50 States of Cheesy Dishes
Whether it’s California mac 'n' cheese, crumbled Wisconsin brick cheese on pizza or Southern pimento cheese balls, cheese is the creamy, gooey, savory and funky food that draws us all together. From breakfast to dessert and everything in between, these are the cheesy regional favorites that make each state melt with pride.
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Bacon & Cheese Dip Skillet, Arkansas
In Arkansas, cheese dip is a fixture at all types of occasions, so it makes sense that restaurants find creative ways to work the dunkable cheese into their menus. At downtown Little Rock brew pub Lost Forty Brewing, cheese dip gets a serious umami upgrade. Each batch starts with a deeply browned roux, sautéed with a top-secret six-spice blend, poblano peppers, diced sweet onions, jalapenos and fresh tomatoes; it's combined with a three-cheese blend until melted and creamy. The creamy dip is baked and served in a skillet topped with local bacon, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh jalapenos, with tortilla chips for dunking. Pair it with craft suds like the Snake Party Double IPA or the classic Bare Bones Pilsner.
Cheese Enchiladas, Texas
In Houston's Montrose neighborhood, an art deco building with an oversize neon sign spelling out "Tex Mex" can be seen for miles. It's a landmark for many locals; the building was formerly home to the Tower Theatre, but since 2011 it's been El Real, the place for classic Tex Mex cuisine. According to El Real co-owner Robb Walsh, who wrote The Tex Mex Cookbook, all Tex-Mex restaurants are rated first and foremost by their cheese enchiladas. Judging by their legions of fans, El Real's Cheese Enchiladas #7 are the gold standard. Three corn tortillas are stuffed with cheddar and Land O Lakes® Extra Melt® cheeses, then topped with a blend of yellow and white cheddars, along with chile con carne and chili gravy. In a throwback to the Tex-Mex tastes of the 1950s, the enchiladas are finished with a roux-based sauce studded with chili powder and spices. Craving more cheese? Order the Enchiladas #10, which features El Real's chili con queso.
Chopped Cheese, New York
One of New York City's most-beloved dining institutions is the bodega, a corner store that’s responsible for Big Apple classics like the chopped cheese: a cross between a Philly cheesesteak and a cheeseburger. For a gourmet take on the beloved chop cheese, as it's known locally, stop by White Gold Butchers. A custom poppy seed bun from Terranova Bakery stands in for the usual Kaiser roll. Both sides of the bun are slicked with mayo, then toasted on the plancha before being stuffed with the cheesy, meaty filling. It all starts with a patty made with beef from upstate farm At Ease Acres. A generous ladleful of beef tallow on the griddle adds extra flavor to the patty, which gets a hard sear on each side before it's chopped along with housemade pickles and jalapenos. Once the trio is combined, American cheese is melted on top and the whole lot is piled onto the bun. An ice-cold beer perfectly balances the sizzling combo of cheese and meat.
Macaroni Au Gratin, North Carolina
Ask any resident within a 20-mile radius of Raleigh about their favorite cheesy dish, and they’re likely to extol the virtues of the Macaroni Au Gratin from Poole’s Diner. As with the rest of Poole’s menu, Chef Ashley Christensen strikes the perfect balance between the familiar and the fresh to deliver a crave-worthy take on a comfort food classic. Each Macaroni Au Gratin is made to order and features slightly al dente elbow macaroni tossed in a silky sauce made from reduced cream, sea salt and a trio of cheeses: nutty-sweet Jarlsberg, Grana Padano and sharp white Vermont cheddar. The gooey mixture is heaped into an au gratin dish and topped with additional cheese, then broiled to create a crisp golden crust. It’s rare that a table doesn’t request it — the kitchen expects to serve 15,000 orders this year.
Clam & Bacon Pizza, Massachusetts
Boston-style pizza — it’s a thing. Get a taste at Area Four, where Chef-Owner Jeff Pond borrows from both New Haven and Neapolitan pizza-making traditions to create his signature A4 pies. Tender dough and crisp crusts serve as the base for a slew of seasonal, locally-inspired toppings. For a taste of New England, opt for the Wellfleet Clam & Bacon. Pond starts with his hand-stretched dough, which he makes with a 16-year-old sourdough starter and ferments for up to 30 hours. Once the dough is ready, he slathers on a clam sauce seasoned with hot peppers and parsley, then heaps on meaty Wellfleet cherry stone clams from Cape Cod and hefty slabs of thick-cut bacon. A final flurry of Pecorino cheese adds a tangy, salty bite that perfectly complements the clams’ brininess. Pond bakes the pizza in a wood-fired oven at 750 degrees to ensure a beautifully charred crust and kiss of smoky flavor.
Area Four: Area Four
Lobster Grilled Cheese, Maine
Highroller Lobster Co. started as a food cart with a mission to take Maine’s most famous export and remix it into a roster of unorthodox dishes. The quest continues at their brick-and-mortar location, where they’re breaking culinary rules with creations like a Lobster Cheese Crisp Taco and the best-selling Lobster Grilled Cheese. Purists may dismiss a dish that dares to combine seafood with cheese, but this grilled cheese proves that taking risks can result in delicious rewards. Chunks of local lobster claw and knuckle meat are layered onto locally baked English muffin bread, along with Jarlsberg Baby Swiss and Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese, then grilled until the bread is toasty and the cheese melty. Make the sandwich your own by adding bacon or avocado, and don’t sleep on the house sauces — they’re perfect for dipping. Options include a roasted red pepper and a lobster ghee, a vivid red clarified butter made with roasted lobster shells.
