50 States in 50 Iconic Dishes: America’s Must-Try Food

50 States in 50 Iconic Dishes: America’s Must-Try Food

US loves to eat, but its 50 states have 50 opinions on
what’s the best dish. We’ve devoured bagels in New
, mastered the etiquette around New England clam chowder
and found out what Colorado’s rocky mountain oysters are really
made of, all so you can get a genuine taste of America. Loose
waistbands recommended.



Avocado may not be a dish in its own right, but the creamy
variety embraced by the Golden State (the California Avocado
Commission was founded in 1978) deserves special mention. Get a
taste of SoCal with a slice in your mahi-mahi tacos or California
roll, or smash it atop some San Francisco sourdough.

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Reindeer sausage


While Alaska is prime territory for cold-water seafood – salmon,
cod, king crab – its gamey reindeer meat is a must-try.
Reindeer-dog carts pop up across the so-called Last Frontier come
summer. We’re topping ours with sautéed onions and chipotle sauce.
Sorry Rudolph.

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Legend has it that this Mexican-American fusion dish was
invented at El Charro restaurant in Tucson when, in 1922,
restaurant owner Monica Flin dropped a burrito in the deep-fat
fryer. She began to exclaim “chingada” (a Spanish profanity) but
made a gear-change and opted for “chimichanga”, meaning
“thingamajig”, instead.

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Cheese Dip


Nope, not queso. This warm processed-cheese dip is served with
mix-ins including – but not limited to – spices, vegetables and
meat. Visit in October when Arkansas hosts the World Cheese Dip
Championship or tick off the Cheese Dip Trail’s 19 stops across the

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Fried Green Tomatoes


Fannie Flagg’s best-selling novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the
Whistle Stop Café was based on an eatery in Irondale, Alabama and,
since its publication in 1987, was responsible for this dish
becoming a staple on menus across the state. Pair these
cornmeal-coated tomatoes with fried catfish and hushpuppies before
digging into a slice of bourbon-laced lane cake.

Peach Cobbler


Nicknamed the “Peach State”, Georgia grows almost 50 varieties
of this juicy fruit. Harvesting generally happens from late April
until August, but if you want to dig your spoon into the world’s
biggest peach cobbler, visit in June for the Georgia Peach

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Rocky Mountain Oysters


Apologies pesce lovers, this appetiser is not your usual jewel
of the sea – rocky mountain oysters are thinly sliced, breaded and
deep-fried bull testicles. Sample this “cowboy caviar” at bars and
restaurants across Colorado. It’s literally nuts.

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This loaf of pork trimmings, flour and spices was invented by
the Pennsylvania Dutch (who called it pannhaas, meaning “pan
rabbit”), but has since become a Delaware icon. Try it pan-fried
and topped with an egg for a hearty brunch.

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Warm Lobster Roll


With a 96-mile coastline, the Constitution State serves great
seafood. New England may be best known for cold, mayo-slathered
rolls (ahem, Maine), but we’re ordering this cult dish of
steaming-hot lobster wedged in a toasted bun and drizzled with

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Burnt Ends


The Sunflower State – especially Kansas City – loves a barbecue,
but its locals don’t want you to know about burnt ends. Once given
away for free by restaurants, these crunchy, juicy fatty offcuts
are now considered a delicacy. Try them as a burger topping or in a

Lobster Roll


Maine opts for a cooler take on Connecticut’s warm lobster rolls
– literally. Chilled meat is tossed with mayo and celery or onions
before being piled into a “New England” bun. Finish with blueberry
pie or whoopie pie, named Maine’s state dessert and state treat

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Idahoans so venerate the humble spud that they have a museum
dedicated to it. Thanks to the state’s volcanic soil, the russet
variety thrives – so fries are especially good here. Sweet tooth?
Dig into the Idaho ice-cream potato (spoiler: it’s vanilla ice
cream covered in cocoa).

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Deep-Dish Pizza


Bearing closer resemblance to a pie than a traditional pizza,
the unapologetically excessive deep-dish was born in Chicago. The
longer baking time needed causes cheese to burn, so toppings are
added “upside down” – cheese first, then meats (typically sausage)
and veggies, followed by tomato sauce.

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Sugar Cream Pie


The origins of this rich, nutmeg-dusted custard encased in a
flaky butter crust can be traced to the 1800s when Amish and Shaker
communities settled in Indiana. Money was short and fresh fruit
scarce, so this “desperation pie” was made. Today, it’s so
synonymous with the state that it’s known as “Hoosier pie”.

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Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich


Also known as the BPT, this breaded and fried cutlet is similar
to wiener schnitzel and popular across the Midwest, particularly in
Iowa – the US state that produces the most pork. Save some room for
a fresh, buttery Iowan corn on the cob.

Key Lime Pie


Crowned as the “official state pie” in 2006, this creamy citrus
dessert has been synonymous with the Sunshine State since the early
20th century. Aromatic key limes – a small, acidic variety native
to the Florida Keys – offset saccharine condensed milk and rich egg
yolks. The traditional Conch version of the pie uses leftover
whites in a meringue topping.

