Restaurateurs disparage customer review sites like Yelp because the ratings can be more of a bitch fest than the careful, balanced evaluation a professional critic provides. But 51 establishments are likely thinking more positively of citizen reviewers after Yelp released a list of the best dining option in each state and the District of Columbia, as anointed by the site’s users. According to Yelp’s partner in the endeavor, USAToday, the places were designated as the best in their respective markets by an algorithm that combined posted comments with the straightforward star ratings.
The list is packed with surprises. Even hardcore restaurant users in our Mesa, Ariz., office, for instance, were shocked to learn a hometown hole in the wall, Adrian’s tacqueria, was ranked the best in their state. “Born and raised in Mesa…never heard of Adrian’s,” commented one.
Other head scratchers include the selection of a vegan restaurant (Herban Fix) as the best in Georgia, the heart of meat-and-two country, and the designation of a sushi bar as the top choice in Kansas, one of the nation’s barbecue epicenters.
Here, with all the controversial choices included, is Yelp’s list of consumers’ favorite restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Alabama: Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, Birmingham
Among the new ripples in the restaurant business is the emergence in many downtowns of cycle cafes, or establishments celebrating the lifestyle of the urban bicycle rider. Woodlawn is a prime example. It’s a destination for bike commuters and recreational riders, with racks inside where two-wheelers can be safely stowed while their owners have a cup of third-wave coffee and catch up on NPR podcasts. This is no shrine to spandex, with customers enjoying bacon and kimchee sandwiches or other indulgences in what fans describe as a “chill” environment. It’s more of a tribute to all things alternative and fresh.
Alaska: The Little Mermaid, Homer
The bounty of the 49th state is celebrated in a menu that changes nightly (it’s described in detail by the servers rather than showcased in print). The emphasis is on local fish in season that day, including varieties (like rockfish) that may not be common in the Lower 48. Customers say they appreciate the Asian influences and much admire the ability of chef-owner Evan Vogl to complement the inherent flavor of the food with the herbs he selects.
Arizona: Adrian’s, Mesa
Mesa-ites were shocked to learn of Adrian’s selection as the best place in Arizona, noting an abundance of great hole-in-the-wall joints just in the greater Phoenix area. But Yelpers hail the walk-up taqueria’s breakfast burrito as one of the best, and the carne asada lunchtime version gets high grades, too. Noted one poster: “I was hesitant at first because of the lack of parking and the trailer park in the back but that should not deter you.”
Arkansas: Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie & Grill, Little Rock
The specialty of Lulu’s is Pollo a la Brasa, or Latin-spiced rotisserie chicken, served with customers’ choice of two sides and a sauce. The portions range from a quarter of a chicken ($9.50 or $10.50, for dark or white meat), to a whole bird ($29.50, with three sides). The restaurant strives to be family friendly, both for dine-in and takeout service, and positions itself as a good place for date nights. The Latin emphasis extends to the cocktail and beer menus.
California: 786 Degrees, Sun Valley
Ethnic pizzas are the staple of what patrons describe as a noticeably small place to house a full Neapolitan-style oven. Among the pies drawing particularly noticeable raves: the Bombay Tikka Masala, featuring tandoori chicken, and the El Chapo, with chorizo. A number of posts note that the food is halal and as authentic as you’d expect a pizza-fied version of things like doner kabob and barbecued chicken to be.
Colorado: JP Nori Sushi & Asian Cuisine, Littleton
The familiarity of the menu underscores why Yelp reviewers say they love JP Nori: It’s all about the service and execution. Fans have posted stories about being accommodated in their requests for twists on the Asian staples that make up the bill of fare. One noted that a request for moo-shu vegetables was met with a sizzling platter, with hoison sauce on the side. Others remarked that the staff is exceptional in remembering patrons' names.
The menu does have its quirks, but mainly on the latter pages. The listed desserts include fried bananas ($3.50 each, plus $1.50 for a scoop of ice cream), sesame balls and a rice flour-ice cream mashup called mochi.
