Love Your CountryEat American

Photo by Jessica CalkinsTime was that a drive through the United States meant stopping at local diners and chowing down on regional dishes. But those times are gone. Fast food is like a pox on the land, and such men as Carl Karcher (Carl's Jr.) and Domino's chairman Thomas Monaghan continue to do for taste what Andrew Jackson did for the Cherokees. These days, such regional American dishes as Hawaiian saimin noodles and Cajun anything are in danger of going the way of rhubarb pie and beet juice. Support regionalism. Dine here:

PITTSBURGH BROASTED CHICKEN, 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140. Most Americans know the Steel City for its bankrupt hockey teams and bruising football squads, but this storefront restaurant with its goofy hen mascot (circa early Peanuts) also makes the broasted chicken for which Pittsburgh is famous. They pressure-cook the gals with the same relentless intensity the Steelers defense applies on third-and-15, producing meat that's plump and moist inside a fine roasted skin. BROOKLYN PIZZA, 2278 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-9399.I don't like Domino's Pizza to begin with, but when it comes to the fast-delivery firm's well-advertised New Yorker selection, man, really, I can't tell the pizza from the box. When I want real borough paradise, I visit Brooklyn Pizza. It doesn't matter if you eat a slice, order a small, or split a large: Brooklyn Pizza's crackly New Yawk-style pie will have you cursing Walter O'Malley and those damn Yankees. Despite Brooklyn's notorious reputation for breeding people ruder than Ari Fleischer, the service at Brooklyn Pizza is supoib; they top off patrons' drinks before the cup is even three-quarters empty. Pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge hang on the walls, although a culinary companion once wisely noted, "Ever notice how pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge never point toward Brooklyn?" JOHN'S PHILLY GRILLE, 1784 S. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-2733.Philly cheesesteak houses dot the county like drunks at the nearly departed Veterans Stadium—I mean, they're ubiquitous—but John's Philly is among the best, a squeeze of cheese and many peppers inside a firm loaf. If the meat were any juicier, it'd be a fruit. Thank owner John Carpenter for bringing along the cheesesteak's authentic zest from his native Philadelphia while leaving his city's beer stench back home. CHICAGO HARV'S, 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. The owners of this Fullerton College fave are Koreans, but they exude more Chicago spirit in their meals than Harry Caray ever did through the mic. Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that does it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna Beef (Best Kosher has its fans, but none here!) sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. LOU'S OAK OVEN BARBECUE, 21501 Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200.How the north Santa Barbara County town of Santa Maria became internationally famous for its barbecue is beyond this overview, but Lou Gaydos shows why it deserves the reputation. He takes nearly fat-free beef and relentlessly lathers it with black pepper-garlic rub as it rotates over burning oak logs. The meat goes great as an entrée—oily pinquito beans accompany such an order—but stick to the tri-tip sandwich, a toasted garlic-buttered roll that grips the thinly sliced tender tri-tip roast as if it were a mother protecting her first-born.

Got a great restaurant recommendation? E-mail Gustavo at

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