Hot Doug's (Chicago)
Hot Doug's, the self-described encased meats emporium and sausage superstore, will likely have a line snaking down the block when you arrive, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when Doug Sohn serves his duck fat fries. Why? Because these are some of the best, if not the best, hot dogs you'll ever eat. The Foie Gras Dog, for example, has creamy chunks of foie gras strewn on top. It's actually a well thought-out and constructed (and obscenely rich) dish that happens to be in hot dog form. Then you have the regular Chicago dogs, which are really good Chicago hot dogs augmented by caramelized onions. And the duck fat fries? Sublime. Plus you'll see Doug behind the counter taking orders.
Hot Doug's: 3324 N. California Avenue, Chicago IL 60618 (map); 773-279-9550
Shake Shack (NYC)
We've written about Shake Shack perhaps more than any other destination in New York. If you're a burger enthusiast, you really can't leave the city without at least one ShackBurger. It comes with a single American-cheesed patty, two slices of Roma tomato, a single piece of green leaf lettuce, and a few squirts of their not-so-secret ShackSauce (the secret ingredient = pickles) all on a buttered and toasted Martin's Potato Roll. Unlike large, grilled burgers which can dry out, a thin griddled ShackBurger manages to maintain a good deal of juiciness with a browned crust.
Leon's or Kopp's Frozen Custard (Milwaukee)
Frozen custard is thicker and smoother than ice cream due to the higher percentages of eggs and cream. A Milwaukee rivalry has developed over the years between Kopp's and Leon's. We say, why choose? The frozen custards are made in large machines that kind of resemble soft serve machines, except the custard drips slowly. You can get cups or sundaes, milkshakes or malts.
Leon's Frozen Custard: 3131 South 27th Street, MIlwaukee, WI 53215 (map); 414-383-1784
Kopp's Frozen Custard: 5373 North Port Washington Road, Milwaukee, WI 53217 (map); 414-961-2006
Peter Luger (Brooklyn, NY)
While the steakhouse genre long ago descended in to self-parody, Peter Luger retains a level of authenticity—by virtue of the fact that it is their menu that almost everyone else is mimicking. That steak for two, sputtering and sizzling angrily as it is paraded through the dining room, was popularized, if not created, at Peter Luger. While others may have been doing it as long or even longer—Keens and The Old Homestead, for example—Luger remains the steakhouse by which other are judged.
Peter Luger Steak House 178 Broadway Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map); 718-387-7400
Cafe du Monde (New Orleans)
Down in the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde gets all the beignet tourists (ourselves included). Sit under the huge enclosed patio for seconds-old beignets. They hit your table, finger-burning hot, with crisp shells and soft, doughy interiors. They're best washed down with a chicory-laced cafe au lait.
Neptune Oyster Bar (Boston)
Boston's North End is full of tourist traps, but don't write off the entire neighborhood (even if you can write off about 90% of it). We'll happily point you toward Neptune Oyster Bar, which has been proclaimed the New England favorite by plenty of national and local publications. It will also cost you $25 for a lobster roll (lobster roll prices multiplied by touristy place prices) but if you're willing to pay that much, it's a serious one. They do a hot lobster roll with butter (pictured) and a cold one with mayo. Either way, it's fork-requie such an overflow of perfectly-cooked, buttery lobster, the fork is required. Also, the fries are awesome.
Neptune Oyster: 63 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113 (map); 617-742-3474
Tartine (San Francisco)
We're not the first to write about San Francisco's Tartine. We're probably not the five-hundredth to write about it. But Tartine deserves all the praise that's heaped upon it, even when that results in a 30-minute line. For a takeout counter. Mid-morning on a Wednesday. Tartine's French-style pastries, though enormous, are exquisite. Flaky, perfectly bronzed, and however mammoth, a nearly perfect pastry. They're probably best known for their morning bun: soft and exquisitely buttery dough woven with cinnamon and orange, coated in sugar, and nearly always warm from the oven. But we also love the double pain au chocolat, with its double barrel of dark, almost spicy, melted chocolate. The messiest breakfast imaginable, but worth every flake and chocolatey drip.
