19 Legendary Restaurant Rivalries in America

Some things are quintessentially American. Baseball, apple pie, and jazz music are frequent examples. But an even better dose of Americana may be franchise restaurants and the rivalries between similar eateries.

Whether the American restaurant serves donuts, hot dogs, bagels, or chicken, there is a fascinating competition to explore.

Because of the United States’ reputation as a melting pot of cultures, almost every prized food item in Mexican, Italian, Jewish, and American cuisine has a famous restaurant rivalry.

I like to plan outings to these iconic restaurants when traveling through different regions of the United States to compare their dishes.

Read on to explore these 19 famous American restaurant rivalries.

American Coney Island vs. Lafayette Coney Island

Michigan’s coney dog race produced two main competitors, each holding down a chain across the state shaped like a mitten.

American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island each deliver their unique spin on this classic American food.

Since the early 1900s, these restaurants have battled it out to produce their favorite hot dog slathered in chili, cheese, and onions.

This All-American comfort food is served on a bun and usually with a fork, so you don’t miss any of the goodness. 

American Coney Island is Detroit’s original, serving hot dogs with a signature snap, french fries, and other simple fares.

While Lafayette’s came later, some locals swear by this hole-in-the-wall’s food.

El Charro Café vs. Macayo’s

El Charro Cafe in Tucson, Arizona, claims to have invented the chimichanga, a deep-fried version of the beans, rice, and meat-filled tortilla pocket we know as the burrito.

However, Macayo’s in neighboring Phoenix claims the same honor, saying they invented the chimichanga in 1946 and not El Charro’s 1922 invention year.

These deep-fried burritos are now sold in every Mexican restaurant and the freezer section of grocery stores.

Chimichangas are often served with sides and dipping sauces, like guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.

Regardless of who wins this distinction, both restaurants come together on one thing.

El Charro Cafe and Macayo’s both helped draft legislation to make the chimichanga an official Arizona state food.

Giordano’s vs. Lou Malnati’s

Chicago is a food city, and nothing stands out in the Windy City like its iconic deep-dish pizza.

While some think it looks and tastes more like a casserole than a pizza, deep dish lovers rave about this pile of cheese, sauce, and toppings.

Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s provide fierce competition for the best deep-dish pizzas in Chicago.

Typically locals and tourists alike favor Lou Malnati’s authentic flavor found throughout its hearty pizzas.

This chain is so popular you can purchase these signature deep-dish pizzas frozen and shipped throughout the United States. 

Giordano’s stands out as a stuffed deep-dish pizza, meaning there is an extra layer of crust.

If you love cheese as I do, the abundance of melty, stretchy cheeses will make Giordano’s one of your favorites.

5-8 Club vs. Matt’s Bar

We stay in the Midwest for this next American restaurant rivalry too.

Juicy Lucys are burgers stuffed with oozing, gooey cheese. Both the 5-8 Club and Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis claim to have invented this decadent entree.

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While frozen Minnesotans may not mind, visitors dining on a Juicy Lucy should be warned: the molten cheese pours out of these well-done burgers.

American cheese is the traditional choice, but pepper jack or cheddar is available.

Both establishments deliver on the dive bar atmosphere, so don’t expect anything grandiose.

Choose Matt’s Bar for the supposed origin of this burger, traced back to the 1950s.

Anchor Bar vs. Duff’s

Buffalo wings get their name not from the content of the protein but from their location of origin.

And these two Buffalo institutions battle it out to claim the title of the original Buffalo wings.

Duff’s offers a truly traditional wing, slathered in sauce and steeped in tradition.

This restaurant isn’t afraid to deliver on the spice factor either. Duff’s signature secret recipe wings offer a robust chicken wing coating with dynamic flavor.

As the name suggests, Anchor Bar delivers a more humble, straightforward experience.

This Buffalo restaurant focuses on a milder wing sauce. If you are more averse to spices, I recommend trying Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar also wins for crispy wings over Duff’s less crunchy exterior.

Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque vs. Gates Bar-B-Q

In Kansas City, Missouri, people are serious about their barbecue.

This region’s signature BBQ flavor combines ketchup or tomato soup with vinegar for its traditional sauce flavor.

Hickory wood chips help impart a smoky flavor to the meat while it cooks.

