Consumer Trends

A list of the highest rated independent restaurants in America reveals some surprises

Using Yelp data, OnDeck tracked consumers’ favorite indies in every state, ranging from breakfast spots to pizza places and burger joints.
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The list includes the top restaurants in every state, as determined by ratings and reviews on Yelp. | Image courtesy of OnDeck.

Drive down any U.S. highway and it seems like chain restaurants dominate the landscape. But independents account for 53% of the American dining scene, according to OnDeck, an online small business lender. And consumers are very vocal about their favorites, gravitating to Yelp to rate and rant.

To discover diners’ top picks in every state, OnDeck mined Yelp.com for reviews of more than 5,000 independent restaurants across the country. Only those with four or more stars and over 100 reviews were considered. And the selection was limited to five categories: Pizza, vegan, burgers, breakfast and international cuisines.

Topping the entire list with average ratings of five-out-of-five are two vegan restaurants in Los Angeles: Hey, Sunshine Kitchen and Beewali’s Vegan Af. Another top pick overall is Destination Taiwan, a Chinese restaurant in Cheyenne, Wyo. These three share the title of the highest-rated independent restaurant in the U.S.

One reviewer lauded Hey, Sunshine Kitchen, which is owned by two sisters in Culver City, Calif., for “its incredibly friendly staff and even more palatable food.” Same with Beewali’s Vegan Af, where “all the food is absolutely delicious and the service was top notch.” Californians apparently love small vegan indies.

In the pizza segment, HillCrust Pizza in San Diego soared to the top, with an average rating of 4.9 through public reviews. And one of the highest-rated burger spots is in Las Vegas—the Leatherneck Club—also boasting a 4.9 score.

When it comes to global cuisines, Yelp reviewers are all over the map, perhaps an indication of how multicultural Americans’ palates have become. Bistro 6050 in Chicago got high marks for its eclectic menu of empanadas, crepes and ice cream, while Shoufi Mahfi Mediterranean Grill is a favorite with diners in Orlando, Fla. Las Vegas also scored again with Its Izakaya, a Japanese restaurant known for its extensive sushi selection and happy hour.

Obviously missing from this list are pricey award-winning restaurants like Le Bernardin in New York City, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and Alinea in Chicago. Yelp reviewers are more apt to try smaller, less upscale eateries. And while they are admittedly subjective, it seems like friendly service and local flavor are major draws.

OnDeck reports that since the pandemic, 64% of American consumers intentionally visit independent restaurants over national chains because they want to support a local business.

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