The Best Burger in All 50 States

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iStock

From five-pound meat monsters to greasy, drive-in comfort food, America’s most delicious burgers come in all shapes and sizes. To honor National Hamburger Day, we compiled the best burger from each state based on quality, preparation, creative flavors and, of course, taste. So dig in, find some new and well-known burger joints, and let the meat sweats ensue.

1. ALABAMA // J AND J GROCERIES

Location: Bessemer, Alabama

Housed in an old brick gas station, J and J doubles as a grocery store and burger joint. The restaurant’s simple, classic—and often messy—burgers are served up for takeout or dine in, the latter providing a fun way to mingle with locals and experience some small-town Alabama culture.

2. ALASKA // THE WEST RIB PUB & GRILL

Location: Talkeetna, Alaska

The West Rib Pub & Grill is famous for its gigantic “Seward’s Folly,” a five-pound Caribou burger topped with ham, 12 slices of bacon, 12 slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and the restaurant’s homemade “Fat Ass Sauce.” Those opting for portion control can go with the Northern Lights burger, filled with Caribou meat, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, and Swiss cheese.

3. ARIZONA // INGO’S TASTY FOOD

Location: Phoenix, Arizona

burger at ingos tasty food
Ingo's Tasty Food

Ingo’s Tasty Food, an upscale outdoor food stand, takes pride in its fresh, local ingredients and made-from-scratch menu. The popular Paris Texas burger, a beef, bacon, cheddar, pickle, and apple barbecue sauce delight, is one of the restaurant’s many mouthwatering options.

4. ARKANSAS // MIDTOWN BILLIARDS

Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

Some may consider Midtown Billiards an after-hours dive bar, but this hot spot is more than just pool, partying, and jam sessions. It’s home to the famous Midtown Burger, along with the gigantic half-pound Gut-Bomb Burger, which is served beneath a variety of toppings, including bacon, cheddar, eggs, and SPAM. Yes, you read that right: SPAM. The bar was damaged in a fire last fall, but is on track to reopen this summer.

5. CALIFORNIA // FATHER'S OFFICE

Location: Los Angeles, California

burger at fathers office
Alan Nakkash, // CC by NC-ND 2.0

Father’s Office is one of California’s most decorated restaurants, and its iconic house burger has a loyal fan following among locals and visitors alike. The Father’s Office Burger isn’t outrageous in size or topping selection. In fact, diners can’t ask for customizations or substitutions—the restaurant doesn’t even carry ketchup—which is why, perhaps, this simple sandwich has reached a state of near perfection.

6. COLORADO // HIGHLAND TAP AND BURGER

Location: Denver, Colorado

Highland Tap and Burger may be a casual neighborhood bar, but there’s nothing casual about its award-winning Shroom Luva’s burger. With unique, upscale ingredients—including Emmenthaler cheese, white truffle aioli, and shaved foie gras—it’s easy to see how this burger stands out from the crowd. Not a mushroom “luva”? Try the Tap Burger, a beef patty with Eli’s root beer pulled pork, onion rings, American cheese, cheddar cheese, and the Highland Tap and Burger’s signature sauce.

7. CONNECTICUT // FLIPSIDE BURGERS & BAR

Location: Fairfield, Connecticut

It’s easy to see why Flipside Burgers & Bar draws a crowd: the menu has a seemingly endless list of unusual, adventurous sliders, and burgers. We’re talking mac n' cheese burgers, burrata burgers, goat cheese sliders and oh so many more. One of the most popular menu items—the potato-chip-topped crunch slider—is a safe, scrumptious bet for first-time Flipside diners.

8. DELAWARE // DOGFISH HEAD BREWINGS & EATS

Location: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Dogfish Head has a cult following for its wildly amazing beer selection, but the beloved brand actually got its start as a beer and food company at the Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Today, foodies and beer nerds can enjoy fresh-from-the-source beers and delicious Dogfish Head bites, including the Get Him to the Greek Burger, a wood-grilled lamb and chorizo burger topped with goat cheese, feta, cured tomatoes, red onions, arugula, and cucumber tzatziki sauce.

9. FLORIDA // ENGINE NO. 9

Location: St. Petersburg, Florida

Casual, laid-back Engine No. 9 is home to one of the most upscale, elegant burgers in all of Florida: the Van Helsing. This giant, juicy burger, served with roasted jalapeños, roasted garlic bulbs, pepperjack cheese, and crumbled bacon, is one of many reasons St. Petersburg locals return to Engine No. 9 regularly.

