Land of barbecue pulled pork, home of lobster rolls, and key lime pie.
Japanese cuisine relies heavily on raw fish, rice, and seaweed, while pasta, risotto, and cheese are the fabric of Italian plates. But when it comes to American food, it’s not exactly easy to define. That’s why the culinary experts, chefs, and food writers at Flavored Nation pulled together this list of the best American foods. According to David Rosengarten, a two-time James Beard-winning food journalist and content director at Flavored Nation, they drew data from research, consumer input via social media, and conversations with state tourism boards.
“No one wrote a guidebook on how to authentically identify the United States’ most iconic foods. It’s been an amazing adventure and challenge,” Rosengarten said in a press release. Barbecue pulled pork, shrimp and grits, key lime pie, and lobster rolls are classic American dishes you can easily associate with a state or region, but other states that aren’t culinary destinations are harder to pinpoint. “Some states, like Louisiana, California, and New York, are well known for multiple dishes. For other states, like South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska, I personally drew a blank,” Rosengarten said.
So if you’re planning a trip across the country at any point, bookmark this story for the best American foods in every state. We hear North Dakota makes a mean bowl of potato soup and West Virginia has killer pepperoni rolls.
Fried Green Tomatoes
The Alabamanian-written novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was based on a real place—the author Fannie Flagg’s aunt’s Irondale Café in Irondale, Alabama (where, yes, she ate fried green tomatoes as a child). The book, published in 1987, remained on the bestseller list for a staggering 36 weeks. And after the book-based film came out in 1991, fried green tomatoes became ubiquitous on Alabama restaurant menus and people more closely associated the food with the state from the movie. The southern side dish is simply made by slicing unripe tomatoes, coating them with cornmeal, and dunking into the fryer until crispy.
Whether you picture reindeer sleighing through a Christmas Eve sky or on a bun at a hot dog cart, the gamey meat has been an Alaskan staple since the late 19th century.
Believe it or not, the deep-fried burrito was born in the Grand Canyon state. According to Tucson-based restaurant El Charro, their founder Tia Monica Flin was the true inventor of the chimichanga. “While frying her now famous El Charro ground beef tacos, she accidentally dropped a burro into the frying pan, and when the oil splashed up she was about to lash out a common Spanish cuss word starting with ‘Ch.’ But because she was amongst her young nieces and nephews, she changed it to ‘Chimichanga,’ the equivalent of ‘thingamajig,'” the site recounts. However, others beg to differ that Macayo’s in Phoenix invented the hearty roll-up.
While Arkansas’ freshwater bodies are brimming with the state’s staple, authorities set a daily creel limit on many catfish species to ensure the streams and lakes maintain their abundance. In restaurants, you’ll often find the fried fish breaded with a mixture of flour, cornbread, and spices, and served alongside hushpuppies.
The classic fish taco—grilled or fried white fish (such as cod or mahi-mahi), shredded cabbage, crema, pico de gallo, and a squirt of lime all nestled into a double layer of corn tortillas—originated in Baja, California.
Pueblo Chiles Relleno
Colorado’s hot days and cool night grow hearty Pueblo chiles that are perfect for roasting. On the spice spectrum, Pueblo chiles are comparable to jalapeño peppers, but they have more heat than cayenne peppers. Enjoy Pueblo chiles in a soup, a refreshing salsa, or roasted for a side dish!
Warm Lobster Roll
Nothing screams New England more like sweet lobster chunks piled high into a warm bun and adorned with melted butter. The lobster roll made its debut in Connecticut as the “warm with butter.”
When made traditionally, scrapple combines pork scraps and trimmings with cornmeal, flour, and spices. But unlike your usual diner meatloaf, scrapple is sliced and pan-fried to a crisp and often enjoyed for breakfast.
Key Lime Pie
As the official pie of the peninsula state, key lime pie crusts are filled with a tangy yet sweet mixture of aromatic key limes, eggs, and condensed milk. Key limes, which are native to the Florida Keys, differ from other lime varieties because they’re smaller, seedier, and more flavorful.
It’s no secret that Georgia is known for its juicy peaches, but how did the fruit-filled cobbler come about? According to Flavored Nation, cobblers were created by combining fruit with “cobbled” together clumps of biscuit dough that’s then baked over a fire. The pie originated as a main meal for American settlers but is usually enjoyed for dessert nowadays.
Plate Lunch with Kalua Pig and Rice
A traditional, affordable, and filling meal, Hawaiian plate lunches often feature a protein with a side of macaroni salad and white rice. In the 1930s, lunch wagons would provide pineapple and sugar plantation workers with a plate lunch, yet now, the staple is served everywhere from roadside stands to food trucks.
Much to our dismay, Idaho’s most iconic food isn’t the nutritious potato. Finger steaks began as a means to repurpose leftover tenderloin and are made by cutting the meat into half-inch-wide strips, battering them in flour, and deep frying. While the protein is typically paired with french fries and buttered toast, we can think of another side that it should be served with.
