Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

Chatting with sweet-as-pie Rhoda Adams makes the wait at her Arkansas restaurant, Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales, almost as enjoyable as her unutterably good desserts.

With its wood-paneled walls and daily specials, City Cafe in Northport offers soothing Southern-style mains, like chicken-fried steak and fried chicken livers, partnered with three or four comfort sides, including fried green tomatoes and stewed squash.... On most menus here, you'll find tangy West Indies salad—a cold seafood affair starring lump crabmeat, chopped yellow onion and a liberal dose of vinegar. Mobile's 75-plus-year-old Wintzell’s Oyster House marinates theirs for a thorough 24 hours, resulting in a sweet-sour dish as refreshing as an afternoon on a porch swing.

In tiny Craig, on the western coast of Prince of Wales Island, Shelter Cove Lodge is a rustic landing for sports folk looking to reel in halibut taller than they are. But the real catch is the lodge's restaurant, Latitude 55°North. With an imposing stone hearth and wide windows looking out on the ocean, it serves unspeakably fresh salmon lacquered with a birch syrup glaze and a meaty mac and cheese studded with reindeer sausage.

Don't call sibling chefs Sandra and Suzana Davila rivals: Even though both manage Mexican restaurants in Tucson, the pair couldn't be more different. Like her upscale bistro Café Poca Cosa, Suzana is "classic and elegant," says Sandra, and creates an ever-changing menu of fresh takes on traditional dishes, including mole verde. "I love the nutty texture," says Sandra, "and that you can taste all the ingredients, from roasted peppers to sesame seeds." Two blocks over, Sandra, who describes herself as "loud and casual," runs (with their other sister, Marcela) the tiny, festive, cash-only The Little One, where the speakers blare everything from reggae to rock and plates are piled with Mexican breakfast and lunch classics, as well as vegetarian options that go far beyond rice and beans. Her secret to main-dish-worthy veggies: fire roasting, as in the vegan taco made with dried Jamaican flowers and anchored by roasted fresh beets. "I also love Sandra's cream soups," says Suzana, "like fire-roasted poblano chili with butter-roasted pecans. They're velvety, rich and so delicious!"

At Phoenix's plastic-chair-chic Chicago Hamburger Co., owner and former Chicagoan Bob Pappanduros brings a taste of the Midwest to the Southwest. His gloriously greasy sliders (many of which he flips himself) can come oozing with cheese, are coated with grilled onions and practically beg for German mustard; his hot dogs hail from his hometown and, by request, bear the Windy City's customary sprinkle of celery salt and pile of hot-sour peppers.

After Rhoda Adams began successfully selling her sweet potato and pecan pies 40-plus years ago to raise money for her congregation, she was inspired to open Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, the modest Lake Village spot where she's sold savory and sweet treats ever since. Adams keeps her recipe cards close to the vest, but you don't need an ingredients list to know her moist but firm spicy chicken and beef tamales are exquisite. And her pies come in so many flavors, only a masochist would choose just one—luckily, she sells a pecan-on-one-side, sweet-potato-on-the-other circle of heaven. "Folks come from everywhere, and I'm very thankful," says Adams. "I love people, and when they come, they treat me with love."

Photo: Erin Kunkel

The thought of a shake from cozy Fremont Diner in Sonoma, California, fills one O editor's eyes with homesick tears.

When visiting Ikeda's California Country Market in Auburn, chef Craig Koketsu (of New York City's Smith & Wollensky and Quality Meats, among others) doubles down on pie—as in, chicken pot and marionberry à la mode. "Both use the same flaky pastry, and the fillings brim to the top crust," he says.... Sonoma's countrified Fremont Diner (above) is where dairy dreams come true: The buttermilk shake's tangy base is enhanced with a deluge of clover-vanilla ice cream, a combination that evokes a delicate crème faintly infused with barely bitter molasses.... Order a sandwich from the counter at Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos, near the Santa Ynez wine region, then enjoy it on the sunny back patio. Two options: crusty olive-bread tartine smeared with goat cheese and rotisserie pork tucked into crispy-edged, soft-centered ciabatta.... Make like chef Masaharu Morimoto and stop by L.A.'s Chinchikurin for okonomiyaki. The Japanese staple is a hot savory pancake stacked with noodles, meat and a sweet sauce. "From the technique to the taste to the Hiroshima dialect spoken by staff, it's authentic in every way," Morimoto says.

