30 Essential Dishes to Eat Across the U.S.

From fried chicken sandwiches to ramen
January 25, 2017
by Zagat Staff

From chicken sandwiches to ramen, these dishes should be on your radar during your winter travels.

Atlanta: Hello Kitty bento box at Tea House Formosa
Is it gimmicky? Oh yeah. Is it the best bento box in Atlanta? Nope. But is it — thanks to both its intrinsically cute Instagrammability and its scarcity (with only 30 available per day) — driving Atlanta diners into a tizzy? You bet.

5302 Buford Hwy.; 470-349-8105

Atlanta: Steak frites at The Federal
This new Midtown spot from chefs Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere resurrects some of that simple bistro appeal that made the dearly departed restaurant Shaun's such a charmer in the previous decade. The steak frites is a classic, available as à la carte or as part of a prix fixe happy-hour special at the bar. Served with mâitre d'hôtel butter and a salad of sunflower sprouts, it's a straightforward but perfectly executed dish that represents a great return to form for the duo.

1050 Crescent Ave. NE; 404-343-3857

Austin: Pepperoni soup at Second Bar & Kitchen
When he was growing up, executive chef David Bull's family owned a restaurant in upstate New York where this Italian soup — chock full of San Marzano tomatoes, pepperonim, mozzarella and garlic croutons — was originally created. Luckily, we can still enjoy it at Second Bar & Kitchen.

200 Congress Ave.; 512-827-2750
 3121 Palm Way; 737-300-4800

Austin: Breakfast tostadas at Texas French Bread
Pull up your boot straps and get into Texas French Bread one of these mornings for the cafe's popular breakfast tostadas. Crunchy tortillas are topped with refried beans, cheese, avocado and two fried eggs over easy, then drizzled with ranchero sauce.

2900 Rio Grande St.; 512-499-0544

Boston: Secret burger at Alden & Harlow
Show up early to chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square hot spot, where his "secret burger" (which is, in fact, listed on the menu) is available in limited quantities nightly. But the flavorful combo of a short rib, brisket and plate steak grind, salted onions, Cabot cheese tuile and no-name sauce still makes a big enough impression to be regarded as a new classic.

40 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-864-2100

Boston: Maíz asado at Toro 
Before they expanded to NYC, Dubai, Bangkok and beyond, chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette made crowds roar at this South End tapas restaurant. The standout has often been the charred corn (tossed in cotija cheese and lime aïoli), which is worth every bit of messy chowing down.

1704 Washington St.; 617-536-4300

Chicago: Caldos at XOCO
It’s soup season, and rather than confine yourself to sad little cups of chicken noodle, there are tub-sized caldos to be savored at XOCO. These piping hot meals-in-a-bowl are absolutely packed with flavor, each one abundant with spices, lime and herbs. The short-rib red chile soup is a winner, basically a Mexican beef stew bringing together tender braised short ribs, fiery red chile broth, roasted vegetables, arugula, lime and a pungent Mexican herb called epazote. The vegetable caldo is another nice option, laden with black beans, mushrooms, zucchini, potato-masa dumplings, avocado and serrano chile. 

449 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434

Chicago: Half roasted chicken at Publican Anker
Brand-new to Wicker Park, Publican Anker is already operating on all cylinders, serving up some delicious, inviting tavern fare. Borrowing a page from The Publican, which makes some of the best roast chicken in the city, Anker features its own soul-soothing version, a juicy, fragrant half a bird with crunchy hash brown potatoes, curly endive and anchovy for a dash of salinity. 

1576 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-904-1121

Dallas: Best F*ckin' Fried French Toast at Next Door
Using superlatives to describe menu items can be risky. But in this case, "best" (and the enthusiastic expletive) seems pretty appropriate. This decadent combination of cream cheese–stuffed cinnamon-raisin bread gets dipped in pancake batter before being fried, and offers the perfect ratio of sweet, savory, creamy and crunchy to get your Uptown Sunday started right.

2908 McKinney Ave.; 888-381-1411

Dallas: Tempura Brussels sprouts at Victor Tangos
While Brussels sprouts have become pretty ubiquitous around town, this crispy version takes them to new heights. The veggies get fried in a light, airy tempura batter before being drizzled with fish sauce caramel and yuzu-kosho aïoli. Plan to order one bowl per person, and pray that the dish gets a permanent spot on the ever-changing menu at this Henderson Avenue New American. 

3001 N. Henderson Ave.; 214-252-8595

Denver: CBD donuts at Glazed & Confuzed
As the counter crew of this Southeast donut destination will assure you, you won’t fail a drug test after eating these babies. But the 20 milligrams of cannabidiol they’re infused with just may give your sugar high, well, an oddly relaxing twist. Owner Josh Schwab hopes to make them a permanent part of his lineup, but he’s making no promises, so get ’em while you can in flavors like dark chocolate, Key lime and salted honey-caramel (pictured).

