The Best Pizza in All 50 States

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Though cities like New York and Chicago are most renowned for their pizza, every state in the U.S. has their own standout favorite. Whether it is a slice for the road, a piping hot pie, or a creative concoction of rare ingredients, there's a reason pizza is universally loved. Check out our list of must-try pizza in all 50 states.

1. ALABAMA // MATER'S PIZZA AND PASTA EMPORIUM

Location: Gadsden and Albertville, Alabama

COURTESY MATER'S PIZZA AND PASTA EMPORIUM

Since 1978, Gadsden’s Mater’s Pizza has been serving their "world famous" pasta and pizza. Using fresh, homemade dough and a signature blend of cheeses, Mater's is a family favorite in the town's historic district. They expanded the original location to include the Oyster Bar, and have a game room and TVs throughout the restaurant. A second location in Albertville opened in 2013.

2. ALASKA // MOOSE'S TOOTH PUB AND PIZZERIA

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

If you find your stomach rumbling while you’re driving along Seward Highway in Anchorage, stop in Moose's Tooth for breadsticks, oven-baked sandwiches, salad, and of course, gourmet pizza. Meat lovers will enjoy The Classic, which comes with heaping piles of pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella, provolone and marinara sauce. Be sure to also try one of the 40 beers (or two sodas) crafted by their own Broken Tooth Brewing.

3. ARIZONA // PIZZERIA BIANCO

Location: Phoenix, Arizona

COURTESY PIZZERIA BIANCO

When you think of great pizza, Arizona may not immediately come to mind, but James Beard-awarded chef Chris Bianco changed that when Food & Wine called his first restaurant "arguably the best pizza in America" in 2009. A former New Yorker who headed west to work with farm-to-table champion Alice Waters, Bianco opened his own shop in 1988 and later expanded Pizzeria Bianco in downtown Phoenix. His simple and delicious pies, like the Biancoverde, use fresh, homegrown ingredients like fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta, and arugula. For $3 more, add some wood roasted mushrooms for a slice of heaven in the desert.

4. ARKANSAS // VINO’S

Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

There may be no greater combination than a slice of pizza with an ice cold beer. At Vino’s pub and brewery, you can grab hand-tossed slices combined with a long list of toppings from ham and extra cheese to chopped garlic and fresh meatballs, all served on a hot and crispy New York-style thin crust. Enjoy your slice with a medium-bodied Firehouse Pale Ale, or a house-brewed Razor Bock.

5. CALIFORNIA // BARONE'S PIZZERIA

Location: Woodland Hills, California

For three generations, Barone's has been serving piping hot, rectangular pizzas (tagline: "We don't cut corners") to Southern California. Started by a few siblings in 1945 and using their grandparents' recipes from Sicily and Naples, Barone's combines fresh dough, homemade Italian sauce, and a secret cheese blend into their delicious pizzas—which once brought legends like Frank Sinatra and John Wayne to eat regularly. Start off with some fried zucchini or meatball sliders and then dig in to their specialty House Marguerite pizza (available at their Westlake Hills location). They have a list of ingredients to make your own pie, and also offer pizzas that are gluten-free.

6. COLORADO // DOWNSTAIRS AT ERIC’S

Location: Breckenridge, Colorado

If you happen to find yourself in the beautiful mountain town of Breckenridge, follow the locals’ advice and grab some grub at a family-friendly sports bar (and arcade) that has been serving Coloradans since 1989. At Downstairs At Eric’s, start off with some sweet chili wings, potato skins, or fried jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese. Take a chance on the Garbage Pizza, the house favorite which has a little bit of everything.

7. CONNECTICUT // FRANK PEPE PIZZERIA NAPOLETANA

Location: Various locations, Connecticut

If you are craving the variety of crispy, thin crust pizza referred to as New Haven-style thanks to Frank Pepe's original location, make sure to try the tomato pie at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Since 1925, Pepe has been using coal-fired ovens to create a "crisp, charred, chewy crust" on pizza pies. The original tomato pie is made using simple ingredients—just tomatoes, grated Pecorino Romano, garlic, oregano, and olive oil—and is still available on the menu. (With or without anchovies.) Try the white clam pie, which over the years has become the most famous, with its flaky crust covered in olive oil, oregano, garlic, grated cheese and fresh littleneck clams.

