Traveling the USA is so much more fun when you have your USA Food Bucket List ready to check off as you go!
Take a Food Vacation and Eat The Most Iconic Foods From Each State
When people think about the food in the US, there are definitely a few dishes that come to mind. Hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie, and Barbecue. And trust me, these are all great. But did you know that in this huge country each state has plenty to try. Whether you are a foodie or not, most trips are better when you eat local dishes!
Click on each state to see what foods our local experts have recommended. Which are your favorites?
Alabama – Fried Okra
Fried okra is a very common side dish in Alabama and is something I often ate at my grandmother’s house when growing up in Mobile. In all of my travels through more than 100 countries, I haven’t encountered okra on dinner tables in many other parts of the world, apart from in India and in several West African countries.
As you may have guessed, the tradition of eating okra was introduced to Alabama by African slaves, who were forcibly brought to the southern US to work on the region’s many cotton plantations. Several other local dishes have a similar history, such as the boiled collard greens that are commonly eaten in the south.
Many people find the texture of okra off-putting, as it has a tendency to get slimy when cooked in water. When fried, though, the sliminess is hardly noticeable. And southerners like to fry just about anything, so fried is definitely the most popular way to eat okra in Alabama.
Typically, it’s chopped into bite-sized pieces and battered before being fried in oil. It’s more of a home-cooked dish and is not something that you see in restaurants that often. But if you seek out a restaurant that specializes in traditional southern cooking, you should be able to taste this local favorite. Mama’s on Dauphin is a popular place in Mobile that offers fried okra, and in Birmingham the Southern Kitchen & Bar is a reliable spot.
Most Alabamian dishes are full of animal products, but this is one of the few local Alabama specialties that is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you’re vegan, it’s best to check whether eggs were added to the batter, but often it’s just cornmeal and vegetable oil.
Recommended by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
Alaska – King Crab Legs
Tracy’s King Crab Shack -Juneau
For years Tracy took friends out crabbing and making jokes about opening a crab cart selling “One Leg at a Time”. After losing her job due to a company bankruptcy, Tracy finally pursued her dreams by opening her own crab shack. During her 12 years of running The Crab Shack, it has become popular with tourists and locals, alike. The crab legs from Tracy’s are the “Deadliest Catch” caught from Bristol Bay and Norton Sound. While this crab is flash frozen immediately following the catch, they do at times have fresh local King, Dungeness and Norton Sound crab directly from the boats.
Tracy’s has 2 locations in Juneau. The restaurant, Tracy’s King Crab Shack, is located at 432 South Franklin Street, in the heart of downtown Juneau. You will find this location draws more tourists than locals. If you are looking for a more local experience, try Tracy’s Shack just on the edge of downtown Juneau at 300 Whittier Street. You order at The Shack and eat in tents – true Alaskan experience.
We stopped in for dinner at Tracy’s on our last night in Alaska after spending two amazing weeks there. We ordered drinks at one shack directly from Tracy herself and ordered our crab at another shack. The big tent was not very crowded, and we found a picnic table big enough for all ten of us. We enjoyed drinks while we waited on our legs to be ready. It didn’t take long, and our entire table was digging into our crab legs. We devoured the legs in what seemed like minutes, but they were enjoyed by all. After dinner, have fun taking pictures with the life-size cardboard cutouts or making s’mores at the firepit.
Recommended by Nancy of Checking It Off the List
Arizona – Fresh Green Corn Tamale
We were traveling through Arizona, hitting up some great places like Phoenix and Tombstone and we wanted to stop and visit some friends from Tucson. The best thing about visiting people who are from that place is they always know the best things to eat and where to get that dish.
Our friends took us to the best restaurant in Tucson for tamales according to Arizona’s tourist website, El Charro Café. It’s been around since 1922, so I guess you really should listen to a local when deciding where to go.
We had just learned all about how the sweet green corn tamale is distinctive to this region. In all truth, we’d never heard “sweet” or “green” in reference to tamales before. We’d only known about the red ones.
I didn’t dare order myself. I asked my friend, Cathleen, to do the honors. She knows what I’m looking for, and before I knew it a gorgeous plate of fresh green corn tamales was set in front of me. I don’t know what came over me, because I tore right in.
The tamales I’m used to have a tough, southwestern macho kind of feel. I like them, but they’re a bit too straight shooting for me. However, tasting the mix of fresh sweet corn, heavy cream, and some medium chiles, wrapped in a handmade masa shell, is just my style.
No kidding! If you think you’ve tried and judged a tamale and haven’t been to southern Arizona to try the fresh green corn tamales….try them again. I guarantee you’ll love them.
California – Avocado
California is known for a lot of great foods! We boast about our overstuffed burritos, awesome seafood like dungeness crab and weird mashup trends like Asian-Mexican cuisine or sushi donuts. Above all, we’re known for, and are obsessed with, avocados.
Slices of soft avocado on your omelette, diced up in your salad, grilled halves with balsamic or mashed into guacamole, there are more than 100 ways to eat it. And with healthy fats and over 10 vitamins and minerals, it’s pretty darn good for you too!
Californians love this beautiful, green fruit so much that avocados were declared the official state fruit in 2013 with the golden state producing almost 90% of all fresh avocados consumed in the US. That’s a lot of guacamole!
So what avocado inspired food should you try? Well, if you’re headed to my neck of the woods in Orange County, here are two delicious avocado items you’ll want to get your hands on.
Got a sweet tooth? à la Minute Ice Cream is a small batch ice cream shop with locations in Riverside and Orange counties, including the original shop in Redlands. This incredibly creamy ice cream is made with only natural ingredients, most of which comes from California farms.
My flavor recommendation: Avocado Ice Cream.
The avocados are sourced from Black Sheep Farm in Riverside with the luscious cream coming in from Straus Family Creamery in Sonoma County. Sweetened and topped with light, delicious honey water and a crispy waffle chip, this ice cream is an avocado-lovers dream dessert.
Be aware that the ONLY location for this decadent flavor is à la Minute’s City of Orange location.
If brunch is more your style, you’ll want to take a trip into beautiful Ladera Ranch for a bite and sip at Lola’s Cafe. Named after owners Matt and Ava’s rescue dog, Lola, this adorable farm-to-table eatery is all about the freshest ingredients and big flavor.
Grab a latte and an order of their drool-worthy Avocado Toast.
Although originally started in Australia in the 70’s by Bill Granger, a famous Sydney chef, avocado on toasted bread became a millennial favorite around 2013. From there, it has become one of the most Instagrammable food items ever! There’s even a IG account just for avocado toast which has over 56 million followers!
So can Lola’s Cafe’s avocado toast compete with the best of the best? Heck, yes!
Fresh, mashed avocado is spread across thickly sliced Rustic Artisan bread, topped with pink Himalayan salt, red pepper and Lola’s lemony dressing. It’s served with crisp micro greens and cherry tomatoes. Want more protein? Add a perfectly poached egg to complete your meal.
Simple. Delicious. Totally Instagram-worthy.
Recommended by Andy at Thousand Mile Boots.
California – Burrito
Like any good food, you’re going to have local versions that take things to a completely new level and that’s what you find here in San Diego with the “California Burrito” and it’s close brother simply known as the Carne Asada Burrito.
