There’s no truer adage than “everybody eats,” and most of what we eat from day to day is pretty pedestrian; just fuel to nourish our bodies so we can get on to the next task. But every now and then there’s a food that makes us pause and appreciate more than the flavors. It becomes a moment that makes a lasting impression.
For many, the food that creates this sensation doesn’t have to be that amazing. Like scent memory, a particular food experience gets ingrained and the thought of it, even years later, hearkens us back to that moment in time and the feelings we had, even if it was just a simple ice cream cone on a beach, or fried clams and a beer on a ferry.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some of our favorite food experiences and where to find them. Some of them are created by world-class chefs. Others are just a delicious combination of the humblest of ingredients. Most of them require a bit of travel, so you’ll want to plan your trip, look for good flight deals, and maybe even get a travel rewards credit card, before packing your bags. (Do yourself a favor and check your credit scores before applying for a rewards credit card so you can be sure you qualify.)
Here are our picks, in no particular order, of the 50 foods you need to try before you die.
1. Sunday Roast
Blacklock Soho, London
Tucked in the basement of a former brothel, this smart spot just around the corner from Picadilly Square is the place to be for a serious Sunday roast. There’s the requisite Yorkshire pudding, crispy potatoes roasted in duck fat, veggies and gravy to accompany your choice of beef, lamb, pork or a combination of all three. Arrive hungry because Blacklock doesn’t skimp.
2. Balmain Bugs
Fine seafood restaurants, Australia
We’re not suggesting you eat bugs — not yet, anyway — but if you ever find yourself in Australia, be sure to get your hands on some of these crustaceans. A species of slipper lobster, Balmain Bugs are like a cross between lobster and prawns, with a tender, buttery texture that is downright addictive.
3. Wellshire Farms Beef Franks
Sold at Whole Foods Markets
These dogs are everything you want in a wiener. They’re juicy, flavorful, have a nice snap and can stand up to whatever condiments you throw their way. Wellshire’s dogs even won a recent taste test conducted by The New York Times. These uncured dogs are a perfect addition to your backyard grilling this and every summer.
Husk, Charleston, South Carolina
Chef Sean Brock is a locavore through and through, serving heritage vegetables, grains, protein and even coffee all from the South (“If it ain’t Southern, it ain’t coming in the door,” he says). Though his menu is ever-changing, the side of savory baked grits with cheddar are not to be missed.
5. Rainbow Seven-Layer Cookie Doughnut
Heartland Bagels, New York
This oversized, delicious dessert is nearly as big a small dog and is absolutely heavenly. The light and airy green, yellow and pink layers separated by thin layers of apricot jam melt in your mouth. Plus, the entire thing is covered in chocolate and topped with sprinkles and a smaller seven-layer rainbow cookie. It’s essentially a giant doughnut version of those seven-layer rainbow cookies that every Italian family enjoys during the holidays.
6. Garlic Oyster Po’ Boy
Liuzza’s by the Track, New Orleans
There’s a lot of amazing food in New Orleans. So amazing, in fact, it would be easy to put together a list of 50 things you need to eat in New Orleans before you die. But this no-frills diner in a quiet neighborhood in the Bayou St. John neighborhood is where you want to be for the city’s best po’ boy. Mix it up by ordering the half po’ boy and a cup of gumbo or turtle soup. Grab a bloody Mary while you’re there. You won’t be disappointed.
7. Chorizo Stuffed Squid
John Dory Oyster Bar, New York
Chef April Bloomfield’s deconstructed and utterly delicious nod to paella is still one of the best things we’ve ever put in our mouths. The tender squid, stuffed with a flavorful rice-and-chorizo mixture, sits atop a blend of white beans and créme fraiche, is drizzled with a smoked tomato vinaigrette and finished with fresh cilantro. It’s almost impossible to eat this dish slowly.
8. Stone Crab
Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach, Florida
This place is simply a classic. It’s fancy in that take-your-grandparents-to-dinner kind of way, so you’ll want to look nice so your requisite bib can cover something you’ll potentially have to dry clean. While most places that sell stone crabs offer small, medium and large sizes, Joe’s does not mess around. There are only large and jumbo to be had here. Both are always market price. We recommend going for the large. They’re less expensive, easier to handle and tend to have a more delicate flavor. Oh, and don’t leave without having some key lime pie.
