Having visited all 50 of our United States, I thought I would list some places, totally from memory I might add. Some are “holes in the wall”, some are local recommendations, and most are totally by chance. Very few are Beard or Michelins. Best just means I have actually dined there.
Alaska I cannot remember the name of the place, but it was a pho joint near Walmart in downtown Anchorage. I have been to Alaska three times, twice on business, and most recently to see the Aurora Borealis. Reindeer sausage is another delicacy worth trying.
Arizona Los Sombreros (Scottsdale) has the best chile relleno I have ever tasted. It is so huge that it covers the entire plate! Up in Sedona, please try one of the best places I have ever visited, called Cafe Elote. Everything is good, but the pork cheeks are the best.
Nevada Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen (Summerlin) is off the beaten path. I can take or leave the big Vegas buffets. If you want to try something unique, go to Main Street Station in downtown Vegas and try the oxtail stew. And I love the fact that many downtown casinos serve Loco Moco, one of my favorite island dishes.
Georgia Merry Mac’s Tea Room (Atlanta) is a classic southern tearoom and restaurant. It has been there forever. Georgians love their barbecue, but the sauce is a bit tart for me. The ultimate greasy spoon is the Varsity, in downtown Atlanta. They shout, “What’ll you have, what’ll you have?” to everyone. Burgers, chili dogs and fries are the popular menu items.
Washington Prosser Farms Dinner (Prosser) a real farm to table dinner on a working farm, owned by Seattle restaurateur, Tom Douglas and his wife Jackie. It is located several hours east of Seattle, but we did an overnight. On the greasy side of the menu, try Jack’s Fish Spot across from Pike. Their scallops and chips are tasty, crunchy, and greasy. But the one food item I crave in Seattle is the amandine croissant from Le Panier Bakery, not far from Pike Market. It is better than a Parisien Bakery!
Hawaii Kintaro (Kauai) the best sushi this side of Japan. Sheri learned to eat sushi here. And they always have uni, most sushi bars do not. The ultimate low brow place here is the Hamura Saimin Stand in downtown Lihue. Just order the medium bowl of saimin, with some beef or chicken skewers. And always have a slice of lilikoi (passion fruit) pie for dessert, even at lunch time.
Florida Joe’s Stone Crabs, the original, but remodeled, has their own crab beds. Order the hash browns and cole slaw as your sides. I once waited two hours to have dinner at the old Joe’s. Versailles Cuban Cuisine (Miami) has the best Cuban food this side of Havana. Enough said.
Montana Laughing Horse Lodge (Swan Lake) thank you Kathleen! She is an excellent chef, closes down for the winter. She heads out somewhere interesting, whether cooking on a fishing boat, or serving as a chef at a Club Med somewhere in the universe. And while you are here in Montana, have a bison burger and a slice of huckleberry pie.
Indiana Harry and Izzy’s (Indianapolis) is a typical steak house with great steaks and prime rib. And the night before the running of the Indy 500, you will see every celebrity visiting the city. And when you attend the famous Indy 500, have a barbecued turkey leg out at the Speedway.
Missouri Cunetto’s House of Pasta (St. Louis) on The Hill, of course. Please order two items, One is the toasted ravioli appetizer. Then, after dinner, tell the waiter that someone at your table is having a birthday. Enough said!
New Mexico Pascal’s (Santa Fe) breakfast might be the best Mexican breakfast ever (except for my brother Bob’s huevos rancheros). Just get there early and dine there often.
Massachusetts Union Oyster House (Boston) was JFK’s favorite place, and mine too. Their Maine lobster is always great, as is the atmosphere. Forget about going to Cheers. Boston clam chowder is a life changer, many places serve it, so please try it at least once.
Utah Benja Thai (St. George) has authentic Thai food, along with a nice sushi bar. The Moab Brewery (Moab) is the most popular place outside of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. While you are here, stop at a Nielsen’s Frozen Custard, and order the “concrete” style.
South Dakota Powder House (Keystone) has a rather eclectic menu, some French, some cowboy, but all mostly good. Of course, when the Sturgis Rally is going on, the barbecue and steak joints in Sturgis are a must see.
