The origin of restaurants can’t be pinned down to any one place, but the oldest written account of eating outside of the home traces all the way back to sixth-century ancient Egypt (where one dish of waterfowl was served). In the eighth century, Rome and ancient Greece featured street food vendors. China showcased local cuisine in the northern and southern capitals for trade travelers eating outside their region. And France laid the groundwork for its vast culinary history by serving fixed-priced meals at large communal tables.
Let’s take a stroll through history and look at some of the world’s oldest operating eateries — and their most popular menu items today.
1. St. Peter’s Stifskulinarium, Salzburg, Austria
Step back into history at St. Peter’s Stiftskulinarium. This enchanting restaurant set in the heart of Salzburg, Austria, dates back to A.D. 803. Held within St. Peter’s Abbey, the 1200-year-old restaurant walls have seen princes, kings, and historic figures like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Christopher Columbus as guests. But make no mistake, this Michelin-starred restaurant doesn’t live in the past. Mixing tradition with gourmet, its excellent cuisine ranges from veal wiener schnitzel and homemade dumplings to Candian lobster.
2. Bianyifang, Beijing, China
Since the Ming Dynasty, over 600 years of service have graced the doors of Beijing, China’s Bianyifang restaurant. Famous for its Peking duck, this historic restaurant prepares mouthwatering waterfowl that’s filled with a flavorful soup and slowly roasted in closed ovens. The time-honored cooking tradition creates moist, crispy-skinned poultry that tastes like a little bit of heaven. The thinly sliced meat, paired with a sweet bean sauce, scallions, and cucumbers is served with steamed pancakes. Enjoy centuries of perfected culinary art with one visit to this Beijing gem.
3. Zum Franziskaner, Stockholm, Sweden
Founded in 1421 by German monks, Zum Franziskaner is Sweden’s oldest restaurant. It continues to be a popular gathering place hundreds of years after it served its first monk-brewed ale. Today, customers can take their pick from the bar’s vast selection of small and locally brewed beer. Its tempting menu is a mix of traditional Swedish dishes with a strong German influence. If visiting this historic restaurant, be prepared to taste an irresistible isterband country sausage, sauerkraut with fried potatoes and homemade mustard, or a butter-baked cod loin with shrimp, egg, horseradish, and brown butter.
4. Honke Owariya, Kyoto, Japan
The humble beginnings of a confectionery store starting back in 1465 are now one of the best-known soba restaurants in Japan. Made traditionally from buckwheat flour, soba has an ancient association with luck and wealth. Honke Owariya’s most famous dish is Ho-rai soba. This noodle masterpiece is beautifully served with stacked bowls of soba noodles along with a delicious slow-cooked dipping sauce and three savory toppings of shrimp tempura, omelet strips, and shiitake mushrooms. Get ready to taste a bit of flavorful history with each bite.
5. La Tour d’Argent, Paris, France
A place fit for kings. La Tour d’Argent is rich with a vast history and has served royalty, presidents, and celebrities over its 400 years of culinary genius. Its wine cellar is one of the finest in the world, with a collection valued at close to $30 million. La Tour d’Argent’s signature menu item is an elegant and traditional pressed duck. This incredibly complicated dish is an example of why French cuisine is considered one of the best around.
6. Zur letzten Instanz, Berlin, Germany
Established as a tavern in 1621, Zur letzten Instanz has seen its fair share of history. It stands just down the road from the eastern side of the famous Berlin Wall, once separating East and West Germany. Napoleon, Beethoven, and Angela Merkel are some of the famous patrons that have enjoyed this establishment’s charming atmosphere and traditional German fare. Serving up a delectable grilled knuckle of pork with a side of red cabbage or tasty stuffed cabbage leaves, this restaurant knows how to put a smile on the face of its diners. After all, it can’t get better than great-tasting, hearty food paired with a foamy German lager.
7. White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern has been serving food since 1673. Once owned by a well-known sea pirate, this local watering hole and inn was the meeting place for city politicians — garnering it the nickname “birthplace of the businessman’s lunch.” Today, this elegant restaurant serves beautifully plated and delicious gourmet cuisine. Take your pick of oysters from the raw bar or enjoy a perfectly cooked Beef Wellington. Need something warm and satisfying? A traditional, tasty New England clam chowder should do the trick.
8. A la Petite Chaise, Paris, France
This restaurant has been a trendy gathering place for artists, musicians, writers, celebrities and politicians since its beginning in 1680. A la Petite Chaise means “isolated house” and was located on a plot of land near wild game, fish from the Seine, farm-fresh chickens, and other tasty fares (that made their way onto the menu). It was possibly one of the first farm-to-table eateries in existence. The impressive menu currently features entrees such as beef tartar, escargot in a garlic aniseed butter sauce, and baked goat cheese on toast salad.
9. Sobrino de Botin, Madrid, Spain
Ernest Hemingway’s love for Sobrino de Botin was evident. By featuring the establishment at the closing of one of his most famous novels, “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway secured Sobrino de Botin into American Literature. But, this establishment has another claim to fame. It’s the oldest continually operating restaurant in the entire world. And after hundreds of years, it remains famous for its succulent cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig) and cordero asado (roasted lamb). The traditional Spanish cuisine is roasted in a 300-year-old cast-iron oven for irresistibly tender and crispy-skinned pork or lamb (served with a side of roasted potatoes).
10. Fraunces Tavern, New York City, New York
The American history held in the famous Fraunces Tavern is outstanding. George Washington called the building his home during the American Revolution and engaged in talks with the British during his stay. He eventually established peace within its very walls. Fraunces Tavern is one of the oldest restaurants in the United States and currently operates as a whiskey bar and eatery serving brunch, lunch and dinner. The menu features tasty items like a traditional Irish breakfast for brunch or a quick crab cake appetizer and a hearty New York strip for dinner.
The test of time
The fascinating history held within these 10 restaurants could fill volumes of books. These establishments differ in origin but are united in their unique ability to endure the test of historic time and remain successful today. Staying power can be learned from examples in the past, but hard work and dedication are vital lessons for any operation. Looking for other ways to operate successfully? Take a peek at one of our latest posts, “Four Tips To Make Your Foodservice Operation More Efficient.”
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