9. Franklin Barbecue
If you know barbecue, you know Franklin. And if you know Franklin, you know you’re going to have to stand in line. Early. Reeeaaaally early, even on a weekday in January. Folks start lining up for Aaron Franklin’s brisket, sausage, pulled pork, turkey and ribs around 7 a.m., and hang around playing cards, drinking mimosas and reading books until the restaurant opens at 11. The restaurant stays open until they sell out, which is typically within just a few hours. But that’s the way it is when you’re the No. 1 barbecue joint in the U.S. of A.
10. Red Chile Enchiladas
The Shed, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Oh, smoky, spicy, tangy, cheesy deliciousness that is the New Mexico red chile enchilada. There’s nowhere else in the world that does a red chile sauce the way they do in New Mexico, and The Shed does it as well if not better than everyone else. Their margaritas aren’t too shabby, either.
La Cocina de San Juan, Mexico City, Mexico
We said earlier we weren’t recommending that you eat bugs, but here we go: Eat some roasted or fried grasshoppers. They’re delicious, especially when prepared with a dusting of chile powder. And if you don’t want to trek all the way to Mexico for a taste test, you may be able to find a nearby restaurant that serves them. Or you can always head to Seattle where Safeco field has been selling them as a concession treat at Mariners home games and they keep selling out.
12. Smoked Shrimp
Vendel Kåseberga Hamn, Sweden
Just outside Ystad in the south of Sweden is a 1,400-year-old stone monument atop a windswept hill that was built by some very strong Vikings. At the bottom of that hill today sits a charming restaurant with expansive outdoor seating. It’s here that you’ll find whole, unpeeled shrimp smoked to tender perfection with their roe tangled within their swimmerets and walking legs. You just can’t beat them on a sunny, summer afternoon paired with a cold Swedish beer.
13. Macaroni & Cheese
Sylvia’s, Harlem, New York
Yes, you’ve had macaroni and cheese, but if you haven’t had this macaroni and cheese, you’re missing out. Similarly, while you may think you know soul food, you’re just pretending until you’ve tried Sylvia’s. Founder and owner Sylvia Woods, the Queen of Soul Food, threw down in the kitchen, and her restaurant keeps her tradition, serving the gooiest macaroni and cheese you’ll have in your life. Warning: You may need a cart to wheel you out when you’re finished.
14. A New York Slice
Pretty much anywhere, New York
If there’s one thing on this list that will get people up in arms if we choose a particular location as the place to go, it’s the simple New York slice of pizza. So we’re going to chicken out and just say go somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t a chain. And by all means, do not use a knife and fork and do not blot any grease away. Sprinkle that slice with a little garlic powder, a little oregano, a little parmesan, heck, even a little salt if you think you need it. Then you gotta fold that slice like you mean it and stand there on the sidewalk in front of the store where you bought it and eat it like a New Yorker.
Available online or at specialty groceries
Most Americans basically gag when they first try Marmite or its Australian cousin Vegemite. That’s because they tend to treat it like peanut butter and plop a giant gob of it onto some toast or straight into their mouths. If done right, Marmite adds a savory, salty quality to toast that is wonderful. Plus it’s full of B vitamins. Here’s your Marmite playbook: Spread a super thin layer of Marmite across hot, buttered toast, take a bite and see what you think.
16. Lobster Roll
Red’s Eats, Wiscasset, Maine
If you like sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod. But if you want lobster rolls — the absolute best of the best lobster rolls — you gotta go to Maine. And if you’re in Maine, you gotta go to Red’s Eats. It’s just a simple shack on the side of the road, but you can’t miss it because there’s a line. There’s always a line. That’s because these rolls come packed with huge chunks of lobster and nothing else. That’s right. Nothing else. You can get drawn butter or mayo on the side, but the lobster is totally and completely naked, and possibly the freshest you’ve ever had.
