10. Hot Chicken from Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Tennessee
There’s a lot of great regional food across Tennessee, but hot chicken is probably the most famous Nashville specialty. It’s fried chicken prepared with a cayenne pepper-spiced paste. Sounds easy enough to get right? And yet, even though you can find the item in restaurants all across the city, if you ask any local, they’ll tell you, “If it ain’t Prince’s, then it ain’t a hot chicken.” And, as you know, always listen to the locals.
9. Cheese Curds from the Old Fashioned in Madison, Wisconsin
Sometimes referred to as “squeaky cheese” because they squeak against your teeth when you chomp into them, cheese curds are the solid parts of soured milk. If you like cheese, and you don’t mind your food sounding like balloons having sex, then it’s worth trying these tasty little treats when you’re anywhere in the Midwest. They’re popular in throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, but the basket of deep fried deliciousness at the Old Fashioned in Madison are the Platonic cheese curd ideal.
8. Arizona Cheese Crisp from El Charro Cafe in Tucson, Arizona.
Another regional item for cheese-lovers, the Arizona cheese crisp is an open-faced, flour tortilla covered in cheese, and baked until crispy. Sort of like nachos and a quesadilla had a delicious, cheesy baby. The item was made famous by El Charro Cafe, but can be found in many places in Tucson and around the Southwest.
7. Carne Asada Fries from Lolita’s Taco Shop in San Diego, California
Originating in Lolita’s Taco Shop in San Diego, carne asada fries can now be found in taquerias throughout California and the Southwest. If you wish your Mexican food included more french fries, or if you wish your french fries were more Mexican, here’s your ideal food fusion. This nap-inducing unholy concoction typically features a mound of french fries topped with carne asada, guacamole, sour cream, and cheese, and in some iterations, salsa and beans.
6. The Jucy Lucy / Juicy Lucy from Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Somedays nothing sounds better than a juicy cheeseburger, right? Now imagine if the cheese was inside the burger patty instead of on top of it, making the meat burst with piping hot melted cheesy goodness. That’s a Jucy Lucy, and let me tell you, it’s absolutely delicious. Two bars on the same street in Minneapolis both claim to have invented the tasty cheeseburger variant, and they even argue over the spelling (Matt’s Bar doesn’t include the “i” in “Juicy,” while the 5-8 Club does). In the end, who cares how it’s spelled and who cares where you get it from, just try one before you die. It’s the cheeseburger dreams are made of.
5. Beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, Louisiana
Perhaps the country’s most legendary food city, New Orleans is known for all sorts of great delicacies from a variety of cultures. While you should definitely have some po-boys, some gumbo, and a muffaletta (and yes, plenty of Sazeracs) while you’re in the Big Easy, for our money the beignets are the one not to miss. There’s just something about them in New Orleans that can’t be replicated elsewhere. These deep-fried pillows of magic dusted with powdered sugar are the ultimate cure for your sweet tooth any time of the day. Best enjoyed with a cup of the classic chicory coffee, these bad boys are great morning, noon, or night. Don’t settle for beignets anywhere but the historic 24-hour Cafe Du Monde. (Pro Tip: When you’re heading back to your hotel drunk from an evening on Bourbon Street, this is the perfect late-night snack stop.)
4. Frito Pie from Five & Dime General Store in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Frito pies are a staple throughout the South and Southwest, but here at the Five & Dime in Santa Fe, there’s nothing better. Served in an actual Frito bag, Five & Dime isn’t going for classy, it’s going for tasty, and damn it sure is. There’s just something about crisp, salty corn chips and a spicy meaty chili that go together like One Direction and tweens. As you eat, you suddenly figure out how Val Kilmer, who lives in Santa Fe, gained so much weight over the last decade. Ten years of Frito pies’ll do that to ya, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to have it just this once. Or twice.
3. Chicken & Waffles from Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, California
When most people think “soul food,” they think of the South, or even Harlem, New York. But anyone who knows chicken and waffles knows that the best chicken and waffles in all the lands can be found in, of all places, Los Angeles. The now legendary institution, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, has been serving it up hot and fresh (and late at night) since 1975. Founded by a Harlem transplant Herb Hudson, Roscoe’s was made famous by its Hollywood celebrity clientele, down-home service, and classic soul food combos. Trust us, nothing will feed your soul better than Roscoe’s. Pass the syrup.
2. Philly Cheesesteaks from Tony Luke’s
You’ve probably had a Philly cheesesteak in your life, but you haven’t had one until you’ve had one in Philadelphia, especially one with good ole Cheez Whiz (known in Philly as “Whiz ‘Wit if you include onions). As you may have noticed, our go-to isn’t Pat’s or Genos, the two most widely-known (and most overrated) spots. For our money we prefer to go where actual Philly-loving locals go, Tony Luke’s. Obviously the cheesesteaks are phenomenal but don’t sleep on the equally amazing roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe.
1. The Hot Brown from the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky
Known for The Derby and bourbon, Louisville is also home to one of the most absurdly delicious food mashups in the country, the Hot Brown. Originally served at the Brown Hotel (hence the name), it’s an open-faced sandwich, served piping hot in a skillet, with fresh, sliced turkey, tomatoes, and thick-cut bacon, and then doused in delicious, cheesy Mornay sauce. Chalk it up as just one more reason to experience all the awesomeness that is Lou-vulle.