Dive Food: These Restaurants Are Short on Ambiance, But Long on Great Food
Sample some of America's tastiest no-frills eats.
You won't find a stuffy, white tablecloth atmosphere in America's top dive restaurants. They have priorities greater than chic decor, like focusing on whipping up delectable dishes. Often, it's this very lack of a designer atmosphere that lends a place its character and makes a meal taste that much richer. Take a peek at our picks for some of America's tastiest dive food.
Seafood Seller & Cafe, Crystal Springs, FL
Crystal River, Florida is well-known for the herds of gentle manatees that flock to the hot springs dotting the region's waterways. Lesser known, is that this tiny town houses one of the best Cajun restaurants south of Louisiana. Inconspicuously tucked inside the Crystal River Mall, Seafood Sellers & Cafe is a bastion of Creole cooking. Fluorescent lights and faded Mardi Gras decor belie the vibrant flavors being whipped up at Seafood Seller. Dig into the gumbo -- a labor of love whose roux alone takes six hours to whip up, then chow down on the Seller Shrimp, a heaping pile of steamed shrimp in a masterful concoction of spices and juices. Other Cajun favorites include shrimp and grits, frog legs, crawfish etouffee and alligator sausage.
Willie Mae's Scotch House, New Orleans, LA
Set in a white, otherwise nondescript building on a corner in New Orleans' famed Treme neighborhood, Willie Mae's Scotch House opened in 1957, first as a bar then later as a restaurant, and quickly became a local institution, dishing out platters of fried chicken so famously tasty, even President Obama stopped for a bite when he passed through town. The wet batter recipe is a closely guarded secret and leaves diners raving over the pitch-perfect crunch and blend of spices. When you're not getting your fingers greasy snarfing fried chicken, indulge in a few sides, like the butter beans, green beans with gravy and rice or the mac and cheese.
Xi'An Famous Foods, NYC
With 5 outposts scattered around New York City and countless accolades from television personalities like Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern, a trip to Xi'An -- a cult favorite among foodies -- is a must-do for Asian food lovers in New York City. Still, each location of Xi'An barely qualifies as a restaurant in the "sit-down-and-dine" sense; each Xi'An chain is located in a space only slightly larger than a food stall. You'll place your order at a counter, and perch on a tiny stool along a narrow bar to guzzle down the city's tastiest hand-pulled noodles topped with cumin-spiced lamb and slick chili oil. Feeling brave? Order the lamb face (yes, you read that right) salad.
Santa Fe Bite, Santa Fe, NM
The best burger in the Southwest lurks inside Santa Fe Bite, a recently opened restaurant with a long history in Santa Fe. Outside of town, on the Old Las Vegas Highway, the Bobcat Bite restaurant was founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, and was said by nearly every culinary bigwig to serve one of America's finest burgers: the green chile cheeseburger. The restaurant was eventually taken over by John and Bonnie Eckre, and a dispute between the two families led the Eckres to open Santa Fe Bite. A casual atmosphere and kitschy Route 66 decor welcome diners, and to locals' great relief, the green chile cheeseburger remains on the menu. It's a monstrous 10-oz. burger slathered with green chiles and American cheese.
Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, MO
You'll find the most famous barbecue joint in the United States in Kansas City, MO. Located in the heart of the 18th & Vine District, Arthur Bryant's carvers slice up piles of perfectly smoked meat to order. You'll wait in line with a tray and order from the counter, as your meat is served on butcher paper, topped with sauces of your choice and chunks of white bread, then wrapped in a bundle for your gorging pleasure.