Tartine Bakery: 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 (map); 415-487-2600
Puka Dog (Hawaii)
The Puka Dog is the culmination of 60 years of island hot dog evolution. Puka means "hole" in Hawaiian. Special loaves are baked on a custom contraption which creates a perfect tunnel for the Polish sausages, which are grilled and jammed into the hole. Puka dogs are dressed with any combination of secret sauces, tropical mustards, and fruit relish (think habanero, lemon, mango, coconut, papaya, guava, and so on). The standard condiment is a lemon garlic sauce similar to aioli.
Al's #1 Italian Beef (Chicago)
Though there are many other worthy competitors, none look, feel, or taste like this one. No one else's Italian beef is so thinly sliced, haunted with as many spices (rumored to be clove and/or nutmeg), or served with a jus with such a strong beefy presence. And, of course, if you're eating one of these amazing sandwiches in-house, you're absolutely standing up. This 72-year-old shrine of Chicago still doesn't have a single table or seat, unless you plan to eat it outside on the picnic table in January. Why no seats? Well, certainly it's safer to eat standing up. The Italian beef is a notoriously messy sandwich. You can choose your own level of mess. Sane people might get the sandwich "wet," which means you'd like some of the roasting juices from the beef to wet the inside of the bun. But the real way to go is "dipped." The whole sandwich gets dunked in a bath of pure beefy goodness. The sandwich toppings are all about accentuating the beef. You can get it "sweet" which is a layer of roasted bell peppers. Some people like it "hot," which is giardiniera made up of crunchy vegetables, lacquered in oil, and spiked with red pepper flakes.
Al's #1 Italian Beef: 1079 W. Taylor Street, Chicago IL 60607(map); 312-226-4017
Langer's Deli (Los Angeles)
The pastrami from James Beard Award-winning Langer's Deli may well be the best pastrami sandwich you ever eat. But that depends, of course, on if you have diehard East Coast Pastrami loyalties. The meat is thick cut, juicy, and has just the right amount of fat. Compared to the legendary Katz's in NYC, the meat is spicier and a bit more peppery. It's served on very flavorful rye bread that's double-baked to ensure crispiness and that special chew.
Langer's Delicatessen:704 South Alvarado, Los Angeles CA 90057(map); 213-483-8050
No serious eating in Cincinnati is realized without hand-crafted ice cream. Just remember three words when walking into the multi-award-winning Graeter's. Black raspberry chip.
Graeter's: Multiple locations, graeters.com
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (Nashville)
It's not really a question of what you're going to order at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (the chicken, obviously)—it's how you will order it. Mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. Each order comes covered with two slices of white bread (Wonder Bread style) and pickle coins, both of which you'll pick at between mouth-burning bites.
Can you tell the difference between the different chicken spicy levels just by looking at them? The darker red, the hotter. But to play it safe, they bag the "Hot" orders separately, clearly marking the bags. As fiery as this chicken is, and as handicapped as your tongue will feel after attemping a bite, you can still tell tht it's always fall-off-the-bone tender.
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack: 123 Ewing Drive, Nashville, TN (map); 615-226-9442
Of all burger chains, In-N-Out Burger—founded in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948—has one of the most devout, cultish of followings. They're famous for serving never-frozen, well-balanced, tangy Special-sauced creations. And they're equally famous for what's not on the menu. (See secret menu survival guide.)
In-N-Out: Various locations
Pike Place Market (Seattle)
Pike Place Market: Pike Street, Seattle, WA (map)
Arthur Bryant's (Kansas City, MO)
It's considered a Kansas City barbecue legend and you'll believe it when you see the line of tourists, families, and neighborhood regulars stretching to the door well before noon. The set-up is in a no-frills, cafeteria-style space bathed in harsh fluorescent lighting. Kansas City barbecue is all about the sauce—typically a sweet house sauce and a spicier version—but they're also famous for burnt ends, the crispy scraps and trimmings from a beef brisket. Not to be confused with bark, another barbecue delicacy, the burnt ends can be tough and a little chewy in spots, but are so infused with smoky flavor and they practically melt in your mouth.