8. DELAWARE // MARGHERITA'S PIZZA

Location: Newark, Delaware

On any given night, you’ll find college kids swarming this pizza joint, which is conveniently located on Main Street at the heart of the University of Delaware. It’s not just the location that makes this cheesy oasis so popular: The college staple churns out some of the best pizza in the state. You can find a wide variety of specialty slices behind the counter, but if you want something really special, order a pie of the White Buffy: a white pizza covered in buffalo chicken and slathered in blue cheese dressing.

9. FLORIDA // ANDIAMO! BRICK OVEN PIZZA

Location: Miami, Florida

Nestled in an enclosed glass building, a Historical Landmark building in Miami has been the home of award-winning brick oven pizza since it opened in 2001. Andiamo! offers many specialty pies using fresh and inventive ingredients. The Sunday pie includes meatballs, tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, pepperoncini, parmesan, and basil. If you are feeling bold, choose Frankie Five's Special, which is topped with chicken, broccoli rabe, roasted potatoes and garlic, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and red pepper flakes.

10. GEORGIA // ANTICO PIZZA NAPOLETANA

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Just steps away from Georgia Tech's campus on Atlanta’s Westside is Antico Pizza, home to some of the best food in Atlanta. The open kitchen and communal seating make for a vibrant atmosphere, but the pizza here is the main attraction. If you enjoy something rich and decadent, try the house specialty—creamy buffalo mozzarella, Cipollini onions, roasted mushrooms, and white truffle oil served well done with a charred crust.

11. HAWAII // KULA LODGE AND RESTAURANT

Location: Maui, Hawaii

Even those in paradise crave pizza for dinner sometimes. If you’re spending time on Maui visit Kula Lodge and Restaurant. Ask for seating in the Garden Terrace, where the wood-burning oven resides, and take in a sunset dinner with an open view of Maui’s Western side. Try the No Ka Oi, a crispy pizza with Portuguese sausage, Poblano peppers, sweet onion, and—of course—fresh pineapple.

12. IDAHO // ENOTECA

Location: Ketchum, Idaho

Enoteca Restaurant and Wine Bar in Ketchum has starters like house-cured meats and artisanal cheeses, but the wood-fired pizza is what you come for. They have various specialty pizzas for you to choose from, like the Wine Auction, which features gorgonzola and grapes, or the Strega, with homemade pesto and prosciutto.

13. ILLINOIS // VITO AND NICK’S

Location: Chicago, Illinois

When you think Chicago pizza, a deep dish pan pizza may be what comes to mind. The best pizza in the Windy City, though, is the cheese pizza at Vito & Nick’s. The cash-only South Side pizza spot was established in 1932, and serves the best thin crust, cut in square slices, and was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

14. INDIANA // MOTHER BEAR'S PIZZA

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Mother Bear's has been serving Bloomington’s best pizzas since 1973. At Mother Bear’s choice is the key. Dine in or takeout, choose from 6-, 10-, or 14-inch pies made with a selection of cheeses and sauces, and even select from three types of pie: traditional pan, deep dish, or thin crust. If that is too many decisions to make on an empty stomach, just go for the "Paulie Pine Nuts" Pesto Pie with fresh pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella, and spinach.

15. IOWA // PAGLIAI’S PIZZA

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Iowa City has been enjoying the family-run Pagliai’s Pizza since they first opened in 1957. The pizzeria serves beer as well as soft drinks, and a number of toppings are available on their pies. For the works, order the Palace Special (a cheese pizza with sausage, beef, pepperoni, mushroom, and onion), or select your own toppings like black olives, peppers, and Canadian bacon—or the less traditional sauerkraut or broccoli.

16. KANSAS // TOPP'D PIZZA

Location: Kansas City, Kansas

Topp’d Pizza is a Kansas newcomer that aims to serve pizza fresh and fast. This fast casual pizza joint serves 9-inch personal pizzas in less than five minutes, without skimping on ingredients. All their meats are grilled on location, and everything from dough to sauce to dressings are house-made. Enjoy a personal or large 13-inch pie with your choice of original, garlic and herb, honey wheat or gluten-free crust and choose from a wide variety of toppings (including vegan options), or try one of many signature pies offering unique flavors like peanut sauce or slow-roasted pulled pork. 

17. KENTUCKY // BOOMBOZZ CRAFT PIZZA

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

BoomBozz now has several locations, but was welcomed with excitement in Louisville in 1998. Since then, they've been named one of the best of Louisville. Of the many gourmet pizzas to choose from, the Tony's Supremo, Fire Roasted Fajita, and Smokehouse Brisket are standouts. Or opt for a classic like their 17-inch New York-style cheese pie.

