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Mike's National Restaurant Guide

As you know, I love to eat. My work has taken me to over 80% of the country and I have been in 42 states, many on an annual basis. I have experimented with all kinds of food. The list below indicates my favorite places to eat. (Places that I would make an effort to return to for a meal.) You may have to check the local phone book to see what hours these places are open. As with anything: restaurants close, they disappear, they go out of business. So I recommend that you call ahead.

Last updated: 28 June 2008

And now...the really great places to eat:

National chains:

Mike does not normally frequent national chains, especially fast food outlets. Two national chains of note however are Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe.

Overall consistent: Mike's visits to Hooters in Cleveland (OH), King of Prussia (PA), Concordville (PA), New Castle (DE), and New York City show consistent quality and service at fair but premium prices. But you are paying for the "ambiance" (Mike needs cold shower now). Despite the reputation, children are welcomed at Hooters and get discounted or free food. It's not as racy as its reputation implies. The food is good, the hot wings are great, have them with a beer. Mike likes the ladies too.

Also consistent: the Hard Rock Cafe. Mike has been to HRCs in Chicago, New Orleans, and Orlando. It's an event to visit; if you want a daily meal, try a diner ... if you want an experience you come here. The nachos are good with a beer.

But it's the ma and pa places that make eating out such a thrill:

Northeastern / New England States

Taste of Maine, on Route 1 just north of Bath, ME: Lobster, big lobster...inexpensive...freshly caught.

Littleton Diner, 170 Main Street, Littleton, NH 03561. (603) 444-3994, Ev and Bobbie Chambers Proprietors. Excellent food, a "real diner", classic.

Tommy's Deluxe Diner, 159 E. Main Road, Middletown, RI 02842. Open Mon-Sat 5 AM till 8 PM, Sunday 5 AM till 1 PM. (401) 847-9834. Classic dinner with liquor license. Near Newport, RI.

Mama Leone's Pizza, at the traffic circle on Coddington at the Newport Naval War College entrance, Newport, RI. Phone 847-7272. Sit down and take out service, Italian food and pizza. Great quality and prices, I always make at least one stop there when I am in town.

BOSTON, MA: Boston is a great restaurant city...I say it edges out Chicago easily. In downtown my top choice is the Purple Shamrock, and excellent Irish pub restaurant with award winning clam chowder. Fresh fish and chips from the Boston docks. The Purple Shamrock is across from Government Center (a "T" stop on the Green and Blue lines) only steps from Faneuil Hall. Also on the same block is Legal Seafood's original location. Legal has a biologist on staff checking the safety of the seafood and fish..a move considered revolutionary. Legal Seafood is a legend...expect a long wait to get seated. In Boston's south side, is Farragut House, another Irish Pub Restaurant.

In the dock area is Jimmy's Harborside (242-248 Northern Avenue), expensive but most popular. I was there a few times, not of my own choosing. The only three things I liked were: the view of the harbor ships (which are announced over the PA system, as to registry, destination and payload), the pictures of famous guests, and the fact I was in the waiting line ahead of actor Don Adams (from TV's Get Smart)...other than that I won't be going back...sorry about that chief.

Jimmy's serves the exact same food a few blocks away at "family" prices at a place he calls Jimbo's. It's excellent fresh seafood...walking distance from the fish docks...and at low prices. Worth the effort to visit.

"No Name": At the fish docks. Open limited day hours. Not pretty but the meals, especially the fish is very inexpensive and just excellent. Another best kept Boston secret.

Durgin Park (340 Faneuil Hall Market Place). DP has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America. Tight seating and long waits, but the price and quality is worth the effort. Their Indian Pudding is awesome and a "must eat".

Mal-Ken Japanese Restaurant, 645 Beacon Street, Boston, MA (across from the Kenmore Square "T" station at the NE U. campus). (617) 859-3149. They have a sushi bar, and it's fresh, right from the Boston docks only minutes away. Loads of great Non-Sushi meals too, so everyone can find what they like. Service is excellent, prices are moderate.

