There are a handful of different types of tourists, chief among them the Cultural Tourists (who seek out the top museums and theatre); the Rest and Relaxation Tourists (who seek out the nearest beach, spa or golf course); the Adventure Tourists (who seek out the nearest mountain to climb); and the Shopping Tourists (who seek out the nearest Prada). But there’s another tourist group out there, and if you’re reading this, you very well might fit into it: the Gastronomic Tourists, those who spend their trips in search of top restaurants, local culinary specialties, and regional delights. We’ve made your next vacation a little bit easier, because we’ve tracked down not only the one dish you absolutely must try in every state and Washington, D.C., but also the best restaurants at which to try them.
There are certain dishes throughout the country that are undeniably iconic, specific dishes served at individual restaurants that are absolutely worth the detour — the muffuletta at Central Grocery in New Orleans, for example, or the burger at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven (you can find our list of the 101 most iconic dishes in America here). But for this list, we’re showcasing regional specialties that are somehow just not as good outside of their home state — if you’re even able to find them elsewhere — and highlighting a local restaurant or two that serves the best version.
Every state, be it Hawaii or Maine, has at least one dish that every visitor absolutely has to sample before they leave (some are more obvious than others). In many cases, a friendly local will be able to point you in the direction of their personal favorite version, but if not, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn which food is most closely associated with each state, and where to track them down.
Alabama-style white sauce, a tangy concoction that complements smoked chicken extremely well, is one of the state’s true culinary claims to fame, and Chris Lilly’s version is the one to try. Lily 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. To craft his legendary chicken and white sauce, half-chickens are smoked low and slow over hickory, and dunked in a zippy mayo-based sauce before serving.
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.
Yelp/ Dan B.
Visit any Mexican restaurant in Arizona (especially ones in Phoenix and Tuscon), and you’ll find an intriguing-sounding appetizer on the menu: cheese crisp. Order it, and at first glance you might think that a pizza is being brought to your table. Actually, it’s a massive four tortilla topped with shredded cheese and broiled until the cheese melts and the edges crisp up, sliced into wedges (and possible kicked up with some strips of green chile). Most restaurants will let you top it with jalapeños, steak, chicken, etc., but it’s really best enjoyed as it is. In Phoenix, locals swear by the one at Rosita’s Place.
Yelp/ Jenn S.
Biscuits and gravy is a classic Southern staple, but in the Ozarks and Appalachia, you’ll find a curious regional anomaly: biscuits with chocolate gravy. The standard recipe starts like most biscuit-bound gravies, with roux and milk. But the recipe takes a sharp left turn after that, adding cocoa powder, sugar, and vanilla extract. It’s sweet and chocolatey, and actually makes a lot of sense atop biscuits when you think about it. This gravy is usually whipped up at home, but plenty of restaurants serve it as well, including Ozark Café in Jasper, Bob’s Grill in Conway, and Rolling Pin Cafe in Fayetteville.
A true Mission-style burrito is one of the most delicious things to eat in all of California, and no trip to San Francisco should be complete without a stop at La Taquería. 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.
Green chile (more specifically, roasted and chopped Hatch chile) is a staple food in the Southwest, and you can’t beat it atop a burger. And in Colorado, the green chile cheeseburger at Steuben’s is the one to try. Opened in 2007, Steuben's is a neighborhood diner serving American regional specialties. The green chile cheeseburger here is 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.
New Haven-style pizza, with its slightly oblong shape, coal-fired smokiness, and crisp, chewy crust, gives New York-style pizza a run for its money, and it’s a must-eat when in Connecticut. Sally’s and Modern are two beloved New Haven institutions, but Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is the 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, all operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren and all using his original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza.
Two words: clam pie. 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. This pie is so good that we’ve consistently named it the best pizza in America.
You’ve gotta eat some blue crabs when you’re in Delaware, preferably at a waterside destination like Sambo’s. 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.
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.
Yelp/ Naveed H.
Georgia and peaches go hand in hand, so it comes as no surprise that the state is known for putting those peaches to good use by turning them into a cobbler. While the fruit is in season, countless restaurants throughout the state serve this classic dessert, but the version served at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, an Atlanta institution since 1945, is the one to beat. It’s simple — just fresh peaches and sugar topped with a lard-based pastry crust — and it lets the peaches shine.
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. While you’re there, don’t miss the Loco Moco, a burger patty topped with brown gravy and two sunny-side-up eggs.
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!
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. You can find Italian beef sandwiches all throughout Illinois, but Al’s serves the definitive version.
In 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.
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.
Yelp/ Kelly J.
Classic country cooking is king in Kansas, and fried chicken is right up there with the state’s most beloved dishes. The best place to find it? Chicken Annie’s , located in the small town of Pittsburg near the Missouri border. The restaurant had humble beginnings; when founder Ann Pichler’s husband was injured in a coal mine accident in 1934, she began serving fried chicken out of their home to support the family. Word quickly spread of the delicious fare, and in 1972 the restaurant moved from her home to its present building. The homestyle hospitality, however, has never gone away. The family continues the tradition of excellent food with their thin-crust fried chicken and house-battered onion rings.
