From the curds of Wisconsin to the California Cobb salad, eat in all 50 States... without leaving the Valley!
Almost since its inception, America has played the role of cultural melting pot. Or is “stew pot” a more appropriate metaphor? In this 30-page celebration of American culinary traditions, we’ve selected the most singular, defining dishes from all 50 states. Then we scoured the Valley to locate the 50 restaurants that make the best local versions of these regional delicacies. 50 states, 50 plates. Which did we choose to represent your home state? Keep reading, American food lover.
“Heart of Dixie”
Fried Green Tomatoes
300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Alabama can claim fried green tomatoes as a signature food, but they owe Hollywood a debt of gratitude for the assist. While their recorded history dates back more than a century, fried green tomatoes weren’t even identified with the South, much less Alabama, until 1992. That’s when the success of the film Fried Green Tomatoes made famous Alabama’s Irondale Cafe, upon which the film’s fictional Whistle Stop Cafe was based. People love a good origin story, and this one stuck, quickly turning fried green tomatoes into a Hollywood-inspired modern Southern “classic.” Southern Rail doubles down on Southern flair, serving their tart and crisp fried green tomatoes with a dollop of creamy pimento cheese.
“Land of the Midnight Sun”
King Crab Legs
5101 N. 44th St., Phoenix
King crabs may look like something dreamed up by Alien designer H.R. Giger, but they come from the frigid depths of the Bering Sea, and there are few things more synonymous with Alaska. Their enormous, spiny legs are standard-issue steakhouse fare, and while they can be served chilled or hot, Steak 44 offers them both ways, sparing you the agonizing decision. Alternate: Alaskans also love their Arctic venison. The Groves Bar & Grill in Gilbert (323 S. Gilbert Rd., 480-307-8477, thegrovesbarandgrill.com) does right by Rudolph with a kraut-smothered Reindeer Reuben.
“Grand Canyon State”
Carolina’s Mexican Food
1202 E. Mohave St., Phoenix
Setting aside the question of whether our deep-fried local specialty with an “oops” of an origin story was born north or south of the border, it’s hard to argue that there’s any food more closely identified with Arizona than the chimichanga. Carolina’s lays no claim to the dish’s creation, but its minimal version smartly focuses on the heart and soul of the dish. When those made-to-order tortillas meet hot oil, they transform into a delightfully crisp, almost pastry-like shell.
“The Natural State”
Booty’s Wings Burgers & Beer
15557 W. Bell Rd., Surprise
This deep-fried Southern specialty actually does originate in the South, where it’s been reliably traced to the Duchess Drive In, once situated in the shadow of the Goldsmith Pickle plant in Atkins, Arkansas. The proprietor, Bernell “Fatman” Austin, first sold battered and fried dill chips in 1960, but later switched to long pickle spears. Though you’ll now find both styles throughout Arkansas, we think Fatman had it right the first time. Battered dill chips, served as an appetizer by Booty’s in Surprise, make for a crispier, more addictive fried pickle.
“The Golden State”
2401 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
California would like you to think it’s all quinoa and kale salad out there on the left coast. Even if their fried fish tacos and chili cheeseburgers say otherwise, we’ll meet them halfway. A classic Cobb salad may contain leafy greens and avocado, but the bacon and blue cheese are decidedly more 1930s Hollywood than 2014 Santa Monica. Cobb salads abound in the Valley, but the late Brown Derby owner Bob Cobb, who first served the salad, wouldn’t recognize most of them. One exception: Bistro 24, which offers an almost perfectly faithful version of the original. Though it’s tossed by default, the kitchen happily honors requests to serve it traditionally, with the ingredients artfully arrayed atop the greens for you to mix and taste as you please. Alternate: Oaxaca is a long way from Southern California, but Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca in Phoenix (1830 W. Glendale Ave., 602-246-1111) serves a fried fish taco that tastes like it came straight off the Baja beach.
“The Centennial State”
15693 N. Reems Rd., Surprise
Colorado is routinely tied to foods it didn’t create. Rocky Mountain oysters (spoiler: not oysters) have been around for centuries, and are more widely consumed in surrounding states. Though Colorado was briefly a part of Mexico, chile colorado is named for the ruddy-colored dried peppers used to make it, not for the state. Our best candidate: the Denver sandwich, also known as the Western sandwich, though its origins are murky at best. A precursor to the better-known Denver omelet, the dish started out, one theory holds, as a modified egg foo yung made by Chinese cooks in 19th-century logging and railroad camps, slipped between two slices of bread for easy consumption. Combined with the name and the state’s history of Chinese rail workers, this story gives Colorado grounds to claim the now classic mix of eggs, onions, bell peppers and ham as its own. And while these ingredients can be found in Denver omelets everywhere, Nick’s Diner may be the only place in town that serves a Denver sandwich.
