What is the true taste of New York City? Yes, you can dine on the cuisines of the world (especially in the boroughs) and if a food or a chef is trendy, you will find that here for sure; but what are the dining experiences that are nowhere better, meals in which the flavor is all about New York? Certainly you want a great pastrami sandwich in a vintage deli: for that, Katz’s down on Houston Street is definitive. For lox and bagels and the best smoked fish, Barney Greengrass uptown is the best place on earth. The primest of prime steak in a clubby steak house (and at the primest prices) remains a pinnacle of New York excellence, at its best just over the bridge in Brooklyn at Peter Luger. A true taste of the city is not all top-dollar fare. A hot dog at Gray’s Papaya is a must, as is coal-oven pizza at Patsy’s and falafel at a streetcorner stand or, better yet, at Taim Falafel & Smoothie Bar. For noshing between meals, pick up really good bagels at Leo’s and the world’s most wonderful cookies at Levain Bakery.
It would be possible to eat nothing but delicious breakfasts all day long in Portland, Oregon; and we don’t only mean the ne plus ultra offerings of Voodoo Doughnut and Annie’s Donut Shop. The original Original Pancake House remains a beacon of the highest quality breakfasts from sunup to sundown. But this tour goes beyond the morning meal to include Pacific Northwest signature seafood at Dan & Louis Oyster Bar and/or Jake’s Famous Crawfish, then perhaps an afternoon snack on artisan hot dogs at Otto’s Sausage Kitchen and, finally, the squarest of square meals at Huber’s.
One day and a lot of appetite are the requirements for this eat-fest in Columbia, South Carolina. The city’s signature dish is a pimento cheeseburger, nowhere more magnificent than at the Kingsman. Columbia is barbecue nirvana, as evidenced at Big Boy’s Smokehouse. It’s also a great city in which to greet the morning — with superb coffee at Drip, artisan pastries at Rise Bakeshop, and cloud-light omelets and crisp hash browns at Ray’s Diner. Soul-food meat-and-three meals are a Ray’s specialty, too.
A road trip over the Cascades through Snoqualmie Pass leads not only to a bucolic, big-sky Washington State and some of the most wonderful fruit stands (apples especially!), but also to memorable restaurants. First stop, before heading upwards, is Twede’s Cafe, made famous in the TV Show “Twin Peaks” for its cherry pie. Beyond the Stampede Pass, the town of Cle Elum (meaning swift water in Kittitas) is home to out-of-this-world maple bars and donuts at the Cle Elum Bakery and Seattle-class coffee at Pioneer Coffee Company. In Ellensburg, the adorable Yellow Church Cafe serves artisan meals with outstanding layer cakes for dessert; and finally, in Yakima, Miner’s Drive-In is a vintage joint with huge burgers, good fries, and glorious ultra-thick milk shakes.
Forget the fine dining and not-so-fine dining that proliferates in the nation’s capital. These Roadfood restaurants will provide a true and delicious taste of DC. For breakfast, start with a soul-food feast at the Florida Avenue Grill or a simple and perfect breakfast sandwich at Universal Doughnuts. Lunch can be a grand fish plate at Horace & Dickie’s or the District of Columbia’s unique half-smoke sausage at Ben’s Chili Bowl or over in Arlington at Weenie Beenie. And do reserve appetite for one of the great deli meals anywhere at the artisan DGS Delicatessen.
There’s no neighborhood in America more appetite-friendly than Pittsburgh’s Strip. Groceries of every sort, restaurants of every continent, stand-up snacks and sit-down meals abound. It’s all within a few blocks, so park the car and take this walking tour of Roadfood classics that begins with outlandish pancakes at DeLuca’s and ends with mile-high dagwood sandwiches at the original 24/7 Primanti’s. Our favorite of all Strip eateries is Enrico Biscotti Company, not only for magnificent cookies and espresso, but for casual true-Italian lunch. And at some point during the stroll, it is essential to wander through the Disney-size grocery/seafood market/snack bar known as Robert Wholey & Co., famous for its magnificent one-pound fish sandwich.
South Tucson is surrounded by the city of Tucson, but legally and culturally – and edibly – it is a world unto itself, with more excellent Sonoran-style Mexican restaurants than anywhere else. Here are the two great sources of that most baroque American wiener, the Sonoran hot dog — El Guero Canelo and BK Carne Asada. Must-eats include green corn tamales at Los Jarritos, an Azteca quesadila at El Indio, and four-star tacos at Pico de Gallo. For donuts, apple fritters, and Mexican wedding cookies, Le Cave’s (since 1935) is the place to go.
Skyline Drive, the 105-mile two-lane that threads through Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, has decent food at its National Park Service Oases. (Try the Smithfield Ham Monte Cristo or the roast turkey with cornbread stuffing at Big Meadows Lodge at mile 51.2.) But when big appetite beckons, we head for one of the four entry/exit points and drive into the countryside for such Roadfood delights as apple butter donuts at The Apple House (near the Front Royal terminus) and vintage sliders at the Snow White Grill. The Thornton Gap exit leads to such Old Dominion classics as peanut soup at the Southern Kitchen and country ham at Fulks Run Grocery. A detour even farther east will yield gorgeous layer cake at the Orlean Market and blue-ribbon pastries of every sort at the Red Truck Rural Bakery. The southern end of Skyline Drive is near Staunton, Virginia, home of beauteous burgers at Wright’s Dairy Rite and the sprawling family favorite Mrs. Rowe’s. And about twenty minutes east is extraordinary pizza and hot milk cake at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie.
Hash (on rice) is the star side-dish at barbecue parlors throughout South Carolina. A byproduct of whole-hog cookery, it is made mostly from viscera and can vary from soup-loose to stew-chunky. It delivers intense barbecue flavor, but beyond that dreamy duet of swine and smoke, it can vary from relish-sweet to savagely peppery. True Barbecue of Columbia claims to serve the world’s best, which is a boast we wouldn’t debate; but the great cauldrons of hash made at Hite’s Bar-B-Que and the Red Shed Diner & Produce (both available weekends only) belong in the Pantheon, too. Jackie Hite’s version is butter-rich; the hash at Maurice’s Piggy Park is dramatically smoky.
The drive north from Milwaukee is a grand taste of Wisconsin. First stop: Sheboygan, renowned for its butchers’ brats (rhymes with hots, short for bratwurst), cooked over charcoal at the Charcoal Inn. In Manitowoc, Beerntsen’s Confectionery cooks candy in vintage copper kettles and hand-dips toffee, turtles, and chocolate-coated sugar puffs (known as fairy food). Wisconsin’s signature butter burger is nowhere more buttery than at Basil’s II; and up in Green Bay, Packers fans love Kroll’s West just across from Lambeau Field for its huge, messy, half-pound butter burgers. Up in Door County, enjoy the unique local meal known as a fish boil at the White Gull Inn, complete with bonfire and strolling accordionist … and, of course, cherry pie for dessert.