Connecticut: August: Upscale Bar and Eatery, New Haven
With nothing more than a hot plate, Panini press and stew pot, the 16-seat nook has cultivated a strong following for dishes that would be ambitious for kitchens twice the size of the whole restaurant (it measures 350 square feet). The New York Times described the “kitchen” (actually a section of the bar) as calling to mind a sailboat galley. But that hasn’t stopped husband-and-wife team Andrew and Michelle Hotis from aiming high, with stews, salads and smoked salmon.
Delaware: Henlopen City Oyster House, Rehoboth Beach
Raw bar classics like oyster shooters share the menu with such seafood dishes currently in vogue as lobster mac and cheese. As strong of a spotlight falls on the bar, where patrons can have a punch, cider, seasonal martinis, a bunch of craft brews and even a kegged libation “for an old world beer experience,” the place promises on its website.
District of Columbia: Keren Restaurant & Coffee Shop
The proudly ethnic restaurant features tibsi, the stewlike signature dish of Eritrea, an African nation with a cuisine sometimes likened to Ethiopian food. Patrons can choose any of three tibsis, made with beef or vegetables. Also featured are several cotoletta—beef or chicken filets cooked in the style Italians call Milanese. Pasta, in the form of spaghetti or macaroni, are the standard sides. No entree on the permanent menu is priced higher than $9.13.
Florida: Mr. & Mrs. Bun, Miami
Peruvian sandwiches are the big draw at the husband-and-wife run newcomer, and mastering them requires some vocabulary additions. Cholo is what co-proprietor Vanessa Rivera calls one of the exotic breads, a cross between a baguette, focaccia and ciabatta. Butifarra is the sausage that figures into some of the sandwiches—or “sandwhiches,” with an extra “h,” as the restaurant calls them. Chifa is the term for the Chinese-Peruvian mashups that dot the menu, like a sauce used atop a sandwich made with chicken thighs. The bill of fare was the result of a two-year excursion by Rivera and husband Gian Carlo Accinelli—aka Mr. and Mrs. Bun—before opening the place.
Georgia: Herban Fix, Atlanta
Winning big among a specific type of consumer, this vegan restaurant adheres strictly to a menu of Pan-Asian dishes made with plant-based ingredients. Still relatively new, having taken over a closed-down restaurant’s space in 2015, Herban Fix has an open floor plan—complete with loft seating—and a contemporary vibe to draw in an urban diner looking for a veggie-only meal. Another big sell for this restaurant: The all-you-care-to-eat prix-fixe brunch rings in at $25 per person.
Hawaii: Chirashi Sushi Don by Jiro, Kailua-Kona
It takes a lot to stand out from the pack as a sushi restaurant in Hawaii, but this to go-focused restaurant is winning diners with its namesake chirashi-don, a bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh fish. Sandwiched between an ice cream shop and a drugstore in a small shopping center, the ultra-casual takeout window is known as much for its fresh offerings served below $10 as it is for its long waits.
Idaho: Forage Bistro & Lounge, Driggs
Located in the Teton Valley, this bistro-style restaurant got new ownership last year, and has since become a favorite in the area both during ski season and in the summer. Originally just open for dinner, the restaurant added lunch and weekend brunch service. While citizen reviewers rave about the food throughout the day, they are equally impressed by the service at Forage. Diners say waitstaff is exceptionally friendly as well as helpful.
Illinois: Oriole, Chicago
Opened in Chicago’s burgeoning West Loop neighborhood in March, the fine-dining spot may be a favorite among citizen reviewers, but meals don’t come cheap at Oriole. The prix fixe-only menu costs $175, plus $75 for beverage pairings or $125 for wine pairings. But it’s being marketed as extended prix fixe, with a sample menu featuring 16 courses, including caviar, lamb belly, bone broth and lemon tea sorbet.
But don’t expect big signs on the main drag point to the entrance. It’s a small space—with just 28 tables—and it’s somewhat hard to find. In fact, part of the appeal, according to reviewers, is its almost alley-like location, with the entrance on a small side street where diners are also likely to see dumpsters. The loft-style design, paired with the menu, have won over local magazine and newspaper critics right out of the gate.