Serafino Family Restaurant, 1076 Main Street, Newington, CT. (CLOSED): I used to go here for great pizza on my visits to station W1AW and the American Radio Relay League HQ in Newington. The restaurant never reopened after a fire incident, and with ARRL's anti-Morse code policy, if I ate there now I would most likely get indigestion thinking about it.

Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub (The Best Deal In Town TM): This is a regional chain in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The restaurants have been updated over the years and are good food at a great value.

New York State

Newburgh, NY: Dairy Cone, Route 9W, 157 South Robinson Avenue, Newburgh, NY 12550. Phone (914) 561-4253. On the east side of route 9W, just south of where you turn to go through town to exit 17 of I-87. I a great roadside stand. Low prices eats. Some of the best hot dogs and onion rings that I ever had. You have to eat in your car. There is a covered area at the service windows in case of bad weather.

Monty's Elm Tree Inn, Keene, NY (note: new owners and possible name change).

(above photo taken in early 1990's)

(above photo taken 11 Jan 2002)

Located at the intersection of routes 9N and 73, just 14 miles east of Lake Placid is Monty's Elm Tree Inn. Founded three generations back by Monty Purdy, it is the social hub of the Olympic bobsled teams, locals and many travelers. Originally a stage coach station dating back to 1824, then in modern times a bus stop, Monty's outstanding food and large warm fireplace is a scene out of a movie dream. The seafood platters are classic. Outstanding selection of beer. It's 10 degrees out, the fire is warm, the Molson "Red" ale is brought to your table...maybe they slapped in a video tape of the 1980 Olympics for old times sake. Clearly a "must see" classic place to visit. Excelelnt prices and an unforgettable experience. The Monty Burger (another secret recipe) was voted by a major national ski magazine as "best burger in ski country". Mike rates Monty's #1 in his restaurant guide. Call ahead for days and hours of operation (518) 576-9769.

(handmade wooden model of Monty's, made by Mike's Dad in the 1980's)

The Black Bear Restaurant, 157 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY 12946 (phone 518-523-9886). Finally a nice priced place to eat on Main Street in Lake Placid with excellent food. Incredible breakfasts, great lunches and dinner too. Specialty sandwiches, smoothies, wraps, vegetarian sandwiches, hot hoagie sandwiches, soup, salads and pancakes with fruit in them. Black Bear is in the old site of Lums. Lums was not a favorite of Mike's since his first visit in 1983...but the newer Black Bear operators have made a miracle happen...directly across the street from the site of another miracle (when the U.S.A. beat Russia in Olympic hockey in 1980).

Vescio's at the Franklin Hotel, 301 South James Street, Rome, NY. (315) 336-9974 . This is one of those best kept neighborhood secrets. Genesee Beer on tap (fresh from Rochester). They had Matt's (from F. X. Matts in Utica) but I was told it is no longer available. The food is low in price, with a photocopied hand written menu of special daily. This is basically an Italian restaurant. Not fancy but loaded with locals who come for low prices and excellent homemade food. If you are tired of the plastic junk Italian food at chains like the Olive Garden you need to find these hometown secrets like Vescio's. They are about 15 minutes off the NY's a must visit.

Heid's of Liverpool, 305 Oswego Street, Liverpool, NY 13088, (315) 451-0786. Near Liverpool (NY) exit of Interstate 81, near junction of Old Liverpool Road - Oswego Street and Onondaga Lake Parkway. Known for decades as the place for Coney's (that's New Yorker for Coney Island hot dog) and Franks (theirs are different, a while frank, with veal, German style). Though a limited menu, the Heids is a legend. Products served are patented by the owners. Lines can be long but worth it.

O'Reilly's Pub, 56 West 31st Street, New York, NY 10010. About a block south of Macy's. (212) 684-4244. Was a traditional Irish bar and restaurant, but may have gone a bit upscale. Sat and drank with noted photographer Bruce Lyons during one visit.