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 arguably has more native dishes than any other state — beignets, gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, muffulettas, boudin — but if you can try just one dish while visiting, make it an oyster po’boy, made by piling cornmeal-fried fresh Gulf oysters into a fluffy French long roll from Leidenheimer’s, fully “dressed” with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. And going strong since 1924, Domilese’s is the best place in the Crescent City to sample it. It’s hard to find a great po’boy outside of Louisiana because of the specificity of the ingredients, and Domilese’s makes a superior version.
The line is long, and the wait begins in your car on the one-lane lead-up to Red’s Eats. 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, in the state that’s renowned for its lobster. 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.
In Maryland, crab cakes are a religion, and Faidley’s, located in Baltimore’s Lexington Market since 1886, is widely regarded as serving the state’s best. 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.
If Massachusetts has a signature dish, it’s clam chowder, and when in Beantown, one place’s version is superior. The Union Oyster House is Boston’s most famous restaurant, and its New England clam chowder serves the definitive version of New England-style clam chowder, 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.
The coney dog, a hot dog topped with a Greek-spiced chili, yellow mustard, and diced raw onions, is the classic Michigan snack, and 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.
Ah, the legendary Juicy Lucy, Minnesota’s legendary and long-enduring contribution to the burger pantheon. 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 here, 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. The Nook in St. Paul also serves a spectacular version.
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, true to the style that’s unique to Mississippi, bear only a passing resemblance to authentic Mexican tamales, and are instead cigar-shaped tubes of cornmeal 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, and they’re hard to find outside of Mississippi.
Few cities are more synonymous with one type of food than Kansas City is with barbecue, and Arthur Bryant’s is the place to visit. It’s 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.
The fried pork chop sandwich has established itself as one of Montana’s signature foods. 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.
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.
Yelp/ Anthony N.
There’s no regional specialty or singular dish that just shouts Nevada!, but there is one dish that seems to exemplify all the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas: prime rib. A decadent slab of medium-rare beef, served in a glamorous setting with some gravy and mashed potatoes, is old-school yet timeless, just like Vegas, and there’s no shortage of fine examples throughout town. There’s a location of Lawry’s The Prime Rib, of course, but other great prime ribs can be found at Binions, Golden Steer, Gallagher’s, and The Prime Rib Loft.
Chowder is a New England staple, but if you’re in New Hampshire, don’t miss out on trying a unique spin on it: corn chowder made with local lobster. It’s hearty and creamy, usually kicked up with potato, salt pork or bacon, and milk, and plenty of restaurants, including Town Docks in Meredith and The Common Man in Concord, serve exemplary versions.
Yelp/ Gee L.
The pork roll (also known as Taylor ham) is a thing of pride for New Jerseyans, who know that in the canon of breakfast meats, it’s right up there with bacon. It’s a slightly smoky sausage that resembles bologna, and it’s typically sliced and pan-fried or grilled before being partnered with egg and cheese on a hard roll, in a crazy-good gutbuster of a sandwich known as the Jersey Breakfast. Just about every Jersey diner worth its salt serves a good version, but you can’t go wrong by trying the version served at one of the state’s most famous diners, the Tick Tock in Clifton.
Green chiles work their way into just about every dish in New Mexico, but there’s no better way to sample them than in a simple stew. Going strong since 1960, The Shed is one of Santa Fe’s most renowned restaurants, and quite possibly the best place in the state to get your fix of dishes prepared with New Mexico’s famed Hatch chiles. While the posole is also spectacular, the green chile stew is the one to order; made with roasted chiles, potatoes, and chunks of lean pork, it’s everything that’s great about New Mexican cuisine in one iconic bowl of stew.
You have to try a slice of classic New York-style pizza when in New York City, and since 1975, Joe’s Pizza has served fresh, hot, cheesy slices to tourists and residents alike, making it a truly iconic New York City landmark. It’s as synonymous with New York City as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Everyone has a favorite slice joint, but if the city were to have just one, this would be it. It’s made every conceivable best-of list (many of them tacked on the walls and in the windows), and for good reason. The key to Joe's success is their traditional New York City-style pizza with thin crust, great sauce, and just the right ratio of cheese, sauce, and crust (just a bit less of the first two).
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.
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 Bismarck 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.
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.
Yelp/ Courtney L.
The fried onion burger is Oklahoma’s claim to burger fame, and at Sid’s Diner in El Reno, it’s all about the fried onion burger. Sit at the counter and watch the magic happen: Chef and owner Sid Hall (or his brother, Bob), will take a ball of fresh-ground beef, place it on a ripping-hot griddle, and smash 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. Make it a double, and you get twice as much. No ketchup, no lettuce, no tomato — just meat and onions on a soft bun.
Yelp/ Roberta B.