Indiana: Three Carrots, Indianapolis
Slinging what it calls “vegetarian food from the heartland,” diners from all over Indy love the veggie-forward food with a local flair from Three Carrots. In fact, most of the reviews from Yelp and other local blogs begin with, “I’m the opposite of a vegetarian and I love meat, but this makes me feel okay going meatless.” The fast casual, which gets just as many high marks for its helpful staff as it does for the food, serves up meals such as a tofu po’boy, seitan gyro and vegan biscuits and gravy, all in to-go clamshells.
Iowa: Nodo, Iowa City
The original location of this sandwich-shop-meets-diner on Iowa City’s north side is known as much for its location that butts up against a hardware store as it is for its colorful chalkboard menu of sandwiches—favorites of which include grilled peanut butter and banana and grilled cheese, according to customer reviews. While the original operates in tight quarters with only a handful of tables, Nodo launched a second location downtown in 2013. It features the same sandwich-heavy menu, but also boasts a separate Skylight Room specifically for groups to reserve for meetings, parties and more.
Kansas: Sushi Uni, Lenexa
The self-proclaimed Japanese fusion spot offers dine-in, carryout and delivery sushi in the middle of the country. Even with its Midwest location, Yelpers repeatedly noted that the quaint spot serves the freshest fish in the area. And they also called the restaurant a hidden gem—code for very small with a lot of tables crammed in. Despite some of the less-than-comfy placements of some of the tables, diners keep coming back—and waiting, especially during peak hours—for the popular sushi and sashimi lunch specials and well as dinner.
Kentucky: Wunderbar, Covington
Known as a funky neighborhood joint, the German pub slings housemade sausages and craft beer, plus other German bites such as soft pretzels and beer cheese, all detailed only on the chalkboard menu on the wall. While the owners focused on authentic cuisine for the most part, it’s not to be thought of only as a meat-heavy haven—Wunderbar offers a vegetarian wurst along with roasted Brussels sprouts, potato pancakes and other veggie-friendly options.
Reminiscent of a German beer hall, the inside is filled with picnic-style tables, a lively bar and live music multiple nights a week. To up the Instagram factor, the interior has beer signs, hand-painted skateboards, old guitars and the front of a bus to pose behind (there are bar stools behind it).
Louisiana: St. James Cheese Company, New Orleans
Part sandwich shop, part market, part cheese store, the two-location St. James Cheese Company is known for its charcuterie boards and deli sandwiches. The original Uptown location is popular for its cozy interior and buzzy courtyard seating as well as its happy hour, offering a selection of three cheeses and a glass of wine for $15. The second location in the Warehouse district, unlike the initial Uptown spot, features a cheese bar, craft beer on tap and a full bar—plus a separate line for food orders and buying cheese from the case.
Maine: The Black Birch, Kittery
This polished-casual spot draws people from the neighborhood as well as out-of-town visitors, and the place is always packed, according to reviews. Customers attribute the crowds to the regularly changing menu, attentive servers (they even bring drinks to guests waiting on line for a table) and lively ambiance, although others are put off by the noise, close quarters and slow kitchen. The comfort-food menu incorporates local Maine products such as oysters and chevre.
Maryland: Royal Taj, Columbia
In contrast to the many mom-and-pop Indian operations, this restaurant sports fine-dining touches such as white tablecloths, chandeliers, upholstered chairs and an extensive wine cellar. The dinner menu mixes crowd favorites (like Chicken Tikka Masala) with more atypical items (Lobster Khasa, for example) with prices topping $30 for some seafood entrees. But customers don’t seem to mind, praising the décor, service and vegetarian options—as well as the value-conscious lunch buffet ($13.25).
Massachusetts: C Salt Wine Bar & Grille, Falmouth
Named among the Best of Boston by Boston Magazine, the husband and wife team behind this Cape Cod restaurant blend a more traditional American menu with a little of both Asian and French influences. While most of the menu is on the slightly higher end side, one of the most popular dishes is the Burger Bar, an 8-ounce burger with bacon, Gruyere, caramelized onions and mushrooms that’s served only at the bar—and not on Saturdays.
