9 Regional Comfort Foods, and Where to Get Them

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9 Regional Comfort Foods, and Where to Get Them
There’s no one food that defines American comfort. The country is so expansive, filled with people of such diverse backgrounds, that it would be impossible to say that cheeseburgers are more quintessential than casseroles, or that ramen is more soothing than pho. Here is one thing that we know to be true, however: Good comfort food should make you feel a warm, nostalgic, and just the tiniest bit indulgent, all at once. And what’s wrong with that? We can all use a little edible therapy now and again. Here is how 9 U.S. states do it and where exactly to indulge.
By Alina Polishuk, AFAR Contributor
Courtesy of Kawamoto Store
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    Spam Musubi (Hawaii)
    For those who grew up eating it, Spam Musubi is a soul-nourishing snack. It’s simple: a thick slice of Spam—canned processed meat, for those who don’t know—is grilled, brushed with a shoyu-sugar seasoning, then placed on a rectangle of sticky rice and held in place by a sheet of dry seaweed, otherwise known as nori. The canned meat made its way to Hawaii during World War II, when it became one of the few sustainable sources of protein for the island’s inhabitants. Despite its wartime history, Hawaiians (including our very own President) love the stuff and reportedly consume 7 million cans of it a year. For those in search of the best, there’s Musubi Cafe Iyasume, a Honolulu spot where diners can have their Spam adorned with avocado and bacon. Also top-notch are Pono Market on Kauai, and Kawamoto Store on the Big Island. Both sell out early, so be sure to snag yours before noon.

    Plan Your Trip: Hawaii
    Courtesy of Kawamoto Store
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    Burrito (California)
    For Californians, a good burrito is more than just comfort food; a good burrito is a transcendental experience, made richer by loyalty, culture, and expertly seasoned meat. In Northern California, they’re eaten Mission style. Named after the San Francisco neighborhood in which they were invented, these notoriously hefty burritos are stuffed with staples like rice, whole beans, meat, and accouterments like crema, cheese, fresh avocado, and salsa. In San Francisco, you’d be hard pressed to find a local who doesn’t dig the hearty offerings of La Taqueria or El Farolito. Both, of course, are in the Mission district. Take a trip down to San Diego, however, and you’ll find the California burrito, which is significantly less Mexican and significantly more surfer. Here, french fries take the place of rice, the meat is almost always carne asada, and the only additions are sour cream and melted cheese. This well-balanced meal can be found all around the city, but both Lolita’s and Lucha Libre are wildly popular.

    Plan Your Trip: California
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    Barbecue (Texas)
    While natives of Tennessee, Kansas, and the Carolinas could debate the superiority of their respective barbecue styles for days, there is one thing that is widely accepted as fact: Nobody does beef like Texas. In Austin, there’s Franklin Barbecue, a spot that serves up brisket of such revelatory goodness, it sells 1,800 pounds of the stuff in four hours on a weekday. For impossibly tender beef ribs, visit Louie Mueller Barbecue, which has attracted the masses to nearby Taylor for over 60 years. Of lesser fame but equal delight, there’s Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan, where the pitmaster keeps his recipe secrets under lock and key.

    Plan Your Trip: Texas
    Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue
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    Bratwurst (Wisconsin)
    Bratwurst may be German in origin, but that didn’t prevent Wisconsinites from creating a unique culture surrounding these fat and flavor-packed sausages. Not only is the state home to the beer-boiled bratwurst, but Madison is also home to possibly the largest annual “Bratfest” in the world. The European-style sausages were first popularized in the 1920s in the lake-side city of Sheboygan. Today, diners can grab a classic Sheboygan-style brat at the Charcoal Inn South, a no-frills spot that serves grilled, split brats on local rolls. In Milwaukee, those hoping to go straight to the source should stop by Bunzel’s Meat Market, a family-owned shop that sells stellar homemade brats. Customers love its Honey Mustard and Jalepeño Cheddar flavors, but Bunzel’s also produces the classics.

    Plan Your Trip: Wisconsin
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    Peach Cobbler (Georgia)
    What to do when your state produces over 130 million pounds of peaches a year? Bake those peaches into a classic Southern dessert, of course. In Atlanta, dozens of places serve up treats that feature the juicy state fruit, but few are as iconic as the cobbler on the menu at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. Here, local peaches are mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg, then baked under a layer of light, flaky crust. Locals also swear by the buttery pastry that tops the cobbler from Busy Bee Cafe, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Plan Your Trip: Georgia
    Courtesy of Busy Bee Cafe
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    Gumbo (Louisiana)
    There are few dishes more representative of Louisiana’s storied past than gumbo. Although its origins are widely debated, most can agree that this spicy and rich soup is a product of the African, Native American, and European cultures that converged in Louisiana in the 18th century. Gumbo is defined by its roux, filé powder, and okra-thickened broth. Besides that, however, no two bowls are the same, and there are hundreds to choose from throughout the state. Both Cochon and Prejeans—in New Orleans and nearby Lafayette, respectively—are famed for their soul-satisfying chicken and sausage gumbos. For a delicate (albeit pricey) gumbo in a refined setting, diners can make reservations at Nola’s Restaurant R’evolution, where the kitchen serves a gumbo with roasted quail, Andouille sausage, and oysters.

    Plan Your Trip: Louisiana
    Courtesy of Prejeans
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    Hot Chicken (Tennessee)
    Tennessee Hot Chicken is a cayenne-and-paprika-laden force to be reckoned with. The indisputable creator of this spicy dish is Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which opened its doors right outside Nashville over 70 years ago. Legend has it that the Hot Chicken Shack began after Thorton Prince, the original proprietor, came home to his girlfriend after a night of philandering. Seeking revenge, she dumped a load of cayenne into her usual fried chicken seasoning. Contrary to her intentions, Thorton loved it, and the rest was history. Some say that nothing compares to the Prince’s original, but locals and out-of-towners alike also love Hattie B’s, a modern and oft-packed spot in downtown Nashville where the chicken is sticky, tender, and not quite as mouth-numbing.

    Plan Your Trip: Tennessee
    Photo by Joseph Woodley
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    Pizza (New York)
    There is no “best” pizza in New York—that would be like asking a mother to name her “favorite” child. You’re all special in your own way, she might say. The same can be said for pizza in New York. Despite debates over what makes a pizza quintessentially New York style, most can agree that the magic lies in the light, crisp crust, and the state-specific mineral water that makes it just so. Brooklyn is home to some heavy-hitters. There’s Di Fara, which has been open since 1959 and has been repeatedly lauded as the best pizza in New York City. Somewhat newer to the ‘hood is Lucali, which has been slinging fresh mozzarella pies to the likes of Beyoncé and Jay Z since 2006. Manhattan is home to more hot spots, but it’s hard to go wrong with Joe’s, where they serve a clean and satisfying slice of cheese for $2.75.

    Plan Your Trip: New York

    Photo by Laughingsquid/Flickr
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    Clam Chowder (Massachusetts)
    Those unfamiliar with New England clam chowder might be put off by its initial description. Clams? Combined with cream, salt pork, and potatoes? Hmm. But the brininess of the clams combines with the richness of the cream to make a stew that is salty, decadent, and quintessentially New England. Neptune Oyster Co. in Boston serves up a uniquely delicate version of chowder, which is finished to order with fresh, Wellfleet Cherrystone clams. For the heavier and more traditional stuff, there’s the no-frills Summer Shack in nearby Cambridge. And at Captain Parker’s Pub in Cape Cod, the chowder is so craveable that it sells a frozen version online. Just add cream.

    Photo by thejosh/Flickr

    Plan Your Trip: Massachusetts
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