5301 Leetsdale Dr.; 303-524-9637

Denver: Pork heart Bolognese at Bar Dough
It started out as a dare. Last fall, Cooking Matters centered its No Kid Hungry campaign around a competition among local chefs to cook with challenging ingredients. For Max Mackissock and Blake Edmunds, that meant pig heart, and the weekend special they came up with proved so special indeed that it’s now on the regular menu. Their original version (pictured) was one of the most memorable things we ate in 2016; the current take contains a different pasta, but its sumptuousness remains the same.

2227 W. 32nd Ave.; 720-668-8506

Houston: Six-hour braised lamb shank at Ibiza Food & Wine Bar
French technique and Spanish flavors unite in this rich and hearty dish that's graced the menu since opening day in 2001. After a sear in hot oil, executive chef Charles Clark simmers the lamb shank first with mirepoix and red wine until reduced and then again with veal stock. The final step includes braising in an oven until fall-off-the-bone tender and topping with mint oil alongside polenta or risotto.

2450 Louisiana St.; 713-524-0004

Houston: Morning thali at Pondicheri
Dive in to a diverse selection of tastes and textures with this thali (traditional Indian combination plate), the components of which vary depending on the time of day. Possible morning inclusions range from keema and peanut coconut salad to beet cashew raita and carrot paratha topped with a fried egg. Note that Mondays are meatless at this cafe, and so is the morning thali.   

2800 Kirby Dr.; 713-522-2022

Los Angeles: Egg yolk gnocchi at Ink
Michael Voltaggio has taken his Melrose restaurant through some changes over the last year, including making the menu more steakhouse-minded. But some of the side dishes from the early days remain, only with a few twists. The egg yolk gnocchi is still a stunner, the little pastas filled with yolks that pop as soon as they hit your tongue. Surprising and delicious, they're served in a French onion broth with tiny croutons for texture. Pure delight.

8360 Melrose Ave.; 323-651-5866

Los Angeles: Mesquite-grilled meats at Salazar
This rainy winter has been rough on the mostly outdoor restaurant, but even on a cooler day or night, the colorful Frogtown patio is a great spot for Mexican staples and cocktails. The mesquite grill is the centerpiece of Esdras Ochoa's kitchen, and he knows how to use it. Among the meats served on wooden planks with housemade flour or corn tortillas, salsa and charred onions and peppers, there's flat iron steak, a juicy pork chop and even a whole fish. Don't forget to make use of the fleur de sel.

2490 Fletcher Dr.

Miami: Bagel and lox from Bazaar Mar
This whimsical appetizer at José Andrés’ new seafood entry consists of a crispy, fish-shaped “air bread” filled with cream cheese foam and topped with Russ & Daughters smoked salmon. 

1300 S. Miami Ave.; (305) 615-5859

Miami: Roasted short rib at Upland
There's a reason why chef Justin Smillie's name has become synonymous with this mammoth rib. Crusted in pepper, the incredibly tender showstopper is served on the bone with olives, walnuts and ribbons of shaved celery and horseradish. It's listed as a dish for two, but can easily feed three.

49 Collins Ave.; (305) 602-9998

NYC: Chopped cheese at White Gold Butchers
The newest restaurant from Spotted Pig dream team April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman focuses on butchery, with a whole-animal program operated in-house by Lindy and Grundy alums Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest. Chef Bloomfield has long been known for her burgers, and here she takes on beloved Harlem bodega staple, the chopped cheese, by starting with 5 ounces of White Gold burger grind cooked in beef fat, topping it with two slices of American cheese, pickled kirbys and pickled jalapeños. The result is the raveworthy new sandwich that everyone's talking about (lunch only).

375 Amsterdam Avenue; 212-362-8734

NYC: Baked ricotta and roasted kabocha toast at Loring Place
Dan Kluger, formerly of ABC Kitchen, is back in top form with his first-ever solo project, Loring Place in Greenwich Village. Known as one of the leading chefs in the 'veggie-forward' movement of the last several years, Kluger whips up this healthyish starter, vaguely reminiscent of ABC's butternut squash toast. Roasted kabocha squash is paired with gooey ricotta and served with caramelized onions, fresh mint and chili flakes, alongside grilled sourdough.

21 W. 8th Street; 212-388-1831

Philadelphia: Smoked matzo ball soup at Rooster Soup Co.
The long-awaited debut of the charitable Rooster Soup Co. from the CookNSolo team brought us a spectacular bowl of smoked matzo ball soup from chefs Erin O'Shea and Mike Solomonov. The broth is made from the unused backs and bones of Federal Donuts fried chicken, which provides exceptional depth of flavor, as well as smoked schmaltz (chicken fat). The matzo ball texture is silky, luxurious and bursting with schmaltzy goodness.

