Travel Stories

The Best Bites in All 50 State Capitals

Never mind the ability to name all 50 state capitals, we can tell you where to eat in them too
by Elise Hartman Ford Posted Jul 2nd 2014 10:44p.m.
A Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer since 1985, Elise is the author of Frommer's EasyGuide to Washington, D.C. 2014.

Although state capitals often are not a national or even the state’s hotspot, they are well visited anyway, for the simple fact that the seat of government resides there. You may travel elsewhere in these states for more famous attractions, but thanks to political appetites, you can always count on getting some pretty good eats in the capitals. Whether you’re an elected official, a local, stopping on your drive through for a quick bite or there for a longer visit, this story leads you to capital places for dining in all 50 states. The following list recommends a restaurant in each of three specific categories for each state capital:

  • where the politicos hang out
  • where you can feel like a local and perhaps enjoy the local or state specialty
  • the best restaurant in town

Montgomery, Alabama

With 200+ restaurants, Montgomery is quite the foodie town. Join legislators and lobbyists at Central, about a mile from the Capitol, and order braised duck wontons, a favorite. Settle in with locals at Derk’s for “a meat and three” meal (choice of meat, maybe fried chicken or country fried steak, with three sides, such as fried okra, squash casserole or collard greens). When only the best will do, dine at TRUE, where James Beard Award nominee Wesley True turns out “farm-inspired seasonal cuisine.”

Juneau, Alaska

The smallish Rookery Café overflows with political types, who come here to prime their tastes for adventure (arugula salad with bone marrow vinaigrette, rabbit roulade). The Hangar on the Wharf is the place to go for Juneau’s best burgers and beer, and local atmosphere. Juneau’s fabulous fresh seafood is available May through September at Twisted Fish Company; year-round, go for gourmet pizza at The Island Pub.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix’s oldest steakhouse, Durant's, attracts a political crowd, who dig the red felt and naugahyde décor; the steak and potatoes, liver and onions menu; and the offbeat entrance: governor to staffer, all enter via the kitchen. A more casual favorite is The Vig, for live music, bocce on the patio, and fish tacos on the menu. Best dining is at Kai, at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort; located on tribal land, Kai serves Native American gourmet cuisine.

Little Rock, Arkansas

The big hangout for politicos, Doe’s Eat Place is famous for patronage by the Clintons and their successors, and for its best-in-town burgers and its hot tamales. Politicos also head to The Faded Rose for Creole comfort food in a downhome setting. Best for fine dining? Try the waterfront Brave New Restaurant, known for its seafood (try the walleye and halibut) and game dishes.

Sacramento, California

Political heavy hitters spar over Twin Peaks peaches and house-smoked salmon sandwiches during lunch at Grange, located just a few blocks from the Capitol, inside the Citizen Hotel, where political cartoons cover the walls. Locals are already loyal fans of the new Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., liking the rustic California décor, housemade pickles, burger specials, and brunch. Ella’s is the place for special occasions and delicious feasts of seasonal fare, but the one dish you shouldn’t miss is the fried chicken with housemade Tabasco sauce.

If you want to talk politics in Atlanta, do like Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young and a host of other politicians have long done and stop in at Manuel’s Tavern, nearing 60 years and still drawing devoted regulars for beers and the McCloskey Burger

Denver, Colorado

If you hang out long enough at Racine’s (American and Mexican classics) near the Capitol, you’ll see all types of pols pass through its doors, from state legislators to the mayor. Linger with the locals at, wait for it, Linger. This former mortuary has 45 beers on tap, a rooftop deck offering stellar views and a menu of street food from around the world. Book a table at Rioja, to experience Denver’s finest dining, Mediterranean cuisine prepared by "Top Chef" contestant and James Beard Foundation award winner Jennifer Jasinski.

Hartford, Connecticut

If Cheers were an Italian restaurant, it would be Salute, where owner Jimmy Cosgrove knows the name of everyone there, regulars from the Capitol and all over the city. With nearly half its population from Latin and South America, it makes sense that locals love Brazil Grill, comfortably casual and serving its skewered grilled meats by the pound. ON20 gets the nod for finest restaurant, with its 20th floor view of the Connecticut River and the Old State House and its superb contemporary French cuisine.

