Even the most adventurous diners are creatures of comfort. Sometimes all you want on a Friday night is pad Thai and quality time with your couch. Or a fried chicken sandwich that both hits the spot and intrigues your taste buds (is that candied jalapeño mayo you taste?). Clearly there are some dishes that are universally loved — and constantly ordered.
That’s how we came up with these hyper-specific dish awards. We looked into the most popular dishes across various categories that Caviar diners may be craving at the moment — blueberry pancakes, spicy tuna rolls, you get the picture — in four major cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City.
These dishes are cult classics for a reason, and you’ve probably tried most of them (or you will very soon).
Glazed Doughnut: Glazed Raised from Randy's Donuts
Nothing is more iconic than this Inglewood shop’s larger-than-life doughnut-shaped sign, except for maybe the legendary Glazed Raised. How the bakery gets these doughnuts so fluffy and gives them the right amount of sugary sweetness are proprietary secrets.
Blueberry Pancakes: Ricotta Cheese & Fresh Blueberry Pancakes from Little Dom's
Real ones know that brunch is the best meal at this Italian American spot in Los Feliz. Case in point: the perpetually popular pancakes loaded with fresh blueberries and ricotta, griddled, and finished with a generous pat of butter.
Turkey Sandwich: Turkey Sandwich from Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
The sandwich king of Santa Monica naturally crafts an incredible turkey sandwich. Choose your protein deep-fried, roasted, or flavored with maple or mesquite (the list goes on), and open wide for the works-stacked behemoth.
Grilled Cheese: Coffee Shop Grilled Cheese from Fred 62
Is it the nutty-sweet Tillamook cheddar oozing out? Or the sourdough singed in all the right places? Either way, it all adds up to a textbook-perfect grilled cheese, courtesy of this Los Feliz diner.
Carbonara: Spaghetti Carbonara from Angelini Osteria & Alimentari
At this pasta palace in Beverly Grove, carbonara is an art. Chef Gino Angelini and his team transform salty guanciale, eggs, Pecorino Romano, and freshly ground pepper into a rich, comforting dish that’ll win over any Italian.
Spicy Tuna Roll: Spicy Tuna Roll from Noshi Sushi
If you’re in the mood for spicy tuna rolls, this is the place to order from. Gruff yet expert sushi chefs at this central L.A. counter quickly layer the fish with sliced cucumber, a whisper of rice, and crisp nori.
Fried Chicken Sandwich: Fried Chicken "Shawarma" Sandwich from Dune Atwater Village
L.A. is a fried-chicken city, but none can hold a candle to the distinctly Mediterranean-inspired one at this Atwater spot. The free-range chicken comes with spicy tahini, greens, and radishes on housemade flatbread.
Saag Paneer: Good Ol' Saag Paneer from BADMAASH
Dad (Pawan Mahendro) and sons Nakul and Arjun Mahendro dream up the creative Indian-American fusions at this La Brea restaurant, but Mom (Anu Mahendro) is the one behind more traditional Indian offerings like the classic saag paneer — fragrant with tomato, onion, and garam masala.
Pad Thai: Pad Thai from Night + Market Weho
The key to good pad Thai is balance; the sweet palm sugar must balance the salty fish sauce, and the slippery noodles and eggs need some crunch in the form of crisp radish and crushed peanuts. The version from Kris Yenbamroong’s West Hollywood Thai spot has all that and more.
Falafel: Hummus & Falafel Plate from Dune Atwater Village
Yes, you read that right: This fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant is making its second appearance on this list, thanks to having hit after hit on its menu. The hummus and falafel plate is outfitted with pickled turnips, marinated cabbage, and that outstanding flatbread.
Birria Taco: Birria Tacos from Maestro
This modern Mexican eatery in Pasadena churns out a destination-worthy taco: The tortilla is lightly fried, the beef is shreddy and sumptuous, and the consommé is *chef’s kiss.*
Glazed Doughnut: Vanilla Bean Glazed from Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken
This West Loop counter with outposts in Streeterville, Wrigleyville, and more, crafts a Proustian doughnut made with pillowy yeasted dough and vanilla-bean-infused glaze.
