When traveling to historic American cities, I always seek out the restaurants that have earned their reputations by serving the best food for 100 years or more. I enjoy both the atmosphere and the sense of living history they offer. A restaurant doesn’t have to be a century old to be a favorite of mine for fine dining. However, continuing to serve great food through those years usually means it has built a loyal following of discriminating fans and their families. They are the best advertisement for continuing that well-earned longevity. These are five of my old favorite century old restaurants to visit around the United States:
City Tavern, Philadelphia PA (1773)
Located near Independence Square, City Tavern (138 S. Second St.) has been part of Philadelphia history since the 1770s. It was where delegates John Adams, Ben Franklin, and other patriots gathered to write the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Whenever I return to my hometown of Philadelphia, I head for City Tavern. My favorite, West Indies pepperpot soup, is a delicious concoction of beef, taro root, onions, and fresh greens. For a main course, I enjoy fresh-made turkey pot pie, served as it was more than two centuries ago in pewter casseroles.
Keens Steakhouse, New York City (1885)
When in Manhattan, I make my way to this welcoming restaurant. A city landmark since 1885, Keens (72 W. 36th St.) is near Herald Square and the Empire State Building. Its dark wood-paneled walls are covered with photos, news clippings, and other memories of the past. Its ceiling displays a large collection of pipes from famed smokers, including Albert Einstein, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, John Barrymore, and many others. My favorite is the king’s cut of prime beef rib with Keens creamed spinach and boiled baby potatoes. They’re also known for their mutton chops, something not found on a lot of restaurant menus these days. Mutton is meat from a sheep, a mature lamb, and tastes similar to lamb.
The Burghoff, Chicago (1898)
Serving traditional German food and beers since 1898, The Burghoff (17 W. Adams) is a Chicago Loop destination for locals and visitors who enjoy German fare. Although there have been restructurings, temporary closings, and other changes, the original site and Berghoff descendants still offer great food and beer to its loyal fans. I first visited the Burghoff during World War II. Despite the anti-German attitudes of the time, the restaurant was crowded with Chicagoans, as well as other service people. My favorite is wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet) with a foaming glass of Burghoff Hefeweizen.
Commander’s Palace, New Orleans (1880)
In 1880, the wealthy Emile Commander opened his restaurant in the city’s Garden District. All of the food at Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave.) comes from within 100 miles of New Orleans and is Louisiana French, exotic and spicy. My favorite is Commander’s blue crab soup, a creamy seafood medley, with cayenne pepper and caviar. I follow with grilled Black Angus filet mignon with a side of grilled onions and mushrooms.
Philippe The Original, Los Angeles (1908)
Now spending my retirement years in Los Angeles, I’m happy that this sprawling Southern California area is loaded with great restaurants, from the sandy shores of Malibu to the snowy slopes of Mount Baldy. Philippe The Original (1001 N. Alameda St.) still packs in customers each day with their great dip sandwiches, cold beers, and sawdust on the floor. It’s one of the great restaurants that brings together all kinds of people — rich or poor, everyone comes for the great food. Make sure you try the hot mustard at each table. I recommend the beef dip (they offer beef, turkey, lamb, or pork) and save room for their great desserts. Coffee is still only a dime.