The Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State from The Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State
The Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State Gallery
The Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State
In traveling this country, you’ll quickly notice that there’s no shortage of unique and delicious restaurants to pull over and enjoy a quick meal at. But this poses a conundrum: What to order, and where? Each state has its own unique specialties as well as restaurants that serve definitive versions of some of the most delicious foods on earth, and we’ve tracked down the very best thing to eat in every state as well as Washington, D.C.
Pinpointing a single dish, at a single restaurant, as the absolute most delicious bite of food in a state as expansive as say, California, is no easy task. But each of these highlighted dishes aren’t just universally beloved by just about everyone who’s tried them (in fact, many of them have put the restaurants at which they’re served on the map), they say something about their home state and its residents. These dishes aren’t just delicious, they’re iconic, and in many cases are nothing short of legendary.
Even though there are plenty of delicious desserts out there, we stuck with savory dishes for these purposes, with an eye toward the casual and inexpensive. (Sure, that dry-aged wagyu ribeye might be ridiculously good, but we wanted our featured dishes to be accessible to all.) Each of these dishes is a true American classic, and they’re nothing short of the most delicious things to eat in their entire home state.
Alabama: Hickory Smoked BAR-B-Q Chicken, Big Bob Gibson (Decatur)
Yelp/ Kevin W.
Chris Lilly is one of America’s most renowned pitmasters, and with good reason. He took over the pit at the circa-1925 Big Bob Gibson a couple of decades ago, introducing new sauces and rubs to the equation, and suddenly the restaurant was on the map. He’s best known for his Alabama-style white sauce, a tangy concoction that best complements his smoked chicken, and since its introduction it’s become one of America’s most iconic barbecue and chicken dishes. Half-chickens are smoked low and slow over hickory, and dunked in a zippy mayo-based sauce before serving.
Alaska: King Crab, Tracy’s King Crab Shack (Juneau)
You won’t find fresher king crab anywhere than you’ll find in Alaska, whose waters are brimming with the deadly catch. And in Juneau, the locals will tell you that the best place to find these massive, meaty crab legs is at Tracy’s, located right on the water. A big chunk of Bering Sea red king crab, dunked in melted butter and washed down with a custom-brewed Denali Crab Shack Kolsch, is Alaska perfection.
Arizona: Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
Photo by Anthony N. via Yelp
"There’s no mystery to my pizza," Bronx native Chris Bianco was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Sicilian oregano, organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, purified water, mozzarella I learned to make at Mike's Deli in the Bronx, sea salt, fresh yeast cake and a little bit of yesterday's dough. In the end great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance. It's that simple.''
Try telling that to the legions of pizza pilgrims who have visited the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 20 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the worst for some of the best food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco starting to serve lunch, the opening of Trattoria Bianco, the pizza prince of Arizona’s Italian restaurant in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center(about 10 minutes from the original), and an outpost in Tucson.
Arkansas: Fried Chicken, Monte Ne Inn Chicken (Rogers)
There’s only one thing that can make a perfectly cooked fried chicken even better: being able to eat as much of it as you want. That’s the deal at this Northwest Arkansas institution, which has been serving country classics family-style for nearly 50 years. Pull up a chair and help yourself to all the fried chicken, bean soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, coleslaw, string beans, house-made rolls and apple butter you care to eat. The fried chicken is spot-on: buttermilk-soaked, dredged in flour seasoned with plenty of black pepper and paprika, and fried until crisp.
California: Carnitas Burrito, La Taquería (San Francisco)
John L. via Yelp
La Taquería is a regular stop for food-lovers in San Francisco, a city already famous for its Mexican offerings. Either keep it simple and just stick with meat and beans — no rice filler in the burrito here — or upgrade it with all the classic burrito extras and watch your pants tighten with each bite. We suggest you go all the way and load yours up with their unique style of carnitas, which are somehow both crispy and moist, and nothing short of delicious. All the praise that this perpetually packed institution receives is well worth it.
Colorado: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Steuben's (Denver)
Opened in 2007, but named in honor of a famous restaurant and nightclub co-proprietor Josh Wolkon's great-uncles owned in Boston for several decades in the middle of the last century, Steuben's is a neighborhood diner serving American regional specialties. Representing Colorado's neighbor, New Mexico, the menu presents what is regularly named the best green chile (or chili, as Steuben's puts it) cheeseburger in Denver. Said to be inspired by the classic version at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico, it's a fat burger patty topped with American cheese into which green chile strips seem to melt. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and mustard ornament the burger, which is served on a challah bun.
Connecticut: White Clam Pie, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (New Haven)
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is a checklist destination, one you’ll have to make a pilgrimage to if you want to discuss the topic of America's best pizzas with any authority. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza made by an Italian-American immigrant. After arriving in the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Frank Pepe took odd jobs before opening his original restaurant.
There are now seven locations around Connecticut, one in New York State, and one near Boston, operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren (all of which use original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza).
Two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. This pie is so good that we’ve consistently named it the best pizza in America.
Delaware: Blue Crabs, Sambo’s Tavern (Leipsic)
Open only from early April to late October, Sambo’s is a tavern located right on the Leipsic River founded over 50 years ago by Sambo Burrows. The crabs here are as fresh as can be, boiled and seasoned with plenty of spice mix, and served to hordes of natives who flock to this out-of-the-way locale. Make a reservation for a table overlooking the river, and make sure to order some hush puppies on the side.
Florida: Cuban Sandwich, Versailles (Miami)
The Cuban sandwich actually originated in Florida, not Cuba, and in many ways it’s the unofficial sandwich of Miami. Just about all Miami Cuban sandwiches contain the same ingredients — ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, pressed until melty (salami also works its way into it in Tampa) — but quality can vary from place to place. The definitive version can be found at Versailles, located in Miami’s Little Havana. Fresh Cuban-style white bread loaves are baked in house; ham is glazed with brown sugar, pineapple juice, and cloves before being baked; whole pork legs are marinated and slow-roasted for three hours daily; and imported Swiss cheese is sliced thick. A good Cuban sandwich depends on the quality of its ingredients, and the ingredients in Versailles’ version are just about perfect.
Georgia: Burger, Holeman & Finch Public House (Atlanta)
Holeman & Finch Public House once served only 24 burgers nightly, but thankfully for us the sandwich has now been made a permanent menu item. Each double-patty burger of fresh-ground grass-fed chuck and brisket comes topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, and homemade ketchup, and is served on a toasted house-baked bun alongside fresh-cut fries. Chef Linton Hopkins (who developed this burger while he was battling cancer, as it’s the only food he didn’t lose his taste for) chose to offer it on such a limited basis in order to let the other items on his menu get their due, but you can save those for the second visit.
Hawaii: Plate Lunch, Rainbow Drive-in (Honolulu)
Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In is absolutely legendary, and with good reason: It’s arguably the best place in the state for that uniquely Hawaiian creation, the plate lunch. The plate lunch is customizable, but it always contains a protein, two scoops of rice, and one scoop of macaroni salad or slaw. As for the protein? It’s up to you, but options here include barbecue beef or pork, fish, beef of pork cutlets, chili, burger patties, beef stew, or (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) “spaghetti with weiner.” It’s exactly as filling as it sounds, and even more delicious.
Idaho: Finger Steaks, Westside Drive-In (Boise)
Finger steaks are a uniquely Idaho creation, similar to chicken fingers but made with beef instead. It may sound strange, but when done well, it’s tender, crispy, and delicious, and the most legendary place to order this regional specialty is at Boise’s West Side Drive-in. To make this treat, lean beef shoulder strips are dunked in a batter made with plenty of garlic, pepper, and beef bouillon (and a little yellow food coloring) and fried for just 30 seconds so as not to overcook them. The kicker? They’re dunked in cocktail sauce!