10. GEORGIA // HOLEMAN AND FINCH PUBLIC HOUSE

Location: Atlanta, Georgia


Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC by NC-ND 2.0

 

Holeman and Finch’s iconic double cheeseburger (of which they limit to 24 highly sought-after burgers per night) has some major history: the burger served today descends from their original burger, which debuted at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. More than 100 years later, the burger remains an icon throughout Atlanta, at both the Holeman and Finch Public House as well as the offshoot H&F Burger joints sprinkled throughout the city (where there's no limit on the number made each night).

11. HAWAII // PINT + JIGGER

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii


Diane Y., Yelp

Honolulu’s Pint + Jigger combines two of the greatest things in the world—beef and beer cheese—for a popular burger that brings diners back again and again. The Pint + Jigger Stout Burger is served with beer cheese, garlic aioli, lettuce, pickle, and French fries. To make the burger "more expensive" (their words, not ours), add caramelized onions, fried onions, bacon, or avocado. Looking for a true explosion of the taste buds? Combine all four toppings.

12. IDAHO // MOON TIME

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Coeur d'Alene residents can’t speak highly enough about this neighborhood hangout. The traditional Moon Time burger is six ounces of perfectly cooked beef, topped with melted cheddar and caramelized onions. For those seeking more flair, there’s the Mediterranean Lamb Burger, served with melted goat cheese, oregano pesto mayo, and grilled vegetable relish.

13. ILLINOIS // LOCKDOWN BAR AND GRILL

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Given its loud, heavy metal music and rough-around-the-edges atmosphere, Lockdown Bar and Grill may not be the best first date spot, but it’s far and away Illinois’ best burger joint. Located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, Lockdown’s hardcore vibe carries over into its burgers. Highlights include the signature Lockdown Warden, which is infused with bacon, leeks, garlic, and shallots, along with the Fat Elvis, with peanut butter, bacon, flambéed banana, butter, and brown sugar.

14. INDIANA // FARM

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

FARM operates under the fresh, local, farm-to-table ideology, which shines through in its popular dishes like the award-winning “Food Network Fave” Lugar Burger. This bison burger, a legend in the Bloomington area, has a unique espresso-chile rub, and can be upgraded with peppered bacon and a choice of cheddar, Swiss, goat, or blue cheese.

15. IOWA // RIDES BAR & GRILL

Location: Fort Dodge, Iowa

Don’t let the drab exterior and skull logo fool you: Rides Bar & Grill makes one of the most delectable burgers around. Rides’s signature Burn Out burger—an open-faced hamburger topped with fries, chili, cheese, ham, bacon, and onion—has placed this dive bar on the “top burgers of Iowa” lists year after year.

16. KANSAS // BRGR KITCHEN + BAR

Location: Prairie Village, Kansas

burger at BRGR
Daniel H., Yelp

BRGR’s menu offers a unique blend of elegant-yet-edgy burgers, including the Road Hoss, topped with bacon, cheddar, and onion straws, or the Fast Cow, an espresso-encrusted burger with blue cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, and rosemary aoli served on an English muffin. The restaurant’s trendy vibe and top-notch service make it a regular dining spot for those around the Kansas City suburb.

17. KENTUCKY // OLLIE'S TROLLEY

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

For a teeny, tiny kitchen, Ollie’s Trolley offers surprisingly big flavors. The Ollie Burger—served with mozzarella cheese and Ollie Sauce—is a delicacy among Louisville locals. Insider tip: Ask for a second order of fries. With Ollie’s signature seasoning, one order is never enough.

18. LOUISIANA // ABITA BREW PUB

Location: Abita Springs, Louisiana

Abita Brew Pub, the restaurant arm of Abita Brewery, offers a number of tasty entrée options, including their well-known Killer Burger, a 10-ounce patty topped with fried onion rings, pepper jack cheese, and the signature Abita wing sauce. The restaurant is housed in Abita’s first brewery, and the main dining room offers a sneak peek at the company’s original 15-barrel brew-house.

19. MAINE // GRACE

Location: Portland, Maine

When a burger is so popular it needs its own Twitter account, you know it has to be good. Grace’s beloved Grace Burger—or should we say @GraceBurger—is topped with cheddar, tomato confit, and pickled onions and is a staple of the restaurant's bar menu.

20. MARYLAND // ABBEY BURGER BISTRO

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

burget at abbey burger
Kirstie L., Yelp

Walking up to the Abbey Burger Bistro feels like a stroll through Brussels, but rest assured—with toppings like fried eggs, peanut butter, and crab dip—these burgers are American through and through. While the restaurant offers unusual burger options like bison and Gochujang spiced duck, Abbey Burger Bistro has perfected the Black Angus patty down to the last juicy bite.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // TASTY BURGER

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Tasty Burger may have a hole-in-the-wall vibe, but its consistently long lines make clear that this delicious burger joint is no hidden gem. Given the restaurant’s proximity to Fenway Park and multiple college campuses, Tasty Burger attracts an interesting mix of rowdy fans, drunk college students, hipsters, and families. The burgers may not be exotic or fancy, but boy do they hit the spot.

