Snappy Lunch's version of a ground steak sandwich; Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Mount Airy, North Carolina was the model for Andy Griffith's television hometown. But locals say it has another claim to fame—the ground steak sandwich.

Nobody really remembers when the chili-like mixture of ground beef, water, flour, and spices spread on a bun and topped with coleslaw, tomato, and mayonnaise was first served in Mount Airy, North Carolina. But most agree the ground steak sandwich (still found mainly in Surry and Stokes counties) appeared during the lean years of the 1930s.

"It evolved during the Great Depression," says Freddy Hiatt, owner of the Dairy Center, which has been serving the specialty for more than 50 years. "It was a way to stretch a little bit of meat further." Many local restaurants still serve versions of the ground steak sandwich, but we found that these four offer the best in town.

1. The Snappy Lunch Mount Airy's oldest restaurant is the town's only existing business mentioned on The Andy Griffith Show. Growing up in Mount Airy, the actor often stopped by this very restaurant. The Sandwich: The Snappy Lunch subs mustard for mayo and adds diced onion, coleslaw, and tomato ($2). 125 North Main Street;

2. Speedy Chef This small spot on South Main is a favorite of locals and tourists. The Sandwich: Speedy Chef's version features a mountain of seasoned beef served on a griddle-toasted bun ($2.25). 1516 South Main Street; 336/789-2396

3. O'Dell's Sandwich Shop  This carhop joint has barely changed since the 1960s. The Sandwich: It's deconstructed as a ground steak plate with fries ($5.50). 1224 West Pine Street; 336/786-4246

4. Dairy Center It seats only about 30—but if all the tables are taken, order a meal to go from the curb-service window. The Sandwich: It's made with spicy beef and chunky, homemade coleslaw ($2). 407 West Lebanon Street; 336/786-2349

Barney, Andy, and Gomer share a laugh on the show; Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

The Mayberry Days Festival Hundreds of fans will gather in Mount Airy, September 27-30, to pay respects to Andy Griffith and the show that made his North Carolina hometown famous. If you're in town, you can also make a stop at The Andy Griffith Museum, which features props from the show (admission: $3); 218 Rockford Street; 336/786-1604.