Illinois: Italian Beef, Al’s #1 Italian Beef (Chicago)
Way back in 1939, Al’s #1 Italian Beef started as a small food stand, later morphing into an iconic Chicago franchise with 11 locations in Chicago and shops in Las Vegas, California, and Texas. During the Depression, owner Al Ferrari and his family began slicing roast beef very thin and placing it on small fresh loaves of Italian bread, unintentionally creating a legendary sandwich.
To make this beauty, sirloin is rubbed with a secret spice blend, dry-roasted, thinly sliced, made into a sandwich, and then dunked in Al's signature “gravy” (more similar to au jus). Customers can choose how much or little they want, but Al’s encourages customers to get their sandwiches “wet.” When topped with the signature giardiniera, a tart and spicy pickled vegetable blend, this sandwich is a masterpiece.
Indiana: Breaded Pork Tenderloin, Nick’s Kitchen (Huntington)
In Iowa and Indiana, the humble pork loin is turned into one of the most delicious sandwiches you’ll ever find, all thanks to some pounding and deep-frying. And this legendary sandwich was reportedly invented by Nick Freienstein nearly 110 years ago in the small Indiana town of Huntington; his restaurant is still in business, and they’re still using his recipe to turn out massive tenderloin sandwiches. A 4-ounce slice of lean center-cut pork loin is pounded down into a huge patty; marinated in buttermilk, eggs, and flour; breaded in saltine crumbs; deep-fried, and served on a 5-inch hamburger bun with onion, lettuce, and tomato. Imitators abound, but the original is still the best.
Iowa: Loose Meat, Taylor’s Maid-Rite (Marshalltown)
An Iowa staple that’s a true Midwestern regional specialty, the “loosemeat” sandwich (also called a tavern sandwich) can be thought of as a sloppy Joe without the sauce: crumbled seasoned ground beef on a bun, topped with mustard, pickles, and chopped onions. Even though you can find it in plenty of small local restaurants, the one to visit is Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. Going strong since 1928, it’s a truly historic institution; there are franchised locations all across the Midwest (just called Maid-Rite), but the original is the one to visit.
Kansas: Burnt Ends, Joe’s Kansas City (Kansas City)
Joe’s Kansas City, with its original location on the Kansas side of the city, offers smoky, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. It began as Oklahoma Joe’s in 1995 in none other than a corner gas station. Since then, it’s opened two more eateries and has achieved a level of renown in the city. The large menu offers smoked turkey and ham, beef brisket, ribs, barbecue sausage, and the house specialty, pulled pork. If you come in during lunch on Monday or Saturday, or at dinner on Wednesday, you may be lucky enough to indulge in Joe’s sought-after burnt ends (if you get there before the dish sells out). The menu also features chicken gumbo and a variety of sides, such as dirty rice and barbecue beans.
Kentucky: Hot Brown, Brown Hotel (Louisville)
Jeff Y. via Yelp
The Hot Brown is Kentucky’s most legendary culinary contribution, invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt, chef at Louisville’s luxurious Brown Hotel. The hotel is still going strong, and the best place to enjoy this renowned open-faced sandwich is at its point of origin. (It’s served at the hotel’s three restaurants and in-room dining.) To make the definitive version of this classic dish, toast is topped with sliced turkey and doused in a creamy pecorino-based Mornay sauce before being browned in the broiler. Crispy bacon and sliced tomatoes round it out.
Louisiana: Fried Chicken, Willie Mae's Scotch House (New Orleans)
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, the legendary restaurant located in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood since 1956. Look around the two no-frills dining rooms and you’ll see nothing but fried chicken, even though other offerings, like smothered veal, are available (and delicious). But if it’s your first time there, take a cue from the regulars and pilgrims alike. The chicken, perfected by Willie Mae Seaton (who passed away in 2015 at age 99) and today safeguarded by her granddaughter Kerry, is, simply put, otherworldly. Fried to order, the crust is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy, and shatteringly crisp and crunchy, coming away cleanly as you take a bite without dragging the rest of the breading with it. Underneath, the chicken is impossibly moist and juicy. We almost lost Willie Mae’s after it was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, but the community banded together to rebuild the restaurant exactly as it was before.