“The Constitution State”
Niccoli’s Italian Deli
6102 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Either there aren’t a lot of Connecticut expats in Phoenix, or those we do have are suffering from malnutrition, because New Haven clam pizza and Connecticut-style steamed cheeseburgers are seemingly nowhere to be found. We’re going to quietly sidestep the debate over whether a grinder is by definition hot (different parts of Connecticut can’t even seem to agree on that) and simply say that Niccoli’s Deli makes a great sandwich that, if not precisely a Connecticut-style grinder, boasts a crusty roll, a pile of Italian cold cuts, and enough shredded iceberg lettuce and olive oil to make any Nutmegger happy.
Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix
Scrapple isn’t the most refined use for leftover pig parts out there, but when done well, it can be mighty tasty. Take some stewed pork scraps, mix them with cornmeal, add a few spices, let it congeal into a loaf, then slice it and griddle it to a crisp, and you have a breakfast meat that’s enjoyed throughout the mid-Atlantic. Blue Hound Kitchen’s house-made version is more grainy and less porky than some, but hit with a splash of red-eye gravy and served with a fried egg, it’s as delicious as any.
Cuban Foods Bakery & Restaurant
10649 N. 43rd Ave., Phoenix
As with many historic dishes, there was no “Aha!” moment that marked the invention of the Cuban sandwich. Similar sandwiches existed in Cuba before they were brought to the States, but these variations coalesced and exploded in popularity in Ybor City, a historic neighborhood in Tampa, which was a center of cigar manufacturing in the late 19th century. Today’s Cubano sandwich combines roasted pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and – if you’re in Tampa, but emphatically not if you’re in Miami – salami. There’s also sometimes a layer of mayonnaise in the pressed, toasted sandwich that’s expertly done at Cuban Foods Bakery & Restaurant in west Phoenix.
Biscuits & Gravy
The Breakfast Joynt
20775 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale
Biscuits and gravy could be credibly claimed by any number of Southern states, but since peaches are out of season, we’re going to give it to Georgia, where cloudlike biscuits covered with a thick sausage gravy are as common as roadside magnolias. The full order at The Breakfast Joynt is a “Southwest” chorizo version that would likely draw suspicion if not outright contempt in most parts of Georgia, but the side order comes with a straight-up cream gravy, thick and rich and studded with chunks of pork sausage.
Alternate: If you’re really craving those peaches, Bootleggers (3375 E. Shea Blvd., 602-996-4228, bootleggersaz.com) punches up their peach cobbler with a smattering of berries.
2950 S. Alma School Rd., Mesa
Take two scoops of rice, one scoop of creamy mac salad and your choice of meat (think: chicken teriyaki), and you have the Aloha State’s iconic plate lunch, served at roadside diners from Kona to Kauai. Like Hawaii itself, the dish is a product of cultural fusion – Asian flavors meet American portions. And while Aloha Kitchen can’t bring the Pacific surf to the desert, a hearty island meal of breaded chicken katsu or tender, shredded kalua pork may be the next best thing. Alternate: Tempe’s Paradise Hawaiian BBQ (580 S. College Ave., 480-621-7373, facebook.com/pages/Paradise-Hawaiian-BBQ/115166275208861) offers a more Korean-influenced plate lunch, and a mean spam musubi, rolled in crisp, toasted nori.
[Q&A]Lynn Tso of Aloha Kitchen
Hawaiian cuisine is very Asian-influenced, isn’t it?
Yeah, in Hawaii, because it’s a cosmopolitan area, there are a lot of different ethnic groups that have immigrated there. Starting with the sugar industry when it was there, they brought in farm laborers from Japan, from China, and they worked the sugar cane fields. And that’s how my ancestors came. They didn’t work the sugar plantations, but they came around the early 1900s. My grandparents from both sides moved to Hawaii.
Do you use your childhood recipes?
I explored family recipes, and I also got a lot of local cookbooks from Hawaii that were a lot of church-type cookbooks, so they had a lot of home cooking. I pulled out what they had, and what my parents used, and kind of compared it and tested it and modified it if I needed. And then we would prepare the food and test it on friends.
How did the plate lunch originate?
[The dish] is very “island.” They used to have these little mobile lunch wagons near the beaches, and they would sell plate lunches. They would have a paper plate, and they would put two scoops of rice, and they would put something like beef stew, or teriyaki chicken, and then mac salad. That was the plate lunch.
“The Gem State”
Dazzo’s Dog House
6143 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale
Sadly, with the closure of Jerry’s Steak Fingers and Pasty Pies, and the menu revision at Tolleson’s Longbranch, Idaho’s breaded and fried strips of sirloin known as “finger steaks” are no longer to be found in the Valley. But it could be argued that the state’s greatest contribution to the American culinary landscape is the humble potato, made into that most American of foods, name notwithstanding: French fries. The best, like those found at Dazzo’s Dog House, are crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and need little more than a dash of salt to let the potato’s natural beauty shine through.
