Even within Philadelphia, cheese steaks provoke fierce debate. In the 15 years he spent crisscrossing the country for work, Philly native John Pinelli never found a cheese steak that held up to those from home. John settled in Denver in 1989 and opened his own shop 14 years later. South Philly Cheesesteaks now has nine Denver-area locations making steaks the Philly way. "We chop the sirloin on the grill," John says. He carries three cheeses — provolone, American and Whiz — and he has rolls shipped from the Pennsylvania bakery Amoroso's. "You got the bread," he says, "you got the sandwich."
New York City Bagels in Delray Beach, Fla.
When New York City banker Steve Fassberg relocated to Florida, he began scheming to bring real bagels to the Sunshine State. "Every New Yorker knows the bagels here are just rolls that look like bagels," he says. One secret to NYC bagels is the tap water, so he hired a tanker truck to bring him 2,000 gallons. But the trip changed the water quality. Frustrated, he gave up until 2004, when he hatched a new plan: He'd hire engineers to re-create the water. Now all the H2O at The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. matches New York's.
Chicago Hot Dogs in San Antonio
When Chicago native Jerry Cahue moved to San Antonio, the aircraft mechanic would use his airfare discount to fly back to the Windy City once a month for hot dogs. In 2004, he opened Jerry's Chicago Style Hot Dogs, where he assembles every dog using Chi-Town ingredients: Vienna Beef franks, poppy-seed buns, neon-green relish, celery salt, dill pickles, yellow mustard and giardiniera hot peppers, which he also puts on Italian beef sandwiches. "I once saw someone here serving an Italian beef with jalapeno peppers!" he says, shocked. "A lot of people wouldn't know the difference, but I do."
New Orleans Creole in Seattle
Seattle farmers markets are full of great ingredients, but you won't find alligator meat. And this was a problem when Anthony McDonald, co-owner of Marcela's Cookery arrived. Anthony spent 25 years working in French Quarter restaurants before Hurricane Katrina forced him to relocate. His plan, with wife Marcela Fuenzalida, was to bring his mother's Creole cooking to the Northwest, but the ingredients weren't quite right. So the couple began importing just about everything, including andouille sausage, catfish and alligator.
Mexican Tacos in Queens, NY
Serving homemade tortillas at his restaurant wasn't enough for Fernando Ruiz; he needed them to taste like the ones he ate while visiting Mexico. Fernando had never tasted tacos so good in the United States, and he knew why: American restaurants made tortillas from corn flour, while those in Mexico used dried corn. So Fernando opened his tortilleria, where cooks turn ground corn into tortillas on site. Fernando and his girlfriend, Shauna Page, had to assemble a 3,000-pound tortilla press in their cafe, Tortilla Nixtamal. But it was worth it, he says. "It creates that feeling of being in Mexico."