Eastern States

Tic Toc Diner, On the north side of Route 3, east of exit 153 of the Garden State parkway, Clifton, NJ.  Excellent classic diner, high quality food at diner prices. Made famous in the 1980's by Late Night with David Letterman.

Benny Tudinos Pizzeria, 622 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030. Phone (201) 792-4132.  Not rated, I have never been here, but I have heard many good reports.

Mr. Wings, 927 East Baltimore Pike, East Lansdowne, PA 19050. (610) 623-1314. Wings, chicken items, seafood, Philly steak sandwiches, hoagies, salads, burgers. I would say their wings are why I stop there.

Colonial Kitchen, 103 North Union Avenue, Lansdowne, PA 19050. (610) 284-7811 or 7812. Philly steaks, hoagies, salads, wings, sandwiches, large menu. This is my favorite pizza place, I literally "live here" least once or more a week visits.

Bonner's Irish Pub, Restaurant and Bar (click here see their ad on the Morse Telegraph PA page, scroll down to the ad on that page), 120 S. 23rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, Dan Bonner (215) 567-5748. Great food and Guinness on tap. I went to high school with Dan's brother Frank. Both fine West Catholic High men.

Nifty Fifty's, authentic 1950's food and decor. Family oriented, classic oldies music. Low prices, and take out. See

Dairy Cottage, 328 Woodland Avenue, Route 420, Springfield, PA (610) 328-4875. Hoagies, steaks sandwiches, stromboli, pizza, big sandwiches, large ice cream selection. Loved it since I was a kid.

Charcoal Pit, Concord Pike (Talleyville, Delaware) north of Wilmington, DE. Long time well kept local secret. Gigantic ice cream creations and excellent burgers, onion rings and fries. (In the July 2002 issue of Esquire magazine, page 73, "67 Things Worth a Detour", the Charcoal Pit is listed for best black and white milk shake.) So, Mike knows his milk shakes ... yes ... this is the place for real shakes and ice cream. Expect to wait at peak times. Take out available. Ma and Pa owned, low prices.

V&S Sandwich Shop: (formerly Pop's (more than just a sandwich shop), 272 South 4th Street, Hamburg, PA (north of Reading) phone 562-3939. Pop's closed a few years ago. This was a simple neighborhood luncheonette with booths and counter service. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at low prices. : Large ice cream menu: sundaes, floats, boats, shakes. Try the "Red Bull" a cinnamon flavored shake. Since the V&S take-over I have no rating for it but will visit at some time to see how much has changed and if this listing will remain on the site.

Vale-Rio Diner, Bridge Street and Nutt Road, Phoenixville, PA 19460. (610) 933-3988. Open 24 hours. Operating since 1948. This is on of the classic diners featured in the WQED-TV (Rick Sebek produced) program "Pennsylvania Diners". Excellent food, served fast, reasonable prices.

Hickory Valley Farm Restaurant, Route 611, RR 611 Box, Swiftwater, PA 18370. (570) 839-6492. Eat your meal from the frying pan it was cooked in. A decades legend lives on for three an four generations at this rustic and delightful eatery. Family prices, great food. I ate there as a boy (and burn my wrist on the hot pan. Don't you do that.) (Last evaluation: May 2002)

Kast Hotel, 723 Arch Street, Williamsport, PA 17701. (570) 323-5866. A hometown bar, old charm and run by three generations of the Peterson family. Listed as a historical place. Operating trains and many static displays of old model trains. Look for the working aspect signal outside. Bar food is excellent, and favorite local and national beer on tap. Pool table. Booths as well as a bar.

Dewalt General Store, 6 Main Street, Dewart, PA 17730 (hours vary) (717-538-3652), a classic restored Restaurant Victorian Ice Cream Parlor, marble counter. Takes you back to 1900, and a working player piano. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a soda. This is a "must see". Dewalt is off of route 15, across from Lewisburg, PA.

Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, 133 Frederick Road, Thurmont, MD 21788. (301-271-4373). Open menu-buffets-banquets-catering-dinner-gospel sings. This is large scale buffet family restaurant with low prices. Unlike most buffets, they actually have quality food and a big selection. Another "best kept secret".

Eat-n-Park: Regional chain out of Pittsburgh. Family priced restaurant with a nice salad bar. They have strawberry pie, in season...which I love. Way better than Denny's.

Jimbo's: My favorite spot in Pittsburgh (in the Station Square mall, south end). I like the Kielbasa. Great chili, sides and hot dogs. Get a can of you favorite ice cold beer. For me it's two cans of Iron City beer, a Kielbasa and side of chili.

Hoss's Steak and Sea House (regional chain): With over 35 locations, mostly in Pennsylvania, it is one of the few steak house chains that have excellent meat products, and low prices for family and seniors. The salad bar is buffet style, but is complete with soups, salads, breads and a large dessert bar. Hoss's is the creation of Willard Campbell, who is a fanatic for quality, quality control and service excellence. If you fill out a comment card to write about a problem or questions, don't be surprised if the response is personally from the CEO himself in Duncansville, PA. When I am hungry and near a Hoss's...that is where I automatically go to eat. It is that good.

Southern States

Dukes Bar-B-Q, 4726 Spruill Avenue, North Charleston, SC, Open: Thursday to Saturday, 11:00 AM till 8:00 PM. All you can eat, complete dinner, lunch price (in 1999) was $5.00 . This is one of those neighborhood "best kept secrets".

Ming's at the Stone Lodge, 5600 US Route 60 East, Huntington, WV 25705. "Ming's Garden" was in downtown Huntington as a buffet, now he has a first class full service restaurant. The service is excellent. Servers are young people from local Marshall University, and they are great at what they do. Ming's American steak is a legend, lots of American food to choose from, more than most oriental restaurants. I always go there when I am in town. Fair prices for adult dining.

Young Chow Restaurant, Hunan and Szechwan Cuisine, 420 South 23rd Street, Arlington, VA 22202 (next to Exxon station on south end of Crystal Mall area). I got their take out and was pleased.

Cracker Barrel (Old Country Store): If it rustic...I love it. A national chain based in Lebanon, TN ( ) CB is my home away from home when I travel. A large variety of meals at family prices. Not as good as the old roadside diner, but the large dining room capacity and clean bathrooms are a plus.

Fairmont, WV: Dairy Creme Corner, 187 Homewood Avenue, Fairmont, WV 26554. Phone (304) 366-6809. This is a great roadside stand. Get a soft serve ice cream 11 inches high for a couple of dollars. It's on the west side of the exit from I-79. On the east side is a miniature golf course in a coal mine motif, decorated with large mine equipment. Seasonal hours and days open.

Nick's Seafood Pavilion, 324 Water Street, Yorktown, VA 23690 . Phone (757) 887-5269. When in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia this is a must visit ! Large portions, very fair prices and beautiful surroundings. Waitresses in Greek costume sort of look like Jeannie from "I Dream Of Jeannie". All items are excellent, the kabob and seafood are perfect and too much food to finish. Bring a big appetite. Casual setting but it gets busy and reservations are suggested.

Mid-West and Great Lakes States

Nina's Taqueria, 248 Capital Avenue SW, Battle Creek, MI 49015, phone (616) 969-9448. If you think Battle Creek means breakfast cereal, thing again. This authentic Mexican food (and American food) eat-in or take-out place has great meals at low prices. Get the #10 sampler (taco, tostada, quesadilla) or Nachos Supremo. A second location in Agusta, MI at 111 Michigan Avenue. Friendly service, great prices and excellent take-out.

Jumer's Castle Lodge, I-74 and Spruce Hills Drive, Bettendorf, IA. Classic Bavarian Castle with great German food, gorgeous setting for dining. Adult dining. Like living on the Rhine in a castle, traditional German look and the finest German food anywhere...unless you got east to:

The Berghof, near Adams and State, downtown, Chicago, IL. Fine German food and super inexpensive. Own brand of beer served. A "must see" when in Chicago. Last visit was 30 October 2001 and they still are great !  (format changed in 2006, catering, contact new management for details).