“The Prairie State”
3141 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe
Deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs may get most of the national press, but among old-school Chicagoans, few things inspire devotion like the Italian beef sandwich, the oft-overlooked holy spirit of Chicago’s greasy trinity. Comprised of top or bottom round, Italian beef – thinly sliced, briefly simmered in heavily-seasoned beef broth and loaded on a dense Italian roll – can be topped with sautéed bell peppers or an oily mix of pickled hot peppers and vegetables called giardiniera, but it must be juicy. A dry Italian beef is a sad Italian beef, and requesting it “dipped,” so that the entire sandwich is briefly dunked in the rich juice, is the pro’s way to order. Alternate: Chicago Hamburger Company (3749 E. Indian School Rd., 602-955-4137, chicagohamburger.com) serves a solid (if skinless) Chicago-style dog, dressed to the nines with the full complement of toppings. Alternate #2: In addition to their killer fries, Dazzo’s Dog House (6142 W. Glendale Ave., 623-934-3536, dazzosdoghouse.com) slings an excellent Chicago-style dog, dressed in the classic, minimal Depression Dog style.
“Crossroads of America”
Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
393 W. Warner Rd., Ste. 102, Chandler
Steak ‘n Shake’s five-way chili and Mom’s meatloaf are solid cornerstones of a Hoosier’s balanced diet, but it’s time the pork tenderloin sandwich had its due. The highways and byways of the Midwest are littered with roadside mom-and-pop joints serving this humble delicacy, and with apologies to Iowa, Indiana is most likely its ancestral home. Thought to be descended from wiener schnitzel, it’s little more than pork tenderloin pounded flat, breaded and fried, then served on a bun, most often with pickles, onions and maybe a squirt of mustard. Hoosier Cafe serves an excellent specimen that arrives hot, crisp and juicy.
[Q&A]Pam Ohsman of the Iowa Cafe
You’re originally from Iowa?
I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa – my husband and I both. We moved to Arizona and I found the Iowa Cafe because of the breaded tenderloin.
Ah, yes, the breaded tenderloin is popular in Iowa, too! That’s what brought you to the restaurant?
Yes, exactly. I went into the Iowa Cafe and ordered a breaded tenderloin after I heard they served it and fell in love with the restaurant. It was owned by Ruth Cavendar at that time, and she sold it to Dani Johnson, who ended up being my best friend. She was a waitress. And then I purchased it from Dani.
And the loose meat sandwich is from Iowa?
Absolutely. [Ours] is called Seth’s Special Loose Meat Sandwich. It’s simmered in its own juices and then special seasonings are added to it. And then it’s served piping hot on a bun, and to make sure that all the moisture and the taste stays in the bun, it’s wrapped in a paper and served that way.
Why do you think your customers love the Iowa Cafe?
The down-home atmosphere. The Iowa atmosphere. When you come into the cafe, we have pennants all over that the customers have brought in – the Hawkeyes, the Cyclones, you know. Being from Iowa and being from Cedar Rapids, I really support both teams.
“The Hawkeye State”
Loose Meat Sandwich
1129 N. Higley Rd., Mesa
What the name lacks in panache it makes up for in accuracy. Take a Sloppy Joe, subtract the sloppy, and you have a loose meat sandwich. Also known as a “tavern sandwich,” it’s ground beef that’s been simmered with onions and seasonings until the liquid cooks away, served on a bun with pickles and maybe a little mustard or ketchup. Though technically a sandwich, the dish may require a fork to corral stray crumbles. It isn’t fancy, but it’s comforting, and like the Iowa Cafe, it’s Iowa through and through.
“The Sunflower State”
Farmers’ markets throughout the Valley
Known as the nation’s breadbasket, Kansas produces more wheat than any other state in the union, and no local bakery honors the nobility of a simple loaf of bread more than the aptly named Noble Bread. Found at farmers’ markets and a few local stores, their country loaf is pure poetry... its dark, rustic crust and tender, craggy crumb evoking the very heart of America’s heartland.
“The Bluegrass State”
508 W. First St., Tempe
By law, bourbon is at least 51 percent corn, so it’s food, right? Let’s call it food, because while Kentucky is home to local delicacies like burgoo and the Hot Brown sandwich, none are more prized than bourbon whiskey. The Valley boasts a bourbon producer all its own, and Arizona Distilling Company’s first release, Copper City Bourbon, is available in select liquor stores around town, or it can be purchased directly from the distillery in Tempe. Heavy with corn’s sweet aroma, this bourbon leaves no doubt about which grain is mostly responsible for its distinctive flavor.
