New York is a legendary pizza town. New Orleans has some serious sandwich credibility (po' boys and muffulettas). Check and check. But when searching for the best bites all over the country this year, we found some surprises—mind-blowingly tasty foods thriving in regions we didn't really expect at first. Breakfast pastries in Salt Lake City, hot dogs in Tuscon, and more.
Seattle and its Amazing Sandwiches
We spent a good six months criss-crossing the country in search of sandwiches, but few compared to what we ate in Seattle. We expected deliciousness at Salumi (309 3rd Avenue South, map), and weren't disappointed. With both hot and cold sandwiches, most served on bread from Macrina Bakery, it's hard to order wrong; we fell in love with a prosciutto, goat cheese, and fig sandwich—the prosciutto soft and tender, the cheese impossibly creamy, and the fig barely sweet but pungent enough to touch every bite.
Even better was the roast pork sandwich at Caribbean joint Paseo (4225 Fremont Ave N, map): marinated slow-roasted pork, a little sloppy, a little sweet, joins thick rings of caramelized onions on a chewy Macrina Bakery roll, spread with a punchy garlicky spread. (We not only went back the next day for seconds, but went back a third time to cart a roast pork sandwich back to New York.)
And while we'd already thought Tom Douglas's Dahlia Bakery (2030 5th Avenue, map) one of the best breakfast sandwich spots in the nation, a breakfast wonderland where brown sugar sausage patties and English muffins are made from scratch, we found it outdone by his new Seatown Snack Bar (2010 Western Ave, map)—with nearly a dozen breakfast creations. Best of all were one with sablefish and cream cheese and one called The Three Little Pigs (porchetta, premium Kassler ham, and whipped lardo—that’d be pure pork fat.)
The Burgers of Detroit
New York may have the most variety and L.A. may have the best chains (hello, In-N-Out!), but Detroit's got it where it counts, namely cheap, no-frills, extraordinarily delicious classic burgers. Miller's Bar—perhaps the epitome of a no-frills establishment—serves its hefty well-seasoned and juicy burgers on a slip of wax paper (no plate!), while the mini chain Telway uses a unique, under-the-towel approach to steaming, charging an impressively inexpensive 65¢ a burger. Nearly every street has a Coney shop, where besides the signature dogs, you can get a burger topped with the beef heart–based Coney sauce (that's chili to the rest of the world).
The burger we recently had at Motz's was extraordinary. Soft, gooey, well-seasoned, and light with an intense aroma of sweet caramelized onions, it's everything a slider should be.
Boston's Sichuan Food
The majority of Chinese food in America stems from Americanized versions of Cantonese cuisine, due to the huge number of immigrants from Guangdong in the 19th and early 20th century. Boston, on the other hand, seems to have an unusually high concentration of immigrants from Sichuan, a province in Southwestern China famous for its fiery dishes that makes copious use of dried chilies, chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorn—a mouth-numbing berry with a piney, camphorous aroma. Within the limits of the T, you'll find fantastic spots like New Shanghai in Chinatown or Zoe's in Cambridge, but head out into the suburbs for the no-holds-barred real deal. Chilli Garden in Medford's Aromatic Pork Ribs with Bamboo Shoots is excellent, and FuLoon in Malden makes the best Ma-Po Tofu we've had anywhere—surely the dish by which all Sichuan restaurants should be judged.
The Oxtail and Tripe with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette from Sichuan Garden II (Serious Eats review) in Brookline is perhaps our favorite appetizer in Boston. Spicy toasty, complex, and surprisingly refreshing.
Austin, Texas Has Street Food That's Not Just Taco Trucks
Of course you should eat from one of the umpteen awesome taco trucks, but there are many other nontaco treats on the streets, really good ones, too. Like chocolate-dipped frozen bananas from Bananarchy (600 S. Lamar Blvd.; map), a banana stand inspired by the one in the TV series Arrested Development. They even have one called "Gob" coated in crushed peanuts, named after Will Arnett's character on the show. For sustainable/local small plates from a trailer—like soft boiled duck egg with grits and mushrooms, and whatever else is fresh that day—try Odd Duck Farm to Trailer (1219 S. Lamar; map). Right across from them is another trailer frying doughnuts to order. Gourdough's eclectic menu includes Son of a Peach (peach filling, cinnamon, sugar, topped with cake mix topping).