1526 Sansom St.; 215-454-6939

Philadelphia: Sushi at Royal Sushi & Izakaya
It may have taken five years to launch, but boy was this place worth the wait. Restaurateur Stephen Simons hired father-and-son sushi superstars Masaharu "Matt" and Jesse Ito, who gained acclaim at Fuji in Haddonfield, to run the kitchen. The menu offers extensive izakaya fare, but the sushi bar behind the curtain is the place to be. The prettiest bites of the bunch include the bluefin otoro, shirauo with Hokkaido uni, and the sayori (pictured).

780 S. 2nd St.; 267-909-9002

San Diego: Sinola ceviche at Como Ceviche!
Eat fresh food your way in the East Village with this spot's selection of regional ceviche. For a bit more tangy spice, opt for the Mexican Sinola ceviche served in a bowl. Raw fish, calamari, octopus and shrimp come tossed with chopped tomatillos, Serrano peppers, cucumber, red onions, cilantro and served with your choice of jasmine rice or organic quinoa.

315 10th Ave.; 619-343-1191

San Diego: Steak and carrots at Herb & Eatery
Brian Malarkey's and Chris Puffer’s casual version of Herb & Wood offers a diverse selection of to-go dishes, but we recommend staying to enjoy the space while filling up on the steak and carrot salad. Dig into the salad of charred bitter greens with red onions topped with steak and chimichurri. Roasted carrots release a bit of sweetness and farro adds chewiness.

2210 Kettner Blvd.; 619-794-2790

San Francisco: Quail egg at Nightbird
Kim Alter's Hayes Valley tasting menu destination was one of the city's most important openings of 2016, and its signature amuse is a big reason why. Each diner starts with a poached quail egg topped with brown butter aïoli and caviar, served on a bed of fried leeks. It's a rustic-elegant way to begin dinner playing with all sorts of textures and flavor profiles. And it's the one dish you can always count on being part of the Nightbird experience.

330 Gough St.; 415-829-7565

San Francisco: Uni crème brûlée at 3rd Cousin
The dish at this outstanding, out-of-the-way seasonal Californian in Bernal Heights just sounds incredible. The well-known briny-smooth appetizer certainly lives up to the hype. A trio of fish eggs — yuzu tobiko, trout roe and caviar ​— join the uni atop a caramelized creamy mousse. Spread on toast points and enjoy the luxury ride.

919 Cortland Ave.; 415-814-3709

Seattle: JCVH at Mean Sandwich
The sandwiches at this cozy Ballard spot are serious business. The next time hunger strikes, check out a JCVH, piled high with a housemade pork sausage patty, sliced ham, Russian slaw and a slab of Swiss. Don’t leave without adding an order of the fried baked potato chunks, with salt and pepper or taco style (topped with classic taco fixin’s including ground beef).

1510 NW Leary Way; 206-789-9999

Seattle: Chicken night at Ciudad
This hot Georgetown spot shut down briefly in October to add a rotisserie machine and, voila, slow-roasted birds started spinning shortly thereafter. Beginning in February, you will be able to reserve a bird for $25 per person that comes with housemade sauces, veggies roasted in chicken drippings, rice and salad. 

6118 12th Ave. S; 206-717-2984

Washington, DC: Karaage at Himitsu
​Since chef Kevin Tien grew up in Louisiana, where he got his first job as a sushi chef in his early teens, it makes total sense that both Southern and Japanese techniques mingle in his cooking. This is especially true with his buttermilk-brined fried chicken dredged like Japanese-style karaage and served with Korean gochujang glaze, house pickles and Kewpie mayo. This is the dish everyone is talking about right now, but you’ve got to be strategic if you want to try it since this place doesn’t take reservations. Try popping in after the dinner rush, around 8:30 PM on a weekday. If there’s a wait for a table, head across the street to Petworth Citizen or Hank’s Cocktail Bar for a drink or two.

828 Upshur St. NW; no phone

Washington, DC: Tortelloni at Sfoglina
This latest restaurant from Washington power-couple Fabio and Maria Trabocchi focuses on pasta, so you really can’t go wrong with whatever shape or sauce strikes your fancy. But keep in mind that the menu changes frequently, and you’ll need to approach a meal here with a certain amount of flexibility. For instance, the richly sauced beef-stuffed pasta that impressed us the first time hasn’t been on the menu since, but the squash tortelloni flavored with chestnuts, barilotto cheese and sage currently on the menu sounds equally enticing. Other standouts are the rigatoni amatriciana and the seafood mafalde.

4455 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-450-1312

hot plates