Arthur Bryant's: 1727 Brooklyn Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64127 (map); 816-231-1123
Even the shortest visit to the Steel City will teach you that Pittsburgh pride runs deep—starting with the Steelers, and ending with the sandwich. The Primanti Bros. sandwich, that is. Every Primanti's sandwich begins with an inch-plus foundation of soft Italian bread. Moving from the ground up, it's piled with your meat and cheese (or eggs, or sardines) of choice, hot fries (a very crucial layer), slaw, tomatoes, and a second bread slice that somehow balances on top.
Primanti's (original location): 46 18th Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222 (map); 412-263-2142
Layfayette Coney Island (Detroit)
A true Detroit Coney starts with a grilled, natural casing, beef-and-pork "Vienna"—sort of a hybrid between a milder German wiener and a Chicago-style all-beef dog. It's slightly spicy, reddish-pink, just a bit longer than the bun, and blanketed with mustard, diced onions, and so much Coney sauce that it needs to be served on a plate with a knife and fork. Along with the awesome frankfurter, the coney sauce is what really vaults the Detroit Coney far above the competition. It's a rich, deep, yet mildly spiced and intensely meaty sauce—made with things like beef hearts and kidneys, and maybe even ground up hot dogs or cracker meal. Whatever the ingredients, it's the best hot-dog-sauce style "chili" I've ever tasted. Lafayette Coney Island gets it all right. And then some.
Lafayette Coney Island: 118 West Lafayette, Detriot, MI 48226 (map); 313-964-8198
Katz's Delicatessen (NYC)
New Yorkers return to Katz's over and over again to feel that great only-in-New-York energy that emanates from every neon sign in the joint, and, oh yes, that incredible pastrami in all its forms.
Katz's Delicatessen: 205 E. Houston Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-254-2246
Kruez's Market (Lockhart, TX)
Texans make some serious barbecue. If you love barbecue like we do and have access to a car, we highly recommend you drive about 30 minutes south of Austin to Lockhart for some serious barbecue at Kreuz's or Smitty's. Texas barbecue comes in two styles: with or without sauce. Brisket, sausage, and beef ribs are the cuts of choice. Kreuz Market was founded in 1900 by Charles Kreuz as a butcher's shop and market. Over the years, it evolved into a barbecue joint. Barbecue and sausage are served in the Texas tradition with onion, avocado, tomato, pickles and cheese, served on brown paper and accompanied by your choice of bread or crackers and a plastic knife.
Kruez's Market: 19 N. Colorado Street, Lockhart, TX (map); 512-398-9344
Pink's Hot Dogs (Los Angeles)
The lines are long and slow-moving at Pink's but that just gives you time to read the menu, full of dog permutations named for various stars (Ozzy Osbourne and David Hasselhoff among them), who have visited this Hollywood institution, founded in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink. The signature 10-inch stretch chili dog is a snappy natural-casing Hoffy brand dog steamed, then grilled, then topped with Betty Pink's meaty chili, mustard, and raw onions.
Pink's Hot Dogs: 709 N. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA (map); 323-931-4223
Ferry Plaza (San Francisco)
Where to even begin.. Seven days a week it's an eater's paradise inside the Ferry Building: 4505 Meats for a breakfast sandwich with maple sausage and Gruyere, Blue Bottle for New Orleans-style iced coffee, Acme for a crusty, sweet baguette.. But then on Saturday, it's especially fantastic. Every side of the enormous building is lined with stands: avocado farmers, fish-smokers (pictured here are the open-faced sandwiches from Cap'n Mike's), cheesemakers, butchers, jam-mers, and produce of all sorts.
Ferry Plaza: 1 Ferry Building, Suite 260 Ferry Bldg Marketplace, San Francisco, CA 94111 (map); 415-291-3276
Zingerman's Delicatessen (Ann Arbor, MI)
No matter what owners Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig get their hands into, things tend to blow up (culinarily speaking). They run a successful deli and gourmet carryout store, a coffeehouse, a coffee roaster, a slightly upscale roadhouse, a bread-baking operation, a creamery, a catering operation, and even a staff-training consultancy, all based in Ann Arbor. The crown jewel of their empire is the Zingerman's gourmet deli. Few others do such a solid, hand-cut pastrami sandwich, especially in this part of the country.