The Fort, in Morrison, is so Old West, you'll half expect a gunfight to break out, and the menu's a paean to bygone times, too. The showstopping appetizer: roasted bison-marrow bones, or "prairie butter." Scoop it, smear it onto crostini then douse it all with green jalapeño sauce.... At Pueblo's Mauro Farms & Bakery, you'll find a rugelach-like Slovenian bread called potica, a sweet dough spread with fillings like walnut paste or cream cheese, then rolled into a spiral, like a cinnamon bun's rustic cousin.

The Place Restaurant in Guilford is big on natural charm: Diners perch outside on tree stumps. The food is equally simple, yet extraordinary: meaty lobsters, wine-fragrant mussels and corn charred over an 18-foot fire pit.... The menu at Traveler Restaurant, a warm, woody haven in Union, features tempting diner fare—hot chocolate crowned with whipped cream, bacony grilled cheese, crispy sweet-potato fries—made even more delicious by the postmeal treat: your choice of a free book from the shelves lining almost every wall.

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

The ice cream at Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin comes in 25-plus divine flavors, like pink Peppermint Chip; Motor Oil, coffee with swirls of caramel and fudge and Dirt, a chocolate base with gummy worms in crushed Oreo "soil." The 221-year-old farm's Jersey cows produce milk high in butterfat, and Woodside's ice cream maestros whip minimal air into the mix. The result: a singularly rich treat.

It may look like a mere fruit stand, but Robert Is Here—a weirdly monikered, open-air produce mart in Homestead—is more than the sum of its Key limes and avocados. On warm days, devotees line up for thick-as-wet-concrete smoothies and shakes made from strawberries, mangoes or exotic fruits like guanabana, mammee sapota and black sapote (which tastes like chocolate pudding).... When in Miami, try a pastelito, a Cuban pastry often stuffed with guava puree and cream cheese, at Versailles, preferably while sipping a café con leche.... Use your hush puppies to sop up the tomato-y shrimp and sausage pilau at The Floridian in St. Augustine. The rice-based stew is rich but not heavy, and equal parts shrimpy, herbaceous, spicy and sweet.

Slather raspberry preserves or sausage-thyme gravy onto the extra-flaky, big-time-buttery biscuits at casual breakfast darling Mama's Boy in Athens. Or head to the college town's quirky White Tiger Gourmet, housed in a 112-year-old space with colorful mismatched tables and chairs; its smoky Tofu Q sandwich, which features barbecue sauce, coleslaw and a toasted kaiser roll, is a worthy alternative to the fan-favorite pork version.

You're likely to encounter a line at either of Honolulu's two Waiola Shave Ice locations, where the treat, ultrafine like powdery snow, packs so much flavor. And oh, the flavors! Opt for li hing mui (salty sour plum) or POG (passion orange guava), and ask for syrupy condensed milk on top.... Chewy, gluey and altogether wonderful, Japanese mochi is sticky rice pounded into a paste and wrapped around a sweet filling. Call ahead to order the glutinous orbs from the tiny, screen-doored Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo, where owner Nora Uchida sells a rainbow of flavors. Strawberry (stuffed with a whole berry and mashed sweet adzuki beans) is a must—if it's not sold out.

Dish, perched on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, is a shorts-and-sandals waterside grill, but the food is serious business, says Michael Stern, coauthor of Road Food: An Eater's Guide. The café takes full advantage of seasonal produce in specialties like the earthy vegetarian Eat Mo' burger (meat eaters, don't pass this by—you can always top it with spiced bacon) and the huckleberry margarita, made with local fruit, which Stern calls "wine deep and just this side of sweet."

Photo: Courtesy of Company

Walker Bros. in Wilmette has been flipping flapjacks since 1960, and the apple version takes the 'cake: crispy edges, nutmeg-y center and a smothering of cinnamon-spiced, faintly tart Granny Smiths.... The Italian food (served on paper plates) at Freddy’s Pizza in Cicero is as good as any in Chicago. "Yes, the pizza's great," says Michael Stern, "but you also have to try the very citrusy lemon chicken, the baked eggplant stuffed with veal and pork and the cheesy Timballo di Pasta," a lasagna-style wedge, served with fresh, fruity tomato sauce by request.

