Dine in all 50 States Without Leaving the Valley!
For better or for worse, Phoenix is a city of transplants. Fortunately for Valley foodies, these newcomers bring with them the cuisines of their home states. You don’t have to be a homesick Texan to appreciate chicken fried steak, or a displaced Delawarean to crave a Thanksgiving sandwich. They’re here for all of our enjoyment – a cross-country culinary road trip done entirely in the Phoenix metro.
By Nikki Buchanan, Marilyn Hawkes, Leah LeMoine, M.V. Moorhead, Craig Outhier and Madison Rutherford
Art & Photography by Angelina Aragon, Mirelle Inglefield, Leah LeMoine, Chris Loomis, David b. Moore, Dina Ruhza, Melissa Valladares and Debby Wolvos
Fried Green Tomato Sandwich
929 E. Pierce St., Phoenix
Despite its status as a deep-fried delicacy in the Deep South, fried green tomato recipes first appeared in Jewish and Midwestern cookbooks in the late 19th century. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the film Fried Green Tomatoes made the dish synonymous with the South. Now, every diner from Talladega to Tuscaloosa touts various versions of the firm, unripe fruit coated in cornmeal. West of the Mississippi, you can find a masterful handheld iteration nestled between two slices of griddled Noble Bread sourdough, smeared with chipotle ranch and strewn with fresh arugula and house-made corn relish in the heart of Downtown Phoenix.
Fun Fact: Green tomatoes are much sweeter and firmer than their ripe red counterparts, making them suitable substitutes for green apples in cakes and cobblers.
Copper River Salmon
4748 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale
Most seafood restaurants claim Alaska as the provenance of their salmon. Ocean 44 takes it a step further for a fleeting season each year, overnighting Copper River salmon – known as the “Wagyu of seafood” – to the restaurant. Corporate executive chef Marc Lupino won the inaugural catch himself a few years ago, when he traveled to remote Cordova, Alaska, for the “first fish” of the coveted Copper River kings. His fisherman guide has since become his supplier, shipping Ocean 44 fresh-caught fish from March-June, so mark your calendar for this limited run and order a piece cooked Lupino’s favorite way, baked with a smattering of breadcrumbs. Once the season ends, he shifts to salmon from the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. But you can always order Alaskan king crab legs to scratch your itch for The Last Frontier.
Fun Fact: The dessert of ice cream and sponge cake topped with torched meringue was purportedly dubbed “baked Alaska” by the New York City restaurant Delmonico’s to celebrate the Alaska Purchase of 1867.
Sonoran Hot Dog
Two locations, elcaprichosohotdogs.com
Is it ironic that one of Arizona’s most iconic dishes was invented more than 30 years ago in Hermosillo, the capital of the Mexican state of Sonora? Not really, given the culinary cross-pollination that happens between border states. Sonora simply took the all-American hot dog, gussied it up a bit and gave it back. El Caprichoso, one of the best “dogueros” in Phoenix, makes a mean bacon-wrapped dog, tucking it in a soft, toasty bun and piling it high with whole beans, grilled onions, grilled peppers, tomato, guacamole, cotija, salsa, and (for the American touch) ketchup and mustard. Glorious to behold, even better to eat.
Fun Fact: The last time we did this feature, we spotlighted the chimichanga. Phoenix’s Macayo’s Mexican Food and Tucson’s El Charro Café both claim its invention.
Rocket Burger & Subs
12038 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix
In the South, the belief that if something, almost anything, is good to eat, it’s likely to be even better breaded and deep-fried has been applied to far stranger foods than pickles. But hungry Razorbacks have been enjoying batter-fried pickled cukes since 1963, when the delicacy is said to have been invented by Bernell “Fatman” Austin at the Duchess Drive-In in Atkins. Rocket Burger serves up a generous portion of these thinly sliced, briny bombs of flavor. They make a nice variation on fried spuds alongside one of the burgers, and are particularly yummy dipped in ranch dressing. Surprisingly, they hold up reasonably well – much better than French fries – as hours-later leftovers.
Fun Fact: Another Arkansas favorite, “possum pie” is made with chocolate pudding and cream cheese – not, mercifully, with marsupial meat.
Chinese Chicken Salad
302 E. Flower St., Phoenix
The embarrassment of culinary riches generated by this great cultural-storm-drain of a state is something indeed, but for now we’ll put aside the burrito, the Cobb salad, the cheeseburger, the hot fudge sundae and any avocado-based nibble you can think of and celebrate its most ubiquitous fusion creation, the Chinese chicken salad. You can find it on countless Valley lunch menus, but we think the China Chili version best honors the one restaurateur Sylvia Wu first presented to a smitten Cary Grant at her Santa Monica restaurant in the early 1960s: simple but bewitching, with strips of baked chicken and cilantro-flecked lettuce spritzed with a faintly sweet mustard-chile-oil dressing. Alternate: Northern California has its own fusion classic: cioppino, a catch-all seafood stew concocted by impecunious Italian fishermen in San Francisco in the late 1800s, marvelously translated by chef-owner Jason Dwight at Uptown eatery Persepshen (persepshenarizona.com) as a chipotle- and tomato-simmered shellfish medley with a savory fillet of blackened grouper as its centerpiece.
Fun Fact: California and New York war over the origins of the martini, but no such ambiguity attends the Mai Tai: It was invented in 1944 by barman Victor Bergeron at his Oakland restaurant Trader Vic’s.
