These days, anyone can find regional varieties of food in just about any major city. Seeing Southern Fried Chicken in Salt Lake City, Baja Fish Tacos in Buffalo, or Hawaiian Barbecue in Des Moines, is now about as surprising as seeing a new Target open up down the street. However, just because you had a regional food in any old place, doesn’t mean you had it for real. This is a list of cities and the food they are known for. Of course there are going to be some deserving dishes left out, (how can you pick just one food for places like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago?) but for the most part, these are the foods you really can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, get anywhere else.
New York – Pizza Slice
Obviously, there are plenty of options for New York. Delis, bagels, dirty water hot-dogs, they all have legitimate claims to being the food for New York. However, there is only one food that crosses all boundaries and stands as an icon for the city that never sleeps — the New York Pizza slice. No matter what toppings you prefer the, extra-large sized slices are heated until the bottom has the perfect crunch, and can be neatly folded without having the slice fall apart. The city is blessed with amazing pizza across all five boroughs and across a variety of styles: neopolitan, roman, sicilian, Detroit, deep dish, California style. However, it’s the New York Pizza slice that is most associated with the city. Economical, easily eaten on the go, and just downright iconic, no trip to New York is complete without trying a slice. Don’t even think about a knife and fork either, just fold that slice and half and get going.
Los Angeles – Street Taco
Another hard option. In-n-Out looms large in the mind of anyone who has visited the City of Angels. Other staples include the original French Dip sandwich from Philippe’s and LA’s version of a street hot dog: bacon-wrapped with grilled peppers and onions. But if you can only choose one thing during your stay in LA, then nothing beats a street taco. Get some from a truck or get some from a stand, and either way you are sure to find tacos as good and authentic as anywhere else in the world. Classic options include asada, al pastor, and chorizo as well as more ambitious meats such as cabeza, lengua, and suadero. Nothing beats a late night taco run in LA. The buzz of the halogen lights, the sizzle of meat on the flat top, the variety of salsas and escabeche, the small tables and paper plates that leak grease — it’s poetry in motion my friends.
Chicago – Chicago Hot Dog
Another great food city. I could have easily gone with deep-dish pizza or an Italian Beef Sandwich, but for me, the Chicago Hot Dog is the ultimate prize. The classic Chicago Hot Dog is a steamed poppy seed bun and an all-beef dog, topped with ‘nuclear’ green relish, celery salt, chopped onion, sliced tomatoes, sport peppers, and a pickle. If you’re imagining that a dog that loaded must be quite the mouthful — it’s because it is. Best hot dog in America (fight me.)
Montreal – Poutine
The only city outside the US to make the list, Montreal has become an internationally recognized culinary destination. No other dish has added more to Montreal’s culinary standing than the humble but delicious poutine. On paper it’s simple: crispy French fries doused in dark brown gravy and cheese curds, but the sum total of the parts does something magical, especially during the cold Montreal winters. Poutine has gone international in recent years, but you still have to come to Montreal to get the very best. Don’t forget to pack your French translation book.
Miami – Cuban Sandwich
Renown for its world class beaches and night life, Miami also has a vibrant and diverse food culture. Rising up from the culinary masses, though, is the Cuban Sandwich. The sandwich was invented by Cuban workers in the cigar factories of Key West, and became popular in Miami during the 1940s. It has stuck there ever since. A classic Cuban Sandwich consists of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and Cuban bread all layered and then pressed flat. The result is a crispy sandwich with succulent flavors packed in the middle — a true classic.
New Orleans – Po Boy
I was never a believer in Po’boys. I always assumed they were more-or-less glorified subway sandwiches. Boy was I wrong. A good Po’boy has everything a sandwich should. There is balance between textures and flavors. The bread is crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle. The ingredients of the filling are always fresh, and the meat options are always generously portioned. Roast beef Po’boys remain popular today, as well as Po’boys made with fried seafood such as oysters or shrimp. Personally, a fried shrimp Po’boy with some good Louisiana hot sauce is just about the closest thing to sandwich perfection as you can get. In a town known for good food around every corner, the Po’boy sandwich reigns supreme.
Nashville – Hot Chicken
The popularity of Nashville Hot Chicken has exploded in recent years, but there is still no better place to get a taste of the spicy fried chicken than Music City itself. The traditional preparation of Nashville Hot Chicken involves a classic fried chicken coated in a blend of tongue-numbing spices fresh out of the fryer. The chicken is typically served up on a thick piece of white bread with sides like potato salad and coleslaw, designed to take the edge off the heat. You can find both classic spots and newcomers throughout Nashville all carrying this Nashville culinary tradition into the 21st century. Just remember to start off mild and work your way to hot – Nashville hot chicken ain’t no joke
Memphis – BBQ
There is no wrong answer when it comes to Memphis barbecue. Perhaps overlooked in recent times by the whole-hog styles of the Carolina’s and the brisket of Texas, Memphis Barbecue offers up some of the best barbecue in the country. Their distinctive dry rub style let’s the quality of the smoke and the meat standout. Of course, they are no stranger to sauce either, and you won’t catch an evil eye slathering your slab of ribs with Memphis’s unique style of sauce. Ribs are the most common cut of meat served up, but Memphis also offers up some delicious pulled pork. All in all, there might be no better place to get tried-and-true classic American Barbecue than Memphis, Tennessee.
Minneapolis/St. Paul – Juicy Lucy
The only city (or cities in this case) to make the list for their variation on a burger are Minneapolis and St. Paul, otherwise known as the Twin Cities. The Juicy Lucy, their regional variation on a burger, is a cheeseburger in reverse. Instead of the cheese being draped over the top of a patty, the cheese is stuffed in between two patties and sealed inside. The patties are then cooked while the cheese is kept from running out; the result – a glorious molten flow of cheese emanating from the center of the burger with every bite. It’s a Twin Cities classic and perfect companion during a cold winter day.
Baltimore – Blue Crab with Old Bay
The Chesapeake Bay has long been a prime spot for catching the Atlantic Blue Crab. Baltimore’s location on the northern half of the bay makes it a perfect location to try this regional delicacy. Traditionally steamed and coated with Old Bay, Blue Crab makes for an interactive dining experience. The crab is often paired with other local favorites like hush-puppies and corn-on-the-cob. The savory blend of spices coating the crabs end up flavoring each bite as you eat. Soft-shell and hard-shell crabs are widely available during the crab season which runs from April to November. Head straight to the harbor or find one of the many restaurants that serve up this local delicacy.
By Aldo Moreno