1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix
Oh, Louisiana, we know it hardly seems fair to pick just one dish for you. Étouffée, po’ boys, boudin and jambalaya make this a torturous choice, but we’re going to go with your brash, intoxicating gumbo. Dark, thick and oozing smoked pork, the gumbo at Gertrude’s bears a surprise: a big dollop of mustardy potato salad in the bowl. Though rare in New Orleans, the potato salad is commonplace in other parts of the state, and is thought to be a contribution of German immigrants who settled around what later became known as Lac des Allemands (Lake of the Germans). Alternate: The Oysters Rockefeller at Durant’s (2611 N. Central Ave., 602-264-5967, durantsaz.com) are a testament to Creole excess, smothered in a rich, buttery sauce.
Diana Santospago/The Maine Lobster Lady
How did you go from fishing for lobsters to running a food truck?
When I first moved out to Isle au Haut [off the coast of Maine], I started working on [my husband] Greg’s lobster boat. I was what you call the sternman. And while we were out on the boat, I would save – bycatch is what it’s called – peekytoe crabs, and rock crabs. So I would bring them home at night and cook them and pick out the meat, and then in the morning I’d put a cooler out by the road in front of our house, and I’d put a little sign on there that said “Fresh Crabmeat,” and I’d put a Mason jar for people to put money in, and when I’d come back, all the crabmeat was gone and my jar was full of money. And then it sort of bloomed... It was sort of like food trucking in a stationary location.
What brought you to Arizona?
Greg has a daughter in Chandler, and while we were out here visiting her, we just noticed that there was a severe lack of seafood, and we thought what better thing to do than to bring Maine lobster to the desert? We’ve lived on the Maine coast forever, and we know everything from trap to table, and Maine fishermen work wicked-hard, and we just like to promote Maine lobster every chance we get.
So you only use Maine lobster?
We are so well-connected in Maine, I was able to figure out how to get it out here, with the best possible product, the least carbon footprint, and so that’s what I’ve done. I haven’t looked back. It’s been great. People have been just so wonderful.
“Pine Tree State”
The Maine Lobster Lady
Food Truck (location varies)
New England roadside treat turned national food-nerd obsession, the lobster roll requires little introduction, and even less pretense. The best are the simplest, little more than a pile of succulent lobster meat piled high on a toasted split bun with a whisper of mayo, and maybe some lemon or chive. The Maine Lobster Lady, aka Diana Santospago, spends the summer yanking lobsters out of the Atlantic with her husband, then drives down to Arizona for the winter, where she sells perfect lobster rolls out of her food truck.
“The Old Line State”
Steamed Blue Crabs
Ernie’s Bar & Restaurant
10443 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Many prefer the zero-effort nature of a crab cake, but nothing captures the Maryland experience like tearing into a pile of scalding hot steamed blue crabs, heady with the scent of brine and Old Bay. Crab picking can sometimes feel like a cruel prank to first-timers, but the reward is worth the effort, as you slurp down freshly steamed crab meat while licking the spicy juice off your fingers. Ernie’s flies in live crabs when they’re in season, and makes a pretty decent Maryland crab cake when they aren’t. The only thing missing is a sudsy bottle of Natty Boh. Alternate: Marylanders will appreciate the crab cakes at The Salt Cellar (550 N. Hayden Rd., 480-947-1963, saltcellarrestaurant.com), made with real blue crab, minimal binder, and nothing else to gussy them up.
“The Bay State”
The Salt Cellar
550 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Clam chowder: A Massachusetts no-brainer if there ever was. For diners accustomed to its viscous, pasty offshoot, the heritage chowder most commonly served in Massachusetts is a revelation. A lighter, more flavorful broth lets the perfect marriage of sweet pork and slightly bitter clams shine, and The Salt Cellar has mastered that matrimony. Made with chopped quahogs and tender potatoes, this version is the best local argument that clam chowder needn’t resemble spackle.
“The Great Lakes State”
Detroit Coney Grill
930 W. Broadway Rd., Tempe
How did a signature Midwest hot dog come to bear the name of New York’s boardwalk playground? Answer: The dogs take their name from a family of Greek restaurants in Detroit, dubbed “Coney Islands,” that first served the dish in 1914. And, yes, Detroit’s Coney Islands were inspired by Coney Island. Confused yet? Understandable. But there’s no disputing the provenance of the Coney Dog: It’s Michigan, where hot dogs covered with chili, diced onion and a squirt of yellow mustard are an institution. Detroit transplant David Najor runs Detroit Coney Grill, makes a doozy of a natural-casing dog, and even offers a selection of Motor City favorite Faygo soda to wash it down.
Detroit Coney Grill
You’re from Detroit. Did you grow up with Coney Dogs?
Grew up eating them every single day. Sometimes seven or eight at night, when you’re drunk.
