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aug 14

They ate at 700 diners, shacks, and joints to find the best

Michael and Jane Stern (Todd France)

Roadfood experts Jane and Michael Stern appear weekly on the public radio show "The Splendid Table" as well as run Roadfood.com. Here's what they have to say to BudgetTravel.com readers about roadside eateries:

If you could eat only one chicken meal: deep-fried, pan-fried, Broasted, or Cornell? That's like asking Hugh Hefner if he prefers blondes, redheads, or brunettes. But if you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose (oh, what a great dilemma!), I would go for the pan-fried, especially if it was the pan-fried chicken served at Stroud's in Kansas City, where it is presented with crusty skin imbued with the flavor of chicken fat and as rich and savory as bacon. It comes with real, rugged pan-drippin' gravy, fluffy mashed potatoes, buttery-sweet cinnamon rolls and even superb chicken soup with homemade noodles and juicy shreds of thigh meat. Everything comes in big bowls meant for passing among friends and family.

What is a region of the country with some of America's most delicious food?

The rough triangle between Atlanta, Charleston, and Savannah is one region. In Atlanta, I would start my trip with fried chicken, pot likker (collard greens "liquor"), and plates full of southern style vegetables at Mary Mac's Tea Room. If you prefer classic old-style diners, drop by the Silver Skillet: ham and red eye gravy for breakfast, and some of the best lemon icebox pie anywhere.

Of course, who can leave Atlanta without a visit to the Varsity, the world's largest drive-in restaurant, for a slaw dog or two? I don't know the route you are taking to Asheville, but I suggest you plot it so you can stop in Statesville at Keaton's for barbecued chicken—it is fried, then dipped in hot, hot sauce, emerging with a taste like no other.

Charleston is an eater's paradise: seafood at Hyman's, great southern food of all kinds at Jestine's, and if you want an upscale version of Southern food, check out Magnolia's. Even more upscale, and pretty pricey (but very, very good) is 82 Queen. Oh, and the Hominy Grill must not be missed—for breakfast, lunch, or supper.

In Savannah, be sure to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. For many more tips along the way, check out Roadfood.com. There are state-by-state listings and maps showing where the restaurants are, as well as discussion forums where you can ask for suggestions. You can also check out our new blog

Imagine a road trip from San Diego to New Jersey taking a Northern route there and a Southern route back. Can you recommend some not to miss, non chain places to experiences local foods

Oh, my gosh. You could take 5 years to make that trip and not hit half the great eateries along the way. A small handful of must-not-miss opportunities that come immediately to mind are barbecue in Memphis (at Interstate, A&R;, or Cozy Corner), a green chili cheeseburger in New Mexico (at the Owl Bar in San Antonio) or a full-bore New-Mex meal at the beautiful and romantic Rancho de Chimayo north of Santa Fe. It wouldn't hurt to take a copy of our book Roadfood with you; that's what it's for!

What's your advice for travelers looking for tasty food?

Probably the biggest mistake is looking for something familiar. For us, the whole point of traveling is to experience the place we are, and that means eating the food people there eat, the way they eat it. That could range from Indian pudding in a Maine diner to carnitas tacos from a truck in South Tucson. In other words, be adventurous! Try new things! Meet new people!

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Answering our call, readers named the best places to eat like a local from sea to shining sea.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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