In the self-serve line at Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville, you'll find a cornucopia of homespun mains, sides and desserts. While the German chocolate cake will call to you, hold out for sugar cream pie (a.k.a. Hoosier pie)—its supple crust cradles a divinely pure and simple blend that includes butter, sugar and cream.... Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis offers tastings of its ales, both cream and pale, along with several other brilliant brews sold only in Indiana. Various words or phrases are stamped on the bottom of the cans; a 2015 prank hatched by an especially ardent Indianapolis Colts fan who worked at the brewery sent thousands of brews into the marketplace emblazoned with TOM BRADY SUX.

BPT (breaded pork tenderloin) is a regional mainstay, and in 2003, Darrell’s Place in Hamlin—a yellow shack in a town with fewer than 300 residents—won the distinction of best in the state by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. The sandwich is an airy roll filled with double-battered crispy pork that's neither too thick nor too thin, ensuring an ideal meat-to-bread ratio and maximum juiciness. Top it with grilled onion, tomato, pickles and lettuce and you're in business. A $1.50 side of fries won't hurt, either.

Barto’s Idle Hour in Frontenac hosts polka dancing on Friday and Saturday nights, but the fried chicken dinner, which you can enjoy with coleslaw and onion rings, is an even bigger draw. Each garlicky, breaded piece is cooked to order—and trust us, the crunchy outcome is worth the wait.

Which dish has been satisfying Louisville's wee-hour tipplers since the '20s? Born at the The Brown Hotel, it's known as the hot brown: a humble open-faced turkey on white elevated by its toppings, including bacon, Roma tomato, a broiled pile of shredded cheese and Mornay sauce with Pecorino Romano and whiffs of nutmeg and pepper.

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

Gayle King takes her pizza very seriously, and she beams when talking about Buddy's in Michigan. The hefty but not too heavy slices do not disappoint.

Boudin is a spiced Cajun sausage made of rice and pork (and often onions and peppers, too). Chef Alon Shaya, who owns Israeli spot Shaya in New Orleans, fell in love with the version at The Best Stop Supermarket in Scott. "It felt like a rite of passage: When I had it, I knew I was finally becoming a Southerner...." Once you've blissed out on New Orleans' beignets and po'boys, take a tip from Toups' Meatery chef Isaac Toups and head to Vietnamese joint Tan Dinh for suon chien xa ot (lemongrass ribs): "They have an explosive garlicky flavor that's so deep and savory."

On U.S. Route 1 in Waldoboro, travelers in the know brake at the sign for Moody’s Diner. The 80-plus-year-old institution, whose walls are bedecked with old photos, has perfected the fine art of pie. Feast your eyes on strawberry rhubarb, peanut butter cream and more—but order blueberry, which makes one O staffer's pulse race: "It's not some fussy, artisanal concoction; it's simple and perfectly tart. They treat blueberries the way they should be treated."

You can find Smith Island cake—traditionally eight to 14 ultrathin layers of yellow cake caressed with fudge frosting—throughout its namesake island, but the slice at Bayside Inn Restaurant in Ewell is tough to top, especially when eaten with your legs dangling off the dock.

The roast beef sandwich at Everett truck stop Mike’s Roast Beef does the North Shore specialty proud: extra-rare meat sliced paper-thin and slathered with the traditional three-way topping (mayo, barbecue sauce, your choice of cheese).... Sam’s Bakery in Fall River is a one-room Lebanese spot known for mouthwatering meat pies. We also love the spinach pie, a triangular dough pouch stuffed with lemony fresh spinach leaves and onions.

Rejoice, labneh lovers! Thanks to the several hundred thousand Arab Americans in and around Dearborn, Middle Eastern cuisine here is among the best in the country. Al-Ameer Restaurant's Beirut hummus, for example—the chickpea puree encircles a bracing mince of tomato, parsley and jalapeño.... The squinty grin of mascot Cherry Jerry was first carved into the Cherry Hut's pie crust in 1922. The Beulah eatery goes all out for its namesake: Come for the cherry salsa–adorned burger, stay for the cherry hot fudge brownie.... Detroit-style pizza, square and cheese laden, is deep-dish made deeper—a study in crust density. And at hometown fave Buddy’s, they're as bulky and buttery as they come—our own Gayle King is a megafan.

