The Chain Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Called 'Better Than The French Laundry'

In 2002, Anthony Bourdain was practically giddy to dine at The French Laundry in one of the final episodes of Season 1 of his first series, "A Cook's Tour." The now Michelin-starred restaurant, helmed by chef Thomas Keller, serves exquisite French cuisine, and, on Bourdain's visit, he and his three dining companions enjoyed a 20-course tasting menu with four different dishes served for each course. From a playful starter of salmon cornets to braised scallop belly soup, Yukon Gold potato blinis with shiitake mushrooms and chive butter, and chocolate ravioli with sauteed bananas, each dish was impeccably prepared and presented. Eventually, in 2011, the restaurant landed on Bourdain's list of the "13 Places to Eat Before You Die" via Men's Health.

About thirteen years after his experience at the French Laundry, Bourdain found himself in Charleston, South Carolina filming an episode of "Parts Unknown," during which he spent much of his time with acclaimed chef and restaurateur Sean Brock. The pairing of the two food enthusiasts might have had viewers expecting to explore the refined side of the city's dining establishments. However, it didn't take long for the duo to seek out a glowing iconic Southern staple — Waffle House. And after only a few bites from his first plate of butter-slathered and syrup-soaked pecan waffles, Bourdain was already prepared to declare his love for the restaurant, proclaiming that the all-night establishment was actually better than The French Laundry.

Anthony Bourdain's visit to Waffle House

On "Parts Unknown," Anthony Bourdain was known for visiting underrated cities and trying unique foods (like fermented shark – his least favorite dish ever). Initially, Waffle House may not seem to fit neatly into that category. The chain is well-known for being inexpensive and open 24 hours a day to being the bellwether of the severity of natural disasters like hurricanes.

Still, Bourdain was, up until that point, unfamiliar with the ways of Waffle House. An initial glance at the menu had Bourdain flummoxed by its list of lingo — hash browns that can be ordered in styles that range from smothered or covered to chunked, diced, or scattered (with onions, cheese, ham, tomatoes, or plain respectively) — and more. Meanwhile, Sean Brock, who had acquired an affinity for the restaurant at a young age, was happy to take the lead, suggesting they do a tasting menu experience. 

The two went on to share a plethora of Waffle House favorites from that first pecan waffle, a cheesy patty melt on thick-cut bread, eggs, and hash browns (scattered, smothered, covered, chunked) to salad, pork chops, and a t-bone steak. And while it couldn't have been any more different from being served Keller's Maine lobster consomme and choosing from a selection of artisanal and ancient salts, Bourdain was inspired to describe the Waffle House experience as one that makes you feel "drawn right to the center of what makes our country great" (per Parts Unknown).

Other famous faces with a soft spot for Waffle House

Anthony Bourdain and Sean Brock aren't the only recognizable faces to have fallen head over heels for Waffle House. Television personality Chrissy Teigen, who also runs a food blog and has authored three cookbooks, has been seen at the chain alongside her husband John Legend, as well as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

Meanwhile, several well-known musicians have made the chain their celebration destination. Bruno Mars treated himself to a meal there after the release of one of his music videos, and Carrie Underwood has been known to skip making a big Christmas breakfast in favor of dining at Waffle House on the holiday.

Some celebrities even leave a lasting impression after their visits to Waffle House. Stephen Colbert, who grew up in the South and harbors a fondness for the chain, collaborated with country musician Sturgill Simpson in 2016 to produce a song about Waffle House called "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads." Their ultimate goal was to have it featured on Waffle House's iconic jukeboxes, which typically play tunes from the restaurant's own record label — a goal they successfully achieved.