The rumours are true. America is a land of plenty. Plenty of cheese, plenty of carbs and plenty to share. From coast to coast you can indulge in giant meals that will leave an impression on your tastebuds, and most probably your cholesterol. Heck, it wouldn’t be travelling if you didn’t dip into the local cuisine though.
Unlike Australia, each and every city of the US has a dish to call it’s own. A meal so celebrated its held high on a pedestal for all to admire. We’ve uncovered the five most famous meals, along with where to seek them out and chow them down.
#1 Pastrami on Rye
Eat it in: New York City
New York’s classic deli sandwich is the biggest mouthful in the state. An addictive combo of brined, dried and smoked beef, layered with pickles and melted cheese, this humble lunch is as iconic as the yellow cab that will get you there.
Take a trip to the famous Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side, to wiggle into a joint buzzing with locals and travellers, hanging for a fix of kosher style fare. The pastrami and rye is sweet, buttery and obscenely huge. They take 30 days to cure their beef, stacking it high with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese, and slapping it between two slices of sour rye. You’ll need a tall glass of Dr. Pepper to wash this hunk down.
For a lighter twist on a working class classic, check out Mile End Deli in Brooklyn. Their version combines hand cut smoked beef, a heavy smear of English mustard, melted Havarti cheese and a plate of pickled gherkins, cucumber and chillies.
#2 Philly Cheese Steak
Eat it in: Philadelphia
Less than two hours south of New York, is the home of Rocky and the equally cultish Philly cheese steak. This cultural obsession is so rooted in Philadelphia living, it’s the cause of a major turf war. Head to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, and you’ll be in the cheese steak epicentre. It’s Pat’s King of Steaks versus Geno’s Steaks. Pat’s is credited with inventing the beastly roll in 1930, but it’s Geno’s that maintains to be the best.
So what exactly is it? Rib eye steak stuffed in a chewy white roll and drowned in Cheez Whizz – an artificial cheese spray that’s nearly as bright and gnarly as the neon signs you’ll eat it under. Be warned, this is fast food service at it’s most extreme. Read the ordering instructions carefully, because there’s no room for error. If you stuff up or mumble your order you’re sent straight to the back of line. As brutal as it is, it’s a must-do pit stop.
#3 Seafood Chowder
Eat it in: San Francisco
San Francisco’s creamy seafood chowder is legendary, partly because it’s served in a hollowed out sourdough loaf. This means after you’ve relished in all the soupy joys, you can continue to polish off your plate and eat the entire bready bowl. It’s a very good feeling.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the hub of chowder town. Warm up with a steaming chowder crammed with clams, celery, potatoes and onion, as you stare misty eyed into the choppy waters of the San Franciscan bay. Be wary of choosing any old spot though, Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist mecca and many places charge high prices for low-brow chowder.
To avoid claggy bowls thin on substance, head to Chowders or Boudin Bakery. Both are safe bets for sampling a hearty version, with an equally delicious sourdough cobb. For a more local take, head out of the wharf to Swan Oyster Depot. Mosey up to the marble countertops and slurp down their signature blend with a side of freshly shucked oysters, swimming in lemon juice and parsley.
#4 Barbecue Platter
Eat it in: Texas
Austin, Texas is the intersection where music lovers and foodies mingle in a land of barbecue and backstage passes. After a late night gig, fortify your soul the morning after with a platter of pit-smoked meats.
Brisket and ribs lay down together in a smokehouse and stay there, slowly caramelising for up to 18 hours. The result is juicy, flaky morsels ready to be wolfed down with equally famous side dishes of coleslaw, potato salad and “burnt end” pinto beans.
Franklin Barbecue is fabled for their oak smoked meats and espresso barbecue sauce. Steady your tray as you line up to order by the pound, and expect very long cues. This joint is so in demand it sells out by 1pm.
Eat them in: New Orleans
New Orleans is notorious for rich gumbos and creole cuisine, but let’s round this list up with something sweet and just as famous. Meet the beignet, the official state doughnut of Louisiana. This square French-style doughnut is served fresh and hot, lavishly hidden in a mess of icing sugar. It’s been an essential breakfast in the great south ever since French colonists brought them to New Orleans in the 18th century.
Cafe du Monde has served them since 1862 and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Start your day here with a Café au Lait and your new guilty pleasure.
(Lead image: Franklin Barbecue)
Hayley follows her nose for food and travel. She's explored the globe far and wide, but still daydreams of Hawaii and Mexico the most. She runs Sticky Fingers Bakery and has written for Hooray, Broadsheet, The Blackmail, Daily Life and Dirty Furniture.