But one thing we can't really stop thinking about are the beet fries from East Side King pictured here (1401 B Rosewood Ave.; map). The brightly-painted cart, nestled in the backyard of an East Austin dive bar was launched by chefs from one of the city's much raved-about contemporary Japanese restaurant Uchi. Even lifelong beets naysayers might change their mind after trying these beet cubes, which have a thin fried shell and roasted creamy center. It's total beet candy.
San Francisco's Ice Cream Scene
While the salted caramel and honey lavender flavors of Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th Street, map) are old news to San Franciscans, this year brought even more notable ice cream shops. Like the sophisticated but accessible Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (699 22nd Street, map), their flavors incredibly full and focused (a deep and slightly salty caramel with an extra caramel swirl; the "Ballpark," with Anchor Beer, peanuts, and chocolate pretzels). In almost any other city, it'd be the best scoop in town—but when you've got the likes of Bi-Rite and Humphrey Slocombe (2790 Harrison Street, map), whose improbable flavors (balsamic strawberry, salt-and-pepper) manage to be as delicious as the comparatively normal ones (bourbon-cornflake, Vietnamese coffee)—well, it's tough competition, and those three are just the start of it.
Salt Lake City's Breakfast Pastries
Over the 12 hours we spent eating at 22 restaurants in Salt Lake City—yes, 22 restaurants was too many—the best bites we ate were breakfast confections. There were the ethereally light and thin-skinned classic doughnuts (we'd recommend the cinnamon) at Banbury Cross (705 S 700 E, map) and the fine morning buns and pain au chocolat at Tulie Bakery (863 East 700 South, map).
But best of all, and pictured above, was the locally famous kouign-amman from Les Madeleines (216 E 500 S, map). So popular the bakery imposes a limit of six per person without advance order. Absurdly buttery, flaky dough is layered into a spiky, muffin-sized package, a maze of caramelized edges cloaking a soft interior and wells of butter and sweet, gooey pockets within.
Portland, Oregon's Really Good Pizza
Food lovers who know anything about Portland, Oregon, may first think of the city's renowned food-cart scene. Or its way with the microbrewed beers. Or its rising coffee-roasting culture. All thriving. Add to that a killer artisanal pizza moment.
You may already know about Apizza Scholls and about Ken's Artisan Pizza, but in addition to those old-guard new-wave pizza joints, there are four or five pizza carts making pizza from scratch on board, and the list of pizzerias making pizza nerds happy seems to grow by the week, including Portobello (specializing in vegan pizza), La Pizza Perla, Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, Gladstone Coffee & Pizza, and Firehouse.
What a city. Where else can you pair such a wide variety of great small-batch beer with an emergent crop of some fine, fine crusty, saucy, cheesy stuff?
Tucson, Arizona's Sonoran Hot Dogs
If you're not a hot dog maniac or a Tusconan, you could be excused for living to your age without having heard of the awesomeness that is the Sonoran dog. Wrapped in bacon then griddled then nestled into a bready conveyance that's equal parts bolillo and hot dog bun, the Sonoran dog is then topped with a cavalcade of STUFF. Beans? Check. Chopped tomatoes and onions? Check. Mayo, mustard, and salsa verde? Si, si, and si.
Food historian John T. Edge reports that there are more than a hundred hotdogueros working Sonoran dog carts throughout Tucson, with a couple, like BK's and El Güero Canelo having morphed into full-blown restaurants.
Earlier this year, SE's Adam Kuban had the opportunity to visit Tucson and brought back this photo of the wares at Aqui con el Nene, a rising-star Sonoran dog stand on the corner of West Wetmore and Flowing Wells roads in northwest Tucson. While he does not claim to be a Sonoran dog expert, he did say he liked it more than BKs or El Güeros. But, really, he says, you almost can't go wrong with any of these studies in excess.