Special Report

Signature Dishes from 50 American Cities

Rochester, New York
> Signature: The Garbage Plate

A plate heaped with meat (originally a couple of hamburgers) and side dishes, typically macaroni salad, home fries, and/or beans, served with bread or rolls and various condiments. The combination was invented by Alexander Tahou at his Rochester restaurant Hots and Potatoes — now called Nick Tahou Hots — in 1918. The name “Garbage Plate” was trademarked by the restaurant in 1992, but other Rochester eateries serve variations with other combinations of ingredients under such names as Dumpster Plate and Dog Dish.

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St. Louis
> Signature: Toasted ravioli

Ravioli with various fillings, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried — not toasted — then served with parmesan cheese and marinara sauce. The preparation is said to have been invented in the 1940s by a cook at Oldani’s restaurant. Proprietor Lou Oldani dubbed them “toasted” because, he once said, “You didn’t want to use ‘fat fried’ and you didn’t want to use ‘greasy fries.'” Other St. Louis signatures: Gerber sandwich, an open-faced sandwich of French bread topped with garlic butter, ham, and provel cheese (a white processed cheese native to St. Louis); gooey butter cake, a very rich, sugary, buttery yeast cake.

San Antonio, Texas
> Signature: Puffy taco

A crisp taco shell with various fillings made from fried raw masa dough that puffs up like funnel cakes. Conventional hard taco shells are made from tortillas that are lightly cooked first so they don’t puff up in the same way that raw dough does. This San Antonio specialty was invented at the city’s Ray’s Drive Inn in the 1950s.

San Diego
> Signature: Fish taco

Pieces of batter-fried fish on a tortilla with shredded cabbage or lettuce and various sauces. Originally from Baja California and possibly inspired by tempura dishes eaten by Japanese fishermen in Baja, the tacos were apparently first served to the public at Tacos Fénix in Ensenada in 1970. San Diego native Ralph Rubio first imported them to the U.S. in 1983.

San Francisco
> Signature: Cioppino

A thick tomato-based fish and shellfish stew. Probably borrowing its name from the puréed Ligurian fish soup called ciuppin (many of San Francisco’s Italian immigrants came from Liguria), this hearty dish was developed by fishermen in the city’s North Beach neighborhood in the late 1800s, using whatever wasn’t sold from the day’s catch. Other San Francisco signatures: sourdough bread, dating back to Gold Rush days (the unique yeast strain responsible for its flavor is called L. sanfranciscensis); Mission burritos, overstuffed examples of the genre typically filled with rice, beans, meat, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and salsa.

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