Pimento Cheese Nuggets, Georgia
Who doesn’t like fried cheese? Grindhouse Killer Burgers owner Alex Brounstein justified it as near-universally appealing when he added a fried cheese appetizer to the menu at his Atlanta burger joint. The cheese-nugget Cheesy Poofs — Brounstein’s a big South Park fan — are inspired by two Southern staples: pimento cheese and hushpuppies. Everyone’s got their own recipe for pimento cheese, but Brounstein’s version features feathery shredded sharp cheddar mixed with mayo, cream cheese and sour cream to achieve a thick consistency that lends itself to frying (and topping burgers), mixed with chopped roasted red peppers, Worcestershire and Bulliard’s cayenne pepper sauce, along with breadcrumbs and additional hot sauce. The mixture is rolled into golf-ball-sized rounds and fried until gooey inside and crisp outside. The nuggets are served with a sweet-spicy chile sauce — a nod to the classic Southern appetizer of crackers with cream cheese and sweet red pepper jelly.
Breakfast Mac & Cheese, Indiana
With its location in a restored 19th-century barn on Traders Point Creamery’s organic dairy farm, The Loft Restaurant has a steady supply of artisan cheeses close at hand, which Chef Toby Moreno showcases in multiple preparations. Moreno transforms mac and cheese into a hearty breakfast meal by adding farm-raised pork belly, green onions and a sunny-side egg to gemelli pasta drenched in a three-cheese Mornay sauce. All three cheeses — cheddar, mozzarella, and Monterey jack — are crafted by a team of Traders Point Creamery’s cheesemakers in the barn’s lower level. This breakfast mac pairs nicely with the Bloody Mary made with organic vodka, tomato juice, freshly ground horseradish and hot sauce, and garnished with a pickle, olive and piece of cheese. Seasonal riffs include combinations like roasted mushrooms, leeks and squash, or corn, roasted cabbage and spinach.
Juicy Lucy, Minnesota
One of the favorite ways for Minnesotans to fortify themselves during the state’s notoriously cold, long winters is with meaty, cheesy comfort food. The Juicy Lucy, arguably one of the North Star State’s proudest culinary exports, features two hamburger patties stuffed and sealed with cheese. Approach that first bite with caution, or you’re likely to scald your mouth (and chin) with the ensuing avalanche of hot, gooey cheese. There’s a Twin Cities-wide debate on who makes the best, but none celebrate it quite like The Blue Door Pub with its dedicated menu of Blucys (named for the spot’s signature take on the celebrated burger). The eponymous flagship burger features a tangy core of blue cheese and garlic, while the Cajun Blucy is filled and topped with a spicy blend of ghost peppers and pepper Jack cheese. For a true taste of the region, opt for the Classic. Two Black Angus beef patties are sealed together with a mound of Land O’Lakes White American Cheese between them, then seared in a cast-iron pan and finished in the oven. Two lightly toasted, buttered local egg buns bookend this meaty, cheesy creation. Save room for a side of tater tots and a pint of local suds.
The Blue Door Pub: The Blue Door Pub
Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese, South Carolina
At his Hilton Head Island bistro, Chef-Owner Clayton Rollison offers a Southern-accented menu of seasonal American fare. One of his favorite creations featured at Lucky Rooster is a refined take on a classic Southern combo: pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes. For the cheese-mayo spread, Rollison follows tradition by combining grated sharp cheddar and Duke’s mayonnaise, then veers off course by kicking it up with pickled jalapenos, pickling juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Sliced green tomatoes are breaded with Panko and fried to order, then plated atop generous dollops of the creamy, cheesy spread and served with spicy red pepper jam and chow chow. This knife-and-fork affair tastes best if you get some pimento and crisp-crusted tomato in every bite.
Half-Pound Grilled Cheese, Connecticut
New Haven native Jason Sobocinski put his masters degree in gastronomy to good use when he founded Caseus, an artisan cheese shop and bistro that dishes up some of the state’s cheesiest creations. To wit, the grilled cheese sandwich features a whopping half pound of cheeses, including flavor powerhouses like extra-sharp cheddar, Schnebelhorn, Beemster Gouda, and prime melters like Comte, Gruyere, Provolone and Raclette. The cheese is piled onto slices of thick-cut rye, grilled in brown butter and served with grainy mustard and cornichons to cut the richness. Diners can double down on the decadence with standard add-ons like house-made bacon lardons, or custom requests; one daring diner’s addition — a slice of apple pie and guanciale — is the stuff of local legend.