Oregon (and especially Portland) has no shortage of unique and delicious dishes that make the most out of local produce. But the marionberry — a cross-breed of two blackberry varieties — is a true Oregon specialty, and was actually developed at Oregon State University in 1945. They’re great right off the vine (and they’re very plentiful, accounting for more than half of all blackberries grown in Oregon), and they have a pronounced blackberry flavor, more sweet and complex than your standard blackberries. The best way to sample them? Baked in a pie, of course! Just about every pie shop in Oregon serves this specialty, but the version served at Portland’s Pacific Pie is especially spectacular.
Maisha R. /Yelp
Sure, you should probably try a cheesesteak at some point during a trip to Pennsylvania, but the locals will tell you that it’s the roast pork sandwich — thin-sliced roast pork sopping with juices, placed in a roll atop thick-sliced sharp provolone and topped with chopped broccoli rabe — that’s the true superstar. And 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, the definitive version of this quintessential Philly sandwich, and — dare we say — tastier than any cheesesteak.
The New York System dog is a Rhode Island 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. 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. 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 dogs themselves are made by local Little Rhody, and 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.
Yelp/ Christy M.
This classic Lowcountry dish from South Carolina (also called Lowcountry boil or Beaufort stew) is the perfect way to enjoy the region’s ample culinary offerings. Similar to your standard seafood boil, it only needs to contain two ingredients to be called Frogmore stew — fresh Carolina shrimp and yellow corn — but most variations also contain redskin potatoes, sausage, and occasionally crabs, with lemon juice and Old Bay seasoning. Like most proper boils, it’s dumped out onto a newspaper-topped table and served on paper plates with plenty of cold beer. If you can’t find a house party, the one served at Charleston’s Fleet Landing is about as classic as it gets.
Yelp/ Kalamas F.
Fry bread is actually the official state bread of South Dakota, and can trace its origins to the rations provided by the federal government to Native Americans in the mid-1800s, namely flour, lard, and sugar. The state’s large Sioux population took to frying the dough in the lard, resulting in a fluffy, flat, slightly chewy bread with a golden brown crust. Nowadays, you can find fry bread all throughout the region, but it’s most a part of the culinary culture in South Dakota. The two most popular variations are sweet, with cinnamon and sugar; and an “Indian taco,” topped with ground beef, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. They’re sold at restaurants and food carts all throughout the state, but the versions at Cheyenne Crossing in Spearfish Canyon and Kalama’s in Warm Springs are beloved.
Nashville hot chicken is all the rage right now, but before it was trendy, it was a popular menu item at Prince’s Hot Chicken, the place of its birth. Prince’s doesn’t just serve the undisputed best hot chicken in Nashville, it serves some of the best fried chicken anywhere. Before hitting the fryer, the chicken here gets a secret marinade, and what emerges is crisp, juicy, and full of flavor. That crispness doesn’t subside once it hits the hot oil, which kicks the flavor up a notch or 10. Don’t shy away from it just because it’s located in a strip mall off the beaten tourist path: Prince’s is the gold standard, widely regarded as the inventor of this super-trendy fried chicken style, and is about as iconic as it gets.
Yelp/ Andrew S.
Texas barbecue is all about the brisket, and you’d be hard-pressed to find better brisket than what you’ll find at Aaron Franklin’s Franklin Barbecue in 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' greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. If you can’t make it to Franklin (or can’t bear to wait in line for so long), you also can’t go wrong at places like The Salt Lick, Kreuz Market, Louie Mueller, and Smitty’s.
Yelp/ Joe D.
You probably think of scones as a dense, sweet biscuit usually served with English tea, but in Utah they’re something completely different: a sweet, yeast-leavened dough that’s deep-fried and usually topped with honey, butter, syrup, or powdered sugar. It goes without saying that they’re insanely delicious, and you’ll find them at lots of restaurants throughout the state. Sill’s Café in Layton, Carl’s Café in Salt Lake City, and Granny Annie’s in Kaysville are especially renowned for theirs.
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.
Country ham is a very big deal in Virginia, and is made all throughout the state by producers like Edwards, Calhoun’s, Kite’s, and Padow’s. These hams are salt-cured, hardwood-smoked, and aged for up to three years, and the resulting ham is salty and intensely porky. Traditionalists will tell you that the best way to eat it is to pan-fry a slice for just 30 seconds or so per side and tuck it into a small biscuit. These delectable sandwiches are usually eaten at church suppers and wedding receptions, but you’ll also find them at delis attached to the ham producers themselves as well as restaurants including Williamsburg’s Old Chickahominy House, Virginia Diner in Wakefield, and The Roanoker in Roanoke.
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.
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.
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.
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. (They’re also a primary component of poutine.) But if something can be deep-fried, someone’s gonna deep-fry it, and when you coat cheese curds in a batter and deep-fry them, the end result is gooey, crispy deliciousness. It goes without saying that deep-fried cheese curds are one of the unofficial state foods of Wisconsin, and they’re something that no visitor to the state should leave without sampling. You can find excellent versions all over the state, but don’t miss the versions at SafeHouse and Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, The Horse & Plow in Kohler, The Old Fashioned in Madison, and at all locations of homegrown chain Culver’s.
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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