Far from simply being places to eat, the world’s oldest restaurants are crucial pieces of history. They have witnessed revolutions, survived riots and pioneered popular cuisines.
From Chinese chicken stands to Colombian tamale stores, these 8 historic eateries have kept their doors open and pots boiling for centuries, and have served food to everyone from French royals to fearsome pirates.
Here’s our guide to the oldest restaurants in the world.
1. Casa Botín, Spain
Opened in 1725, this place just off Madrid’s historic Plaza Mayor holds the Guinness World Record for the planet’s oldest restaurant – there’s even a plaque on the wall to prove it. While you’ll see older places on this list, Casa Botín takes top spot because it has operated continuously out of the same 16th-century premises for its entire 300-year history.
Inside, things remain largely as they always have with wooden beams, tiled floors and bare-brick walls across four floors, plus the original 18th-century wood-fired oven. Famous for its succulent roasted suckling pig and lamb, it has featured in novels by Ernest Hemingway and Fredrick Forsyth. The painter Francisco Goya once washed the dishes here, too.
2. La Tour d’Argent, France
Founded in 1582, this slice of Paris history claims to have been a favourite of King Henry IV (1553–1610), who liked to drop in for the heron pâté. It’s also the spot where he supposedly introduced the fork to France, immediately starting a cutlery craze among trendy nobles who wanted to keep their ruffs stain-free.
The premises were rebuilt in 1830, then extended upwards in 1936, and the sixth-floor dining room offers superb views over the Seine, Notre-Dame and the Paris rooftops. Today the restaurant boasts a Michelin star, and is famous for its 400-page wine list and pressed duck, enjoyed by the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin and millions of others.
3. St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, Austria
This place inside Salzburg’s St Peter’s Abbey complex was first mentioned in 803 AD by Alcuin of York, an English scholar who worked for Charlemagne. Though it has closed a few times and undergone extensive remodelling over the intervening 1,200 years, that makes it very old indeed.
Today, its 11 dining rooms can seat hundreds and its eclectic list of past patrons includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Christopher Columbus and Clint Eastwood. Order the tafelspitz, an Austrian classic of boiled beef served with minced apple and horseradish.
4. Honke Owariya, Japan
Still occupying the same spot and owned by the same family, Honke Owariya in Kyoto started out as a sweet shop in 1465 before expanding into the noodle business around 1700.
Soba noodles were traditionally made by Zen Buddhist monks but, realising they had all the tools to knead, stretch and cut the buckwheat flour themselves, confectionary stores took over the trade.
Honke Owariya fulfilled noodle orders from local Zen temples and the Imperial Palace, and the Japanese royal family still visit when they’re in town.
5. White Horse Tavern, USA
Advertising itself as the oldest tavern in North America, the White Horse in Newport, Rhode Island, was founded in 1673 by William Mayes, father of notorious pirate William Mayes Jr. After an action-packed decade terrorising the Indian Ocean, Mayes Jr hung up his cutlass and took over the running of the tavern in 1702. His family more or less continued managing the place for the next two centuries.
Used as a meeting spot for the colony’s general assembly, criminal court and city council until the 1730s, the tavern was restored in 1957. Today’s diners can enjoy its menu of New England classics while admiring the period beams and huge fireplaces – and perhaps also spotting one of the two resident ghosts.
6. La Puerta Falsa, Colombia
Ignore the name, the ‘False Door’ in Bogotá is the real deal, famous for its authentic Colombian tamales and hot chocolate. Established in 1816 and still run by the same family, this tiny eatery-bakery started out as a hole-in-the-wall serving street food, and only accommodates 20 or so customers today.
Originally signless, it sat opposite a now-disappeared side entrance to Bogotá cathedral (known as a ‘puerta falsa’) and the name stuck. Over the years, it has survived fires, the 1948 Bogotazo riots and the 1985 siege of the nearby Palace of Justice, which left half of the country’s Supreme Court judges dead.
7. Ma Yu Ching Bucket Chicken House, China
Eight centuries before Colonel Sanders dreamed up KFC, there was Ma Yu Ching Bucket Chicken House. This place in the city of Kaifeng in east-central Henan province is said to have been serving up the stuff since 1153.
The business moved to Nanjing for a time, but the family returned to their Henan home in the 1850s and have been going strong there ever since, opening another branch in nearby Zhengzhou in 1954.
8. La Couronne, France
In 1431 innkeeper Raoul Baudry is said to have witnessed the torture of Joan of Arc from the window of this Rouen restaurant. Opened in 1345, it has served a who’s who of illustrious diners over the centuries.
American billionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt stopped by in 1854, followed by carmaker Henry Ford, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, artist Salvador Dalí, and Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman. TV chef Julia Child, who brought French cuisine to the US masses in the 1960s, claimed it was her first meal at La Couronne that ignited her passion for the country’s cooking.