Wisconsin Go to any local place in Sheboygan, Green Bay, or Madison for the Friday night fish fry. But after that, remember this state has great steaks, and even better ice cream. We went for the golf at Whistling Straits but stayed for the food.
Pennsylvania It has been too long, but I loved the cheesesteaks, the best in the world.
Ohio I do not remember all the fabulous places I enjoyed with Jon and Olive. We had quite a wide variety of food, Middle Eastern, Japanese, and German. But one memorable stop was German Village, where we had a great outdoor cafe lunch, and purchased some German pastries after. I love University towns.
Michigan The Graduate (Ann Arbor) was the place to celebrate my 50th state visit. So, I had a big rib eye steak, and a bottle of champagne to celebrate. The downside was going to a concert with the University of Michigan Band, featuring a trombone solo. Never go to a concert featuring a trombone solo. Forget this University town, I hate the trombone solo.
New York Carnegie Deli has the best corned beef sandwich. It is also the biggest I have ever seen. Katz’s Deli is also quite good. Mama Leone’s (NYC) is the classic Italian trattoria, and though rather touristy, you must go at least once. And almost any hot dog stand in Midtown, but Gray’s Papaya might be the best of all.
Maine Maine Lobster Shack (Portland) is great for lunch or dinner. We even had lobster for lunch AND dinner!
South Carolina I don’t specifically remember the Low Country joints, but it was ALL good, very authentic, and always fun.
Tennessee I prefer Memphis to Nashville. The barbecue was outstanding, no matter where I ate.
Kentucky English Grill (Louisville) has about every type of dish that Kentucky is known for. Try any. But save room in your tummy for the food at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. The food is very good, albeit a bit expensive. I had the lobster roll, which for $20 was quite good. And have a Kentucky cocktail at Maker’s Mark Bourgon House in Louisville.
Texas The Salt Lick (Austin) has the best barbecue around. But order the meat medley so you can try all of their specialties. I was in Dallas for the Final Four, and a Springsteen concert. Skip Texas whenever possible.
Oklahoma Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse (OK City) is great fun, big, juicy steaks, not much dining atmosphere, but the ghost of The Mick is everywhere.
Virginia I do not remember the name of the French place out in Great Falls. But I do know of a Greek place where the CIA hangs out.
Illinois Portillo’s is a must stop, for Chicago beef, and the famous Chicago dog, with the bright green relish. Eataly (Chicago) is an Italian food orgy. Not only can I eat dinner there, but I can also buy all type of Italian groceries, including bread, dessert, condiments, pasta, charcuterie, pizza, and gelato. Of course, the only stop that is a must stop is Garrett’s Popcorn. They even have a stand at O’Hare!!
Maryland Chick & Ruths (Annapolis) was suggested by my buddy, Dirty Pat. The seafood platter is the only way to go.
DC Ten Penh (not sure if still there) had the best flounder!!! I love the burgers at Clyde’s of Georgetown. You must try the chili dogs at Ben’s Chili Bowl, President Obama’s favorite greasy spoon on U Street. DC is a foodie’s paradise.
Oregon Jake’s Crawfish (Portland) has been around forever. Just get there early for your Louie or your grilled fish. The food trucks in Portland have taken on a life of their own. Just make sure to stand in the longest line, not the shortest, for the best food. Always remember that our mini-Labradoodle, Lexi is from Oregon, just outside of Portland in Estacada. Oregon wine is still very underrated. And Tony Bourdain’s favroite, Voodoo Donuts.
California n/naka (Los Angeles) has a Michelin star, expensive, but so creative and worth every dollar. The California Culinary Academy (San Francisco) has the best buffet I have ever experienced. Chez Marguerite (no longer around) in the City had the best French food (Duck l’orange), at least the kind I enjoyed. Long story, but the owners were deported, and the Chinese busboy took over, with the same menu, and same quality. George loved us, and we must have dined there almost monthly!! The best corn chowder can be found at Pepper’s in Pacific Grove. And I love the bread at Tartine Bakery in the Mission. My new favorite is Ember in Arroyo Grande. Everything is good!
These are just my most memorable meals or food items. I am sure you have your own, and most likely, some better restaurants and dishes. But whatever the case, I am sure you enjoyed them as much as I did.