Anthony Bourdain's Favorite Hidden Gems Around The US

Through four syndicated television shows and numerous published memoirs, Anthony Bourdain has long acted as a culinary guide to the best food the globe has to offer. Yet despite being a revered authority on all things delicious, including such luxurious dishes as the cheesy, potato-rich tartiflette, he was never above praising the more humble fare available. He was as fond of the unpretentious hot dog stand as he was of the Michelin-starred restaurant. After all, to Bourdain, good food was good food; no pedigree needed. So why not celebrate these humble eateries? 


If you're looking to discover some of Bourdain's favorite United States small-time stars rather than the international juggernauts, this is the list for you. From greasy-spoon diners to low-key taco shacks to a gas station barbecue shed, these are the hidden gems that Bourdain gave his seal of approval to. Join us on a Bourdain-themed road trip from coast to coast, hitting all the tastiest spots in between.  

The Sample Room

During an episode of "A Cook's Tour," Bourdain made a stop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, looking to call out the independently-owned The Sample Room. First opened in 2002,  the restaurant served up local delicacies like meatloaf and fried walleye but added sophisticated touches like house-made paté, mustard, and sausage. Bourdain was particularly fond of chef Michael McKay's approach to the food coming out, saying, "It's not mom or pop, but it might as well be because he spends at least as much time as mom or pop would. It's personal." 


Today, you can still get a taste of that exquisite artisanal fare plus the cozy local joint vibe. Current high-brow menu items include Lion's Mane Mushroom Cakes and Beef Tartar, but even comfort classics like beer battered Ellsworth cheese curds and chicken wings come with luxurious accouterments like pepper jam and miso black garlic sauce. If the menu is anything to go by, it's still a gem of a restaurant.

(612) 789-0333

2124 Marshall ST NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

Ulrich's 1868 Tavern

For an episode of "No Reservations," Bourdain tackled the towns located in the Rust Belt of the country, including the fearsomely cold Buffalo, New York. Guided by a local rock musician Nelson Starr, Bourdain jumped from the frigid sidewalk into Ulrich's Tavern, a Buffalo institution that's been serving wings, beer, and other classics since 1868. As Buffalo's oldest bar, you can expect it to be serving up some traditional fare, including Buffalo's claim to fame: Buffalo chicken wings. Bourdain enjoyed an order of legit Buffalo wings and another Buffalo classic, the liver dumpling soup. Much of this food, including the Bavarian liver dumpling soup, harkens back to Buffalo's strong German immigrant influence. 


If you head to Ulrich's today, you can still get Buffalo wings as well as Beef on Weck, a proud Buffalo invention and a dish Bourdain proclaimed as "totally awesome." Basically, the Beef on Weck is a sandwich of sliced roast beef, caraway seeds, and horseradish served on a traditional Kaiser roll and accompanied by a bit of au jus to help you wash it all down. If you're looking for a true taste of Western New York humble fare, head to Ulrich's.

(716) 989-1868

674 Ellicott St, Buffalo, NY 14203

El Taco Veloz

With time to burn in Atlanta for his show "The Layover," Bourdain took to the Buford Highway in a red and black Dodge charger, sunroof open. The Buford Highway offers some of the more interesting immigrant restaurants you can find in Atlanta, hidden neatly away in strip malls. Bourdain decided to hit one of the oldest taco stands/restaurants located on the highway: El Taco Veloz. At the drive-up window, Bourdain ordered the lengua en salsa tacos, aka roasted beef tongue tacos. Declaring them delicious and made "just like the old country" would have made them, he then washed it all down with the a creamy horchata. 


You can hit any one of EL Taco Veloz's seven locations to get a taste of the lengua en salsa tacos Bourdain enjoyed so much. As it's been around since 1991, here's hoping that this particular taco shack has many more tasty years to come.

Multiple locations in Georgia

Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dogs

During a trip to Denver for an episode of "No Reservations," Bourdain had the opportunity to try some quality hot dogs outside of the hot dog mecca that is New York City. One stop he made was at Biker Jim's Hot Dogs, where Biker Jim himself served Bourdain some of his specialty dogs, running from Alaskan reindeer to rattlesnake. While being fed various types of wild game sausages with a touch of cream cheese, Bourdain kept crying for more. He listed his standout favorites as thus: "The reindeer, the boar, and the elk blow me away."


If you're heading to Colorado, there are a number of Biker Jim's Hot Dogs in the Denver area, including roving food carts and spots at both the Coors Stadium and the Mile High Stadium. You can grab versions of the Elk Jalapeño Cheddar Dog and Wild Boar sausage that Bourdain tried and have it served with Biker Jim's Classic toppings, cream cheese and caramelized onions. No word on the reindeer sausage, but fingers crossed that can come back as a seasonal treat.

