There’s something undeniably captivating about watching a food challenge. Maybe it’s because the entire premise turns our notions of culinary ethics and social niceties upside down. Or maybe because rather than exercising some polite restraint for the sake of keeping the peace in a shared space, competitive eaters are expected — even encouraged – to embrace their inner hedonist. The Travel Channel’s "Man v. Food" cashes in on our collective fascination with public gluttony by hooking up its host with some of the wildest food challenges across the country. The end result is a thoroughly entertaining exhibition, as viewers bear witness to cartoonishly massive piles of celebrated regional cuisine get ravenously devoured.
Over the course of its run, "Man v. Food" episodes have featured restaurants from coast to coast, tackling everything from a flame-grilled 72-ounce steak in Texas to a four-pound syrup-drenched plate of pancakes in Hawaii. Considering that "Man v. Food" has graced so many restaurants with its presence, you might find yourself wondering if any of them happen to be close by for a visit. If you’re feeling extra hungry and a bit competitive, maybe you’ll even take a stab at some of these challenges yourself — just don’t say we didn’t warn you. Here are some of the best visited spots in the country.
1. The Vortex – Atlanta
When it comes to iconic restaurants in Atlanta, The Vortex is at the top of the list. The fun starts from the moment you face its creatively macabre door, which also functions as the ominously opened mouth of the restaurant’s signature hypnotic-eyed skull. Considering The Vortex’s dark aesthetic, it should come as no surprise that the restaurant embraces skeletal artwork and even makes references to impending doom on its menu, with items like the quadruple coronary bypass burger. Made with a stack of four griddled patty melts, 27 strips of bacon, and four fried eggs, this outrageously decadent cheeseburger combo is served over a bowl of tater tots and french fries smothered in cheese sauce, clocking in for a total of nearly 10,000 calories. In other words, the name of this burger almost feels more prophetic than some tongue-in-cheek marketing ploy.
As you may have guessed by now, The Vortex is known for its burgers. But fear not as all of the burgers at this restaurant aren’t as monstrous as the bypass burger. There are plenty of delicious half-pound burgers to choose from, like the "Four Horsemen," which comes with a blackened patty smothered in melted jack cheese, horseradish sauce, grilled onions, and mushrooms, or the "Fat Elvis," which comes topped with creamy peanut butter, crispy bacon, and fried plantains. All things considered, the genius of The Vortex lies in its uncanny ability to mesmerize diners with an onslaught of tasty temptations. If you’re anywhere near Atlanta, this one’s absolutely worth a visit.
2. Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse (Dallas, Texas)
Originally aired in 2011, "Man vs. Food" paid Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse a visit in Dallas, Texas, during the show’s fourth season (via IMDB). Sonny Bryan’s features a streamlined menu that focuses on all of the best barbecue classics. Smoked brisket rubbed in a secret seasoning blend, Texas-style pulled pork, ribs, smoked chicken, and jalapeño sausage are just a few of the highlights on the menu. Open since 1958, it’s safe to say that Sonny Bryan’s knows a thing or two about making some seriously crave-worthy barbecue (via Sonny Bryan’s).
But it’s not just the smoked meats that take the spotlight here at Sonny Bryan’s. At many other barbecue joints, the sides often feel like an afterthought, but Sonny Bryan’s goes to great lengths to make them shine. The restaurant’s barbecue beans are cooked with a hint of smoked brisket, which imparts a savory, beefy flavor that makes them outrageously tasty. The onion rings are massive and hand-battered before being fried into perfectly crispy orbs and served with a homemade dipping sauce. Meanwhile, the macaroni and cheese is made with an aged cheddar sauce that’s rich and velvety. The bottom line: everything on the menu at Sonny Bryan’s knocks it out of the park, so if you’re anywhere near Dallas, swing by for some of the best barbecue around.