The Stand Arcadia Burger Shoppe
3538 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
It’s hard to imagine a time when the ubiquitous cheeseburger didn’t exist, but Louis Ballast of Denver’s Humpty Dumpty Drive-In claimed the cheeseburger trademark in 1935. Since then, billions of cheeseburgers have been consumed, and there’s no shortage of places to eat them. The Valley boasts a lot of burger joints, but The Stand puts out a three-napkins-required cheeseburger with all the right stuff – house-ground beef, melty American cheese (you have to ask for it, but no extra cost), a thick slab of onion, crisp leafy lettuce, kosher dills, ripe tomato and house-made Stand sauce on a fluffy cloud of a bun. You can gussy up your burger with grilled onions, thick-cut bacon or roasted jalapeños, but the standard cheeseburger holds its own.
Fun Fact: Though trademarked in Colorado, the cheeseburger was most likely invented in 1924 at The Rite Spot restaurant in Pasadena, California, when teenage cook Lionel Sternberger boldly put cheese on a hamburger to conceal a burnt patty.
Bell’ Italia Pizzeria
4909 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix
People debate with doctrinal intensity about whether pineapple belongs on pizza, but there’s little debate among New Haven folks over whether clams belong on pizza. Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana claims to have invented the state’s characteristic dish in the 1920s; Ahwatukee’s small, friendly pizza parlor offers a tasty pie with garlic, olive oil, mozzarella and tiny, tender mollusks that impart the faintest tinge of the oceanic.
Fun Fact: New Haven also lays claim to nothing less than the hamburger itself, at Louis’ Lunch, a few minutes from Yale.
The Bobbie Thanksgiving Sandwich
Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop
Two Valley locations, capriottis.com
Cranberries aren’t normally associated with Delaware, but “The First State” is responsible for producing a sandwich that put the tangy berry on our radar. If you long for Thanksgiving foods throughout the year, check out “The Bobbie” at Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, named after the aunt of sibling founders Lois and Alan Margolet, who created the sandwich to use up leftovers after Thanksgiving. First served in the Margolets’ flagship shop in Wilmington, Delaware, more than 45 years ago, the sandwich combines Thanksgiving’s MVPs: slow-roasted, hand-pulled turkey, tangy cranberry sauce and sage-infused stuffing. Stacked on a soft hoagie roll slathered in mayonnaise, this handheld holiday memory was voted Greatest Sandwich in America by AOL.com in 2009. Thanksgiving between buns in January? Why not?
Fun Fact: “The Bobbie” is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
218 W. Main St., Mesa
Tampa and Miami tussle over who invented the cubano – a sandwich most commonly found stacked with ham, roasted pork, pickles, Swiss cheese and mustard – but according to the book The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers, its origins are in Cuba. Havana residents had been eating mixtos (sandwiches with mixed meats) for years. Waves of Cubans into the aforementioned cities meant each put its own stamp on the sandwich, with Tampa claiming the addition of salami and Miami adding the grill press. Mesa sandwich shop Worth Takeaway made its own innovation: Havarti instead of Swiss. For a more auténtico iteration, head to Cuban Foods Bakery & Restaurant (facebook.com/cubanfoods) in West Phoenix.
Fun Fact: Key lime pie allegedly originated in Key West, Florida. Our favorite local version: Chelsea’s Key lime pie at LGO Bake Shop (lgobakeshop.com).
Sugar Jam Southern Kitchen
15111 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Franciscan monks introduced peaches to islands along Georgia’s coast in the 1500s, and the sweet snack gained popularity during the Civil War when soldiers enjoyed the luscious fruit adjacent to battlefields. Today, Georgia is known as The Peach State because of its juicy fruit’s superior taste and texture – even though other states produce bigger crops. In the Valley, Sugar Jam’s Dana Dumas makes the dreamiest deep-dish peach cobbler around, with a flaky, buttery crust and plump peach slices tinged with cinnamon, nutmeg and Madagascar vanilla. One bite and you’ll have Georgia on your mind for the rest of the day – and you’ll see why we didn’t pick fried chicken or pecan pie for Georgia’s signature dish.
Fun Fact: After the Civil War, when the South was trying to boost its image of “The New South,” many plantation owners switched crops from cotton to peaches in an effort to cut ties with slavery.
Leo’s Island BBQ
7665 W. Bell Rd., Peoria
Admittedly, it’s an odd combo – canned, ham-like meat set atop a Japanese rice ball wrapped in nori – but SPAM musubi is also a melting pot dish if ever there was one. (Unlike poke, a “pre-contact” invention by Polynesians who wouldn’t recognize the florid poke we eat today.) Japanese immigrants brought portable, snackable musubi to the sugar cane plantations they worked during the late 1800s. Sixty years later, the U.S. government shipped SPAM to Hawaii by the boatload (literally) to feed the troops stationed there during WWII. Resourceful Hawaiians put the two wildly disparate ingredients together and never looked back. Leo’s gets it right, first grilling the SPAM before assembling it with a dollop of teriyaki sauce for salty-sweet counterpoint.
Fun Fact: SPAM musubi is as Hawaiian as Don Ho, but it’s consumed with equal or even greater ardor in Austin, Minnesota – headquarters of parent company Hormel Foods.
