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Best Meatballs in America (PHOTOS)

Whatever you call it, the meatball turns up in nearly every culture.
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Frikadeller. Polpette. Köfte. Albóndiga. Whatever you call it, the meatball turns up in nearly every culture.

"There are something like 168 words or names for meatballs," says Daniel Holzman, chef and co-owner of New York's Meatball Shop. The enterprise, which now has six locations, wasn't originally meant to be dedicated exclusively to meatballs. "We were going to serve meatballs out of a side window," Holzman explains. But the meatballs were so popular, they became the concept instead of a side business.

The appeal of meatballs is indeed universal, whether they are all-beef with gravy, as at Houston's Underbelly restaurant, or less traditional like the Mexico-by-way-of-the-Middle East balls at Brooklyn's Xixa, which blend lamb, pork, corn bread, pumpkin seeds, and Cotija cheese.

Nose-to-tail eating has certainly had some impact on the current meatball madness--meatballs are a great way to utilize bits of meat that are not the prime cuts. But the trend is also suggestive of the way we want to eat now. Fancy French food and tasting menus still have their place, but these days, many Americans crave good, wholesome, comforting food--like what you'd make for yourself if you had time. Or like those meatballs that Grandma (or Bubbe or Nonna or Mormor) used to make.

Get your fill at these meatball destinations across America.

The Meatball Shop, New York City
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaThis meatball-centric spot has six locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn serving five different types of house-ground balls, basically any way you like: naked, sauced, on a roll, on pasta, and so on. Purists should make for the original Lower East Side location and order the classic beef with classic tomato sauce. We’re also fans of the spicy pork balls, which pair well with spicy meat sauce—and of the Chelsea outpost, which sits above Underballs, a subterranean drinkery that lets you mix and match your own cocktails with indie spirits like Brooklyn Republic vodka.Photo: Melissa Hom
Rx Boiler Room, Las Vegas
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaA staple on the menu since Rx Boiler Room opened in July 2013, Rick Moonen’s Squid-e-os transform a ho-hum kid’s dish into something truly spectacular. In lieu of SpaghettiOs there are calamari rings; squid ink tomato sauce is the grown-up riff on classic red sauce; and merguez meatballs, made with lamb and pork and spiced with cumin and chili pepper, take the place of your run-of-the-mill version.Photo: Roni Fields-Moonen
Herbsaint, New Orleans
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaN’awlins cuisine isn’t exactly known for its subtlety, but the chicken meatballs at Donald Link’s St. Charles Avenue bistro are an exercise in restraint. The brainchild of chef de cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb, this is a simple, elegant riff on a homey chicken-and-rice dish—with meatballs made with organic locally sourced chicken and bound with fried chicken skins rather than bread. Lemon, parsley, and black pepper add brightness and a bit of heat.Photo: Chris Granger
Underbelly, Houston
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaChef Chris Shepherd believes in using the whole animal, which means some form of meatball is always on Underbelly’s menu. Variations include bánh mì meatballs, pho meatballs, vindaloo meatballs, gyro meatballs, BBQ meatballs, and mole meatballs. Right now, he’s all about Grandma’s meatballs with beef neck bone gravy. Indeed inspired by his grandma’s recipe, they’re made with Angus beef, fennel seed, basil, and red chile flakes, and served in a cast-iron skillet. Photo: Julie Soefer
The Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaWhile the menu is constantly changing at this New Nordic spot, you will always find some kind of memorable meatball. For fall 2014, it’s chicken meatballs with fried eggplant, first-of-the-season apples, and maple-cider vinaigrette. Previous incarnations have included duck meatballs in garlic broth with toasted whole-wheat bread and more traditional Swedish frikadeller with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and pickled cucumber.Photo: Charlie Ward
A-Frame, Los Angeles
See More of the Best Meatballs in AmericaRoy Choi, a pioneer of the food truck movement, put down roots with A-Frame, a light-filled, ski-chalet-inspired restaurant that makes fantastic lamb meatball skewers. Marinaded in sesame-shoyu and served with garlic yogurt, salsa verde, and citrus gremolata salad, the balls are described by Choi as shawarma meets Korean BBQ meets Ensenada meets Middle East meets the Valley meets K-town meets Venice. In short, he says, “I wanted to create a dish that felt like how I like to eat all on one plate.”Photo courtesy of LA Eater/ Matthew Kang

--By Geraldine Campbell