Both can trace their origins back to the 1980s though there’s some debate about who the exact originator was since while “Roberto’s” started in the 1960s other “-berto’s” quickly followed and as many that have come have also gone. This includes names like: Alberto’s, Adelberto’s Filiberto’s, Hilberto’s, and Rigoberto’s. What people can agree on is that the California Burrito is a perfect example of fusion border food since it combines a traditional Mexican food item (burrito) with an American favorite (fries).
A “California Burrito” is generally smaller than a Mission Style Burrito that originated in San Francisco and spread nationally and is what people think of as a burrito – rice, beans, sour cream, cheese, salsa, meat etc. Instead, the focus of a California Burrito is strips of carne asada, sour cream, cheddar cheese, onions, guacamole, pico de gallo, and French fries. It is the perfect high calorie and easy to eat food for a day at the beach and doesn’t fall apart as easily as one made with rice and beans might.
For those preferring fries as a side instead of being wrapped in the burrito, you can also get the Carne Asada Burrito. Both styles became extremely popular with the 1980s surf culture and have become one of San Diego’s most iconic foods.
Recommended by James of Man Tripping.
California – Cioppino
Unlike clam chowder, cioppino isn’t known worldwide but it is a food that was born and bred in the city of San Francisco in northern California. Cioppino originated from Italian immigrants who settled in the area of North Beach. During the late 1800s, Italian fishermen returning from the sea would create a fisherman’s stew with seafood remaining from the day’s catch. The tomato-based seafood stew would include a variety of seafood such as crab, shrimp, clams, fish, and herbs like garlic and onions. This came to be known as cioppino.
It initially began as a homestyle dish, mainly eaten on the boat while at sea or in the home, but soon it became so popular that restaurants were sprouting up all over the wharf serving cioppino to the public. Legend has it that Alioto’s was the first restaurant in San Francisco to actually serve cioppino to customers. But if you want to try the best cioppino in San Francisco, you’re going to have to get it at Sotto Mare. They don’t call it “the best damn crab cioppino in San Francisco” for nothing!
Recommended by Constance of The Adventures of Panda Bear.
California – Dungeness Crab
Where: Northern California
Dungeness crab is a famous Northern California delicacy. You can’t get it any time of the year you want, though. The crabbing season for Dungeness crab in California is roughly from middle of November till the end of June. Dungeness crab is smaller than King crab but bigger than Blue crab and has a very distinct nutty flavor. The best meat is in the legs.
You can eat Dungeness crab “as is”, just boil it in hot water with salt and may be Old Bay seasoning, if you like. In Northern California this local crab’s meat is added to many dishes: fish stews, chowders, salads, sandwiches etc. And above all, you should definitely try delicious crab cakes.
The best places to enjoy Dungeness crab in Northern California are San Francisco and Monterey. There are a lot of restaurants serving this crab on Fisherman’s Wharfs in both cities. However, if you are a little adventurous you can try to catch Dungeness Crab yourself. A lot of local people do it on Pacifica Pier, just outside San Francisco. You will need a crab trap with a strong rope and some stinky chicken meat.
Recommended by Tatiana of Family Road Trip Guru
California – Fish Tacos
Where: San Diego
One of my favorite foods in San Diego, California is the fish taco. Originally from the Baja coast of Mexico, this dish is just so perfect for beachy summer days, it’s no wonder that it’s hugely popular in San Diego.
The fish taco usually involves a firm white fish, battered and fried, sometimes grilled. It’s served in a corn tortilla with a light cream sauce, a pile of lightly pickled cabbage, topped with a wedge of lime. With every bite, you get a mix of hot and cold, soft and crunchy.
Some of the first fish tacos in San Diego were brought by Ralph Rubio who started the chain Rubio’s in the eighties, after a beach trip in Baja California, Mexico. You can visit that first location but be forewarned, it’s a tiny spot, almost just a road divider in Pacific Beach. It was so popular that Rubio’s is now a large chain and there are many restaurants that sell fish tacos too, perhaps with a more homemade, hand-made feel.
Some good spots to try in San Diego are BlueWater Seafood Market, Pacific Beach Fish Shop, and my personal favorite, the food truck in the parking lot of Target in South Park, called Mariscos Nine Seas Seafood. This last one is obviously not a sit down restaurant, but their smoked marlin taco is delicious and I get one every time I’m in town, with a side of ceviche.
Recommended by Shimona @ SidecarPhoto
Colorado – Rocky Mountain Oysters
Rocky Mountain Oysters, also known as cowboy caviar, prairie oyster, swinging beef, or dusted nuts, are a novelty food that you can find along the Rocky Mountains. In my hometown of Denver, Colorado, they come up in conversations occasionally, usually resulting in a knowing chuckle among the group. Most locals know what they are, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is brave enough to try them. If you aren’t familiar, Rocky Mountain Oysters are testicles, usually from bull, bison, or sheep.
When I was younger, I swore that I would never try them. While adventuring in Estes Park, I finally tried them at The Wapiti Pub. They were served sliced, fried, and with a side of cocktail sauce, which is common. In Denver, you can find these Western delicacies at The Fort, The Buckhorn Exchange, or Willy’s Wings. If you head to Severance, Colorado, Bruce’s Bar has been serving the dish since 1957.
Traditionally eaten by cowboys looking for easy sustenance, the testicles were removed as the calves were branded and used in a “nut fry”. The castration made the bulls tamer and allowed for a good meal for the cowboys!
Are you cowboy enough for a taste?
Recommended by Shelby of The Wayfaring Foodie
Delaware – Scrapple
Scrapple is a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, but since Delaware is so close, we consider it one of our local foods! It’s not very fancy. A mash of pork scraps combined with cornmeal, flour, and spices, the name “scrapple” comes from the fact that it’s comprised of scraps. You can pick up a loaf of scrapple in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. It comes in a rectangular loaf, which you slice into thin pieces and griddle or pan fry for a few minutes on each side. It’s traditionally served as a breakfast food, with ketchup or eggs. Some people even make scrapple sandwiches.
In addition to buying a loaf of scrapple at the grocery store, you can also usually find it at Delaware diners or places which serve breakfast. But if you’re keen on trying a lot of it all at once, there’s an annual festival in Delaware called the Apple Scrapple Festival every fall. If you’re ever in Delaware and want to try something you can’t find anywhere else outside the Mid-Atlantic states, order scrapple if you see it on the menu. If you like bacon and sausage, you’ll probably enjoy this local specialty!
Recommended by Stephanie of https://therovingfox.com
Florida – Croquetas
Miami is famous for its Cuban pastries and cafecito windows, found as you drive along the popular street that runs through little Havana known as Calle Ocho. The windows, or ventanitas, are meant for people to pass through and grab a Cuban coffee and pastry to go, but beyond their facade lies a thriving community. People go here to spark conversation, celebrate political victories (or lament the losses) and occasionally have a celebrity encounter.
If you’re looking for the perfect accompaniment to your coffee, try a croqueta. Sometimes known in other countries as a croquette, the Cuban version has ground ham inside and is covered in breadcrumbs before being deep fried to perfection. Different bakeries have different styles; some offer plump, overstuffed croquetas and others are bite-sized. You can’t go wrong tasting and comparing them for yourself at local favorites like Karla Bakery (open 24 hours) and Versailles Cuban Bakery.