Dover, Delaware

When the state legislature is in session, legislators and lobbyists appreciate the proximity, oldtimey décor, and Philly-influenced American fare (five versions of cheesesteak!) of the family-owned Fraizer’s Restaurant and Bar, within a short walk of Legislative Hall. Veer off the beaten path and ignore the strip mall setting to dine with locals at Cool Springs Fish Bar & Restaurant, whose menu features locally sourced seafood and produce. Michele’s Restaurant, inside Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, is the finest dining in the capital, serving a sumptuous Sunday brunch and steak and seafood specialties.

Tallahassee, Florida

If they’re not in the Capitol building, you might find your elected official next door at Andrew’s Capital Bar & Grill, famous for its power lunches, New Orleans-style architecture, and eclectic menu items, pad thai pasta to fresh grouper. Cabos is a little taco place, where surfboards hang on the walls and Tallahasseeans chow down on Mexican black bean burgers and shrimp tacos. The name’s funky, the ambience fun, and the Southern/modern American food deliciously top-notch at Kool Beanz Café.

Atlanta, Georgia

If you want to talk politics in Atlanta, do like Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young and a host of other politicians have long done and stop in at Manuel’s Tavern, nearing 60 years and still drawing devoted regulars for beers and the McCloskey Burger, but mainly the neighborhood pub ambience. Better food awaits at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Que, a local favorite for its smoky ribs and chicken. Bacchanalia’s stands as Atlanta’s best restaurant, whose award-winning chef Anne Quatrano uses only organic ingredients in her contemporary American cuisine. 

Chef Jasinski from Rioja on why she loves Colorado

#COmeToLife - Professional Chef Jennifer Jasinski on Colorado Restaurants

YouTube/Colorado

In the kitchen with Montgomery chef Wesley True

In the Kitchen with Chef Wesley True

YouTube/Emerson Rose

Chef Jasinski from Rioja on why she loves Colorado

#COmeToLife - Professional Chef Jennifer Jasinski on Colorado Restaurants

YouTube/Colorado

In the kitchen with Montgomery chef Wesley True

In the Kitchen with Chef Wesley True

YouTube/Emerson Rose

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Honolulu, Hawaii

Café Julia’s garlic furikake fries and loco moco are just two of the local dishes that lure government officials and politicians here for lunch from the nearby Capitol and City Hall. Side Street Inn’s easy ambience and menu of local staples, like pork chops and fried rice, keep people coming at all hours (chefs like to drop by after closing time at their own joints). President Barack Obama is among the fans of Honolulu’s best restaurant, Alan Wong, whose most popular dishes include pan steamed opakapaka (pink snapper).

Boise, Idaho

Movers and shakers from the Capitol, just blocks away, mix with lively non-politicos at laidback Fork, whose dishes emphasize Northwest bounty (Idaho rainbow trout, local ale-braised short ribs) and farm-fresh ingredients. Downtown Boise’s Bittercreek Ale House bustles with locals drawn by the tap line of 39 drafts from regional craft brewers, seasonal American fare, the patio in summer and the televised sports programs on year-round. Chandler’s is the go-to place for finest dining: fresh seafood, Kobe-style beef, expertly mixed martinis and live jazz in a dimly lit dining room.

Springfield, Illinois

Politicians and visiting dignitaries have been stopping in for Saputo’s classic southern Italian dishes—chicken parm, fettuccine alfredo—ever since the Saputo family opened the restaurant in 1948. For a unique insider’s experience, visit D’Arcy’s Pint and sample the horseshoe, a local specialty that blankets layers of thick toast, meat and French fries in a Worcestershire/melted cheddar cheese sauce. The city’s best restaurant is Nick and Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse, which surveys the historic downtown from the 30th floor of the Hilton Hotel, and serves dry aged steaks, vichyssoise, and other sophisticated tastes.

President Barack Obama is among the fans of Honolulu’s best restaurant, Alan Wong, whose most popular dishes include pan steamed opakapaka (pink snapper).