Tapas Papa Frita
7114 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale
We could have picked a plethora of potato dishes for this spuds-y state, but we love the history lesson inherent in selecting txistorra. The spicy Basque sausage – sautéed with garlic, olive oil and Sherry vinegar – represents the Basque population of Boise, which has the highest concentration of Basque Americans of any U.S. city. Immigrants from this region bordering northern Spain and southwestern France came to Idaho in the 1800s to work as sheepherders. Many more fled Francoist Spain in the 1940s-1970s. The Basque Block in Idaho’s capital city is still full of restaurants, markets, a museum and a cultural center dedicated to this community. In addition to txistorra, you can find Basque dishes like sopa de ajo and alubias on the menu at this Spanish eatery in Old Town Scottsdale. And you can still order a potato dish – try the iconic tortilla de patatas.
Fun Fact: Finger steaks are another Idaho classic – imagine the lovechildren of chicken strips and chicken fried steak.
Italian Beef Sandwich
DeFalco’s Italian Deli & Grocery
2334 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
As a well-populated Midwestern state with trade-critical geography and one of the world’s great modern cities, Illinois has contributed its fair share of dishes to America’s collective dinner table, but picking the defining one – sorry, deep-dish pizza! – is surprisingly easy business. Braising tough cuts of beef in a spicy, salty broth until tender, and laying thin slices of the meat in a roll so there was enough of it to go around at weddings and the like, Italian immigrants were making the dish for at least two decades before it first found its way to the menu at Chicago institution Al’s in 1938. Unless otherwise asked, DeFalco’s in Scottsdale makes it the traditional way, i.e. “wet,” with the soft, toasted roll and everything inside it – beef, provolone and sautéed green peppers and onions – dunked in a salty, slurpable jus. Hot giardiniera relish is extra, and you should definitely get it. Alternate: OK, fine, here’s your deep-dish pizza: the stuffed pepperoni and onion at Oregano’s (oreganos.com) – still our favorite version in the Valley.
Fun Fact: Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo invented the Chicago deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno in 1943.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Casey Jones Grill
2848 E. Bell Rd
Although the décor at this big-screen-TV-studded oasis honors Wisconsin sports teams and the titular railroad engineer from Kentucky (toy trains make lazy circuits on elevated trestles over the dining room), the menu nonetheless features a fine execution of this Hoosier favorite. A splendidly oversized, delicately breaded pork cutlet blankets the bun, also supplied with lettuce, tomato and onion. Trim away the edges until the pork fits the bread, smear on a little mayo and/or mustard as desired, and you’ll find yourself back in the land of Booth Tarkington, Kurt Vonnegut, the Indy 500 and Notre Dame football.
Fun Fact: Indiana also claims butterscotch pie, supposedly invented by accident in Connersville in 1904 by one Sarah Wheeler, when she burned custard and found it tasted like butterscotch.
Loose Meat Sandwich
930 W. Broadway Rd, Tempe
Popular throughout the Midwest and Rust Belt, the loose meat sandwich, at least under that name, traces its heritage back to Iowa’s Maid-Rite restaurants in the 1920s. It’s a hamburger that defies the conformity of the patty, a sauce-free, not-so-sloppy sloppy joe, and you can get a perfectly good one at this Detroit-themed Tempe hot doggery by ordering the “loose meat burger” with no chili sauce. In Michigan, we’re told, this is referred to as “Flint style,” but we’re pretty sure they’d recognize it in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids, too.
Fun Fact: An actual Iowan told us that pea salad, with peas, cheese, pickles, eggs and mayo, is a holiday favorite. “I never met an Iowan that didn’t know it, or a non-Iowan that did.”
Phat Turtle BBQ
Two Valley locations, phatturtlebbq.com
Admittedly, Kansas City, Missouri, is more famous for its sweet-sauced barbecue than is Kansas City, Kansas, but the two cities, divided only by a state line and the Missouri River, are as one. And because Phoenix offers zero iconic foods of note from Kansas (grebbel, anyone?), we’re giving them credit for Kansas City’s famous burnt ends – the crusty, fatty, smoky hunks of meat cut from the point end of a smoked beef brisket. Considered scraps until food writer and KC native Calvin Trillin immortalized them in the ’70s, burnt ends are now appreciated for the luscious morsels they are. Phat Turtle makes them next-level by tossing them in house-made hickory barbecue sauce and torching them until they’re caramelized.
Fun Fact: Kansas may not be a culinary mecca, but hey, where else can you find bierocks (beggar’s purse-shaped hot pockets of ground beef and cabbage) or grebbel (deep-fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, the doughnut’s kissing cuz)?
Brothers Family Restaurant
8466 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria
If any place in the Valley serves the signature knife-and-fork sandwich invented in the 1920s at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, we’ve been unable to locate it. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find this classic, but here’s a menu hack: Go to this reliable westside eatery, order the open-face turkey sandwich with no gravy, a side of bacon and a slice of tomato (optional). It’s doubtful they have popular Hot Brown cheeses Parmesan or Gruyère, but ask them to melt some cheddar, maybe with some butter mixed in, to vaguely simulate the Mornay sauce. Pile it all on, and there you have it. Sort of. Not really. But it’s still pretty tasty. Tip your long-suffering server well.
Fun Fact: Kentuckians also like burgoo, a Mulligan-esque stew served with cornbread; it’s a favorite at the Derby.
