Ask anyone to list their favorite foods and chances are that the list will include at least one regional dish from "back home," wherever that may be. The United States offers a culinary mosaic of regional dishes, inspired by the varied cultures who've settled here over the decades and centuries.
10Best wants to find the best instances of iconic dishes in each state across the nation, and we're starting in the Southwest where Mexican, American Indian and Spanish influences have created some of the country's most distinctive cuisine.
Vote once per day for your favorite restaurant in each state until voting ends on Monday, April 16 at noon ET. The winning restaurants will be announced on Friday, April 20 on 10Best.com.
Click on each category below to vote:
Best Chimichanga in Arizona
Chimichangas came about by accidentally dropping a burrito in the deep fryer — Photo courtesy of iStock / Iamthatiam
Ask around about the origins of the chimichanga in Arizona, and you'll likely hear several stories. The founders of Tucson's El Charro claim the dish was born after a burrito accidentally fell into a deep fryer, while Macayo's Mexican Kitchen in Phoenix claims the dish was their creation – the result of an experiment gone right.
Yet another theory posits that chimichangas were brought to Sonora by Chinese immigrants by way of Mexico. Wherever it came from, just about every mom and pop Mexican restaurant in the state has its own version of the golden fried chimi.
Best Fish Tacos in California
Fish tacos are popular fare up and down the California coast — Photo courtesy of iStock / rudisill
The fish taco, a deceptively simple dish, has its origins in Baja, Mexico, though several fishing villages – San Felipe and Ensenada among them – take credit for the street food now wildly popular up and down the California coast.
The Baja-style fish taco consists of a mild white fish deep-fried and placed in one or two warm corn tortillas, topped with shredded cabbage, a sour cream or mayonnaise-based sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Other variations include grilled fish, shrimp, tuna poke, calamari or a host of other seafood fillings. So who's the modern day king of fish tacos in California?
Best Chile Verde in Colorado
Colorado favors Pueblo chile peppers in their version of green chile — Photo courtesy of iStock / DebbiSmirnoff
There's a longstanding battle between Colorado and New Mexico for green chile supremacy. While Hatch chiles reign in New Mexico, Colorado prefers the pueblo chile – a pepper with roots in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
When you see chile verde on the menu in Colorado, it refers not to the pepper itself, but to a soup or sauce made from stewed green chile peppers, often braised with pork, tomatillos, serranos and spices. And there's not just one way to eat chile verde either. It comes in a bowl with a tortilla on the side, or smothered over burritos, enchiladas or even a plate of french fries.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Buffet in Nevada
The casinos of Las Vegas have perfected the art of the buffet — Photo courtesy of iStock / MaximShebeko
While the buffet wasn't invented in Nevada – it has its roots in France and Sweden who later brought the concept to the U.S. during the 1939 World's Fair in the form of a "smorgasbord" – the casinos of the Silver State certainly perfected the art of all-you-can-eat.
El Rancho Vegas, the first resort on The Strip, was also the first to offer their guests a buffet. The Buckaroo Buffet began as a rather simple assortment of cold cuts and a few hot dishes designed to keep late night gamblers happy but would go on to launch a now ubiquitous dining concept.
Best Green Chile in New Mexico
Green chile goes on just about everything in New Mexico — Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department
Cultivated chile peppers were introduced to New Mexico (and what is now the United States) as early as the 16th century. Today, chile is a part of the state's identity and is a staple of both the cuisine and the economy. Dine in New Mexico, and you're bound to be asked the age-old question, "red or green?"
While there isn't a wrong answer (and "Christmas" is an option as well), it's the green version of the pepper that's most closely tied to New Mexican cuisine, whether chopped and piled on top of a cheeseburger or stewed into a sauce to top enchiladas or breakfast burritos. We want to know which New Mexican restaurant has the best green chile, and we need you to decide.
Best Chicken Fried Steak in Oklahoma
Chicken fried steak is part of Oklahoma's official state meal — Photo courtesy of iStock / grandriver
Although the exact origins of the chicken fried steak or country fried steak are impossible to determine, it's strikingly similar to schnitzel and was likely introduced by German immigrants to the Hill Country of Texas. It takes an inexpensive cut of meat and turns it into a working man’s staple.
No matter its origin, the state of Oklahoma has claimed it as their own. Sooners are so serious about their chicken fried steak that in 1988 the state legislature included chicken fried steak in the official Oklahoma State Meal along with fried okra, cornbread, black-eyed peas and pecan pie.
Best Tex-Mex in Texas
Tex-Mex encompasses many iconic dishes — Photo courtesy of iStock / amandagrand
Tex-Mex has gained popularity throughout the world as the ultimate comfort food, and its origins are as diverse as the dishes you might find on a typical menu. Ingredients like cumin and wheat flour were introduced by the Spanish long before the birth of the Lone Star State and began to find their way into Tejano home cooking.
During the 1880s, the "chili queens" of San Antonio began slinging tamales and chili con carne in plazas to the hungry masses and famous figures from around the country; for some this was their first taste of spicy food. By 1900, the combo plate was born at The Original Mexican Food Restaurant in San Antonio, adding the classic sides of rice and beans that are now a fundamental component of the Tex-Mex lexicon. The trend spread.
Today, Tex-Mex is characterized by big portions and heavy use of cumin, cheese, pork, beef and spices, whether it be in the form of fajitas, enchiladas, nachos, breakfast tacos or chili con queso.
Best Smothered Burrito in Utah
The smothered burrito has become a favorite Utah Mexican dish — Photo courtesy of iStock / Eric Broder Van Dyke
Trying to narrow Utah's food scene down to a single iconic food is a difficult task. Ask around, and Utahns might offer up fry sauce (a favorite condiment invented by the Arctic Circle fast food chain) or funeral potatoes (a casserole that has become a staple at Mormon gatherings but that's noticeably missing on most restaurant menus). But when we asked locals what a visiting outsider simply must eat while in the Beehive State, one answer kept popping up: the smothered burrito.
The popularity of this Mexican dish that captured the hearts (and stomachs) of countless Utahns can be credited largely to one restaurant, Cafe Silvestre, opened by Gloria Luiz – a Colorado native – in 1976. Antonio Tovar, who immigrated to the U.S. at 15 years old and worked at Cafe Silvestre, went on to open La Frontera in 1980, spreading the popularity of the smothered burrito to more hungry diners.
This restaurant would spawn many others – La Puenta (opened by Antonio's wife after their separation), La Luna (owned by Antonio's grandson) and Lorena's (a former La Frontera location that was taken over by a friend and renamed). Countless others have branched off, adding to the tree.
Remember to vote once per day for your favorites until voting ends on April 16. Check back on April 20 to see which restaurants won.