35 Places to Taste America
At Wildsam, our secret sauce has involved hundreds of conversations with people on the ground—literally rooted in the soil of family farms and community gardens, shucking behind oyster bars or handing plates across the pass. We talk with chefs, butchers, fishermen, ranchers, nerding out on how the weather, terrain and people who live on the land — from Indigenous to newer Americans arriving as immigrants —shape how we eat.
“The oldest surviving vegetables were selected for flavor over thousands of plant generations by various cultures. They’ve come down to us embedded with the entire wisdom of peoples.” A holiday meal, a ritual occasion, a communion meal–those moments are an enduring connection to a place.”
—David Shields, food historian. From our Charleston guide.
The smoky, tender transfiguration of pork is close to religion here. Memphis barbecue legend Flora Payne spoke with us about keeping her family business running when her husband Horton died. “His mother, Emily, and I worked together to take things over,” she said. “Nothing has changed. The recipes, the sandwiches, the cooking style–everything is the same.”
PULLED PORK SANDWICH
A bun stacked with chopped pork and mustard-y slaw, lounging seductively in tangy sauce. Order it “extra brown”for all the crispy edges. 1762 Lamar Ave Midtown, Memphis
Meanwhile in a jam-packed restaurant corridor of Atlanta between Buckhead and Duluth, eaters find a taste bud paradise, a mashup of ethnic foodways that’s perhaps a more bonafide picture of “Southern food” today than anywhere else in the region.
Among hundreds of world-class spots, spin the globe at these spots including this gem off Buford Highway, 3042 Oakcliff Rd, Atlanta
In Kentucky, bourbon comes to mind. Distilling this spirit is a natural extension of the agrarian society immigrants established as early settlers. For a more modern look at migration there’s Lexington, home to a burgeoning Latino population affectionately known as “Mexington” and the “Bluegrass Barrio.” Steven Alvarez spoke with us about his Taco Literacy class at the University of Kentucky. “I realized the stuff I was trying to do with immigration, language, politics in my classes, we can do through food.”
Tortilleria Y Taqueria Ramírez
Home to one of the nation’s top-ranked burritos with tortillas made by hand. 1429 Alexandria Dr, Lexington
And in New Orleans, cultural and culinary traditions take us through French, African, Italian, Caribbean roads of influence alongside the Gulf’s bounty.
FRIED SHRIMP & OYSTER PO'BOY
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
The king of the working man’s lunch. Made exclusively on crusty Leidenheimer French bread. 538 Hagan Ave, New Orleans
A monster of a sandwich since 1906, loaded with salumi and marinated olive salad, made popular by Sicilian immigrants-turned-green grocers. 923 Decatur St, New Orleans
RED BEAN & RICE
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
Leah Chase’s family continues to stir the iconic chef’s pots of gumbo z’herbes, red beans and shrimp creole. 2301 Orleans Ave, New Orleans
Liuzza’s By the Track
A very dark roux layered with seafood, locally made sausage, okra and 13 seasonings. During springtime’s Jazz Fest,this spot becomes a port in the storm, figuratively and literally. 1518 N Lopez St, New Orleans
Within the Northeast region, New England has a distinct history, culture and tradition of its own influenced by what grows on land and sea (clam chowder to Vermont apple pie).
Nunan’s Lobster Hut
Cooked and chilled lobster packed into a soft split-top bun. Mayo-dressed or butter. Kennebunkport, Maine
Amid an unending dolci debate in Boston’s Italian North End neighborhood, this is the venerable champ. Take the cannoli. 300 Hanover St, Boston
Mary Ellen’s Portuguese Bakery
Thank local Portuguese fishing fleet history for linguiça and Portuguese rolls. 829 Main St, Falmouth
Wellfleet Bookstore & Restaurant
Famous oysters in their hometown, bayviews, a bookstore behind? Yes, please. 50 Kendrick Ave, Wellfleet
Just south of New England but still solidly Northeast, the Big Apple has its many temples of haute cuisine. This sliver of restaurants, however, shows family traditions and roads traveled to arrive. In the Manhattan guide, Niki Russ Federman tells us about growing up as a “shop kid” at Russ & Daughters, which her great-grandfather opened in 1914. “I used to wait by the door for the delivery men, then climb on the 50-pound sacks of onions and carrots as they wheeled them in. I would direct them to the kitchen–as if they could possibly miss it. The shop is tiny.”
EVERYTHING BAGEL WITH GASPÉ NOVA SMOKED SALMON AND CREAM CHEESE
Russ & Daughters
This iconic counter has hardly changed since 1914, and thankfully so, given its premium schmears and Old World delicacies. 179 E Houston St, Manhattan
Open since 1938, this basement-level dive serves, and helped popularize, many classic Chinese American dishes, such as deep-fried dumplings. 17 Mott St, Manhattan
PORTERHOUSE AND SPICY HOUSE SAUCE
Time-travel to old Brooklyn to hobnob with a martini and a steak. 178 Broadway Williamsburg
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop
A North Brooklyn institution, this old-school Polish shop opens at 4:30 a.m. Come early for the full array: apple crumb, blueberry buttermilk, toasted coconut, Bavarian cream. 727 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn
The hit Hulu series The Bear made a nation crave Chicago’s Italian beef, a sandwich born as stockyard workers returned home with leftover cuts. But let’s not forget the Windy City’s other famed culinary export of deep-dish pizza.
Thin slices au jus piled high with peppers and giardiniera since 1938. 1079 W Taylor St, Chicago
The Victorian brownstone where deep-dish was invented is a turn-of-the-century relic. Place your order first thing, and, if you’re lucky, your pie will be ready when your table is. 29 E Ohio St, Chicago
As for Detroit, it’s people like Edward Bozek who help tell the story of food in Michigan’s Motor City. “During the end of communism, many were emigrating,” he said. “I came to America with $36 in my pocket. I have always been a butcher. Since I was 14.”