Croquetas are popular throughout Spanish-speaking countries but the filling, breading and method of preparation can vey depending on the origin of the recipe. Those looking to make the dish at home will need finely diced ham, milk, flour, butter, breadcrumbs and eggs as the main ingredients. They can be made in advanced and frozen until you’re ready to fry. They’re also TSA-friendly, so feel free to take some back with you from the ventanita on your next Miami vacation.
Recommended by Jen of https://www.jenonajetplane.com
Florida – Key Lime Pie
A visit to quirky Key West just wouldn’t be complete without sampling its namesake dessert – Key Lime Pie. Depending on who you ask, the very first Key Lime Pie came from Aunt Sally at Curry House in the 1890’s. Today Curry House is a Bed and Breakfast and they’re still serving slices up to locals and travelers alike.
Other takes on this delicious dessert can be found at Kermit’s Key West where you you can get a slice frozen on a stick and then dipped in chocolate, Bagatelle with their impossibly-high meringue, or Key West Key Lime Pie Company. Yet another interesting version called Hooker Pie involves a saltine cracker ‘crust’, lime juice, and rum with a few other ingredients.
For the ultimate in gluttony, do what we did and sign up for the Key Lime Pie Hop during Key West’s annual Key Lime Festival! Participants get to sample five unique recipes from competing shops around town and, if you can survive the sugar overload, pick a winner at the end. The tour is great for families, and is quite informative. The pie, of course, is divine. There’s no better way to sample this local delicacy! The festival typically runs during Independence Day weekend each July.
Recommended by Carrick of Along for the Trip
Georgia – Peach Cobbler
Cobblers, by their very nature, are messy and utterly un-Instagrammable–and also ridiculously delicious. The iconic peach cobbler served across the American South can be found just about everywhere in the foodie heaven of Savannah, Georgia–and you should never leave the city without trying it.
Believed to date back to the 19th century as an easier-to-make alternative to fruit pies, cobblers are traditionally made from fruit topped with biscuit dough and then baked into a sticky, delicious, carb-loaded concoction. Given that Georgia peaches are world-famous and that the Georgia Peach Council (which, yes, is a thing that exists) has named an official National Peach Cobbler Day (it’s April 13), it should come as no surprise that peach cobbler is practically a necessity to eat when visiting Savannah.
Today, you’ll generally find peach cobbler in Savannah served warm and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, though it’s wonderful both with and without the extra topping. You can find peach cobbler on just about any menu in the city, but if you’re looking for a great one, consider visiting the iconic Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, Sisters of the New South, or Columbia Square.
You should 100% order peach cobbler at any time of year (canned Georgia peaches are still tasty), but if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Savannah during peach season in the spring, drop everything immediately and head to the closest peach cobbler you can find. You won’t regret it.
Recommended by Kate of Our Escape Clause
Georgia – Pimento Cheese Sandwich
Though it may not be quite as well known outside my native state of Georgia, Pimento Cheese is every bit as much a Southern food staple as fried chicken, grits, or BBQ. Occasionally referred to as the “pâté of the south” or “caviar of the South,” the dish is relatively simple to make. The only requisite ingredients are cheese (preferably sharp cheddar, but some weirdos prefer processed), mayonnaise or salad dressing, and pimentos, blended to either a chunky or smooth consistency based on personal taste.
Some folks like to spice their recipe up with horseradish, Louisiana-style hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika, or jalapeños. You can eat it on crackers, chips, celery, and pretty much anything with a crunch. But the most traditional dish is Pimento Cheese Sandwiches, which is a signature item served annually at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
It’s such a huge tradition at the Augusta National Golf Club that there was a bit of a kerfuffle in 2013 when they switched food suppliers, and patrons did not take kindly to the new Pimento Cheese recipe! If you visit Georgia, you can buy Pimento Cheese at just about any grocery store, but spicy Palmetto Cheese (a South Carolina-based brand) or homemade is our favorite.
Recommended by Bret of Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide
Hawaii – Poke Bowl
Where: State wide
Poke Bowl is a classic when it comes to Hawaiian dishes, and you can’t really travel there without trying it at least once!
It is basically diced raw fish of different kinds and can be eaten as an appetizer or main course. Ahi Poke is one of the most popular choices which consists of yellowfin tuna. Salmon and shellfish are also commonly used for Poke bowls with various seasonings. Poke gained popularity in the ’70s and was served with Hawaiian salt, seaweed as well as roasted/ground kukui nut meat.
You can find Poke in many places, and it can be sold in supermarkets, restaurants or stalls along the road. I tried Poke from a supermarket in Kauai and it was delicious, very fresh and exquisite taste. The difference between Poke and Poke Bowl is mainly that Poke Bowl comes with rice under the raw fish. But you can also order just Poke and eat raw fish that is seasoned.
I also tried from restaurants, and it wasn’t very different compared to the one bought in a store. Both were fresh raw fish and it’s really the seasoning that can differ and the quality of the fish. But if you go to a well-reputed supermarket like Foodland, you can expect great quality and nice flavoring.
It’s quite cheap as well and goes perfectly as a lunch if you’re doing a road trip on the Hawaiian islands. 1 Poke Bowl is usually less than 5-10 USD, so it’s great for budget travelers as well, and it’s very healthy.
Recommended by Alex of Swedishnomad.com
Hawaii – Shave Ice
When you visit Hawaii you must try the famous local dessert – shave ice. As the name suggests, this dish is made with shavings of ice covered with bright flavored syrups in all the colours of the rainbow. The ice is shaved very finely so it is able to absorb large amounts of the sugary syrup. Additions to the basic dessert include a snow cap or drizzle of condensed milk and adzuki bean paste. Served in a paper cup or cone, you eat shave ice with a spoon.
Also known as ‘ice shave’ and ‘snow cones’, shave ice was brought to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants who worked on the islands’ sugar plantations. Today it is considered an iconic Hawaiian dish and has been adapted to take full advantage of the abundant local produce. The best syrups to try are those made with fresh tropical fruits like pineapple, passionfruit, mango, coconut and papaya from farms on the islands.
You’ll find the original and the best shave ice at Matsumoto in Haleiwa, Oahu. However, up and coming food vendors are doing their best to modernize the dessert with a focus on organic produce and unique flavor combinations. At Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha in Waikiki they add ice cream, fruit puree and fresh fruit toppings for the ultimate sweet tropical treat.
Recommended by Katy of Untold Morsels
Hawaii – Spam Musubi
Where: 7/11 (Statewide)
While Hawaii has many bucket list-worthy dishes due to its myriad of international influences, one of the most iconic foods of Hawaii is a spam musubi. To put it simply, a spam musubi is a rectangle of sushi rice topped with a lightly seared slice of spam, all wrapped in a thin piece of seaweed (commonly called nori).
This simple food eaten by many locals on a daily basis highlights the fusion food culture present in Hawaii. Spam was introduced to Hawaii by the U.S. government during World War II for rationing purposes. To create a spam musubi, elements of Hawaii’s ubiquitous Japanese culture, including sushi rice and seaweed, were combined with the spam. The combination of these three simple ingredients created a delicious blend of two completely opposite cultures.
While spam musubis can be found at several grocery stories and even a handful of restaurants across the Hawaiian Islands, the best spam musubis are either homemade or from 7/11. I know, it sounds a little bit sketchy to get food from 7/11, but any Hawaii local will tell you the same thing: 7/11 is the place to get a fantastic musubi. If you find yourself in Hawaii, a spam musubi is definitely worth a try!