Maine: Lobster Roll, Red’s Eats (Wiscasset)
The line is long and the wait begins in your car on the one-lane lead-up to Red’s Eats and the bridge. It hasn’t endeared tourists to locals. But that wait will definitely be worth it: This is the most famous, most iconic, and the best lobster roll on earth. The roll itself is heaping with fresh, wet lobster — so much it falls all over. It tastes just-cooked and picked, and it’s a great deal. No dressing. Get butter (warmed in a kettle on the stove) and mayo on the side. Put simply, it’s lobster roll perfection.
Maryland: Crab Cake, Faidley Seafood (Baltimore)
In Maryland, crab cakes are a religion, and Faidley’s, located in Baltimore’s Lexington Market since 1886, is its high altar. The crab cakes here (which were created in 1987 by matriarch Nancy Faidley-Devine) are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else, and locals are unanimous in their praise. To make these crab cakes, whole jumbo lump Maryland blue crab meat (the highest grade available) is tossed with broken saltines, Old Bay, and a secret mayo-based sauce before being formed into fist-sized balls and flash-fried in very hot oil. The end result is a golden-brown crab cake, brimming with huge chunks of fresh crab, and light and creamy on the inside. It’s about as good as it gets.
Massachusetts: Clam Chowder, Union Oyster House (Boston)
Yelp/ Hannah S.
The Union Oyster House is Boston’s most famous restaurant, and its New England clam chowder is the definitive version, hands-down. It starts (as all great clam chowders do) with diced salt pork, which is rendered down and combined with butter, flour, onion, and celery to form a roux. It’s combined with house-made clam juice, half-and-half, chopped fresh clams, a couple dashes of Tabasco, and diced potatoes, and the end result is thick, creamy, simple, and perfect.
Michigan: Coney, American Coney Island (Detroit)
In Detroit, there’s an epic rivalry going back decades between two neighboring hot dog stands — American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island — but American can claim to have been there first, and to have perfected the now-legendary hot dog style. Family-owned and -operated since 1917, American’s claim to fame is the classic Coney-style dog. A custom-made natural-casing hot dog from Koegel’s gets placed into a warm steamed bun, then topped with a Greek-spiced beef-heart-based chili sauce developed by founder Gust Keros, a heap of diced onions, and a squirt of mustard. No trip to Detroit is complete without a Coney dog.
Minnesota: Jucy Lucy, Matt's Bar (Minneapolis)
Ah, the legendary Jucy Lucy (yes, Matt's spells it without the "i"). While the battle rages between Matt’s Bar and the nearby 5-8 Club over who invented this brilliant burger variation (basically a cheeseburger with the cheese inside the patty instead of on top), the one at Matt’s Bar is the superior specimen. Legend has it that shortly after the restaurant opened in 1954 a hungry customer came in and asked for two burger patties with a slice of cheese in the middle. He took a bite, proclaimed it to be "one juicy Lucy!" — and an icon was born. Only fresh-ground beef goes into each hand-formed burger, and the first bite yields a river of molten, gooey cheese. These burgers are much more difficult to make than it may appear, and the one at Matt’s Bar is absolute perfection.
Mississippi: Hot Tamales, Doe’s Eat Place (Greenville)
Doe’s Eat Place is best known as a charmingly ramshackle steakhouse, serving the finest, most massive steaks you’ll find in Mississippi, but the dish that originally put it on the map when it opened in 1941 was the hot tamales. Founder Doe Signa’s tamales bear only a passing resemblance to authentic Mexican tamales, and are instead cigar-shaped tubes of corn and beef, tied up in wax paper and served dripping in the beef juices they’re boiled in. It doesn’t get much more old-school (or delicious) than this.