Indianapolis Indiana

Across the street from the Capitol and Government Center is Loughmiller’s Pub, nothing fancy, but you can’t beat the convenience, and the Reuben sandwiches aren’t bad either. Hang with Hoosiers, including owner Bobby Plump (photographed above), who inspired the movie "Hoosiers," at Plump’s Last Shot, where live music, huge pork tenderloin sandwiches, outdoor seating, and an old basketball hoop are on offer. Named after the novel written by native son Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard wins as best restaurant, serving grilled octopus, soft shell crab tempura and the like inside a renovated 1924 warehouse.

Des Moines, Iowa

Capitol staffers often lunch at nearby Tacopocalypse, where the schizophrenic menu veers between Mexican and Korean taco fillings. Wake up with Des Moines natives at La Mie, open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, offering hot-out-of-the-oven pastries and artisanal breads, along with assorted egg dishes, sandwiches and desserts. In the heart of downtown, Centro’s Italian restaurant remains a favorite for its pretty dining room and its varied menu selections, panini to wood-grilled salmon.

Topeka, Kansas

Legislators pop in for burgers and tacos at Terry’s Celtic Fox, conveniently located across from the Capitol. For a taste of old and ethnic Topeka, head to Little Russia to lunch at Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern, open since 1947, and famous for its hot pickles and chili. Topeka’s top dining choice is the RowHouse Restaurant, whose dining rooms are scattered over three levels of the narrow rowhouse; open only for dinner, the RowHouse’s $39 per person set menu features innovative American fare, like creamy root soup with roasted radish.

Frankfort, Kentucky

Stop by Capital Plaza Grill and Deli, inside the Capital Plaza Hotel, any old time and you may see the judge, the mayor and assorted other politicos, chomping on the chicken salad sandwich on cranberry and walnut bread or the frozen strawberry salad. Locals love Rick’s White Light Diner, where Rick’s the main attraction, putting on a show while serving crawfish etoufee and shrimp over cheese grits. Serafini’s is the recognized best restaurant, where you can order the Kentucky hot brown (turkey, bacon, tomato on bread smothered in cheese sauce), but also fresh seafood and Italian entrées.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Located a few blocks from the state Capitol, Poor Boy Lloyd’s is packed during the legislative session, everybody eating heaping plates of fried catfish, oysters and seafood gumbo. Home cooking and live music are on tap at local hotspot Chelsea’s Café, hidden beneath the Perkins Road overpass. Dine on Italian-Creole fusion cuisine (such as, fried eggplant with Creole Meuniere sauce) at upscale Ruffino’s.

Augusta, Maine

Riverfront Barbecue isn’t truly riverfront and it isn’t close to the Capitol either, but it is where legislators go, for Memphis dry rub ribs and single malt scotch. Family-owned, decades-old The Red Barn is an institution drawing Mainers from miles around for the seafood stew, onion rings, and fried clams; limited inside seating, picnic table seating in warmer months. A few miles down the road in historic Hallowell is the waterfront Joyce’s, known for its prime rib and lobster panini.

Annapolis, Maryland

Legislators like to hang out at Galway Bay Irish pub near the State House, where you can eat Irish (corned beef and cabbage) or Annapolitan (crabcakes). Check out Chick and Ruth’s Delly for its milkshakes, the huge sandwiches named for politicians (like the Sen. Ben Cardin Reuben) and for a certain frenzied friendliness that defines the place. Best restaurant is Osteria 177, whose menu in this seafood-centric town rightly leans toward fresh fish and crab dishes.

Watch the "Hoosiers" trailer

"Hoosiers" Trailer

YouTube/trailerguy77

See Barack and Michelle Obama at Alan Wong's

Barack & Michelle Obama Sighting at Alan Wong's in Oahu

YouTube/Kristina Wong

Watch the "Hoosiers" trailer

"Hoosiers" Trailer

YouTube/trailerguy77

See Barack and Michelle Obama at Alan Wong's

Barack & Michelle Obama Sighting at Alan Wong's in Oahu

YouTube/Kristina Wong

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Boston, Massachusetts

Next door to the state house is the 21st Amendment, with pub food at the ready for legislators—some of whom order the 21st burger, a favorite of former U.S. senator, now secretary of state John Kerry. Island Creek Oyster Bar is packed nightly with Bostonians seeking fun times and fried oyster sliders. A top contender for best restaurant is Menton, whose fine French cuisine (try the quail with escargot) has won South Boston-born chef Barbara Lynch high acclaim.

