“They make the best cheesesteaks in the world,” I say to Ric about Pat’s in Philadelphia during our plane ride from Dallas to the city last year.
“The line can be extremely long, especially after a game, but it’s worth the wait,” I add.
“What are they like,” he asks me, eyes wide open.
“Soft, yet crispy rolls, lots of chopped up, thin meat and cheese whiz. Glorious cheese whiz,” I say. “But you have to order it correctly. Once you get to the counter just say how many steaks you want, the type of cheese, and if you want onions. That’s it.”
“What if they don’t understand me?” he asks. Remembering my struggle to understand his northern English accent in the first few months of our relationship and my families continuing confusion.
“Maybe, I’ll just order,” I reply.
Food in America is somewhat of a legend to people who have never visited the country. Anywhere I go, people ask me, “Are the portions really that big?” “What does a slice of pizza in NYC taste like?” and “Where can I get the best burger?”.
Yes our portions are massive, you just have to try a New York slice to understand its greasy goodness and a good burger is never too far away, no matter where you are in the USA.
I really can’t think of another place in the world where food is such a hot topic. So when I took Ric, one of the biggest food lovers I’ve ever met, home to meet my family last year, I wanted to make sure he got the chance to try as much as he could and maybe understand why we are the fattest nation on earth.
Regaling tails of Pat’s cheesesteaks, Stewart’s chili cheese dogs and trying to explain the size of a slice of pizza at Lorenzo and Sons, we started making a list of all the things Ric had to try in America.
Six weeks and about 20lbs between us later, we completed most of that list.
Planning another trip to the States this Fall, one that will take us to Niagara Falls in New York and possibly Key West in Florida, we started making another.
So for all you food lovers out there, this is my ultimate food list for the USA, in no particular order. Though it’s mostly focused on Northeast America, because that’s where I’m from and know best, a lot of the foods on this list are general for all of America. Some include my favorite places to eat a particular food, but of course there are plenty of other amazing places to try the same item. Tackle it by going out for whatever you’re in the mood for first and don’t be afraid go for more than three meals in one day.
Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY: Take un-breaded chicken wings and drum sticks, fry them, smother them in buffalo sauce, which everybody prepares differently, but usually contains a cayenne pepper based hot sauce, vinegar and other seasoning, and serve with blue cheese. No the meat is not buffalo, nor do buffalos have wings. The name comes from the city where they were invented, Buffalo, NY and Anchor Bar is the restaurant where it happened.
Pizza at Lorenzo and Sons in Philadelphia, PA and Mack and Manco’s in Ocean City, NJ: Both spots serve up massive and deliciously greasy slices. The first is a favorite drunk food spot for me. The second is somewhere I used to visit all the time as a kid.
Cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia, PA: I covered this already above. Why Pat’s? It’s where I’ve always visited for cheesesteaks. To go anywhere else, especially Geno’s, would be sacrelig.
Wawa hoagie: Wawa may look like just a convenience store, but it’s so much more. With store locations only in the mid-Atlantic region, though I just read stores will soon be opening in Florida, the value of this store and their sandwiches is lost among most Americans, but it’s the first stop for most people in this region when returning home. Create your own hoagies or try one of their special seasonal creations like The Gobbler around Thanksgiving.
Corn dogs: Best at carnivals and county fairs, it’s basically a hot dog on a stick, dipped in cornmeal batter and fried.
Sloppy Joe’s: These can be made at home and found at various Americana restaurants. There’s not much to this sandwich, just ground beef devoured by a sweet tomato sauce, maybe onions, served between two buns.
A hot dog on a potato roll: Visit any food truck in most cities around the States for one of these. Another ideal location to eat a hot dog would be a baseball game and Chicago is known for their hot dogs. I’m a fan of all hot dogs to be honest and I prefer them on potato rolls.
Super size meal at McDonald’s: It has to be done, at least once in the States, just so people can understand how big this meal is. To give you an idea, large sodas in other countries are the same size as our smalls.
Chimmey Chonga: A sort of deep fried burrito. They can be found at any Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant.