Missouri: Barbecue, Arthur Bryant's (Kansas City)
This is probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America — thanks largely to the efforts of Kansas City-born writer Calvin Trillin, who in 1974 wrote in Playboy, with a wink in his eye, that it was "possibly the single best restaurant in the world." Arthur Bryant’s grew out of a place owned by Henry Perry, the so-called "father of Kansas City barbecue." When Perry died in 1940, Charlie Bryant, one of his employees, took it over, and after his death, his brother Arthur assumed ownership. Baseball players and fans alike, along with U.S. presidents, movie stars, and other notables, have flocked to it ever since for its hickory- and oak wood-smoked ribs slathered in a tangy vinegar sauce and melt-in-your-mouth brisket. Arthur Bryant passed away at 80 years old in 1982, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
Montana: Pork Chop Sandwich, Pork Chop John’s (Butte)
Pork Chop John’s has two Butte locations, and as you might have suspected, pork chops are the specialty here. Pork chop sandwiches, in particular: A lean slice of boneless pork loin is pounded, dunked in a cornmeal batter, and fried, then put in a bun and topped with mustard, pickle, and onion. It’s been done the same way since John Burklund first started serving them from the back of a wagon in 1924, and it’s sandwich perfection.
Nebraska: Runza, Runza (Various Locations)
Sort of like a Hot Pocket on steroids, a runza is essentially a long roll that’s been stuffed with meat, onions, sauerkraut, or other fillings, and this Volga German-inspired sandwich is insanely popular in parts of the Midwest, especially Nebraska. That’s the home base of a chain of the same name that has about 80 locations throughout the region, and it serves legitimately good runzas. The original ground beef, onions, and cabbage variety is a traditional standby, but the addition of some gooey American cheese kicks it up a couple notches.
Nevada: Nachos Nachos Nachos, Peppermill (Las Vegas)
Nevada, and Las Vegas in particular, is one of the only places in America that has a seemingly infinite number of spectacular standalone dishes but very few that can be considered statewide (or citywide) specialties (aside from high-end classics served at expense-account restaurants). That notwithstanding, the nachos at late-night Vegas staple Peppermill are really, really good, and over the years have been elevated to legendary status. To make this ultimate drunk nosh, tortilla chips are topped with refried beans, jalapeños, onions, olives, tomatoes, and several types of cheese, sent into the broiler for maximum meltiness, and finished with your choice of chicken, ground beef, or both. It’s an absolute mountain of food, perfectly proportioned for maximum cheese and topping coverage. Nachos Nachos Nachos: The nachos so nice, they named them thrice.
New Hampshire: Boiled Lobster, Brown’s Lobster Pound (Seabrook)
Family-owned and -operated since 1950, Brown’s Lobster Pound has been serving the state’s best lobster and freshest catch since 1950. Order fried and grilled food at the counter, but the best way to experience this restaurant is to pick your freshly-caught lobster out from one of the tanks, have it boiled and cracked to order, and enjoy it overlooking the water with some drawn butter.
New Jersey: Sliders, White Manna (Hackensack)
A North Jersey legend, White Manna is one of the last remaining diner-style burger joints that arose in the tradition of White Castle. What’s served here is the perfect interpretation of that form, honed over decades and decades, unchanging. Walk up to the tiny counter, place your order with the grillman, and watch as he smashes a small wad of meat onto the flattop with a handful of thin-sliced onions, keeps careful track of it as it cooks, and sandwiches it into a Martin’s potato roll. Make it a double with cheese, and the burger that will end up on your plate next to some pickle chips won’t be pretty, but it’s astonishingly delicious.
New Mexico: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Santa Fe Bite (Santa Fe)
Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger served at Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, was hailed as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers, period, in the country. A dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took The Bite over 13 years ago, forced the Eckres to move to a new location on Old Santa Fe Trail and adopt a new name, Santa Fe Bite, but the restaurant’s legendary ginormous burgers — 10-ounce house-ground, boneless chuck patties cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns — remain. And for that we should be very thankful.