3. Taqueria La Cumbre (San Francisco & San Mateo, California)
Originally a meat market that opened in 1969, Taqueria La Cumbre made the leap into a full-fledged restaurant just a few years later (via Taqueria La Cumbre). Specializing in tacos, burritos, and fajitas, there are a few things that separate Taqueria La Cumbre from the pack that make it special. For starters, the menu prominently features fresh Mexican gulf prawns in a variety of its dishes, making this restaurant a great choice for seafood lovers.
One plate that stands out in particular is the garlic prawns seafood plate, which comes with fresh prawns sautéed with garlic and Napa Valley wine to create a rich, luxurious flavor. Paired with fresh greens, fluffy rice and beans, roasted peppers, guacamole, and sour cream, this tasty platter also comes with your choice of tortillas — flour, corn, wheat, or spinach. The restaurant also frequently features a seasonal fresh catch of the day, so make sure to ask about what’s available.
Taqueria La Cumbre also offers quesadillas suizas — essentially two tortillas stuffed with cheese and toppings in the center and grilled until melted and crispy. This suiza style slightly differs from the other type of quesadilla, which is typically just a single tortilla folded in half. The end result is almost pizza-like, with a glorious, rounded disc of cheese cut into eight delicious pieces. Fresh and undeniably delicious, Taqueria La Cumbre is definitely one of the best restaurants to be featured on the show.
4. Cherry Cricket (Denver, Colorado)
With a name like Cherry Cricket, you might be wondering what kind of food is served there. Ice cream sundaes? Protein-rich insects? According to the restaurant, no one really knows the origin story behind its unique moniker (via Cherry Cricket). What we do know is since opening in 1945, Cherry Cricket has been serving up frosty glasses of booze and whipping up award-winning burgers and other tasty creations from its menu ever since.
Featuring a build-your-own-burger option and several signature burger specialties, Cherry Cricket is a great destination for lovers of flame-grilled beef patties. With nearly 40 different toppings to choose from, Cherry Cricket gives its diners a license to create some truly one-of-a-kind creations. Jalapeño bacon jam and fried egg, ancho apricot barbecue sauce and smoked cheddar, or a burger topped with pepper jack and a chile relleno are just some of the inventive combinations you can dream up.
One of the restaurant’s best creations is the "720 Jammin’ Poblano Burger" that comes with a half-pound grilled beef patty, a fried poblano pepper, a smear of pimento cheese, crispy pork belly, and a drizzle of cherry pepper raspberry sauce. The combination of tangy raspberry sauce mixed with the richness of the pork belly and pimento cheese proves to be exceptionally transcendent. We’d recommend washing it down with one of the restaurant’s milkshakes, which come with toppings like candied pecans, caramel, and butterscotch.
5. Key Largo Conch House (Key Largo, Florida)
Located on the northern end of the Florida Keys, Key Largo Conch House is a family-owned restaurant that makes an effort to be environmentally-friendly by sourcing its seafood sustainably (via Key Largo Conch House). Featured on "Man vs. Food" for its 15-minute conch fritter eating contest, Key Largo Conch House is a favorite among locals and tourists alike (via FL-Keys). The restaurant’s popularity should come as no surprise, once you take a peek at its menu.
When it comes to breakfast, the Conch House has a lot to offer. Mango crab cake Benedict, a cajun omelet stuffed with andouille sausage, and key lime macadamia pancakes are just a few of the items you can enjoy in the morning ocean breeze with gorgeous views of the Atlantic. For lunch, there’s conch fritters with a hint of curry, grilled lobster tacos, Caribbean shrimp and plantains, fish and chips, among other plenty of other tantalizingly fresh dishes. But it’s dinner where Conch House’s culinary finesse really shines, with dishes like the Key Largo surf and turf, which comes with filet mignon, grilled hogfish, and blackened shrimp topped with pineapple salsa. The flavors at Conch House are fresh and tropical, perfectly suiting its picturesque location along a dreamy stretch of beach. At the end of the day, there are plenty of reasons to visit the Keys, and visiting the Key Largo Conch House should definitely be at the top of your list.