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

Don't worry if you can't get enough of the sweet sauce at Missouri's C&K Barbecue—owner Daryle Brantley sells bottles of it on-site.

Mild and sweet, walleye (Minnesota's state fish) should be roasted over a campfire. Your next-best option: feasting on flaky grilled fillets amid the log cabin–style decor at Tavern on Grand in St. Paul.... El Triunfo in Northfield is a teeny, cluttered Mexican market selling authentic tacos (the carne asada and al pastor are spicy and succulent) made even better by their top-secret sauce: a fiery, creamy green concoction that keeps aficionados coming back for more.

New York City chef Floyd Cardoz deems Big Bad Breakfast's biscuit sandwich—oozy fried egg, gooey cheddar and sausage, country ham or bacon—one of the best he's ever eaten: "I dream about the flavor and texture. The biscuit is spot-on, and the sausage has the perfect amount of salt and spice."

There's one outdoor table at C&K Barbecue in St. Louis, and most days, you can bet your brisket it's taken. That's because owner Daryle Brantley's signature spicy-sweet sauce—served on juicy ribs and pork—is peppery, tomato-heavy barbecue bliss. "Barbecue is much more than a meal," says the 65-year-old Vietnam vet. "It's a coming together of people, food, fun, family and fellowship. The Thanksgiving of summer."

In Great Falls, Ford's Drive-In, its obelisk-like sign a beacon of nostalgic delight, looks like a place you'd hit up after a sock hop. Care for a shake? Green apple, butterscotch, eggnog and almond are just four of your 50-plus options.... If you've never had Native American fry bread—a deep-fried, puffy disc of goodness—do so on hallowed ground: Custer Battlefield Trading Post Cafe in Crow Agency serves it up as a taco bursting with beef and beans.

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

Trendy doesn't always equal tasty, but Brooklyn's juicy, drippy, splendidly pretzel-bunned Emmy Burger lives up to the hype.

Whether it's called a bierock, a runza or a cabbage burger, the idea—brought Stateside by 19th-century German settlers—is always the same: yeasty dough lovingly packed with ground beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions and, depending on the cook, a little spice. At Sehnert's Bakery, opened in 1957, these pillowy bundles of joy (some with good ol' American cheese) are baked fresh every morning. Should you require further carbs, a peanut butter roll, drenched in thick nutty frosting, is a fine finale.

Award-winning L.A. chef and restaurateur Mary Sue Milliken fantasizes about the nam kao tod (crispy rice salad) at Lotus of Siam, located in an unassuming Las Vegas strip mall. An herby Thai jasmine rice is tossed with cilantro, green onions, ground dry chilies, ginger, peanuts and cubes of sour pork sausage. "The chef masterfully balances heat with tang, crunch and a touch of sweetness. Sometimes I order two: one to eat there and one to take home since I'll be dreaming about it all night anyway."

New Hampshire
Biederman's Deli (formerly the Cellar Pub) has been a Plymouth staple since 1973, and its Balboa sandwich deserves a chunk of the credit: It comes with your choice of meat and extra cheese heated on a sub roll spread with garlic butter, a condiment rightly beloved by locals.

New Jersey
When Jerseyans claim their bagels beat New York City's, they often hold up the Bagel Nook in Freehold as evidence. They're crisp on the outside, toothsome on the inside and dolloped with a generous schmear of cream cheese in admittedly unorthodox small-batch flavors, including birthday cake and maple bacon.... You never know what you'll find in the cases at the Little Chef Pastry Shop in Princeton: pear-vanilla tarts, cream puffs, a bavarois cake composed of vanilla sponge layered with strawberry or raspberry mousse and ringed by ladyfingers. Yes, yes and yes, please.

Courtney Foley always dreamed of farming, so when she and her husband, Brian, decamped from New York, they bought a seven-acre property in western New Jersey. To set themselves apart from other local farms selling produce or eggs, they landed on buffalo mozzarella—a food they were curious about. Funny thing, though: Foley didn't realize how buffalo mozzarella was made. "I always thought it was just a name," says Foley. "I didn't know it actually came from a water buffalo's milk." Undaunted, they bought a few of the weighty ruminants from Vermont and got busy. Now, more than ten years later, they're producing some of the only authentic buffalo mozzarella in the U.S.—and selling it, along with yogurt, at local greenmarkets—thanks to the 40 milk-producing water buffalo that live on Riverine Ranch, the Foleys' expanded property in Asbury. "This definitely isn't a get-rich-quick scheme," says Courtney, "but it's all worth it." The delicate mozzarella is sumptuously dense, with subtly grassy notes, while the yogurt somehow tastes even richer than Greek-style.

