6 Best American Comfort Foods – and Where to Eat Them
As temperatures drop, and daylight hours decrease, comfort food becomes as indispensable as snow tires and Netflix. Contributor Emily Saladino explores 6 places to taste our favorite hearty food plates from coast to coast.
Emily Saladino is a journalist and recipe developer in New York City. She has covered food, drinks, travel, and culture for Bloomberg, BBC, Travel + Leisure, and others. A former professional cook, she graduated from the International Culinary Center. She is currently the Editor in Chief of VinePair.
Mac and cheese, Seattle, WA
Since 2003, Seattle’s OG artisan cheese shop Beecher’s Handmade Cheese has sourced its milk locally and sustainably, and guarantees all its produced-on-site wares are free of hormones, nitrites, and hydrogenated oils. There are now three locations around Seattle and one New York City, and all serve a cafe menu featuring its award-winning mac and cheese. Made with penne (so it seems almost grown-up) and a hint of chipotle, the comforting carb gets its nutty, complex flavor from Beecher’s Flagship cheese, a semi-hard stunner aged 15 months and frequently honored by the American Cheese Society.
Matzo Ball Soup, New York, NY
Anyone who has ever power breakfast-ed over smoked fish can attest, Jewish appetizing fare occupies a lofty place in NYC’s culinary canon. Russ & Daughters has been selling the good stuff from its Lower East Side retail shop since 1914; two years ago, the Russ family debuted a stylish, full-service cafe a few blocks east. The hip, mod space winks at its past (note the bartenders’ lab coats) and serves the Platonic ideal of matzo ball soup, with aromatic vegetables, tender chicken and fluffy matzoh balls in golden broth.
Soup Dumplings, Los Angeles, CA
The cult Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung has many outposts with varied menus, but nearly every table at the Glendale, LA branch has xiao long bao, or Shanghai-style soup dumplings. Painstakingly crafted (each dumpling has 18 hand-folded crimps) and filled with bone-warming broth and minced crab and/or pork, they're that rare comfort food that feel both homespun and celebratory. Slurping is standard, dipping is encouraged, and ordering seconds (or thirds) is pretty much guaranteed.
Burger, Chicago, Ill.
American burger fans typically fall into one of two categories: those who favor flat, griddled “diner” burgers; and those who prefer their patty cooked to temperature. Brendan Sodikoff’s handsome West Loop spot Au Cheval, in Chicago, has bipartisan appeal. Called “just about perfect” by Bon Appetit, and named the country’s best by the Food Network, Au Cheval’s cheeseburger inspires crowds to wait upwards of two hours for the signature single or double stack, griddled to medium, enveloped in Kraft American cheese and topped with Dijonnaise on a toasted Z Baking bun.
Brunswick Stew, Charlotte, NC
Boasting infinitesimal variations and competing origin stories, Brunswick Stew is a rib-sticking, one-pot meal claimed by Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina. Ingredients vary, but most include potatoes, tomatoes, lima or butter beans, corn, okra, and whatever proteins (chicken, rabbit, smoked ham hocks, game meat) the stewmaster has on hand. Truthfully, the best versions are those served in Tupperware at church picnics and potlucks; barring that, a good bet is to visit Boone's Barbeque Kitchen, a roving bbq truck that dishes out hearty bowls.
Meatloaf, Lancaster, PA
Meatloaf is the word at the friendly, retro-chic Neptune Diner in Lancaster, PA, which serves all-American favorites with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent (shoofly pie, homemade apple dumplings and an array of signature meat loafs). The breakfast menu includes red eye meatloaf and meatloaf benedict, lunch service features four different loaves, and dinner comprises of classic, smokehouse, and Parmesan varieties. (The latter is topped with cheese and red sauce, and served alongside pasta and salad. Man cannot live on loaf alone.)
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