You serve a Detroit Coney. What’s the difference between that and a Flint Coney?
The Flint Coney has dry beef product on it [a less saucy, seasoned ground beef], where in Detroit, it’s the chili – the Coney sauce – that’s made with just beef.
Does “Coney” refer to the toppings or the dog?
The dog itself. Michigan has the highest standard for hot dogs anywhere in the country, and [hot dogs must use] a natural casing product. We have our own specifications; ours are made for us by Winter Sausage Company [in Michigan]. So ours are even better than the ones in Detroit.
Did you run a restaurant in Detroit?
No. In Detroit, I owned supermarkets. The reason why we decided to open [Detroit Coney Grill] is we tried the other Coney dog places out here, and they just didn’t do it for us. They were all a bunch of phony Coneys. We decided to bring a little taste of back home – a little taste of the Midwest – out here to the Valley.
“The North Star State”
Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers
20831 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste 117, Scottsdale
The correct spelling of Jucy Lucy – with or without the “i” – is an ancillary dispute between the two Minneapolis bars (Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club) that claim to have invented the dish. Finer points aside, they agree about the important stuff: A Jucy Lucy is a hamburger with a molten cheese core that gushes out when you bite into the patty. Lacking the volcanic heat of its Minnesota-based brethren, the Jucy Lucy served at Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers isn’t quite as likely to cause third-degree mouth burns, which could be considered a good or a bad thing depending on how big of a stickler one is for tradition. Alternate: No, lutefisk isn’t a joke, especially in Minnesota. Those hankering for a taste of salt cod treated with lye can make a reservation with the local chapter of the Sons of Norway (480-422-4334, desertfjord.org), for their annual Lutefisk & Meatball Dinner.
“The Magnolia State”
Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
1220 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
Mississippi produces half of the nation’s farmed catfish, so it should come as no surprise they know how to fry it. Fried catfish is a staple of Southern soul food, and though Lo-Lo’s has built a reputation on fried chicken, their catfish may be even better, with a spicy cornmeal coating surrounding filets so light and tender they practically melt. Alternate: Few desserts bring pure chocolate decadence like Mississippi mud pie, and the heavenly version served at Scottsdale’s Pig & Pickle (2922 N. Hayden Rd., 480-990-1407, pigandpickle.com) is no exception.
“The Show Me State”
St. Louis-Style Pizza
Frasher’s Steakhouse and Lounge
2122 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Phoenix’s options for Kansas City barbecue leave something to be desired, so for Missouri, we’ll turn to the other side of the state. Whether Provel constitutes cheese is a question best left to chemists and philosophers (the FDA’s official title for it is “pasteurized processed cheese”), but the uniquely sticky charm of this blend of provolone, Swiss and cheddar has brought fame to St. Louis-style pizza. Built on a wafer-thin unleavened crust and cut into squares, this pizza’s oddly compelling combination of crisp and gooey can be found at Frasher’s Steakhouse & Lounge, an oasis for homesick St. Louisans. Alternate: Folks from Kansas City won’t be satisfied with any of Phoenix’s KC-style barbecue offerings, but Dillon’s Thunderbird (8706 W. Thunderbird Rd., 623-979-5353, dillonsrestaurant.com) might scratch the itch for those desperate for a fix.
“The Treasure State”
Cornish Pasty Co.
960 W. University Dr., Tempe
Butte, Montana, was the center of a mining boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and at one point, Irish immigrants who came to work the mines composed a quarter of the city’s population. With them came the miner’s tradition of the meat pasty, which is still extremely popular not just in Butte, but throughout the state. The Oggie from Cornish Pasty Company is a descendant of the Butte pasty, its flaky crust filled with steak, potatoes, onions and rutabagas. While folks in Montana might scoff at the rutabagas and insist on beef gravy rather than red wine gravy, the Oggie is otherwise a reasonably close approximation of a Butte pasty.
6929 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Settle down, New York. We know the familiar story that Arnold Reuben created his eponymous sandwich at Reuben’s Restaurant in New York City. That’s fine, but Nebraska has an equally plausible, better-documented piece of culinary lore, in which grocer Reuben Kulakofsky invented the Reuben sandwich to feed hungry gamblers attending a regular poker game at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha. While a definitive answer remains elusive, Nebraska’s runzas – another regional meat pie – and cheese frenchees haven’t yet made it to Phoenix. How about we let them have this one, huh?
“The Silver State”
Prime Rib & Shrimp Cocktail
Don & Charlie’s
7501 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale
Nevada is more famed for importing signature foods from all over the world than developing its own, but nothing says old-school Vegas like a monstrous marquee advertising a lounge act, shrimp cocktail and prime rib. Don & Charlie’s delivers on two out of three, and while it isn’t an all-you-can-eat outfit, their prime rib and shrimp are prepared with care, and far more delicious than your average Vegas buffet.