Honestly, there are a lot of really great places in Paris to eat escargot, but you simply can’t go wrong at master chef Alain Ducasse’s St. Germain bistro, which serves them in the traditional manner in their shells with herb butter. You’ll want to linger over more than just snails at this charming restaurant, though, so be sure your credit card has plenty of room.
Casse-Croute Pierrot, Quebec, Canada
Poutine is to Canada what chili cheese fries are to the Southwest United States: drunk food elevated to a point that it’s acceptable to eat them in polite company as long as you keep your manners in check. French fries? Yes. Cheese curds? You bet? Hot beef gravy? Oh, yeah. We chose Pierrot as the place to get your poutine on for a couple of reasons: It’s open 24 hours, they deliver if you can’t crawl out of bed, and their ratio of fries to cheese to gravy is on point. Plus, their cheese curds are squeaky fresh and delicious. Time to go to Canada, eh?
19. Taylor Pork Roll
Available online and in grocery stores
There’s a lot of great food in New Jersey, but the one thing that is ubiquitous with the state is the Taylor Pork Roll. This processed meat, also known as Taylor Ham (some people insist this is the only thing to call it), was created in 1856 by John Taylor in Trenton and is widely available in New Jersey, New York, Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland. It’s served most commonly for breakfast on a roll with a fried egg and cheese, but there are plenty of other ways to get your roll on (chocolate covered pork roll, anyone?), which is on display in grand fashion each year at the Trenton Pork Roll Festival.
20. Grilled Sardines
Pretty much anywhere in Greece
When most Americans think of sardines, they think of tins of tiny, pungent fish in oil that their grandfather used to eat on crackers with mustard. While some of us actually like that stuff, tinned sardines can be off-putting for those who don’t like “fishy” fish. If that’s you, and you haven’t had fresh, grilled sardines, we encourage you to give them a try. They’re the stuff of legend when prepared properly, and there’s no better place in the world to have that happen than some little café in Greece. They’ve been preparing and eating sardines for thousands of years and really know what they’re doing. Opa!
21. Kelly Oysters
Galway Bay, Ireland
These oysters have a big ocean flavor and are considered by many leading chefs to be the best in the world. The Kelly family still harvests these oysters from natural beds with little need for intensive farming. In fact, these oysters can be traced back more than 1,000 years to the first kings of Connacht. They’re available around the globe in some of the finest dining establishments, but you’ll get them freshest if you head to Galway Bay.
22. Spam Musubi
Pukalani Superette, Maui
Why do Hawaiians love Spam so much? We don’t know, but they eat more of it per capita than anywhere else in the world. So it’s probably not surprising that Hawaii makes one of the most delicious dishes around using the canned pork product. Musubi is not fancy. It’s a food of the people, easily eaten on the go by office workers and surfers alike. It’s essentially fried Spam sushi that’s brushed with a sweet and savory ginger sauce. If your travel budget doesn’t allow for a personal trip to local favorite Pukalani Superette, try making it at home. The ingredients are readily available in the lower 48.
23. New England Clam Chowder
Chatham Pier Market, Chatham, Massachusetts
There are as many versions of clam chowder in New England as there are versions of barbecue in the south, but if you want seriously old school clam chowder, Chatham Pier Market in Chatham on Cape Cod, makes one of the best around. The simple ingredients of bacon, potatoes, onions cream and chopped clams makes for a deeply satisfying lunch or dinner treat. And if it’s nice weather, grab one of the nearby picnic tables with a view of the water (and follow these tips for an even better, frugal picnic).
24. Softshell Crabs
L.P. Steamers, Baltimore, Maryland
For those who don’t know, softshell crabs are those that have been caught within 12 hours of molting their shells. Since their exoskeleton is still “soft,” they can be prepared whole and eaten shell and all without all the arduous picking that comes with eating hardshell crabs. We chose this decidedly unstylish storefront as a great destination because they simply have some of the best, freshest crabs around. Plus, if you’re visiting Baltimore, it’s just a short stroll from Fort McHenry. Try the stuffed softshell crabs for a real treat.