The food and wine menu aren’t the only selling points for diners. Described as “cozy” and “comfy” by reviewers, the dining space is small with limited tables, but it boasts an open kitchen with a brick oven for guests to look in on as well as a patio with seating to provide views outdoors.
The team also opened TGC Grille by C Salt, which overlooks a golf course. At this point in the season, it’s only open for lunch Thursday through Sunday.
Michigan: Nani’s Cafe and Beach Shop, Union Pier
The population in this lakeside community skyrockets in the summer—Nani’s seems to have a handle on the tastes of vacationers and second-home residents. Fresh-baked breakfast pastries, such as the signature bacon-maple glazed muffin, hot dogs on grilled, homemade buns, floats made with draft root beer and shrimp rolls are the menu stars. The ambiance is beach shack, but the made-from-scratch food boasts unique and premium ingredients, say the reviewers.
Minnesota: My Huong Kitchen, Minneapolis
Authentic Vietnamese home cooking is the draw here, with specialties such as beef stew noodle soup, a vegetarian mock duck banh mi and broken rice with lemongrass chicken on offer for both eat-in and takeout customers. It’s a tiny hole in the wall, say Yelpers, and popular for inexpensive lunches of spring rolls, pho and bubble tea—the best sellers.
Mississippi: King’s Tavern, Natchez
Reviewers mention the “not your typical bar food,” highlighting items such as Braised Brisket Wood-fired Tavern Flatbread, which the restaurant’s website claims is its top seller. Menu descriptions boast about the handcrafting of many items, including cocktails, ice cream and desserts. Customers seem to be attracted by the tavern’s historic location in the oldest building in Natchez, which rumor has it is haunted by a ghost named Madeline.
Missouri: Egg, St. Louis
Open seven days from morning through 2 p.m., this breakfast-brunch pop-up inside another restaurant serves classics with a twist (cornbread benedict with smoked pork belly, for example) as well as Mexican dishes like sopes. The menu takes brunching to the next level, say Yelpers. On weekends, the wait for a table can be 30 minutes, but “if you’re in St. Louis, the meal is worth the wait,” according to one review.
Montana: The Knead Cafe, Kalispell
Here’s a small venue with big breakfasts, and the cozy setting, family-friendly vibe and plates of homemade food generate very positive comments. Reviewers point to eggs benedict served on a croissant and scratch-made biscuits as must-haves for breakfast, but the lunch menu gets a little more adventurous, with choices like Moroccan lentil soup and plenty of vegetarian options.
Nebraska: Noodle House, Grand Island
Visitors to this off-the-beaten-track spot express surprise at finding Chinese and Vietnamese food as authentic and fresh tasting as they’ve eaten in San Francisco, Seattle and New York. The menu is limited to about eight items, with each running $5 to $8. The combination of low prices and “amazing” food equals high ratings for Noodle House.
New Mexico: Asian Pear, Albuquerque
This Asian concept has built buzz in spite of its relatively limited hours. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with extended hours on Friday, Asian Pear serves up a variety of plates, bowls and bento boxes to the working crowd in downtown Albuquerque.
New York: Yaar Indian Restaurant, Queens
Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are listed among the most popular menu items at this BYOB neighborhood spot, which reviewers say provides a great value. The restaurant’s prix fixe dinner offers an entree, a samosa and dessert for $14.95.
North Carolina: KoKyu Na’Mean, Durham
The proprietor of a popular local food truck, KoKyu BBQ, established this brick-and-mortar outpost about a year ago, and it has gained a loyal following, too. (The name is short for “know what I mean?”} While the truck serves international versions of barbecue, sandwiches are the specialty at this counter-service storefront. Banh Mi gets a lot of mentions, but also on the menu are a cremini panini and 12-hour roasted Italian beef.
North Dakota: Theodore’s, Medora
All-American fare is the focus at this fine-dining venue, situated in the Rough Rider Hotel. While there are few surprises on the menu, local tastes are reflected in the offer of bison steaks in addition to beef, and buffalo osso buco. White tablecloths and professional service contribute to how one reviewer describes Theodore’s as “probably the fanciest restaurant in Medora,” while another calls the restaurant “swanky.”