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Hot Brown


With the utmost respect to Colonel Sanders, fried chicken isn’t
the greatest dish to come out of Kentucky. Residents here go wild
for hot brown, a gut-busting, open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich
which is smothered in a cheesy sauce before being grilled.

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When you’ve had your fill of gumbo, po’ boys and jambalaya,
satiate your sweet cravings with this sugar-dusted icon of New
Orleans. These pillowy, deep-fried choux pastries are like
doughnuts sans the hole, so you get an extra bite out of the

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Before filling up on SPAM – the canned meat popularised on the
island by World War II servicemen and loved by Hawaiians ever since
– try this somewhat fresher dish of diced raw fish (Aloha State
natives were making this decades before it was adulterated by
Instagrammers). “Poké” translates from Hawaiian as “to cut into

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Crab with Old Bay


When in a port state, little tastes better than the local catch,
and the sweet blue-crab meat of Chesapeake Bay is second to none.
Try it in crab cakes, crab dip or simply steamed with a generous
helping of Old Bay seasoning and tartare sauce.

Mud Pie


Not the kind you made as a child. Taking its name from the dark,
viscous mud that runs along the Mississippi River, this decadent
dessert is one for chocolate lovers, with a crumbly cookie crust
encasing all manner of chocolate-based pudding, cake, ice cream and

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New England Clam Chowder


A staple in Bay Staters’ diets since the 1700s, this hearty
shellfish soup is typically comprised of clams, bacon, potatoes,
onions, cream and fish stock. Never add tomatoes. Enjoy with a side
of oyster crackers.

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Toasted Ravioli


Though its name suggests otherwise, toasted ravioli is in fact
breaded and deep fried before being served with a marinara dipping
sauce and parmesan. This twist on the classic pasta dish originated
in The Hill, a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in St Louis,
where it now features on most restaurant menus.

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Tater Tot Hotdish


It’s unsurprising that the “Bread and Butter State” goes all out
when it comes to comfort food. Its signature hot dish is a
casserole of ground meat, canned vegetables and creamy soup topped
with crispy tater tots.

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Huckleberry Pie


The “Treasure State” deserves its moniker not just for its
mineral reserves but also its bounty of wild food – fish, game,
pulses, mushrooms and huckleberries. This antioxidant-packed berry
was once used as medicine by Native Americans. Today it’s served in
forms such as jam and ice cream, but oozing out of a pie is our
favourite method of consumption.

Coney Dogs


The name of a New York seaside resort isn’t the first title
you’d expect for a Midwestern dish. It’s believed that Greek
immigrants brought their love for Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to the
Great Lake State in the early 20th century. Inside a soft, steamed
bun a beef frankfurter is topped with an all-meat, beanless chili,
diced white onions and yellow mustard.

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Consider this stuffed sandwich as a (very) distant relative of
the pierogi… crossed with a hot pocket. A rectangular bread roll
envelops heavily seasoned beef, sauerkraut and onions. Runza
restaurants are (unsurprisingly) the best place to try one.

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Shrimp Cocktail


This classic casino appetiser was born in the Golden Gate Casino
in 1959, when it was sold for 99 cents. The cost has increased
somewhat now, but it remains popular among Nevada’s gamers. Find it
on almost every restaurant menu in Las Vegas and across the Silver

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Boiled Dinner

New Hampshire

This meal harks back to colonial days. The one-pot dish consists
of corned beef or smoked ham simmered with cabbage and root
vegetables – perfect for a New England winter. Leftovers are often
chopped and fried as breakfast hash the next day.

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Pork Roll

New Jersey

Also known as “Taylor ham”, the pork roll is a processed meat
invented by New Jersey businessman and politician John Taylor in
1856. Coupled with egg and cheese on a bagel or English muffin,
it’s considered one of the best breakfasts in the Garden State.


New York

Boiled then baked, with a glossy crust and perfectly dense,
chewy insides, the New York bagel is a thing of culinary beauty.
We’re ordering ours from the century-old Russ & Daughters in
NYC with a schmear of cream cheese, capers and lox.

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Christmas Chilis

New Mexico

Granted, chilis are a condiment rather than a meal, but in New
Mexico the red and green hatch variety are added to everything from
burgers and burritos to cheesy enchiladas. Can’t decide what colour
you want? Order “Christmas style” for a mixture of the two.

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Official State Meal


It’s small wonder that the state that gave us Ree Drummond (The
Pioneer Woman) serves a signature dish with more trimmings than a
Christmas tree. In 1988 Oklahoma named it’s “official state meal”
as fried okra, cornbread, barbecue pork, squash, biscuits, sausage,
gravy, grits, corn, chicken fried steak, black-eyed peas,
strawberries and pecan pie.