22. MICHIGAN // DUGGAN'S IRISH PUB

Location: Royal Oak, Michigan

Burger and fries from Duggan's Irish Pub.
Jamie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Duggan’s Irish Pub has a relaxed, casual ambiance, a robust beer list and—most importantly—an award-winning, enormous burger. The Famous Big Chief Double Decker Burger is not for the faint of heart. It comes with two quarter-pound patties, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and Duggan’s secret curry-flavored sauce. Those looking for a less intense meal can try the Little Chief, a smaller portion with the same great flavors.

23. MINNESOTA // 112 EATERY

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ask any Minneapolis resident for their burger recommendation, and nine times out of 10 they’ll suggest 112 Eatery. The restaurant’s popular 112 Cheeseburger takes the traditional cheese-and-patty sandwich to a new level. Its ground beef patty, mixed with butter, eggs, onions, and a variety of seasonings, is served below a pile of gooey, melt-in-your-mouth brie.

24. MISSISSIPPI // NEON PIG

Location: Tupelo, Mississippi

The Neon Pig—famous for its delectable Smash burger—is a fan favorite across Mississippi. The burger offers a hearty combination of aged filet, sirloin, ribeye and bacon, topped with pickles, bacon bits, and pickled onions. Plus, the Neon Pig doubles as a butcher shop, which gives it a major advantage when it comes to serving fresh meats.

25. MISSOURI // TOWN-TOPIC

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Town-Topic is more than a tasty, beloved burger joint—it’s a staple in Kansas City’s history. After introducing its iconic five-cent burgers in 1937, Town-Topic quickly developed a following that has kept the eatery buzzing to this day.

26. MONTANA // RICHWINE'S BURGERVILLE

Location: Polson, Montana

Open for more than 50 years, Richwine’s Burgerville drive-thru restaurant has offered an unusual, 100 percent bull hamburger in an old-school, nostalgic setting. Richwine’s is open seasonally, from early March through the end of September.

27. NEBRASKA // STELLA'S BAR & GRILL

Location: Bellevue, Nebraska

burger on a table at stellas diner
Edward P., Yelp

Stella’s Bar & Grill is known for its popular burgers, including the traditional Stella Burger, which is served with cheese, bacon, and a fried egg. Hungrier, more adventurous diners can have a go at the Stellanator challenge, which involves eating the restaurant’s monstrosity of a sandwich (a stack of six burgers, six fried eggs, six slices of cheese, 12 slices of bacon, lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, peanut butter, and more) in less than 45 minutes. For dessert, it’s BYO Tums.

28. NEVADA // MIDTOWN EATS

Location: Reno, Nevada

Midtown Eats is a family-owned, locally sourced restaurant that’s known for experimenting with traditional classics. From the lamb burger with olive tapenade and tzatziki to the elk burger with caramelized onions and garlic aioli, Midtown Eats has a delicious, perfectly prepared burger variety that keeps locals coming back for more.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // LEXIE'S JOINT

Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

While Lexie’s may be known for its creative burger toppings, it’s the precise preparation of each and every patty that keeps new and old customers coming through its doors. The popular Stairway to Heaven burger is served with cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, braised short ribs, and caramelized onions, while its Wild Things burger comes topped with bacon, avocado, muenster cheese, tomato, and sriracha aioli.

30. NEW JERSEY // BURGER 25

Location: Toms River, New Jersey

low carb burger at burger 25
Burger 25

Named for its 25-burger menu, Burger 25 offers some of the most unusual concoctions in the country, including a French onion soup burger, a mac 'n' cheese burger, and a breakfast burger. While it has an extensive variety, Burger 25 carefully cooks each patty to perfection to ensure the core of the burger is as good as its toppings.

31. NEW MEXICO // BUCKHORN TAVERN

Location: San Antonio, New Mexico

Food experts across the country continuously name Buckhorn Tavern’s Green Chile Cheeseburger one of the best burgers in the U.S. The small, family-owned Buckhorn Tavern is so popular that many visitors actually plan their trips around this burger hot spot.