Flavors of Louisiana
Two Valley locations, flavorsoflouisianacajun.com
In a state that boasts arguably the culinary capital of the United States (New Orleans, of course), crowning a signature dish is a competitive affair. Boudin, beignets, étouffée, po’ boys, oysters Rockefeller, muffuletta, jambalaya, bananas Foster – all strong contenders. Ultimately, we – and the Louisiana legislature – went with gumbo, which encapsulates so much of Louisiana’s complicated history. Enslaved West Africans brought okra with them to the French colony in the 1700s, and the word “gumbo” can be traced to several West African languages’ words for the vegetable, a signature ingredient and thickener in the stew. Cajun and Creole influences further shaped it, and today there are myriad expressions: seafood, meat and even vegan and vegetarian reclamations of the soul food dish. Flavors of Louisiana serves two mighty fine versions we happily alternate between – seafood (oysters, crab and shrimp) and meat (chicken and sausage).
Fun Fact: Louisiana has a thriving community of Vietnamese immigrants, and its scads of Cajun/Asian fusion restaurants are “don’t-miss” destinations for visiting foodies.
Nelson’s Meat + Fish
2415 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
Although Connecticut lays claim to inventing the lobster roll – a hot, buttery situation tucked in a sub-like roll at Perry’s back in 1927 – it’s Maine’s cold, summery version that caught fire in the ’90s and became an American classic. Nelson’s “proper lobstah roll” combines sweet chunks of Maine lobster with mayo, lemon, Old Bay, celery and chives, a light, creamy mixture packed into a split-top, butter-grilled bun from Noble Bread. Purists may quibble about the extras (meaning anything but lobster and mayo), but who’s listening?
Fun Fact: Whoopie pies are common in many states, but Maine made them its official state treat
Neighborly Public House
5538 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Crab cakes have been eaten in the Chesapeake Bay area for centuries, but they became a national obsession in the 1990s, when regional American cooking was riding a wave. Naturally, the very best crab cakes are prepared Maryland-style, meaning lots of jumbo lump blue crab meat and no filler, which is exactly what you get at Neighborly. Chef-owner Chris Collins sources his sweet crab meat from 100-year-old Phillips Seafood in Chesapeake Bay, sears his cakes to a golden-brown crunch, and serves them with citrus aioli sparked with Old Bay – another Maryland classic. They don’t get any better than this.
Fun Fact: Baltimore’s pit beef – slow-cooked over a charcoal pit – was a strong contender. Alas, we couldn’t find anybody reliably making it in the Phoenix metro.
Three locations, chulaseafood.com
Nobody knows for sure, but one theory holds that chowder (a corruption of the French word for “cauldron”) may have been invented in the 1700s by Breton fishermen, who introduced it to Newfoundland, where it spread down the Atlantic coast from there. In any case, clam chowder – the dreamy white kind – is often associated with Boston, a great American city with a surprisingly thin culinary CV. Ye olde Union Oyster House (the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country) was ladling chowder out as early as 1836. Chula’s Boston-style version stays true to the dish’s roots. Chunky with clams, potatoes, Nueske’s bacon, onions and celery, it’s creamy yet complex, thanks to a drop of sherry.
Fun Fact: Boston, often called “Beantown” for its love affair with molasses-infused baked beans, named its National League baseball team the Boston Beaneaters back in the day.
The Rec Pizza & Detroit Eats
20340 N. Lake Pleasant Rd., Peoria
Motor City’s chili-topped Coney Dog gets a lot of state-food support, but this deep-dish pizza style has an infinitely better (and more Detroit-specific) origin story. It started in 1946, when Detroit bar owner Gus Guerra had an idea to embellish his food menu with a pizza based on his wife’s ancestral Sicilian dough recipe. What he didn’t have – pizza pans. So he bought some heavy iron drip pans previously used by an auto factory for oily lug nuts and the like, and put them to work, resulting in both the distinctive square shape of his pizza and its toasted, caramelized edges, created when hot cheese would crawl into the margins of the pan and burn to a glorious crisp. Credit The Rec owner Mark Gluck for popularizing Detroit pizza in the Valley and hooking us on those delightful corner cuts.
Fun Fact: Like many states, Michigan can claim birthplace status for a Chinese-American menu classic: almond chicken.
Feeney’s Restaurant & Bar
6314 N. 12th St., Phoenix
Did we search high and low for hotdish – a gooey casserole typically topped with tater tots and beloved by Minnesotans – in the Valley? You betcha. But short of stalking Lutheran church gatherings, we came up short. Ditto wild rice, which isn’t as abundant on Metro Phoenix menus as it is in the marshes of Minnesota. But the latter got us thinking about water. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has quite a bit of it, and it’s teeming with fish like bass, rainbow trout and northern pike, not to mention walleye, prized for its firm but flaky texture and mild sweetness. It’s the star of many a Minnesotan fish fry, and it’s one of many classic American dishes on offer at CenPho institution Feeney’s, don’t cha know.
Fun Fact: Walleye inspired a whole chapter in the novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.
Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse
4929 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix
Even some of us who proudly claim descendancy from the land of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty (and fried catfish and biscuits and gravy) still can’t claim much enthusiasm for its famous dark green, harshly flavored leafy side dish that seems to serve mainly as humbling counterpoint, bringing glorious barbecue and heavenly peach cobbler acerbically down to earth. But the greens that come alongside the luscious meaty treats at Mississippian-owned Sweet Magnolia are as good as they come: not tarted up with bacon bits; cooked into submission but not into mush; a little bitter, a little tangy, a lot authentic.
Fun Fact: A Mississippi lady told us that, as a girl in the Depression, she’d be sent by her mother into the swamps around Leakesville to shoot squirrels for dinner; her reward for this was to be given the brains of the hapless creatures.
