Take a delicious trip back in time.

By mkgalleryamp; Wine Editors
June 03, 2019
Columbia Restaurant

The ingredients of the 1905 Salad, which is a thing most everybody seems to order at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, are about as classic as salad makings come. Iceberg lettuce, ripped to shreds. Green olives, the kind with the little pimiento pepper stuck in the middle. Ribbons of baked ham and Swiss cheese. Then comes the dressing, with sprinklings of dried oregano, and the white wine vinegar, along with a sizable hit of Worcestershire sauce, and an abundance of grated Pecorino Romano. 

This is not so much the kind of salad we eat now, this is salad you read about in the pages of a brittle mid-century cookbook, and yet the 1905 is arguably the most important item on the menu at Florida’s oldest restaurant. Occupying a Spanish-to-the-nines palace of many rooms, the Columbia's menu is every bit as mashed up as the historic culture of Tampa's Ybor City, a place where immigrants came from around the world to work in the cigar factories, going back to the late 1800's. The restaurant knows just how much the salad matters to its loyal patrons, and they present the dish with a level of care many other restaurants reserve for big ticket items like, say, caviar

Well-dressed servers mix the restaurant's calling card tableside, day after day, as they have done for so long now; the result, a crunchy, cold, satisfying thing, with that one-two umami punch from the Worcestershire and the aged cheese, and then there is that feeling that you get when something is made especially for you, with no small amount of care or attention. Julienned cold ham or no, this is a delicious, highly-craveable salad, one you will remember, long after you forget most other salads. 

Of course, the setting helps—the Columbia is one of the most extravagant restaurants you will find in the Southeast, at least outside of a theme park; each corner has a story to tell, or stories, every table seems to have history. The original Ybor location of the Columbia—there are now a number of Columbias—is one of those places that you always find your way back to, even if you are not very hungry; you come, even if only for a moment, to touch a past that you will discover, in the case of Tampa, is not so past at all.

In nearly every state, from Revolutionary Period taverns in New England to Gold Rush holdovers in The West, America’s oldest restaurants offer us a direct line to days gone by in a country—and an industry—typically preoccupied with the now and the next. Again and again, the story repeats itself, from a century-old hotel dining room on Hawaii's Big Island, to one of the country's oldest Chinese restaurants, still going strong in Butte, Montana. Along the way, there’s plenty of fried chicken, and there’s so much pie, too, although in some states, the answer to the question, which is the oldest restaurant, is not always obvious. From Texas to Washington to Maine, the landscape holds so many surprises, so many finds, and we've collected them here for you, in one easy-to-find . Who carries the title in your state, currently? Let’s find out. — David Landsel

ALABAMA

The Bright Star Bessemer

1907 

Famous for fresh-caught Gulf seafood, not to mention a fine beef tenderloin marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, this long-running, Greek immigrant family-owned restaurant is a mainstay not only in post-industrial downtown Bessemer, it’s also one of the state’s most treasured dining establishments. At heart, this is a classic meat-and-three establishment, one where ingredients and service (highly professional) still matter a great deal.

ALASKA

Peggy’s Anchorage

1944

Horseshoe counters, forest green banquettes, wood paneling, and garish accents of burnt orange tile—this coffee shop is about as classic as they come, for the longest time a favorite of the bush pilots flying in and out of Merrill Field, right across the busy highway. From morning until late, Peggy’s serves the working-class Mountain View neighborhood, as it has for generations; for many, Peggy’s is all about the pie—for thirty-five years, a woman named June baked them herself. When she retired, her recipes stayed, dozens of them, and don’t even ask what’s good, because this is Peggy’s—they’re all pretty great.

ARIZONA

The Palace Restaurant & Saloon Prescott

1877

Where does one start, really, when considering the overwhelming amount of history—the fascinating, the lurid, the plain hilarious—that you get when you pop into what is not only Arizona’s oldest bar, but also its longest-running business? How about the time when Wyatt Earp killed a couple of guys in a gunfight, out back? Doc Holliday doing knife fights, right in the bar? The speakeasy years? The brothel years? The time when the place caught fire (which happened more than once), when the patrons carried the actual bar out into the street, and kept right on drinking? There are tales about ghosts, there are stories about Hollywood types who stopped by, about Steve McQueen, about Peter Fonda and Brooke Shields, and you’ll want to stop too—enter via the 1901 vintage swinging saloon doors, have a drink, and stay for lunch or dinner.