Lansing, Michigan

Troppo, in the heart of downtown Lansing, one block from the Capitol, is the place for politico sightings and business lunches, a supper club atmosphere and signature dishes, like the chicken Marsala. Housed in a former flower shop, the Soup Spoon Café goes all out for Michigan, employing staff who grew up within a 30-mile radius, using locally sourced ingredients in the dishes and serving Michigan-brewed beer. Red Haven in Okemos is the best restaurant in Lansing and beyond, thanks to its small plates menu of freshest seasonal tastes.

St. Paul, Minnesota

During the legislative session, the cozy Downtowner Woodfire Grille is packed at breakfast with legislators, lobbyists and cops all starting their day with owner Moe Sharif’s Cajun breakfast hash browns. Locals like to visit the quaint Casper's and Runyon's Shamrocks Irish Nook for one of its 30 different burgers. Most popular, maybe, is the three-level Cossetta, where you can dine on pizza, pasta and Italian pastries, or shop at the Italian marketplace to bring home the makings.

Jackson, Mississippi

A grocery store in the early 1900s, Parlor Market on Capitol Street now entertains politicians and foodies who love the seasonal Southern cuisine with regional ethnic influences. Jackson characters dig into oxtails, crispy fried okra, and blackberry cobbler at the four-decades old Bully’s Restaurant. Finest fare is found at Julep’s Restaurant and Bar, where shrimp and grits is the crowd favorite.

Next door to the Massachusetts state house is 21st Amendment, with pub food at the ready for legislators—some of whom order the 21st burger, a favorite of former U.S. senator, now secretary of state John Kerry.

Jefferson City, Missouri

Snag a seat on The Grand Café’s patio to view the comings and goings of politicos fresh from the Capitol and hungry for the café’s curried chicken salad sandwich at lunch or potato-crusted salmon at dinner. Sprawl in a booth and enjoy the local scene and JC’s best burger at Ecco Lounge in the historic Old Munichburg section of Jefferson City. Italian eatery Madison’s Café is Jefferson’s most popular restaurant, presenting outdoor seating; a steak, seafood and pasta men; and a lunchtime must-order item known as the burnt-end sandwich.

Helena, Montana

Helena’s Main Street is called Last Chance Gulch, and that’s where you’ll find the Windbag Saloon, a former brothel and now a favorite place for Sen. Jon Tester and friends to imbibe microbrews and dine on Cajun chicken salad and great steaks. On the same street, Lucca’s Restaurant is the capital’s best, serving fine Italian food; always check the chef’s daily special. Be sure to order a sandwich from the nationally recognized Staggering Ox, whose creations come with intriguing names: Rabbit Habit, the Mouse Trap, Mount St. Helen’s.

Lincoln, Nebraska

Located near the Capitol, Billy's Restaurant resides inside the historic 1887 Noble-Dawes House and is known for its orange duck, sunset shrimp and movers-and-shakers clientele. Only in Lincoln will you find Runza sandwiches; the local chain opened in 1949 and serves its signature creation of homemade dough wrapped around such fillings as barbecue bacon or swiss cheese and mushroom, the whole thing then baked. Lincoln locals like to take visitors to Lazlo's Brewery & Grill for baby back ribs hickory smoked over a live fire and house-brewed ales.

Carson City, Nevada

Comma Coffee, located directly across from the legislature building (and pictured above, hosting U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), is the capital’s most colorful coffee shop; sightings of legislators are common in the morning and during mid-day session breaks. Natives love quirky Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint, whose menu runs toward candied praline bacon burgers and blackberry ginger popsicles. Traditionalists say Adele’s Restaurant is the city’s best, in business since 1977 serving fresh seafood, steak and pasta.

Concord, New Hampshire

Legislators gather all over Concord, but settle in at The Barley House right across from the gold-domed state house for “simple food, complex beer,” favorite items being Guinness beef stew and, well, Guinness. Seemingly everyone in Concord has eaten at the family-owned Gas Lighter at one time or another, for burgers, cold beer, great fries and onion rings. The Granite Restaurant tops the list for finest food, where the New American menu includes maple-brined pork loin and grilled Scottish salmon.