Pennsylvania: South Philly Barbacoa, Philadelphia
South Dakota: Mac’s Grub, Hill City
Known for its barbecue, Mac’s Grub smokes brisket and pulled pork on-site and serves up two types of housemade barbecue sauces—St. Louis and Carolina—to complement the downhome fare. The Irish-themed spot’s chalkboard menu is free of alcohol, but touts daily specials such as a gravy-drenched hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and slaw. Mac himself is often seen in the dining room touching tables and chatting with guests, adding to the concept’s family-friendly positioning.
Tennessee: Etch, Nashville
The menu at this open-kitchen concept features bold, unique flavors and Mediterranean and North African influences, with dishes such as octopus and shrimp bruschetta and roasted cauliflower with truffled pea pesto and salted almonds. The alcohol on offer embodies the restaurant’s fine dining yet unpretentious ambiance, with classic and couture cocktails, local craft beers and an extensive wine list.
Texas: Frank, Dallas
Frank’s self-described “underground private dinner party experience” is just one point of distinction from the typical restaurant experience. Reservations are based on an exclusive lottery system and often take a year or more to attain. Run by “MasterChef” finalists Jennie Kelley and Ben Starr, the secret supper club format allows Frank to serve unique, rare ingredients, often foraged or raised by the chefs themselves.
Utah: Centro Woodfired Pizzeria, Cedar City
As pizza continues to proliferate, tags like “woodfired” and “artisan” have lost meaning among the plethora of emerging pie concepts. But Centro stands out from the bunch, with the phrase “perfectly charred crust” appearing in more than a few user reviews. Everything from the dough to its signature fennel sausage is prepared in-house daily from simple ingredients, creating pizzas designed to wow without making guests feel stuffed.
Vermont: Apple Core Luncheonette and Brew, Waterbury Center
Some see eateries attached to businesses as an afterthought, but Apple Core Luncheonette is far from it. A popular lunch spot after a day at neighboring Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the luncheonette offers a wide menu of panini made with fresh-baked breads and apple cider on tap. The eatery itself is booze-free, but offers a beer store with a wide selection of local craft beers and hard ciders to take to go.
Virginia: Wonderful Restaurant, Yorktown
Tucked away in a strip mall, this Asian restaurant’s unassuming location is not at all a reflection of the cuisine. Its diverse menu offers Japanese, Korean and Thai food, and guests rave that the sushi is unmatched in the area. The friendly wait staff is also a draw to customers, who appreciate the attentive staff and being recognized on return visits.
Washington: Un Bien, Seattle
The slightly infamous Caribbean spot features a simple outdoor seating area and a walk-up window, doling out what guests (and the menu itself) fondly describe as messy, meat-piled Cuban sandwiches “slathered with aioli.” Seattleites claim the Caribbean Roast is a must, but the Palomilla Steak and fire-roasted corn are also notable favorites.
West Virginia: Maria’s Taqueria, Shepherdstown
Recently moved to a larger location across the street from its former space, customers no longer have to cram into the 5-by-10-foot space to grab a burrito to go. Fish tacos steal the spotlight, but the fresh ingredients aren’t lost on dishes like huevos rancheros and chicken chimichangas, and the low prices and large portions are almost as well loved as the food itself.
Wisconsin: Bavette, Milwaukee
This butcher shop-turned-restaurant redefines menu transparency by sourcing responsibly raised whole animals from small local farms and custom cutting its meat. Snacks and lighter fare balance the meat-centric menu, which changes daily depending what’s on offer—but the beef brisket sandwich with cabbage-apple slaw and jalapeno aioli seems to be the clear star of the charcuterie.
Wyoming: Bin22, Jackson
This wine bar, tucked into the back of a bottle shop-slash-grocer, serves up Italian fare tapas-style. Guests can choose a bottle of wine from the store’s extensive selection to imbibe with their meal, sans corkage fee. The happy hour deal of half-price wines is a draw for many guests not seeking a whole bottle, and the friendly service is often utilized for menu recommendations.