New York: Pastrami on Rye, Katz’s Deli (New York City)
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Its corned beef and pastrami, made on site and sliced to order, are legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot pastrami sandwich.
To make the pastrami, beef navel (a fattier and more traditional cut than the more common brisket) is rubbed with a proprietary seasoning blend, cured for up to four weeks, smoked for up to three days, boiled until tender, and steamed for about half an hour before being hand-sliced to order and piled onto rye bread; a little smear of deli mustard completes the dish. Katz’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience, and its pastrami is a true labor of love.
North Carolina: Chopped BBQ Sandwich, Lexington Barbecue (Lexington)
It’s all about the pork when it comes to “Lexington-style” North Carolina barbecue, and though countless restaurants are serving their take on smoked pork shoulder sandwiches, none quite compare to Lexington Barbecue, going strong since 1962. You can order yours sliced or chopped (we prefer chopped), but make sure you don’t skimp on the slaw, a tangy mix of cabbage, vinegar, and pepper. It’s a smoky, porky, perfect expression of a beloved regional barbecue style.
North Dakota: Knoephla Soup, Kroll’s Diner (Bismarck)
If the word “knoephla” doesn’t ring any bells, then you probably haven’t been to North Dakota, and you definitely haven’t been to Kroll’s Diner, a German-influenced institution that’s been a local favorite since 1972. So what is knoephla? It’s a thick and creamy chicken and potato soup that can trace its roots to Germany, and in North Dakota Kroll’s does it best.
Ohio: Spaghetti Five Ways, Blue Ash Chili (Cincinnati)
There are hundreds of chili parlors in Cincinnati, and most of them are chains of varying quality. But ask around, and plenty of people will tell you that Blue Ash is the place to go, chain or otherwise. There’s a specific way of ordering your chili in this town: Two-way is a bed of spaghetti topped with beefy, umami-rich chili (made with a bevy of spices including cocoa, allspice, cumin, and chili powder); three-way adds cheddar; four-way adds onions or beans; and five-way adds both beans and onions, while six-way adds fried jalapeño caps. A Cincy classic since 1969, Blue Ash has three locations in town as well as a roving food truck.
Oklahoma: Burger with Cheese and Everything, Nic’s Grill (Oklahoma City)
Grab a seat at the counter in the diminutive Nic’s Grill, joining the hordes of other pilgrims who line up here daily, and watch chef/owner Justin “Nic” Nicholas work his burger magic. He forms passive patties by hand and sears them on a hot griddle, and if you order yours “with cheese and everything” (which we encourage), it’ll be served with plenty of cheese, griddled onions, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup on a perfectly steamed bun. If you’re looking for a slightly more elevated experience, the burgers served at Nicholas’ Nic’s Diner and Lounge across town are also spectacular.
Oregon: Burger, Le Pigeon (Portland)
When Gabriel Rucker first opened Le Pigeon in 2006, he only served five of these outstanding burgers per night. How cruel. Until recently, it was also available at Rucker’s downtown spot Little Bird, where it's been replaced with the bistro's own signature burger. Today, thankfully, the burger can be purchased at all times at the original Le Pigeon. And what a burger it is: A thick square patty of beef from a local farm is seasoned with salt and pepper; grilled (a rarity); topped with sharp Tillamook white Cheddar, an iceberg lettuce slaw, thick slices of grilled pickled onions, mayo, mustard, and house-made ketchup; and piled atop a ciabatta bun. If you find yourself in Portland, run, don’t walk, to this burger.
Pennsylvania: Roast Pork Sandwich, DiNic's (Philadelphia)
Maisha R. /Yelp
DiNic’s is one of the most beloved sandwich shops in the City of Brotherly Love. The store began in 1918 as a family-owned butcher shop called Nicolosi’s in the city’s renowned Reading Terminal Market. Gaetano Nicolosi, the original owner, passed the store onto his sons, who in 1954 began offering sandwiches. This new option quickly became a hit, and in 1977, Benny Nicolosi and Franky DiClaudio (Benny’s cousin) joined together to open DiNic’s.