3222 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
As is true for most food-related fables, toasted ravioli (which are really deep-fried) are allegedly the snacky result of a mishap – ravioli dropped into the fryer by a possibly drunk Italian chef in St. Louis. But that’s only one version of the story. Other restaurants on The Hill, St. Louis’s legendary Italian-American neighborhood, also lay claim to its invention, dating T-Rav’s birth back to 1930. You won’t care about the particulars when you’ve got a plate of Frasher’s crunchy, meat- or cheese-stuffed bites in front of you. Dunked in robust, Parm-dusted marinara, they’re proof that The Show Me State can show us a thing or two.
Fun Fact: The Lou (as it’s affectionately called by St. Louisans) is also famous for its gooey butter cake (you can find a terrific facsimile at Mastro’s) and for its St. Louis pizza, built on a thin, cracker-like crust and topped with Provel cheese. Both are available at Frasher’s.
The Stockyards Steakhouse
5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix
Hunted to near-extinction by the 19th century – remarkably, there were only 325 remaining in the wild in 1885 – the American bison staged a ferocious comeback; today, they number in excess of 500,000. Prized for its lean, healthy meat, the beast is a good match for The Treasure State, where culinary invention has largely been limited to what folks can hunt and grill themselves, and where roughly half of North America’s private bison herds are located. Ladled with a rib-sticking mushroom gravy, and served with garlic whipped potatoes, the bison meatloaf at this historical Valley chophouse is a delicious vehicle for the animal’s gustatory charms, delivering that slightly coppery, bloodlike flavor typical of high-end red meat.
Fun Fact: Montana issued 1,030,571 hunting licenses, tags, permits and stamps in 2021… almost equal to the state’s total population of 1,104,000.
Clancy’s Pub Pizza & Grill
4432 N. Miller Rd., Scottsdale
As with most iconic dishes, the origin story of the Reuben is up for debate. Some maintain it was invented at Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City. Others say it was invented in The Cornhusker State when Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian Jewish grocer, put in a sandwich order during his weekly poker game at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha: corned beef with sauerkraut. The hotel owner’s son complied, gilding the lily with Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese and putting the whole melty mess on rye bread. Today, Reubens are popular throughout the state, and their ingredients have spread to other nibbles, like Reuben egg rolls. Find the sandwich and that offshoot snack at Scottsdale pub Clancy’s, an outpost of an Omaha bar.
Fun Fact: In 2013, the city of Omaha declared March 14 Reuben Sandwich Day.
5101 N. 44th St., Phoenix
How did an appetizer manage to be born as a kitschy gimmick and grow up to become a swanky special-occasion staple? The shrimp cocktail’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1959, when the Golden Gate Hotel in Las Vegas started selling chilled shrimp in a tulip sundae glass for 50 cents a pop. In present-day Scottsdale, sleek, sophisticated Steak 44 forgoes the glass altogether, instead placing the prawns on a bed of ice to maintain their temperature, taste and texture. Served with house-made cocktail sauce, horseradish, tangy mustard and a trio of fresh lemons, the shrimp are a quarter pound apiece and come six to a serving. You may not be able to play the slots or peruse the Strip, but this ritzy version of an old Vegas relic is an experience all its own.
Fun Fact: Although Nevada is nowhere near the ocean, The Silver State boasts more shrimp consumed per capita than the rest of the country combined.
New England Boiled Dinner
Miracle Mile Deli
4433 N. 16th St., Phoenix
New Hampshire may be known for its cinnamon-flecked, autumnal apple cider doughnuts, but we were hard-pressed to find the sweet orbs in Arizona during the winter. Instead, we went with one of New Hampshire’s signature dishes, the regional New England boiled dinner, a term that’s open to interpretation among New Hampshirites, but usually consists of boiled corned beef and cabbage with parsnips, carrots and turnips. The dish’s roots are murky, but likely originated in the early 1800s among New England’s Irish working-class immigrants. Phoenicians can find boiled dinner in the form of corned beef and cabbage at Miracle Mile Deli, where they serve up a generous amount of sliced, fall-apart tender corned beef, a wedge of briny, green cabbage and boiled and buttered potatoes. They even throw in a couple of rye bread slices so you can make a sandwich the next day.
Fun Fact: Boiled dinner leftovers are often diced and fried into “red flannel hash” and then topped with an egg for a hearty breakfast.
State 48 Brewery
Multiple Valley locations, state48brewery.com
You don’t have to hail from The Garden State to understand the importance of its diner culture – just watch The Sopranos or The Real Housewives of New Jersey. While most NJ diners were established by Greek immigrants, their menus span the globe – and the decades. A dish that took off in the ’70s and ’80s: disco fries, purportedly named for its popularity with late-night revelers in need of a sobering snack. At first glance, disco fries look like Canada’s poutine, with crispy fries topped with gravy and cheese. But where the Canucks use cheese curds, Jersey boys and girls use mozzarella. State 48 puts a Southwest spin on its version, adding carnitas and green onions and swapping the mozz for beer cheese. Authentic? No. Excellent drunk food? Yes. Take down an order and then take a disco nap.
Fun Fact: Pork roll – a processed meat product invented in 1856 by John Taylor in Trenton – is another diner classic, also called Taylor ham.
Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico
6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Many of us associate New Mexican food with molten lava, but carne adovada, one of the state’s most beloved staples, isn’t necessarily scorching hot. Cooked at home and served in every diner in the Land of Enchantment, it’s a hearty, satisfying dish of pork shoulder simmered in a chile-based stew. Richardson’s ups its carne adovada game by smoking the meat over pecan wood for four or five hours before simmering it another three or four hours until the deep-flavored, succulent meat resembles pulled pork. Spicy, yes, but rice, pintos and a stretchy flour tortilla help tame the heat.
