Iconic Summer Dishes: 16 Dishes in 9 U.S. Cities

By Zagat Staff  |  July 29, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

Every city has its iconic summer foods, whether it's lobster rolls in Maine (or NYC), hot dogs in Chicago or water ice in Philly, and there are must-try seasonal snacks that range from low-brow to high-end gourmet in a town near you. We've selected two from each of our blog cities - plus one from DC and Key West - so you can make sure to try each town's staple items when you travel this summer. What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

  • Austin: Hama Chili at Uchiko

    Worthy of highlight is the palate-cleansing hama chili at Uchiko. Chef Tyson Cole’s Asian fusion restaurant is cool in more ways than one: the chic Japanese farmhouse-dining decor also involves a decidedly cool interior, temperature-wise, especially in light of the sweltering weather outside. Start a decadent meal off right with the hama chili cold tasting, with baby yellowtail delicately placed over ponzu and decorated with spicy Thai chile slivers and orange supremes. The heat from the chiles balances with the citrus from the supremes, and both work together to let the yellowtail shine.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Philly: Iconic Summer Sandwich at Sarcone's Deli

    When it’s hot out, a cheesesteak is the last thing you want, and a meat-heavy Italian hoagie isn’t much better. Sarcone’s Deli has the answer to Philly’s summer sandwich cravings in the Sicilian. This brilliant hoagie brings together fresh asparagus, sliced turkey, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers, all tucked into a crusty Sarcone’s roll that’s been smeared with Di Bruno Bros. abruzzi cheese spread. It makes for a refreshing yet filling summer lunch ($8.50).

  • Credit: Doug Zimmerman

    SF: The Real Korean Tacos by Namu Gaji

    LA's Koji truck may have kicked off a national Korean taco craze, but San Francisco's Namu Gaji is recognized for an original take on the idea. The Real Korean Tacos, as they're called, use dried sheets of nori instead of tortillas as the vehicle for BBQ Kalbi short ribs and kimchee salsa. They are available at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and have also become a staple at summer fests like Outside Lands. Now that the restaurant has logged a couple of seasons in the Mission after moving from the original Richmond District spot, they're a fixture at Dolores Park picnics and parties too.

  • NY: Lobster Roll at Luke’s Lobster

    This classic New England staple has also become an iconic summer dish in NYC in recent years, as lobster rolls have made their way from the Hamptons into the city. Maine natives Luke and Ben Holden are doing the dish proud with their delicious and affordable rendition that’s available in multiple locations around town and on their roving Nauti truck. Nothing says summer in NYC more than lobster roll from a food truck.

  • Chicago: Chicago-Style Hot Dog at Allium

    The Chicago-style dog is a ballpark staple and a summer must-have. Allium's executive chef Kevin Hickey’s gourmet version of the classic uses ingredients made entirely in-house. He starts with seasoned beef shoulder - ground, encased, boiled and grilled for a charred exterior - and serves it in a poppyseed bun with housemade relish, beer mustard and pickles. There's no ketchup on it because that would be sacrilege, but fries come with a housemade version. The layers of flavor are unlike anything one can experience in the bleacher seats. Warning, this hot dog may ruin all other hot dogs.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    LA: Fruit Pie at Pie'n' Burger

    When stone fruit and berry season kicks into high gear, pastry chefs go bonkers with their peach galettes, blueberry crumbles and nectarine tarts. But you really know it's summer when Pasadena institution Pie 'n Burger has fruit pies, whether it's blackberry, strawberry, peach or the even more fleeting olalliberry. The only thing that's changed here is the price - not the way the pies are made, the counter, the handwritten checks nor the cash-only rule. The classic, no-frills pies feature a crust that's perfectly compact, with just enough flakiness to remind you that it's the real deal. Look for the blackberry or olallieberry and strawberry pies in early summer months; things switch to peach toward the end. Whatever you do, don't skimp on the whipped cream.

  • Philly: John’s Water Ice

    The best sweet treat of the summer is found just a couple blocks east of the Italian Market, at an unassuming-but-bright walk-up counter with seasonal hours and zero seating. John’s Water Ice has been serving in South Philly since 1945, when Sicilian immigrant John Cardullo was looking for a summer alternative to his heating oil business. He found it by mixing the ice he delivered year-round with fresh fruit and sugar, and the cups of sweet slush he created back then are good as ever today.

    Third-generation owner Anthony Cardullo still makes Italian ice the same way, with hand-squeezed juice and filtered water. The regular flavors of cherry, lemon, chocolate and pineapple are supplemented on weekends by rotating specials, depending on what’s available at the market. Recent options included banana, strawberry and cantaloupe. A “small” cup (plenty for anyone, really) runs just $1.50, and if you want to tempt brain freeze, you can go for a large at $2.75. For the proper water ice experience, eschew the spoon, and arm yourself with a large pretzel rod, the best way to get the last bits of cooling ice from your well-worn cup onto your waiting tongue.

