Join us for a delicious tour through America’s oldest eateries that have weathered the test of time and step inside a culinary time machine. These culinary establishments are more than just places to eat; they’re authentic remnants of the past, holding onto tastes and customs for future generations. Every place, from lovely restaurants that have seen the evolution of American culture to historic taverns that once welcomed our Founding Fathers, has a tale to tell from its well-worn tables. Come enjoy the spirit of history, where each dish represents a chapter and each mouthful carries the whispers of bygone eras. Welcome to the timeless history of America’s oldest restaurants—a feast that goes beyond the test of time.
Union Oyster House
41 Union Street, Boston, MA
You’ll find the oldest buildings in America where the first European immigrants settled, and Boston is one of the oldest cities in America, founded in 1630 by the puritans. The Union Oyster House is inside a building that was built less than a century after Boston’s founding in 1717. The oyster bar opened inside this historic landmark building a century later in 1826 and is Boston’s oldest continually operating restaurant. It’s been featured in Forbes, Conde Nast, Lonely Planet, USA Today, and many more over the years as an essential destination for history buffs and seafood lovers alike. It’s located in the Freedom Trail, a block from Faneuil Hall, another historic culinary destination. I kill two birds with one stone by visiting Faneuil Hall in the morning, then enjoying a plate of oysters on the half-shell for lunch at Union Oyster Bar.
54 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10004
Located on the Lower East Side, a block from Wall Street and the Upper New York Bay, Fraunces Tavern is New York’s oldest tavern, built before the revolutionary war in 1762. The Tavern hosted George Washington and the other founding fathers as they brainstormed and rallied morale over a round of drinks. Fraunces Tavern was also the site where Washington bid farewell to his British allies in 1783, a moment documented by Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge in his memoirs, a copy of which lies on display there today. Fraunces Tavern now has multiple stories and spaces, including a piano bar, the Independence Bar, Hideout Bar, and a dining room. I can now mark a high-end tavern burger and a beer in the oldest building in New York off my bucket list!
713 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, Antoine’s Restaurant remains a family business in its 5th generation. Antoine’s Restaurant is a fine-dining French-Creole restaurant in a massive, elegant, and historic New Orleans-style building in the heart of the French Quarter. Alciatore was a French immigrant who moved first to New York before relocating with his wife and sister-in-law to New Orleans. Alciatore passed the business on to his talented son, who invented one of New Orleans’ most popular dishes: Oysters Rockefeller. Countless celebrities, politicians, and former presidents have dined at Antoine’s, not to mention thousands of wedding receptions. I recommend going for their Jazz brunch, so you can enjoy a plate of eggs Sardou while being serenaded by live Jazz music.
240 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
Tadich Grill opened in 1849 in San Francisco’s Financial District, thus earning the title of California’s oldest operating restaurant and the US’s third oldest restaurant. Its marble façade with windows overlooking the old-school trolley line will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the 19th century. Tadich Grill honors its Pacific coast bounty, offering fresh seafood dishes and old-fashioned creamy casseroles served in a fine-dining format for lunch and dinner. Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Emeril Lagasse has showered this historic haunt with praise. I went for a classy lunch and loved their Crab Louie salad.
White Horse Tavern
26 Marlborough St., Newport, RI 02840
With 350 years as a continuously operating tavern, the White Horse Tavern is officially the oldest restaurant in America and the 10th oldest restaurant in the world. Opened by William Mays in 1763, the White Horse Tavern hosted Rhode Island’s colonial, and later state, government officials. In 1954, a wealthy Rhode Island family restored the building to its original grandeur to save it from demolition, and in 1972 it earned a spot on the national register of historic landmarks. Today, White Horse Tavern is less of a watering hole and more of a fine dining restaurant, offering a multi-course menu of historic multi-cultural favorites, from Duck Scotch Egg to Steak Frites.
Breitbach’s Country Dining
563 Balltown Rd., Balltown, Iowa 52073
Country dining is the right description for this historic restaurant, located in the middle of rural Iowa, in a country town with a population under 100. Breitbach’s Country Dining opened in 1852 and has been owned by the Breitbach family since the patriarch Jacob Breitbach purchased it in 1862. Unfortunately, the original building burned to the ground in 2007 due to a gas explosion, but the family continued to serve the community meals while they rebuilt it. The new building has the same historic white clapboard home look but has added an outdoor Biergarten. They offer an a la carte menu and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Country dining means country-cooking, and I found the best version of it in the Country Ham Steak with a side of mashed potatoes.
36 Main Street, Essex, CT 06426
As the name suggests, the Griswold Inn is both a hotel and a restaurant in the charming seaside town of Essex, Connecticut. It opened in the year of our nation’s independence, 1776 in a quaint white house with green shutters. The architecture, structure, and décor have all been perfectly preserved. Whether you’re going to stay or dine, the Griswold Inn is a popular destination. The setting may be stuck in the past, but the luxury, food, and service meet the 21st century standards. They have a taproom and cocktail garden that hosts weekly events and happy hours. They have historic dining rooms with traditional American cuisine along with modern New American menus. I wanted to take advantage of its coastal location, so I ordered the delicious Clams Casino with garlic, butter, sweet pepper, and bacon.
J Huston Tavern
305 Main Street, Arrow Rock, MO 65320
J Huston Tavern has been welcoming travelers to rest and dine since 1834. Judge J. Huston opened it in a building lying on the Santa Fe Trail to host businessmen and families en route to the west. The village of Arrow Rock is itself a national historic landmark with dozens of protected landmark sites for tourists to visit. Since its opening, J Huston Tavern has also hosted historic events like a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1959. They serve classic southern dishes in the dining room, from smoked barbecue to cheese grits. In keeping with history, I went for the Lewis and Clark BLT.
Old Talbott Tavern
107 W Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY 40004
Old Talbott Tavern was a western stagecoach inn that opened in 1779 to give brave pioneers a luxurious respite before venturing further into the Wild West. Today the gorgeous stone-walled building still has the original fireplaces used by famous historical figures like Andrew Jackson and Henry Harrison. As with any historic Kentucky establishment, the Old Talbott Tavern has a long history of serving locally distilled bourbon from a distillery with an equally ancient history. Today, you can sample numerous varieties of Kentucky bourbon at the bourbon bar. The dining room serves classic southern comfort food for lunch and dinner. I’ve never tasted more delicious fried green tomatoes in my life!
The Golden Lamb
27 S. Broadway, Lebanon, OH 45036
Founder and owner Jonas Seaman opened the Golden Lamb in 1803, nearly the same time that Lebanon, Ohio was founded. The original sign on the historic Inn was a picture of a golden lamb with no writing to cater to most of the nation’s illiterate population. The Golden Lamb remains a hotel and dining room with an entire floor of preserved 19th-century hotel rooms for public viewing. It’s the oldest Inn and restaurant in Ohio and has seen celebrity guests, from astronauts to politicians, to famous writers. I was impressed by their globally inspired menu that uses local, farm-to-table ingredients. Still, I went for the most American item on the menu with their Ohio Fried Chicken Dinner
McGillin’s Olde Ale House
1310 Drury Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Opened by Irish immigrants Catherine and William McGillin, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is Philidelphia’s oldest tavern. It opened in 1860, the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected president, and a decade before the construction of Philadelphia’s City Hall. McGillin’s has survived prohibition and been witness to many of Philadelphia’s most iconic creations. For example, it began offering the newly invented cheesesteak in 1930. You can still get the cheesesteak at McGillin’s, along with pints from Eastern Pennsylvania breweries, three of which were brewed specifically for the tavern. To honor the owner’s heritage, you can get classic Irish pub fare in addition to Northeastern favorites. I loved their fish and chips.
The Ear Inn
326 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013
Located inside an 18th-century building called the James Brown House, the Ear Inn is one of New York City’s oldest continuously operating taverns. Not to be confused with the godfather of soul, James Brown was an African American businessman and aid to George Washington. The building was originally his townhouse that became the Ear Inn after Brown’s death in 1817. Today, the Inn is a perfectly preserved bar and grill, with its quarters emulating the original inn’s rooms. It serves classic American bar fare in an iconic and fun atmosphere with weekly live music. I enjoyed a Speakeasy Dark and Stormy cocktail with a decadent dish of chicken pot pie.