In traveling this country, you’ll quickly notice that there’s no shortage of singular and delicious restaurants at which to pull over and enjoy a quick meal. But this poses a conundrum: What is the absolute best thing to order, and where can you get it? Each state has its own regional comfort foods and iconic restaurant dishes, so we’ve tracked down the very best thing to eat in every state and Washington, D.C.
Pinpointing a single dish, at a single restaurant, as the absolute best bite in a state is no easy task. 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, its foodways and its residents.
Even though there are plenty of phenomenal desserts out there, we stuck with savory dishes for these purposes, with an eye toward the casual and inexpensive. (Sure, that dry-aged wagyu rib-eye might be ridiculously good, but we wanted our featured dishes to be accessible to all.) These dishes aren’t just delicious, they’re iconic, and in many cases are nothing short of legendary.
Chris Lilly is one of America’s most renowned pitmasters, and with good reason. He took over the pit at Big Bob Gibson in 1992, introducing new sauces and rubs to the equation. Suddenly, this restaurant that has been around since 1925 was on the map. Lilly is best known for his Alabama-style white sauce, a tangy concoction that best complements his smoked chicken. Since its introduction, Alabama-style has become one of America’s essential barbecue styles. Half-chickens are smoked for three and a half hours over hickory and dunked in a zippy, peppery mayo-based sauce before being served.
You won’t find fresher king crab than what’s served in Alaska, where the 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.
Named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2012, The Fry Bread House specializes in fry bread, a traditional Native American round of dough fried in vegetable shortening until light and airy, then topped with a wide variety of items ranging from traditional taco fillings to ice cream. The Fry Bread House was founded in 1992 by Cecelia Miller of the Tohono O’odham Nation and is still family-run. You can order yours plain or topped with cheese or beans (the classic “Indian taco” contains pinto beans, shredded cheese and lettuce), but we suggest you go all-in Arizona-style and get the spicy green or red beef chili.
There’s only one thing that can make perfectly cooked fried chicken even better: being able to eat as much of it as you want. That’s the deal at northwest Arkansas institution Monte Ne Inn Chicken, which has been serving country classics family-style since 1972 and offers some of the best fried chicken in America. Pull up a chair and help yourself to all the fried chicken, bean soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, coleslaw, green 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.
Run by Miguel Jara and his family since 1973, La Taqueria is the most legendary burrito (and taco) joint in San Francisco, and it’s still the best. We suggest you go with the carnitas, which are rolled up with slow-cooked pinto beans and pico de gallo (you can also make it a “super” and add in cheese, sour cream and guacamole). To prepare the carnitas, Jara slow-cooks chunks of pork shoulder in cauldrons of bubbling lard until tender, then roasts them until they’re crispy. All the praise this perpetually packed institution receives is well deserved. After all, it’s serving the best burritos in America.
The slopper is an interesting one, and it’s certainly not Instagrammable, but it’s a true Colorado specialty. According to legend, in the 1950s, a Pueblo local dropped into a bar called Coors Tavern, which was known for its burgers and chili, and asked for a bunless burger smothered in chili. Over time, it evolved into the dish that today is affectionately known as the slopper, which can be found throughout Pueblo. At Gray’s Coors Tavern (The “Gray’s” was added in 1983), the slopper starts with one (half slopper) to six (triple slopper) three-ounce patties, which are doused in red or green chili, American cheese and fried diced onions. It’s so soupy that you might need a spoon to eat it, but adding some fries on top will help soak it all up.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is a bucket-list destination. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925 and the pizzas here are quintessential New Haven-style: oblong, just a little charred, thin-crusted, chewy, coal-fired and irresistible. There are 11 locations in the region, and at each one, the original coal oven has been faithfully replicated, brick-by-brick. If you visit, make sure you try the clam pie, a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own. Freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, garlic, olive oil, oregano and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano sit atop a charcoal-colored crust. It’s so good, in fact, that we’ve named it the very best pizza in America.
Open only from early April to late October, Sambo’s is a “dock to table” tavern located right on the Leipsic River and founded over 50 years ago by Samuel “Sambo” Burrows. The crabs are as fresh as can be, boiled and seasoned with plenty of Old Bay-style 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.