Fun Fact: In 1989, New Mexico became the first state to designate an official state cookie, choosing the biscochito – a crisp butter cookie dusted with cinnamon-sugar and flavored with anise – which originated in the state.
Aimee’s Swine House
1609 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix
The English muffin was invented by British expat Samuel Bath Thomas at his Chelsea (New York) bakery in 1880, so little wonder the beloved breakfast dish it helped spawn also traces its origins to the Empire State. Two New York City dining institutions – the Waldorf Hotel (famed for its eponymous salad) and Delmonico’s (famed for its eponymous steak cut) – have competing claims on the dish, but it’s likely the Waldorf was the first to serve a “modern” eggs Benedict, substituting the bacon and toast ordered by a hungover customer (topped with poached eggs and “a hooker of Hollandaise”) with ham and English muffins. In North Phoenix, Aimee’s Swine House evolves the dish even further, placing the lightly poached eggs atop Noble Bread and prosciutto-like Benton’s ham, the whole gooey, umami-fied package smothered in chorizo Hollandaise. Alternate: Did you know General Tso’s chicken, that tart-sweet Chinese-American classic, was invented in New York City? George Yang’s Chinese Cuisine (georgeyangschinesecuisine.com) serves a tasty version, cheekily dubbed “General Yang’s chicken.”
Fun Fact: Though New York City is home to the world’s most celebrated bagels, Poland is the birthplace of the bagel, first boiled and baked by Ashkenazi Jews in Krakow in the 17th century.
Multiple Valley locations, nakedq.com
The name of this spare, elegant eatery sounds like a book that would have been banned in Boston in the ’50s. But “Naked” here refers to the meat coming sauceless, allowing diners to dress it to their liking. Try NakedQ’s version of North Carolina’s distinctive thin, vinegary wash – it’s recommended for the Carolina classic pulled pork, but does fine on the brisket too. North Carolina’s state motto comes from Cicero: Esse Quam Videri, or “To Be Rather than to Seem.” NakedQ’s sauce doesn’t just seem delicious, it is.
Fun Fact: You’ll be relieved to know that North Carolina law requires that its livermush consist of at least 30 percent pig liver (the town of Marion hosts an annual Livermush Festival). Also, Krispy Kreme is headquartered in Winston-Salem. Which do you suppose is more nutritious: livermush or a Krispy Kreme glazed?
Old Heidelberg Bakery
2210 E. Indian School Rd., Scottsdale
German-Russians first settled in the Dakota Territory in the 1880s, driven there by political and social issues. Today, 47 percent of North Dakotans claim German heritage, according to the World Population Review, so it’s fair to assume German strudel remains a popular dessert in the Canadian border state – as do kuchen and chippers, which proved more challenging to find in the Valley. Making strudel is a daunting task, given its thinly stretched, paper-thin dough, but the experts at Old Heidelberg Bakery have it down to a science. Filled with chunks of spiced apples laced with plenty of sugar, Old Heidelberg’s version is a sweet, crunchy and layered delight topped off with coarse bits of sugar.
Fun Fact: Strudel’s name comes from the German word for “whirlpool,” because the inner layers of pastry resemble swirling water.
1245 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa
We tried to find a Valley restaurant serving Cincinnati chili five ways (spaghetti, chili, beans, cheese and onions) or Cleveland’s famed Polish boy (kielbasa, coleslaw, barbecue sauce and fries on a bun), but were unsuccessful. Instead, we turned to pierogi, the delectable dumplings sold in countless Cleveland diner by Polish families for generations. They’re also plentiful in neighboring suburb Parma, which has thriving Polish and Ukrainian villages (in the latter, pierogi are called varenyky). As far as we’re concerned, the pierogi capital of the Valley is Mesa, where All Pierogi offers around 20 varieties.
Fun Fact: It’s not a typo – pierogi is the plural of the singular pierog. Polish folks joke that nobody uses the singular because they’re so delicious, it’s impossible to eat just one.
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral
6895 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek
Back in the ’30s and ’40s, before it was acquired by Harold Gavagan and gradually turned into a shrine to the Pittsburgh Steelers, this classic ramshackle western saloon and chowhouse is said to have served cowboy fare to real, no-kidding cowboys. That tradition continues: The place still offers a dauntingly decadent 20-ounce bone-in ribeye, dripping with flavorful fat and paired with a simple baked potato, that an Okie cowpoke fresh from the trail could relish. It’s the sort of meal that could give you the strength to sneak into new territory and stake your claim sooner than everybody else.
Fun Fact: Fried okra marinated in buttermilk was chosen in 1988 as part of the official Oklahoma state meal.
2245 N. 12th St., Phoenix
In the early 1980s, when people were still sipping wine coolers and scarfing down Peanut Butter Boppers, Oregon resident and restaurateur Paul Wenner was hard at work developing a peerless plant-based hamburger patty. His original recipe – dubiously dubbed the Garden Loaf Sandwich – incorporated mushrooms, onions, brown rice, rolled oats, cheese and spices. The closest approximation in the Valley – i.e., made with good, old-fashioned plants instead of soy or mycoprotein – is this veteran vegan eatery’s beet and quinoa burger. Assembled in-house out of beets, quinoa and brown rice, the patty is topped with poblano corn relish, fried onions and mayonnaise and served on a sesame-studded bun – making the erstwhile loaf not only palatable, but downright sexy.