  • Washington, DC: Soft-Shell Crabs at Hank's Oyster Bar

    Catching a breeze and scoping out the scene at a sidewalk cafe is a quintessential way to enjoy summer in the city, especially when paired with another seasonal treat - soft-shell crabs. At this hip seafood bistro near Dupont Circle, they are pan-roasted to highlight their sweet meat and paper-thin crackly shells.

  • Boston: Hot Dogs

    The crack of a bat, roar of a crowd and chomping of teeth into big, condiment-slathered hot dogs: these are the sounds of summer at Fenway Park. But even without Sox tickets, there are plenty of places to chow on a frank. From its food truck and Kendall Square sidewalk cart, Area Four serves grass-fed beef dogs with toppings like pickled banana peppers and jalapeño-pineapple relish. And chef Jason Santos just started serving specialty franks at Blue Inc. during late-night (10 PM to 2 AM) hours. The $4 options include the Dogzilla, topped with buffalo sauce, caramelized onions and crumbled blue cheese.

  • Credit: Flickr/h-bomb

    NY: Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream Truck

    While an ice cream cone from Mister Softee might be the classic NYC summer treat, innovative ice cream upstart Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has reinvented the wheel with their sweet treats. The lines for this truck in the summer are usually epic, but luckily the Big Gay guys have opened two brick-and-mortar locations that will better serve Salty Pimp devotees. The most famous of their concoctions, this combo of vanilla soft serve drizzled with dulce de leche, sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and dipped in chocolate will make an instant fan out of any first timer.

  • Chicago: The Original Rainbow Cone

    Back in 1926, there was a guy by the name of Joseph Sapp. During the day, Sapp worked as a mechanic, but at night he and his wife, Katherine, perfected a frozen combination that would define Chicago summer. The Original Rainbow Cone layers chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts) and pistachio ice cream as well as one final layer of orange sherbet on a sugar cone. Each layer is sliced, not scooped; the sherbet top acts as a palate cleanser while the rich chocolate is always at the bottom. The cones are sold out of a pink castle at 92nd and Western, and since the company was passed down to Sapp’s son and granddaughter, the cone can now be found at Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and weddings as well as in Millennium Park.

  • Austin: Tipsy Texan at Franklin Barbecue

    Tbe forces of Franklin Barbecue combine in this sandwich to create the ultimate barbecue meat treat. Named after local mixologist David “Tipsy Texan” Alan, this tower of meat, sausage purple coleslaw, pickles and buttered, griddled bun sometimes defies gravity but always guarantees an authentic Austin experience.

  • Credit: Doug Zimmerman

    SF: Summer Weekends at Dungeness Crab at Fisherman's Grotto

    Fisherman's Grotto on the Wharf may be the domain of tourists, but there's prime, quiet space for locals to eat in peace on weekdays at the outdoor stand in front of the restaurant. Natives should know that if it's not too busy, you can ask for a live crab to be boiled instead of eating one of the pre-cooked ones. You can also have the choice of being served a clean, cracked specimen or one that requires more work, and the addition of broth flavored by the guts. It's definitely an early summer treat, though: Dungeness season south of the Mendocino-Sonoma County line ends on June 30 and north of that line closes one month later.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    LA: The Dodger Dog

    There are "gourmet" hot dogs all over LA - Let's Be Frank, Wurstkuche, even Currywurst's curry-drenched franks. But nothing says summer quite like the Dodger Dog, the 10-in. Farmer John hot dog anyone who's anyone gets at Dodger Stadium. Sure, there are a slew of new food options at the ballpark this season, but the $5 steamed or grilled dogs are a rite of passage when you go see the Boys in Blue. You're at a baseball game, for crying out loud. Even if it's the only hot dog you eat all year, it's practically mandatory.

    The beef and pork or all-beef franks aren't fancy. It's an extra-long dog, you have the basics for toppings (unless you get a Doyer Dog with nacho cheese, chili, salsa and jalapeños) and the bun is smooshed by the time you get back to your seat. Watching Puig or Gonzales hit a homer with one of these and a cold beer is the quintessential summer moment.

  • Boston: Clambakes

    A New England summer without a clambake is no New England summer at all. And even if you don’t have the time (or cash) for a Vineyard getaway, there are plenty of options in Boston proper. Maybe the most enticing: a three-hour clambake and sunset cruise to Spectacle Island with Jasper White’s Summer Shack. Happening every Thursday and Friday through September 7, it's $80 for the ride, two drink tickets and a three-course dinner that includes lobster, mussels, steamers and creamy chowder. Get your claws in.

  • Credit: Key West Key Lime Pie Co.

    Key West, FL: Key Lime Pie

    Key West Key Lime Pie Company: Putting up a hard fight against Bobby Flay in a key lime pie throwdown, the Key West Key Lime Pie Company is the city's reigning spot to get a hometown slice. Or if you just can't make it there, the shop's got you covered with nationwide shipping.