Caseus Fromagerie Bistro: Caseus Fromagerie Bistro
"World’s Best" Mac & Cheese, Washington
Billing your mac and cheese as the best in the world is a bold move, but Seattle-based Beecher’s Handmade Cheese does have Oprah and a legion of fans on its side. Penne serves as the vehicle for the dish’s real star: a bechamel sauce that’s bolstered by a four to one ratio of Beecher’s signature Flagship (a smooth-melting cheese that retains its robust flavor and nutty undertones when melted) and Just Jack for creaminess.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Fried Cheese Balls, Vermont
Vermont has a robust dairy industry and a history of artisan cheesemaking, so restaurants and bars statewide are spoiled for choice when it comes to sourcing top-notch cheese. When in Stowe, swing by local watering hole Doc Ponds for a selection of cheese-centric dishes featured on the stepped-up pub menu. The Bayley Blue Balls are a particularly popular option. These arancini-style fried balls are stuffed with Bayley Hazen Blue (a fudgy blue cheese with nutty-spicy undertones from Jasper Hill Farm), then drizzled with local honey. Double up on cheesy snacks by adding the VT Cheddar Fritters to your order. Made with Cabot sharp cheddar and tangy Cabot clothbound cheddar, these fritters are served with pickled peppers, black beans, cilantro and crema. The cheesy bites pair well with just about any beer on offer.
Crescent Moon opened in 1996 as Omaha’s first ale house, and while still known for its 70-plus craft beers on tap, the pub is equally lauded for its Reuben sandwich. Though the history of the Reuben is somewhat murky, one account claims that this classic grilled sandwich featuring sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye was created directly across the street from Crescent Moon at The Blackstone Hotel. While Crescent Moon may not be the first to have offered the sandwich, its Reuben has earned a loyal local following, with around 25,000 served annually. The pub’s take hews closely to tradition, albeit with a few slight tweaks. A mound of too-tender-to-slice corned beef is cut into chunks before being heaped onto slices of marbled rye from Rotella’s Bakery, topped with the requisite Swiss, 'kraut and dressing, then toasted in a pizza oven conveyor belt (instead of getting grilled on the flat-top). So deep runs the love for this Reuben that Crescent Moon hosts an annual week-long celebration known as ReubenFest, which celebrates the Reuben in practically every form imaginable — including egg rolls and poutine.
Pear & Blue Cheese Ice Cream, Oregon
Portland-based Salt and Straw transforms local ingredients into small-batch ice creams that have gained cult status for their gourmet flavor combinations. One perennially popular option is the Pear and Blue Cheese, which features local pears (the official state fruit) and blue cheese from Rogue Creamery, an award-winning Southern Oregon cheesemaker. Head ice cream maker Tyler Malek roasts and blends Oregon pears into a puree to flavor and sweeten the ice cream base. Once the base is ready, he gently folds in housemade candied pears and cave-aged blue cheese crumbles. By not cooking the crumbles into the cream, Malek ensures that the cheese’s distinctive funk and floral notes are not dulled down. Since 2011, Malek estimates that they’ve used 3,000 pounds (or more than 600 wheels) of Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese to meet demand. Pick up a pint locally or order online.
Salt & Straw: Salt & Straw
Whipped Ricotta, Kentucky
When it comes to hot and cheesy dishes, Kentucky is known for its eponymous Hot Brown sandwich, which was created at The Brown Hotel in the 1920s. But that’s not the only stellar cheese-smothered dish to come out of Kentucky’s hotel dining scene. The Whipped Ricotta at 21C Louisville’s Proof on Main may well be the state’s sleeper hit. Fresh Calabro ricotta is whipped until airy and smooth, then placed in a cast-iron dish and heated in the restaurant’s custom-built hearth. Once warm, the molten cheese is taken over the top with an unexpected yet winning finish of zesty grated horseradish, earthy truffle oil and local fried oregano. Every order comes with slabs of grilled bread from Blue Dog Bakery, and can be customized with an optional bourbon pairing.
Proof on Main: Proof on Main
Bison Patty Melt, Montana
When locals dine out in Big Sky Country during the winter season, they opt for chill-busting dishes that offer both sustenance and comfort. Bozeman’s Montana Ale Works delivers on both counts, with a menu that’s stuffed with satisfying comfort food classics. Many of the dishes showcase regional ingredients. Take the Bison Patty Melt, for instance. This riff on the American grilled classic features a local bison patty piled with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions sandwiched between rye bread slices, all grilled until melty and toasted. It comes flanked by a side of sweet-smoky ranch beans topped with house-smoked pulled pork, as well as a ramekin of creamy-spicy MT 1000 Island dressing for dipping. Balance all that richness with Big Sky Brewing Company’s Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout. Its dark chocolate and dried fruit notes perfectly offset the creaminess of the melted cheese.
Baked Cheese Grits, Alabama
In the South, grits — or coarsely ground corn meal — serve as the foundation for many down-home dishes, whether boiled and served as breakfast porridge, combined with shrimp for a low-country entrée or folded with cheese for a potluck. At his fine dining restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham chef Frank Stitt elevates grits from humble pantry staple to a sophisticated soufflé-like appetizer. A menu mainstay since day one, the Baked Grits feature locally milled organic, coarse yellow grits from Coosa Valley which are boiled and combined with butter, white pepper and finely grated Parmesan for savory depth. Portions are baked in buttered ramekins in a hot water bath to achieve their airy texture, plated with a wild mushroom-sherry-vinegar sauce, smoky Benton’s country ham, thyme and more freshly grated Parmesan.
