaw-dropping views and ambience elevate the entire dining experience in this quaint spot.
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Rob and Adrienne Shaunfield created The Farmer’s Table Cafe in 2014 and make a point of supporting local food producers. The classic flavors of the Ozarks, from smoky ribs to farm-fresh egg dishes, are served in a home-like setting. Those traveling with dogs and vegans will also feel right at home. The dining room is being renovated until the end of January, but catering is still available until then.
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Denica’s offers samples of the kitchen’s fresh-baked treats to customers to take the sting out of the sometimes lengthy wait for a table. Mexican specialties are a standout, as the kitchen roasts fresh tomatoes for the salsas. Only real whipped cream is served on massive pancakes, and the bakery churns out huge cookies and muffins, too.
Fans of The Pullman recommend the mac n’ cheese made with Gruyere, white cheddar, and mustard-sage bread crumbs as a tasty starter. The grass-fed burgers are another standout, but the menu has lots of choices. If you visit in fall, order the large plate of autumn vegetable cianfotta with Parmesan broth, basil pesto, and — house-made grilled bread.
Cafe Sol is the sort of neighborhood place where the regulars are known by name, but newcomers are always welcome. The walls are adorned with local art and the chalkboard menu frequently changes to reflect the seasonal ingredients. All of the salad dressings and sandwich sauces are made from scratch, and healthy options abound. Get there early as whole wheat wraps and gluten-free bagels sell out.
Mrs. Robino’s offers old-school Italian meals inside a 1940-era renovated row house. Home-style traditional Italian cooking is the hallmark of this cozy spot, where traditional recipes rule and the locals keep the dining room full. Homemade spaghetti and classic lasagna are some dishes people rave about in reviews. Order fried calamari, one of the changing crab specials, and the garlic butter spaghetti with lump crab and grilled garlic. (Just a tip: Mrs. Robino’s is also one of our 50 Best Old-School Italian Restaurants in America.)
In a city known for steeply-priced eats, China Boy delivers freshly-made noodles and traditional Chinese food in a storefront easily missed — but that doesn’t stop fans from lining up for the dim sum and sticky rice with different proteins. The pork belly buns are a must, according to Yelp reviewers.
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The locals know about this family Thai restaurant, and in a city flush with chain restaurants, Royal Thai is worth seeking out. The assorted curries, larb gai, tom kha gai, and oodles of appetizers are all very well reviewed. The restaurant boasts authentic Thai dishes and Americanized favorites such as pad thai and fried rice. Save room for one of the Thai iced coffee or tea drinks too.
An under-the-radar gem is Bennett’s Market & Deli. Victoria Bennett started the homey eatery in her neighborhood about six years ago and uses locally sourced products. She also curates some of the best wine and craft beer selections in the city. It’s a local favorite in a big city filled with great eateries.
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Described by locals as laid-back and charming, the family-owned Greek spot Olive Tree Cafe boasts a delicious lamb shank entree as well as classics such as souvlaki, avgolemono soup and falafel. Delicious food has turned this once quiet “locals only” spot into a restaurant that has lines out the door. Organic chicken, New Zealand lamb, fresh fish and other locally sourced food items keep the reviews and the raves going strong.
In operation since 1922, Delsa’s Ice Cream Parlour is an old-school diner with homemade ice cream that the locals rave about. From cheeseburgers, baskets of fried fish, french fries, and killer onion rings to tots and hand-pulled milkshakes, this Boise gem is an affordable spot for casual dining.
Punch House specializes in creative renditions of its namesake fruit-based party drink, but the food is a big part of the appeal as well. A jalapeño cheddar brat and a fried pork sandwich are just a few of the notable items on the limited menu. Unsurprisingly, nobody in the neighborhood wants the word out on this gem.
Taxman Brewing is not only a brewery but a gastropub with sandwiches, salads, ribs and even oysters Rockefeller on the menu. Do not leave without trying the grass-fed beef burgers, Belgian-inspired double-fried fries (“frites”), and sticky toffee waffle dessert.
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There’s much more to La Regia than tacos — you can come by for platters of skirt steak with fried cactus, or goat meat in broth — but the name honors its origins as a food truck that expanded into all sorts of authentic, fresh Mexican comfort food, and then into vegetarian and seafood menus. In a thread about hidden gem restaurants, one passionate Redditor declared that if you haven’t been to La Regia “at least a hundred time, your value as a person is highly suspect [though] anyone with an ounce of taste or adventure eats there once a week.” The can’t-miss dish: carnitas tacos.
Rustic and down-home, Cedar Ridge Restaurant serves a set menu meal on Saturday and a Sunday brunch that locals love. The Saturday meal comes with a fresh salad wedge and choice of dressings, homemade chicken soup, and a choice of pulled pork, beef brisket, and lemon pepper chicken. Brunch guests can expect buttermilk pancakes, slice bone-in ham, and homemade beef and noodles, and more.
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This refined Appalachian gem serves a unique and tasty regional menu that features jumbo lump crab cakes and house-made pizzas, plus sides such as fried potato salad and full-on entrees ranging from burgers to teriyaki salmon and catfish and chips.
