It’s that time of the year when the weather starts to warm up and the thought of escaping for a bit actually ends up being your escape. For those of us on a college budget (hey) planning an expensive trip might not be in the cards. Instead, try road tripping it to one of the top 50 cities in the U.S. to try out their most iconic treats.
1. New York, New York – Cheesecake from Junior’s
New York is known for having a unique food scene. While you can wait in line for trendy foods like the cronut or the rainbow bagel, Junior’s cheesecake remains a staple for a reason. Plus they have tons of different flavors to choose from.
2. Los Angeles, California – Fresh Strawberry Doughnut from The Donut Man
You can only grab this fresh strawberry doughnut when it’s in season (prime time is April to August). Worst case scenario: you can grab one of their other seasonal faves, including pumpkin spice and peanut butter flavors.
3. Chicago, Illinois – Deep Dish Pizza from Giordano’s
Reenact the musical number from Ferris Bueller’s Day off with some zaaa’ in hand. Chicago has tons of other food options but you can’t go wrong with a slice from Giordano’s.
4.Houston, Texas – The “Big Earl” Kolache from Shipley Do-Nuts
Doughnuts are always a good idea, but when in Houston, you have to try Shipley’s Kolaches. The “Big Earl” uses special sausage and provolone cheese to stuff this savory Czech pastry.
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Philly Cheesesteak from John’s Pork Roast
So many cheesesteaks to choose from, so little time. We would make time for this iconic Philly staple and at 12 oz of meat in each sandwich, you’ll be ready to take a road trip to another restaurant on this list.
6. Phoenix, Arizona – Native American Fry Bread from The Fry Bread House
I had never heard of this Native American staple, but it sounds like a cross between naan and flatbread. The Fry Bread House also serves hominy beef stew that’s perfect for using all that bread to your advantage because #carbs.
7. San Antonio, Texas – Breakfast Tacos from The Original Donut Shop
Git on down to San Antonio so you can have your doughnut and a taco, too. The stellar breakfast menu features both, so the only decision you’ll have to make is which doughnut to pair with your taco #FirstWorldProblems.
8. San Diego, California – Carne Asada Fries from Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant
At the base of this local invention is a bed of greasy french fries. They’re covered in steak, cheese guacamole and pico de gallo. It’s basically the poutine of San Diego. Get yours at Lolita’s.
#SpoonTip: pair it with bean tostadas for a killer combo.
9. Dallas, Texas – Texas Caviar from Nick and Sam’s Grill
While this famous Texas dish may be off-putting, Nick and Sam’s Grill has the perfect plate for first-time caviar taster – deviled eggs. If worse comes to worst and fish eggs aren’t your thing, the grill also serves up everything from steaks to pizza for the picky eater.
10. San Jose, California – Burritozilla from Iguanas
Iguanas offers 13 different types of burritos but the best one is the Burriotozilla. Why? It’s 5 pounds and 18 inches of pure beef heaven. So why aren’t you in San Jose yet?
11. Austin, Texas – Trailer Park Taco from Torchy’s Tacos
Of course a taco like this would be found in the People’s Republic of Austin. Torchy’s has some fancy tacos with names like “The Wrangler” and “Ranch Hand” but the Trailer Park Taco takes the cake. Or my money. This taco features fried chicken, green chiles, pico and poblano sauce.
#SpoonTip: “get it trashy” by replacing the lettuce with queso.
12. Jacksonville, Florida – Frozen Custard from Whit’s
34 flavor combos from Whit’s could be a problem those who have a hard time making decisions. Luckily we have a ranking of the best custards and sitting at number one is the super popular Buckeye: peanut butter custard with chopped Reese’s. Because peanut butter makes everything better.
13. San Francisco, California – Dungeness Crabs from PPQ Dungeness Island
This Vietnamese restaurant features bomb crab. Dungeness crab hails from the West coast while the East features blue crabs. Both are delicious but PPQ Dungeness Island features the Drunken Crab – a whole crab simmered in wine broth.
14. Indianapolis, Indiana – Breaded Pork Tenderloins from The Steer-In Diner
The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is a must-have. This popular eatery not only batters the pork but the onion rings are cooked in the same batter.
#SpoonTip: stick those onion rings inside the sandwich to get all those flavors in one bite.
15. Columbus, Ohio – Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Quite a few regional/national chains are headquartered in Columbus: think Wendy’s, White Castle, Charley’s Subs, and Bob Evans. While you can go anywhere for those chain foods Columbus is also the home to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams kitchen. Feel classy AF when you order the Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet.
16. Fort Worth, Texas – Black Forest Cake from Swiss Pastry Shop
Black forest cake like no other. But seriously that’s why it’s called the “Uncake” at this Fort Worth establishment. It’s unlike any other cake. This flourless and gluten free macaroon cake will change the way you look at cake.