Highlands Bar & Grill: Highlands Bar & Grill
Crab Cheese Melt, Florida
Wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida has enough seafood to rival any island nation. Though stone crab season is fleeting, fans can get a taste of crabs year-round at gourmet grilled cheese food truck Ms. Cheezious. To pay homage to the Sunshine State’s coastal bounty and his own love of crab, chef and co-owner Brian Mullins dreamed up the Crabby Cheese Melt. A crab salad filling of white crab meat, sweet peppers and spices is pulled together with a touch of house-made mayo, tucked in between slices of sharp cheddar and sourdough bread, and grilled to order to sweet, cheesy effect.
Ms. Cheezious: Ms. Cheezious
Cheez-Its Mac and Cheese, Alaska
Despite its nickname as Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska’s long, dark, frigid winters mean that restaurants deliver as much on comfort as they do on flavor. Juneau’s The Rookery Café has an eclectic menu of crave-worthy comfort foods, spanning everything from Korean fried chicken to bacon cheeseburgers, but few can resist the siren call of the mac and cheese. House made cavatelli, whose name translates to "little hollow," provides ample nooks and crannies for the cheesy sauce, made with nutty Beecher’s flagship cheese and creamy, melty American cheese, to cling to. Instead of breadcrumbs, co-owner and Chef Beau Schooler blankets the noodles and cheese with crushed Cheez-Its crackers for an added sharp Cheddar bite, then bakes the lot in a rarebit dish until toasty. If you’re feeling extra cheesy, double down with an order of the Champagne and Brie fondue.
Ahi Tuna Melt, Hawaii
At Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, the from-scratch menu features a delectable array of scratch-made pies and what General Manager Rosie Robbins calls "glorified comfort food." Take for example the fan- and staff-favorite seared ahi sandwich, which reads like the fancy tuna melt of dreams. Local sashimi-grade ahi tuna is seared, sliced and layered onto house-made rye bread with Jarlsberg cheese, caramelized Maui onions, local watercress, fresh avocado and pesto aioli, then grilled until the cheese is just melted. Order it with a side of earthy taro chips made from their own farm-grown taro and be sure to save room for the Lilikoi Cheese Pie, a no-bake cheese cake with a sweet cream cheese filling and sweet-tart lilikoi (passionfruit) topping.
Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop: Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop
Grown-Up Mac and Cheese, California
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are the award-winning cheesemakers behind Bay Area’s Cowgirl Creamery, which has rightfully grown a cult following for its lineup of fresh, bloomy and aged cheeses. In addition to selling their sought-after wedges and wheels, the team crafts seriously cheesy composed creations at their retail outposts. Try the mac and cheese; penne is the perfect vessel to capture the cheese sauce made from Wagon Wheel, a table cheese that takes on a velvety texture when melted, and Red Hawk, a washed bloomy rind cheese that imparts a funky-yet-nuanced flavor. The mac and cheese is finished with a hearty helping of breadcrumbs for texture. Go all in and pair with a grilled cheese; they rotate daily, but the Classic features shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack bound with fromage blanc, spread onto buttered slices of Acme bread, and cooked low and slow in a skillet until golden and gooey.
Cowgirl Creamery at Ferry Plaza: Cowgirl Creamery at Ferry Plaza
Cheese Crisp, Arizona
The cheese crisp is made with just two ingredients: tortillas and cheese. To make it, a griddled flour tortilla is covered with melted cheese, creating an open-faced quesadilla with a crispier base. A few places in The Grand Canyon State claim to have invented the Sonoran staple, but one of Phoenix’s OG versions can be found at local institution Los Compadres, whose Original Crispy Cheese Crisp is based on founder Josephine Picazo’s recipe. It starts with a lard-free tortilla, which is key for obtaining an extra-crisp, almost flaky base. The tortilla warms on the flat top grill before it’s topped with six ounces of finely shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses and baked in a 500-degree oven. You can add guacamole, machaca or chicken, but locals honor the cheese crisp’s minimalist nature by eating it plain or with roasted green chile strips.
Mac 'n' Cheese Cheeseburger, Iowa
At Des Moines gourmet burger joint Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, Chef George Formaro takes Midwestern comfort food to the next level with his monstrously tasty creations. The Walking Ched, for instance, features a mac-and-cheese-topped burger patty nestled in a mac-and-cheese "bun." To start, Formaro combines macaroni with an Alfredo-style sauce featuring Parmesan, cheddar and American cheeses, along with powdered cheddar for added depth of cheesy flavor, then pours the mixture into cooling tubes. Once chilled, the mac and cheese is cut into inch-thick discs, which are then coated with flour, egg and Panko breadcrumbs before being fried. Formaro uses two of these crisp rounds to bookend a beef patty topped with sliced Cheddar, bacon, caramelized onions, red onion, mayonnaise and a final flourish of gooey mac and cheese.