25. Pastéis de Belém
Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal
This bakery near the banks of the Tagus River in Lisbon has been making its namesake pastries for nearly 200 years. The Pastéis de Belém appears to be a simple egg custard, but it contains multitudes: creamy, sweet, savory and crispy all at once. They are best consumed fresh and warm, so book your flight.
26. The Bahn Mi Taco
Tacodeli, Austin, Texas
You literally can’t throw a stone in Austin without hitting a taco place. Whether it’s a food truck, a roadside shack or a full-fledged restaurant, tacos are basically a sixth food group in this capitol city. Tacodeli’s bahn mi taco though, currently available only on Tuesdays (hello, taco Tuesday!), stands a pork shoulder above the rest. The cooks here marinate their pork shoulder in a green chili and tomatillo sweet-and-sour sauce, then grill it and serve it in a fluffy, homemade tortilla with carrot-and-daikon escabeche, cilantro and basil. You’ll never want a bahn mi on French bread again.
New Martha Washington Bakery, Hamtramck, Michigan
If you aren’t of Polish descent, Catholic, or both, you may have never heard of the Lenten treats called paczkis (pronounced poonch-key). If that’s you, we feel bad for you. How have you lived without these sugary, fatty treats? Originally made to use up all the ingredients in the pantry that were verboten during Lent (sugar, flour, lard) paczkis are basically extra rich doughnuts filled with jelly, pastry cream or other yummy, gooey deliciousness.
Most bakeries only sell paczki around Fat Tuesday, but New Martha Washington has them available year-round in a wide variety of flavors, and they’re some of the best around.
28. Pastrami Salmon
Barney Greengrass, New York, New York
Among New York’s myriad Jewish delis, Barney Greengrass, “The Sturgeon King,” has to be at or near the top, and part of the reason is for its amazing selection of fish. If you go for breakfast or brunch, get there early because this place gets packed, and order the eggs with pastrami salmon. It comes with a bagel or a bialy served with your choice of butter or cream cheese. If crowds aren’t your thing, order a take-out pastrami salmon sandwich. A shady Central Park bench is just a couple of avenues over.
Ciampini, Rome, Italy
When in Rome…eat everything, but especially the gelato. This place has been around for decades and still does everything the old-fashioned way. You won’t find trendy flavors at Ciampini, just tried-and-true gelato favorites like pistachio, coffee and chocolate. It’s a great stop to make before heading over to view the Pantheon.
L’as Du Fallafel, Paris
There’s falafel and then there’s falafel. And while the best are probably found somewhere in Israel, there are more than a few shops in Paris that can stand their ground. In fact, there’s a lot of competition when it comes to really good falafel in the Marais, but the sandwiches at this tiny shop with the walk-up window is worth your time. Fluffy, warm pita is filled with perfectly crisp, tender balls of falafel and heaped with salad, pickled turnips, tahini and more.
Dönninghaus, Bochum, Germany
For the uninitiated American, currywurst is probably best described as a sausage that has been fried, cut into chunks and topped with something akin to a curry-flavored barbecue sauce or ketchup. It’s typically served with a side of fries and mayonnaise. While it may sound awful, it can actually be quite tasty, particularly if you buy it at a well-known shop like Dönninghaus. And particularly after several large, German beers.
32. Oysters & Pearls
The French Laundry, Yountville, California & Per Se, New York
Maybe these two restaurants run by super chef Thomas Keller aren’t at the pinnacle of fine dining any longer, but they’re still among the best in the world. And one of the most notable dishes on the menu is Oysters and Pearls, a simple but lush combination of oyster liquor sabayon, tapioca pearls and fresh oysters. Yuck, you say? No, you’re wrong, just accept that, and the opportunity to taste this extravagance is going to cost you. Neither restaurant offers an ala carte menu, and the tasting menu runs $325 per person at Per Se and starts at $310 per person at French Laundry, so apply for your rewards credit card now and book your trip when you’ve saved up enough for a truly memorable dining experience. Ease the cost of this luxury meal by earning rewards with some of the best credit cards for dining out.
33. Wot With Injera
Dukem, Washington, D.C.