Recommended by Sarah of Borders & Bucket Lists
Illinois – Deep Dish Pizza
People love to debate whether Chicago deep dish pizza is actually pizza. As a native Chicagoan, Tim of Luxe Adventure Traveler grew up eating this Chicago specialty. To him, the only debate is which pizza joint serves up the best Chicago deep dish.
Chicago deep dish, sometimes also called Chicago-style pizza, was invented by two Italian-American immigrants in 1943. The pair, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, wanted to stand out from the crowd of all their fellow Italian-Americans that were opening up pizza shops to serve up the thin crust pizza of the home land. They opened up Pizzeria Uno which couldn’t be more opposite of traditional Neapolitan pizza – literally.
The thin crust was pressed into an olive-oiled deep pie pan and the pizza fillings and cheese placed inside to create a savory pie. Fresh, sweet crushed tomatoes were slathered over the top of it all in order to protect the cheese and fillings so that they wouldn’t burn while being baked in the pizza oven.
Sewell and Riccardo certainly achieved their dream. The Chicago deep dish wasn’t considered an immigrant tradition, but rather a Chicago-born food icon.
When it comes to where to find the best Chicago deep dish, just about every Chicagoan will give you a different answer. It’s a futile debate, because there are several really, really good options including the original Pizzeria Uno (now called Uno Pizzeria & Grill and with many locations around the world), Malnati’s Pizzeria, Gino’s East and Giordano’s. You can go on a Chicago pizza tour to try them out and decide for yourself.
Tim and Jennifer also recommend the VIP Skydeck experience for a truly special way to enjoy your Chicago deep dish pizza. After hours, head up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, where a checkered table awaits with the twinkling lights of Chicagoland stretching out beyond. A piping hot Giordano’s deep dish pizza with the fillings of your choice soon arrives for you to share. It will definitely be the best Chicago deep dish pizza of your life and a memorable experience.
Recommended by Jennifer and Tim of Luxe Adventure Traveler
Illinois – Hot Dog, Chicago Style
One must try dish when visiting Chicago, Illinois is a Chicago-style hot dog or Chicago Dog. A classic Chicago-style hot dog is an all-beef hot dog served on a poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, pickle, relish, sliced tomato, sport peppers, onions and celery salt (ketchup is absolutely not allowed!) and is said to be dragged through the garden because of its many toppings. The hot dog is usually steamed but some restaurants grill it over charcoal and call it a char-dog.
Thousands of restaurants in Illinois serve Chicago–style hot dogs (but some vary the toppings) from hot dog stands to a few fancy restaurants. There are numerous lists which name the best spots for a Chicago Dog and while those lists differ certain establishments are consistently included. One of the most well-known places to try a classic Chicago-style hot dog is Portillos which has numerous restaurants throughout Illinois. Another well known hot dog spot is Wieners Circle in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago where part of the fun is the crude humor and verbal abuse from the employees towards the customers. I also recommend Superdawg, an old-school drive-in on the Northwest side of Chicago, which serves its own version of a Chicago-style hot dog.
Recommended by Patti of Savvy Globetrotter
Illinois – Italian Beef
There’s only one place to get a real, authentic Italian Beef, and that’s in Chicago, Illinois. This quintessential sandwich is a simple combination of slow-roasted beef dipped in gravy, piled high on a sturdy roll, and topped with sweet peppers or hot giardiniera. What makes the Italian Beef so irresistible is the way the beef is prepared.
It began as a way for Depression-era Italian immigrants to turn cheap cuts of meat into a dish worthy of weddings. The roast is put on a rack and then cooked low and slow, with lots of tasty seasonings, while the jus drips into a container placed underneath. Then, the beef is sliced thin and dipped in its own juices.
You can order your sandwich wet, with the gravy ladled on top, or dipped, when the whole shebang is literally dipped into the jus. Either way, the sandwich is so juicy that the type of roll is vital, and Chicagoans swear by Turano Baking Co’s French rolls.
The best place to find these handheld wonders is a source for heated debate, but top contenders always include Johnnie’s, Al’s #1 Italian Beef, and Portillo’s. The latter is available outside of Chicago, but take my advice and get one where it was born.
Recommended by Theresa of The Local Tourist
Indiana – Breaded Tenderloin Sandwich
The Breaded Tenderloin Sandwich is a standard menu item at just about every mom and pop diner in Indiana. It’s usually listed by just “Tenderloin,” but everyone in Indiana knows that means a breaded pork cutlet on a bun, usually topped with lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles. Most people add mayo, mustard, and ketchup as well. I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that Tenderloins are only a culinary delicacy in a few states in the Midwest. I’ve heard in some regions people think of an entirely different dish if you mention a Tenderloin.
The best example of a Tenderloin can be tasted at the Edinburgh Diner in Edinburgh, Indiana. The Tenderloins in Edinburgh are huge and can feed 4-5 people (They let you order extra buns for a small fee!). Tenderloins are also a major food attraction at the Indiana State Fair and many small town fairs and festivals. It’s not all that surprising that Hoosiers would be known for throwing breaded pork on a sandwich, considering Indiana consistently ranks in the top 5 states for pork production.
Indiana’s other claim to fame when it comes to food is the Sugar Cream Pie. This pie is basically a sweet vanilla custard in a crust. Wick’s Pies of Randolph County, Indiana ships Sugar Cream Pies to grocery cases all over the nation, but you can try the authentic, fresh Wick’s Sugar Cream Pie at Mrs. Wick’s Pie Shop which is right across the street from the factory in Winchester.
Recommended by InsomnoMom of thehousethatneverslumbers.com
Kentucky – The Hot Brown
The Hot Brown is Kentucky’s most famous dish, but if you’re not from the Bluegrass State, chances are you’ve never even heard of it!
The Hot Brown was invented at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1927. The hotel was a hot-spot during the Roaring 20s and the hotel chef wanted to create a unique dish for the guests. The Hot Brown was born and quickly became a favorite dish of Louisvillians before spreading to the rest of the state.
A hot brown is an open-faced sandwich made of thick-cut bread, turkey, bacon, and tomatoes covered in a rich, cheesy Mornay sauce. Many local restaurants have their own unique take on the hot brown, adding different cheeses, vegetables, or even creating a vegetarian version of the dish.
Visiting Kentucky and want to try a Hot Brown for yourself? Visit the Brown Hotel in Louisville to try the original recipe Hot Brown at its birthplace. Other spots in Louisville with delicious takes on the famous sandwich are The Village Anchor and Goose Creek Diner. Visiting Lexington? Ramsey’s Diner has a delicious version of the traditional Hot Brown, the Lexington Diner has a breakfast take on the sandwich, and Stella’s Kentucky Deli is home to a vegetarian take of the dish.
Recommended by Sydney of A World in Reach
Louisiana – Po’Boy
Where: New Orleans
While there are many unique things to eat in New Orleans, the Po-Boy is definitely one of the most famous dishes in the city. This sandwich has an interesting history. As the story goes, the Po-Boy was created way back in 1929 when the city’s streetcar drivers went on a strike and the Martin Brothers who owned a restaurant supported the ‘poor boys’ by putting together a cheap and basic sandwich of gravy and roast beef. And that’s how the sandwich gets its name.
