Special Report

Signature Dishes from 50 American Cities

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Key West, Florida
> Signature: Key lime pie

A pie with a pastry or graham cracker crust filled with a sweet yellow custard flavored with Key lime juice. Key limes (also called West Indian or Mexican limes) were probably planted in Florida by the Spanish in the 1500s. The pie dates from the late 1800s, when it is said to have been created either by local fishermen or by a millionaire’s cook named Aunt Sally.

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Lafayette, Louisiana
> Signature: Plate lunch

Rice, meat of some kind (for instance, rabbit or short ribs), peppery gravy, two vegetable side dishes, and a piece of bread heaped onto one plate. It isn’t clear exactly when this specialty developed, but it is said to have grown out of the practice of Lafayette butchers to cook up miscellaneous meat scraps and drown them in gravy to feed local workmen at lunchtime.

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Las Vegas
> Signature: All-you-can-eat buffet

Not a single dish but a signature style of eating — immense displays of self-serve foods of every kind, hot and cold. The first example of this phenomenon was a $1 “Buckaroo Buffet” created by the publicist at El Rancho Vegas, one of the first hotels on the strip, in the mid-1940s. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down self-service dining, at least for now, in Vegas as elsewhere around the country. Whether they will be revived, and if so in what form, is an open question at this point.

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Lincoln, Nebraska
> Signature: Runza

Bread rolls enclosed around a filling of seasoned ground beef mixed with onions and cabbage, sometimes with other ingredients like cheese, bacon, and various vegetables. Runzas are based on the German stuffed rolls called Bierocks. They were developed in their present form by one Sally Everett, who opened a stand selling them in Lincoln in 1949. Everett subsequently trademarked the term Runza (based on a traditional name for them).

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Lockhart, Texas
> Signature: Barbecue

Primarily beef brisket (or sometimes the cut called shoulder clod) slow-cooked and smoked over wood fires for as long as 20 hours and traditionally seasoned with only salt and pepper. The style was developed by Czech and German immigrants to the Hill Country, near Austin and San Antonio, Texas, in the late 1800s. There are barbecue stands and restaurants all over the region. But Lockhart, in what are sometimes called the Hill Country foothills, boasts four of the best, and the state legislature has dubbed it the Barbecue Capital of Texas.