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America’s Best Local Treats: The West

No matter where you go across the country, you’re sure to find a new-to-you local delicacy or comfort food. This four part series includes favorite dishes enjoyed and discovered by the writers and editors of Fodor’s Essential USA.

This week, we’re out West, highlighting the tastiest local experiences in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Albuquerque.


Food carts. Take a cue from the locals and investigate the city’s highly varied selection of food carts. Many are conveniently clustered near intersections. There’s the parking lot at Southwest Alder and 9th streets, for instance, where you can find carts doling out everything from Russian sweet-and-sour borscht to Greek chicken gyros. A short walk away, at Southwest 5th and Oak streets, are purveyors of fiery Thai food curries, Vietnamese noodles, Mexican burritos, and more.

Coffee. Another genre of snacking that scores high praise in Portland are coffeehouses—great ones have been percolating here just as long as they have in Seattle. You can find terrific local chains like Coffee People and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, with a handful of locations around the city. These places dole out not just hot mugs of java that will send a jolt of energy through your system—depending on the coffeehouse, they also proffer fresh baked treats, fresh-juice smoothies, gelato, and hot soups (not to mention, in many cases, free Wi-Fi).

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Doughnuts. Arguably the most famous and delicious spot for snacking around town is Voodoo Doughnuts (22 S.W. 3rd St., 503/241-4704), an offbeat latenight purveyor of tasty fried sweets. The doughnut flavors come with such bizarre toppings as crushed Butterfinger candy bars, pink marshmallow glaze, and Cocoa Puffs.

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Green-Chili Cheeseburger. In New Mexico the preferred meal is a green-chili cheeseburger—a culinary delight that’s available just about anyplace that serves hamburgers. Burgers served in tortillas or sopaipillas also earn plenty of kudos, and increasingly, you can find establishments serving terrific buffalo, lamb, turkey, and even tuna and veggie burgers. You don’t have to dine at a no-frills fast-food shack to find a great burger, but it does tend to be these informal, quirky establishments that cultivate the most loyal following. Albuquerque’s Casa de Benavidez has long captured the fancies of burger aficionados with its delicious burger wrapped inside a fluffy sopaipilla.

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Coffee. The quintessential Seattle snack is a cup of strong-brewed, fair-trade coffee served up with a pastry brought in fresh each morning from one of the city’s beloved bakeshops. Café Vita, Caffe Fiore, and Tony’s Coffee are some of the best local grounds offered in coffeehouses throughout the city. In the pastry case, look for items from Macrina Bakery, Great Harvest Bread Company, Essential Bakery, and Columbia City Bakery, as well as delicious Top Pot or Mighty-O doughnuts.

Seafood. Seafood gets the royal treatment in most Seattle restaurants; Union, Flying Fish, and Matt’s in the Market are three musts. But you don’t need a white tablecloth to tuck into the bounty of the sea: Elliott’s Oyster House has the city’s best shellfish bar (this is where you go to get that famous Dungeness crab and, of course, the five different types of local oysters).

Stalls at Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market, the city’s largest market, and the many wonderful Sunday neighborhood farmers’ markets will give you plenty of access to local produce. Outside Seattle, keep your eyes peeled for roadside fruit stands, and look for seasonal berries, cherries, and doughnut peaches.

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San Francisco

Burritos. Like most California cities, San Francisco’s dining scene reflects the rich diversity of its immigrant communities, past and present. Perhaps one of the most beloved—and certainly one of the most contested—meals in town is the burrito. An entire meal wrapped in a tortilla, the typical burrito includes beans (refried, pinto, or black), rice, meat (or not), salsa, cheese, and often sour cream and guacamole. Entire Web sites deconstruct which taqueria makes the best (the San Francisco Chronicle devotes at least one section a year to examining the same question), and every San Franciscan has a favorite.

Dungeness Crab. November heralds the eagerly anticipated opening of Dungeness crab season (it runs through June), when even locals head down to the food stalls around Fisherman’s Wharf to enjoy this steaming delicacy. Add a round of sourdough from Boudin Bakery, and you’ve got a true San Francisco feast.

Dim Sum. Perhaps the grandfather of the smallplates movement, dim sum continues to be a popular San Francisco tradition. Find these snacks—savory and sweet, hot and cold—on nearly every block in Chinatown around lunchtime; standouts include Great Eastern and the out-of-the-way Hang Ah (1 Pagoda Pl., at Stockton St., 415/982-5686), whose downstairs location makes it feel like a secret hideout. In the new Chinatown of the Richmond, folks crowd into Ton Kiang around noon to scoop up some of the best dim sum in the city.

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Photo credit: (1) Photo by heliosphan; (2) Photo by th0mi.

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