Every city has one: an unassuming eatery, sandwich stand or fine-dining establishment that’s a gateway to a city's culinary heart and history. We're talking a dining landmark, a place that invented a town's staple food -- like roast beef in Boston or burgers in New Haven, CT -- or simply made its mark dishing up quality meals for generations. From Los Angeles to Philadelphia, these eateries offer culinary moments to savor.
If you're fixing to chow down on a serious sandwich in Boston, stop by Kelly's Roast Beef. This city icon claims to be the originator of the roast beef sandwich, and has been dishing up this Beantown favorite for more than 50 years. A Kelly's sandwich features heaps of medium-rare, thinly-sliced roast beef stuffed into a buttered and toasted sesame seed bun. The beef's flavors get even better with condiments; ask for a side of Kelly's signature barbecue sauce and spicy horseradish. If you're not too stuffed from the beef, try an order of fried clams, another Kelly's staple. Though Kelly's has 5 locations around town, the open-air flagship store in Revere Beach draws the biggest crowds. Grab a sandwich and head across the street to the promenade overlooking Massachusetts Bay for a quintessential Boston food experience.
Think the cheesesteak is Philly’s only claim to culinary fame? Think again. The roast pork Italian sandwich is another Philly specialty -- and no one in the City of Brotherly Love does roast pork better than Tony Luke's. Though this South Philadelphia sandwich stand dishes out a variety of sandwiches, its pork Italian is the star attraction. A soft and doughy sandwich roll is heaped with juicy roast pork and copious amounts of natural juices, salty provolone cheese and a pile of broccoli rabe sauteed with enough delicious garlic to make Dracula cringe. With your tastes sated, you may just put any cheesesteak cravings to rest for a good while.
It's not every day travelers come across a restaurant so ingrained in local sensibility that it has its own lingo. At New Haven's Louis' Lunch, the self-proclaimed creators of the hamburger sandwich, make like a local and order the "cheese works and a salad." That’s a Louis' classic: a hamburger with tomato, onion and cheese on toast, cooked medium rare, and served with potato salad. Cooks here have been making Louis' hamburgers daily since 1900, using a secret blend of 5 meats and spices. The patties are cooked to order using the shop's original (now antique) cast-iron grills. Also blend in with the locals by never asking for condiments. The folks at Louis' have laid down the law: their burgers are to be eaten with nothing but bread, meat, tomato, lettuce and cheese.
With a heady mix of Cajun, Creole and French flavors permeating its restaurant scene, New Orleans is one of America's great foodie cities. Within this eating mecca, Arnaud's Restaurant has been a city staple of deluxe dining since 1918. Creative Creole dishes are Arnaud's mainstay. Start your meal with Arnaud's signature appetizer, Shrimp Arnaud (Gulf shrimp marinated in remoulade sauce), before indulging in the turtle soup. Other highlights include oysters Bienville, baked with shrimp, mushrooms and green onions in a white wine sauce; and a classic filet mignon au poivre, served with a French brandy cream sauce. Diners will be equally impressed by the restaurant's lavish dining room, complete with crystal chandeliers, leaded glass windows and Italian mosaic tiled floors.
Not everyone in health-conscious Los Angeles craves good-for-you food, 24/7. Satisfy deli grub desires in LA with a trip to Brent's Deli, a classic eatery that's been serving up Jewish delicatessen favorites to Angelenos for 3 generations. At locations in Northridge and Westlake Village, tuck into homemade deli classics such as a heaping hot pastrami sandwich on rye bread, matzo ball soup served with bagel chips and a hot brisket sandwich on egg bread with gravy. Brent's corned beef sits for 11 days in brine before it’s cooked in pickling spices -- all in all, a 2-week process. This level of care and quality keeps Brent's at the top of its game … and the LA food scene.
Don't be dazzled by the hip crowd hanging outside the latest trendy restaurant; head to these iconic eateries to capture the true heart of a city.
Valerie Conners, a freelance writer and editor, has worked for publications such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Frommer's Travel Guides. She's happiest when eating spicy massaman curries on the beach in Koh Mook, Thailand, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia, and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets.