The Best Road Food - From New Mexico to North Dakota
New Mexico Road Food
New Mexico is the largest grower – and consumer – of chiles, and so the essential road food to eat on a road trip through this state is something covered with them. This isn’t hard to do – order your blue-corn chicken enchilada and the next question you’ll hear from your server will be "Red or green?" They’re not talking about your favorite color, they’re asking your preference of chile type.
If you like it hot, choose green, and if you like it a little mellower, go with red. Even better, say "Christmas" and you’ll get both! Wash that enchilada down with a margarita and you’re having the perfect New Mexican road food meal.
The best place to get it: Go to the source and visit Mesilla Valley, where the best chiles in New Mexico are grown. Chope’s in La Mesa is not only a favorite of those on a road trip, locals also crowd the tables to get the combination platter that includes an enchilada, a soft taco, rice and beans (with your chile of choice).
Chope’s looks like a run-down bar on the outside and is clean and spare on the inside, so don’t expect a glamorous experience – you’re there for the food!
New York Road Food
Like Louisiana, there are tons of road foods that New York can claim as its own. Nathan’s Hot Dogs, New York style cheesecake, Thousand Island Dressing, potato chips, Waldorf Salad, Manhattan Clam Chowder, and many more delicious additions to American cuisine originated in this state. Many consider the pizza and bagels the best you can get in the country (as far as pizza, Connecticut has been stealing some of New York’s thunder for years thanks to all the Italians with family pizzerias in CT). What to do? I’m just going to have to pick, or this one state could turn into a book!
Three foods stand out as road foods for your road trip. One, the famous and spicy-good Buffalo Wings have many different stories behind their origins – four different people claim to have originated the famous recipe – but no matter who came up with them, they are one of the greatest bar foods, road foods, and Super Bowl foods ever!
The second New York road food is the Reuben, created in 1914 by Arnold Reuben, a Manhattan delicatessen owner (supposedly for Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady, Annette Seelos). This scrumptious and hearty sandwich has many incarnations but its most common is two slices of rye bread loaded with corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and a special dressing.
The last road food for this state is the humble apple – preferably in an all-American apple pie. The apple is not only the state fruit, the state produces a heck of a lot of the apples we eat: 25 million bushels annually to be exact! Mmmm, mmm! That’s it; I need to eat some apple pie!
The best place to get it: For Buffalo Wings, you would think you'd go to where it all started at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, but you'd be wrong. No, the best buffalo wings in the world are found nearby in Amherst at Duff's. Even if Buffalo/Amherst is out of the way, you should consider re-routing your road trip to pass through and try their wings – consistently rated the best of the best by the experts. Oh, and if you don't like 'em hot, forget it. Even the "medium" wings are hot!
Go to Carnegie Deli in Manhattan for the best Reuben of your life. It will, of course, be enormous like all of their sandwiches (and a higher price to match), so bring a serious appetite. Get your apple pie while you’re there and you’ll have had the perfect New York road food meal.North Carolina Road Food
Living in North Carolina for awhile, my husband and I quickly found out about the state’s most prized foods: barbeque (NC style), hush puppies (oh, yeah!), and Calabash-style seafood (super-fresh).
North Carolina is the birthplace of barbeque – slow-cooked pork using various woods to create that tender melt-in-your-mouth barbeque the state prides itself in. Unlike other states where the sauce is slathered on while the meat is cooking, this state’s road food is all about adding the sauce yourself after the meat is cooked. The sauce is tangy from vinegar and salt, not sweet like in other places. There are some arguments about whether eastern or western NC barbeque is better, still others about whether to use a pit with hickory wood or modern gas to cook the hog, but it all boils down to a fairly consistent type of barbeque you can only find on a road trip through this state.
Hush puppies are so good that the "hush" in the name may have come from trying to get someone to quiet down when they oohed and ahed over how delicious they were. "Hush, now, and eat these yummy deep-fried cornmeal dumplings," someone must have said. Many barbeque restaurants in the state give them to you for free when you sit down to order, kind of like chips and salsa in a Mexican joint. I remember the first time it happened to me – I looked up in disbelief at the waitress. She was giving us this deep-fried goodness for free? When I started making my mmm-mmm noise she gave me a stern look as if to say, don’t you remember what those are called, missy?
Calabash, NC is where Calabash-style seafood came from (like you needed me to tell you that). Located on an inlet close to the Atlantic, this fisherman’s town became famous for its large portions of very fresh lightly-breaded fried seafood (oysters, shrimp, crab, and flounder usually). Other hallmarks of the Calabash style is that it’s usually inexpensive (for seafood) and always served in a casual homey atmosphere (no silver, china, or stiff manners required).
The best place to get it: There are tons of great barbeque restaurants in North Carolina for you to visit during your road trip, but if you want the best NC road food you can get your paws on, go to two of the best: Short Sugar's in Reidsville, NC and Lexington BBQ #1, in Lexington, NC. Most tasters agree these two offer the most succulent wood-smoked pork dinners (chopped fine the way it’s done in NC) with little chunks of crispy goodness here and there in the meat.
Wherever you go for barbeque in this state, you’ll get hushpuppies, but the best place hands-down is Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, NC. Crispy on the outside and oh-so-tender on the inside, that perfect texture is brought to new heights by the perfect flavoring of the hushpuppy itself. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the barbecue this restaurant serves up is considered some of the best in the state.
There’s only one place to get Calabash-style seafood and that’s in Calabash. Go to Ella's of Calabash on the waterfront for this great road food which is as fresh as it gets and extremely tasty (without that nasty greasiness that some fried food has). They even have good hushpuppies!
North Dakota Road Food
North Dakota’s road food? Who knows?!? All my research has led me exactly nowhere. So what should you do for food when you’re in North Dakota?
With wheat being the state’s largest crop and milk being the state’s beverage, I put the two together and realized that both wheat flour and milk go into pancakes. Add to that the only big food festival of the state, the Fargo Kiwanis Pancake Karnival, and you’ve got something to eat while traveling through this state on your road trip.
The best place to get it: If you’re in North Dakota in February (you like the freezing tundra, obviously), you can attend the Fargo Kiwanis Pancake Karnival at the Fargo Civic Center on the second Saturday of the month. If you can brave the cold and the long wait (this event is very popular), you’ll get to rub elbows with the people of this town while digging into some great pancakes.
If you go at any other time of year, there are pancake houses throughout the state that can make sure you have some of this road food while passing through.
Return to Road Food Across the Nation
Return to Road Trip Planning Home