Zombie Burger: Zombie Burger
Cheesy Taters, Kansas
HHB BBQ — that’s Hog, Herd and a Bird — started as a hobby that blossomed into a food truck and eventually a full-scale Topeka barbecue restaurant. Family recipes still dominate the menu, from the slow-smoked meats to the Heartland-inspired sides — several of which get the smoker treatment, too. The Cheesy Taters start with a mushroom-studded bechamel sauce that’s cooled overnight, then combined with parboiled diced potatoes, cheddar cheese and diced onions. The mixture is heaped into a pan and cooked in the smoker for four hours until the dish is redolent of smoke-tinged barbecue. These taters pair well with Chef Norman Biber’s personal favorite, the Smoked Mac & Cheese, which features macaroni dressed in a creamy three-cheese sauce, topped with Parmesan and smoked for two hours.
Detroit-Style Pizza, Michigan
Detroit-style pizza can be found on restaurant menus beyond the Great Lake State’s borders, but for a taste of the original, head to Buddy’s Pizza. The pie’s defining characteristics — unique layering style, square shape and crisp, cheesy corners — were created by owner Gus Guerra and his employee Concietta "Connie" Piccinato back in the 1940s. The duo baked their Sicilian-style pizzas in blue steel pans repurposed from the city’s automotive industry, topping the twice-stretched dough first with pepperoni, then a layer of crumbled — not shredded — Wisconsin brick cheese and finishing the pies with racing-style stripes of tomato sauce before placing them in the oven. They remix the layering convention with Buddy’s best-selling Detroiter pie. The dough is blanketed in the Motor City cheese blend (composed of Fontinella, Parmesan and Wisconsin brick), which is spread all the way across the surface to ensure crisp, cheesy edges and corner pieces. Next comes tomato basil sauce and a flurry of pepperoni, followed by a final flourish of shaved Parmesan cheese and Buddy’s Sicilian spice blend. Pair it with Buddy Brew, a signature craft beer brewed with coriander and grapefruit peel by Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Company.
Buddy's Pizza: Buddy's Pizza
Mac ‘n’ Cheese Egg Rolls, Nevada
StripChezze Food Truck owner Suzy Davis is no stranger to cheesy mash-ups. Her business, named for the Las Vegas strip and her love of all things cheese, offers clever comfort food combinations that are perfect for recovering after a night of excess in Sin City. Take Daddy’s on a Roll, for instance. Davis borrowed from both her American and Korean heritages to create this decadent mac-and-cheese egg roll. She coats elbow macaroni in a three-cheese sauce made of mozzarella, sharp cheddar and Provolone, then envelopes the pasta in an egg roll wrapper, fries it until crisp and serves it with tangy kimchi dipping sauce. The tangy-creamy-crunchy combination adds up to a culinary jackpot, as evidenced by the dish’s popularity at local events and among late-night revelers. Davis has been known to make as many as 1,500 in a day to keep up with demand.
Disco Fries, New Jersey
French fries with melted mozzarella and gravy have been a Garden State diner staple since the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the dish gained in popularity and garnered its Disco Fries moniker, thanks to the late-night revelers who made it their go-to order after a night out dancing. At Left Bank Burger Bar, owners and Jersey City natives Nina Colon and Daniel DeAlmeid pay homage to this staple from their home state with a cheesy, gravy-soaked version of their own. To make the dish, they heap hand-cut fries with grated mozzarella cheese and homemade beef gravy, then pile the whole lot into a skillet and bake it until gooey and golden. Add the richness with an optional upgrade of chopped bacon or a runny fried egg.
Left Bank Burger Bar: Left Bank Burger Bar
Crab Pretzel, Delaware
With its prime location at the heart of the Delaware beach scene, Woody’s Dewey Beach is a favorite stop for classic boardwalk eats and Mid-Atlantic-inspired fare among locals and tourists alike. One of their most-popular menu items, and arguably the most quintessentially Delaware, is the crab pretzel. A locally sourced ballpark-style pretzel is topped with a zesty homemade crab dip made with their top-secret crab cake blend, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and grated horseradish, as well as a four-cheese blend, all baked until gooey. The knife-and-fork affair is perfect for kicking off a seafood feast or snacking on all to yourself.
Crabby Fries, Maryland
Maryland is synonymous with crab, and locals believe that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are the best in the world. Casual Baltimore seafood spot Angie’s Seafood spins the prized crustacean into multiple crowd-pleasing preparations, like Crab Balls, Crabby Mac 'n' Cheese and the fan-favorite Crabby Fries. Fresh-cut French fries are piled with sweet blue crab meat and a secret blend of shredded cheeses and seasoning, then baked until gooey. It’s the perfect opener to a crab-and-carb-fueled feast.
Three-Way Chili, Ohio
There’s no beans about it — the cheese-smothered chili served at this Ohio fixture is a crowd favorite. Blue Ash Chili has been dishing out classic and modern takes on the signature state dish since 1969. Cincinnati-style chili differs from the average bowl in taste and texture, with a thinner sauce made of meat but not beans, and a blizzard of seasoning that includes cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. This Ohio staple dates to the 1920s when Macedonian restaurateurs started offering it as an optional topping for hot dogs, known as Coneys, or on spaghetti. The tradition still exists today, along with the creative system of customization, locally referred to as "ways." Ask for the Three-Way at Blue Ash Chili and you’ll be served an extra-cheesy spin. The chili is made with fresh ground beef, onions, tomato paste and a secret spice blend, then piled onto a plate of al dente thin spaghetti and mounded with shredded cheddar cheese. Another popular pick is the chili lasagna. To make the dish, multiple layers of flour tortillas are smothered with chili, sour cream and a shredded mound of mild cheddar, then blanketed with more cheese and baked into a cheesy, meaty package of perfection.
