9 Stand-Out Meatballs Across the Country

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Erin Jackson

We're all about meatballs this week, because we believe a truly great meatball is something worth traveling for—especially if it's already in the city you call home. We asked contributors, chefs, and food writers around the country to tell us about their favorite meatball dishes. From gooey meatball subs to Swedish, Greek, and Chinese varieties, here's what they had to say.

Baltimore: Meatball Appetizer at Birroteca

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People flock to Birroteca, a converted 19th-century mill in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore for its handmade pasta and pizza topped with seasonal ingredients. But the real showstopper here is the meatball appetizer. Made with a 80/20 mixture of ground chuck and pork, they're combined with a ciabatta bread that hardens overnight before it's crumbled and added to the remaining mixture of meat, onions, garlic, crushed red peppers, and other seasonings. Browned and then cooked to order in a thick red sauce with snappy San Marzano tomatoes, the meatballs are on the firm end of fork-tender. The dish is served with a fluffy house-made ricotta and sprinkled with fresh Parmesan. Still craving a pizza or pasta? Good thing you can order either one topped with those same delicious meatballs. Jess Mayhugh

Birroteca

1520 Clipper Road, Baltimore, MD 21211

map 443-708-1934 Website

Minneapolis: Swedish Meatballs at Fika

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Photograph via Fikacafe.net

Since Minneapolis is the land of the Swedes, I can't help but think of Fika, the cafe inside the American Swedish Institute (a totally only-in-Minneapolis cultural institution). There, chef John Krattenmaker captures the essence of the meatballs that everyone with a last name ending in 'son' or 'sen' would instantly recognize as their grandmother's handiwork, yet dresses them in ways that make them feel modern. Krattenmaker works wonders with the juniper-spiced meatballs—a combination of pork, veal, and beef—which are partnered with the essential complementary flavors of lingonberry and mustard. Rick Nelson

Fika

American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55407

map 612-871-4907 Website

New Orleans: Spaghetti and Meatballs at Mosca's

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Eric Leath

I've tried some innovative head-turning meatballs in New Orleans recently, but the city has a rich Creole Italian tradition, and the old-school versions just can't be beat. What defines them for me are the ones served family-style over spaghetti at Mosca's on the West Bank. Every plate comes out steaming hot spaghetti topped with two large meatballs and lots of red gravy (the local lingo for tomato sauce). The large, springy meatballs have intense flavors of garlic and herbs with a warm peppery heat. As for the gravy? The thick sauce clings to al dente pasta and carries the deep, rich undertones of homemade stock, some slight acidity from the tomatoes, and very little sweetness. It's immensely satisfying comfort food, with enough bold flavor to just leave the granulated cheese in the shaker. Eric Leath

Mosca's

4137 U.S. 90, Avondale, LA 70094

map 504-436-8950 Website

New York: Greens-Smothered Meatballs at La Vie en Szechuan

Max Falkowitz

Sorry, red sauce meatballs of New York, but my heart belongs the curiously named "pork meatballs in vegetable soup" at La Vie en Szechuan. These suckers are huge, a good six to eight ounces each, but spoon-tender like the best meatloaf. Despite the green gravy on top, they taste pretty straightforward and comforting—a little onion and mild pork, but thoroughly seasoned. That green stuff is lightly preserved mustard greens, blanched to remove their pungency and finely chopped, with little red swabs of floral osmanthus blossoms. The net effect is a gentle bright green note to cut through all the pork. These may be some oversized balls, but they're cooked with subtlety and care. Max Falkowitz

Philadelphia: Keftedes at Kanella

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Drew Lazor

It's not the veal-and-pork base of Kanella's keftedes that separate these balls from the pack—it's the Cypriot touches on the inside that count. Trusting his grandmother's recipe, Konstantinos Pitsillides doesn't overcomplicate the process. Fresh breadcrumbs and grated potato lend a little heft; grated onion, herbs and the namesake spice of cinnamon keep things light. The chef's fond of frying them, then serving with grilled pita and accompaniment like pickles, tzatziki and Syrian olives. Drew Lazor

Kanella

1001 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

map 215-922-1773 Website

Portland: The Meatball Parmigiano Hero at Bunk Sandwiches

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Photo via Bunk Sandwiches Instagram

The Meatball Parmigiano Hero at Bunk Sandwiches is really, truly a case of co-owner-and-chef Tommy Habetz trying to recreate the perfect meatball heroes of his growing-up days in Connecticut and New York. According to Tommy: "the meatballs are my version of the classic Brookyln Nonna style. I basically employed every trick I knew to recreate those perfect, tender, flavorful meatballs." The key to this saucy sandwich, served with marinara sauce and a melted aged mozzarella, is breadcrumbs soaked in milk and a little bit of anchovy for umami. House-pickled spicy red peppers add a Portland touch that for some may be optional, but in my book is totally necessary. It's a sandwich that takes me back to my East Coast youth, and I've been lining up for 'em ever since Bunk opened its very first sandwich shop. Ken Forkish

Bunk Sandwiches

Multiple locations

Website

San Diego: Lamb Meatballs at Stella Public House

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Erin Jackson

It's all about the lamb meatballs at Stella Public House. Chef Giovanni Novella uses his Italian grandma's time-honored recipe, which actually calls for a blend of lamb with beef and pork mixed in for extra flavor and fat (along with milk-soaked bread to keep them extra moist). They're just about perfect topped with vibrant tomato sauce made from organic Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, but you'll want to ask for bread to soak up the extra sauce—it's baked in the pizza oven and comes complimentary. Erin Jackson

Stella Public House

1429 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

map 619-234-0808 Website

San Francisco: The Meatball Sub at Merigan

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Lauren Sloss

Take the pizza shop meatball sub memory imprinted on your brain and improve each and every element. That, in essence, is the magic behind Merigan Sub Shop's Meatball Sandwich. The bread, fresh baked and dotted with sesame seeds, is toasted just enough to achieve a crisp, sturdy exterior, but gives way to the soft, delicately flavored roll within. The tomato sauce, brightly acidic and generously salted, soaks into every bite. The mozzarella is a milky, stretchy wonder, particularly in combination with rich, deeply salty provolone. Fresh basil leaves lend a punch of vegetal freshness, while accentuating the nuanced flavors in both the sauce and meatballs. The meatballs themselves evoke the dense, moist richness of their breadcrumb-heavy brethren, but the flavor and texture is all meat (a blend of beef and pork) punctuated with hints of rosemary. The sandwich can easily feed two, but trust me, you won't want to share with anyone. Lauren Sloss

Merigan

636 2nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

map 415-536-2991 Website

Seattle: Meatball Sandwich at Salumi Artisan Meats

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Naomi Tomky

If you think Mario Batali knows Italian food, you should taste his grandma's meatballs. And you can—at Salumi Artisan Meats in Seattle. There, Mario's sister Gina and her husband now run the family sandwich shop. Leonetta's meatballs (that's nonna's recipe, passed down through the generations), transform braised, shredded pork neck into traditional plum-sized balls of pork. As they simmer in tomato sauce, they impart as much of their meatiness to the sauce as you'll find in the meatballs themselves. They're best served with provolone cheese, peppers, and onions in a sandwich--since the now sticky-with-pork sauce bathes every element. But if you've got your eye on another sandwich in the shop (they were offering a spaghetti carbonara sandwich on a recent afternoon), you can get a solo meatball in sauce on the side for $2.50. Naomi Tomky

Salumi Artisan Meats

309 3rd Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98104

map 206-621-8772 Website