The Po-Boy quickly became available in many varieties and soon became standard fare in restaurants. Today, the Po-Boy is available in roast beef, fried oyster, fried shrimp, fried catfish, fried soft shell crab, and many other styles. It comes dressed – meaning with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, and pickle – or bare. I recommend trying the dressed half oyster and half shrimp Po-Boy at Mahony’s on Magazine Street or the fried soft shell crab one at Stanley’s in Jackson Square.
The seafood Po-Boys are my favorite for a couple of reasons: the crispy fried seafood compliments the fresh, chewy French Bread in a way that roast beef never can! These huge sandwiches are usually served with crunchy French Fries and together they make one of the best meals in NOLA.
Recommended by Ketki of Dotted Globe
Louisiana – Crawfish
Where: New Orleans (and statewide)
Louisiana is synonymous with Southern cooking and one of my personal favourite things to eat when visiting family in New Orleans are Crawfish!
Caught in the freshwater Bayous of Louisiana. These small freshwater crayfish are noticeable an important piece of culture of this State, dating back to pre-colonial times.
My two favorite ways of eating these tasty crustaceans having a crawfish boil,
where you invite all your friends and family over and boil a very large pot of water with onion, mushrooms, corn, sausage, green bean and please don’t forget the Crawfish boil seasoning. Then add as much Crawfish as your have friends can eat and enjoy the feast. It can get messy but is super tasty and it’s a total party.
If your’e visiting from out of town, you can buy Crawfish boil in many Crawfish Boil restaurants and takeaway stores. I recommend adding a few local shrimp on the side, it’s a good combination. Especially with some local spicy hot sauce.
My other favorite way to eat Crawfish is in a Crawfish Etouffee. This is a classic Cajun Louisiana dish. The Crawfish is cooked in a spicy tomato sauce gravy and served with rice and of course packed full of crawfish tails.
If seafood is you thing, then head to New Orleans for Crawfish season and enjoy the feast from late February until early June.
Recommended by Simon of Journeystoadventure.com
Louisiana – Crawfish Etouffée
Crawfish Season in Louisiana is the happiest time of the year, well, except gumbo season, maybe! Everyone has crawfish boils on the weekends, and crawfish locations for both boiled, and live, pop up on every corner.
Crawfish comes in sacks of around 33 lbs, so you boil 33, 66, 100, 200 lbs or more. There is always extra! The leftover crawfish have to be peeled and are usually then frozen for later, or you can buy raw, frozen peeled crawfish by the lb. at the grocery store. That’s how you get your fix in the winter time, when rice is growing in the crawfish fields of Cajun Country.
Crawfish Etouffee (or shrimp etouffee) is a blend of Cajun and Creole Cuisines from South Louisiana, where Gulf shrimp and crawfish are plentiful. If it is just made with a roux (gravy) we consider it to be Cajun, if it has tomatoes, then it is Creole. The Cajun influence is said to have originated from French Canadian migrations, and the Creole influence comes from Africa and Haiti. Blend these two together, and you have some mighty good food!
An etouffee is a kind of stew, and customarily served over rice, but at restaurants like Steamboat Bills of Lake Charles, LA you can get it served over French Fries, and the best I have ever had came from Merci Beaucoup in Natchitoches, LA, served over fried catfish.
Crawfish Etouffee is a staple at restaurants like Felix’s in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and of course at the home of every Maw-Maw in this part of Louisiana!
Recommended by Terri @ Sisterhood of the Traveling Brush
Maine – Lobster Roll
Where: Cape Elizabeth (and other coastal towns)
Nothing is more classic Maine than lobster! Maine Lobster is one of the oldest continuous operating industries in the country, dating all the way back to the 1600s. Lobster was originally only eaten by the poor and was considered a low-class food. But as tastes changed and prices increased in the state, it became more and more desired. This delicacy didn’t become popular until the mid-nineteenth century. Now you can only get lobster at a premium, and it’s no different for the Lobster Roll!
While the Lobster Roll was technically invented in Connecticut, it is now most popularly associated with Maine and is served all over the state. A good lobster roll consists of large chunks of fresh lobster drenched in butter or mayonnaise and stuffed into the top of a bread bun. It’s like combining a hot dog and lobster to create a flavor explosion that is hard to beat!
During our times as *digital nomads* (anchor text), we tried MANY Lobster rolls in my lifetime from all over the country, my absolute favorite one comes from The Lobster Shack in the small town of Cape Elizabeth. This place has been around since the 1920s, so you know they’re the real deal. Only open during the lobster season, they guarantee that the lobster is fresh and the rolls are delicious, and they sure deliver! You can’t beat the view from the outdoor seating area too!
Recommended by Vanessa of Wanderlust Crew
Maryland – Blue Crabs
Where: Chesapeake Bay
If you reside in Maryland or anywhere along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, a love for blue crabs is nearly mandatory. All around the Chesapeake Bay, you will find traditional crab houses. The kind where tables are covered in paper and you pick (clean) your own crabs using a mallet and the tools God gave you.
Consuming crabs is more than just a meal, it is something of an event. A feast if you will. Because of the intensive labor involved in eating crabs they are not a week night meal. They are something you do eat on a weekend or holiday with loved ones when you have hours to dedicate to the experience. Picking crabs is better when savored.
The best way to enjoy this delicacy is with family and friends along with a cold beer. Crabs should be steamed with ample Old Bay Seasoning and served with coleslaw and fresh corn on the cob. There is debate over whether they should be refrigerated or served hot. It really comes down to preference. But if they’re hot you know they haven’t been sitting around.
In Maryland crabbing is both an industry and a hobby. Crabbing sustains fishermen and provides leisure activity for the dabbler. But, today, unless you are a fisherman, boater or enthusiast, you are probably purchasing your crabs at the local seafood store where they can be purchased by the dozen, half bushel or bushel.
On a warm summer day, there’s nothing like bringing home a bushel of fresh crabs, lining the picnic table with brown paper and settling in for an afternoon of picking crabs and interesting conversation.
Recommended by Susan of Gen X Traveler
Massachusetts – Boiled Lobster
While arguably the entire New England region is known for its lobster, you can’t beat boiled lobster in Massachusetts. Many places let you “pick your own” from an array of fresh-caught lobsters, and offer an array of sides and dipping options.
However, boiled lobster truly tastes best with nothing but a healthy drizzle of hot, melted butter! They’ll also likely give you some oyster crackers and fresh lemon slices for squeezing, as well as a tool to shuck the lobster yourself– truly a quintessential New England experience.
While lobster today is considered a luxury item, it had very inauspicious beginnings. In fact, it was so plentiful in centuries past that urban legend has it that it was predominantly fed to prisoners and its shells used as a garden fertilizer!
While that is certainly not the case today, it remains a popular dining experience year-round, and is definitely a symbol of the region, with many fishermen still making a living from their daily catch.
In seaside towns along Cape Ann, you’re likely to see large traps all along the waterfront, and boats bobbing along in the water hauling in their catch. Two options for delicious boiled lobster (and other regional favorites such as lobster rolls, fresh clams or clam cakes, and beyond) are Yankee Lobster in the Seaport area of Boston or Roy Moore Lobster Shack in the beautiful coastal town of Rockport.
