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6 restaurants win America's Classics Awards from James Beard Foundation

The locally owned independent restaurants are recognized for quality food, timeless appeal and their ability to reflect the character of their communities.
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The James Beard Foundation named six iconic restaurants recipients of the America's Classics Award. | Photo courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday announced the 2024 recipients of its annual America's Classics Award. Six locally owned independent restaurants from around the country were recognized for their quality food, timeless appeal and their ability to reflect the character of their communities.

The winners represent locales as diverse as San Francisco and South Dakota; Harlem, N.Y. and Spartanburg S.C. And their menus run the gamut from traditional Vietnamese dishes to Nordic waffles, smothered pork chops, meat-and-three plates, oversized cocktails and Burmese cuisine.

Here are the six America's Classics Award recipients:

Mandalay

San Francisco, Calif.

Current owner: Kevin Chen

This Burmese restaurant has been open in the Richmond District of San Francisco since 1984, founded by current owner Kevin Chen’s family when Burmese food was a rarity in the U.S. The country’s cuisine pulls from India, China and Thailand, all of which border Burma or Myanmar, as it’s known today. Standout dishes include the signature tea leaf salad, Mandalay Special noodles in coconut broth and slightly sour samusa soup with falafel, samusa, potatoes, lentils, shredded cabbage and mint leaf.

Vietnam Restaurant

Philadelphia, Pa.

Current owner: Benny Lai

Founding couple Nhu Lai and Thuyen Luu arrived in Philadephia in 1979 and opened a grocery that transitioned into a Chinatown restaurant five years later. By 2000, after handing the business over to their son, Benny, Vietnam moved to a larger, upgraded multi-floor space and evolved into one of Philly's favorite date-night destinations for classic Vietnamese cuisine. A second branch in West Philadelphia, Vietnam Café, has become a neighborhood favorite, too.

Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge

Brookings, S.D.

Current owners: Georgiana Olson and Michael Johnson

Family-run for three generations, the Pheasant was born in 1949 as a gas station café. Current chef and manager Michael Johnson’s grandparents, Georgiana and Ronald Olson, purchased the Pheasant in 1966, eventually moving it to Brookings, a college town north of Sioux Falls in North Dakota. The menu features mid-century dishes of the upper Midwest, like hot roast beef on homemade white bread; Nordic waffles (vafler) made with cardamom; and riffs on comfort food like duck wings, bison steak au poivre and a lamb burger with local jalapeño jelly. The restaurant sources from local farmers, still offers $9 early bird dinners and serves as a community anchor.

Sylvia’s Restaurant

New York City

Current owners: The Woods Family

Sylvia Woods, the late owner of this iconic Harlem restaurant, was dubbed “The Queen of Soul Food,” feeding everyone from U.S. presidents to governors, mayors, celebs and her own neighbors in the community. In 1962, she bought the luncheonette where she had worked as a cook and waitress for 16 years, and converted it to Sylvia’s. The menu features the best of South Carolina soul food, including barbecue ribs, fried chicken and smothered pork chops. Sylvia’s continues to be in the family, operated today by her son, Kenneth Woods.


Wade’s Restaurant 

Spartanburg, S.C. 

Current owners: Hamp Lindsey, Wade Lindsey III and Anna Lindsey Liles 

Founded in 1947 by Wade and Betty Lindsey, Wade’s follows family recipes for its Southern meat-and-three menu. Today, 2,500 guests visit Wade’s daily; the restaurant serves 3,500 made-from-scratch yeast rolls along with 750 turkey plates and more than 1,500 orders of mac and cheese every day. The Lindsey children, Hamp and Carole, took over in 1977 and now grandkids Wade and Anna have joined the team and lead operations alongside Joey BassoEvery one of the 130-plus employees is made to feel valued, and it shows up as part of the warm, yet efficient, hospitality.

Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge

Las Vegas, Nev.

Current owners: Nat Carasali and Bill Paganetti (†)

Opened in 1972 by Nat Carasali and Bill Paganetti, the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge has been a Las Vegas institution for over 51 years. It appeared in movies like Casino and Show Girls, has been frequented by mobsters and celebrities and is best known for its pink and purple neon nights, fire pits, oversized cocktails and massive platters of diner classics. What really makes it special is the welcoming atmosphere; it’s a place where pit bosses, dancers, bartenders and other Vegas industry folks can come after a late shift—and where the staff has longevity. Peggy Orth began waitressing at 17, and decades later, she’s now general manager and her son Nicholas is the executive chef.

“The America’s Classics Award showcases the beloved independent restaurants that have been integral to American food culture across cities big and small,” Lauren Saria and Allecia Vermillion, co-chairs of the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Subcommittee, said in a statement. “It is an honor to recognize this year’s winners that emulate the spirit of their communities, while also setting a commendable standard for our entire industry.”

The six 2024 winners, which represent six distinct regions of the U.S., join the ranks of over 100 past America's Classics award recipients.

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