In many ways, the Cuban sandwich is 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. 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. The end result? One of the best sandwiches in America.
Holeman & Finch Public House is the playground of chef Linton Hopkins, and its rotating menu of inspired Southern-influenced gastropub fare has made it an Atlanta must-visit. But its burger is the true must-order: two four-ounce patties of freshly ground, pasture-raised chuck and brisket are griddled until crusty and topped with American cheese, pickles and red onions, and served on a toasted house-baked pain de mie bun. Fresh-cut fries and housemade ketchup and mustard are served alongside. This burger is so good that we’ve named it No. 1 on our list of the 101 best burgers in America.
Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In, which has been in business since 1961, is the best place in the state for that uniquely Hawaiian creation, the plate lunch. The traditional plate lunch is customizable, but here 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 or pork cutlets, chili, burger patties, beef stew or (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) “spaghetti with weiner.” It’s exactly as filling as it sounds, and it makes the Rainbow Drive-In one of America’s drive-ins worth pulling up to.
Finger steaks are an Idaho creation — think chicken fingers but made with beef instead. It may sound strange, but when done well, they’re tender, crispy and delicious, and the best 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.
Way back in 1938, Al’s #1 Italian Beef started as a small food stand, later morphing into an iconic Chicago franchise with six Chicagoland locations. 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” (similar to au jus). Customers can choose how much or little gravy they want, but Al’s encourages customers to get their sandwiches “wet,” in which extra gravy is added to the sandwich before serving. Topped with the signature giardiniera, a tart and spicy pickled vegetable blend, this sandwich is among the underrated sandwiches you need to try.
The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is one of those foods you can only get in the Midwest (but especially Indiana). Reportedly invented by Nick Freienstein in 1908 at his restaurant in Huntington, Indiana, this lunchtime favorite features lean center-cut pork loin pounded down into a huge patty, marinated in buttermilk overnight, dipped in a mix of eggs and milk, breaded in saltine crumbs and deep-fried. The meat is served on a 5-inch hamburger bun with onion, lettuce and tomato. Imitators abound, but the original is still the best.
An Iowa staple that’s a true Midwestern regional specialty, the “loose meat” sandwich (also called a tavern sandwich) can be thought of as a sloppy Joe without the sauce. It features 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. If you can’t make it there, don’t worry — there are franchised locations all across the Midwest (just called Maid-Rite).
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 the corner of a gas station. Since then, it’s opened two more Kansas City 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 pulled pork. If you come in when the burnt ends are available, don’t miss out on the opportunity to try them: the fatty point end of the brisket is smoked for 17 hours and diced into juicy, intensely smoky chunks of barbecue deliciousness.
The Hot Brown is Kentucky’s most famous culinary contribution, invented in the 1920s by Fred 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. 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.
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, located in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood since 1957. Look around the no-frills restaurant and you’ll see nothing but fried chicken, even though other offerings, like smothered veal, are available (and delicious). The chicken, perfected by Willie Mae Seaton (who died in 2015 at age 99) and today safeguarded by her great-granddaughter Kerry, is otherworldly. Fried in 350-degree oil, the cayenne-heavy wet-batter crust is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy and shatteringly crisp and crunchy. Each bite comes away cleanly without dragging the rest of the breading with it. Underneath, the chicken is impossibly moist and juicy. In fact, it’s among the best fried chicken in America.
Allen C. /Yelp
Red’s Eats serves what very well might be the best lobster roll on Earth out of a tiny waterfront shack. The roll itself is heaping with fresh, wet lobster — so much that it falls all over. It tastes freshly caught because it is. Get butter (warmed in a kettle on the stove) and mayo on the side. It’s lobster roll perfection, making Red’s one of America’s best hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
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 were created in 1987 by matriarch Nancy Faidley-Devine and are unanimously praised by locals. 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 shellfish that is light and creamy on the inside. This classic bite of Maryland makes Faidley Seafood one of the must-visit restaurants across America.
The Union Oyster House claims to be Boston’s oldest restaurant, in business since 1826, and its New England clam chowder is the industry standard. 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. The end result is thick, creamy, simple and perfect.