“The Granite State”
Cotton Country Jams
3801 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
Deeply caramelized apple butter, once a means of preserving fresh apples, predates the United States and was commonly found in the colonies. South Phoenix shares neither New Hampshire’s colonial tradition nor its famed apple crop, but that’s where Cotton Country Jams makes an intense, dark brown apple butter, heavily spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, which they sell at a number of farmers’ markets around town.
“The Garden State”
The Bagel Man
5035 E. Elliot Rd., Phoenix
New Jersey doesn’t appreciate you messing with its breakfast sandwich, so it’s a good thing Kal Salih, the Bagel Man, hails from Jersey himself. There’s nothing special about the sandwich’s appearance – egg, cheese, usually a hard roll, sometimes a bagel – but the defining feature and cornerstone of your complete Jersey breakfast is the meat, referred to by the popular brand name Taylor Ham or the generic term pork roll, largely depending on whether you’re from the northern or southern part of the state. Sliced and griddled to a crisp, it’s a salty, processed, guilty little piece of heaven. Alternate: Atlantic City’s signature confection, salt water taffy, is always available in a rotating selection of wild flavors at Super Chunk Sweets & Treats (7120 E. Sixth Ave., 602-736-2383, superchunk.me) in Old Town Scottsdale.
“The Land of Enchantment”
Green Chile Stew
New Mexican Grill
3107 S. Lindsay Rd., Ste. 101, Gilbert
Every September, a cloud crosses the border into Arizona from the east and slowly rolls across the desert, engulfing Phoenix with the scent of millions of roasted Hatch chiles. At least, in our fantasies. Arizona has always kinda had a crush on green chiles, sure, but the state you’ll find necking with them in the backseat of the car is New Mexico. And when New Mexico and green chiles really want to cook, they make green chile stew, like the spicy, pork-laden version at New Mexican Grill, brimming with capsaicin and passion.
Alternate: Bringing the heat from the red chile end of the spectrum is Richardson’s (6335 N. 16th St., 602-265-5886, richardsonsnm.com), with their searing carne adovada.
“The Empire State”
The Hungry Monk
1760 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler
Buffalo wings didn’t deserve this fate. They’re too delicious, too perfect, too iconic to be offered in 27 different flavors. And let’s call a spade a spade. “Boneless buffalo wings” already have a name: chicken nuggets. No, upstate New York’s greatest culinary contribution to the nation is served bones and all, fried hot and crisp, tossed in a sauce made with vinegar and cayenne pepper, and paired with real blue cheese dressing and a few token celery sticks. That’s how they’re served at The Hungry Monk. Alternate: Hotel Valley Ho’s ZuZu (6850 E. Main St., 480-421-7997, cafe-zuzu.com) does right by eggs Benedict, one of NYC’s signature breakfasts, with English muffins made in-house, perfect poached eggs, and a rich, satiny hollandaise.
“The Tar Heel State”
Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market
9393 E. Bell Rd., Scottsdale
Regional American barbecue could fill this list almost by itself, but one of the most revered breeds is the pulled pork of North Carolina. Tension over what constitutes “proper” North Carolina barbecue may one day split the state into Eastern North Carolina and Western North Carolina, but the distinctive vinegar-based sauce of the east, like that served at Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market, is little more than cider vinegar, chile flakes, sugar and black pepper, and it makes a tart and spicy foil for smoky pulled pork.
“The Peace Garden State”
Q Bar and Grill
6750 W. Olive Ave., Peoria
Jamestown, North Dakota, is home to the “World’s Largest Buffalo Monument,” a testament to the state’s affinity for American bison. The buffalo head trophy on the wall at Q Bar and Grill is not nearly so large, but he has dozens of taxidermied friends to keep him company, and he oversees an establishment where the official motto is “No Sniveling.” The buffalo burger is, predictably, a lean and tasty no-frills bar burger, served with fries, a slab of raw onion, and – if you’re lucky – mild profanity.
“The Buckeye State”
1050 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler,
We spent days searching for Cincinnati’s Greek-influenced chili – scented with cinnamon and cloves and served with spaghetti, kidney beans, onions, and cheddar cheese – convinced that it had to be here. What we learned is that if you’re opening a restaurant in Phoenix and want to be absolutely certain it will fail, serve Cincinnati chili. But this tragic track record opened the door for a sweet treat that better represents the state as a whole. The word “buckeye” is practically synonymous with the state of Ohio. It’s the state’s nickname (The Buckeye State), favorite team (Ohio State Buckeyes), official tree (Ohio buckeye), official state groundhog (Buckeye Chuck) and signature confection. Buckeye candy is a ball of peanut butter fudge partially dipped in chocolate so that it resembles the seed of the buckeye tree, and it can be found at Sweetie’s Candy, a Cleveland-based family business that has a retail store in Chandler.
