Special Report

America’s Most Iconic Dishes

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21. Toasted ravioli

If you happen to find yourself in the St. Louis Little Italy neighborhood called “The Hill,” you owe it to yourself to track down the city’s signature snack, toasted ravioli. Invented at one of the neighborhood’s renowned Italian restaurants (Charlie Gitto’s, Mama Campisi’s, and Lombardo’s all take credit for it), “t-ravs” are made by dredging square, meat-filled ravioli in egg and breadcrumbs and deep-frying them until golden brown. Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top, and they’re served alongside marinara sauce for dipping. It’s one of the greatest snacks known to man, and we’re honestly a little surprised we don’t see them on menus outside of St. Louis more often.

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22. Pepperoni pizza

Just like the magic that happens when cheese is melted atop a burger patty, there’s a certain alchemy that’s achieved when a plain slice of pizza is anointed with pepperoni. As the pepperoni heats up in the oven, deliciously spicy oil seeps out of the salami onto the cheese (or, if it’s the curly pepperoni that everyone loves these days, into a self-contained little cup), and it somehow makes a perfect food even more perfect. The true test of a great pizzeria might be how great its plain slice is, but we’re ordering pepperoni every time.

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23. Crab cakes

Most of the country might know crab cakes as a pricey steakhouse appetizer, but in the Mid-Atlantic, especially around Baltimore, they’re a way of life – and they’re also popular along the Gulf coast and in the Pacific Northwest, and other places where crabs are abundant. The quintessential Maryland crab cake is made with blue crab and just enough mayo and breadcrumbs to hold it together, and it’s typically pan-fried. The best crab cakes make use of jumbo lump crabmeat. Crab cakes can vary widely based on individual recipes and the quality of the crab, but Chesapeake-area restaurants take great pride in making the best around.

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24. Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits is an essential Southern dish, and is especially popular in New Orleans and the Lowcountry of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas. It’s actually a traditional breakfast dish, even though it’s not uncommon to see it eaten all hours of the day. There’s no one right way to make shrimp and grits, but a couple parameters are a given: the shrimp need to be fresh and perfectly cooked, and the grits need to be creamy and buttery. Some chefs let the two ingredients speak on their own (with maybe some green onion as garnish), while others gild the lily with mushrooms, bacon, and a rich shrimp stock-based sauce.

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25. General Tso’s chicken

Who was General Tso, and why is there an iconic Chinese-American dish named after him? The first part is easy: it’s named after Zuo Zongtang, a Chinese military leader and statesman who lived from 1812 to 1885. As for the reason why the dish is named after him? Well, nobody really knows for certain; in fact, there was a whole documentary made about it, 2014’s “The Search for General Tso.” Regardless, we do know that the dish first appeared in New York City in the 1970s, and it’s made by battering and frying chunks of dark meat chicken and tossing it in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. And if your local Chinese takeout doesn’t make a good version of it, you should probably find a new one.

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