18. LOUISIANA // CASCIO’S MARKET BISTRO

Location: Bossier City, Louisiana

COURTESY CASCIO'S MARKET BISTRO

The best pizza in Louisiana might also be the best culinary invention in the state, too. Cascio’s started out as a father-daughter run grocery and produce stand in 1945. Known for homemade sausages, they make thin crust pizzas three ways: Pies come in either 10- or 16-inch with your choice of classic Margherita, or sausage or pepperoni. But try the Pizzaletta, their own creation inspired by the state's famous muffuletta sandwich. They fill the pizza crust with salami, ham, olive salad, sliced provolone, and top it with another pizza crust that is covered in mozzarella cheese!

19. MAINE // OTTO PIZZA

Location: Portland, Maine

Portland's Otto Pizza has been using high-quality local ingredients and an out-of-the-box approach for their pizzas since 2009. One of their most popular pies, The Masher, is a pizza with mashed potatoes, scallions, and bacon. If you are vegetarian, try their mushroom and roasted cauliflower pizza, or opt for the four cheese concoction that combines ricotta, fontina, asiago, and mozzarella.

20. MARYLAND // MATTHEW’S PIZZA

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Matthew’s is proud of their distinction as being "Baltimore’s first pizzeria," and has been a local institution since opening in 1943. They've racked up 76 awards for their amazing pizza pies in the past 30 or so years, and were included in Business Insider’s Best Pizza in Every State. They use traditional and regional ingredients like Maryland crab to enhance their pizzas and appetizers. Give the 4 Seasons Pie a try—it uses hand-grated mozzarella, artichoke hearts, black olives, anchovies, mushrooms, and prosciuttini.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // EMMA’S PIZZA

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge’s Emma’s Pizza specializes in cracker-thin-crust pizza and has been doing so since the '60s. They offer two dozen different pizza combinations, or you can choose to create your own using one of their 30 toppings and three sauces. Start with the Kendall, named for their Kendall Square location: it combines roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, rosemary sauce, and mozzarella.

22. MICHIGAN // BUDDY’S PIZZA

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Buddy’s Pizza introduced their square pizzas to Detroit in 1946, and now have 11 locations in the metro area, serving some of the Motor City’s best pies. They've grown a lot in the last 70 years, and now offer gluten-free and multi-grain crust. For a classic though, order their award-winning Sicilian-style pepperoni pizza, where the meat is layered beneath Wisconsin cheese.

23. MINNESOTA // BLACK SHEEP PIZZA

Location: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota

A full dining experience can be had at Black Sheep Pizza—they serve up wine, beer, draft root beer, and fresh squeezed lemonade, salads, and of course, plenty of pizza. Their pies come in 12- and 16-inch sizes, or order the Sicilian, which is essentially a Grandma: a square pizza with mozzarella, sauce, and extra virgin olive oil.

24. MISSISSIPPI // PIZZA SHACK

Location: Jackson, Mississippi

Pizza Shack has collected dozens of awards since opening in 2005, when three lifelong friends opened the pizza parlor of their dreams. Start off with an antipasta salad or Buffalo wings, and since you're in Mississippi, opt for the Cajun Joe for the main event: spicy marinara and andouille sausage, chicken, peppers, and onions.

25. MISSOURI // PI PIZZERIA

Location: Various locations, Missouri

Pi Pizzeria has multiple restaurants across St. Louis (as well as in Cincinnati and D.C.), and it specializes in craft beer, deep dish, and cornmeal crust pizzas. Next time you're in the Lou, start with a Bada Bing salad (which includes walnuts, gorgonzola, and the namesake dried bing cherries), and take a bite out of a slice of Bucktown, which is covered in mozzarella, roasted chicken, artichokes, peppers, green olives, red onion, feta, and sundried tomatoes.

26. MONTANA // EUGENE’S PIZZA

Location: Glasgow, Montana

The pride of Glasgow, Montana may be Eugene’s Pizza a family business that has been feeding locals for over 40 years. Purchased in 1967, the pizzeria was passed to the owner’s children in 1992. Choose one of their popular suggestions like pepperoni, tomato, and garlic or mushroom and black olives, or select your own. If you’re in the mood for something on the sweeter side try the BBQ Chicken pizza. It’s made with spicy chicken, a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, and then topped with a swirl of homemade BBQ sauce. Yum.