Taco Bell and Chipotle: I know all Californians are going to roll their eyes at this, but I love Mexican fast food restaurants and they don’t exist anywhere else in the world. So on top of visiting a special Mexican restaurant that no one knows of, grab a $1 taco from Taco Bell after or during late night cravings.
Nachos: Have you noticed how important Mexican food is in the States? There is nothing like a mountain of nachos with salsa, beans, black olives, jalapenos, cheese and sour cream. This dish can be found at about every bar and of course Mexican restaurants. I love the nachos at McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia, PA, which is the oldest bar in the city and my favorite.
Reuben sandwich from Harold’s New York Deli in Edison, NJ: I still have yet to visit there, but my dad would always bring me half his sandwich home after lunch dates. This is the place to try a truly massive sandwich in the USA and the Reuben; corn beef, cole slaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread, it’s just a classic.
Fat sandwich at Grease Trucks set up by Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ: Following the cheesesteak and big sandwich thread of this list, try to imagine the most unhealthy, but delicious sandwich on earth. These sandwiches will still top that.
Soft pretzels: Another Philadelphia favorite, vendors hang out at attractions like the Franklin Institute or outside stadiums after games selling these snacks out of metal shopping carts. I go to a tiny pretzel shop in Rancocas Woods that makes and sells them fresh.
Donuts: Make sure to go to a non-franchise bakery to taste the best in this breakfast item. I love Dunkin Donuts, I even like their coffee, but nothing beats an independent bakery donut made with love. You’ll find bakeries and cake shops like this everywhere in the States.
Butter cake and stickybuns from Fritz’s Bakery: My dad is the king of sweets and this place is his kingdom. I can remember vividly waking up to white boxes and feeling sheer joy, because I knew right away that inside were two of the richest and sweetest treats known to man; butter cake and stickybuns from Fritz’s Bakery. Butter cake is pretty self-explanatory, just sweet cakey goodness that melts in your mouth and on the plate. Stickybuns are glazed cinnamon buns topped with raisins and/or walnuts. Ric and I woke up to this the first morning back in my childhood house. It was the best welcome home I could have ever imagined.
A proper milk shake: They’re known as thick shakes down here (Australia and New Zealand), but at home they’re always thick. I’m talking about hard ice cream with chocolate or strawberry syrup, not flavoring, and only a little milk. A thick, rich milkshake from your local ice cream shop. There’s nothing like it in the Summer.
Cornbread: Sweet, yet savory bread or muffins made of cornmeal. Everyone makes their cornbread differently.
Fried chicken: From somewhere other than KFC.
Perogies: Ric always makes fun of me and says these are American, but they are Polish! I tried them in Krakow, Poland and nothing really tops that, but the potato dumplings are very popular in the USA, best served with fried onions.
Burger at PYT in Philadelphia, PA: It’s fairly easy to find a good American burger in the country, one layered with meat patties, covered in cheese and topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. PYT opened a few years back and they get creative with their extravagance on this traditional fast food sandwich. They also have alcoholic milkshakes, so…
Key Lime Pie in Key West, Florida: It can be hard to find good key lime pie in the States. I was spoiled at a young age to have been able to try it in Key West. It should have a matching tart and sweet qualities and baked in graham cracker crust.
Alligator: This is one of those novelty foods to try down South, that can actually be pretty good depending on how it’s served. I’ve tried alligator jerky in Florida that just tasted like any other jerky and seen alligator in a variety of ways on menus in New Orleans, LA. It’s worth a try if you have the chance.
Craft beer: Sure everyone knows Budweiser or Miller around the world, but what they may not know is the popularity and quality of craft beers in the States, especially in the Northeastern States. Beer around my area is really exciting. Everywhere you go you find a new brewery that dominates one area like Ubu beer in Lake Placid, NY and River Horse in Lambertville, NJ. This is a trend I love about America, because traveling, people will always say how commercialized the States are, but just using beer as an example, there are still unique and independent businesses popping up and prospering. Of course, I must add to try pumpkin ale. A lot of brewers make their own version of this Fall favorite.
Everyone is going to have different “best places” for this and that. These are mine and after visiting, you might find them your’s as well. Regardless of where you end up trying these recommended food items or where others take you, make sure to try as many as you can to get a proper taste of the States.