Since 1924, fresh oysters and shrimp have been fried to perfection and served up in a gut-busting sandwich with all the trimmings at Domilise’s Po-Boys and Bar. This unpretentious diner-like place is a local hang, well removed from the tourist track. Be sure to seek it out, and do not leave without ordering the fresh catfish po’boy if you can make room.
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If you love seafood, go no further than The Red Barn. Since 1977, this lesser-known spot has been a Maine mainstay and with lines of locals out the door. Crispy-light onion rings, scallop rolls, Laura’s seafood stew from scratch, steamers, and assorted local seafood baskets served with fries and a downhome friendliness keep regulars (and out-of-staters) coming back.
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Founding Farmers is renowned for its spatchcock chicken ($19), a quarter-bird quick-roasted in an 800-degree oven. Tuck into locally-sourced scallops Meuniere or slow-braised beef short rib if chicken doesn’t appeal. People rave about the house-made chicken pot pie and chicken and spinach enchiladas, too.
Momi Nonmi may be a mouthful to say, but the Japanese-heavy menu ranges from the Mushroom Dynamite to a chilled Hawaiian poke that locals swear is as good as what one would find in the islands. This restaurant is a gluten-free paradise, too. Make sure to order the Wagyu beef dumplings and finish the meal with the green tea ice cream.
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Since 1955, this quaint, family-owned establishment has served up gut-busting breakfast dishes and turkey plates with all the fixings. There are also deals galore for seniors. Unpretentious and a local favorite, Turkey Roost is a definite must-visit on Wednesdays to try the famous house-made turkey pot pie.
Whether you want a quick, cafeteria-style meal or a sit-down dinner, El Burrito Mercado has you covered. An attached grocery offers a wide range of imported favorites, too. Reviewers say you can’t beat the authenticity at this institution, praising staples such as tacos and burritos as well as the restaurant’s hefty portions.
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A daily-changing chalkboard shows the menu’s Southern roots at Tallahatchie Gourmet ranging from shrimp and grits to chicken-fried steak and fried catfish. Biscuits and desserts are not to be missed, and locals swear by the family-sized casseroles that serve four or more and veer heavily into Italian and Cajun specialties.
Opened in 2008, LaBinnah is an intimate spot open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Make sure to order the Gemini, a baked, boneless chicken breast with fresh spinach and mushrooms sauteed in lemon and white wine, or try the Ajvar chicken breast with pureed eggplant, tomato, peppers, and spices. This unassuming bistro knocks it out of the park with an eclectic, Middle-Eastern fusion menu.
Praised for high-end dining without the high-end prices, Boxcar delivers classical French dishes like beef bourguignon and duck confit and has earned five stars on Yelp. Try the beef tenderloin and reviewers say you won’t be disappointed.
Nebraska might not seem like the place for authentic Cajun food, but this unassuming spot serves up all the classics. Reviewers praise the catfish, po’ boys, collard greens, and gouda mac ‘n cheese. Try the traditional gumbo or shrimp and grits for some Creole flavor.
In a place filled with over-the-top dining experiences, a local favorite and lesser known is Todd’s, a gem serving up chef Todd’s fresh Alaskan and East Coast seafood, prime steaks and house made fixings and sides. His risottos and fish dishes are raved about as are his holiday menu specials. Make sure to try the desserts, always changing and given top review marks.
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Dover and Concord
New Hampshire is in lobster country, and Newick’s excels at crustacean cuisine. Founded in 1948 by the family that still runs the place, Newick’s offers three dishes for “land lovers” — but the rest of the menu comes from the water, including “lobstahs” and “chowdah.”
It’s loud and crowded, Zagat says, but that might be part of the experience at Taqueria Downtown. You can escape the noise by snagging a spot on the patio, where reviewers say you should nosh on just about any of the inexpensive tacos — pork seems to be among the favorites.
This Taos favorite delivers sauces made from scratch and what fans call exceptional service and fresh food. The restaurant promises that their signature dish is the rack of lamb with a red-wine demi-glace, garlic mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus, but diners call out the truffle fries for high praise, too.
This charming spot inside a historic 19th century building serves classic, delicious food which keeps regulars coming back. Plates at Allen Street Hardware include all-American favorites such as filet mignon and a fried chicken sandwich.
Laotian cuisine with Southern touches make Bida Manda a find. Order the pho lao, a traditional Chinese five-spice beef and rice noodle soup served with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, and Lao condiments. The basil stir-fry with vegetables, a poached egg, and a choice of beef or tofu is another local favorite. Diners rave about the duck and the beef larb, too.
If you’re looking for simple, tasty food and don’t care too much about atmosphere, this diner might be what you’re looking for. Yelp reviewers give props to the coffee cake and buttermilk pancakes, but take note — you can swap out the usual toast with your order for coffee cake. Take the coffee cake.