27. NEBRASKA // LA CASA PIZZARIA

Location: Omaha, Nebraska

La Casa Pizzaria has been proudly advertising their "legendary pizza and pasta" dishes for over 60 years. Enjoy beer and wine tastings in the lounge, order some fried ravioli or eggplant parmesan, but don’t forget to try some thin crust Neapolitan pizza. For a taste of an Omaha classic, get the hamburger pizza. With ground beef, onions, seasoning and mozzarella and Romano cheese, this pie is a must.

28. NEVADA // SOUTH CREEK PIZZA COMPANY

Location: Reno, Nevada

Start off with fire roasted mortadella, garlic shrimp, and a wedge salad and move on to the aptly named Afterburner pizza at South Creek Pizza Company. This pizza special has Mama’s meatballs, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, red onions, basil, and is topped with sea salt and SarVecchio parmesan cheese. Hot chopped cherry peppers come on the side.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // PIGTALE

Location: Nashua, New Hampshire

Farm to table is the draw at Nashua, New Hampshire’s PigTale. They use ingredients sourced locally whenever possible to create the small plates, salads, pizza, and delicious craft cocktails they serve. Their namesake pizza is a creative crispy pie loaded up with bacon, smoked pork, sausage, pickled onion and fontina cheese. For pescetarians, try the shrimp scampi pie which has Gulf shrimp, garlic, baby heirloom tomatoes, and fresh basil.

30. NEW JERSEY // RAZZA

Location: Jersey City, New Jersey

Razza is an upscale pizza joint in the heart of Jersey City, intent on serving you food with the utmost care. The bread—and the butter even—is homemade and all the ingredients they use are hand selected. Try the Project Hazelnut that combines fresh mozzarella, locally grown hazelnuts (care of Rutgers University), ricotta and local honey.

31. NEW MEXICO // BACK ROAD PIZZA

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Back Road has remained a local favorite in Santa Fe since it opened in 1997. Everything you eat—from the pizza dough, roasted meats, and sauces to dressings—are freshly made in house each day. You can order a basic cheese pizza, one with your favorite topping, or choose from 11 Primo toppings they offer like Kalamata olives or Chevre. They also offer piping hot calzones, classic subs, and appetizers, depending on how hungry you feel.

32. NEW YORK // JOE’S PIZZA

Location: New York, New York

New York is a pizza town, so choosing the best is hard. New Yorkers are diehard about who makes the best pie and can argue the merits of Totonno’s, Di Fara’s, or Patsy’s with passion. But, if you want a classic New York slice you should have it with a classic New York experience, so grab a cheese or pepperoni from Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich village. Fold it and eat it while walking down the street. You might drip a little grease down your chin, and you’ll definitely burn your tongue, but the combination of perfectly melted cheese and crispy bottom crust is the very best.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // PURE PIZZA

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Pure Pizza’s philosophy is to provide healthier pizza by using fresh high-quality ingredients, to stay committed to the environment, and to provide fair wages to their employees. All in all, a positive atmosphere and mission. Stop in and have a She-Rex which is mozzarella, mushroom, onion, pepper, and topped with greens tossed in lemon vinaigrette.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // BLACKBIRD WOODFIRE

Location: Fargo, North Dakota

Truck Pizza was a mobile wood-fired oven that served pizza every summer at events and festivals and, finally, opened a brick and mortar restaurant, Blackbird Woodfire, in 2014. They serve tapas, salads, and a bunch of specialty pies like the Sausage Apple that is made with house-made sausage, Granny Smith apple, Béchamel cream sauce, fresh sage, parmesan cheese, and micro greens.

35. OHIO // BAR CENTO

Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Bar Cento is full-fledged Italian eatery with house made pasta dishes and house specials and sides, but their pizza was rated the best in Ohio by both Zagat and Food Network. The Sunnyside has pancetta (made in house) and provolone, and is topped with a fried egg and black pepper so it works for brunch or dinner.

36. OKLAHOMA // ANDOLINI’S PIZZERIA

Location: Multiple Locations, Oklahoma

Tulsa’s Andolini’s Pizza was established in 2005, and has since expanded to another two locations across Oklahoma, as well as in the form of a food truck doling out slices around Tulsa. If you feel like keeping it simple, go for the Marzano pesto pie. Pistachio pesto, mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes are cooked together to gooey perfection.