“The Sooner State”
Ranch House Grille
5618 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix
Texas claims to be the birthplace of chicken fried steak, and they might be right, but the dish is no less revered on the other side of the border, where it’s the guest of honor among the dozen items (literally, a dozen) that comprise Oklahoma’s official state meal. Health advocates question the wisdom of eating breaded and fried steak smothered with cream gravy on a routine basis, but Ranch House Grille has addressed the concerns of the modern health-conscious consumer by offering both a regular chicken fried steak and a “light” version. Rest assured, they’re the same steak, but the light version comes with a smaller side of hash browns and one egg instead of three.
“The Beaver State”
Mamma Toledo’s The Pie Hole
2329 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Oregon has all but cornered the market in blackberries, and the marionberry (not to be confused with Marion Barry) has nearly cornered the market in Oregonian hearts. It’s the indie folk star of the berry world, a complex, intensely-flavored, and much-beloved blackberry cultivar developed at Oregon State University in the ‘40s and ‘50s that now comprises half of the state’s blackberry crop. They make for an exceptional pie filling, and since nearly all of the marionberries shipped out of state are simply sold as “blackberries,” that blackberry pie you’re eating – like the one made at Mamma Toledo’s The Pie Hole – is more likely than not a marionberry pie.
“The Keystone State”
1250 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler
The cheesesteak didn’t always have cheese. Pat Olivieri’s sliced steak and onions, sizzled on a griddle and slapped on a roll, was wildly popular from the start, but the addition of provolone years later was what turned it into a lasting icon. Today, wiz rules the roost, and the Philadelphia area accounts for a quarter of all national Cheez Whiz sales. It’s easy to get your choice of cheese in Arizona, but when making a regional sandwich away from its ancestral home, the hardest thing to get right is often the bread. National distribution is usually impractical for such a highly perishable, low-margin product, and replicating the precise texture and flavor of a signature bread in a restaurant kitchen is a daunting technical challenge. Local substitutes may not quite capture the soft, chewy texture of the Amoroso’s rolls you’ll find throughout Philadelphia, but the steak at Philly’s Famous is griddled up hot and fresh to order, which puts them a step ahead of most other cheesesteak purveyors in the valley. Alternate: Western PA also deserves a little love, and the pierogi at Sunnyslope’s postage stamp-size Polish Goodies (8903 N. 7th St., 602-617-4095, polish-goodies.com) are served by the sweetest Polish couple you’ll ever meet.
“The Ocean State”
Fried Belly Clams
Taylor’s Chowder House
3538 W. Calavar Rd., Phoenix
“Quahog” is a size classification that refers to the largest clams harvested off the New England coast, but it’s also the name of the breed itself. Hence, littlenecks, cherrystones and topnecks are all quahogs that have grown to different sizes, and they’re all prized in Rhode Island, which shares a tradition of fried clams with the rest of the New England coast. At Taylor’s Chowder House, a jaunty little nautical establishment festooned with harpoons, fried belly clams are usually on the specials menu, and unlike the Howard Johnson’s clam strips of yore, these include the sweet, tender clam belly, encased within a light and crisp fried coating.
“The Palmetto State”
Shrimp and Grits
Pig & Pickle
2922 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Shrimp and grits wasn’t always a catchall “Southern” dish. As recently as the 1980s, it was almost exclusively found in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a simple and hearty breakfast for local fishermen that has since become something of a national obsession. The variations on that classic combination of sweet shrimp and creamy grits are endless, and while fans of soupy grits may not find Pig & Pickle’s to their liking, this may be the most flavorful version in town, laden with cheese and a thick, spicy tomato gravy.
“Mount Rushmore State”
4020 N. Alma School Rd., Scottsdale
Frybread is a dish with a complicated and emotional history, made from the dry goods given to Native Americans to keep them from starving when they were forced to relocate and could no longer grow their traditional crops. It’s the state bread of South Dakota, and while the Native American population there is primarily Sioux, they share this piece of history with Arizona’s tribes. A drive across the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community may find you at The Stand, a popular thatched-roof roadside stop where cars pull in and folks line up for a quick frybread lunch under the sun.
“The Volunteer State”
924 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Southern is big these days, and it’s just a matter of time before the latest craze, Nashville’s hot chicken, brings a rash of chile-induced seizures to the Valley with its hot-sauce-drenched chicken. Current reputation aside, however, not all of Tennessee’s fried chicken is measured in Scoville units, so for now we’ll content ourselves with the less incendiary version. The Bumblebee at Welcome Diner is one of our favorites, hot and juicy and stacked on a biscuit with honey, mustard and pickles.
