Picture a jelly donut. Now replace the dough with two hamburger patties seared together. The “jam” is a healthy portion of melted American cheese between the patties. Throw it all inside a bun—and you’ve got a “Juicy Lucy.” Two places claim to have invented it and still serve it: Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. There are also plenty of spin-offs, including “The Blucy” burger (stuffed with blue cheese and garlic) at The Blue Door Pub and the “Sweet Heat Lucy” (filled with ghost pepper cheese) at the Crooked Pint Ale House. A warning: The cheese inside is hot right off the grill, so let it cool down before digging in.
You probably won’t leave the Windy City without trying deep-dish pizza, layered with tomato sauce and lots of cheese and baked in a circular pan. But don’t miss the other iconic dish: the Chicago-style hot dog. These beef franks in poppy-seed buns are “dragged through the garden,” piled high with white onions, relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, pickled sport peppers, yellow mustard, and a dash of celery salt. (The abundance of toppings dates back to the Great Depression; more veggies meant staying full longer.) It’s worth the 15-mile drive from downtown to the counter-service stand Gene & Jude’s, where there’s no seating, no ketchup, and only one meal worth ordering: a hot dog and fries.
Crescent City has such a rich food history that it’s impossible to pick just one quintessential dish. Po’boys were supposedly created in 1929, when two local brothers began handing out meat-scrap and-gravy sandwiches on French bread to streetcar workers on strike, or “poor boys.” Today, you can find them stuffed with everything from barbecued shrimp to roast beef to brisket. And they’re equally delicious at both oldschool and modern-day restaurants like the fourth-generation-owned Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar and now-permanent pop-up Killer Poboys, where vegetarians will love the version with roasted sweet potatoes and braised greens. For something sweet, Café du Monde has been serving beignets—deep-fried bites of dough heaped in powdered sugar—since 1862. It’s open 24/7, so you might be tempted to go for breakfast and for a post-dinner treat. We won’t judge!
There’s only one place to sample this warmweather favorite: the family-owned Ted Drewes, open since 1929. Prepare to wait in line for the famed “concretes”—the custard mixed with toppings is so thick that the spoon doesn’t fall out when you turn the cup upside down. (Try it!) Choose from a variety of tempting flavor combos, including the Cardinal Sin (tart cherries and hot fudge) and the tangy Lemon Crumb (lemon cream and graham crackers).
Palm Springs, CA
This desert hideaway more than 100 miles from Los Angeles is part of the Coachella Valley, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s dates. (There’s even a festival honoring the fruit every February.) But we have one grower to thank for the creation of this delicious drinkable dessert that’s made by blending date paste, vanilla ice cream, and cold milk: Shields Date Garden, in nearby Indio. In Palm Springs, the colorful Great Shakes has the option of adding walnuts, while Nature’s Health Food & Café makes a vegan version with bananas and soy milk.
A hoagie roll stuffed with chopped sautéed beef and melted cheese, the aptly named sandwich was the brainchild of Pat Olivieri, who opened Pat’s King of Steaks in 1930. More than 30 years later, Geno’s Steaks opened on the opposite corner, and a rivalry was born. John’s Roast Pork also gets rave reviews. But no matter where you go, have the lingo down before you order: “Whiz wit.” The “whiz” is for the cheese, and the “wit” indicates you want onions. (“Witout” eliminates the onions.) For something much lighter—and sweeter—there’s water ice, a refreshing blend of fresh fruit, sugar, and water. John’s offers it in lemon, cherry, chocolate, and pineapple, plus rotating seasonal flavors. Pop’s is a bit more experimental, with non-fruit varieties such as cappuccino and iced tea.
This sweet and simple custardy dessert became Indiana’s official state pie in 2009. It’s a winning mix of just six ingredients—heavy cream, sugar, flour, vanilla, unsalted butter, and freshly grated nutmeg—and is said to have originated in the 1800s with the Amish. Taste your way through the best slices on the official Hoosier Pie culinary trail, which spotlights mom-and-pop shops like the iconic Mrs. Wick’s Pies in Winchester and Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana.
Forget what you know about chili. The kind made in this Ohio city doesn’t include beans or a thick tomato base. Instead, it’s seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, and—most surprising—it’s served over spaghetti! Back in 1922, two Greek brothers opened Empress Chili Parlor and introduced this take on saltsa kima, a meat stew served atop pasta. Many former employees went on to establish their own restaurants, including Skyline Chili, Dixie Chili, and Camp Washington Chili. When ordering, ask for it “three-way” for a mound of shredded cheddar cheese on top. (“Four-way” adds onions or beans, and “five-way” adds both.) Locals consume more than 2 million pounds a year!
Shake up your morning routine with an order of this Texas staple—typically made with scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, salsa, cheese, and refried beans, all wrapped up in a tortilla. Earlier this year, a local lawmaker even proposed a bill to make this the state’s official breakfast. Despite its name, the cash-only Original Donut Shop (210-734-5661) serves a mean bacon-and-egg version. And early risers are welcome: Most spots open by 6 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and 7 a.m. on Sundays.
Even if you’ve never been to upstate New York, chances are good you’ve had its namesake dish back home—accompanied with blue-cheese dressing and celery sticks, of course. So why not seek out the city’s lesser known invention? Beef on weck is a sandwich of juicy, thin-cut, rare roast beef and freshly grated horseradish layered inside a salty caraway-seed studded kummelweck roll (hence the name). Get it at the legendary Charlie the Butcher or Schwabl’s. And if you’re still craving some of that signature chicken, head to Duff’s Famous Wings, where the spice levels range from mild to “death sauce.”