10 Regional Foods Presidential Candidates Should Definitely Eat

published Feb 15, 2016
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(Image credit: Joseph Sohm)

Laden with stress, speech tweaks, and endless shaking of strangers’ hands, the campaign trail is a precarious one. But as private planes shuttle presidential hopefuls around the U.S., there’s one thing, besides the myriad caffeine breaks, these anxious candidates can surely relish in between forced smiles and canned responses: eating.

Crossing the country in search of much-needed votes, there’s no better way to connect with locals than through food. There will, of course, be lobster rolls, bowls of gumbo, and slabs of key lime pie, but there are plenty of other quirky regional finds they should fast become acquainted with. Beyond the inevitable hatch green chiles, crab cakes, and cheese curds, here are 10 specialties it would behoove them to embrace.


Cheesesteaks and scrapple, that mushy Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast treat melding pork scraps with cornmeal, are synonymous with the Keystone State. Less well known is stromboli, named for the controversial 1950 flick with Ingrid Bergman. A Philadelphia original that traces its roots to Romano’s Pizzeria, the log-shaped sandwich marries Italian bread with ham, cotechino, capicola, American cheese, and peppers.

Jucy Lucy

Most Minneapolians believe Matt’s Bar is the true home of the Jucy Lucy, (the missing “i” is a badge of authenticity), a molten, decidedly unhealthy two-beef patty splurge. The circa-1950s hit was supposedly spawned when a Matt’s customer asked for this supersized burger with a slice of American cheese decadently plopped in the middle of the two orbs.

Hot Brown

Ungodly rise times — and the necessity of being on top of their game — may prevent the future POTUS from swilling as much bourbon as he or she would like to when in the Bluegrass State. A Hot Brown isn’t too shoddy a consolation prize, though. This open-faced sandwich, first introduced in the 1920s as an unconventional breakfast at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, marries crispy bacon with roast turkey and cheesy Mornay sauce.

Frito Pie

While there’s no escaping brisket and country-fried steak when roaming the Lone Star State, Frito Pie is a must-have alternative to those carnivorous feasts. Often served in a casserole dish — or in its most satisfyingly lowbrow form, straight out of the bag — it unites the beloved supermarket corn chip with layers of cheese, salsa, refried beans, sour cream, and jalapeños.

Gooey Butter Cake

From pork steaks to processed Provel cheese, St. Louis abounds with curious foodstuffs. One particular delight is gooey butter cake, a dense Depression-era confection made with cream cheese, yellow cake mix, and of course its namesake ingredient. Soft and intensely sweet, it’s served in brownie-meets-coffee cake-like squares.

Chili Spaghetti

In 1920s Cincinnati, Macedonian immigrant restaurateurs dreamed up an ambitious Mediterranean spiced chili to top the hot dogs they dubbed Coneys. This led to the absurdly compelling creation of chili spaghetti. It’s served in a plethora of ways among the city’s remaining chili parlors, but typically calls for the pasta topped with an unseemly mix of ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, and grated cheese.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)


When they aren’t scarfing down (folded) slices of pizza on the hectic New York circuit, presidential wannabes should get their hands on the bialy. A culinary artifact that pays homage to the Lower East Side’s vibrant Jewish legacy, this baked, definitely-not-a-bagel is round, chewy, and flaunts an especially tempting depressed middle filled with slivers of onions.

Polish Sausage

A staple at hot dog stands throughout the Windy City, the Maxwell Street Polish is purportedly the invention of an enterprising Macedonian immigrant. Whether grilled or fried, the seasoned kielbasa is topped with a mess of onions, mustard, sport peppers, and hopefully pickles spilling out of a bun.

Hot Chicken

Fried chicken, ubiquitous in cities small and large, is taken to mouth-numbing heights in Nashville. Music City tradition, born at the rite-of-passage eatery Prince’s Hot Chicken, dictates that these usually plain ol’ crispy birds get amped by a solid slather of hot pepper paste. Dressed with pickle discs, it’s served atop squishy white bread that thankfully soaks up wonderfully fiery juices.

Loco Moco

Republicans and Democrats alike will not leave Hawaii without devouring plate after plate of poke. But when something heartier is desired, comforting loco moco comes to the rescue. While there are abundant riffs on this lunchtime favorite, the classic — which most likely made its off-the-cuff debut in a Hilo restaurant in 1949 — pairs a hamburger patty and fried egg over a mound of white rice bolstered by brown gravy.