Recommended by Tegan and Alex of Why Not Walk Travel Guides
Michigan – Detroit Style Coneys
If you visit Detroit or its metropolitan area, you’ll see Coney Island restaurants all over the place. The Detroit-style coney dog consists of a hot dog – preferably one of the brands native to Michigan – on a bun and buried under coney sauce, chopped onions, and mustard. The coney sauce is chili-like, though made without the beans or other veggies you typically find in chili.
Though named after a New York hotspot, coneys have been synonymous with cheap eats in the Detroit area for decades. For the full coney experience, order a side of chili fries, which should come out piping hot under a thick coating of chili. You’ll never want to eat regular fries again.
If you want to visit the coney hotspot in Detroit, head to the intersection of Michigan Avenue, Lafayette, and Griswold. You’ll find American Coney and Lafayette Coney side-by-side, each serving up their signature coneys and sides. Try a coney from both and join generations of Detroiters in picking a favorite.
Out in the suburbs, chains like National, Kerby’s, and Leo’s are spaced out at regular intervals and each offers a slightly broader menu than the original coney spots downtown. Coneys are especially great if you’re on a budget as you can usually fill up for less than $5.
Recommended by Kris at Nomad By Trade.
Minnesota – Tater Tot Hotdish
Where: Twin Cities
When it comes to comfort food, Minnesotans gravitate towards the traditional meat and potatoes meals and hotdish. (Don’t even get this Minnesotan started on the debate of what is considered a hot dish, casserole or goulash!) In Minnesota, hot dish is king.
One unique hotdish that Minnesotans often indulge in and could even be considered a household staple is Tater Tot Hotdish. The recipe is relatively easy and often served at Sunday potlucks. The bottom of the hotdish is a ground hamburger, vegetable, and cream of whatever soup mixture. Depending on your upbringing, the vegetables and which cream of soup you use will vary. Growing up my family incorporated corn, lima beans, green beans, and carrots in the hamburger and cream of mushroom soup mixture.
On top of the ground hamburger, tater tots are placed to form a golden, crispy crust. Whether these tater tots are just tossed on or lined up perfectly is another hot debate among Minnesotans where the word “heathen” is thrown around like confetti.
Whether you go to Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club, half of the experience is in the ambiance of the place. Both are hole-in-the-wall small neighborhood bars. The tables and decor are just what you’d expect and there will always be a line (but it moves quickly). If you go to Matt’s Bar, bring cash or your ATM card!
While you will see Juicy Lucy’s on many menus throughout the Twin Cities, there’s no substitute for the original. And, since we can’t decide who created it first, you’ll just have to visit both Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club to choose your favorite!
Now if you are visiting Minnesota and would like to indulge in this iconic dish, don’t fret. Tater Tot Hotdish can be found at a variety of restaurants in the metropolitan area. A local favorite can be found at The Bulldog, which incorporates beef brisket in this hearty dish.
Recommended by Martha of quirkyglobetrotter.com
Minnesota – Juicy Lucy Burger
Where: Twin Cities
Minnesotans have been debating for decades whether Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club actually created the first Juicy Lucy (or whether there’s an “i” in juicy). Even today, this is a divisive and emotional topic. I think, though, we can all agree that Juicy Lucy burgers are delicious.
What is this culinary delight? Imagine two thin hamburger patties molded together with a layer of melty cheese in the middle and then grilled. Juicy Lucy’s are served simply on a bun with pickles so don’t expect to customize. At Matt’s Bar, the only option is to add grilled onions (which I highly recommend).
There’s an actual strategy to eating a Juicy Lucy, though. Don’t make the rookie mistake of burning your mouth with that melty cheese! Hold the burger with both handles and take a small bite on one side, then the other. This allows the steam from the cheese to release and cool to a manageable temperature. Let it cool off holding it upright for a couple of minutes while you devour some french fries before diving in again.
Whether you go to Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club, half of the experience is in the ambiance of the place. Both are hole-in-the-wall small neighborhood bars. The tables and decor are just what you’d expect and there will always be a line (but it moves quickly). If you go to Matt’s Bar, bring cash or your ATM card!
While you will see Juicy Lucy’s on many menus throughout the Twin Cities, there’s no substitute for the original. And, since we can’t decide who created it first, you’ll just have to visit both Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club to choose your favorite!
I’ll give an honorable mention to the Blue Door Pub for it’s Blucy Burger with blue cheese and garlic in the center. There are four locations now, but I recommend visiting their original location in St. Paul.
Recommended by Susan of This Big Wild World
Missouri – Barbeque
Where: Kansas City
Cooking meat outdoors over a fire is known universally as American as apple pie. But once you peek under the grill cover, you’ll quickly see that barbeque has many regional varieties. Kansas City barbeque is dry rubbed, slow smoked, and smothered with thick, sweet, and tangy barbeque sauce. It got its start in the early 1900s when Henry Perry (AKA the father of KC BBQ) slow cooked meat on an open pit near the Garment District.
From tender chunks of beef to saucy pork ribs, Kansas City is proud of its barbeque. While pork and beef are the most commonly used barbeque meats across the nation, any meat is fair game when it comes to Kansas City barbeque. In this cowtown, look for barbeque turkey, chicken, sausage, and even salmon in addition to pork and beef. Prove to your taste buds why KC is the Barbeque Capital of the World with a visit to one of these five barbeque joints in Kansas City.
Fun Fact: Over the course of history, there have been more than five accepted spellings for this cooking style. But since the Civil War, Americans have settled on two ways to spell the word, barbecue and barbeque. In Kansas City, we follow the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s lead and use a q.
Recommended by Sage of Everyday Wanderer.
Missouri – St. Louis Style Pizza
Where: St. Louis
In St. Louis we have a very specific type of pizza, affectionately referred to as “St. Louis Style Pizza”. Many critics of our unique dish often define it by calling it a cracker with ketchup, but don’t let that deter you from exploring this delicious dish!
It’s true, the traditional St. Louis style pizza crust is extremely thin and almost “cracker-like” but in the most delicious way. If you have ever had a Chicago style pizza, this is pretty close to being as opposite as you can get. The thin, crispy pizza is served as a typical circular pizza but it is cut into squares.
The defining ingredient, aside from our very thin crust and oregano-spiced sauce, is a cheese that you have likely never had (unless you live in Missouri)! Provel cheese is a processed cheese product that combines swiss, cheddar, and provolone cheeses to make an incredible white cheese that is perfect on pizzas and pasta dishes.
The melting point of provel is lower than most cheeses so it takes on an extremely gooey, almost buttery, quality when melted. It was actually invented in St. Louis, primarily for the purpose of being used on St. Louis style pizza. Whereas most cheeses are stringy when melted, a pizza with provel can easily be bitten into without pulling the rest of the cheese with it!
While you will find St. Louis style pizza all over the metro area, there is one local chain in particular that has made its name purely on this dish and continues to be the most well-known St. Louis style pizzeria in the area. Imo’s Pizza, where you’ll find a slogan of “The square beyond compare” is loved so much by locals and tourists alike that they will even ship their pizzas, on dry ice, anywhere in the USA.
Whether you are a fan of thick crust or a nice crispy pizza, St. Louis style pizza, with it’s gooey cheesy and perfectly crisped crust, is a dish to try if ever in the area!
Recommended by Libby of Because Mom Says.