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 this hot dog style. Family-owned and -operated since 1917, American’s classic Coney-style dog features a custom-made hot dog that gets placed into a warm steamed bun. The frank is 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 this dish, one of America's best hot dogs.
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 freshly ground beef goes into each hand-formed burger, and the first bite yields a river of molten, gooey cheese.
Doe’s Eat Place is best known as a charmingly ramshackle steakhouse, serving some of the finest, most massive steaks you’ll find in America. 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 than this.
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. Millions 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 died at 80 years old in 1982, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
Pork Chop John’s has two Butte locations, and as you might have suspected, pork chops are the specialty item, particularly the pork chop sandwiches. A lean slice of boneless pork loin is pounded, lightly breaded 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 a sensational sandwich.
Sort of like a Hot Pocket on steroids, a runza (occasionally called a bierock) is essentially a long roll that’s been stuffed with meat, onions, sauerkraut or other fillings. 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 was founded in 1949 and has about 80 locations throughout the region. The original ground beef, onions and cabbage runza is a good standby, but the addition of some gooey American cheese kicks it up a couple notches.
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 true city- or statewide specialties. That notwithstanding, the nachos at one of America’s touristy restaurants worth visiting, Peppermill, have sated many a late-night craving. 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.
Family-owned and -operated since 1950, Brown’s Lobster Pound has been serving some of New Hampshire’s freshest catches since 1950. Pick your plucked-out-of-the-ocean lobster from one of the tanks, have it boiled and cracked to order, and enjoy it overlooking the water with some drawn butter.
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. Walk up to the tiny counter, place your order with the grill man and watch as they smash a small wad of meat onto the flattop with a handful of thin-sliced onions, keep careful track of it as it cooks, and sandwich 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 will be astonishing.
Founded as Bobcat Bite in 1953, Santa Fe Bite has had a long and fraught history, recently complicated by a yearlong closure that was thankfully rectified by a reopening in a new location in August. And thank goodness for that, because the signature green chile cheeseburgers served here are astounding. These burgers start with a 10-ounce chuck-sirloin patty, which is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic salt and onion salt as it sears on a griddle. A heaping spoonful of roasted and chopped Hatch green chiles (a New Mexico claim to culinary fame) is piled on top, followed by a melting layer of LaBlatt Swiss-American cheese. It’s placed onto a custom-made brioche-style bun and served alongside some housemade potato chips.
Katz’s Deli on New York’s Lower East Side is a city institution. 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.
It’s all about the pork when it comes to “Lexington-style” North Carolina barbecue. Though countless restaurants serve their take on smoked pork shoulder sandwiches, none quite compare to Lexington Barbecue, which has been 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.
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 1969. So what is knoephla? It’s a thick and creamy chicken and potato-dumpling soup that can trace its roots to Germany, and in North Dakota, Kroll’s is serving it. It’s one of the best bowls of soup in America.
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 Skyline is the place to go, chain or otherwise. There’s a specific way of ordering your chili in this state. “Two-way” is topped with beefy, sweet chili (a regional style 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. Go all-out and get the five-way on top of spaghetti (the traditional way). If you’re not a pasta fan, you can also get your chili on top of hot dogs, baked potatoes or in a bowl.
At friendly, no-frills El Reno diner Sid’s, it’s all about the onion-fried burger. Sit at the counter and watch the magic happen: Chef and owner Sid Hall (or his brother, Bob), takes a ball of freshly ground beef, places it on a ripping-hot griddle and smashes it down along with a handful of thin-sliced white onions. The onions fuse into the meat as it cooks, and the end result is all crust and fried onions. No ketchup, no lettuce, no tomato — just meat and onions on a soft bun, the perfect interpretation of this regional specialty you've never heard of.
When Gabriel Rucker first opened Le Pigeon in 2006, he only served five of these outstanding burgers per night. How cruel. 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) and topped with sharp Tillamook white cheddar, an iceberg lettuce slaw, thick slices of grilled pickled onions, mayo, mustard and house-made ketchup. That beautiful mess of ingredients is then piled atop a ciabatta bun.
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. 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 the 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.
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, 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 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).