DiNic’s serves a lineup of classic Italian sandwiches such as slow-roasted brisket of beef and Italian-style pulled pork. Its best-known sandwich, though, is DiNic’s roast pork sandwich, which is thin-sliced and topped with broccoli rabe and aged provolone. It’s the definitive version of this quintessential Philly sandwich, and – dare we say – tastier than any cheesesteak.
Rhode Island: Hot Weiners, Olneyville N.Y. System (Providence)
OlneyvilleNewYorkSystem B. via Yelp
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, Rhode Island, claims to serve "Rhode Island’s Best Hot Wieners," and while that will always remain a point of contention, they’re certainly the most legendary. The New York System dog is a regional specialty: Small franks (in this case, from Little Rhody) are steamed, placed atop a steamed bun, and topped with a cumin-heavy meat sauce, yellow mustard, diced onions, and celery salt. You’re going to want to order a few of these, because they’re little and addictive (see how many of them the counterman can balance on his arm). The "wiener sauce" is so popular that people have been requesting the recipe for years; you can purchase a packet of seasoning online and make it yourself at home.
South Carolina: Charleston Nasty Biscuit, Hominy Grill (Charleston)
At Charleston’s Hominy Grill, chef/owner Robert Stehling has landed upon the perfect formula: comforting Lowcountry cuisine made with the highest-quality ingredients. The perfect expression of that philosophy is the Charleston Nasty Biscuit (formerly known as the Big Nasty): a light and flaky high-rise biscuit, cut in half and filled with a huge piece of golden-brown fried chicken breast, topped with melted cheese and a giant ladle of creamy sausage gravy. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sandwich, but if you have the opportunity to eat it even once, you’ll be very fortunate.
South Dakota: Western Burger, Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. (Custer)
A beloved local landmark that draws locals and Black Hills tourists alike, Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. is run by the husband and wife duo of Claude and Christie Smith, who take their burgers very seriously. Burgers are made from chuck, which is ground in-house daily, formed into 6-ounce patties, seared, and served on a house-made bun with your choice of toppings and a side (try the baked beans). There’s a nice variety of burger styles on offer (including a few veggie options), but you can’t go wrong with The Western, with cheddar, bacon, grilled onions, and barbecue sauce.
Tennessee: Ribs, Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous (Memphis)
While there are tons of barbecue joints all over Memphis, Charles Vergo's Rendezvous has been the standard for Memphis-style barbecue ribs for over 60 years. Rendezvous' ribs are served in the Rendezvous signature dry rub that originated from Charlie Vergos' father's Greek chili recipe. These 18-inch racks of meat are grilled for an hour and 15 minutes, and given a vinegar wash to keep them juicy. With its smoky charcoal flavor and its unique dry rub “seasoning,” the moist ribs have a nice complexity in spice and flavor and certainly don't need to be slathered in any sauce to be enjoyed.
Texas: Barbecue Plate, Franklin Barbecue (Austin)
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest establishment, which traces its roots back to 2009 and a turquoise trailer. The 90 people who show in the next half-hour wait in vain; a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas's greatest culinary claim to fame (a devastating fire last year destroyed the smokehouse and caused $350,000 in damages, but it reopened four months later without skipping a beat). No single offering here stands above the rest; the mixed-and-matched plates (technically, sheets of butcher paper) of barbecue each lucky guest can order has become iconic in itself. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to be. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You’ve heard the buzz. You’ve seen Franklin on TV. You’re heard his acolytes’ brisket gospel. It's not hype. It really is that good.
Utah: Funeral Potatoes, Garage on Beck (Salt Lake City)
Funeral potatoes are a regional Utah specialty, usually akin to a cheesy hash brown casserole. But at Salt Lake City standout Garage on Beck, this comforting side dish has been transformed into, well, the absolute best thing to eat in the entire state. Here they take mashed Idaho potatoes, ball them up with cheddar, jalapeños, bacon, and scallions, roll them in cornflake crumbs, and deep-fry them until golden brown and (insanely) delicious.