New Mexico
When in New Mexico, one eats green chile—chopped green peppers roasted until dark and smoky. The adobe-style Owl Bar & Cafe in San Antonio offers the spicy delicacy over crispy fries, in hot and hearty chili bowls, or piled onto cheesy burgers too big for their buns.

New York
Remember when you thought you were over cupcakes? Direct your taxi to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the megamoist, never-cloying cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens country-style bakery will win you back (the peanut butter fudge swirl is salty-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth ecstasy).... Upstate, the half-moon cookie at Harrison Bakery, in Syracuse, is a cakey confection akin to New York's beloved black and white cookie, but with buttercream frosting instead of glaze.... Gayle loves a beefy burger (don't even talk to her about turkey and veggie patties), and she's given her blessing to Brooklyn spot Emily and its Emmy Burger: dry-aged meat, Vermont cheddar and caramelized onions, all doused in a creamy, Korean-inspired sauce and sandwiched in a pretzel roll.

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

North Carolina
Instead of serving the state's signature hand-chopped pork and crunchy coleslaw separately, King's Restaurant in Kinston stuffs them both between two halves of a giant hush puppy. As chef Vivian Howard of nearby restaurant Chef & the Farmer puts it, "It ain't healthy, but it ain't forgettable, either...." If you have the good fortune of being near Flat Rock in autumn, treat yourself to fresh-from-the-fryer apple cider doughnuts at Sky Top Orchard. They get a very mild tang from the cider, but more important, they're dusted with sparkling cinnamon-sugar and chewy in the best way.

North Dakota
Borscht—the stick-to-your-ribs, beet-based soup often adorned with sour cream, and the lifeblood of Catskills humorists—pops up on menus throughout the Dakotas, and the 37-year-old ukrainian cultural institute in Dickinson serves the real deal during its festival every July. For a year-round substitute, head to nearby, perpetually packed Jack's Family Restaurant.

Checkered floors, red vinyl booths, a retro counter, a pouting Elvis on the wall: Tommy's Diner (above) in Columbus ticks every box on the nostalgia checklist. But Americana isn't the only thing they're serving up—while you can order the standard hot cakes or a just-right classic burger, Tommy's Mediterranean flavors are where it's at. The chicken gyro is a bounty of grilled meat and tangy tzatziki barely contained by its pita, and the bright, hearty chicken lemon rice soup is like Grandma's classic cure-all with the volume turned way up.

Photo: Courtesy of Company

Cake Life Bake Shop co-owner Lily Fischer won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars in 2011. So, yes, the Philadelphia baker's cakes taste as good as they look.

Over in Vinita, along America's Mother Road—Route 66—Clanton's Cafe (formerly the Busy Bee) has been slinging American favorites since Grant "Sweet Tater" Clanton set up shop in 1927. Now the late Tater's great-granddaughter has the reins, overseeing a no-fuss menu featuring crisp fried pickles, a cream gravy–laden chicken-fried steak, a baked potato stuffed with pot roast and snowcapped with sour cream and its famous chicken and dressing (the meat is pulled; the sweet cornbread stuffing has just a tinge of herby Thanksgiving flavor and the dish itself is lauded, right there on the menu, by country-western singer Ronnie Dunn).

Bowpicker in Astoria, a landlocked fishing boat turned takeout restaurant, serves its one and only specialty: fish and chips. The firm albacore tuna is dipped in beer batter and dunked in piping hot veggie oil, leaving the flesh light and the coating superbly crispy.... Jerry Eichentopf, whose German immigrant grandfather started Otto's Sausage Kitchen in Portland, continues the family tradition by making his own links. "Although they're served in buns and taste great dressed with mustard and relish, Otto's sausages are classier than ordinary hot dogs," says Michael Stern. "Because of the seasoning and high-quality meat, they have an almost aristocratic flavor." Get yours hot from the outdoor grill and chase them with a cold craft brew.

