Onion rings are important. Battered and artfully browned, a good onion ring offers a level of crispy, dippable, sweet-savory satisfaction that can't be mimicked (Seriously, how many amazing "oven-fried" onion ring recipes do you see floating around?) or matched by any other deep-fried side. Thus, where to find good--nay, great--onion rings is equally important, especially as you hit the road for summer travels. We've compiled a fine balance of experience and research to produce the following list of spots that play home to the most exceptional onion rings our nation has to offer. In no particular order (these are not ranked... making the top 10 is accomplishment enough), here are the places you need to stop, order, and put a [onion] ring on it.
1.) Saw's Barbecue -- Birmingham, AL
Saw's is recognized for their humble brick and mortar locations--where the walls are lined with license plates and state memorabilia and the kitchen emits smoky scents that have patrons lined up down the block--as well as their food trucks that pepper the districts of Birmingham. What began as one Cooking Light's test kitchen chef's journey into barbecue has since become one of the city's most beloved lunch spots. One reviewer notes, "Best barbecue I've had in Alabama. And I believe Alabama is the BBQ Capital of the Known Universe." Yep, we'll stand by that all day long.
While the local favorite is most well known for the out-of-this-world amazing barbecue, their side dish game is on point. Bringing us to the onion rings... just look at that glorious golden pile.
2.) Primanti Bros. -- Pittsburgh, PA
If you ever stop through Pittsburgh, you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't make a trip to Primanti Bros., a darling of the Pittsburgh food scene. According to one reviewer on Yelp!, where the place constantly rings in solid reviews, "It is a Pittsburgh institution as many other reviewers, national publications and television shows have said. You mess with it, you mess with the city and troves of dedicated fans of Primanti's." In town and looking for locals? You'll likely to find them wherever there are grade-A pierogies, wherever they can catch a "Stillers" game (the Pittsburgh accent is one of the most intriguing things you'll ever hear), or at Primanti Bros., the pub-style eatery famous for serving their French fries in the sandwich. Another amazing perk of this place? Their flawless onion rings. Obviously.
3.) The Varsity -- Atlanta, GA
If you go to Atlanta and don't stop by The Varsity (or at least gawk at the big red "V" sign as you drive), were you ever really in Atlanta? The Varsity is a 1950's drive-in style diner decked out with neon lighting and a "Grease" attitude. As one reviewer puts it, "It feels like being in the 1950's before people cared about fat and calories and grease and all the stuff that's awesome about the Varsity." If you park and go inside, prepare yourself for the standardized enthusiastic "What'll ya have?!" request for your food order from a bizarrely cheery staff rocking nostalgic paper hats. As the fairly small menu focuses on soda counter favorites like burgers, fries, and the like, it should come as no surprise that The Varsity sports some of the best onion rings around.
4.) Portillo's -- Chicago, IL
Home to some of the best hot dogs Chicago has to offer and piled high with plenty of toppings, Portillo's is a place that celebrates vintage street-cart style food in the present day. And what would a place like that be if it didn't also offer stacks on stacks of superbly crispy-fried onion rings?
5.) Mahony's Po-Boys -- New Orleans, LA
It's not a trip to New Orleans without a classic po' boy. A city staple originally named for being one of the cheapest meals around, the po' boy sandwich reigns supreme to this day in NOLA popular food culture. And one of the best places to snag one is at Mahony's. Along with their signature stacked sandwiches, Mahony's boasts rave-worthy onion rings, served up hot and fresh with any entree.
6.) The Patrick Henry Pub & Grille -- Richmond, VA
In 1775, Virginia's famous resident Patrick Henry notoriously exclaimed, "Give me liberty, or give me death," forever marking himself as a serious patriotic badass. The present pub and grill establishment that bears his name resides in a historic pre-civil war era inn that is located mere blocks from where that original speech took place. Grade-A pub grub awaits either inside or outdoors on the patio--and if U.S. history doesn't get you stoked about this spot, the onion rings sure will.
7.) Sam's Burgers, Pies, and Fries -- Houston, TX
Everything's bigger in Texas... including their burgers, or in this case, their burgers, fries, and pies. Along with their tasty namesakes, the onion rings at Sam's stand out as a force to be reckoned with. Lightly fried to an airy golden crisp, these rings pair perfectly with any one of the custom sauces offered, such as their spicy ketchup or cilantro jalapeño dip.
8.) Porter House Bar and Grill -- New York City, NY
If modern fare is more your style, snag a reservation at the Porter House Bar and Grill located smack in the middle of Manhattan. You'll find this restaurant in the Time Warner Center, and once inside, can experience an incredible view of central park (especially around sunset). Besides being home to some of the best steak in the area, the Porter House is home to some outstanding big and beautiful buttermilk onion rings.
9.) Pearl's Deluxe Burgers -- San Francisco, CA
This small establishment has been cited as a hidden gem of San Francisco, a diamond in the sea of restaurants that exist in the Bay Area. Pearl's delivers simple food that people love, with little bells or whistles. While burgers are their strong suit, let's not overlook their fantastic fries and onion rings. In fact, one reviewer claims their favorite San-Fran meal was based around just that, "We got an order of "Springs"....the greatest thing ever....1/2 onion rings, 1/2 sweet potato fries. It was the best meal I had in San Fran and can't wait to have it again.”
10.) Uneeda Burger -- Seattle, WA
Here to round out this list is an eatery that's home to some of the most gigantic onion rings you've ever seen. Uneeda Burger is a trendy spot with a catchy name and has been voted "The Best Burger in Seattle" time and time again. While the burgers are fantastic, not everyone goes for the main course. As one reviewer puts it, "The shakes are out of this world, but best of all are the onion rings." With rings that tower higher than their burgers, it's easy to see why.
Do you have any go-to places to chow down on amazing onion rings? Let us know in the comments below--we'd love to check out some of your favorite places.