For decades the two sides of the BBQ debate have included Kansas City’s Arthur Bryant and Ollie Gates.

These pitmasters developed a devoted following in the city, ending with them both being inducted into the American Royal BBQ Hall of Fame.

Arthur Bryant’s is known for its no-frills customer experience and for inventing the concept of serving customers what is now considered a barbecue delicacy: burnt ends.

Gates Bar-B-Q takes the opposite approach, focusing on immaculate interior and impeccable customer service.

Geno’s Steaks vs. Pat’s King of Steaks

Even if you have never visited Philadelphia, you may have heard of the “Pat’s and Geno’s” rivalry.

These two restaurant names became synonymous with the iconic Philadelphia menu item, the Philly cheesesteak.

A cheesesteak is a decadent, to-go food. Thin slices of beef are mixed with cheese and grilled onions and served on a bun.

Pat’s chooses to slice its beef thinly, while Geno’s opts for larger, chopped bits of beef. 

I recommend taste-testing this American restaurant rivalry for yourself. It is easy to do, as both eateries are open 24 hours a day, almost every day of the year, and they’re located right across the street from each other.

Graeter’s vs. Jeni’s

Ohio dishes up this next American restaurant rivalry. We are talking ice cream this time, with Graeter’s and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams going head to head.

Both chains work hard to provide handmade ice creams featuring the most delicious toppings, like local milk and fair-trade vanilla beans.

Graeter’s boasts longevity in this race, first churning out flavors in the 1870s. Jeni’s was founded in 2002.

Graeter focuses more on traditional tastes and is especially known for its fudge chocolate chips. My favorite flavor is their signature, black raspberry chip.

Jeni’s provides a more upscale boutique experience in an ice cream parlor. This brand pushes the limit with its flavors, like Mexican Hot Chocolate and Lavender Pumpkin.

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Flavors are available only seasonally, so I find it exciting to check back often to see the new, creative tastes to try.

Grimaldi’s vs. Juliana’s

Of course, not just Chicago holds a famous pizza debate! I love the floppy, foldable slices you can find everywhere in New York City.

Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s both boast favorite pizza joints with equally famous lines stretching out the door.

Grimaldi’s delivers the authentic New York pizza experience in more ways than one.

Go here to enjoy a simple slice of pie and a borderline grumpy approach to customer service.

Juliana’s branches out a bit with its menu and employs a much friendlier vibe with its service staff and homey decor.

It’s easy to try both of these establishments near the Brooklyn Bridge, as they are located nearly side by side.

Mike’s Pastry vs. Modern Pastry Shop

It’s not just pizza that fuels an American restaurant rivalry over Italian food.

Cannolis became the battlefield for Mike’s Pastry and the Modern Pastry Shop in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Cannolis are short, tube-shaped shells of pastry. These tubes are then filled with pastry cream or cheese.

Finally, the ends are dipped in chocolate chips or embellished with other toppings for a decadent Italian dessert that pairs beautifully with espresso.

Mike’s Pastry is known for its perfect ricotta cheese interior and fresh, crispy cannoli shell.

Choose Modern Pastry Shop for a smaller cannoli and an intimate dining experience versus the grab-and-go approach to Mike’s.

Parasol’s vs. Tracey’s

When I visit New Orleans, I have to try a roast beef po’boy, one of this food city’s most delicious creations. A po’boy looks similar to a hoagie or a sub sandwich. 

These sandwiches feature tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and other toppings on a long piece of French bread.

Roast beef po’ boys are known for the rich and flavorful gravy that is poured on top of the meat for this juicy sandwich.

Parasol’s roast beef is thinly sliced, and garlic butter is brushed onto the French bread for an additional layer of flavor.

Like the cheesesteaks above, Tracey’s differentiates itself by cutting its meat into chunks instead.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef vs. Mr. Beef vs. Johnnie’s Beef

Chicago is back for its second entry on this list of American restaurant rivalries.

This time its iconic Italian Beef eateries show how they got to be a signature Chicago food.

Al’s Italian Beef remains the location with the most name recognition, serving up a secret recipe infused with an intoxicating blend of spices.

Johnnie’s Beef delivers sandwiches that can melt in your hands, offering homemade cheese sauce on the side and refreshing Italian ice at the end.