A single whoopie pie from Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe is worth at least two anywhere else—the sandwich, per Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, consists of two cookie-shaped, shortening-bound cakes joined by a velvety vanilla cream, and here it's carried out with light-as-air, not-too-sweet aplomb.... At the meeting of retro and modern lies the aesthetic of Philadelphia's understatedly hip and "proudly woman- and trans-owned" Cake Life Bake Shop, where a simple layer cake is ombréd in pastels, staggeringly lavish fruit tarts rival Caravaggio still lifes, and a marvel known as the fiesta cake brings rainbow-sprinkled magic in spades.

Rhode Island
Hot Wieners—spicy red hot dogs in cloudlike buns, covered in saucy ground beef, chopped raw onions and a bright yellow line of zippy mustard—are a regional specialty, and Olneyville New York System in Providence has mastered the wienering art. Try to get a seat at the counter so you can watch a pro line the dogs up his outstretched arm to dress them.

Photo: Courtesy of Company

South Carolina
If you're in the mood for dinner and a show, head to La Cantina in Clarks Hill, where Chef Rusty cooks steaks to perfection in an 1,800-degree wood-fired oven, then shows off his ventriloquism talents with one of several puppets.... Hilton Head Island's Sea Shack may resemble a bait shop, but its offerings, like its succulent shrimp basket, will have you hooked. The Shack Attack Combo—a crab cake, flaky fish, shrimp, oysters and scallops as big as a toddler's palm—is fit for a king (Triton).

South Dakota
At Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge, a former gas station café in Brookings, the specialty is Dakota game—and has been for 60-plus years. For the finest example of their expertise, order the pheasant salad sandwich: chunks of ring-necked pheasant mixed with tart dried cranberries, pieces of sweet apple and roasted pecans, capped with melty Swiss cheese and stuffed between slices of subtly sour marbled rye grilled to ideal toastiness.

Walk into Alcenia's in Memphis and you'll likely find yourself in the arms of bright- eyed, apple-cheeked, perpetually grinning proprietor B.J. Chester-Tamayo, who greets patrons with a hug. The soul food spot, with its tomato-hued walls and folksy paintings, dishes out equally welcoming food. The belly-warming meat-and-three special includes a main of your choice, like fried chicken or baked catfish, plus cornbread or a roll and two vegetables that never take a backseat: B.J. is as famous for her bright collards as she is for her rapturous chicken and waffles.

Less than 20 miles from the Mexican border, Lourdes Pearson heads up an all-star Tex-Mex operation called Little Diner. She makes her masa dough on-site, so her gorditas—toasty pan-fried cornmeal pockets packed with fillings like ground beef, shredded cheese, veggies and sometimes a layer of guacamole—are the freshest and most fabulous.... The hip Austin beer garden Easy Tiger (above) has a choice waterside location; sit on the patio with a craft beer and a Hill Country meat and cheese board (which includes venison cheddar hot links and wild boar sausage) as you gaze at the serene Waller Creek.... For carnivores, few foods conjure as much enthusiasm as a muffuletta. The DiCarlo family's sumptuous version—piled high with salami, mortadella, ham, provolone and a chopped olive salad—at Jimmy's Food Store in Dallas is the platonic ideal (and it's even better after a night in the fridge).

Photo: Little Outdoor Giants

The made-with-love lunches at Virginia's Sally Bell's Kitchen will transport you to the days of hopscotch, gold stars for good behavior, and troubles that could be solved with a snack and a kiss.

For about 90 years, Mom's Cafe has occupied a squat brick building on Salina's Main Street, in the shadow of the imposing Black Cap Mountain. But inside is the true majesty, namely the thoroughly gravy-coated chicken-fried steak, fresh-baked pies (blueberry sour cream and chocolate cream top our list), homemade chicken soup with rustic noodles and scones so outwardly crusty, you'd never guess at their fluffy-licious centers.... The taffy from Salt Lake City's Sweet's, founded in 1892 and relocated from Portland, Oregon, to Utah in 1900, may offer a softer chew than East Coast iterations (which are typically pulled; Sweet's whips theirs) and comes in more than four dozen flavors, including boysenberry, buttered popcorn, cookie dough, macadamia and rum. Go ahead and book your next dentist appointment.