6. Prince’s Hot Chicken (Nashville, Tennessee)
Watching a beautiful sunset descend into crimson clouds. Enjoying the fresh bloom of spring after a long winter. Eating crispy, perfectly fried chicken. The best things in life are often simple pleasures, and Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville understands that amazingly delicious food doesn’t have to be pretentious or complicated.
With a straightforward menu that’s mainly focused on fried chicken and sides, Prince’s Hot Chicken is an example of a restaurant that has successfully embraced simplicity. Offering whole chickens that can be cut into quarters, wings, chicken salad, and boneless tenders, the fried chicken at Prince’s can be tossed in your choice of sauce, ranging all the way from mild to extra hot. Between the cheap beer and killer fried chicken, this is the kind of joint you can comfortably hang with your crew to fuel up and get a buzz going before a fun night out. If you have a sweet tooth, they have a few surprises lined up for that, too, including slices of pie and cake.
7. Brick Lane Curry House (New York, New York)
When you think of the Big Apple, you probably envision drool-worthy slices of New York-style pizza and old-school delis whipping up fresh pastrami sandwiches. And while all of that is wonderful and delicious, the reality is that New York City has so much more to offer. Featured on the first season of "Man vs. Food," Brick Lane Curry House offers some of the best Indian food around (via IMDB). Aside from offering some of the tastiest curries in town, there’s another thing that lured the show to Brick Lane Curry House … the "Phaal Challenge."
The "Phaal Challenge" offers what could possibly be one of the spiciest curries in the country. The curry is so spicy that before diners can dig in, they’re required to make a verbal disclaimer to not hold the restaurant "liable for any physical or emotional damage." Yikes! In most cases, when a restaurant warns you of impending psychological suffering and gastrointestinal catastrophe, it’s probably wise to keep your distance. But in this case, Brick Lane Curry House has plenty of other delicious, less treacherous dishes on the menu that make it worth your while.
Tandoori chicken marinated in Indian-spiced yogurt, seven different types of biryani, and chicken tikka masala are just a few of the classic dishes that Brick Lane Curry House cooks up. If curries aren’t your jam, there’s also fish and chips with your choice of fried cod, pollack, or flounder.
8. Papa Buck’s (Metter & Vidalia, Georgia)
The Deep South is beloved for its regional barbecue scene, and Papa Buck’s can hang with the best of ’em. What started out as a successful food truck in 2007 gradually grew into two full-fledged restaurants in Metter and Vidalia. But what drew "Man vs. Food" all the way to the Peach State to visit Papa Buck’s? It was the "Pigzilla Challenge" – a four-pound pulled pork sandwich.
After nearly 200 attempts, less than 20 people have succeeded in taking down this beast of a feast. Considering diners only have 45 minutes, attempting to finish this meal is definitely a challenge. The good news is that if you successfully complete the "Pigzilla Challenge," your meal is on the house. But if you aren’t keen on the idea of busting your belly with several pounds of pulled pork, fear not — there are plenty of other amazingly tasty, non-gargantuan dishes to choose from on the menu.
Slow-smoked beef brisket, cheeseburgers, smoked chicken, Brunswick stew, macaroni and cheese, and ribs are just a few of the classic barbecue treats that Papa Buck’s offers. The restaurant even has family packs so you can easily scoop up a group meal in one fell swoop. Fresh and succulent, you can truly taste the love in every bite of barbecue at Papa Buck’s.
9. Stuff Yer Face (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
It almost feels like destiny that a restaurant called Stuff Yer Face would be featured on a show called "Man vs. Food." Known for its oversized strombolis, Stuff Yer Face also offers a wide range of burgers and sandwiches. A brie burger with caramelized onions, an Italian chicken melt with a roasted garlic spread on rosemary focaccia, and a buffalo chicken sandwich are just a few of the mouth-watering dishes that the restaurant is happy to serve you.
But it’s the strombolis that really put Stuff Yer Face on the map. While you can find more traditional strombolis on the menu stuffed with ingredients like mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, you’ll also encounter modern twists like barbecue chicken, cheeseburger, and cheesesteak stromboli varieties. If you’re just in the mood for something lighter or an appetizer, there’s also salads, soups, bruschetta, and plenty of other smaller-sized bites to pick from. All in all, Stuff Yer Face is one of the best restaurants ever featured on "Man v. Food," thanks to its generous portions and eclectic menu.