“The Lone Star State”
Little Miss BBQ
4301 E. University Dr., Phoenix
Texas is steer country, son, and while swine is fine for a sausage, the apotheosis of barbecue in Texas (and, if you ask any Texan, the world) is beef brisket, rubbed and smoked and sliced, no sauce required. It so happens that Phoenix is blessed with truly outstanding barbecue brisket, courtesy of the crew at Little Miss BBQ, where a visit starts with a line and ends with the meat sweats, neither of which detract from the smoky perfection of the meal in between.
Alternate: For a double dose of Texas beef, head north and grab a bowl of Texaz Red, the chili from TEXAZ Grill (6003 N. 16th St., 602-248-7828, texazgrill.com) that’s made with beef, red chiles and absolutely no beans.
“The Beehive State”
5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
So named because of their prominent role in after-funeral meals among Utah’s Mormon community, funeral potatoes proved to be elusive in the Valley, and we briefly considered crashing a Mormon funeral to find some. Thankfully, Windsor saved us the trouble, though they were oddly sneaky about it. We found a side of shredded potato casserole, loaded with cheese and cream and topped with cornflakes, listed on the menu as... Jo’s Church Potatoes? You’re not fooling anybody, Windsor. We know what those are.
“The Green Mountain State”
3770 W. Whitton Ave., Phoenix
Though Pickled Perfection calls them spicy pickled green beans, Vermonters will recognize them by their more whimsical appellation, dilly beans. Pickled with vinegar, garlic, dill and often chile pepper, hearty green beans constitute the bounty of Vermont’s short growing season, and are especially well-suited to the preserving process, holding a firm, crunchy texture through pickling and canning. Pickled Perfection’s beans can be found at a number of local farmers’ markets and stores, and even if homesteading chic isn’t your style, they make a mean garnish on a Bloody Mary.
Matt’s Big Breakfast
825 N. First St., Phoenix
Virginia, we’re sorry. We searched far and wide for your country hams – salt-cured, hardwood-smoked, and hung to age – but our breakfast plates are dominated by Hormel and Farmland, and the salty complexity of your most beloved food is nowhere to be found locally. Thankfully, Matt’s Big Breakfast serves a respectably thick and meaty slice of swine that’s produced by The Pork Shop of Queen Creek. But Phoenix needs you, Virginia. Please send ham.
“The Evergreen State”
Oysters on the Half Shell
Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend
5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Only five breeds of oyster are harvested in the United States. The remarkable variety of flavors they possess reflects the composition of the seawater these little filter feeders process every day, and the waters of Washington’s Puget Sound lend their unique characteristics to some of the nation’s most prized bivalves. At Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend, there’s an excellent rotating selection of oysters from around the country, shucked and presented fresh and icy cold, with all of the traditional accompaniments.
“The Mountain State”
Sub Bro at O2 Lounge
8110 W. Union Hills Dr., Glendale
The West Virginia legislature balked at officially declaring pepperoni rolls the state food in 2013, but their immense popularity in coal country is undeniable. Devised by Giuseppe Argiro, a Calabrian baker, as another example of a convenient lunch for miners, they’re little more than sticks or slices of pepperoni and perhaps a little cheese baked into a yeasty bread roll. As the bread bakes, the spicy oil in the pepperoni melts and oozes into the bread. Sub Bro at O2 Lounge takes some liberties with the original design, but their pepperoni roll is in line with the kind of variations you’ll find in West Virginia today.
“The Badger State”
Fried Cheese Curds
Casey Jones Grill
2848 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix
Cheese curds are so very Wisconsin, with a mild flavor, rubbery texture and, if they’re fresh, a pronounced squeak when you bite into them. But that’s not Wisconsin enough. No, to fully capture the soul of Wisconsin, those squeaky little dairy nuggets must be breaded or battered and deep fried, then served with ranch or marinara for dipping. They’re Wisconsin’s answer to the mozzarella stick, and if you want to eat fried cheese curds among cheeseheads, Casey Jones Grill is the place to do it.
“The Equality State”
5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix
The least densely populated of the lower 48, Wyoming is in many ways still a frontier state, wide open and teeming with all types of game. The Stockyards doesn’t quite get all these wild critters on one plate, but it’s not for lack of effort. Their Wild West Mixed Grill brings together walleye pike, elk tenderloin and two types of sausage – wild boar and venison – to create a feast that could feed a family of five pioneers for a week.
Looking for a taste of home? (Or somebody else’s home?)
Here are some mail-order sources that will send state specialties directly to your doorstep:
Deep Dish Pizza
Andouille Sausage & Tasso Ham
Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse
St. Louis, Missouri
Jersey Pork Roll
Piscataway, New Jersey
Lox & Bagels
Russ & Daughters
New York, New York
S. Wallace Edwards & Sons
Usinger’s Famous Sausage
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