Iconic US Eateries: Second Helpings from a Preservation Reporter

Posted on: May 29th, 2013 by David Weible 9 Comments

Weiners Circle in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: ashleighb77, flickr
Weiners Circle in Chicago, Illinois

Back in April, with the close of our upcoming summer issue coming at me like a rabid screech owl and our editor-in-chief pacing around my desk, I hurriedly posted a piece for the blog highlighting just a few of what I considered some of America’s iconic eateries -- common-man haunts I’d stumbled in and out of here and there that were light on the wallet and heavy on local charm and culture. And to my surprise, the piece generated quite a bit of feedback.

So it was with a sinister (but somehow sweet) smile that the blog’s managing editor asked me if I could dig into my bag of hazy memories for a few more morsels of content. Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, more iconic U.S. eateries as experienced by me.

Chicago, Illinois: Wieners Circle

More-so than any of the other places on this list, Wieners Circle is less about the food and more about the experience. Sure, this dungeon of a restaurant on North Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood serves up Chicago-style dogs, but it’s hard for anyone to remember what they taste like when the employees are so focused on the “customer experience.” Though Chicago is famous for being pretty friendly as big cities go, and Wieners Circle is, well, the opposite, somehow it all works. If you’re curious about what I mean, check out YouTube, but be advised, what you’ll find is NSFW (not safe for work).

Hot Sauce Williams in Cleveland, Ohio. Credit: vagabondblogger, flickr
Hot Sauce Williams in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio: Hot Sauce Williams

The original location was iconic for simply surviving the Hough neighborhood riots in the 1960s, and the hard-to-beat barbecue and seizure-inducing pink and turquoise paint job of one of the remaining locations on Cleveland’s near East Side haven’t gone unnoticed either. But perhaps the most famous part of Hot Sauce Williams is their "Polish Boy" sandwich. A culinary combo from the Eastern Europeans and African-Americans who flocked to the city to work in its steel mills, the sandwich slaps a Polish hotdog or kielbasa on a bun, slathers it in BBQ sauce, covers it in French fries, and then plops a healthy dollop of coleslaw right on top. If you wake up the next morning sticky and confused, you know you’re doing it right.

Original Chipotle in Denver, Colorado. Credit: wallyg, flickr
Original Chipotle in Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado: The original Chipotle

Referred to as “Mecca” by some of its more devout followers, the original location of Chipotle has even been known to give out shirts that read “I made the pilgrimage to Evans” in reference to the street on the University of Denver campus where people come to worship all that is holy about fast Mexican food. But with only about one-quarter the size of a typical Chipotle and only a few feet of counter space, this location is unlike any other as customers stack up to shout orders over one another. “It’s hard to know when to order, but if you don’t start at the right time, the employees will start yelling at you,” says Taylor Hafley, a friend that first turned me on to this sacrosanct site after moving into the neighborhood. “It’s actually almost overwhelming.”

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, New York. Credit: las - initially, flickr
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, New York: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

It shouldn't make sense. Syracuse sits in the snow belt of not one, but two Great Lakes. It snows even when it’s sunny. The last thing I figured I’d find when I moved there in 2010 was an amazing barbecue joint. But then again, people need some way to stay warm. From the dozens of motorcycles that surround this restaurant on summer evenings to the blues bands that tear apart the place on the outskirts of the city’s downtown nearly every night, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has Syracuse written all over it. And oh yeah, the ribs, mac and cheese, and simmered turkey neck collard greens aren't bad either.

Sinister but sweet ed. note: Where should Dave go next? Leave your eatery recommendations in the comments!

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David Weible

David Weible

David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.


9 Responses

  1. Brian Vosburg

    June 22, 2013

    Lafayette and American Coney Islands in Detroit are two iconic, side by side eateries in downtown Detroit. Together they started an iconic food for the Detroit region, the coney dog, as well as the iconic neighborhood eatery, the Coney Island. They also started the definitive identity question for all Detroiters: are you a Lafayette or American person (you can’t be a fan of both!) Lots of history, tradition and friendly rivalry between the two.

  2. bettybarcode

    June 22, 2013

    Don’t forget the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, where the Buffalo chicken wing was invented.


  3. Julie Martin

    June 22, 2013

    Brian and Betty have great ideas. Also try The Varsity in Atlanta.

  4. Joe Berg

    June 22, 2013

    Have we forgotten Louis” Lunch in New Haven, CT? Reported home of the hamburger (not convinced) but a landmark none the less.

  5. George Wright

    June 22, 2013

    Try Findlay Market in Cincinnati. Since 1852 the Heart of the City and home to many fine eats.

  6. Lisa Turano Wojcik

    June 22, 2013

    This morning, I read your blog and was surprised by this omission. I do know of one most revered eatery that you missed. It is Vic & Irv’s in Seabreeze, NY (up by Rochester). My husband’s uncle, Victor Anuszkevich owned and personally operated it for well over 70 years. He passed away at 95, but he was still creating the “secret hot sauce” daily for the “hots” sausages, until he died. Everyone I ever met in the upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Ontario area knows about or has eaten there. It’s definitely inconic.

  7. MichelleZ

    June 24, 2013

    I hope you head South soon — there are MANY iconic eateries here. For example, the Varsity in Atlanta, SC and the Beacon Drive In at Spartanburg, SC. The Varsity defies description (in a good way). The Beacon is an institution that seems to be a mandatory stopping point for every barnstorming politician on either side of the aisle. Then there are the many and myriad barbecue joints, like Poole’s in East Ellijay, GA, where you can have your name painted on a wooden pig and stuck onto the hill behind the joint!

  8. Gavin

    June 24, 2013

    New York City is overflowing with iconic food destinations, but two that always stand out for me are the original Nathan’s on Coney Island and Katz’s Deli in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

  9. Gavin

    June 24, 2013

    Also, Mrs Wilkes’ in Savannah, awesome southern cooking in family-style seating. Totally worth the wait down the block.