Daymon "Daym" Patterson learned long ago that the best food rarely comes from the fanciest restaurants. Patterson, who rose to restaurant-reviewing fame on YouTube, became food correspondent for the Rachael Ray Show, and just published a book, Eating Across America: A Foodie's Guide to Food Trucks, Street Food and the Best Dish in Each State (Mango, $24.95). He shares some favorite tastes with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Grindhouse Killer Burgers
Patterson knows his way around a burger, but this tiny chain, which started in the city’s historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market, does something different, mixing chuck and brisket in its handmade ground beef patties. He then added bacon, American cheese, pickle and some mayo. “I didn’t know where this was going when I took the first bite. It was so much meat. It was crazy. All these flavors were bursting in my mouth.” grindhouseburgers.com
The Halal Guys
What started as a hot dog cart has grown into a Mideast-flavored street food empire, with locations across the country. Patterson favors the original New York street carts, where he first tried the taste bud-tantalizing meals. “It’s beef and chicken and rice and spiciness.” Plus, there’s the legendary white sauce, a peppery mayonnaise-based condiment, which he slathered on top. “It practically burned my face off. That moment for me was everything.” thehalalguys.com
The Park's Finest BBQ
While Patterson knows his way around barbecue, he was surprised by this Filipino-style eatery. Not only did the beef ribs — flavored with pepper, garlic, onion and Himalayan salt — live up to his standards, but he was blown away by the sides, including cornbread and the gouda-topped mac and cheese. “It made me question my own mama’s macaroni and cheese.” theparksfinest.com
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
While there are more famous purveyors of Philly’s signature cheesesteak sandwich, Patterson swears by this version. “The steak itself is what makes it special. It’s not just thin strips. It’s a regular nice cut of steak in there, and when you have the grilled onions and Cheez Whiz, it just enhances the flavor.” stevesprinceofsteaks.com
Acme Oyster House
Patterson suggests breaking up a French Quarter visit by bellying up to the oyster bar at this Crescent City classic. This is where he first tried crayfish and a specialty called Boo Fries, which are covered with grated cheddar cheese and gravy. But the chargrilled oysters were the revelation. “You pick up that shell, put your head back, and enjoy the experience.” acmeoyster.com
New Brunswick, N.J.
It’s easy to overlook this little chain near Rutgers University, but that would be a mistake, Patterson says. While the tacos are small, they’re a wonder, made with tempura-battered cod, shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and white cilantro sauce. The combination of crisp, warm fish and cool toppings is unbeatable. “They make the flavors work.” surftaco.com
Leon’s World Finest BBQ Spot
Patterson felt like he was visiting someone’s home when he entered the modest dining room at this Texas barbecue joint. “They bring you in like you’re family,” he says. Highlights include pork ribs, and sides like candied yams, cornbread and corn on the cob. “It’s got those Southern comfort flavors.” leonsbbq.com
Set directly on the water, there’s no doubting the freshness of the seafood at this Cape Cod spot, Patterson says. He recommends the Knuckle Sandwich, made with lobster, bacon, mayo and avocado. “It had to be the freshest bite of lobster I ever had. It’s a sandwich that punches you in the face in the best way ever.” fishermensview.com
Patterson was visiting Detroit when he heard about the delights that lay just across the border in Canada at this eatery specializing in poutine. He had never tried the dish, made with double-fried French fries covered with gravy and cheese curds. “I said ‘Give me something basic,' ” he recalls, and the dish didn’t disappoint. “You take the first bite, and you say: ‘I need more. I need more.' ” facebook.com/Frenchys-Poutinery-123806574319926
The Meat Truck
New Haven, Conn.
The name of this butcher-shop inspired food truck near Patterson’s home says it all. On his first visit, he ordered two different sandwiches, one with a fried egg and chopped ribs, and another with brisket and mozzarella cheese. “All the meat in there is the very best, and if you want to go crazy, they’ll take it off-menu. If you have something in mind, they’ll make it come to life for you.” facebook.com/themeattruck