Every city has one. Not just a restaurant that all the locals say you have to try, but a particular dish at that restaurant that is, they say, the perfect bite. Come along on the search with us, and make sure to bring your appetite!
Key West, Florida—Kermit’s Key West Lime Shop
Dark Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie On a Stick
Why not start with dessert? Particularly when it’s a decadent delight, and this certainly is. Kermit’s takes a thick wedge of tart key lime pie; dips it in rich, dark Belgian chocolate; then freezes it. There’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day than this quintessentially Florida Keys concoction.
New Orleans, Louisiana—Willie Mae’s Scotch House Restaurant
Many restaurants across the south claim to serve the best fried chicken in the country, but they’re all pretenders to the throne — Willie Mae is the reigning queen. She even has a James Beard Award to prove it. Crunchy, crisp, and golden on the outside, impossibly juicy on the inside, and all of it seasoned to perfection. All the sides are wonderful (try the red beans and rice), but it’s the chicken you’ll dream about… right before you wake up ready to hop on an airplane to New Orleans!
Honorable mention to the beignets at Cafe du Monde. Enjoy pillows of fried dough mounded with powdered sugar alongside a cup of chicory coffee. Open 24 hours—grab a table and watch the revelers stumble by.
Chicago, Illinois—Al’s Italian Beef
Italian Beef Sandwich
According to the folks at Al’s, there’s only one proper way to eat an Italian beef sandwich: the Italian Stance. Place your feet two and a half feet apart, then lean forward with your elbows on the deli counter (so you don’t drip on your shoes) and dig in. The point is, this is one gloriously sloppy sandwich. There are plenty of Italian beef joints in Chicago now, and the T.V. show The Bear recently popularized the sandwich even more, but Al’s started it all back in 1938 (as a front for a bookie shop, no less), and they still do it best. They slow roast their seasoned roast beef, shave it paper thin, then pile it on a soft French bread roll and top it with giardiniera, an Italian pickled vegetable relish. Get it either liberally splashed with the meat’s gravy or, for the full Al’s experience, have your sandwich fully submerged.
Seattle, Washington—Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill
We know what you’re thinking—shouldn’t Seattle’s perfect bite be somehow seafood related? Perhaps fresh, raw oysters with a squirt of lemon juice, or wood-grilled Copper River salmon? As it turns out, Seattle’s all-time favorite comfort food is teriyaki chicken, and it has been since 1976, when a Japanese immigrant named Toshi Kasahara opened Seattle’s first teriyaki restaurant. There are more teriyaki spots there than the top five fast food chains combined, but Toshi’s is still the one to visit. Seattle-style teriyaki is a little different than you’re used to: sweet and smoky marinated grilled chicken with a ginger and garlic-forward sauce. Come for the seafood, and maybe to catch a flung fish at Pike Place Fish Market, but don’t miss the chicken teriyaki.
Wiscasset, Maine—Red’s Eats
Wiscasset, Maine may not sound like a world-class foodie destination, but to New Englanders in the know, it’s the home of a lobster roll worth crossing the country for. Close your eyes and picture it: a buttery, grilled roll piled high with incredibly fresh, succulent lobster tail, knuckle, and claw meat, then topped with an entire tail—more than an entire lobster on each roll, served with sides of melted butter and mayonnaise. Voted the best lobster roll in all of New England in 2022, Red’s is only open during the summer, so plan your pilgrimage accordingly.
Cleveland, Ohio—The Rowley Inn
Cleveland has its share of celebrity chefs—Michael Symon comes immediately to mind—but the city’s perfect bite is from a tiny, unassuming neighborhood joint that started in 1906 serving the second-shift steelworkers who needed a place to call their own. The Rowley Inn specializes in what they call “Cleveland Style Comfort Food,” and with a heavy Eastern European influence, that’s a good description. Their version of chicken paprikash is, quite literally, Cleveland in a bowl—sautéed chicken breast and peppers in a Hungarian paprikash sauce served over pierogi and topped with spicy Hungarian kielbasa. BONUS: The Rowley Inn is right across the street from the Christmas Story house for a little movie magic.
Honorable mention to Lucky’s Cafe for their cheddar scallion biscuits smothered in sausage gravy. The aforementioned Michael Symon called it the best he’s ever had, and he’s not wrong.
Brooklyn, New York—Peter Luger Steakhouse
Porterhouse for Two
For steak lovers, the beautiful thing about a porterhouse is that you’re getting two different cuts of meat for the (not inexpensive) price of one—flavorful sirloin on one side of the bone, tender filet mignon on the other. Peter Luger Steakhouse does it better than anyone else in the country by broiling the house-dry aged steak in clarified butter in an 800 degree oven. The result is nirvana for meat lovers. All the available sides, particularly the creamed spinach, are to die for, but it’s the steak that makes this a top restaurant destination.
Las Vegas, Nevada—Hash House a Go Go
Sage Fried Chicken and Waffles
It’s hard to throw a one-dollar chip across a casino in Las Vegas without hitting a celebrity chef. They’re everywhere, and their restaurants are everywhere, hoovering up tourist dollars like a slot machine. For a perfect bite that just might make you forget what you lost at the craps table, however, head on over to Hash House a Go Go for chicken and waffles. What’s that? You say you’ve had chicken and waffles before? Not like this, you haven’t. Hash House deep fries a huge helping of free range chicken breast with a breading of corn starch, corn flakes, fresh sage, and house spices, then serves it over crispy-soft waffles heavily studded with bacon with a spicy maple syrup reduction sauce. All of it is stacked higher than the mountains outside Vegas, held together with a long steak knife and a fresh sprig of sage. Unless you have Elvis’s appetite, this is more than big enough to share.
If you’re planning on traveling in search of the perfect bite, learn about why you should use a travel agent to get the most out of the experience.
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