I love Mr. Beef because it is known for its spicy and fresh giardiniera or a medley of pickled vegetables that give Italian beef its zestiness.

Chicken Annie’s vs. Chicken Mary’s 

Two Kansas poultry women give us our second American restaurant rivalry in this Plains state.

To make it even stranger, these two chicken restaurants are located next door in a rural area hundreds of miles from the capital city.

Chicken Annie’s opened in 1934 as a way for the owner to earn money as the Great Depression swept across Kansas.

About ten years later, Chicken Mary’s borrowed the idea to open a similar fried chicken establishment.

This location, now called Crawford County, supports six chicken establishments. 

In addition to being the original, Chicken Annie’s boasts a thin and delicate crust on their fried chicken, using an egg wash and bread crumbs to their breading.

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Chicken Mary’s uses flour and bread crumbs for an even lighter crust.

Cole’s vs. Philippe the Original

Did you know there is a French dip throwdown happening in Los Angeles?

Both Cole’s and Philippe the Original claim to make the best version of this sandwich after they invented it more than 100 years ago.

Thin slices of peppered beef lie on a soft bun and are dipped in a flavorful au jus sauce on the side to make a delightful French dip sandwich.

Both of these restaurants feature spicy mustard on their French dip sandwiches. Cheese is optional for Philippe’s version, but Cole’s offers slices of cheese on its soft bun. 

At Philippe the Original, they pour the signature au jus on the sandwich before serving it to you.

I prefer to dip my French dip, as the name implies. Therefore Cole’s is the restaurant for me.

Voodoo Doughnut vs. Blue Star Donuts

If you’re looking for a glazed donut or a reliable raspberry-filled creation, you may want to choose something simpler than Voodoo Doughnut or Blue Star Donuts.

This American restaurant rivalry quickly rose to fame in Portland, Oregon.

Voodoo Doughnut is well known for its outrageous flavors and names for its doughnuts. Breakfast cereals and elaborate designs adorn these over-the-top donuts.

If you want a donut creation worthy of a social media photo, explore the thrilling Voodoo Doughnuts.

Blue Star Donuts is my choice when I am looking for more substance instead of style.

This upscale bakery prioritizes elegant, fresh ingredients instead of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink toppings. 

Acme vs. Felix’s

We are back in one of my favorite cities for this next entry into our list of American restaurant rivalries.

Oysters from all over the world boast their flavor, depending on the ecosystem where they are caught.

Oysters taste like the sea where they have lived, which makes them one of my favorite dishes to explore when I travel.

In New Orleans, Acme and Felix’s are two oyster houses. Acme grew into a regional chain known for its boisterous atmosphere.

Felix’s delivers a more low-key experience, with bar seating to help diners slow down and enjoy.

Blue Heaven vs. Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory

This is the first entry on this list of my favorite American restaurant rivalries where the name of the city and the food are the same.

Key West is known for its tart and delectable key lime pies. Blue Heaven and Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory claim to serve the best slices of this iconic Florida dessert.

Enjoy an iconic slice of key lime pie at Blue Heaven, complete with a tasty graham cracker crust.

Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory offers creative spins on this traditional recipe, offering wide varieties of key lime pie. Try a slice dipped in chocolate or presented on a stick.

Fairmount Bagel vs. St-Viateur Bagel

We cross the border to visit glittering Montreal and its boisterous bagel war.

I love authentic bagels and was delighted to find such a lively bagel culture in this sophisticated Canadian city.

Montreal bagels are different from the American version and are typically smaller, sweeter, and easier to chew.

Fairmount Bagel holds the distinction of being the original, founded in 1919. These hand-formed bagels are made fresh 24 hours a day.

Katz’s Deli vs. Second Avenue Deli

New York City’s iconic delis provide the final American restaurant rivalry on this list.

I rarely eat pastrami, but I find one of these old-school eateries whenever I’m in the city. 

Katz’s Deli is the original, opening in 1888 and boasting a famous career. This restaurant was even featured in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.

Katz’s features a pepper rub on its pastrami for a nuanced layer of flavor.

Second Avenue Deli prefers to let more beef flavor shine through on its meats and ditches the pepper rub.

They choose a different special rub for their thinly-sliced pastrami sandwiches.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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