Over the years, our executive food editor Bryan Roof and staff photographer Steve Klise have criss-crossed the country to visit dozens of local restaurants, takeout counters, bakeries, and more. They go to learn about the specialties of the house, of course, but also about the many ways in which these small businesses play a role in their communities.
With Covid-19 continuing to upend the restaurant industry—particularly small, stand-alone, locally-owned restaurants—these hard working business owners and cooks have a tougher job than ever. If you're nearby, we hope you'll support them. These spots represent some of the best eats in the USA.
Here are ten of our favorites that were open for take-out or curbside pick-up at the time this article was published. Some might even be open for patio or in-house dining by now, as well.
Aunt B's Soul Food in Tupelo, MS
2750 S. Green St., Tupelo
The hamburger steak with onion gravy at Aunt B's Soul Food attracts regulars from around the area. Owner Thomas Woods, a former electrical engineer, took a career-180 to open up Aunt B's, which he named for a favorite relative. While you're there, don't skip the peach cobbler. Read more about our visit to Aunt B's.
Kingston Tropical Bakery in the Bronx, NY
400 White Plains Road
Bronx, New York
Caroline Sinclair grew up in Jamaica, spent a few years in banking, then moved to the Bronx thirty years ago, where she now oversees operations at Kingston. There, the Jamaican-style beef patties are made by hand, and deliver a potent punch of heat from plenty of Scotch bonnet peppers. Read more about our trip to Kingston Tropical Bakery.
Laura's II in Lafayette, LA
1904 W. University Ave
Pick up a plate lunch at Laura's II and your belly will be full for the rest of the day. Their take on braised turkey wings, stuffed with garlic, onions, and spices, comes with plenty of sides to choose from. Owner Madonna Broussard, who inherited her passion for cooking from her grandmother Laura, told us that her regulars "feel like this is a home." Read more about our visit to Laura's II.
Saenz Gorditas in Las Cruces, NM
1700 N. Solano Drive
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Three generations (and counting!) of the Guerra family run this drive-through spot, where the gorditas, crispy-corny-cheesy and overstuffed with flavorful chile (red or green) are so good the Guerras have to limit order sizes during some parts of the day. Read more about our visit to Saenz Gorditas.
Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill in Mill Creek, WA
16212 Bothell Everett Hwy.
Mill Creek, Washington
Customers line up every day for Toshi Kasahara’s famous teriyaki, which he’s been cooking and serving in the Seattle area since 1976. The flavors coming out of his tiny kitchen are simple and beautifully balanced, and your takeout order comes with rice and slaw to round out the meal. Read more about our visit to Toshi’s.
Carnitas Uruapan in Chicago, IL
1725 W 18th St.
Owner Inocencio Carbajal opened Carnitas Uruapan in 1975 to serve his style of carnitas, known for being more tender and juicy than crisp or crunchy. His father taught him the dish back when he worked as a butcher in Uruapan, Mexico; today, Carbajal's carnitas are some of the best in the country. Read more about our visit to Carnitas Uruapan.
Mary & Tito’s Cafe in Albuquerque, NM
2711 4th St. NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Former firefighter Tito Gonzalez opened Mary & Tito’s Cafe in 1963 just weeks after retiring from the fire department. He’d been the firehouse cook; his grandson Travis Knight (now a manager), says that opening the restaurant was a “natural progression.” Today, Mary & Tito’s is a community cornerstone, known for stuffed sopaipillas, chimichangas, and more. Read more about our trip to Mary & Tito’s.
Fortune Express in St. Louis, MO
6738 Chippewa Way
St. Louis, Missouri
Rudy Lieu’s first encounter with a “St. Paul Sandwich” was at age 15, when his uncle took him out for a meal prepared by Steven Yuen, a St. Paul transplant who was serving the specialty: Egg Foo Yong on white bread with mayonnaise and fixins. “When you have it for the first time,” Lieu says, “it’s like, ‘Whoa! This is interesting.’” As an adult, Lieu opened his own restaurant, Fortune Express, where St. Paul sandwiches are a menu staple. Read more about our trip to Fortune Express.
Flo’s Kitchen in Wilson, NC
1015 Goldsboro St. S
Wilson, North Carolina
Cars line up at the drive-thru window at Flo’s early each morning for their famous cheese biscuits—great, big, tender biscuits stuffed with savory, melty cheese. Order it as is, or have it split and filled with eggs and bacon or fried chicken. Read more about our trip to Flo’s and Mom’s (below).
Mom’s Grill in Washington, NC
1041 John Small Avenue
Washington, North Carolina
This part convenience store, part takeout spot offers huge, incredibly tender biscuits stuffed with so much cheese, you might want to wear a shirt you don’t mind dribbling on. Read more about our trip to Mom’s and Flo’s (above).
For more cooking resources and recipe recommendations, check out these posts: