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The 100 Greatest Cult Restaurants in America

From Poor Taste: What does Hash House A Go Go have in common with The Rocky Horror Picture Show? More than just toast. Much like films, bands, books, and television shows, certain restaurants have spawned enthusiastic cult followings. Just ask anyone who’s ever waited in line at New York City’s Shake Shack or Kuma’s Corner in Chicago. Could they obtain a burger from another establishment without waiting in line for an hour? Sure. So why don’t they? Devotion.

A visit from Anthony Bourdain, Guy Fieri, or President Obama can often drum up interest, but if overcrowding pushes the regulars out, well then you just have a tourist trap. And who likes a tourist trap?

So what creates that kind of devotion? What exactly makes a cult restaurant? The highly technical formula Poor Taste used to curate this list includes five parts. First, the restaurant must have a highly devoted customer base and should appeal to locals and tourists. This balance is important. A visit from Anthony Bourdain, Guy Fieri, or President Obama can often drum up interest, but if overcrowding pushes the regulars out, well then you just have a tourist trap. And who likes a tourist trap?

Second, the food must obviously be stellar and unique enough to produce a dedicated clientele. Being home to “The Best” or “The Original” of something helps. Third, the wait is almost always unbearable — but worth it. On this note, population density was given some consideration. Fourth, multiple locations are okay, but not too many, unless they’re in another country. Finally, for our purposes, a single meal should be relatively cheap. Less than 20 bucks per person is ideal. Less than 10 bucks per person is better. Using these guidelines, and with a little help from some epicurean friends, we’ve created a list of the 100 Greatest Cult Restaurants in America. (By K. Tighe, Thaddeus Phipps, Sayer Palmer, Pamela Birchard, and Kristen Kuchar)

Here is the top 20:

20. Umami Burger (Los Angeles, CA) 

19. The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective (Berkeley, CA) 

18. Ray’s Hell Burgers (Arlington, VA)

17. Wurstküche (Los Angeles, CA) 

16. Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix, AZ) 

15. Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (Brooklyn, NY)

14. Father’s Office (Santa Monica, CA) 

13. El Farolito Taqueria (San Francisco, CA) 

12. Mamoun’s Falafel (New York, NY)

11. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles (Los Angeles, CA) 

10. Din Tai Fung Dumpling House (Arcadia, CA) 

9. Ben’s Chili Bowl (Washington, D.C.)

8. Shake Shack (New York, NY) 

7. Philippe The Original (Los Angeles, CA) 

6. Burma Superstar (San Francisco, CA) 

5. Kuma’s Corner (Chicago, IL) 

4. Ippudo NY (New York, NY)

3. Pink’s Hot Dogs (Los Angeles, CA) 

2. Tartine Bakery & Cafe (San Francisco, CA) 

1. Hot Doug’s (Chicago, IL) 

See the rest of the winners at Poor Taste

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