Multiple locations in Denver

Joe's Kansas City BBQ

While touring the barbecue triangle for his show "A Cook's Tour," Bourdain had a fateful trip to the Kansas City classic barbecue joint, Oklahoma Joe's (now known as Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que). Introduced as a hybrid gas station, liquor store, convenience store, and barbecue hot spot, Bourdain admitted that good barbecue wasn't always pretty. But while there, Bourdain got his first taste of burnt ends, a quality cut of brisket's discarded end pieces that normal places would toss in the trash but that this place happily turns into barbecue treasure. He described it as "finger-licking good." 


Though it's now called Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, you can still get a taste of the ribs and burnt ends that Bourdain tried all those years ago. Though you can head to Joe's sister restaurant, The 180 Room, for a fancy take on the classic, the gas station classic was good enough Bourdain.

Multiple locations in Kansas 

Old Colony Tap

During a particularly personal episode for "Parts Unknown," Bourdain returned to his old stomping ground, Provincetown, Rhode Island. After a hard day of fishing with local fishermen, Bourdain headed to Old Colony Tap, an old-school dive where fishermen go for fried scallops, fresh oysters, and beers. Earning the distinction as the place where fishermen eat is a high compliment indeed. When Bourdain worked in Provincetown in the 1980s, he listed Folksel's, Cookie's Tap Room, and Old Colony Tap as the three main bars for fishermen to head to — but now only Old Colony Tap remains. On top of savoring a deep-fried version of the scallops they just caught, Bourdain and company enjoy "the finest of all oysters, the Wellfleets."


Old Colony Tap has been owned and operated by the Enos family since 1954, decorating the bar with salvaged driftwood, life preservers, buoys, and thick nautical ropes. Called the "O.C." by locals, this watering hole has hosted both the annual Fine Arts Work Center Social and the Flounder Flop swim, a chilly New Year's Day tradition. If you want to drink and eat like a Provincetown local, head to the Old Colony Tap.

(508) 487-2361

323 Commercial St, Provincetown, MA 02657

Apizza Scholls

While exploring the Pacific Northwest for an episode of "No Reservations," Bourdain made a fateful stop at Portland's Apizza Scholls. As Bourdain is from New York, giving any pizza place kudos is a big deal. Bourdain got to sample the fresh clam pie, quatro formaggio, and margarita pizzas. What made Apizza Scholls so unique to Bourdain? He was stunned that the head chef made all of the dough by hand (no dough mixer), a practice rare even in New York pizza joints.


Apizza Scholls took a lot of inspiration from one such New York pizza joint, Brooklyn's L&B Spumoni, adapting its pizza layering process, starting with cheese and then adding the sauce. If you want some entertainment to go with your pizza pie, the restaurant has retro arcade games, including Donkey Kong and Pacman, in the back for the most nostalgic gamer.

(503) 233-1286

4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR

Barney Greengrass

Bourdain had many occasions to call out his favorite restaurants in New York City, his chosen home for many years. He's named Pastrami Queen as one of his favorite pastrami sandwiches and singled out Katz's Delicatessen as one of the best delis in New York, but there's another delicious spot he mentioned in "A Cook's Tour." A classic deli you can find in New York, Barney Greengrass held a special place in Bourdain's heart for its breakfast dishes, which he proclaimed in the episode as "the best breakfast in the universe." Bourdain ordered the nova eggs and onions, which featured coils of smoked salmon, a plain bagel, and, of course, the Sturgeon platter — Greengrass is "The Sturgeon King," after all. Though Sturgeon is known for its caviar, it can also be a delicious smoked fish. 


Bourdain wasn't content with just this breakfast feast. To cap his visit, he took a serving of chopped chicken liver to go. This too, Bourdain is proud to proclaim as "ethereal," and the "best chopped liver in the universe." Don't just take his word for it; make a pilgrimage to it and try some yourself.

(212) 724-4707

541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY

Burns Original BBQ

Houston has no shortage of fabulous barbecue joints, but for Bourdain, there was only one place worth eating at more than once. Bourdain was such a fan of Burns Original BBQ he highlighted it on two different shows, with "Parts Unknown" showing his most recent stop nearly 15 years after the first. Though the grandfather was the original head of the restaurant, by Bourdain's second visit, the grandkids and son had taken over. For his order, Bourdain tried the ribs, brisket, smoked sausage, and an enormous baked potato stuffed with barbecue pork, cheese, and sour cream. In conclusion, he singles it out on the show as one of the best places to go for "east Texas-style barbecue."


Burns Original BBQ has expanded over the years and now offers branded takes on barbecue sauce, chips, lemonade, and spice rubs. It even launched a scholarship program that offered, as of 2023, one qualifying student up to $50,000 for their college fees. So if you want to dine for a cause, try this Houston classic.