Vermont: Sugar on Snow, Bragg Farm (Montpelier)
We made every effort to limit this list to only savory foods, but this one was just too unique and delicious to overlook. Sugar on Snow is one of Vermont’s favorite foods, and there’s nothing else quite like it: a mound of crushed ice (or “snow”) with some fresh maple syrup drizzled onto it so it firms up like taffy, served with a doughnut and a pickle on the side. The combination may not make sense… until you try it. The best place to experience this uniquely Vermont food is at a sugarhouse like the one at Montpelier’s Bragg Farm.
Virginia: Peanut Soup, King’s Arms Tavern (Williamsburg)
Virginia is renowned for its peanuts, but not many people outside of the region think to make them the main ingredient in a soup. Plenty of restaurants in Virginia make a mean peanut soup, but you’ll find the best version at the King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, which first opened for business in 1772. The soup starts with a basic roux, to which onion, celery, and chicken stock are added. The thickened mixture is strained before smooth peanut butter and cream are added, and it’s garnished with fresh peanuts.
Washington: Dungeness Crab, Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar (Seattle)
Eat blue crabs when in Maine, eat king crabs when in Alaska, and eat Dungeness crabs when in Washington. And the best place to indulge in the freshest Dungeness crab is at any of the several locations of Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar, in Seattle and environs. The fifth-generation company has been farming shellfish in the Puget Sound for decades, and from Shigoku oysters to geoduck, their offerings are second-to-none, but the must-order is the whole Dungeness crab, which is simply served cracked and chilled with cocktail sauce or lemon aioli. It’s the true taste of the Pacific Northwest.
Washington, D.C.: Half-Smoke, Ben’s Chili Bowl
The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage, which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified, Ben’s remains a more-than-50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome, as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else.
West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll, Terra Café (Star City)
The pepperoni roll is the definitive snack food of West Virginia, a no-frills bread roll filled with either sticks or slices of pepperoni. When baked, some of the spicy oil from the pepperoni seeps into the surrounding bread, resulting in a hearty and delicious nosh. Some contain cheese, some are served warm instead of room temp, some contain shredded or ground pepperoni, but the end result is always addictively delicious. You can find pepperoni rolls everywhere from gas stations to fine-dining spots, but the roll served at Terra Café in Star City is the one to beat. These plump round buns, made in house by pastry chef Sue Hartman, are filled with wide pepperoni slices and cheese and served warm, and it’s a perfectly-proportioned, perfectly delicious version of this West Virginia classic.
Wisconsin: Butter Burger, Solly's Grille (Milwaukee)
Family-owned and -operated since 1936, Solly’s claim to fame is the butter burger, one of the last and finest examples in the nation. Fresh-ground sirloin is delivered daily from a local butcher, and the shakes, fries, and burgers, complete with a healthy dose of real Wisconsin butter, are prepared in full view of diners. About 15 toppings and burger varieties are available, but the trademark Original Solly Burger is the way to go. Each 3-ounce patty gets cooked on a large flat-top griddle and is topped with impossibly flavorful stewed onions and a pat of butter — at least 2 or 3 tablespoons’ worth — before being placed in between two halves of a soft white bun. The butter melts into the meat and into the bun, and it’s unlike any other burger you’ll experience.
Wyoming: Chicken Fried Steak, Luxury Diner (Cheyenne)
Wyoming is a meat-eater’s state, and there’s no shortage of options when it comes to big slabs of beef and its countrified cousin, chicken-fried steak. The best place to try this country classic, one of Wyoming’s most beloved dishes, is at Cheyenne’s Luxury Diner, which got its start as a trolley car diner in 1926 and hasn’t changed much since then. Chicken-fried steak is the signature dish here: a fresh steak, pounded thin, breaded, deep-fried to golden-brown perfection, and doused in a thick and hearty country gravy. It’s gut-busting perfection, and ridiculously unhealthy.
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