32. NEW YORK // SHAKE SHACK

Location: New York, New York

What started as a hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park has turned into a mouthwatering phenomenon. Try the beloved ShackBurger or ‘Shroom Burger at one of Shake Shack’s many locations across New York City, including its original site at Madison Square Park’s southeast corner. Expect long lines, but rest assured your tasty reward is well worth the wait.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // THE LIBERTY

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina


Billy M., Yelp

The Liberty serves up some of North Carolina’s largest, most delicious burgers in a trendy, hip environment. Try the Black Angus Fresh Ground Liberty Pub Burger, topped with cheddar, bacon, onions, pickles, lettuce and tomato, or go even bigger with the American “Crunch” Burger, served beneath a tall stack of chips, bacon, and pimento cheese.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // SICKIES GARAGE

Location: Fargo, North Dakota

With 50 burgers on the menu, even the pickiest eaters can find something they like at Sickies Garage. As you’d imagine, Sickies has a number of unusual concoctions—we’re talking glazed doughnut, jalapeño, and peanut butter burgers—but it’s best known for the enormous Sickies Burger, which comes with peppered bacon, fried egg, pulled pork, BBQ sauces, cheese, onion rings, and hot sauce.

35. OHIO // THE MAID-RITE SANDWICH SHOPPE

Location: Greenville, Ohio

Many Ohioans know and love Swensons in Cleveland (including Akron native LeBron James), but few have heard of hidden gem Maid-Rite in Greenville. Established in 1934, Maid-Rite’s loose-meat burgers have a cult following among those in on the tasty secret, with many driving hours out of the way to get their fill of delicious Maid-Rite and Cheese-Rite sandwiches.

36. OKLAHOMA // S&B’s BURGER JOINT

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Housed in a renovated garage, S&B’s Burger Joint pairs chill vibes with tasty burgers and sliders, such as The Smokin’ Okie, topped with jalapeños, smoked gouda, bacon, mayo, and BBQ sauce. Want your burger with a side of flashbacks? S&B’s plays old-school music videos on its flat screen TVs, so prepare for a blast from your teenage past.

37. OREGON // KILLER BURGER

Location: Portland, Oregon

Killer Burger diners can’t speak highly enough about the restaurant’s 100-percent beef Peanut Butter Pickle Bacon Burger. The restaurant’s homemade peanut sauce—as well as the option of bottomless fries—make Killer Burger a must-visit for locals and tourists.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // GOOD DOG BAR

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

burger at Good Dog burger
Bader A., Yelp

Stuffed with Roquefort cheese and topped with caramelized onions, the Good Burger at Good Dog Bar has a loyal Philly following. Environment-wise, Good Dog Bar has the greatest decorating theme of all time—dogs!—and its craft beer list isn’t too shabby, either.

39. RHODE ISLAND // HARRY'S BAR & BURGER

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Harry’s Bar & Burger specializes in sliders, letting diners try a combination of quirky burgers without bursting any pant buttons. Unique menu items like the Pig Pile Burger, with BBQ pulled pork, and the Mother of All Burgers (MOAB) with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and fried onion strings can be tempting, but don’t forget the simple, delectable Harry’s Classic Cheese slider.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // THE PARK CAFE

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

The Park Cafe is a quaint, friendly, farm-to-fork restaurant that offers, among other fresh entrees, an absolutely scrumptious burger. The restaurant is known for its simple, local ingredients, but those who order the traditional Park Burger are pleasantly surprised to find that behind this classic beef, bacon, and spicy mayo goodness lies the most delicious burger in South Carolina.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // BLACK HILLS BURGER AND BUN CO.

Location: Custer, South Dakota

When people rave over “The Hot Granny” in Custer, South Dakota, they’re not talking about an attractive grandma—they’re salivating over a bacon, cream cheese, jalapeño, and sweet/spicy jalapeño sauce burger. The Black Hills Burger & Bun Co., home of “The Hot Granny,” offers a number of meat options, including a traditional beef patty, a buffalo burger, or—for those who can’t decide—both, with two patties on one burger.

42. TENNESSEE // LITTON'S MARKET AND RESTAURANT

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Since 1949, Litton’s has served up an array of southern comfort foods in a casual, “everyone knows your name” setting. Litton’s most popular burger, the Litton Thunder Road, comes with pimento cheese, sautéed onions, and jalapeños, and all six of its burgers are served between fresh buns, baked onsite daily.

43. TEXAS // ALAMO SPRINGS CAFE

Location: Fredericksburg, Texas

Way off the beaten path in Fredericksburg, Texas, lies a small, unassuming cafe with a major, mouthwatering secret: the best green chile cheeseburger in Texas. Alamo Springs Cafe has a loyal following of locals and tourists who go out of their way to get their hands—and mouths—on this award-winning burger. With green chiles and a jalapeño-cheese bun, the Alamo Springs Cafe Green Chile Cheeseburger provides a spicy little taste of Texas.