10. Slows Bar BQ (Various locations – Michigan)
When you think of Michigan, there’s a good chance that you’re more likely to think of Detroit-style pizza rather than southern-style barbecue. But the truth is that Michigan has its own respectable barbecue, and Slows Bar BQ is definitely a part of that scene. With a streamlined menu that’s mostly centered on traditional barbecue dishes like slow-smoked pork, beef brisket, and ribs, the restaurant also features a variety of creative signature sandwiches that are just as worthy of your attention.
One standout sandwich is "The Longhorn," which comes with smoked beef brisket, onion marmalade, gouda cheese, and a spicy sauce. Pork-lovers are bound to thoroughly enjoy the "Triple Threat Pork" sandwich, with crispy strips of bacon, smoked pulled pork, and ham. But it’s "The Yardbird" that Slows Bar BQ is perhaps best known for, with pulled smoked chicken tossed in sauce and topped with sautéed mushrooms, cheese, and bacon. If you’re in the mood for tacos, you’re in luck as Slows offers smoked brisket tacos on corn tortillas with sliced onions, smoked gouda, and pickled jalapeños. All things considered, Slows Bar BQ straddles the line between old-school tradition and contemporary twists with delicious grace, and its succulent barbecue is truly a tasty surprise in The Great Lakes State.
11. Lindy’s on 4th (Tucson, Arizona)
Lindy’s on 4th in Tucson, Arizona, first opened for business at the end of 2005 (via Lindy’s on 4th), and "Man v. Food" rolled in four years later to film the restaurant’s "OMFG Challenge" in action — three pounds of grilled beef patties, one pound of Swiss and cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onions along with a healthy drizzle of special sauce. Those who like a nice kick of heat should dig the "Burnout Challenge," which comes with the same amount of grilled beef patties but swaps the traditional lettuce, tomato, and onions for green chiles, jalapeños, and ghost pepper hot sauce.
But don’t let these challenges fool you as there are plenty of other delicious burgers to pick from on the menu that won’t rattle the fortitude of your digestive system. One highlight is "The Cow Tipper," which comes with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, special sauce, and crispy bacon along with a side of au jus for dipping. The "Texas Belt Buckle" is another crowd-pleaser, featuring onion rings, melted cheddar, bacon, and barbecue sauce. If you’re in the mood for some inventive flame-grilled cheeseburgers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant more enticing than Lindy’s on 4th.
12. Melt Bar and Grilled (Various locations – Ohio)
Open since 2006, Melt Bar and Grilled deliciously converges America’s love of grilled cheese and craft beer (via Melt Bar and Grilled). While the restaurant has plenty of amazingly creative grilled cheeses to choose from, it’s "The Melt Challenge" that caught the attention and competitive spirit of "Man vs. Food." With 13 slices of melted cheese on three slices of toasted bread, this colossal monstrosity is served on a hefty bed of crispy french fries and coleslaw for a grand total of over five pounds of food.
If that sounds like a bit too much to take on — we can’t say we blame you. Rest assured, though, Melt Bar’s menu has tons of other options. One of the most inventive and radical concoctions on the menu is the "Potato Bacon Bomb," with sharp cheddar, roasted garlic chive potatoes, hickory bacon, sour cream, and scallion sauce. It’s not every day that you see a potato sandwich on the menu, but this is a melt that any spud-lover is bound to fall in love with. Other showstoppers worthy of applause include a homemade meatball melt with basil marinara and fried mozzarella wedges, a Panko fried cod sandwich with jalapeño tartar sauce, and a mojo-glazed pulled pork melt with ham, Swiss cheese, fried pickles, and a smear of sweet mustard. With an ingenious menu that manages to feel comforting and contemporary, Melt Bar and Grilled is a culinary pitstop worth making.