Deep Dish Pizza
No surprise here, Chicago is globally known for the deep dish pizza that was invented at Pizzeria Uno in chi-town in 1943. The super-stuffed pie is assembled upside down to prevent overcooking all your favorite fixings.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana created the sandwich that features a hammered-thin piece of pork tenderloin that’s dipped in flour, eggs, breadcrumbs (which can be swapped out for crushed saltines) and then deep fried. It’s served with condiments galore. (We like relish and mustard!)
The Iowa State Fair is one of the largest summer fairs in the nation, so it’s no surprise that the batter-coated sausage is the region’s iconic staple.
Sour Cream and Raisin Pie
The seemingly awkward combo of sour cream and chewy raisins was introduced to Kansas by European immigrants. The pie ties the dairy’s tang with the dried fruit’s sweetness by coupling the star ingredients with warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
“Hot Brown” doesn’t give us much insight into what this sandwich is about, except for the fact that it originated in the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Kentucky residents go wild for this broiled ‘wich that’s stacked with turkey, bacon, and tomato, and then doused in Mornay sauce, a béchamel with grated Gruyère.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you’ve likely noticed that arguably every restaurant proudly features Gumbo on its menu. The southern stew epitomizes the state as a cultural melting pot by combining a French roux with German sausage and/or shellfish, peppers, and okra, which is called “ki ngombo” in the Niger-Congo language and thought to be the source of the dish’s name.
Cold Lobster Roll
Just as Connecticut braves the cold, snowy winters with a warm lobster roll, Maine is notably known for its cold lobster rolls. The difference: Unlike CT’s steamy chunks, Maine lobster is chilled and tossed with mayo and celery or scallions into a seafood salad that’s then piled over a special bun called the “New England.”
You really can’t go wrong with a fresh-baked crab cake dipped in tangy tartar sauce. And Maryland does it best by baking its cakes with blue crabs straight from the Chesapeake Bay.
New England Clam Chowder
A trip to Cape Cod would be incomplete without a bowl of New England clam chowder. The hearty soup is concocted with clams, potatoes, onions, and milk or cream—which lends the chowder its signature richness and white color. The brew was believed to be introduced to the northern states by either French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers and was a staple in the region’s diet in the 1700s.
Greek immigrants arriving in the Midwest brought their love for New York’s famous Nathan’s hot dogs to Michigan in the early 1900s. The Coney Island staple epitomizes the All-American hot dog: it’s steamed and stuffed into an also-steamed bun. When served Michigan-style, the frankfurter is topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, and a chili-esque sauce known as Coney Sauce.
Wild Rice Soup
Wild rice, a tall aquatic grass plant that’s packed with protein and fiber, is native to Minnesota’s lakes and rivers—so much so that the Land of 10,000 Lakes actually hosts an annual festival dedicated to the grain.
Named for the dark and viscous mud that runs along the Mississippi river, this chocolate-packed pie has become the beloved favorite among dessert seekers nationwide. The pie, unlike the cake, is made with a cookie crust, and the filling remains a delicious mixture of pudding, cake, biscuits, ice cream, whipped cream, and marshmallows. What’s not to love?
Baseball, the Blues, Beer, and Barbecue make up the four key components of Missouri tourism. The fire-grilling tradition all started in Kansas City, an old meat-packing hub that boasted plenty of hardwood, and the fervor has now wafted eastward to St. Louis.
Bison Burger with Huckleberry Barbecue Sauce
In the vast farmlands of Montana, farmers actually own more bison than cows. An excellent source of lean protein, bison also supplies a variety of B vitamins, zinc, iron, and selenium. And because bison are free ranging, they’re more likely to be grass-fed and organic than beef. To enjoy a bison burger like a true Montana native, you top it with a sweet and tart huckleberry sauce. Huckleberry picking is a summer pastime. Similar looking to blueberries, huckleberries are chock-full of antioxidants and health-boosting anthocyanins.
The Runza is the ultimate hot pocket. Filled with beef, cabbage, onions, and seasonings, this doughy dish originated in Russia and spread to Germany. Today, Runza Restaurant, which first opened in the state’s capital, Lincoln, serves up this dish in 80 different locations across the Midwest.
Las Vegas has become a culinary destination for many people with its strip of luxury hotels and upscale restaurants. While prime rib is served in many of these Michelin-starred restos, this cut of meat is actually cheap and was used to lure gamblers into casino restaurants.
As New Hampshire’s official state fruit, pumpkins are used to prepare everything from soups to roasted dishes to baked goods. Pumpkins are high in fiber and beta-carotene, the red or orange pigment in veggies and fruits that’s later converted into vitamin A.
Whether you call it a pork roll or a Taylor ham sandwich depends largely on where you live in the state, but you’ll be surprised to learn that Taylor ham isn’t really “ham”—it’s pork. This New Jersey classic is usually enjoyed for breakfast. What’s better than waking up to a sandwich filled with thin slices of Taylor ham, a fried egg, and American cheese?