If you haven’t eaten Ethiopian food you’re basically missing out on the historic basis for much of Southern American cookery. The hearty, flavorful stews known as wot served with the spongy bread called injera are the backbone of a wide variety of meat and vegetable dishes that will leave you craving more. While there are plenty of seriously good Ethiopian restaurants around the country, Washington, D.C., has the largest Ethiopian population outside of Addis Ababa, so we’re sticking with our choice of Dukem as one of the best places to get your first taste of wot.
Madangsui, New York
You can compare bulgogi to beef fajita meat, but that’s really doing a disservice to this delicious Korean dish. Thinly sliced sirloin is marinated for hours in a soy sauce-based concoction that is simultaneously salty, sweet and spicy, then it’s seared in a skillet or on a grill until there’s a nice char on the outside. We recommend checking out Madangsui for your first taste of this delicious treat.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Austin, Texas
Sure, you practically lived on ramen noodle packets while in college, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Not at all. Ramen has become wildly popular in many cities around the country in recent years, and for a good reason. Hearty broths, noodles and a wide variety of meats and vegetables make ramen a great meal option for big and little eaters alike. It’s also pretty inexpensive as restaurant foods go, so it’s a great choice for folks on a budget. We really like the ramen at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin, considered by many aficionados as the best in the country.
Pho Binh, Houston
Like ramen, pho is really just a humble soup elevated to sublime deliciousness when done right. That means a clean, flavorful broth, the freshest herbs, slippery noodles and expertly cut meats. You’ll find all that in yet another Texas city – Houston – at one of Pho Binh’s popular locations. Houston has a very large Vietnamese population and this is where pretty much everyone comes when they have a craving for Pho. You can’t go wrong with any of their options.
Los Tres Cochinitos, Los Angeles
This family-owned, cash-only restaurant in LA’s Montecito Heights neighborhood is nothing fancy, but it’s the place to go for huge helpings of the spicy tripe soup known as menudo. Yes, it’s intestines, but the flavors are amazing and the B vitamins are a sure-fire way to get rid of a lingering cold or hangover from the night before. Expect a line unless you get there early.
38. Pecan Pie
Magnolias, Charleston, South Carolina
Chances are you’ve probably had pecan pie, especially if you grew up anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But if you want one of the best around, head to Magnolias. This downtown restaurant is billed as upscale southern cuisine, and rightly so, given its classy decor and genteel crowd. One taste of their southern pecan pie, drizzled lightly with caramel, and you’ll be whisked back to childhood days of helping grandma in the kitchen. (Yes, it’s that good.)
39. Iberico Ham
Sampler, Dean & Deluca, Online
Considered the absolute best pork in the world, Iberico ham and other cuts come only from pigs that are at least 50% black Iberian. These pigs are “finished” by grazing in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns and roots, which gives the meat its distinctive flavor. We’re not saying it’s the best Iberico you can buy, but if no one near you sells Iberico products and getting to Spain or Portugal right away doesn’t fit into your plans (or budget), check out Dean & Deluca’s sampler, available online for $55. You’ll get 2 ounces each of Fermin’s best-Ibérico Jamòn, Chorizo Iberico, Salchichon Iberico, and Lomo Serrano.
40. Full English Breakfast
Most Pubs in England
If you love a hearty breakfast and haven’t had a full English breakfast, also known as an English fry-up or the full Monty, well, simply put, you’re doing it wrong. This breakfast to end all breakfasts comes with a few essentials including bacon, sausages, fried eggs, fried bread (not to be confused with toast), grilled tomato and baked beans. Variations on these basics can include the addition of sautéed mushrooms, blood sausages, roasted potatoes and even kidneys. Served up with a “cuppa” hot tea and some HP sauce, it’s a great way to start your day.
41. Oyster Pan Roast
Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, New York
This dish is where velvet and brine meet. A deceptively simple combination of cream, butter, clam juice, toast and oysters combine to create one of the most deeply satisfying and soothing dishes The Big Apple has to offer. Plus the ambiance is pretty amazing. Grab some to go if you have a train to catch.