(281) 999-5559

8307 De Priest St, Houston, TX

Chef Creole Seasoned Restaurants

For a special Florida episode for "No Reservations," Bourdain made a pit stop in Miami to meet up with Wilkinson Sejour, also known as Chef Creole, to play some dominoes and taste some true Haitian cuisine. At Chef Creole's eponymous open-air restaurant, Bourdain watches the cook prepare a conch stew spiced with Scotch bonnet peppers from Jamaica. After dining on that tasty stew, he also gets a bite of freshly grilled Red Snapper flavored with those very same Scotch Bonnet peppers. As Bourdain put it in the episode, "It's another example of food being the best expression of a place and personality, and Chef Creole has plenty of personality." 


If you head to Miami, you can hit one of six Chef Creole locations and grab a cup of that delicious conch stew or the grilled fish. All the other delicious Creole classics are on offer as well, such as fried plantains, conch fritters, and griot (a special fried pork dish). It's a good place to hit if you want an authentic Haitian hit.

Multiple locations in Miami 

Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvedorean

How underground was this Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvedorean when Bourdain first visited it for "Part's Unknown?" Well, it was technically illegal, and the show hid the face of the cook to help protect their identity. At the time, it was just a delicious home-spun operation run out of a family's house in Detriot, permits and other paperwork notwithstanding. There, Bourdain tried steamed tamales wrapped in banana leaves and pupusas, pork stuffed tortillas classic to El Salvador, served with a healthy dose of curtido, a pickled slaw, and plenty of hot sauce. As Bourdain notes to his dining companions in the episode, "Salvadorean pupusas get the most respect," even though they can be found in Nicaragua and Guatemala as well. These pupusas appeared to be no exception to the rule. 


The good news is that you can now visit the pupusa house without any concern for breaking laws or zoning codes. Order the house special of pupusa and choose to fill it with anything from chicharrones, cheese, beans, or jalapeños. Or get another traditional dish, the caldo, a hearty, beefy stew. Whatever you order will be deliciously authentic.

(313) 899-4020

3149 Livernois, Detroit, MI

Jacques-imo's Cafe

Described by Bourdain himself as one of the most swinging places in New Orleans, Jacques-imos is not as famous as other Crescent city hot spots, but that's just fine with locals. Bourdain found himself at the creole establishment for an episode of "A Cook's Tour," where he got the best seat in the house, a table set up in the flatbed of ramshackle truck forever parked outside of the restaurant. Bourdain dined on shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, a savory, almost quiche-like dish, and sautéed chicken livers. At the time, the place also had the "Joe DiMaggio" of fried chicken, Austin Leslie, working as a chef, so he also had to partake in some deep-fried fare as well. According to Bourdain, the chicken should have been illegal. "That's how good it is," he said. 


Jacques-imo's has weathered plenty of storms since Bourdain's visit, coming out stronger on the other side. Today, you can order much of what Bourdain tried, including the alligator sausage cheesecake, sautéed chicken livers, and "Austin Leslie's Fried Chicken." Though you have plenty of tasty options in New Orleans, Jacques-imos is a must visit for enthusiasts.

(504) 861-0886

8324 Oak St, New Orleans, LA


For a nostalgic episode of "Parts Unknown," Bourdain visited some old haunts of New Jersey. One such place he check out was Kubel's, a Barnegat Light restaurant located where he used to vacation with his family. Dining out with his brother Chris, Bourdain wanted one thing special: clams. He specifically asked for some fried clams, but also got some excellent clam chowder and clams in drawn butter. In addition to his clam feast, Bourdain tried lobster and asparagus-packed mac and cheese and mahi mahi sandwiches. After the meal, the North Jersey noted that Bourdain proclaimed, "I remember this place with nothing but fondness."


Fit with cozy wood benches and lit by Tiffany-style lamp shades, Kubel's looks and feels just like the retro summer hotspot for vacationing families that it is. It's been in business since 1927, so it's become a nostalgic talisman for many a diner. You could be the next diner to make some delicious memories there.

(609) 494-8592

28 W 7th St, Barnegat Light, NJ

Horseman's Haven Cafe

During a special episode of "Parts Unknown," that focused on New Mexico, Bourdain made a spicy pilgrimage to Santa Fe's Horseman's Haven Cafe. A traditional hispanic eatery that focuses on unfussy dishes, Bourdain met Dan Flores for lunch date.  Here, the two enjoyed sopapilla, pozole, adobada enchiladas (pork in red adobo sauce), but what truly leveled him was level 3 green chili salsa. As Flores tells Bourdain, people drive for hundreds of miles to get a taste of this kind of New Mexican fare. Bourdain, still reeling from the hot sauce, can only say "I believe they use the same peppers in pepper spray," (via a CNN transcript). 


If you want to take on the same salsa that drove Bourdain to tears, you can still try it at the Horseman's Haven Cafe. Or, if you want to taste that salsa dialed down a bit, you can get it at either level one or two. Either way, the place serves up a mean plate of authentic New Mexican cuisine. 

(505) 471-5420

4354 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM