Here’s a fairly plausible day in the food life of an American: bagel for breakfast, tacos for lunch, spaghetti for dinner. Although these foods are so commonplace today, we wouldn’t be eating them if it weren’t for the various immigrant communities who introduced them to us over the course of our country’s history.
Here’s a look back at some of the oldest ethnic restaurants around the country:
Italian – Ralph’s (Philadelphia, PA)
Ralph’s was first opened in 1900 by an Italian immigrant named Francesco Dispigno and his wife Catherine. After about a decade of success, they moved to a large location in South Philadelphia, where the restaurant has been ever since. Over the years they’ve catered to celebrities like Frank Sinatra and politicians like Joe Biden. Additionally, Ralph’s is operated by the fifth generation of the Dispigno family, and showing no signs of giving up the tradition.
Japanese – Maneki (Seattle, WA)
You might think that sushi in America is a rather new craze, but you’d be wrong. Seattle’s Maneki restaurant has been serving traditional Japanese fare to Washingtonians for over 100 years. It’s survived both world wars, economic hardship, and the intense anti-Japanese sentiment and internment during WWII. Despite the adversity, loyal regulars have kept the place going until the present day.
Mexican – El Charro (Tuscon, AZ)
El Charro opened its doors in 1922, and has been run by the same family ever since. It was founded by Monica Flin, whose father was commissioned to build Tuscon’s St. Augustine Cathedral. She opened El Charro at a time where businesses owned and operated by women were virtually unheard of, and was almost immediately successful. In addition to being a community institution, El Charro is also credited with inventing a national favorite: the chimichanga.
Chinese – Pekin Noodle Parlor (Butte, MO)
Montana is probably not where you’d expect the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S. to be, but hey – America is full of surprises. Pekin Noodle Parlor was opened by Chinese immigrants, Hum Yow and Tam Kwong Yee in 1911. Like a lot of other Chinese immigrants at the time, they came to Montana and surrounding areas to take part in the mining activity that was booming in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today the restaurant serves up Chinese-American favorites like egg foo young and chop suey, and the restaurant is still operated by members of the Tam family.
German – Mader’s (Milwaukee, WI)
In 1902 Milwaukee had a thriving German population, and Mader’s opened to give them a taste of home. The restaurant thrived up until Prohibition, at which point the kitchen stepped up its game in order to make up for the lack of beer. When the law was repealed, Mader’s was the first place to serve beer again. Over the decades the restaurant has adapted to a number of changes and hardships, remodeling its dining rooms and menus to fit the times, but never abandoning tradition.