Signature dishes from 30 American cities
Classic American dishes include cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies. But when it comes to American culinary inventions, there is so much more ground to cover than just these most popular options. Stacker took a deep dive into the archives of American kitchens around the country to see which cities can lay claim to 30 iconic American dishes.
From Texas caviar in Dallas to po'boys in New Orleans, the results were extraordinary. The history of American culinary invention is one that dovetails neatly with American history. It is full of cooks making do with what limited ingredients they had and stories of chutzpah, gumption, and inventive and colorful language that turned old classic foods on their heads to create something distinct.
To wit—one spunky chef in Arizona was so upset when one of her cooks knocked a burrito into a deep fryer that she wanted to curse. But because there were children in the kitchen, she invented a curse word: chimichanga. Suffice it to say—no one was cursing after they took a bite from what is now a delicious Tex-Mex staple. And befitting the outsize role college students have in popular American culture, a diner in Rochester, N.Y., was merely trying to appease the whims of local students late at night when they ended up creating a dish that takes a rightful place among the most legendary of American dishes.
So whether a foodie road trip around the United States is on the horizon or merely an excursion to visit a pa rticular unique slice of American history, click through to see which American cities gave birth to which distinctly American foods.
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Philadelphia: Philly cheesesteak
A Philadelphia cheesesteak is just what it sounds like—thinly sliced and sauteed ribeye beef combined with melted cheese on a roll, often topped with hot peppers, fried onions, mushrooms, and ketchup. The dish traced its origins to the 1930s when a hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri decided to grill some beef one night and put it on a roll. A cab driver smelled this first Philly cheesesteak, and a legend was born.
New Orleans: Po'boy
The po'boy is a New Orleans culinary staple with a history harkening back to the 1920s when two New Orleans restaurateurs decided to support striking streetcar workers by offering them inexpensive sandwiches of French bread with gravy and spare scraps of roast beef. "Here comes another poor boy!" the chefs would yell whenever a new order was placed, and the name stuck. Now, po'boys come in multiple varieties, including fried seafood and French fries.
St. Louis: Gooey butter cake
St. Louis' most famous dessert, gooey butter cake, lives up to its name, and then some. The dish originated accidentally in the 1930s when a baker put too much butter in his coffee cake—to the delight of his patrons. For a seasonal spin, some St. Louisans add pumpkin at Thanksgiving or nutmeg for Christmas.
Chicago: Deep-dish pizza
Some of Chicago's deep-dish pizzas boast crusts of up to a whopping 3 inches, made of a thick layer of dough formed to a deep round pan and pulled up the edges, baked to about 80% readiness, then pulled out and frozen. Deep-dish was invented in 1943 at famous Chicago eatery Pizzeria Uno, and given the amount of sauce, cheese, and toppings the crust allows, patrons are recommended to eat deep-dish with cutlery instead of their fingers.
Baltimore: Crab cake
Located near the Chesapeake Bay, chefs in Baltimore have always had abundant access to the blue crabs living in the Bay and have long been combining the crabmeat with breadcrumbs, spices, and crackers to make the cake. However, it wasn't until the 1930s that a proper name stuck. In Crosby Gaige's cookbook "The New World's Fair Cook Book," he coined the term "Baltimore Crab Cakes," and the seafood dish has been associated with Baltimore and Maryland ever since.
Washington D.C.: Half-smoke
Washington D.C.’s hometown dish is the half-smoke—a hot dog with several twists. The sausage in a half-smoke generally consists of half beef and half pork. The dish is then smoked before it’s grilled and then topped with chili, onions, and cheese. The most famous place to get a half-smoke is at Ben’s Chili Bowl, where even former President Barack Obama stopped by to sample the dish.
Boston: Clam chowder
Clam chowder doesn’t limit itself to just clams—the famous New England dish can be made with all types of seafood, combined with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables. Befitting Boston’s long colonial history, the dish was already famous by the 1700s thanks to Boston’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its abundant seafood and has been served since 1836 at Ye Olde Union Oyster House—the oldest restaurant in the country.
Rochester, NY: The garbage plate
The garbage plate may not have an appetizing name, but locals and visitors alike swear by the taste. Made of a base layer of meat (hamburger, cheeseburger, pork—the options are endless) and topped with home fries, baked beans, macaroni, and hot sauce, the dish may not be the healthiest, but it has legions of devoted fans. It was created in the kitchen of diner chef Nick Tahous, who made it when college students came in late one night requesting a dish with “all the garbage on it.”
Dallas: Texas caviar
A melange of beans, vegetables, and sometimes cabbage, Texas caviar has nothing to do with fish, despite its name. The Dallas dish was invented in the 1940s by the food service director of famous Dallas department store Neiman Marcus and has since become a staple in the kitchens of Texans, for its versatility, its taste, and its ability to be made well in advance. Cowboy caviar, of course, is the other name for the dish.
New York City: Black-and-white cookie
The black-and-white cookie is more like a flattened cake, with toppings of half vanilla frosting and half chocolate—hence the name. The origins of the cookie are relatively murky, but many accounts trace it back to Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, where Bavarian immigrants introduced the dessert to their clients and the city around 1902.