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Posted by Tristan Frank on Wednesday, December 31, 2014 3:25 PM

Tortillas are made with a tiny press, gorditas and sopes are cooked from masa dough after being formed by hand. La Peña takes its time with food from scratch and long recipes that can't be found elsewhere in Central Iowa. Molletes are open faced pieces of soft Mexican torta bread, here topped with refried beans and melted cheese for an appetizer. Chilaquiles are made with leftover tortillas, and cooked in a deep earthy red salsa before topping with Mexican cheese and the extra thick Mexican crema sauce.

The specialty of La Peña is Birria Revolcada, which translates to tumbled goat. This takes the slow cooked birria and then grills it in onions and jalapeno peppers for a rich mix of soft meat and spicy juiciness. Another specialty is Pollo Enchorizado, made with chunks of chicken with a red chorizo sausage grilled with peppers and onions.

The name La Peña translates from Spanish to mean the rock, or the boulder, and I don't understand any deeper meaning or metaphor to be gleaned. But it has lasted over a decade just outside downtown Des Moines, serving a growing Mexican community on the South Side.
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Roadfood of the Day: Savage Shrimp - Koloa, HI
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Garlic Shrimp

Garlic shrimp with chunks of garlic.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, December 30, 2014 5:06 AM

Devotees of kick-ass barbecue might be forgiven if the sight of Jimmy's coarse-chopped pork does not elicit their rapture. It looks plain: gray, disheveled, without glow or glisten. This is Platonic Piedmont 'cue, a duet of smoke and swine with only enough sauce (or, as it's called here, dip) to add a jot of moisture, a twist of vinegar tang, and a halo of red pepper to the big, unspeakably tender chunks of meat. Its virtue is its subtlety, not its bombast; and while it won't win beauty contests or stir orgasmic yelps, it delivers austere elegance unique to the barbecue of eastern North Carolina. For a few years now, it has been cooked with gas rather than wood smoke – a misdemeanor to purists – and while I do miss the come-hither perfume of wood smoke that surrounds traditional pits, I am not going to kick this good stuff off my table!

Coarse-chopped means hunks as big as two or three bites; regular chopped is the more familiar, hash-like tangle – a bit more exciting, texture-wise, but still in no way show-offy. In a sandwich with white slaw, it's perfect. A righteous slaw option, and a Piedmont favorite, is barbecue slaw, which is the crisp white slaw infused with enough dip to turn it auburn in color and noticeably spicy. Of the many available side dishes, green beans are a stand-out, cooked long enough to lose all their snap, infused with the flavor of ham (big chunks of which are included in each serving) and dotted with sweet corn kernels.

Perhaps even more alluring than the pork is Jimmy's barbecued chicken, available Thursday through Sunday. Like the pork, it is tender beyond words, and its luxuriously crisp mahogany skin delivers taste pleasure that will haunt you long after the meal is done. Out of curiosity, perhaps some day I will try what Jimmy's bills as a "bread burger." The waitress explained that it is made by grinding up bread with the meat – a beef-stretching recipe that goes back to the lean times of FDR's presidency.

Do note that unlike many of Lexington's famous smoke pits, Jimmy's is open for breakfast and on Sunday, too. I arrived mid-day Sunday, and, in blue jeans and casual shirt, was dramatically underdressed compared to most customers, who come here en famille after church.
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Roadfood of the Day: Big Daddy Sandwiches - Rome, NY
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One of the Best Subs in Rome, NY

A very filling sub of turkey, cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato and mayo.
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Posted on Monday, December 29, 2014


Bet you can't eat just one. This is a single doughboy, plucked warm from the bag in which it was served. You can buy them by 6 or 12. Yes, they are nutritionally naughty: hot fried dough rolled in sugar, for heaven's sake, But any lifestyle that would disallow them is absolute evil.
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Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2014


Tuna and well-marinated dried tomatoes over radicchio. The tomatoes stood in for artichokes today.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, December 27, 2014 6:15 AM

Dixie classics: plump, pink weenies nestled in steamed-soft buns. They are lackluster unadorned, but topped with chili and slaw, these hot dogs are sublime. The chili is thick and meaty, not pepper-hot but just-right spicy to bring out the porky succulence of the tube steak it smothers. Sweet slaw on top completes the flavor and adds a welcome measure of cabbage crunch. It’s a well-nigh perfect package – not the least bit artisan or upscale; in fact, I would call it cheap-tasting – an appraisal meant in the most complementary way. When the craving for one of these well-dressed critters strikes, prime beefsteak will not fill the bill.