Trenton, New Jersey

The best place in town also happens to be a favorite of Gov. Chris Christie's administration and other elected officials: the Italian Settimo Cielo; order the pasta Bolognese. Order a cocktail with your burger at noon at the downtown Checkers and you’ll fit right in with the office workers lunch crowd.

Chris Christie and Jimmy Fallon, um, dancing

Chris Christie and Jimmy Fallon’s Evolution of Dad Dancing

Time

The history of Jackson's Bully’s Restaurant

Greta Brown Bully - Bully's Restaurant

YouTube/SouthernFoodways

Chris Christie and Jimmy Fallon, um, dancing

Chris Christie and Jimmy Fallon’s Evolution of Dad Dancing

Time

The history of Jackson's Bully’s Restaurant

Greta Brown Bully - Bully's Restaurant

YouTube/SouthernFoodways

Alamy

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Bull Ring is the undisputed king of wining, dining and watching legislators as they work, play, entertain and tell stories in both the dining room and the very social bar area. Del Charro (in the Inn of the Governors) offers a more reasonably priced menu in a town of expensive restaurants; add green chilies to your burger and you’ll be taken for a local. Located on the celebrated Canyon Road of art galleries, Geronimo’s features exotic game on its menu and the wonderful sophisticated ambiance that Santa Fe is known for.

Albany, New York

Politicians, authors and others have settled into the deep booths at Jack’s Oyster House for private conversations, end-of-legislative-session celebrations and bites of Jack’s "extravagant seafood tower." The 80-seat gastropub, New World Bistro Bar, fills quickly nightly with those seeking global cuisine sourced locally, like ceviche prepared with wild striped bass. Consistently rated Albany’s best, Angelo's 677 Prime starts you off with surf and turf tempura rolls and leads you to your choice of steak.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Big Ed’s City Market (pictured above) is legendary for its huge breakfasts including homemade biscuits and red-eyed gravy and pancakes as big as hubcaps. The restaurant is filled with antique farm implements and political memorabilia, including snapshots of presidential candidates who have stopped by. The Pit isn’t your traditional hole-in-the-wall North Carolina BBQ joint, but a place of white table cloths, specialty drinks, select wines and whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue. James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen presides over Raleigh’s best restaurant, Poole’s Diner, creating simple offerings carefully executed, like the mac-and-cheese—a must.

Bismarck, North Dakota

At Peacock Alley Bar and Grill, North Dakota politicos gather in the bar after hours, as they have for a century, after enjoying a fine repast of fresh seafood and Cajun-influenced fare in the elegant dining room. “Sit down and eat!” is the tagline for Kroll’s Diner, a 1950s-style restaurant (but only open since 1972) serving German and American dishes, like the award-winning knoephla soup and hand-scooped shakes and malts. For Bismarck’s finest food, dine at Pirogue, which features “prairie cuisine” using local fruit, vegetables and meat (think venison and bison).

Just a quick walk from Rhode Island's Capitol and Providence's city hall is the original Capital Grille that sprouted the popular steakhouse chain known for its wheeler-dealer clientele.

Columbus, Ohio

Mitchell’s Steakhouse attracts state legislators and lobbyists, who like the warm, clubby atmosphere, big leather booths, great bar and delicious steaks and seafood. Tucked down an alley, Basi Italia feels like a hidden treasure; inside its intimate dining room, chef Johnny Dornbeck prepares Italian and Mediterranean-inspired entrées (try the zucchini pronto with toasted almonds and pecorino) while the staff provides a big taste of Columbus friendliness. Housed in a historic church building, The Refectory is a standout for best food (classic French), best wine list, best service, best romantic dining; it’s said that patrons have flown in just to try the mussel soup with white wine and shallots in a saffron cream.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Legislators like Iron Starr BBQ for its urban barbeque, the fried okra and mac and cheese, and especially for the fact that they can get seated, dine and return to the Capitol in a flash. A new favorite among locals is Guernsey Park, whose menu highlights Asian fusion cuisine—Korean cowboy ribeye with kimchi slaw, fries and bulgogi ketchup—and whose décor displays historic architecture and modern art. Best overall is Cattlemen's Steakhouse, serving hungry cowboys, ranchers and cattle haulers since 1910; order the lamb fries and the coconut cream pie to accompany your juicy steak.