Rose's Fine FoodsFluffy, golden Polish doughnuts fried and filled with jelly or custard–they get their own “Paczki Day” on Fat Tuesday ,when locals scramble for a baker’s dozen. 0551 E Jefferson, Detroit
Slinging world-famous Detroit-style square pies from its east side oven since1946, now all over the state. 17125 Conant St Campau/Banglatown, Detroit
From burritos to cioppino, that Gold Rush-era stew, California alone covers a lot of culinary ground. As the late critic Jonathan Gold told us for the Los Angeles guide, “One of the great things about L.A. is you can decide that you want to eat, essentially, as if you live in Guadalajara.Or you can decide you want to eat, essentially, as if you’re in Chengdu.”
Zooming in further between the desert’s groves of date palms and the Pacific’s bounty, two California foodways traditions also took hold along the coast: fish tacos and the date shake.
El Pescador Fish Market
Fresh catch in the cold case, sashimi like the rising sun and “burros” full of local yellowtail 634 Pearl St, La Jolla
Crystal Cove Shake ShackA cheerful yellow walk-up spot (no relation to the major chain). Although smoothie versions can hit the spot, this one is a trueshake, thick with vanilla ice cream and chunky bits of crystalline date. Let the sugar rush over you while watching the waves lap against the state park below–a near-perfect vintage postcard in real life. 7703 East Coast Hwy, Newport Beach
In Colorado, Kate Kavanaugh, who works as a butcher, reminds us that more than half of the state is grasslands. “Or was grass-lands,” she said. “I can see marbling shift with the season, how much beta carotene was in the grasses, based on how yellow that fat is.” But Denver also bridges the west and southwest with its adoption of the New Mexican green chile giving it a porkier, jalapeño-spiked twist. From August to October, chile stands line Federal Boulevard, the freshly fire-roasted peppers spiking the summer air.
La Loma A Mexican Kitchen
This 30-year-old North Denver institution found a new home downtown and continues to turnout an exceptional green chile, best sided by warm homemade flour tortillas and a fishbowl-size house margarita.1801 Broadway, Denver
In the Far Corner, culinary heritage is built around ingredients, and the sheer quality of foodstuffs from land and sea. The region’s ecosystems have long supported an exceptionally diverse array of Indigenous cultures; with settler and immigrant histories bound up in agriculture, sheer fertility remains what this part of the nation is all about.
OYSTERS, A SHUCKER'S DOZEN
This respected bivalve harvester has a number of locations, including a zesty spot in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. But the most Northwest-y place to sample their wares is at the end of Bellingham’s curvy Chuckanut Drive, a beloved scenic cruise. 2182 Chuckanut Drive, Bow, WA
ORA KING SALMON CRUDO
The single most important food to Northwest human history, the salmon in all its species, is also one of the most endangered. This Portland fish market/casual spot with solid sustainability bona fides is a place to commune with deep story, complex future and damned tasty present. 3004 East Burnside St, Portland, OR
COWBOY CUT TOP SIRLOIN DINNER
Cowboy Dinner Tree
There’s a whole other side to the NW: the dry, sage-scented, vast and lonely landscapes east of the Cascades. Cattle country. This outback restaurant 90 minutes from Bend, goes big with its Cowboy Cut Sirloin, and can stock your cooler from the family ranch. Reservations required. Cash only, and they’re serious about that. 50836 E Bay Rd, Silver Lake, OR
Kyle Zimmerman / goldencrown.biz
It's Tex Mex and barbecue, of course, with the latter inspired by barbacoa cooking technique. But this swath of land also finds influence from German, Czech immigrants to Mexican and Creole/Cajun neighbors to Asian and Native Americans.
Smitty’s Market or Kreuz Market
This succulent cut (#120 in the butcher’s book) draws eaters the world over with 12-hour smoke signals. Lockhart
These downy pastries beckon the Czech roots of Central Texas. Sweet fruit filling or link sausage?One of each, ma’am. 109 W State Hwy 71, Ellinger, TX
La Fonda on Main
Your plate is heaping and hot, rice and beans cozied up to the slathered main dish. Tamal as a bonus. 2415 N Main Ave, San Antonio, TX
Circa 1920, this pan-fried beefsteak, topped with milk gravy, pairs well with a nap. 101 North Main Street, Melvin, TX
Native to West Texas, this ancho chile stewed pork dish is cooked on a wok-like plow disc called a “disco.” 405 W Dickinson Blvd, Fort Stockton, TX
The Barrios family has served their famously fluffy, quick-fried tortillas on the White House lawn. 4223 Blanco Rd, San Antonio, TX
This region also includes states such as Arizona with its Sonoran cuisine, New Mexico and parts of Utah, Colorado, California and Nevada. A chile-spiked cuisine developed from Indigenous traditions, Spanish colonial influences and in some cases a history of isolation.
GREEN CHILE STEW
The Pink Adobe
New Mexico’s green chile brings soft heat to slow-cooked stew, savored best during the September harvest season. 406 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM
Golden Crown Panaderia
Lard-based, cinnamon-and-anise-flavored state cookie of New Mexico, popular at weddings and baptisms. 1103 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM
These fried, fluffy squares of dough are a dinner-table staple. Order with honey butter. 500S Guadalupe S, Santa Fe, NM
St. Francis piñon truck
In autumn, locals sweep forests for the piñon tree’s tiny, smooth-shelled nuts, and trucks hawking bags of them (and, often, jerky) hit roadsides. S St Francis D, Santa Fe, NM
Compiled by Wildsam editor, Jennifer Justus. Cover Photo by Kenny Braun