Like the ability to do laundry at our parents' houses during college, we take our regional foods for granted. Imagine being from Boston and not being able to
yell slurs at people in Yankees hats score a lobster roll, or leaving Michigan only to discover that pasties aren't meat pies, but rather something used by strippers. These are the greatest regional food items that are inexplicably not available everywhere... yet. Write your congressman and demand them.
Frito Pie (Southwest)
You would think, with the emergence of gourmet white-trash cooking among the hipster community, that this Texan classic would have permeated the world... and it has, albeit in school cafeterias. A high-end Frito pie is a thing of beauty (most things involving chili, cheese, and Fritos are), and a badass, late-night version is like the great white whale during a night out if you're lucky enough to find one. Except minus the whale meat. Because that's illegal, and tastes horrid with Fritos.
Chicken & Waffles (East & West Coast)
When Popeyes released their chicken & waffle tenders, the ad campaign focused on people being bewildered that such a combination could exist... but it's true. Though a mainstay of big cities (especially out West), many people think of chicken & waffles as some sort of unholy union matched only by Avril Lavigne and the dude from Nickelback. Which is to say, the uninitiated would be much happier if they invested their money in chicken & waffles rather than Nickelback.
Fried Cheese Curds (Midwest)
Mozzarella sticks are almost the best things ever. But mozzarella sticks don't squeak when you bite them. That's why the good folks of Wisconsin and other Midwest states totally own the fried-cheese world... these mild little nuggets don't even have the potential to drip out of their fried casing and burn your chin, making you squeak in pain.
Chicken & Jojos (Pacific Northwest)
Not a terribly misconceived side project by K-Ci's former partner but a simple fried chicken served alongside gigantic, breaded, fried potato wedges, most people outside of the Pacific Northwest would call these suckers "chicken and fries". Those people have no souls... and no idea how awesome it is to crunch into chicken followed by what is essentially a fried baked potato... and we hope that you feel the same way too.
Lobster Roll (New England)
On the East Coast, and lucky big cities like LA and Chicago, the lobster roll is the greatest thing ever, a glorious blend of spice, crustacean, butter, mayo, bread, and bliss. To the rest of us, it might as well be follow-up to 69 Boyz greatest dance-floor hit... and that's absolutely criminal.
Loco Moco (Hawaii)
That Spam is more associated w/ Hawaii, despite being a product of Minnesota, is criminal considering the awesomeness that is this concoction consisting of white rice, burger patties, brown gravy, and a fried egg: something that gloriously blurs the lines between breakfast and lunch even more than Spam blurs the lines between ham and, um... whatever's in Spam.
Not the chosen nipple cover of burlesque dancers (those are "paste-ees", not "paah-stees") but rather a potato/rutabaga/meat-based bastardization of the traditional British hand-pie, courtesy of the good folks of Michigan. Basically, it's a pie-crust turnover filled w/ meat and taters and -- if you're lucky -- covered with gravy... a buttery treat that'll ensure you need to go up a pastie (paste-ee) size after you're done.
The Juicy Lucy (Minnesota)
Speaking of things that sound like they're associated w/ strippers, Minnesota pioneered the Juicy Lucy, which is basically a cheese-stuffed hamburger that has no business not appearing on every single menu in America.
Yes, this Quebecois dish of fries, curds, and gravy has caught on in most major cities, with chefs adding everything from foie gras to pork belly to the mix. But there are towns throughout the country whose denizens, for some reason, have not only never heard of poutine, but think the mixture sounds gross. Those people are in dire need of a Quebecois missionary to show them the light. And the gravy.
Rocky Mountain Oysters (The Rockies)
Many people scoff at the idea of eating mallet-ed, deep-fried bull and buffalo testicles. But you'd probably try anything if you were snowed in in the Rockies for a few months. And surprise... they're balls-out delicious. If anything, these should be on most menus as a dare... a dare that, once you actually try, becomes a treat.
Shrimp & Grits (South)
While a mainstay of southern cuisine, most of the rest of the country's only frame of reference to the food is from Outkast's "ATLiens", and they're totally getting the lyrics wrong (though, technically, shrimp's kind of a fish). Which is awesome, but kinda sad... how can you know the true nature of pimp s*** if you haven't tasted the seafood/corn porridge concoction like a Big Boi?