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Knoephla Soup

North Dakota

Named after the dumpling which stars in this dish – knöpfle
translates from German as “button” – knoephla soup is common in US
states where German emigrants from the Russian Empire settled. The
North Dakotan iteration features potatoes, dumplings and

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Ohio is nicknamed the Buckeye State, but the chestnut from the
buckeye tree is toxic if ingested. Thankfully sweet-toothed Ohians
have fashioned a more palpable “buckeye” in the form of a
peanut-butter ball dipped in chocolate.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

North Carolina

Every region has its own brand of barbecuing; North Carolinians
do theirs with pig – the whole pig. Try it pulled and doused in
tangy East Carolina vinegar sauce, and served in a sandwich or with
a side of hushpuppies and coleslaw.

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A blackberry hybrid, the marionberry was developed at Oregon
State University in the 1940s. The harvesting period is short
(primarily July) and the fruit doesn’t travel well, so it’s rarely
seen or eaten outside the region. Enjoy it in pies, jam and ice

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Philly Cheesesteak


Indulgently greasy, this hot sandwich of thinly sliced beefsteak
and melted cheese stuffed in a hoagie roll is an icon of the
Keystone State. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Oliveri (once owners
of a hot-dog stand) are oft credited with its invention in the
early 1930s.

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Johnny Cakes

Rhode Island

The US’s smallest state packs in big taste. Prepared thick or
thin, hot or cold, depending on which part of the Rhode Island
you’re in, these white cornmeal pancakes are a regular on the Ocean
State breakfast spread. Enjoy with coffee milk, and later seek out
a filling of calamari – the batter here is much lighter than you’ll
find elsewhere.

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South Dakota

A flat dough deep-fried in oil or lard, frybread was created in
the 1860s when the Navajo were forced to relocate from Arizona to
New Mexico and were unable to support their traditional produce of
beans and vegetables. Enjoy it sweet, or as a savory “Navajo taco”
in which the bread is topped with beef, beans, grated cheese and
other taco toppings.

Shrimp and Grits

South Carolina

While many southern states claim to make the best shrimp and
grits, South Carolina – and Charleston in particular – put this
dish on the map. In the early 20th century, sailors and fishermen
here would eat shrimp cooked in butter or bacon fat atop plain
grits for breakfast.

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Country Ham


Ham has been dry cured in Virginia since settlers arrived here
in the early 17th century. It’s believed that the state’s ham gets
its distinctive flavour from the hogs eating Virginia peanuts
(another must-try). Don’t miss the Old Dominion ham biscuits.

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Chili Con Carne


The Lone Star State isn’t short of signature dishes – brisket,
chicken-fried steak, pecan pie – but Tex-Mex dishes derived from
the culinary creations of the Tejano people get our hearts racing
(quite literally – there’s a lot of meat and cheese). Chilli con
carne was crowned Texas’ “official state dish” in 1977.

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Green Jello Salad


Utah eats more jelly per capita than any other US state; indeed,
the Mormon Corridor is often nicknamed the “Jell-O Belt”. Just
don’t be surprised if you find more than fruit mixed in. At Mormon
gatherings it’s common to have jelly studded with tomatoes, carrots
and meat. Visit on St Patrick’s Day when there’s a lime Jell-O
sculpting contest in Zion National Park.

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Sugar on Snow


The maple tree is an icon of the Green Mountain State, which
produces around 47 per cent of the US’s maple syrup. Slosh it on
pancakes or waffles, or make like a Vermont native and order “sugar
on snow” – hot maple syrup drizzled over shaved ice until it forms
a taffy-esque candy. This treat is often served with doughnuts,
coffee and… pickles.

Nashville Hot Chicken


Rumour has it that Nashville hot chicken was created by a
scorned lover. The meat is basted with a deep-red,
face-of-the-sun-hot paste of lard and cayenne before being fried
and eaten with bread and pickles. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Cedar Plank Salmon


Wild salmon is abundant on the Pacific coast, and grilling it on
cedar (typically western red cedar, although alder, sugar maple,
hickory and oak are also used) infuses the fish with a smokey
richness – a method first used by Native Americans in the area.

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Pepperoni Rolls

West Virginia

The pepperoni roll – pepperoni encased in yeasted bread which is
then baked – came into existence in 1927 thanks to Giuseppe Argiro
at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont. Originally the lunch option
of coal miners, it can today be found in convenience stores across
the state.

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Cheese Curds


Wisconsin makes more cheese than anywhere else in the US. Curds
are considered a local delicacy, best enjoyed fresh off the vat or
deep-fried with a side order of “beer brats” (bratwursts cooked in
beer) – there’s a strong German heritage here. Not full? Try a
butter burger.

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The food scene of the Cowboy State is dictated by its wild
Western traditions and hunting heritage. There are close to 12,000
farms and ranches here, so farm-to-table fare comes as standard.
Bison is the official state animal and its meat is commonly enjoyed
as a roast, steak, burger or jerky. Alternatively, try an elk

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