Enchiladas with Christmas on the Side
The traditional enchilada is filled with meat and cheese, but the Southwestern state, which takes pride in its Christmas festivities, likes to spice it up with a red or green sauce. Sometimes, the enchiladas have a fried egg on top with lettuce and black olives. Ole!
Buffalo Chicken Wings
Buffalo chicken wings are a Big Apple favorite, especially at bars and pubs throughout the city. But the first wings were actually served in a Buffalo restaurant called the Anchor Bar. And, you bet there were blue cheese and celery on the side. But it’s not the deep-fried goodness that makes the wings so addictive; it’s the finger-licking marinade, which has a delicious combo of butter, hot sauce, and red pepper.
Pulled Pork with East Carolina Vinegar Sauce
This Southern state is best known for their comfort foods, including mac and cheese, cornbread, and shrimp n’ grits. But its barbecue pork, which is usually pulled, shredded or chopped, is another story. The tangy and spicy flavor of East Carolina vinegar sauce balances the sweetness of the super tender barbecue meat.
The Dakotas are states with deep German and Russian roots. Knoephla is a thick, German potato dumpling soup that has chicken, potatoes, onions, and parsley. Hearty and flavorful, you’ll want to dip some bread into your bowl.
Peanut butter and chocolate lovers will swoon over this tasty treat. Buckeyes are mini peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate—the sides only—so the peanut butter center is visible on top.
Fried okra is part of the official Oklahoma state meal. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s a side at many restaurants. To make fried okra, you chop the veggie into bite-size pieces and coat them with flour or cornmeal and some spices, then fry them in oil.
Marionberries resemble blackberries very closely and have a tart and subtle sweet flavor. But because they have a brief picking period in July, many Oregonians like to enjoy loads of marionberries in their pie.
Philly uses a variety of beef for its famous cheesesteaks, but top round and ribeye are the most popular cuts. The meat is cooked on a griddle and broken up into ultra-thin slices. Then, it’s added to an Italian sub and topped with Cheez Whiz and sauteed onions and green peppers.
Johnnycakes with Maple Syrup
Also known as battercake, corn cake, and journey cake, these cornmeal-based patties are served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For a morning meal, Rhode Islanders will enjoy it with butter, maple syrup or molasses. Many people also like to break the cakes up into pieces and soak them in milk and sugar. Instead of potatoes, Rhode Islanders swap in johnnycakes for potatoes in their lunch and dinner dishes.
Shrimp and Grits
Many states in the South will argue that they make the best shrimp and grits, but it was South Carolina that put this comfort dish on the map. Magnolia’s restaurant in Charleston is famous for turning the meal from a basic breakfast into a fancy dish.
A traditional Russian dish, chislic has cubes of wild game, mutton, lamb, or beef that are seasoned with garlic salt and deep-fried or grilled. The meat is then threaded on a skewer or toothpick and served with saltine or soda crackers.
Nashville Hot Chicken
The secret to preparing the best Nashville hot chicken is to baste the chicken with a spicy paste made with lard and cayenne pepper before or after breading it. Most people enjoy with a slice of white bread and topped with pickles.
Chicken Fried Steak
The Lone Star State loves its steak and fried foods, so it’s only fitting that this dish marries both. To make chicken-fried steak, you pound a piece of steak with a mallet and dredge it in an egg-and-flour batter. Then, you fry it in either a skillet or deep fryer and top it off with a cream gravy.
Utah is the country’s epicenter of artisanal chocolate. In fact, it’s home to more than 300 different craft chocolates and eight bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Yum!
Cheddar Cheese Apple Pie
Vermont is the country’s capital for craft beer, wood-grilled pizza, maple syrup—and cheddar! The tradition of putting cheese on apple pie started in the 1600s to give it extra gooeyness and a sharp, salty flavor to complement the sweetness of apples.
Old Dominion Ham Biscuits
Best known for its country ham, Virginia sneaks layers of the cured meat into its biscuits with a savory spread of butter, poppy seeds, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and onion.
Cedar Plank Salmon
Cooking fish on planks made of wood from cedar trees is a technique that’s native to the people of the Pacific Northwest. Wild salmon is a popular dish in Washington, and cooking it over a plank infuses it with some smokey flavor that enhances the fish’s natural brininess.
Coal miners in West Virginia pack pepperoni rolls for lunch because they are easy to prepare and don’t require refrigeration. Like a stuffed pizza, pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese make a hearty, melt-in-your-mouth center encased in a doughy bread.
Wisconsin’s German roots are very much embedded in the state’s recipes and cuisine. Bratwurst is a German sausage that’s filled with chopped and minced meat, onion, caraway seeds, coriander, pepper, nutmeg, and mustard seeds.
Just like Montana, there are many free-range bison roaming in Wyoming, so its residents like to use it to prepare everything from meatballs to burgers. Bison has just as much protein as beef, but it has less cholesterol. Season your meatballs with garlic, thyme, ground pepper, and a little sea salt, and you’ve got a deliciously filling dinner.