Zingerman's Delicatessen: 422 Detroit Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (map); 734-633-3354
Frank Pepe Pizzeria (New Haven, CT)
New Haven pizza; everyone has to experience it. While you can go to Sally's down the street, which is arguably better, the one from the more landmarky Pepe's is still a f*&king phenomenal pizza. Charred and smoky from the coal oven and charming with its haphazard cutting job, it's covered in gooey, greasy cheese that mingles with fat from the Lamberti's sausage. Huge charred bubbles pop up through the surface like miniature volcanic islands. Wash it down with a pitcher of Foxon Park birch beer. Sure, Pepe's has expanded to a few other locations, and some say that quality has gone down, but we're still fans.
Tomasita's (Santa Fe)
Just about every new Mexico guidebook will recommend Tomasita's, and we're all for it. Your order should obviously involve green chile, particularly if it's smothering enchiladas; we probably don't need to tell you to try the sopaipillas, as a basket of golden fried dough is pretty impossible to resist. Warm and comfortable, it's easy to feel at home even if you're an out of towner.
Tomasita's: 500 South Guadalupe Street Santa Fe, NM 87501 (map); 505-983-5721
Clam Box (Ipswich, MA)
Everyone rhapsodizes about the Clam Box, which can get a little old, but it's true that the clams are perfectly fried and to your level of fried-ness. Want them well-done and darker? They'll do it. Want them lighter to let the clam flavor dominate? That's allowed too. (How often do you get to special-order at a clam shack?) They use only the full-bellied Ipswich clams unless they're dealing with bad weather or really high demand, in which case they'll turn to Maine suppliers. Just beware of very long lines.
Clam Box: 246 High Street, Ipswich MA 09318 (map); 978-336-9707
Drago's (New Orleans)
The grilled oysters from Drago's are cooked until the bottoms of the shells are blackened with soot but the oyster meat stays tender and juicy. Parmesan, something you might not think you'd want on seafood, boosts the savory flavor of the oysters as the cheese browns and gets crusty on the rims of the shells. If you're anything like us, you'll gnaw on the oyster shell edges once the meat is gone and soak up all the precious buttery liquid with crisped french bread.
Drago's: 2 Poydras Street, New Orleans LA 70130 (map); 504-584-3911
Pamela's is one of those must-visit institutions of Pittsburgh (there's a framed photo of President Obama near the door from his visit during the 2008 campaign) but all the hype is deserved. Mostly because of the crazy crispy edges on their hotcakes. They're like the crusts of perfectly well-done latkes, all crackly, and you immediately fork-cut them off. The hotcakes are somewhere between a crepe and a pancake, with all the good qualities of each—slightly spongy and buttery to boot, with that brown lacey pancake design on the surface. But the best part of all are those crispy edges. They come two to a plate, all rolled up and burrito-sized, stuffed with fresh strawberry slices, brown sugar, and tangy sour cream. You can also get them with blueberries and sour cream, bananas and walnuts, or bananas and chocolate chips, but the strawberry was our favorite.
Pamela's: Multiple locations; check here
Ben's Chili Bowl (Washington D.C.)
Ben's Chili Bowl: 1213 U ST WV Washington D.C., DC (map); 202-667-0909
Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard (St. Louis)
The concrete is an ultra-thick interpretation of a milkshake, made with frozen custard (vanilla) and rounded out with optional mix-ins like nuts, candy, fruit, and other sundae-style fixings. These concretes are so thick that the servers make a show out of holding the them upside-down with the spoon suspended in the mix without any danger of it sliding out of the cup. The Dutchman—vanilla custard blended with butterscotch, chocolate, and pecans—was wobbly-knees good. (N.B. These were the original inspiration for the concretes sold at Shake Shack.)
Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard: 6726 Chippewa, St. Louis, MO, 63109 (map); 314-481-2652
4224 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63111 (map); 314-352-7376