44. UTAH // SALT CITY BURGER CO.

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Bacon lovers, rejoice! Salt City Burger Co. is what bacon enthusiasts’ dreams are made of. Three of the restaurant’s signature burgers have the word “bacon” in the title, and with a full-service condiment bar, those crispy strips can be added to every single burger on the menu.

45. VERMONT // KEVIN'S SPORTS PUB AND RESTAURANT

Location: North Bennington, Vermont

Kevin’s Sports Pub and Restaurant has the laidback vibe of a neighborhood sports bar, with simple yet mouthwatering burgers that keep loyal customers coming through its doors. For a flavorful experience, try the Kevin’s Burger, or for a traditional bite of beefy goodness, go with the tried-and-true (and tasty!) Classic Burger.

46. VIRGINIA // MELT GOURMET CHEESEBURGERS

Location: Leesburg, Virginia

burger at Melt
Megan T., Yelp

There’s a reason Melt wins the best burger award year after year—its burgers are seriously that good. Try its classic burger for a simple taste of grilled perfection, or get exotic with options like the Tex-Mex Burger, the Caprese Burger, or the Greek Lamb Burger, topped with roasted garlic and feta.

47. WASHINGTON // JOHN HOWIE STEAK

Location: Bellevue, Washington

As its name suggests, John Howie Steak knows a thing or two about meat. Their expert chefs make a mean, massive half-pound prime beef burger, topped with cheddar, bacon, and their own special “drive-in sauce.” Word on the street is it tastes just as delicious heated up on day two or three, so grab a doggy bag and don’t let a single bite go to waste!

48. WEST VIRGINIA // JIM'S DRIVE IN

Location: Lewisburg, West Virginia

Jim’s Drive In, an iconic Lewisburg restaurant, has been serving up tasty, classic burgers to this West Virginia community for more than 60 years. Today, Jim’s continues to operate as a traditional drive-in restaurant, with carhops and all. The popular Famous Ranch Burger is a must-try for all first-time diners.

49. WISCONSIN // AL'S HAMBURGER SHOP

Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin

Al’s bare bones exterior believes the pure brilliance that's going on in the kitchen, particularly when it comes to the restaurant's beloved—and award-winning—Al Burger. With a tiny seating area that fits maybe 20 people, Al’s is definitely a hole in the wall, but this authentic, old-school diner is no secret among locals. The restaurant’s cheesy, gigantic burger brings fans back in hungry hordes.

50. WYOMING // THE BIRD

Location: Jackson, Wyoming

the bird burger at the bird
Clay E., Yelp

With stunning views and scrumptious burgers, it’s no wonder The Bird is such a popular spot. The restaurant’s famous burgers are prepared fresh daily, and are available with a variety of toppings—think guacamole, salsa, grilled onions, and fried eggs—all sandwiched between two perfectly toasted English muffins. Talk about burger heaven.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016.

Wrap Yourself in the Sweet Smell of Bacon (or Coffee or Pine) With These Scented T-Shirts

adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images
adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably used perfume, cologne, body spray, or another product meant to make you smell like a flower, food, or something else. But what if you could cut out the middleman and just purchase scented clothing?

Candy Couture California’s (CCC) answer to that is “You can!” The lifestyle brand offers a collection of graphic T-shirts featuring scents like bacon, coffee, pine tree, strawberry, and motor oil. If you have more traditional olfactory predilections, there are several options for you, too, including rose, lavender, and lemongrass. There’s even a signature Candy Couture California scent, which is an intoxicating blend of coconut, strawberry, and vanilla.

candy couture california bacon shirt
Candy Couture California

According to the website, CCC founder Sara Kissing came up with the idea in 2011 while working in the e-commerce fashion industry, and her personal experience with aromatherapy led her to investigate developing clothing that harnessed some of those same benefits. The T-shirts are created with scent-infused gel, which “gives off a delicate, mild smell—just enough to boost your mood.”

So you don’t have to worry about your bacon shirt making the whole office smell like a breakfast sandwich, but you yourself will definitely be able to enjoy its subtle, meaty aroma whenever you wear it. The shirts are also designed to match their scents—the chocolate shirt, for example, features chocolatey baked goods, while the coffee shirt displays steaming mugs of coffee.

candy couture california chocolate shirt
Candy Couture California

The fragrances don’t last forever, but they’ll stay strong through 15 to 20 washes before they start to fade. CCC recommends using unscented detergent so as not to conflict with the shirt’s aroma, and you can further prolong its life if you’re willing to wash it by hand.

Prices start at $79, and you can shop the full collection here.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

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