Blueberry Pancakes: Blueberry Pancakes from Egg Harbor Cafe
There are tart-sweet blueberries not only in the batter but also in the jewel-toned compote that comes with the stack of tender pancakes at this family-run cafe with locations all over Illinois, including this Streeterville location.
Turkey Sandwich: Smoked Turkey Sandwich from Publican Quality Meats
Every detail is considered in this extremely dialed-in sandwich from chef Paul Kahan’s butcher shop and cafe in Fulton Market. The turkey is smoked, the bread is sourdough, and the aioli’s got avocado for extra creaminess.
Grilled Cheese: Short Rib Grilled Cheese from Goddess & Grocer
There is succulent short rib in this grilled cheese from this Wicker Park spot (with a few other locations). We could say no more — you already know it’s good — but we’ll keep going: It’s also got pickled red onion and horseradish sauce to cut through the richness of the griddled challah.
Carbonara: Carbonara from RPM Italian
Is there anything more luxurious than housemade pasta twirled with guanciale, pepper, and a golden orb of yolk? Order this genre-defining dish from this River North restaurant, stat.
Spicy Tuna Roll: Spicy Tuna Maki from Sushi-San
This isn’t your usual spicy tuna roll. Chef Kaze Chan and his crew toss the tuna in spicy, bean-based tobanjan and sesame seeds, then finish it with avocado, cilantro, tempura flakes, and jalapeño for an extra kick.
Fried Chicken Sandwich: “The Original” Fried Chicken Sandwich from Honey Butter Fried Chicken
There is a reason this fried chicken sandwich from chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp has a cult following. At this Avondale eatery, they top craggy fried chicken strips with candied-jalapeño mayo and crunchy slaw for the most dynamic sandwich.
Saag Paneer: Saag Paneer from The Indian Garden
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Chef Anu Sharma heeds this wisdom with a simple yet elegant rendition of the dish at her Streeterville restaurant: Homemade paneer dots the creamy spinach.
Pad Thai: Pad Thai from Sticky Rice
Chefs Komane Purandanda and Kritsana Moungkeow crank out solid Northern Thai dishes in North Center — as well as excellent pad Thai, with your choice of meat (eyeing the duck) and lots of lime.
Falafel: Green Falafel from Aba
Dhania, also known as coriander, is one of the world’s oldest spices and a chief flavor component of chef CJ Jacobson’s verdant falafel. It’s enhanced by the avocado tzatziki and garlicky tahini on the side.
Birria Taco: Birria Tacos with Cheese from ATX Bodega
Texas brisket meets Mexican birria at this Bowmanville barbecue joint. Imagine wobbly brisket soaking up all that spicy broth on top of chili oil–fried tortillas, red cabbage, pickled onion, and cilantro. The cherry on top is the melty cheese.
Glazed Doughnut: Maple Glazed Bacon Apple from Dynamo Donut & Coffee
Pastry chef Sara Spearin pulls out all the stops for this sweet-savory doughnut at her Mission bakery: Heritage bacon is mixed with sauteed apples for the dough, and it comes crowned with maple and more bacon bits.
Blueberry Pancakes: Blueberry Pancakes from Eats
This sunny daytime spot in Inner Richmond specializes in blueberry pancakes that are thick yet airy, threaded with jam-like berries in the middle, and covered in fresh blueberries.
Turkey Sandwich: Turkey Sandwich from Craftsman and Wolves
The key to this beloved sandwich lies not in the tender roast turkey, swipe of honey mustard aioli, or crunchy mix of little gem lettuce and bread-and-butter pickles, but in the housemade milk bread.
Grilled Cheese: Grilled Cheese from 4505 Burgers & BBQ
The simplest foods are often the hardest to perfect, but this Alamo Square butchery-slash-barbecue-joint does just that with its grilled cheese, oozing with cheddar and served alongside some slaw.
Carbonara: Carbonara from Roma Antica
You’d expect a restaurant with “Roma” in its name to craft a pretty solid carbonara, but this Cow Hollow restaurant takes the dish to new heights, with thick mezze maniche subbing in for the usual spaghetti and holding all that porky, peppery sauce.
Spicy Tuna Roll: Spicy Tuna Roll from Pacific Catch
This self-described West Coast fish house, with outposts in Marina District and Inner Sunset, rolls serrano-studded ahi poke with crisp daikon and cucumber, then showers the whole thing in sesame seeds and Sriracha aioli. Now that’s a spicy tuna roll.
