Some foods seem almost inextricable from the places in which they’re most beloved. Take fried cheese curds, for example, which are forever entwined with Wisconsin’s love of all things dairy. But you don’t always have to travel to a far-flung state to get a hold of its best-known cuisine; some of those regional dishes have become so popular that they’ve probably landed at a restaurant near you. Here are 10 examples of regional dishes that have become such American favorites that you don’t need to hop on a plane to experience them.
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Poke is a dish that made it out of Hawaii onto the mainland and exploded in popularity throughout the 2010s. It features cubed raw fish marinated in soy sauce, typically loaded into a bowl with other fresh ingredients such as rice and vegetables, and is popular stateside as a customizable lunch option in dining chains across the country. People love their fish, and poke offers a fun, tidy, and compact way to eat it—a plus in an era where we’re obsessed with on-the-go foods.
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Hoagies, heroes, grinders, submarine sandwiches—whatever you like to call them, they’re likely available at a shop within a stone’s throw near you. But did you know that subs were once considered a regional dish? Originating in New England as an Italian sandwich on an elongated roll, its infinite combinations of deli meat, cheeses, veggies, and condiments made it a hit across the country. In your area, you probably have at least one location of a ubiquitous sandwich chain like Subway as well as some independent sub shops. We all know that the best ones come from the locally owned delis, though, right?
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Though many types of slow-smoked barbecue remain deeply rooted in their home regions, the proliferation of barbecue restaurants across the country shows just what a tour de force the combination of smoke and meat can be, state borders be damned. If you want Texas-style barbecue in Chicago, you can find it. Whole hog in New Mexico? You got it. Alabama-style white barbecue sauce? Just ask around. Smoked meat is universal, and local styles are always crossing across state lines to set up shop where a whole new group of diners can appreciate them.
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Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and gravy are a Southern breakfast treasure. When you pour a thick ladleful of white sausage gravy on top of flaky mile-high biscuits, you immediately transform your breakfast into a hearty and satisfying meal. This ubiquitous combination can be found at diners and breakfast restaurants outside of the South, to be sure—but surprisingly, you can even pick some up at Wendy’s, Bojangles, and other fast food chains across the country.
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Fried cheese curds
Fried cheese curds
Fried cheese curds are a Wisconsin staple. The squeaky little nuggets are breaded or battered before taking a bath in the deep fryer, where they’re transformed into molten, stretchy cheese bits best eaten while they’re extremely hot. In the modern age, you can find these lil’ guys on bar food menus across the United States, but if you’re more in the mood for a drive-thru situation, you can pick them up at chains like Dairy Queen, Culver’s, and A&W.
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While Buffalo wings originated in Buffalo, New York, they’re an example of how a regional food can truly take off and become a beloved item across the United States—to the point where no one thinks much about why they’re even called “buffalo” wings anymore. You can easily get killer wings at your local corner bar, but the fact that there are so many national chains that specialize in them— Wingstop, Buffalo Wild Wings, and even Taco Bell, on occasion—is a testament to their undeniable deliciousness. What’s great is that they’re so easy to make at home that you may not even need to go out and grab some, either in Buffalo or your own city.
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When you think of beloved food from Philadelphia, the first thing you probably think of is cheesesteak. This deceptively simple, sloppy sandwich of shaved beef (typically ribeye) is served with either provolone, Cheez Wiz, or white American cheese, and comes with onions if your heart so desires. But cheesesteaks are so popular they couldn’t be kept within the confines of Philly; these days you can find them at hot dog stands, mom-and-pop shops, and diners across the country.
Interestingly, Philadelphia’s other famous sandwich, an Italian roast pork with broccoli rabe and peppers, remains rather regionally specific. It’s about time we see that pop up on more menus across the country, alongside the cheesesteak.
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French dip sandwiches, which consist of thinly sliced beef (variations contain other types of meat, like lamb) and a side of jus for dipping, originated in Los Angeles. But they didn’t stay a regional sandwich for long. The simple yet irresistible combination of meat and jus can be found at diners and high-end restaurants alike, all across the country. Even fast food chains like Arby’s offer their own version. As we Chicagoans know from our Italian beef sandwiches, a wet sandwich is far superior to a dry one.
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Lobster rolls are a celebration of shellfish prepared simply. Lobster meat that’s lightly dressed in mayo or warm butter is tucked into a split-top and griddled New England-style roll. That’s all it needs; it’s ready to go. Though lobster might be considered a luxury ingredient, restaurants can still source it across the country (not just on the east coast). As a result, you can easily access these beauties at seafood restaurants, markets, and stands across the States. Just be aware that no matter where you’re ordering one, it’ll likely be subject to “market price.”
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Deep dish pizza
Deep dish pizza
Deep dish pizza is quite often a touchy subject and an instigator of passionate arguments for residents of Chicago. But despite the endless debate of it all, you can still order it in major cities across the country, either at mom-and-pop pizza joints that specialize in the style, or at Chicago chains like Giordano’s that have proliferated elsewhere. This heavy combination of thick crust, loads of gooey cheese, and hearty toppings has a cult following for a reason, and everyone should try ordering it at least once, whether they ever make it to Chicago or not. Embrace that cheese pull.
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