13 Famous Restaurants Where Presidents Have Dined

Imagine dining out at your favorite restaurant. The food is delicious, the drinks are on point, the atmosphere is lively, and when you glance up at the front door you see the president of the United States walking through. It's not as far-fetched a scenario as you might think. Presidents need to eat too, you know. Plus, they travel all across the world to support causes, give speeches, and meet with the public.

We can't overlook their own hometown favorites. Presidents are people, just like the rest of us, and hail from all regions of the U.S. Just because they became president doesn't mean they abandoned the restaurants that they grew up going to and where they find their favorite dishes that just aren't the same anywhere else. Here are some of the top restaurants where, from Texas to Maine, U.S. presidents have sat down to dine. You, too, may eat like a president.

Ben's Chili Bowl | Washington, D.C.

Given that Washington, D.C. is the nation's capital, it makes sense that the head of state would eat there on a regular basis. In the more than 200 years since it was established, D.C. has accumulated a great many famous locales. Among them is Ben's Chili Bowl, located on U Street, long an important area for the district's Black American culture.

Ben Ali immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad in 1945 and, after attending medical school, opened Ben's Chili Bowl in 1958 with his then-fiancée Virginia. Since then, Ben's has seen a lot, becoming not only a landmark but a destination. Countless celebrities have walked through Ben's doors and enjoyed the iconic D.C. half-smoke, including former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The meat in the oversized half-smoke hot dog is half beef and half pork. The sausage is grilled, then nestled into a bun and topped with mustard, diced onions, and a ladle of chili.

Blue Duck Tavern | Washington, D.C.

Another D.C. restaurant, Blue Duck Tavern, is on the opposite end of the price spectrum from Ben's Chili Bowl. Specializing in artisan dishes made from locally sourced ingredients, Blue Duck has won multiple awards, including a Michelin star. Blue Duck is so proud of its sources that they are listed on the menu next to the dishes. For example, the crab used to make the crab cakes on the dinner menu comes from the Chesapeake Bay, and the roasted duck breasts hail from Hudson Valley, New York.

You would be right in thinking that the Blue Duck Tavern may not be the kind of place for a casual night out with friends. Mr. and Mrs. Obama chose it as the restaurant to celebrate their 17-year wedding anniversary back in 2009. The pair was dressed to the nines in a black suit for him and a knee-length black dress for her.

Carbone | New York City, NY

Carbone, whose original location is in Greenwich Village, New York City, is another Michelin-starred restaurant. It's a high-end restaurant serving elevated, Italian-American cuisine that is modeled after Italian eateries of the mid-20th century. Although Carbone has a policy of not bragging about its celebrity clientele, you may see several famous faces dining within, including those of the presidential variety.

Michelle Obama was first seen at Carbone not long after the restaurant opened in 2013. In July 2015, her husband, former President Barack Obama, took their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, to Carbone for dinner. Mr. Obama was again spotted dining with Malia at Carbone in March 2017, this time also accompanied by Michelle. Sasha was still attending school in D.C., which may be why she did not accompany her family on that visit. If you would like to dine like a president, Mr. Obama enjoyed the double lamb chop and a glass of red wine.

Cooper's Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que | Llano, TX

If there is one food that Texas is known for, it's barbecue. Is it any surprise that former President George W. Bush is a fan? Although Bush was born in Connecticut, he mostly grew up in Texas, where he also served as governor from 1995 to 2000. Cooper's Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que was opened in 1964 by Tommy Cooper, the eldest son of George T. Cooper, himself an established pitmaster. Unfortunately, Tommy Cooper died in 1979, but his legacy lives on, and Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que now includes multiple locations. It is the restaurant in Llano, Texas, that is frequented by Mr. Bush, and the relationship goes way back.

While still governor of Texas, Mr. Bush first gave Cooper's a try in May of 1998. In 2001, Cooper's catered a picnic lunch that Mr. Bush and his wife Laura hosted at their family ranch for visiting Republican governors. It was there that Mr. Bush declared Cooper's Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que his favorite barbecue. The restaurant even has a letter of approval from Mr. Bush's time as governor that proclaims, "The ribs were excellent!" (from the Washington Times).

Estela | New York City, NY

Estela is another Michelin-starred restaurant located in Lower Manhattan. In 2014, this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant was awarded the third Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit magazine. Two years later, Estela was named one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. It is safe to say that it has caught the eye of many a savvy diner.

Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were early customers of Estela, visiting in late September of 2014. The couple was in New York City for the UN Assembly. They dined on burrata with salsa verde, charred bread, cod croquettes, and a simple endive salad with walnuts, anchovy, and ubriaco rosso cheese. The Secret Service had the block on lockdown to protect the Obamas, but by all accounts it was a pleasant experience for the other diners, many of whom were excited to see them. Estela seems to have handled the situation with aplomb.

Mabel's Lobster Claw | Kennebunkport, ME

Kennebunkport, Maine, is a resort town located in the south of the state along the Atlantic coast. The Bush family has a vacation estate there called Walker's Point, and George H. W. Bush grew up spending every summer there. Many locals fondly remember the former president, who passed away in 2018.

Since 1953, Mabel's Lobster Claw has been serving up classic seafood fare such as mussels, clams, crabs, and, of course, lobsters. Clam chowder and lobster rolls are also on the menu. The popular local restaurant has long been a favorite of the Bush family, and you will find pictures of them enjoying lobster dinners at Mabel's on the restaurant's walls. One thing that was never found on Mr. Bush's plate, however, was broccoli, which the former president refused to eat no matter who made it. After a change in ownership, Mabel's was lovingly renovated in 2019, but it retains its original charm and still has the old photos on the walls.

Martin's Tavern | Washington, D.C.

Martin's Tavern could not be more different from Blue Duck Tavern, although both are popular Washington, D.C., restaurants. A landmark of Georgetown for nearly a century, Martin's has served presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, senators, secretaries of state, baseball greats, and more. It's said that Richard Nixon particularly liked the meatloaf.

Former President John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie at Booth Three on June 24, 1953. He was just a senator at the time, but it still caused a lot of excitement. Said Ambassador Marion "Joe" Smoak, "After the senator proposed and she accepted the news ran through the restaurant ... In hindsight it was great fun to witness a part of history" (via Martin's Tavern).

Plaques above certain booths tell you which famous people have sat there before you. Aside from Booth Three, there's Booth One, where JFK read the Sunday newspaper; Booth Two, where Nixon was often seated; Booth Six, where former President Harry Truman and wife Bess once dined with their daughter Margaret; and more.

Mary Mahoney's Old French House | Biloxi, MS

We've already established that George H. W. Bush loved seafood. But, Maine isn't the only place where he enjoyed the fruits of the sea. Mary Mahoney's Old French House is located along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, famous for its 40-year-old gumbo recipe. Mr. Bush isn't the only former President to dine there. While in town for a Habitat for Humanity function, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn dined at Mary Mahoney's.

In 1979, Mary Mahoney's served a lunch of gumbo and other seafood dishes on the White House lawn after being invited to Washington by Mississippi's senator at the time, Trent Lott. Attendees included former President Ronald Reagan, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, as well as members of Congress. This event inspired the Presidential Platter appetizer on Mary Mahoney's menu, which consists of fried crab claws and fried petite soft-shell crabs. It is available on both the lunch and the dinner menus.

Old Ebbitt Grill | Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1856, the Old Ebbitt Grill advertises itself as the oldest saloon in Washington, D.C., although the business has relocated a few times. It is claimed that the now-grill was visited by former Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Warren Harding. While it was still a boarding house, it is also said that former President William McKinley resided there during his Congressman days.

The interior is mostly wood (the Main Bar is mahogany) and maintains a Victorian-era saloon style. In addition to the Main Bar, there is the Oyster Bar, the Corner Bar, Grant's bar (which features a photograph of General Grant), the Main Dining Room, and the Cabinet room. Each is a true feast for the eyes and is filled with paintings and murals. It's no surprise that leading up to Valentine's Day in 2023, OpenTable declared the Old Ebbitt Grill one of the most romantic restaurants in America.

Peking Gourmet Inn | Falls Church, VA

Chinese cuisine is extremely popular in the United States, so of course U.S. presidents are bound to be fans, as well. If you were to ask former President George W. Bush where to find the best Peking duck in the Washington, D.C. area, he would likely respond with Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, Virginia. His father was also a fan of the restaurant, and several pictures of both father and son posing with the owner are posted on the restaurant's website. Even celebrity chef Duff Goldman called the Peking duck "the best thing I ever ate. Period" (from Food Network).

Opened in 1978 by Eddie Tsui, Peking Gourmet Inn specializes in northern Chinese cuisine such as its signature dish and namesake, dumplings, noodles, and more. Peking Gourmet Inn also has a farm in Purcellville, Virginia where ingredients are grown for the restaurant, including garlic sprouts, greens, and fish. This supports the restaurant's goal of serving quality, fresh food.

Rao's | New York City, NY

Established in 1896 by the Rao family, Rao's New York is one of the oldest family-owned and -operated restaurants in the United States that still operates in its original location. It is also possibly the most difficult restaurant in New York City to get a table at, and it has a long list of famous regulars. Former President Bill Clinton was photographed dining at Rao's in 2003, and Barack Obama has also managed to get inside.

Luckily, for the rest of us who would also like to get a taste of Rao's Neapolitan cuisine, Rao's locations were opened in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2006 and Los Angeles, California, in 2013. If even those are out of your reach, you can head to your local grocery store and pick up a jar of Rao's Homemade Marinara. The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, herself swears by it, telling Bon Appétit magazine, "I think you can spend the entire day making good marinara sauce, or you can buy Rao's Marinara sauce, which I think is just fantastic."

Upland | New York City, NY

Upland is a vaguely rustic-looking New York City restaurant that took inspiration from California seasonal cuisine for its menu. Former president Barack Obama and his family are practically regulars. Barack took his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, to Upland in 2015. In March of 2017, Barack and former First Lady Michelle joined U2 frontman Bono and his daughter, tech entrepreneur Jordan Hewson, for lunch at Upland. They dined away from the public eye in a private room.

One of Mr. Obama's favorite things to order at Upland is the cheeseburger, which has a California bend with two beef patties, slices of American cheese, Peppadew peppers, tomato, lettuce, and avocado. When he and Michelle lunched with Bono and Jordan, the group ordered a fried chicken sandwich, the sausage and kale pizza, and bucatini cacio e pepe. There are a number of pizzas on Upland's menu that change depending on the time of day, but the sausage and kale pizza is always on the menu.

Zingerman's Deli | Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor has two main claims to fame: the University of Michigan and Zingerman's Deli. While it has grown into a veritable empire, the original delicatessen was opened in historic Kerrytown in 1982 by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig. More than a deli, Zingerman's connects the everyday consumer with artisanal foods. Many have sung Zingerman's praises, including award-winning food writer and cook Michael Ruhlman. It has also been featured on the Food Network.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama went to Ann Arbor to speak at the University of Michigan about raising the federal minimum wage. In addition to showing extra care in where it sources its food, Zingerman's has also made it a point to take care of its workers, so it made sense for Mr. Obama to stop by for lunch before the big speech. It came as a surprise to Ari Weinzweig, who had not been warned ahead of time. Mr. Obama ordered the famous Reuben sandwich, which we think is one of the best in the country.