If you want even more, have a dump dog. That is the house name for the same wiener in the same bun, dressed not only with chili and slaw but also with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, chopped onion, and shredded cheese. It’s kaleidoscopic and killer-good.

Hamburgers are not second-class citizens of the Hot Dog Café menu. They are large, hand-formed patties, thick enough to be plenty juicy even if they are cooked through. I like mine with nothing but lettuce, tomato, and onion; but of course, cheese, chili, slaw, et. al. also are available

Other than sandwiches of thick-cut, deep-fried bologna, French fries are probably the most interesting item on the menu. Raw, skin-on potatoes are cut one by one on a vintage potato slicer and tossed directly into boiling oil. The result is fries with a full spuddy flavor, albeit lacking the crunch of ones that have been chilled and twice-fried.

The dessert selection is right in front of you at the order counter: cellophane-wrapped wedges of factory-made fruit pie, pecan pie, and Moon Pies. I likely would have skipped this course were it not for a sign on the wall above the counter advertising a “Hot Moon Pie.” It is a simple idea, and a good one. The pie is removed from its wrapper and put into the same steam cabinet used to heat buns. The marshmallow inside the Moon Pie doesn’t quite liquefy, but it softens, as do the cookie layers; and the dark chocolate coat develops an inviting oily sheen.

Roadfood aficionados will love this jolly place with its semi-al fresco dining porch up front and no-nonsense staff of good ol’ country girls inside. You get a number when you place an order and pay, and it is a pleasure to wait and observe the bustle of efficient women cutting and frying potatoes, dressing dogs, flipping burgers, and alternately steaming hot dog buns and Moon Pies.

Note that the phone number of the Hot Dog Café is 439-DOGS.
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Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2014


On the cutting board you can see a couple of sandwiches and the big roll of crusty pig behind them.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, December 26, 2014 5:36 AM


Snead’s lists so many good things on its menu that it is impossible to sample all of them in one visit. To wit: beef and/or ham brownies, also known as burnt ends, which are the crusty, smoky chunks stripped from the ends and tips of the meat. Order a sandwich or a plateful. They aren't as soft as the ordinary barbecue, but they fairly explode with the flavor of meat and smoke.

Regular pork barbecue, cooked in a kettle in a brick pit over hickory wood, is sweet and tender, sliced thin, without the punch of brownies but with aristocratic character. Beef brisket is shockingly fatless, and yet somehow supple and luscious, extra-good if you add some of Snead's fine sauce. Then there are log sandwiches, named for their shape: tubular mixtures of finely ground barbecued beef, pork and ham, all minced together and wedged into a long bun (or, if you wish, a round roll). The result is a salty, powerful melange vaguely reminiscent of a Maid-Rite sandwich -- not as potent as burnt ends, but in some long-term satisfying way, even more complex.

And did we mention hand-cut, freshly-made French fries? And four-star barbecued beans? And finely-chopped cole slaw, perfectly suited to salving a sauce-fatigued tongue?

Snead's is a wood-paneled roadhouse with a magnificent giant oak tree in the parking lot and laminated tables inside. The dining room has windows that look out onto what is still countryside, far from the downtown core. It's a long drive from the city, but Snead's is required eating for anyone who wants to savor pit-cooked excellence.
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Posted on Friday, December 26, 2014

A popular dish is the pasta of the day, paired with a sauce of your choice. On the day of my visit, it was ziti and I chose the flavorful house red sauce. Buried under the sauce is a spicy Italian sausage.
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