Missouri – Slinger
Where: St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri is home to perhaps one of the best breakfast concoctions in existence, the slinger. While the ingredients of a slinger have varied over time, the classic slinger is comprised of scrambled eggs, hash browns and a hamburger patty, drenched in chunky chili, a hearty handful of cheddar cheese and some raw chopped onions to round out the dish.
Cooks have gotten creative with the ingredients used in the slinger, offering modern and inventive takes on this greasy spoon favorite. Around the city, restaurant-goers can try their hand at slingers with gravy, Texas toast, tamales, or French toast – the one pictured here is actually a vegan concoction from Rooster, a trendy brunch spot.
While Rooster generally caters to families and young professionals sipping mimosas, slingers are most commonly served to the late night crowd around the city in divey diners – some old stalwarts include Tiffany’s Diner, City Diner, and a St. Louis classic, Courtesy Diner. There is no better way to soak up one too many beers and chat with friends about the night’s shenanigans than over a plate piled high with a good ol’ slinger- and really, when else would you be eating this kind of sinfully delicious monstrosity?
Recommended by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler.
Montana – Huckleberry Milkshakes
Where: Western Montana
The first time I had a huckleberry milkshake in Montana was a diner not far the National Bison Reserve. It was 1995 and I was a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. It was so delicious that I made it my mission to try huckleberry milkshakes around the state.
Huckleberries are small, purplish berries that grow wild in Montana and other Rocky Mountain states and provinces. Montana huckleberries are in the same genus as blueberries (Vaccinium), whereas a different genus of huckleberries grows back east.
One thing that makes huckleberries so special is that they aren’t grown commercially. They are picked wild and sold to ice cream makers and pie bakers. Huckleberry picking is almost a state sport here in Montana and we wait for the crunchy, purple fruit to ripen toward the end of every summer.
While you can get a huckleberry milkshake at a lot of different places in Montana, the most famous might be the St. Regis Travel Center in far western Montana. Personally, I don’t think their shakes are better than anyone else’s but they do have the big billboards on I-90 advertising them.
Huckleberry shakes are part of summer for my family. Each year we welcome the season of warm weather, river trips, and hiking in the mountains with a sweet huckleberry milkshake.
Recommended by Mel of Yellowstone Trips.
Nebraska – Runzas
A Runza is an absolute beloved food that every Nebraskan loves. However, Runza is only the commercialized name. Originating from the Russian-Germans, families that make them at home call them “Krautstrudels,” “Bierrocks” or simply “Meat Pies.”
No matter what you call them, they are a delicious meat mixture of ground beef and saurkraut wrapped into a savory dough pocket. At the restaurant “Runza” it’s not uncommon to see them with cheese or even dipped in some ranch but when eating a homemade Krautstrudel, it’s deliciously paired with some plain mustard and often accompanied by some potato soup.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a Runza anywhere else in the US (that isn’t made at home), which makes it the perfect food to try out when on your road trip flying through Nebraska to get to your next destination!
Recommended by LeAnna of WellTraveledNebraskan.
New Jersey – The Fat Sandwich
Where: New Brunswick
Fat Sandwiches are some of the most famous food in New Jersey. In the early 1980s up till 2013, food trucks were parked along College Avenue in the city of New Brunswick, an area filled with college students from Rutgers University. Between classes or after a night of heavy drinking, students would come to these food trucks that were opened 24 hours to buy something called “fat” sandwiches.
Fat sandwiches were usually a mix of several food that include: burgers, mozzarella sticks, bacon, chicken fingers, french fries (in the sandwich), falafel, gyro meat, cheesesteak, fried eggs, ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and many other things. The reason why they were called fat sandwiches was because just one sandwich itself can have close to 2,000 calories and 100 grams of fat.
Eventually due to the amount of fatty food sold by these food trucks, they were renamed grease trucks. And in August of 2013, the grease trucks on College Avenue were removed for the construction of a new building. Now you can find fat sandwiches in many of the restaurants surrounding that area.
It all started with the Fat Cat, which was the name of the first fat sandwich ever made. It contained two cheeseburgers, french fries, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayonnaise all in a sandwich. As time went on, more and more different fat sandwiches started appearing, usually based on students suggestions. And more recently before the grease trucks were removed, you could have a fat sandwich named after you if you completed the “Fat Sandwich Challenge”, which was consuming 5 fat sandwiches within 45 minutes. Back when I was studying at Rutgers University, I could not even finish one fat sandwich myself!
Recommended by Stan of LivingoutLau.
New Mexico – Green Chiles
You can’t visit Albuquerque, or indeed the state of New Mexico, without trying Green Chile. This is a staple of pretty much every New Mexican dish, and even comes with the breakfast burritos and hamburgers.
The history of chile in New Mexico dates back to the native Pueblo people, who cultivated chillies for use in cooking. When the Spanish arrived in the area, they incorporated chiles into their cooking too. Today, the variety of chile grown in New Mexico is specific to the state, first cultivated at the New Mexico state university in 1894.
Green chiles are served in a variety of ways, with one of the most popular being roasted. In Autumn, which is the harvesting season, the whole state seems to fill with the delicious aroma of roasting green chiles, which can be eaten as is, or, more commonly, turned into a sauce and added to most New Mexican dishes.
Whilst green chile is very well known, it’s also possible to get red chile sauce, and a common question when ordering a meal in New Mexico is if you want it red or green. You can also order your food “Christmas style”, and have both! Nearly every restaurant you visit will have chile – see our guide to the best restaurants in Albuquerque for some ideas as to where to try it.
Recommended by Laurence of Finding the Universe.
New York – Beef On Weck
I grew up in Buffalo, New York, home of the world famous Buffalo Wing. But there is more to the Buffalo food scene than just the mighty hot wing. Sponge candy, orange chocolate, perogi and beef on weck will give you a more well-rounded taste of Buffalo.
Let’s do a deep dive on one of my favorite Buffalo foods. Have you heard of beef on weck? Beef on weck is a special variation of a roast beef sandwich and is another food that Buffalo is famous for. What makes beef on weck truly special is the bun which is crusty and salted with caraway seeds for a spicy rye flavor. Beef on weck is optionally served with horseradish if you like your meal with that extra kick. Charlie the Butcher’s in Cheektowaga is the original home of beef on weck and made the sandwich famous in Western New York.
Pair your beef on weck with fresh grilled corn on the cob and a loganberry pop. In Buffalo, soft drinks are pop not soda. Get that right or you’ll immediately stand out as a tourist. What’s loganberry? It’s a hybrid of a blackberry and a raspberry. Buffalo is the only place in the world where I’ve seen the humble loganberry turned into a sweet non-carbonated soft drink. If you’re looking for an authentic taste of Buffalo, this is it!
Recommended by Jennifer of Sidewalk Safari.
New York – The Garbage Plate
What a lot of people might not know about Rochester, New York, is that it’s all about the food. Rochestarians love to cook and love to eat out. There is one dish, in particular, that became an icon in Rochester–The Garbage Plate. I know it does not sound very appetizing with a name like Garbage Plate but, like the saying goes, “don’t knock it till you try it”.
The Garbage Plate was introduced around 1918 at Nick Tahou’s Restaurant in Rochester, NY. Originally the dish was called Hots and Potatoes. People fell in love with it and were going in large numbers to get a Garbage Plate at Nick Tahou’s. Since then many restaurants and diners have created their own version of the Garbage Plate throughout the city and surrounding area.