You may encounter a wait at Burlington's bright and cheery Penny Cluse—or, just maybe, Joe Biden, who's famously a fan—but visions of spice-rich gingerbread pancakes and Penny Picklers (kicky Bloody Marys adorned with a pickle) will help sustain you. And don't you forget about the Breakfast Club, featuring a bacon-cheddar omelet on rye with crisp lettuce and tomato.... Summertime, and the living is maple creemee. When the temperatures climb, seasonal stands sprout across Vermont to peddle thick soft-serve starring the gold-standard syrup. Get a cup if you must, but devotees prefer the classic wafer cone of yore.

If you have fond childhood memories of lovingly packed lunch boxes, you'll be in heaven at the nearly century-old Sally Bell's Kitchen in Richmond, where the $9 box lunch includes your choice of sandwich (gooey pimento cheese, for example), side (such as salads both potato and macaroni, or—yes, indeed—tomato aspic) and cupcake (old-school yellow cake with caramel frosting gets our vote). The tidy array, which comes with half a deviled egg and a cheese wafer topped with a pecan, arrives in checkerboard paper, tucked into a white box emblazoned with Sally Bell's cameo-inspired logo. June Cleaver would definitely approve.

Photo: Jim Henkens

When award-winning vegetarian chef Amanda Cohen, of New York City's Dirt Candy, tried the doughnuts from Seattle's General Porpoise (above), it was love at first bite: "I was at an hours-long meeting that almost killed me when I noticed doughnuts on the sideboard. As the time ticked by, I made my way through every single perfect one"—variously filled with seasonal jams, dense custards and so-smooth creams.... The words salmon and candy aren't typically found together—outside the Pacific Northwest, at least. Freshy's Seafood Market, located in an old filling station on mellow Mercer Island, cures its local salmon in brown sugar and brandy and smokes it for a surprisingly satisfying salty-sweet confection.... Chef Jenn Louis of the Portland, Oregon, restaurant Lincoln is a devotee of the Mexican food at Centralia's La Tarascan: "It's the best I've ever had. Their house-made tortillas are so tender and tasty that I always make sure to order a couple of tacos. I often ask what their secret is, but they won't tell."

Washington, D.C.
The snazzily low-lit, dark wood, tiled-ceiling vibe at Dukem may feel slightly fancy, but you can still enjoy its potently flavorful Ethiopian food in the traditional manner: with your hands. Use the spongy injera bread to sop up the garlic-infused nectar coating the awaze tibs (cubed beef stewed in a sauce of tomato, jalapeño, garlic and fiery berbere spice), and, if you're feeling adventurous, try the kitfo (beef tartare—so soft and submitting, it disintegrates on the palate—seasoned with herb butter and mitmita, a blend primarily of African chili, clove and cardamom).

West Virginia
Country Club Bakery's stolid red brick Fairmont HQ may not look like much, but within dwells a savory specialty known as the pepperoni roll, which itself contains hidden delights. Sturdy logs of the spicy beef and pork sausage wend through a slightly sweet bread, concealed until the first yeasty, heat-laced bite. As the roll bakes, it absorbs the orange-hued grease that's one of pepperoni's chief charms. Country Club supplies the snacks to stores and gas stations throughout the state, but only at the bakery can you get them oven-fresh. For a mere $1.50 each.

If you visit America's dairyland without enjoying any cheese, were you really there at all? Stop at Green Bay's Titletown Brewing Company, housed in a former train station, where thumb-thick fried white cheddar curds are accompanied by zippy tomato sauce. Wash them down with a brisk Sno-Cap Root Beer, brewed on the premises.... At Sister Bay's Swedish eatery Al Johnson's, waitresses clad in dirndl-like dresses deliver pickled treats: herring (with sour cream and red onion), cabbage (perfect with the corned beef and Swiss sandwich) and beets (lovely beside a Havarti grilled cheese). End with a lingonberry shake and a fond look at the goats grazing on the sod roof.

Cheyenne's Korean House turns out generous family-style platters of springy and spicy rice cakes; tender bulgogi and short ribs, marinated in a sweet and delicate wine sauce and bibimbap topped with a fried egg wearing a lace collar of glorious crispiness. What could be better?

Want more stories like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the Food Newsletter!