42. Cuban Sandwich
La Carreta, Miami International Airport
It’s pretty rare to find airport restaurants on a list of foods you need to try, but that’s how good this place is. Miami’s venerable La Carreta restaurant chain is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for classic and authentic Cuban cuisine. The reason we’re mentioning the airport instead of one of the restaurant’s other locations is simple: It offers the same delicious food, and you can grab a sandwich if you’re just connecting through Miami, arriving or departing. We recommend eating one there and taking one (or maybe a few for your loved ones) home with you if you’re flying out. These sandwiches are the real deal, made with fresh Cuban bread, thinly sliced ham, perfectly roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles (get extra, trust us) and a light dressing of mustard. Plus, use the right credit card for that airport and you can even earn rewards for eating a delicious sandwich.
We realize we haven’t chosen many vegetables on this list so far, so we’re going to dedicate the rest of it to some of our favorite vegetables and vegetable dishes. At the top of that list is gado-gado, an Indonesian salad of blanched vegetables, boiled eggs and potatoes, fried tofu or tempeh or both, rice and a rich peanut sauce. You may be able to get a good facsimile of gado-gado in the United States, but to truly appreciate how all these ingredients come together, a trip to Indonesia is really the way to go (See? We just gave you an excuse to travel.).
44. Fava Beans
Seasonally available in select markets and groceries
These beans have been celebrated for centuries, and rightly so. The beans used to grow Jack’s stalk to the sky? Likely fava beans. There’s evidence they’ve been a part of the human diet since as far back as 6,000 B.C., so if you haven’t tried them, you’re waaaaay behind the curve. Favas are only available in early spring, and they’re a pain in the butt to prepare, so you may want to seek them out at a restaurant for a first try before you spend hours hulling, skinning and cooking these beauties.
Make at home, or order at a restaurant
If you like Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods you’ve probably had at least one of the items found on a mezze plate, but pairing all of these things together is like bringing all your favorite people together for a party. It’s literally the more, the merrier (or mezzier in this case). Put together your favorite hummus, baba ghanoush, beet dip, feta cheese cubes or mozzarella balls, a little prosciutto di Parma, some olives, marinated artichoke hearts, figs, tzatziki sauce, warm pita bread, sliced cucumbers and bell peppers — heck, even some taramasalata, and you’ve got the makings of a party on a plate.
Korean restaurants or groceries
If you like pickles or sauerkraut, you’re probably going to like kimchi. If you don’t, you probably won’t. This Korean staple is served as a side dish along with most meals. It’s made of salted, fermented cabbage and Korean radishes and has a nice, spicy kick from chili, garlic, ginger and a small amount of jeotgal, or fermented seafood. Try it the next time you’re grilling meat (or making bulgogi!).
This soup from the Andalusia region of southern Spain is a close cousin to the better-known gazpacho, but is pureed to a smooth consistency. Served chilled in warm weather and warm in cooler weather, it’s traditionally made of tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil, but there are many variations with additional vegetables. You’ll find the best in Córdoba, where it originated.
Japanese restaurants or specialty groceries
If you pay attention to such things, you probably know that seaweed has a lot of health benefits and is heralded as a super food. But it also tastes good, especially as a salad the way the Japanese prepare it. Check it out next time you’re in a sushi restaurant, or, if you don’t like sushi, go in just for seaweed. C’mon, it’s good for you and it’s very affordable!
Restaurants and groceries nationwide
Okay, we know a lot of people don’t like okra. It’s slimy, they say. But we love okra. If you’ve never tried it, you can buy it affordably by using money saving grocery hacks. It’s found in traditional foods all across the world, and especially in Indian and Persian cooking, where it’s often stewed with onions, tomatoes and spices. Some of our favorite preparations include okra pickles, fried okra and the Afghan preparation called Bamia.
50. Vegetable Thai Curry
Thai restaurants nationwide
If you’ve had a red, green or jungle Thai curry, it’s probably come with shrimp, chicken or some other protein. But that delicious, coconut-milk-based sauciness is equally as good on vegetables, so if you’re not a big veggie eater, it’s a great way to ensure you get your “five a day.” Thai curry is exceptionally easy to make and the ingredients are readily available online if you can’t find them in your local market, so give it a try.
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