“Mod Mex” is how they describe chef Eric Williams’ fresh take on classic Mexican cuisine at Momocho. Small bites such as chorizo fundido and guacamole with goat cheese, and red pepper margaritas are popular. Pepita-crusted trout and chile rellenos are a few of the many entrees served up, too.
Landlocked Oklahoma has a surprisingly good seafood spot with White River Fish Market and Restaurant. The menu boasts oysters on the half shell, shrimp, and alligator. Local favorites include frog legs, flounder, catfish, and crab too. The smoked salmon and buttermilk pie is often mentioned in rave diner reviews.
The owners’ Nordic roots show in the menu’s Swedish pancakes with berry compote, fried potatoes, and a smoked bluefish pate with deviled eggs and pickled vegetables. Portland is a foodie town, and Radar brings the good stuff, country ham with red eye gravy, latkes, and a charming spot that makes it one to call your own before the rest of Oregon finds it.
Katie’s serves homemade Amish fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pennsylvania Dutch favorites such as homemade chicken pot pie, crab cakes, chicken croquettes and always homemade meatloafs have a faithful fan following. Don’t leave without ordering Amish desserts such as warm apple dumplings and soft-serve ice cream.
Family owned since 2002, Celestial Cafe proudly offers chowder made with local clams, eggplant towers, pork nachos, and much more. Thin crust pizzas, burgers, and creative entrees and salads make this a beloved local haunt.
Billed as the best fish and chips outside of London, the highly rated Codfather has a menu including all the proper sides such as mushy peas, curry sauce, and brown gravy, plus a malt vinegar imported from England. This South Carolina favorite is known for oversized, quality fish portions as well as chicken and mushroom pies.
This quaint former gas station serves everything from small bites to big plates. Order crispy onion rings and chislic (lamb), or for heartier fare try the famous Big Norwegian burger. Meridian Corner has an eclectic menu that runs from house-made pizza to Rocky Mountain oysters, as well as ethnic tasty treats such as fleisch kuchele (fried seasoned hamburger in pie dough).
Knoxville and Nashville
Beef, beer, and bourbon of every stripe can be found here. Order the house-fried pickles and fried green tomatoes, and be sure to peruse the lengthy burger menu. Stock and Barrel emphasizes farm-to-table ingredients and a community vibe. Save room for beer-battered onion rings, a s’mores shake, and peanut-butter pie, too.
Houston is a multicultural dining hub, and the city adores this Asian-inspired restaurant. Reviews cite its “New York-style vibe” and fans praise dishes such as the Yusheng salmon crudo and Japanesian Brussels sprouts, a dish of flash-fried Brussels sprouts with ponzu and kecap manis (an Indonesian sweet soy sauce) topped with Parmesan.
Salt Lake City
Bambara is a local critical fave and locals’ pick for good eats. The spot boasts grand arched windows and original brass fixtures, creating a chic setting for chef Nathan Powers’ menu of small and entree-sized plates. Maine scallops, seared elk loin, potato gnocchi, and small bites such as grilled quail or dijon deviled eggs are all delicious choices.
Co-owners Kevin Lasko and Katie Stiles prepare a fresh menu weekly (though the restaurant is closed from May through October) for set time seatings at The Backroom, but don’t look for it online — they don’t post the information. But local reviewers and food critics rave about this communal-style, farm-to-table gem that serves Friday and Saturdays only. The meal begins with cocktails and snacks followed by a three-course, local-sourced dinner menu.
Commune only serves breakfast and lunch, but the choices are hearty enough you may not want dinner. Heirloom grit bowl, cornmeal waffles, biscuit eggs Benedict, plus a long list of inventive breakfast sandwiches that drift into lunch territory such as a popular fried oyster sandwich are all made with ingredients sourced from local artisan dairies, meat and fish purveyors, and farms.
Located between Seattle and Portland, The Depot Restaurant in Long Beach Peninsula is a hidden gem. Housed in a restored train depot, the restaurant has a coastal setting and fresh seafood that can’t be beat. Highlights include Dungeness crab mac, wild-caught salmon, Willapa Bay oysters, calamari and meats such as quail and lamb, and more. Don’t miss the award-winning clam chowder, either.
Chef Damian Heath serves eclectic, seasonal New American fare in a 1913 home at Lot 12 Public House. Try the grilled arancini to start, then the duck duo with rosemary mashed potatoes or cornmeal dusted flounder.
Since 1977, Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room has been a huge hit with locals who come to the Dane County Regional Airport for the grilled perch filet, homemade chili and cheddar cheese omelet, and the fried cheese curds. Monday through Friday order the egg dishes the Halfa Benny, the Line Shack Stack, the 1x1x1, or The Elevator.
The Coop Rotisserie House is an an out-of-the-way spot that fans say does chicken right. The top-sellers are the rotisserie meals sold with sides of your choice, and Sonia’s Chicken Taquitos, rotisserie chicken taquitos dressed with cabbage, creamy red tomato lime sauce. The Buffadilla, a mozzarella cheese quesadilla with rotisserie chicken bathed in wing sauce and served with fresh guacamole and red or green salsa is also a hit.
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