Chefs’ Picks: Regional Dishes

Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

The 50 bright, white stars that shine forth from the American flag may look identical, but there are definite differences between the states they symbolize. Every state (and the nation's capital) is distinguished by a diverse collection of customs regarding essential facets of everyday life, including one particularly delicious one: food. Here, five chefs give us the inside story on their favorite regional specialties from across the country.

Shredded Brisket and Square Pizza

Given that André  Natera (executive chef of Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin) is a Texas resident, it’s no surprise that he is obsessed with barbecue brisket. His favorite isn’t found where you’d expect, though. Instead of sticking around Austin, Natera makes a beeline for Pecan Lodge in Dallas when the urge for brisket hits. The Hot Mess with baked sweet potato, shredded brisket, cheese, chipotle cream and onions is his preferred rendition. “It’s just as good as Franklin in my opinion — and less of a wait time!” he says.

Natera’s palate extends beyond meat and Texas. He’s also a huge fan of Detroit-style pizza, which happens to be available at Via 313 in Austin. “I love the thicker square crust; the cheese is a bit chewier, and the pepperoni tastes meaty,” Natera says. “It all works amazingly together!”

Blue Crab Boil

Since moving across the country from NorCal, Marjorie Meek-Bradley (executive chef of Ripple, Roofers Union and Smoked & Stacked, all in Washington, D.C.) has come to appreciate East Coast-style seafood, especially a good New England crab boil. “Being a transplant to D.C. from the West Coast, I had never had blue crab before. Now I am totally obsessed,” she says. When Meek-Bradley is craving a crab boil, she heads to Ivy City Smokehouse in Washington, D.C., to feast on super-fresh jumbo crabs. “It is so much fun because you can sit outside and stuff your face and get all messy,” she says.

Muffuletta Sandwich

As the executive chef of Slightly North of Broad in Charleston, S.C., Russ Moore is a well-known proponent of low-country farmers and fare. It may seem somewhat surprising, then, that his favorite regional dish doesn’t come from Charleston. For Moore, nothing beats that New Orleans classic known as the muffuletta. Created by the city’s Italian immigrants more than a century ago, this gigantic sandwich features salami, mortadella and ham finished with olive salad and provolone on a sesame bun. “I can’t eat a muffuletta without thinking about being in the French Quarter,” says Moore. “I have two requirements: olive salad from Central Grocery and bread from Gambino’s Bakery. One disclaimer: A love of briny green olives is a must.”

Fried Shrimp Tacos

An array of mouthwatering Southeast Asian dishes is on the menu at Simbal, Chef Shawn Pham’s restaurant in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. However, when Pham wants to indulge in his favorite SoCal delicacy, he seeks out the tacos slung at a food truck usually stationed just a few miles away from his restaurant. The Mariscos Jalisco taco truck serves a style of shrimp tacos that is typically found in the Jalisco region of Mexico. They’re fried with a crisp shell and come with salsa spooned across the top. “It makes for a unique textural and temperature contrast,” says Pham, who grew up in nearby Orange County, California. “They usually come in pairs, and the tacos are so good [that] most people end up ordering a second round."

Frita and Chicharrones

As the leading force behind the Miami Design District’s restaurant revival, Michael Schwartz (owner of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Cypress Tavern, both in Miami) forgoes the cheesesteaks of his native Philly for the Cuban cuisine of his adoptive hometown. Schwartz’s favorites are frita (a beef-and-pork patty sandwich topped with potato strings) from El Mago de Las Fritas and chicharrones (fried pork rinds) from El Palacio de Los Jugos. “The best thing about El Mago may not even be the chorizo patties that made these Cuban-style burgers famous,” says Schwartz. “It’s the perfectly crispy shoestring potatoes they fry in lard!" For crunchy satisfaction of another sort, Schwartz heads to El Palacio to feast on the restaurant’s hearty rendition of chicharrones. "It's not all about the pork skin here,” he explains. “They're meaty!”

The Hot Mess photo courtesy of Pecan Lodge, Crab Boil photo courtesy of Jay Fleming and Chicharrones photo courtesy of Burger Beast

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