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

Fri, 27 September 2019
poke-bowl-sushi-food-us-states

The US loves to eat, but its 50 states have 50 opinions on what’s the best dish. We’ve devoured bagels in New York, 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.

1. California: Avocado

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.

2. Alaska: 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.

3. Arizona: Chimichangas

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.

4. Arkansas: 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 state.

5. Alabama: 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.

6. Georgia: 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 Festival.

7. Colorado: 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.

8. Delaware: Scrapple

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.

9. Connecticut: 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 butter.

10. Kansas: 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 hash.

11. Maine: 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 respectively.

12. Idaho: Potatoes

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).

13: Illinois: 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.

14. Indiana: 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”.

15. Iowa: 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.

16. Florida: 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.

17. Kentucky: 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.

18. Louisiana: Beignets

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 deal.

19. Hawaii: Poké

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 chunks”.

20. Maryland: 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.

21. Mississippi: 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 sweets.

22. Massachusetts: 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.

23. Missouri: 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.

24. Minnesota: 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.

25. Montana: 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.

26. Michigan: 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.

27. Nebraska: Runza

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.

28. Nevada: 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 State.

29. New Hampshire: Boiled Dinner

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.

30. New Jersey: Pork Roll

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.

31. New York: Bagels

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.

32. New Mexico: Christmas Chilis

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.

33. Oklahoma: 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.

34. North Dakota: Knoephla Soup

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 chicken.

35. Ohio: Buckeyes

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.

36. North Carolina: Pulled Pork Sandwich

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.

37. Oregon: Marionberries

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 cream.

38. Pennsylvania: 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.

39. Rhode Island: Johnny Cakes

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.

40. South Dakota: Frybread

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.

41. South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits

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.

42. Virginia: 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.

43. Texas: 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.

44. Utah: 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.

45. Vermont: 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.

46. Tennessee: 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.

47. Washington: 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.

48. West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls

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.

49. Wisconsin: 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.

50. Wyoming: Bison

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 burger.

Discover More...

10 Best Cities in the World for Street Food

You May Also Like

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.

Bundles

Curate your bookcase with the full SUITCASE library. From Volume 2 through 27, we've been around the world, explored uncharted landscapes and reexamined travel perceptions along the way. We invite you to do the same; grow your collection today.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More