What Does it Take to Become an Icon?

What does it take to become iconic in the restaurant world? In politics it might only take a few years, and just as many outrageous acts to achieve this status. In sports it might only take one great score. But in a great national park it would take eons where it may take a restaurant 50-100 years to become enchanting beyond reasonable doubt to a hungry and sentimental public.

While pondering such thoughts today we rounded up a few icons in the food industry that definitely attained iconic status. We would love to hear your standouts as well. Here are a few more Dallas restaurants that fill that status.

Katz Deli, 1888 Katz Deli opened in New York City where the Jewish deli was gaining popularity. By 1910, the Katz cousins (Willy and Benny) had bought out the founders of this Lower East Side Jewish deli. It became a second home for actors and comedians performing in the Yiddish Theater, and during World War II, urged New Yorkers to “send a salami to your boy in the Army.” Katz’s gained national fame as the site of famous movie scenes, including Meg Ryan’s faux orgasm in When Harry Met Sally.

In the early 20th century, families noshed Friday nights on franks and beans; these days, it’s the pastrami on rye, day in and day out.

Ben’s Chili Bowl 1958 Segregation, riots, gentrification: Family-owned Ben’s Chili Bowl has ridden out all manner of challenges from its perch on U Street, the heart of a social and cultural center once known as Washington’s “Black Broadway.” Habitués have included Martin Luther King Jr., Stokeley Carmichael and Jesse Jackson; Barack Obama made it one of his first restaurant outings as president-elect in early 2009.

Ambiance at the long diner bar and the famous “half smoke”—voted the signature dish of Washington, D.C.—smothered in chili, of course.

Antoine’s 1840 The iconic home of Louisiana French Creole dining, Antoine’s is now headed by the sixth generation of the Alciatore family, and named in honor of its creator, who launched his new business at the age of only 18. Antoine’s son, Jules, created Oysters Rockefeller. (The family recipe remains a secret.) The restaurant became a main character in the 1948 bestseller, Dinner at Antoine’s, by Frances Parkinson Keyes.

What makes Antoine’s special? Those oysters, and baked Alaska. Fine dining in rooms devoted to Mardi Gras themes.

Sylvia’s 1962 Sylvia Woods hadn’t even been inside a restaurant before moving from South Carolina to New York in 1946, part of the “Great Migration.” Three decades later, food critic Gael Greene dubbed her the “Queen of Soul Food” and her eponymous restaurant is second only to the Apollo Theater as a Harlem landmark. A center for the Black community, it remained undamaged during the 1968 riots. Spike Lee has filmed there; Aretha Franklin rented out the place for a private party. Other patrons range from soul music doyen James Brown to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

Customers flock for community gatherings, Sunday gospel brunches, fried chicken or catfish dishes and (on weekends) chitterlings.

Cattleman’s Steakhouse 1910 Founded to feed ravenous ranchers, cattle haulers and others doing business in the Oklahoma City’s stockyards. Some of the beef slaughtered in the area, known as “Packing Town,” ended up on the casual restaurant’s tables. Famously, a roll of the dice determined the restaurant’s fate in 1945, when local rancher Gene Wade rolled a double 3 to acquire the steakhouse from its former owner, an incorrigible gambler. Over the decades, everyone from rodeo stars to presidents (Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.) has dined on its steaks.

Everyone loves those steaks (especially the T-Bone) and lamb fries, a.k.a. fried lamb testicles.

El Fenix 1918 The famed Mexican restaurant has indisputably claimed Dallasites’ hearts and appetites with its consistently delicious and affordable food. In fact, it’s so good that it recently celebrated its 104th year of operation! In a time where downtown Dallas restaurants come and go as tastes and trends change, El Fenix remains in its original location, which opened in 1918 (although additional restaurants have since been added). Today, its humble beginnings and rich history has earned it and iconic status in Dallas and is credited as “the original Tex-Mex.”

Patrons still flock to this iconic restaurant despite many changes in the Tex-Mex scene, enjoying margaritas and enchiladas.

1 Comment

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One response to “What Does it Take to Become an Icon?

  1. Lynn Ferrara

    Thank you for mentioning Antoine’s. Truly iconic from the history, service, food and nation’s longest wine room.

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