Salem, Oregon

Founded in 1929 at the start of the Depression, Court Street Dairy Lunch (open for breakfast and dinner, too) has long been a key gathering spot for Salem’s legislative staff and elected officials. Locals have been loving DaVinci Ristorante & Wine Bar for all of its 20 years for its coziness, welcoming atmosphere, comfy leather chairs and its fine Italian fare, saffron risotto to lobster caprese. Without a doubt, Salem’s most cherished restaurant is Word of Mouth Bistro, a converted two-story home, where fans line up Wednesday through Monday to dine on crème brulee French toast and other favorites (open for breakfast and lunch only).

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Legislators and local officials favor Char’s Restaurant at Tracy Mansion for its stunning view of the Susquehanna River and its American brasserie menu that includes such entrées as trout almondine and feta-stuffed chicken. Harrisburgers flock to Mangia Qui for its lavish brunch, cheerful décor and Mediterranean dishes using fresh, locally grown, farm-raised produce and meats. Known as much for its architecture as its fine dining, FireHouse Restaurant, as it sounds, lies inside a renovated firehouse; specialties include little neck clams and crab and cheese-stuffed mushroom caps.

Providence, Rhode Island

Just a quick walk from the Capitol and city hall is the original Capital Grille that sprouted the popular steakhouse chain known for its wheeler-dealer clientele. The one place most everyone goes is to the Olneyville New York System for “three all the way” wieners, which means smothered in its signature meat sauce, onions and celery salt and washed down with coffee milk. Among Providence’s many good restaurants (polls often name Providence a top-tier food city), Baccaro impresses, putting its own twist on wood-grilled pizza, and offering an array of small plates, rustic Italian cuisine and desserts that are baked while you eat the rest of your meal.

Columbia, South Carolina

Its location directly across the street from the state house makes The Oak Table the perfect spot for government officials to pop in for lunch, dinner and drinks. Crowd pleasers include the Mac burger and fried lobster. The historic Congaree Vista district’s Motor Supply Co. Bistro is where locals go to unwind and enjoy craft cocktails, an eclectic menu and fun events, like the make your own bacon workshop. Columbia’s newest restaurant is its best: Bourbon, where a line of eager diners forms daily (Bourbon takes no reservations) for a chance to try the eggplant jambalaya and po’boys, and, naturally, a taste of one of those select bourbons.

Watch Ironside Urban BBQ prepare its pulled pork

Iron Starr BBQ

YouTube/KSBI52

Inside Olneyville New York System's wieners

Olneyville New York System in Providence, RI

YouTube/TheHotdogmanChannel

Watch Ironside Urban BBQ prepare its pulled pork

Iron Starr BBQ

YouTube/KSBI52

Inside Olneyville New York System's wieners

Olneyville New York System in Providence, RI

YouTube/TheHotdogmanChannel

Alamy

Pierre, South Dakota

Best restaurant for politico sightings and best restaurant overall is the same place in Pierre: La Minestra, where the best item on the Italian menu is Mark’s Favorite, a combo of homemade spicy Italian sausage with sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers in a red sauce over rigatoni. To experience an insider’s Pierre, head about six miles east to Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse; sawdust covers the floor, wood paneling the walls, and the entire feel of the place is Western and laidback. Order the prime rib.

Nashville, Tennessee

On any given day, Capitol staff at all levels grab lunch at The Arcade, a historic market/mall offering varied ethnic eats, Greek to Cajun, then return to the Capitol with a bag of peanuts purchased from the century-old Peanut Shop (pictured above). At night politicians gather at Jimmy Kelly's as they have for decades. Like other cities in the South, Nashville is famous for its meat and threes, but also for its hot chicken (hot as in put-out-the-fire hot); Arnold's is famous for its versions of these. Best restaurant overall is Rolf and Daughters, winning accolades from "Bon Appetit," Eater and other authorities for its Northern Italian and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine using Southern ingredients, like the Garganelli Verdi (spinach pasta) with heritage pork ragout parmesano.