Blue Ash Chili: Blue Ash Chili
Poutine, New Hampshire
This Portsmouth-based restaurant gained the attention of locals with its gourmet lineup of burgers and milkshakes, but its poutine is what put BRGR Bar on the culinary map. Considered by many to be the unofficial dish of Canada, poutine typically features French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. This traditional Quebecois dish is near and dear to New Englanders’ hearts, particularly those with French-Canadian roots. BRGR Bar lives up to locals’ expectations by honoring the original recipe components — hand-cut fries are piled with Maine’s Pineland Farms cheese curds and drenched in housemade beef gravy bolstered with short rib braising liquid and demi-glace — but takes tradition to the next level by offering unconventional upgrades like short ribs braised in root beer or a sunny-side up egg. For a boozy regional pairing, opt for the Original Milkshake, a bourbon-vanilla shake sweetened with local maple syrup.
Cornbread Mac ‘n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese, Oklahoma
Situated in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District, The Mule stands out from the other local spots for its dedication to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Combine the cheese with Oklahoma 'cue by opting for the Macaroni Pony. Grilled slices of jalapeno cornbread come crammed with a creamy, meaty filling made from mac and cheese, dill pickles and a heap of slow-roasted pulled pork dressed with diced chipotle peppers and local Head Country barbecue sauce. The barbecue rub recipe is top-secret, but the kitchen divulges that the mac and cheese gets its distinct flavor from the combination of smoked Gouda, sharp cheddar and Gruyere. Double down on the cheesiness factor with a side of fried, beer-battered cheddar cheese curds from Watonga (they’re rumored to rival Wisconsin’s curds). The local craft beers, which include options from microbrewery Anthem Brewing, make for a nice pairing.
The Mule: The Mule
Turkey Devonshire, Pennsylvania
Said to have been invented in Pittsburgh, the Turkey Devonshire is Pennsylvania’s answer to the Kentucky Hot Brown. The hot, open-faced turkey sandwich is a menu mainstay at the The Union Grill, a neighborhood fixture that’s been serving old-school comfort food since the early '90s. According to owner Eric Nernberg, the legendary dish was created by American-Sicilian restaurateur Frank Blandi at The Stratford Club, and named after one of his other establishments, Devonshire. At Union Grill, Chef Victor Tome tops toasted French bread with thick slices of brined-then-roasted turkey breast and an even layer of diced tomatoes. Instead of a roux-based bechamel sauce, which he found too heavy, he drenches the open-faced sandwich with a velvety sauce made from heavy cream thickened with Swiss, Provolone and mild cheddar cheeses. He browns the dish under the broiler, then finishes it with applewood-smoked bacon and shaved Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and Asiago cheeses. With upwards of 175 sandwiches served daily, the restaurant’s cooking space has been expanded into a second kitchen to keep up with demand.
Union Grill: Union Grill
Pimento Mac ‘n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese, Tennessee
Pimento cheese is a staple of Southern households, where it’s traditionally served with crackers and celery sticks or spread onto sandwiches. This popular cheese-mayo spread has steadily infiltrated restaurant kitchens, too, where it’s being used to boost the richness of macaroni or grilled cheese. Nashville’s The Grilled Cheeserie has changed the game, though, with its Pimento Mac & Cheese: a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with pimento mac and cheese. To make the dish, smoked cheddar, mayo and spices are folded with elbow macaroni. The mixture is then piled onto slices of buttered country white bread, topped with slices of Tennessee cheddar, bacon bits from cult local purveyor Benton’s Bacon and thick tomato slices before being finished on the grill.
The Grilled Cheeserie: The Grilled Cheeserie
Funeral Potatoes, Utah
Funeral potatoes — a cheesy potato casserole — are a staple at Mormon gatherings, so named because they were traditionally served as a side dish at funeral dinners and luncheons. Go beyond the basic dish at Wasatch Grind and Pulp, a Utah restaurant with a focus on local ingredients and flavors. The spot riffs on the standard recipe with Angels Landing, a funeral-potatoes-meets-loaded-baked-potato hybrid named after a well-known rock formation in Zion National Park. To start, fresh hash browns are cooked with onions, jalapenos and thick-cut bacon. Instead of the standard cream of chicken soup, the mixture is combined with a cheese sauce made with sour cream, butter and cheddar cheese, then layered into a dish and baked until the potatoes are crisp. The dish is finished with shredded cheddar, cornflakes (which are traditionally added for crunch) and half an avocado.
Warm Burrata, Virginia
"Virginia is for lovers" may be the state’s unofficial slogan, but it would also be apt to say that Virginia is for cheese lovers. Many a fanatic makes the pilgrimage to Cheesetique for a taste of owner Jill Erber’s creations that put cheese front and center. To wit, Erber transforms buttery mozzarella into the luxurious Warm Burrata by layering cream cheese, homemade mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano in a small skillet, then topping with a ball of fresh Italian burrata and a ring of oven-roasted tomatoes. The skillet is broiled until the burrata is just warm, then finished with chopped chives and served with toasted crostini. Make it a full-blown cheese affair and pair with the award-winning Mac 'n' Cheese Arancini, a riff on the Italian deep-fried rice balls. Instead of rice, they’re crammed with Cheesetique’s truffle-infused, three-cheese mac.