Fun Fact: Wenner trademarked his creation as the Gardenburger in 1986 and sold it to the Kellogg Company in 2007.
Philadelphia Sandwich Co.
Two locations, philadelphiasandwich.com
Pennsylvania claims to be the birthplace of the banana split, but historians can’t seem to agree on its origins. The Keystone State doesn’t have an official state food, but if ever there was a strong contender, it’s the Philly cheesesteak, invented in the 1930s by brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who operated a hot dog cart in South Philadelphia. There’s a lot of debate over what makes an authentic cheesesteak, with fierce factions split on the best cheese for the job: sharp provolone, melted American or oozy Cheez Whiz. Lucky for Arizonans, Philadelphia Sandwich Co. makes all three versions. Built on a toasted hoagie roll, the cheesesteak sports thinly sliced, tender pieces of USDA Select Grade ribeye spatula-chopped on a well-seasoned griddle, a choice of cheese and grilled onion strings.
Fun Fact: In 1988, the Philadelphia Eagles set a world record for assembling the world’s largest cheesesteak, measuring the length of a football field and weighing in at 1,790 pounds.
8519 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Our Union’s smallest state has ample access to one of the largest seafood markets on the planet, the Atlantic Ocean, and out of that puddle’s bounteous treasures has settled upon fried squid as the state snack. A purist might insist that true Rhodian calamari ought to be deep-fried and mixed with hot cherry peppers, and they would be right. But one taste of Greektown’s peerlessly succulent tentacled treats, pan-fried and lemony, and said purist would be too busy snarfing to object.
Fun Fact: For dessert after a big plate of calamari, Rhode Islanders might choose a doughboy – not a WWI-era soldier, but a piece of hot pizza dough, deep-fried and powdered with sugar. They’re popular at carnivals.
the larder + the delta
200 W. Portland St., Phoenix
To taste chef Stephen Jones’ hoppin’ John is to taste an unsung bit of history – and a culture that is still alive today. The Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island field peas that make up his trademark dish have roots, like many Southern classics, in the transatlantic slave trade. The Gullah-Geechee people, who live on the Sea Islands along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, are descended from enslaved Africans and have been growing African rice and peas for centuries. Carolina Gold, however, was on the brink of extinction before being revived in the 1980s and 1990s. Jones has an especially deft touch with the golden grains, crisping them up for glorious textural contrast with the tender, creamy peas.
Fun Fact: In 2006, Congress designated the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor as a National Heritage Area to honor the Sea Islanders’ maintenance of their traditions.
The Fry Bread House
4545 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix
An unpretentious pillar of Native American cuisine has complicated roots in both Arizona and the Midwest. During the Long Walk in 1864, the displaced Navajo people were forced to subsist on government-provided rations including flour, sugar and lard, from which fry bread was conceived. While some indigenous chefs view the funnel cake-like foodstuff as a persistent emblem of oppression, others maintain it is a symbol of the population’s ingenuity and perseverance. Fry bread is a primary part of powwows and other ceremonial celebrations among the Lakota and Dakota Sioux tribes in South Dakota and is the main draw at this Tohono O’odham-run, James Beard Award-winning restaurant in Phoenix. Stop by for hand-stretched savory (topped with beans, beef and cheese) or sweet (loaded with honey, powdered sugar, cinnamon or chocolate) iterations.
Fun Fact: Fry bread was designated as the official state bread of South Dakota in 2005.
Nashville Hot Chicken
Monroe’s Hot Chicken
Two Valley locations, monroeshotchicken.com
The apotheosis of Nashville hot chicken can be found in its birthplace: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (in Nashville, of course), where – as the story goes – the incendiary bird was invented by restaurateur Thornton Prince’s angry wife out of revenge for his philandering. Here in Phoenix, local chicken-and-waffle king Larry (Lo-Lo) White makes the city’s crispiest, best facsimile, seriously spicy at level three, blistering at level five. Nashville’s original comes with white bread and pickles, but Monroe’s puts it in a brioche bun with slaw, pickles and kick-it-up sauce, which adds another layer of heat. Alternate: Crazi’s Hot Chicken (crazishotchicken.com), which operates from a ghost kitchen. Great lip-stinging flavor on the bird, but it lacks the craggy crunch factor that gave Monroe’s the edge.
Fun Fact: Tennessee is also famous for its Memphis-style barbecue, which involves pork (never beef) given a dry rub of up to 40 different spices and slow-cooked in a pit.
Chicken Fried Steak
6003 N. 16th St., Phoenix
An influx of German immigrants to Texas in the 1800s likely led to the creation of chicken fried steak, which fattens up Austro-German schnitzel with the rib-sticking touches of cowboy cookin’: peppery cream gravy and mashed potatoes. There’s no better place in the Valley for CFS than TEXAZ, founded in 1985 by Texas transplant Steve Freidkin. Hundreds of thousands of crispy, juicy fried cube steaks and nearly four decades later, ownership has changed (full disclosure: PHOENIX editor Craig Outhier is part owner), but the neon Shiner Bock signs and Texas license plates are still on the walls, and the servers still call you “hon.” Don’t skip dessert – there’s nothing like a slice of pecan pie with a scoop of Blue Bell to make you feel like you’re in the Lone Star State.
Fun Fact: Brisket, queso, kolaches and sheet cake are also Texas classics.