Austin, Texas

Beef is always popular with legislators in Texas, of course. The Austin Land & Cattle Company is the prime spot to see and be seen with them; steaks are favorable, conversation lively and libations cold. At Shoal Creek, you can almost always get a seat on the patio overlooking the creek; the eatery is known for its twice weekly all the catfish you can eat deal and for its crawfish salad. Alternatively, Shady Grove is a must-visit outdoor-dining favorite, nestled under huge pecan trees featuring homegrown cooking and live music seasonally. Best restaurant is a toughie, there are so many good options, but consider the acclaimed Hudson’s on the Bend, located in Hill Country near Lake Travis, and known for serving up venison, wild boar and other exotic game.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Market Street Grill been a staple in downtown Salt Lake City since 1980; politico sightings start at breakfast, popular for its eggs benedict and buttermilk pancakes, and continue through lunch and dinner, where oysters and seafood are the preferred option. For killer Mexican food and relaxed atmosphere, try Red Iguana: its puntas de filete (sirloin tips with bacon and almond mole sauce) “is to die for,” say the fans. The Copper Onion is the capital’s standout and if the house meatloaf sounds like an odd recommendation for a fine-dining experience, then you just haven’t tried Copper Onion’s version.

On any given day, Capitol staff at all levels in Nashville, TN grab lunch at The Arcade, a historic market/mall offering varied ethnic eats, Greek to Cajun, then return to the Capitol with a bag of peanuts purchased from the century-old Peanut Shop.

Montpelier, Vermont

Sit on the patio of J. Morgan’s Steakhouse in the Capitol Plaza Hotel, dine on fresh seafood and prime rib, and stake out the comings and goings of the state house and State Street, in full view. Stop by the nationally acclaimed Three Penny Taproom for a world-class beer selection and hip, casual yet flannel chic dining scene. For finest dining, book a table at NECI on Main: the New England Culinary Institute's restaurant offers tapas, a farmhouse menu and multicourse and local fare.

Richmond, Virginia

A Capitol Hill favorite for lunch is the historic Jefferson Hotel’s TJs, where the menu is Southern (crispy oysters, double fried chicken), the setting sophisticated but not stuffy and tables are placed well apart, making it a good place for a biz meeting. For dinner, a Richmond insider eatery is The Magpie, known for house-made sausage and smoked hangar steak. Best spot in town these days is Heritage, where house-made pastas and charcuterie are popular; the restaurant also does a fun guest chef takeover series.

Olympia, Washington

A favorite place for politico meetings, starting at breakfast with a seafood omelet or orange cinnamon French toast and continuing past sunset with dinners of char-broiled prawns and steaks, the waterfront Budd Bay Café also serves up a view of the Capitol. Feel like a local at the Fish Tale Brewpub, where a whistle blows nightly at 5 p.m. (it's a replica of the original whistle that used to blow at the Olympia Brewery). Favorite fare includes spinach pies and fish tacos. Dine at Anthony’s Homeport, in view of the marina, and order the daily special, like the fresh blackened rockfish, for the best eating in town.

Charleston, West Virginia

Politicos in Charleston meet at Paterno’s at the Park, an elegant Italian restaurant at the ballpark. Lola’s, situated in a charming bungalow, serves pizza, craft beers, “and the best sangria around,” according to the locals, who love it. Open for dinner only, Noah’s Eclectic Bistro is an 11-table dining room serving Charleston’s best food, from halibut carpaccio to beef tenderloin with dauphinois potatoes.

Madison, Wisconsin

Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse offers big city atmosphere, lots of wheelin’ and dealing’ and house-aged Certified Angus beef steaks. Locals seek out Lombardino’s Italian Restaurant & Bar, which rotates its menu every few months to highlight cuisine from different regions of Italy, but always offers signature dishes, like the spaghetti bolognese. Madison foodies say Sardine is the city’s best, a lakeside bistro with an elegant interior, whose French menu includes pan-seared Wisconsin ivory char and steak frites.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

An offshoot of the original Livingston, Montana Rib and Chophouse, Cheyenne’s is a favorite of the governor, mayor and legislators, who like its baby back ribs and its location near their offices. Locals are loyal fans of Albany Restaurant, Bar & Liquormart: more than 70 years old, it's still going strong, serving classic American fare and some Greek dishes. Cheyenne’s best restaurant, the Morris House Bistro, stands out for its pretty bungalow setting, its seasonal patio, and most of all, its low-country Southern cuisine, whose highlights are shrimp and grits and Georgia peach pork loin.

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