Fried Cheese Curds, Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, cheese is a source of pride and obsession — cheesemaking has been a tradition here for nearly two centuries. Restaurants across the state offer the prized dairy creation in multiple regional preparations, but the fried cheese curd is arguably the most sought-after delicacy. At The Old Fashioned in Madison, the kitchen starts with fresh white cheddar curds from Vern’s Cheese in Chilton (all curds develop early in the cheesemaking process before the cheese is pressed into blocks and aged). They dredge the fresh nibs in buttermilk and Pabst Blue Ribbon, coat them with a flour mixture, then deep fry them to order. The curds are served warm with a dip of the customer’s choice — Ranch is the local standard. The dish is so popular that the restaurant goes through 600 pounds of cheese curds weekly.
The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant: The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant
Cheesy Corn Bake, Missouri
Kansas City is lauded for its regional style of slow-smoked meats and tomato-based sauces, but no 'cue experience is complete without sampling the supporting cast of sides. In Kansas City, one dish with a devoted local following is the cheesy corn bake at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. Founder Jack Fiorella’s wife created this creamy, crowd-pleasing concoction in their home kitchen. Delores makes her dish by combining corn kernels with sharp aged cheddar cheese, cream cheese, milk, garlic and diced hickory-smoked ham burnt ends, then baking the mixture in a covered dish until it’s hot and gooey. Locals can order as much as a gallon from the takeout menu. Follow their lead and pair the dish with the Hickory Pit Beans, combining both sides into one smoky, cheesy spoonful.
Smashed Pepperoni Roll, West Virginia
The original pepperoni roll was created at a Fairmont bakery in the 1920s and quickly became a lunch favorite for West Virginia coal miners since the bread-wrapped pepperoni required no refrigeration. Since then, it has evolved into a statewide snack obsession, so you’ll find imitations and gourmet spins on menus statewide. At Cheese Louise, Chef-Owner Lawton Parnell turns the roll’s main components into gourmet grilled cheese, his shop’s specialty. Slices of bread are slicked with butter and mayo, then layered with pepperoni, pepper Jack and Muenster cheeses. Once on the grill, the sandwich is stuffed with Oliverio’s Italian-style peppers (a local delicacy of sweet bell peppers in marinara sauce), then smashed into a gooey masterpiece.
Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, Colorado
Lobster may not be the first food you think of when it comes to landlocked Colorado, but ask any Denver local about mac and cheese, and Mizuna’s butter-poached Maine lobster mac and cheese is likely to be cited. It’s the only dish that’s a permanent fixture since Chef Frank Bonanno's seasonal fine dining restaurant opened in 2001. The lobster studs elbow macaroni in mascarpone cheese sauce finished with beurre blanc. Though Bonanno estimates that he’s made the dish more than 20,000 times, he insists that he still loves to cook it — and especially loves to see new diners’ first-bite reactions.
Tater Tot Hot Dish, North Dakota
Hot dish is arguably the Upper Midwest’s most nostalgic nosh — a baked casserole made of ground beef, veggies, canned soup and starch (often in the form of tater tots) that’s pretty much a given at church suppers, family reunions, Thanksgiving dinners and basically any regional gathering involving a potluck. At Bismarck restaurant Humpback Sally’s, tater tot hot dish rounds out a menu of satisfying small plates. It starts off in the standard manner, with a base made of ground beef sauteed with onions, green beans and corn. However, canned soup is switched out for a housemade creamy mushroom sauce bolstered with bacon fat. The mixture is spooned into a small cast iron skillet, layered with crisp tater tots and smoked cheddar cheese, then broiled until the cheese is melted and golden. Though it’s the perfect size for sharing, we won’t blame you for wanting to finish every last bite yourself.
Humpback Sally’s: Humpback Sally’s
Rhodie Oysters Rockefeller, Rhode Island
Providence restaurant Red Fin Crudo + Kitchen offers fresh riffs on classic seafood dishes that evoke the flavors of Spain and Latin America. To wit, the iconic baked oysters dish named for billionaire John D. Rockefeller gets reimagined as a rich tapa. The Rhodie Oyster Rockefeller starts with sweet oysters that have been locally sourced. They’re drenched in a fondue made from creamy Manchego and sharp Cotija, then topped with smoky Serrano ham, spinach and cream before being baked and broiled to create a bubbly cheese crust. A final flourish of zippy piquello pepper coulis, pickled red onions and micro cilantro adds a bright punch of flavor.
Potatoes Au Gratin, Louisiana
Charlie’s Steak House has been a New Orleans fixture since 1932 — it’s one of the city’s oldest restaurants and its oldest steakhouse. There’s no menu to speak of — just tell them your cut of meat and doneness — but be sure to tack on an order of the Potatoes Au Gratin. This decadent side starts with boiled, cubed Idaho potatoes, which are combined in a stockpot with generous chunks of butter, whole milk, a top-secret seasoning blend and a mound of shredded cheddar cheese (both sharp and mild varieties). The mixture is cooked until the cheese is melted, then portioned into au gratin tins, topped with slices of sharp cheddar cheese and browned under the broiler. The portion is perfect for sharing, though General Manager Glenn Bove reveals that some couples claim the secret to a long-lasting relationship is ordering your own potatoes au gratin.
