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Discover the ultimate in historic American dining by ticking the nine oldest restaurants in the USA off your foodie bucket list.
While the title of “oldest restaurant in the USA” is hotly contested, these heritage-rich dining establishments promise a trip back in time, and in some cases, the footsteps of some rather famous figures – it doesn’t get much better than dining in the spot from which George Washington once led the American revolutionaries. In addition to a generous helping of historical intrigue, these restaurants – from White Horse Tavern in Rhode Island to Antoine’s in New Orleans – serve up a diverse culinary offering; expect Creole classics, traditional New England chowder and some of the freshest seafood around.
A museum and a restaurant rolled into one, the historic Fraunces Tavern started its life as a business in 1762, but it was originally the home of New York mayor Stephanus Van Cortlandt in 1686. Perhaps best known as a headquarters for George Washington during the American Revolution, the tavern now forms part of the NYC Freedom Trail and the American Whiskey Trail. In addition to its museum, which is home to a host of artefacts and artworks from the era, the renovated tavern draws visitors for its excellent pub-style food and live music on weekends.
Counting Katharine Hepburn, Albert Einstein and George Washington among its most famous guests, The Griswold Inn has its origins in 1776 when it housed and provided sustenance to shipyard workers, suppliers and politicians working for the Revolution. With the inn’s continued success after independence due at least in part to the regular steamboat service that began on the Connecticut River in 1824, with Essex an important stopping point, The Griswold has not forgotten its maritime history. Diners today can enjoy nautical-themed art and artefacts from the “golden age” of steamboating, all the while enjoying rustic American cuisine.
Opening its doors as a restaurant in 1826, the Union Oyster House formerly served as a formal dress store and was also known for a (brief) time as the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House. This historic restaurant is Boston’s oldest, and best known for its semi-circular Oyster Bar, where legendary American lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster would regularly eat oysters washed down with brandy and water. Situated on the Freedom Trail, the Union Oyster House is said to be responsible for popularizing the toothpick in dining establishments across the USA, but today, it’s more beloved for its fresh seafood offerings, including clam chowder, oysters and crab cakes.
As the oldest bar-restaurant in Michigan, the New Hudson Inn served its first diners in 1831, gaining much of its business from travelers on the stagecoach line that went through the town. Now, this homey inn serves comforting pub grub – think loaded burgers, fried pickles and nachos – along with a wide range of regional beers, and hosts nightly live music. The historic wooden structure conceals its fair share of secrets; ask about the secret room, once used to hide escaped slaves as they made their way through the Underground Railroad.
Famed as the oldest continuously serving restaurant west of the Mississippi River, the J Huston Tavern was established in 1834 by Judge Joseph Huston, one of Arrow Rock’s founding fathers. With no shortage of demand for food and accommodation for travelers passing through on their way west, Huston added a second-floor ballroom to the tavern in 1840 – a space that served as a hospital ward during two cholera epidemics. Today, the Federal-style brick building welcomes diners for hearty American fare, including fried chicken and brisket.
Tadich Grill claims to be California’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1849 – the height of the Gold Rush in the state. If you head west in the hope of finding your fortune, stop by Tadich Grill to devour both fresh seafood and a piece of San Francisco history. The menu changes every day, depending on what’s fresh, but the stellar cocktails are a constant – as are the Art Deco light fixtures and wood-paneled walls. The original restaurant opened in 1849 as a coffee stand, with John Tadich taking over in 1887. Hailing from the island of Hvar in Croatia, Tadich brought the traditional Croatian cooking method of grilling seafood over mesquite charcoal to the USA.
Breitbach’s opened in 1852. However, what is perhaps more impressive is that once employee Jacob Breitbach bought the restaurant from the original owner in 1862, it has been run by the same family – through six generations. Breitbach’s has had a tumultuous history for a small-town restaurant, serving as a stagecoach stop, restaurant, hotel and grocery store, before being razed to the ground by two devastating fires less than a year apart in 2007 and 2008. With support from the local Balltown community, the current Breitbach’s opened in August 2009 on the original restaurant’s site. It’s famed for its home-made pies and classic Midwestern fare.