17. Charlotte, North Carolina – BBQ Chicken from Bar-B-Q King
You don’t even have to stop on your road trip to this drive-through featuring North Carolina BBQ. The sauce is a bit more vinegary than your typical BBQ, but order the 1/4 Bar-B-Q Chicken, fried and dipped in their BBQ sauce, and you won’t be disappointed.
18. Detroit, Michigan – The Coney Dog from Lafayette Coney Island
Nope, we aren’t talking about Coney Island in Brooklyn (which does feature some killer hot dogs from Nathan’s), we are talking about a Detroit specialty hot dog that puts chili, onions and cheese on a hot dog. Lafayette Coney Island does it best, just ask Eminem, Kid Rock, and Drew Barrymore.
19. El Paso, Texas – Hamburgers from The Great American Land and Cattle Co.
This local chain of steakhouses features specialty burgers but the best is hands down the Original Steakburger. Extra points because it’s served with pineapple coleslaw and Texas caviar.
20. Seattle, Washington – Sevilla from Cafe Fiore
Seattle is known for being the hipster capital of America. Just kidding, but seriously the birthplace of Starbucks has some seriously good coffee. Check out Caffè Fiore and order the Sevilla. Of course, all their coffee is organic.
21. Denver, Colorado – Mexican Hamburger from The Original Chubby’s on 38th
This dish combines two of Denver’s most popular foods: green chili sauce, and the hamburger which was trademarked in Denver by the owner of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In. Get the best of both worlds at The Original Chubby’s on 38th with this burger.
22. Washington, D.C. – The Half-Smoke from Weenie Beenie
The half-smoke is a half beef half pork sausage popular in the D.C. area. You can find it smothered in onions and chili sauce at Weenie Beenie. Don’t let the name fool you, this super-cheap spot is killing the game with a fully loaded Half-Smoke on the menu – meaning it comes with a runny egg on top.
23. Memphis, Tennessee – BBQ Nachos from Central BBQ
Pulled pork on a bed of nachos topped with cheese BBQ sauce and jalapeños. What more do you need to know? You can sub the pork for chicken, beef or turkey at this uber-popular restaurant. And don’t worry, they have three locations in Memphis.
24. Boston,Massachusetts – Clam Chowder from Summer Shack Restaurant
Seafood in Boston is a must. Clam chowder is a staple and Summer Shack Restaurant makes it a bit thinner than your typical chowder, but that’s what makes it easy to have a second bowl.
25. Nashville, Tennessee – Meat and Three from Arnold’s Country Kitchen
For under $10, Arnold’s lets you build your own plate. This Southern restaurant lets you choose one meat from a changing daily selection (think fried chicken, steak, and brisket) and up to three sides including popular choices such as mashed taters and candied yams. We’re never leaving Nashville.
26. Baltimore, Maryland – Crab Cakes from Flash Crabcake Company
This food truck specializes in, you guessed it, crab cakes. Eat with crackers or a potato roll. Their location changes but sticks to the Baltimore area. No condiments necessary.
27. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Catfish from Cajun King
This buffet-style restaurant has everything from southern fried chicken to the Oklahoma-famous fried catfish. Dip it the Cajun King’s famous tiger sauce.
28. Portland, Oregon – Fish & Chips from Horse Brass Pub
This authentic British pub combines Portland’s love of beer and fish with a beer battered fish & chips that would make the Brits proud.
29. Las Vegas, Nevada – Shrimp Cocktail from the Golden Gate Hotel-Casino
While Vegas has some stellar restaurants it is also home to the original shrimp cocktail. It was first introduced at the Golden Gate hotel-casino for 50 cents. While it doesn’t cost that much now, the classic appetizer is a must when warming up for the main course (which could include world-famous pancakes or pie).
30. Louisville, Kentucky – Hot Brown Sandwich from The Brown Hotel
While this sandwich is popular around derby time, you can get it all year round. The open-faced sandwich was invented at the hotel and includes layers of turkey, bacon, tomato and Mornay sauce.
31. Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Fried Cheese Curds from AJ Bombers
While this popular restaurant’s Milwaukee Burger was the winner of the Travel Channel’s Food Wars, the locals come for the cheese curds. Cheese is usually an add-on, but here it’s the main event. These fried cheddar curds are served with chipotle ranch.
32. Albuquerque, New Mexico – Chiles Rellenos from El Patio
Home cooked Mexican food from El Patio has been around for four decades. Spice up your life with their infamous chiles rellenos – a stuffed and roasted poblano pepper served with rice. Bonus points for using all USA products and mainly local ingredients.
33. Tucson, Arizona – Sonoran Hot Dogs from El Güero Canelo
You wouldn’t think of Tucson as a culinary hot spot, but this Mexican-inspired hot dog takes your mustard and relish toppings to another level. This bacon wrapped hot dog is stuffed into a bolillo (doughy roll) and topped with pinto beans, mayo, and jalapeno salsa.