Old Warsaw, Polish-American Buffet and Bar, 4750 North Harlem Avenue, Harwoods Heights, IL 60656 (about 10 minutes east of O'Hare Airport). This is a "must see". The Chicago area is one of the top restaurant town in America thanks to the ethnic demography.

The Top Gun in Mexican Food: 16099 Brookpark Road, Brookpark (Cleveland) OH or at The Landings, Avon Lake. OK, this one is sort of unusual..excellent take out Mexican and Tex-Mex food, and a flying school. Hey, whatever works. I opted for the food...which is great and low in price. Take out is good. I do not recall if the have take out beer. The Brookpark phone number is 676-9830. It's the honest truth, I got the Mexican take out then went back to my hotel next door and watched a Cheech and Chong movie (Up In Smoke). It was an all Mexican "dinner theater" night for me.

Walter Payton's Roundhouse Complex, Broadway (route 25), Aurora, IL. Next to the transportation center, this former roundhouse for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy is a big round sports bar. A hand painted copy of the "Dancing Bears" mural (original art in New York, see version at top of this page which hangs in Lake Placid, NY at the LP Hilton) hangs above the bar. Good food and drinks for adults. Beer brewed on site. A railfan "must see", nice view of the SFBN mainline too.

Damons ("The Place for Ribs"): This was a regional chain out of central Ohio. Now this beef and beer eatery, with its multiple wall size TV's can be found in many states and now as south as Florida. Popular prices and fair service. I had a "hot desert" served to me ice-cold. The waitress assured me it was correct. She was dead wrong. I discussed the issue with the manager and got a credit for dinner for two. Damons, like any of the chains, Bennigans, Houlihans need the fear of God put into them: deliver the goods or we as consumers will and shall protest.

Southwest and Western States

Jim & Jesss Steak House, 517 East 135th Street, Kansas City, MO 64145. Phone (816) 941-9499. Family run, enormous steaks at modest prices.  I had a 30 ounce steak...and finished it all.  Larger steaks available.  

Cattlemen's Steakhouse, 2458 North Main Street, Fort Worth, TX 76106. Phone (817) 624-3945. Pick your own cut, big steaks at reasonable prices. 

Moishe's Fine Middle Eastern Cuisine, Farmer's Market, 6333 West 3rd Street, #336 Los Angeles, CA 90036. (213) 936-4998. This is a stand in the Farmer's Market food court. The food is great and reasonable. The Farmer's Market is not far from CBS studios. The Farmer's Market has a number of stands with legendary food at low prices. Also when in this part of LA check out "Pinks" hot dogs (check address in phone book).

Luna's Tortillas, 1615 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, TX 75202. (214) 747-2661. THIS IS NOT A RESTAURANT. It is a tortilla bakery and perhaps the best in the U.S. We had the pleasure of meeting Senor Luna and he has supplied his tortilla to many high profile individuals and restaurants. Walk in retail is available.

Northwestern States

The Iron Horse, Seattle, WA: 311 3rd Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98104. (206) 223-9506. Small but fun place downtown where model trains transport your food from the the your table. I have not been there since 1985, so I don't know how they faired over the years. But it was pretty neat. Low prices and lots of railroad decorations.

Ivars Restaurants, Seattle, WA, multiple locations, (seafood and fished cooked over mesquite charcoal) 500 Terry Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109. (206) 682-5333 or Pier 54, Seattle, WA 98101. (206) 624-6852 or 401 Northeast Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98105. (206) 632-0767. Many other locations...see Seattle phone book. I has the salmon steak...the best I ever had.

Click here for Mike's June 2002 letter of unacceptable service to Tricon / Yum, Inc. CEO David C. Novak


                        Mike reviews Famous Dave's "Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que"



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