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The Oldest Restaurants in America

Brush up on historic Italian, steakhouse and seafood joints
June 20, 2016
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by Amy McKeever

Restaurants aren’t exactly known for long life spans, but every so often one comes along that stands the test of time. There are inns and taverns dotting the East Coast that have been around since — or even before — America itself was founded. But how old is the oldest seafood restaurant or steakhouse? Which of the country’s old-school diners and red-sauce joints are still in operation today? Here’s a look at 11 of the oldest restaurants in America, organized by category:

Oldest Seafood Restaurant: Union Oyster House, Boston, MA

America’s oldest seafood restaurant is also one of the country’s oldest existing restaurants. Serving food since 1826, the Union Oyster House is a National Historic Landmark and a Boston classic just a block away from Faneuil Hall. It opened amid an oyster craze in the early 1800s — one that's arguably still going on today — serving politicians from Daniel Webster to the Kennedy family, and has an extensive menu filled with dishes like clams casino, fried oysters, and New England lobster.

41 Union St.617-227-2750

Oldest Creole Restaurant: Antoine’s, New Orleans, LA

Antoine’s has impeccable credentials as one of America’s oldest restaurants. Opened in 1840, this New Orleans institution is still owned and operated by the descendants of founder Antoine Alciatore. In the span of its 176 years, Antoine’s invented Oysters Rockefeller, served presidents and popes, and perfected French-Creole fine dining. That means dishes like alligator bisque, pommes de terre soufflées, and a show-stopping Baked Alaska.

713 St. Louis St.504-581-4422

Oldest Steakhouse: Old Homestead, New York, NY

It seems just about right that the country’s oldest steakhouse can be found in New York’s Meatpacking District. Old Homestead, founded in 1868, served its first charcoal broiled strip just after the Civil War — just beating out its New York City brethren Keens and Peter Luger. Though Old Homestead has now expanded into a celebrity-favorite chain, it still serves an extensive menu of chops, from New York sirloin to a porterhouse for two.

56 9th Ave.212-242-9040

Oldest Cafe: Café du Monde, New Orleans, LA 

Things have been kept pretty simple at the Café du Monde over its 150-year-plus reign. Chicory coffee and square beignets generously dusted with powdered sugar still win the morning, afternoon, and evening at this 24-hour cafe. Café du Monde has been a fixture for life in New Orleans since 1862, having halted operations only temporarily for Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

800 Decatur St.504-525-4544

Oldest Diner: Horseshoe Cafe, Bellingham, WA

It’s been 130 years since the Horseshoe Cafe opened its doors to the miners who had rushed to the doorstep of Bellingham, Washington. Though it’s moved a few times in that long history — and just last year was remodeled and reopened under new ownership — the Horseshoe Cafe has been an all-day Bellingham fixture since 1886. Its menu is stacked with diner staples, from fried chicken and triple-stacked pancakes to burgers and patty melts.

113 E. Holly St.; 360-933-4301

Oldest Italian Restaurant: Roma Café, Detroit, MI 

It’s been trickier to determine the best claim on America’s oldest Italian restaurant since San Francisco’s Fior d’Italia closed in 2012 after 126 years in business, says Gerard Centioli, president and CEO of ICON, which helps legendary restaurants with branding. Dante & Luigi’s and Ralph’s in Philadelphia date back to around 1900, as does Bamonte’s in NYC. Some claim to be the oldest family-owned and others claim to be the oldest continuously running restaurant. But Detroit’s Roma Café beats them all, having been founded in 1890 and run continuously despite a change in ownership a century ago.

3401 Riopelle St.313-831-5940

Oldest Delicatessen: Katz’s Delicatessen, New York, NY

A New York City icon, Katz’s Delicatessen has earned its legendary status serving sandwiches and deli fare to locals and visitors alike over the past 128 years. Though it has moved locations and changed its name since it opened in 1888 — the original deli was named Iceland Brothers — this pastrami and corned beef cathedral has been a stalwart of the Lower East Side and passed down through families who have kept its traditions alive.

205 E. Houston St.212-254-2246

Oldest Burger Joint: Louis’ Lunch, New Haven, CT 

There’s some controversy over who gets to claim the oldest burger joint title. The late food writer Josh Ozersky neatly laid out the argument for why a White Castle founder invented the hamburger, but our money falls on Louis’ Lunch for oldest burger joint in America. This New Haven icon has been serving burgers between slices of toast (a disqualifier for some, although buns weren’t even invented at the time) since 1895. 

261-263 Crown St.203-562-5507

Oldest Soul Food Restaurant: Florida Avenue Grill, Washington DC

Washington, DC’s Florida Avenue Grill, founded in 1944, is not only the oldest soul food joint in the country — it proudly declares itself the oldest one in the world. The Florida Avenue Grill is a favorite among Washingtonians, including its most powerful players. Even under new ownership, you’ll find all-day breakfast dishes like Miss Bertha’s Breakfast Special: two hot cakes or French toast, two eggs, a choice among breakfast meats, and apples, home fries or grits.

1100 Florida Ave. NW; 202-265-1586

Oldest Spanish Restaurant: Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, FL

Columbia Restaurant is both the oldest Spanish restaurant in America and Florida’s oldest restaurant, period. Founded in Ybor City in 1905, this sprawling establishment serves a mix of Cuban specialties and Spanish tapas like Cuban sandwiches, croquetas, paella, ropa vieja and more. The same family still owns the restaurant and has opened several more locations across Florida. The original location has flamenco dance shows every evening except for Sundays.

2117 E. 7th Ave.; 813-248-4961

Oldest Pizzeria: Papa’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, NJ 

As with burgers, everyone wants a slice of pizza history. A few years ago, a debate flared up between Lombardi’s in New York — which was technically the first pizzeria to open in America — and Papa’s Tomato Pies in New Jersey, established a few years later in 1912. In the end, Papa’s Tomato Pies wins the title, since Lombardi’s was closed for about a decade of its tenure. But they’re both historic and, more importantly, they both serve pizza, food of the gods.

19 Robbinsville Allentown Rd.609-208-0006

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