Chile Relleno, New Mexico
The chile pepper may be New Mexico’s state vegetable, but the jewel in their capsicum crown is the Hatch chile. Named for the town of Hatch where it’s grown, this chile has become a favored ingredient throughout the state, thanks to its spicy, smoky and slightly sweet flavor profile. It has been a menu mainstay for more than four decades at family-owned restaurant El Patio de Albuquerque, which brings the beloved chile together with cheese to create the Chile Relleno. Made from a generations-old recipe, the dish starts with whole, roasted hatch green chiles. They’re deseeded, stuffed with Wisconsin cheddar, double-dipped in batter, then deep fried. A side of red or green hatch chile sauce (green is considered more traditional) acts as the perfect foil to the gooey avalanche of cheese that ensues with each bite.
Fry Bread Cheese Burger, South Dakota
When in South Dakota, take a lead from the locals and go beyond a basic cheeseburger. It all begins with fry bread — also known as Indian fry bread — a simple flour-salt-water dough that’s rolled, flattened into discs and fried into South Dakota’s official state bread. At The Gaslight Restaurant and Saloon in Rockerville, fry bread anchors the Loco Burger. A half-pound beef patty sits atop Indian fry bread, puffed up and golden after a quick dip in hot oil, and paired with a side of French fries before the lot is topped with green chili sauce and shredded Jack cheese. Another popular pick is the Gaslight’s classic preparation of the regional dish known as Indian or Navajo tacos. Fry bread is swapped in for the taco shell, then heaped with typical Tex-Mex toppings like seasoned ground beef, refried beans, shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.
Waffles Fries with Blue Cheese Fondue, Wyoming
Wyoming may be known as the Cowboy State, but its mountainous terrain also makes it a skier’s paradise. Jackson Hole is home to some of the most famous ski resorts in the country, so it’s no surprise that area restaurants focus on après-ski fare. The Blue Cheese Waffles Fries at Trio bistro are particularly satisfying after a day on the slopes. Crisp-golden fries are heaped onto a plate, then drenched in blue cheese fondue made from a mix of blue cheese and Gorgonzola. A flurry of freshly cracked black pepper and chopped green onions add a burst of color and brightness. The dish makes for a great shared starter, but it’s not uncommon to see solo diners take it on with the same zeal as racing down a black diamond ski run.
Italian Beef Roll, Illinois
At small-town pizzeria Pizzas by Marchelloni — or Marchie’s or Chelloni’s, as it’s known — pizzas may be the name of the game but it’s the locally famous Marchelloni Rolls that elevate this Mendota pizza spot to a destination. The calzone-style dish starts with from-scratch pizza dough layered with a hearty portion of Papa Charlie Italian beef that’s dressed in a seasoned broth — made with beef fat, red pepper, basil, oregano, thyme and onion powder — shaved thin and stacked high, piled with shredded mozzarella cheese, and folded over to create an oversized pizza pocket. The roll is finished with a few shakes of a secret house-spice blend and baked until the exterior is crisp and golden, and the filling warm and gooey. As with the pizzas, the rolls can be customized with a variety of toppings folded in: the fan-favorite includes mushrooms, onions and jalapenos.
Barbecue Nachos, Mississippi
If the walls could talk, Rebel Barn’s former life as a drive-through beer barn would have some colorful stories to tell. These days, it’s home to a from-scratch barbecue joint where the food does all the talking. Everything from the Delta-style tamales to the slow-smoked meats are cooked outside on a rotisserie cooker over hickory and pecan wood. This technique imbues the meats with a distinctly smoky flavor that’s tailor-made for pairing with cheese. Want a taste of this addictive combination? Order the barbecue nachos, which come smothered in a rich cheese sauce made from a tightly guarded recipe. These are not your stadium concession nachos: White corn tortilla chips are fried to order, then heaped onto a plate, drenched with that secret cheese sauce and piled with your choice of pulled pork, smoked chicken or beef brisket. The whole lot is slicked with sweet-smoky barbecue sauce, then topped with shredded cheese and a trio of cherry red peppers, sliced jalapenos and whole Mississippi short peppers. It all adds up to a smoky, cheesy, spicy bite that has set tongues wagging — in a good way.
Loaded Potatoes, Idaho
Potatoes are one of Idaho’s most-famous exports. As good as they are, the prized tubers provide a blank canvas for local comfort food dishes, too, like Big City Coffee & Café’s Loaded Potatoes. The late-night-inspired dish is one that owner Sarah Fendley makes for herself after a long shift, but you can find it on the breakfast and lunch menu at her fast-casual Boise eatery. The dish features Simplot red potatoes tossed and roasted with olive oil and a signature spice blend, topped with grated cheddar and mozzarella, chopped bacon, seasonal vegetables and 87 Chevre, a local goat cheese made by Green Bay Packers player Jordy Nelson. After everything is melted, the dish is finished with fresh tomato, sour cream and a sprinkling of top-secret Greek-inspired seasoning, with a side of homemade salsa.