Danzeisen Dairy Creamery Store
6024 W. Southern Ave., Laveen
In a state where roughly 61 percent of the population belongs to the booze-, drugs- and caffeine-eschewing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s no surprise that sugar is the dominant vice. Utah is home to droves of drive-thru soda chains, ice cream shops and old-fashioned drive-ins – like Salt Lake City’s iconic Iceberg Drive Inn – famed for milkshakes so thick they require spoons. Laveen’s longtime dairy-farming Danzeisen clan has a similar throwback vibe, with its signature glass milk bottles and family-run creamery store, where you can get ice cream and mega-thick milkshakes made with its cows’ milk. A wholesome, family-focused business? Sounds Utahn to us.
Fun Fact: Funeral potatoes, the Mormon potluck classic, are another signature Utah food. Get a taste of this cheesy casserole with Jo’s Church Potatoes at Windsor (windsoraz.com).
Two Valley locations, piefectionaz.com
We tried to find a maple-syrup-driven dish in Phoenix – we really did! – but in every case, maple syrup played second fiddle to pancakes, waffles and fried chicken. Since Vermont orchards grow more than 150 varieties of apples, it makes sense that apple pie is the state food. In fact, Vermonters are so serious about their pie that in 1999, the state legislature passed an act stating that people who serve apple pie must make a “good-faith effort” to serve the toothsome treat with ice cream, a glass of cold milk or a slice of cheddar cheese. For a sliver of Vermont, head over to PIEfection to pick up a country apple pie brimming with tart Granny Smith apples bathed in cinnamon and sugar and bound by a well-crafted crust. It has a heart cutout on top, so you know it’s made with love.
Fun Fact: Vermont produces about 40 million pounds of apples each year.
Macaroni & Cheese
Two Valley locations, luxcoffee.com
This classic comfort food has been an unfussy standby for centuries. But before it became a quintessential Thanksgiving side or acclaimed microwave meal, it was a fancy European food enjoyed by aristocrats. Thomas Jefferson is largely credited for bringing it stateside after he encountered the dish in Italy in the late 1780s. But it was Jeffersons’ enslaved chef, James Hemings, who perfected the recipe and brought it to the masses after serving it at a state dinner at Monticello in 1802. From the Old Dominion to dining tables across the country, few dishes are more ubiquitous. Local coffee chain Lux serves a decadent baked version dappled with jalapeños, bacon and other discretionary embellishments
Fun Fact: Norfolk, Virginia, is home to an annual macaroni and cheese festival serving more than 40 different variations.
Buck & Rider
Two (and soon three) locations, buckandrider.com
Washington state, the largest producer of cultivated oysters in the country, produces creamy-textured bivalves whose complex flavors reflect the bodies of water (or meroir – aquatic terroir) in which they’re grown. Buck & Rider offers six East and West Coast oyster varieties every day, and it’s not uncommon to find as many as three from Washington, given B&R’s close relationship with a small oyster farmer in Hood Canal, who has named one variety Buck & Rider after his client. Flown in six days a week without a middleman, they’re so fresh and tasty they need no adornment save their own liquor, but a drop of soy-based Thai chile sauce, amped up with serranos, is an umami wallop you shouldn’t miss.
Fun Fact: Kumamotos, which arrived in WA in 1947, were a hard sell for a generation who’d just fought a war with Japan, but these tasty little oysters (great for beginners) caught on in the late ’80s for their subtle salinity and creamy sweetness.
Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill
6070 W. Bell Rd., Glendale
Known as “pepperoni balls” in nearby western Pennsylvania, these greasy, garlicky treasures are said to have originated in West Virginia, possibly as a portable snack for miners, à la the Cornish pasty. If so, they offer support to John Denver’s assertion that the place is almost heaven. The classic version fully encloses the pepperoni in dough, so that your mouth gets a scalding blast of hot air when you bite it open. “Pepperoni bites,” the Tailgaters take, are open on the ends; essentially, they’re a sliced pepperoni calzone. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re not a miner.
Fun Fact: Unlike “possum pie” in Arkansas, West Virginia rat stew is truly made from the meat of rats – trapped, not poisoned.
McKenzie’s Midtown Tavern
4531 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
We love a good hunk of Gouda or Gruyère just as much as the next cheesehead, but cheese curds are best eaten before they’ve even aged a day. Created in the early stages of the cheesemaking process – when the milk is heated, pasteurized and combined with a culture to begin the curdling process, these bite-size morsels can be eaten plain or battered and deep-fried. Milwaukee meets Midtown Phoenix at McKenzie’s, a cozy sports bar that serves a fried version, allowing the white cheddar to melt while still maintaining its springy texture. Wash each bite down with a Miller High Life to make it a true trip to America’s Dairyland without leaving home.
Fun Fact: Cheese curds are often called “squeaky cheese” due to the sound they make when they encounter the tooth’s enamel.
White Bean Chicken Chili
7051 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale
Famed for its elk, lamb and trout – but few if any specific recipes that have gripped America by its collective shirt collar – The Cowboy State is also one of America’s leading producers of navy beans, or “white beans” in the common parlance. Pay homage to that agro-industrial piece of trivia at The Herb Box, where you’ll enjoy a warming bowl of white bean chicken chili studded with green peppers – Hatch or Anaheims, if we had to guess – and drizzled with cilantro crema. Refined enough for the Scottsdale crowd, hearty enough for Wyoming.
Fun Fact: Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote (in 1869) and the first to have a female governor (Nellie Tayloe Ross, who finished her late husband’s term from 1925 to 1927).