Joe Bob S./Yelp
Different regions are known for different types of barbecue, and in South Carolina, it’s all about the whole hog. In Charleston, pitmaster Rodney Scott is making whole hog so good that he was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018. At his eponymous Charleston restaurant, fresh whole hogs are smoked for 12 hours over oak, hickory and pecan before being flipped, doused with sauce and cooked for even longer. The end result, which is pulled and served on sandwiches, as a plate with sides, over grits or by the pound, is a true taste of South Carolina. You may have to line up to order, but this is among the restaurants that are definitely worth waiting in line for.
A beloved 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.
While there are tons of barbecue joints all over Memphis, Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous has been the standard for Memphis-style barbecue ribs since 1948. Rendezvous' ribs are seasoned with a signature dry rub with both Cajun and Greek inspiration. These 18-inch racks of meat are grilled for an hour and 15 minutes and given a vinegar wash to keep them juicy. With their smoky charcoal flavor and unique dry rub, 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.
Pitmaster Aaron Franklin and his wife Stacey started selling barbecue from an Airstream trailer in 2009, and today they’re serving what very well may be the best barbecue in America. How did they get there? For one, attention to detail. The quality of the meat, the care and attention put into the seasoning, the wood, the smoking process and the carving … Franklin literally has it down to a science, and the crowds show up in droves every day to sample the fruits of his labor. Salt and pepper, meat, smoke and time are all that go into his brisket, ribs, pulled pork and turkey, and the end result is, well, perfect. Visiting Franklin Barbecue requires some planning: Folks show up in the wee hours of the morning to claim a place in line, the doors open at 11, and they close up shop as soon as the meat runs out, usually by 3. It’s a pilgrimage that all barbecue lovers should make. After all, Franklin Barbecue is No. 1 on our list of the best casual restaurants in America.
In business since 1989, Jeremiah’s is quite possibly the best spot in the entire state to try the distinctly Utah specialty, the scone. Utah scones, a regional dish we doubt you’ve heard of if you’re not from the area, bear no resemblance to the dense, sweet pastries you’re used to. Instead, these are made with a sweet, yeast-leavened dough that’s deep-fried and usually served for breakfast with honey butter. They’re available all day at Jeremiah’s, a charming and welcoming log cabin located just outside of Ogden.
We made every effort to limit this list to only savory foods, but this one was just too singular 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, traditionally 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.
Buttermilk biscuits are a classic Southern specialty, and when in Richmond, a trip to Early Bird, which opened in 2014, should absolutely be in order. The biscuits here are made using owner Tim Laxton’s grandmother’s recipe, and they contain just three ingredients: locally milled self-rising flour, grated high-quality butter and whole-fat buttermilk from Homestead Creamery. Made fresh every morning, they’re delicious plain, but you’re more than welcome to fill yours with Edwards country ham, pimento cheese or housemade jam, or to smother it with gravy.
Eat blue crabs in Maine, king crabs in Alaska and Dungeness crabs 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 since 1890, and from Olympia oysters to geoduck, its 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 ginger slaw. It’s the true taste of the Pacific Northwest.
Ben's Chili Bowl is a Washington, D.C. landmark and definitely a tourist trap, but the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant's dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order hot dogs, they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef spicy smoked sausage, which is a native D.C. specialty. It’s the claim to fame at Ben’s, which was founded by Ben Ali and his wife Virginia in 1958 and run by the couple’s sons after his death. Grilled and topped with onions, mustard and a spicy, beefy chili sauce, it’s a true classic and there’s nothing else quite like it. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified, Ben’s remains a 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.
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 head baker Sue Hartman, are filled with wide pepperoni slices and cheese and served warm. They’re a perfectly proportioned, perfectly delicious version of this West Virginia classic.
In Wisconsin, cheese is a way of life, and it’s the top state in the country for tracking down cheese curds, chunks of super fresh, mild cheese that “squeak” when you eat them. When you coat cheese curds in a batter and deep-fry them, the end result is gooey, crispy deliciousness. You can find excellent versions all over the state, but don’t miss the version at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, where cheddar cheese curds are beer-battered (with housemade beer) and served with garlic ranch. Fried cheese curds are one of those dishes that you’ll only find in the Midwest.
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. 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 some might even say it’s better than what’s found at some of America’s best steakhouses.
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