37. OREGON // APIZZA SCHOLLS

Location: Portland, Oregon

At Apizza Scholls picking up pies can take over an hour on busy nights. Luckily, they have an arcade with DigDug, Ms. Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong to play while you wait. Once you are seated there are tons of pizzas to choose from, and all of them are 18 inches of amazing. The Diablo Blanca has tomato pesto, mozzarella, ricotta, herbs, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh jalapeño.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // PIZZERIA BEDDIA

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

At 4:00pm most afternoons, lines start forming in anticipation of Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia’s 5:30 p.m. opening. This place is cash only, has no seating, and rotates pies seasonally, but once 40 pies have gone out—they’re out. You can try the chewy, crispy cheese pie, or go with a special like a recent pie with asparagus, fresh cream, oyster mushroom, and ramps.

39. RHODE ISLAND // FRANK AND JOHN FROM ITALY

Location: East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Independently owned and operated by the same family for over 40 years, Frank and John’s is where you go for authentic Italian pie in East Greenwich. This is a no frills pizza joint that offers casual dining and top notch Italian food.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // REBEL PIE

Location: Florence, South Carolina

Though they have many great items to choose from on their menu, Rebel Pie is all about pizza. They have white pies, pesto pies, build your own pies, and even dessert pies. You can’t go wrong here, no matter what you order, but take a chance on their rotating Rebel Pie of the month for a unique creation!

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // FIERO PIZZA

Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Fiero Pizza has a number of specialty pies for you to choose from if you don’t feel like building your own pizza. I’d go with the Fresh Farmer. It has a spicy tomato sauce base and mozzarella, hot sausage, spinach, egg, parmesan cheese, and roasted pepper chili oil. Sounds like you’ll need to wash it down with a cold drink.

42. TENNESSEE // PIZZA PERFECT

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

With a name like Pizza Perfect, you better nail a plain cheese pizza. Though they have many creative pies (like the Dante’s Chicken Pie) you may be just as happy with a pitcher and a large thick Sicilian cheese pie, thick and gooey and baked fresh to order.

43. TEXAS // ANTONIO’S FLYING PIZZA

Location: Houston, Texas

For over 40 years the Rosa family has been making hand-tossed pizzas, pasta dishes, and desserts for Houston’s residents. Whether you’re in the mood for a traditional or deep dish Sicilian pie, you won’t leave hungry after visiting Antonio’s Flying Pizza.

44. UTAH // NICOLITALIA

Location: Provo, Utah

They call it Boston Italian style pizza here, and it is crazy good. Their specialty pies include the Italian Stallion and Eye of the Tiger, but if you really want to try something special, order the Queen Margotte which is topped with alfredo sauce, fresh tomato, chopped spinach, dry basil, parmesan cheese and Nicolitalia’s secret spice.

45. VERMONT // FOLINO'S

Location: Shelburne, Vermont

Folino's is BYOB, but luckily they are housed in the same building as Fiddlehead Brewing Company, so you can pop next door and grab a few beers before heading over for a Margherita pie, Folino’s specialty. The Green Mountain setting and delicious New Haven-style pie provides a beautiful evening.

46. VIRGINIA // PUPATELLA

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Pupatella’s website proudly announces itself "Best Pizza in Virginia." The fried arancini (rice balls) and fresh mozzarella, as well as their pizzas, are authentic Neopolitan cuisine. They offer red (sausage and onion with smoked mozzarella) or white (creamy burrata with cherry tomato, pine nuts and basil) pizzas, and will make you feel like you’re in Naples.

47. WASHINGTON // SERIOUS PIE

Location: Seattle, Washington

Serious Pie bakes their pizza in a 600-degree, stone-encased, wood-fired oven, so we get why they're so serious about their pizza. They have three locations across Seattle and also boast artisan cheeses from around the world.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // LOLA’S PIZZA

Location: Charleston, West Virginia

Lola’s offers brunch, lunch, and dinner and a wide array of sandwiches, salads, and, of course, pizzas. Their simple and tasty pies are available for dine-in or carryout and cooked to bubbly perfection in a stone hearth. Some intriguing options include bacon and white cheddar, spinach and feta, and spicy shrimp and sausage.

49. WISCONSIN // PIZZA BRUTTA

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

Pizza Brutta uses freshly made Fior di latte, tomato sauce, and dough for their Neopolitan style pizzas. They have over 20 combinations to choose from as well as salads and sandwiches (lunch only). Plus, they partner with organic suppliers, and you won't find fresher Wisconsin cheese anywhere else.

50. WYOMING // ROXIE’S ON GRAND

Location: Laramie, Wyoming

This American bistro is a warm and inviting restaurant in Laramie. In addition to full dinners and appetizers, they make brick oven-fired pizzas in classic combinations like tomato and mozzarella, spicy meatball, or the decadent Lobster supreme.

This story was updated in November 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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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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