34. Fresno, California – Tri-tip Sandwich from Mike’s Grill
The tri-tip is a specific cut of beef and is sometimes called a triangle steak. The best tri-tip in Fresno can be found at Mike’s Grill, where they serve this meaty classic on a french roll.
35. Sacramento, California – Ice Cream from Gunther’s Ice Cream
Over 40 different flavors of ice cream make this a sweet tooth’s dream. The ice cream is hand controlled and is similar to the hand-cranked ice cream making, a method of the 1900s. But honestly, who cares how it’s made as long as it tastes as sweet as it looks?
#SpoonTip: go with a friend so that you can get both sherbet and ice cream.
36. Long Beach, California – Bloody Marys from The Attic
This tiny restaurant is actually in a house. Although the location is quaint, the Bloody Marys are bomb. Garnished with Slim Jim-stuffed olives and paired with sliders, these are the perfect combination for those who like some booze with their food. This drink is second only to our epic Bloody Mary combination.
37. Kansas City, Missouri – BBQ Ribs from Arthur Bryant’s Kansas City, Mo. Barbecue
Arthur Bryant’s BBQ sauce is so good you can buy it prepackaged. It doesn’t quite compare to fresh off the bone BBQ pork ribs served for $20 bucks a slab at this Kansas City staple.
38. Mesa, California – the Oggie from the Cornish Pastry Co.
This traditional U.K. pasty is a baked pastry stuffed with steak, potatoes, and onion. When British miners cake to Mesa they also brought along the recipe for this treat. The Cornish Pastry Co. serves a number of special pasties but the oggie is the classic choice for first timers. Be sure to dip it in the side red wine gravy and mustard.
39. Atlanta, Georgia – Fried Chicken from Mary Mac’s Tea Room
The fried chicken at Mary Mac’s is a must for anyone in Atlanta. Maybe that’s why Mary Mac’s was declared Atlanta’s dining room. Go for the southern special where you can choose three entrees, three sides, and a desert.
40. Virginia Beach, Virginia – Oysters from Blue Seafood & Spirits
When in Virginia do as the Virginians do? Anyway, be sure to order the super-fresh oysters fried and served with a homemade dipping sauce.
41. Omaha, Nebraska – Original Runza from Runza
This is a super popular high-quality fast food place serving up your typical fast food fare. Look beyond the basics and order the classic Runza – a circular bread pocket filled with beef, pork, cabbage and onions.
42. Colorado Springs, Colorado – Fresh Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout from The Mason Jar
While the trout isn’t served in a mason jar, this family-owned eatery knows how to charm. Order the trout grilled, broiled or fried any day of the year except for Christmas and Thanksgiving day.
43. Raleigh, North Carolina – Chocolate Chess Pie from Angus Barn
Angus Barn serves up awesome steak and wine but they are known for their chocolate chess pie. It’s been ranked one of the best pies in the south. If you’re feeling adventurous (or aren’t in the Raleigh area) you can try out the recipe yourself.
44. Miami, Florida – Cuban from Enriqueta’s
Loved by tourists and locals alike, this sandwich shop is home to the best Cuban in Miami. Maybe it’s because of the fried croquettes they add to this classic sub.
45. Oakland, California – Chicken Wings from Lena’s Soul Food Cafe
Lena’s Soul Food Cafe keeps it classic with your typical soul food fare from classic jambalaya and okra to collard greens and cornbread. You’ll want to order it all but start with their juicy chicken wings.
46. Minneapolis, Minnesota – Jucy Lucy from Matt’s Bar & Grill
Matt’s Bar and Grill is home to the original Jucy Lucy (and yes, that’s how you spell it). The Jucy Lucy is a two burger patties with cheese in the center (no, not a double cheeseburger). This iconic burger took off so quickly that the owner forgot to write the i in juicy. Thank you, Minnesota.
47. Tulsa, Oklahoma – Root Beer Float from Webber’s Superior Root Beer Restaurant
This root beer drive-in is another family owned local eatery. What to order? Pair a greasy burger or hot dog with their classic root beer float (made with homemade root beer). You can even order some pre-packaged ones for later, perfect for our DIY boozy float recipe.
48. Cleveland, Ohio – Milkshake from Tommy’s Restaurant
What started as a small milkshake stand skyrocketed into one of the best restaurants in Cleveland. The milkshakes are still king, but Tommy’s now also offers malts, yogurt milkshakes and even vegan shakes so everyone wins.
49. Wichita, Kansas – Frozen Custard from Freddy’s Frozen Custard
While Freddy’s can now be found in a number of states, the original location was in Wichita Kansas. Stop in for some of their frozen custard (a cross between sorbet and ice cream) that will rival your obsession with fro-yo.
50. New Orleans, Louisiana – the Roast Beef Po’ Boy from The Munch Factory
There are tons of variations of this NOLA classic but you can’t go wrong with the Po’ boy from The Munch Factory featuring roast beef, gravy, and mayo on a French baguette.