Fried Chicken Sandwich: Fried Chicken Sandwich from The Bird
The fried chicken experts in SoMa and Hayes Valley put a respectful twist on the iconic sandwich: They use dark meat only (thank you!) seasoned with some berbere, rely on gluten-free breading, and serve it fried and crackly on a freshly baked bun with apple slaw.
Saag Paneer: Saag Paneer from Pakwan Restaurant
Owners Khalid Amin and Mohammad Shahbaz conjure pure magic with their saag paneer, spinach softly cooked and topped with the squeaky cheese. Lucky for us: You can find it at all of the restaurant's outposts, in Mission Dolores, Westwood Park, and Tenderloin.
Pad Thai: Pad Thai from Lers Ros Thai
This Hayes Valley restaurant sets a high standard with its pan-fried noodles punctuated with bean sprouts, tofu, peanuts, and eggs.
Falafel: Falafel from Beit Rima
At this duo of Arabic spots in Castro and Cole Valley from chef Samir Mogannam, these textural masterpieces come covered in tahini, spicy amba, cucumber, onions, and a touch of sumac.
Birria Taco: Birria Taco from Tacos El Patron
Behold the sunset-tinged corn tortillas, the velvety stewed beef, and warming broth for dipping. The Jalisco-style birria tacos from this Mission District restaurant are the real deal.
New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn)
Glazed Doughnut: Glazed Croissant Donut from The Donut Pub
This legendary bakery counter in Chelsea and Astor Place impossibly improves on the tried-and-true glazed doughnut by using flaky croissant-like dough.
Blueberry Pancakes: Blueberry Pancakes from Sadelle's
Powdered sugar finishes this stack of perfect blueberry pancakes from the West Village brunch hot spot, and that’s all they really need.
Turkey Sandwich: Turkey Reuben Sandwich from Mile End Delicatessen
At this Montreal-style Jewish deli in Brooklyn, the turkey sandwich is treated like a reuben, complete with Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and toasty pumpernickel. And we’re never looking back.
Grilled Cheese: Grilled Cheese Sandwich from Daily Provisions
Not one, not two, but three cheeses — cheddar, raclette, and gouda — are melded together for this dynamic grilled cheese that you, thankfully, can find in Union Square, Upper West Side, and the West Village.
Carbonara: Mezzemaniche Carbonara from Montesacro
This Roman-inspired restaurant in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood relies on tubular mezze maniche for its guanciale-threaded, black peppercorn–dusted, Pecorino-showered carbonara.
Spicy Tuna Roll: Spicy Tuna Roll from Silver Rice
Longtime friends and sushi aficionados Hideki Kato and Sonny Doe make each roll to order, including this vibrant and nose-clearing spicy tuna roll, out of Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
Fried Chicken Sandwich: Fried Chicken Sandwich from Dudley's
Spicy mayo, crunchy pickles and coleslaw, and a sesame bun make the fried chicken sandwich shine at this Australian-pub-inspired restaurant on the Lower East Side. You’ll want to bookmark this for later.
Saag Paneer: Saag Paneer from Tamarind Tribeca
This storied Indian restaurant in Tribeca conjures pure comfort in the form of spinach, cooked down with a secret mix of spices, and a healthy amount of paneer.
Pad Thai: Pad Thai from Thai Villa
The pad Thai here looks almost glassy — that’s how flavor-infused these stir-fried noodles are. You’ll taste savory fish sauce, peanuts, gently oniony scallions in one bite from this Flatiron restaurant.
Falafel: Hummus and Falafel Plate from Cafe Mogador
Why settle for just falafel, even if it’s the brightly herby ones from this Saint Mark’s and Williamsburg restaurant, when you can also go all in with smooth hummus and piquant schug?
Birria Taco: Birria de Res from Tiny's Cantina
We’ve got no beef with all the beef in this intensely meaty birria. Out of this Prospect Heights kitchen, the birria comes with pulled beef shank and marrow, along with the requisite onion, cilantro, and cheese.
Burger courtesy of Emmy Squared
Roam Artisan Burgesr by Alicia von der Lieth
Daily Provisions grilled cheese by Peter Garritano