So are you now wondering what’s in a Garbage Plate? Get ready for this-
the following are typical ingredients used: fried potatoes, home fries, french fries, Mac and cheese, pasta salad, cheese, baked beans, hot dogs, hamburgers, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, onions. Or anything else you want. Hot dogs should be Zwiegles. If you have a problem with your food touching each other the Garbage Plate will be a problem, because after choosing your ingredients they are piled up on top of each other. Yup, piled and piled onto a plate. My understanding is it makes a great late night meal after having a night out on the town. Enjoy!
Recommended by Sherrie of Travel By A Sherrie Affair.
New York – Cronut
Where: New York City
New York City is famous for pizza, bagels and hotdogs, but there are many fun, more modern food crazes that started in New York. The first Shake Shack set up shop in Madison Square Park, Magnolia Bakery sparked a cupcake craze that swept the country and DŌ put cookie dough on the map. But the best – and my favorite – is the cronut. This is a combination of a croissant and a donut that was created by Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho.
Cronuts are shaped like donuts, flaky like croissants, filled with a flavored crème that changes monthly, and topped with a matching ganache. Flavors include custard and sweet potato, strawberries and cream, and cinnamon roll ganache with custard. As you bite into the crispy, flaky pastry, a burst of heavenly-flavored crème bursts in your mouth!
I was skeptical about the whole craze thing and despite the fact that Domonique Ansel Bakery is a block and a half from my apartment, I resisted for the longest time. That was until I finally tried one. Now, I am a totally covert. This is one food that truly loves up to the hype!
There used to be long lines around the block, but these days, the line is much shorter. The bakery opens at 8:00am, and if you are in line before they open in the cooler months, there is a good chance you will get a free sample of hot chocolate, but it’s fine to get there round 8:15am and skip the line. Don’t get there too late though – despite the limit of maximum two per person, they do sell out.
Recommended by James of Travel Collecting.
New York – Pastrami Sandwich
Where: New York City
No trip to New York City would be complete without a pastrami sandwich. Preferably on rye. Perhaps with mustard. And, definitely with sour pickles.
Pastrami is beef brisket that is soaked in spices and then smoked. It was brought to the US by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. In the “Old Country” brining and smoking meat was done to keep meat from spoiling. Now, we eat it that way because it just tastes good.
My favorite place for pastrami is Katz’s on the Lower East Side. The pastrami is sliced thick, juicy and brimming with flavor. I go back and forth on mustard—sometimes yes, sometimes no—but my mother slathers on the mustard. Katz’s offers sour and half sour pickles. For me, full sour is best.
There are some other places in New York to get good pastrami. The Second Avenue Deli (which is now actually on 33rd Street) makes pastrami. Harry and Ida’s, not far from the 9/11 memorial, has a more modern take on pastrami. You can also get it in some of the diners and delis in New York, but I still recommend Katz’s for the best pastrami sandwich. Just don’t go on a weekend—it’s too crowded and you will wait for hours.
Recommended by Sue Davies of Travel For Life Now.
North Carolina – North Carolina Barbecue
In North Carolina you have two choices you have to make : Which shade of blue (Duke or UNC) and what flavor of BBQ? The state is divided between Eastern (also known as Lexington Style) and Western style and while both are delicious, they are definitely different.
Eastern style BBQ uses a red tomato based sauces and only used the pork shoulder section of the pig. Western ‘cue is also often pulled and chunky. Eastern style is a whole hog, chopped, and served with a vinegar and pepper based sauce. This also extends to the coleslaw as you’ll often find Eastern NC BBQ to have red slaw while Western is your standard mayonnaise based.
North Carolina’s love for barbecue runs so deep that even the NC House and Senate couldn’t agree over which style would be the state’s official BBQ!
Recommended by Christina @ www.nctripping.com.
North Dakota – Knoephla Soup
Where: Jamestown (and statewide)
What is knoephla soup and how do you say the “k” word?
Knoephla soup (pronounced neff-lah) is unique to North Dakota. Ask any North Dakotan about it and they’ll probably tell you their grandmother made the best knoephla soup in all of North Dakota. And no, you cannot have her recipe.
My first encounter with the soup was at the end of my first school year in North Dakota. About a week before finishing 8th grade, the teacher sent home a permission slip to take us on a field trip to get soup for our last day. In Michigan we got an ice cream field trip, the idea of soup to celebrate summer was ridiculous! But it was delicious!
The origins of the soup are unknown, though many North Dakotans will tell you it is a German soup. However, if you ask someone in Germany if they’ve heard of it before you’ll be met with a look of confusion.
If you ever find yourself in North Dakota and wanting to try knoephla almost every locally owned restaurant in every town has their own variety of the soup. Kroll’s Diner, one of the more well-known restaurants located in several cities across the state, has an award-winning knoephla recipe that has a very unique flavor. The Depot Cafe in Jamestown is my favorite place to get the soup.
And if you want to make it yourself, I finally took the time one day to write down my knoephla soup recipe and publish it. Enjoy!
Recommended by Niki of Chasing Departures.
Ohio – Buckeye Candy
Ohio State Buckeyes aren’t just the name of a popular college football team. Nor are they just a nut-like seed from a tree. They are also a really popular candy in Ohio. Most Ohioans make these candies by hand.The center is made from peanut butter, powdered sugar, and a few other ingredients, which is then molded into a ball. Using a toothpick, they are hand dipped into chocolate and then put in the refrigerator to harden.
Though many people think that buckeye candies are made just for Ohio football games, it isn’t true. People also make them for any type of party. The candies are delicious and any excuse to make a batch will do! They also don’t taste like a really famous candy that also contains peanut butter and chocolate, but in cup form.
An Ohioan named Gail Tabor claims to be the inventor of the Buckeye candy. She was attempting to make peanut butter balls and they ended up not being completely covered with chocolate. She said to her husband that it looked like a buckeye. So in 1964, the buckeye candy was born. People begged her for the recipe. Ms. Tabor finally relented and gave her secret recipe to a friend who was moving to Oklahoma. The recipe ended up in the Ohio State Alumni newsletter a few years, giving the “friend” the credit. It is said that Gail Tabor felt so betrayed that she never trusted another person from Oklahoma. True or not, Buckeyes are awesome candies.
Anthony-Thomas Chocolates does make and sell buckeyes commercially, so even if you don’t know an Ohioan (such as the first woman to fly solo around the world and finish), you can try these awesome bits of chocolate and peanut butter, too!
Recommended by Natalie of blissmersion.com.
Oregon – Marionberry Pie (And Shakes)
The Marionberry is native to Oregon. Its name comes from the county in the Willamette Valley where it was first developed and continues to be produced: Marion County. It’s actually a variation of blackberry that’s a bit larger and longer in shape. While it appears black when ripe on the vine, the inside is a deep purple.
Marionberry is only available fresh from mid to late summer, and they are too soft to ship across the country. This is why it’s popular to preserve it in jams or liquors, or freeze it for milkshakes and pies. The slightly tart flavor of the berry also makes it ideal to combine with sugar. According to NPR, Oregon grows 28 to 33 million pounds of Marionberries a year, which is mostly “devoured before the rest of the country ever gets a taste.”
Look for Marionberry pies and ice creams locally made in many Oregon grocery stores. You’ll also find the fresh, purple Marionberry shakes in local ice cream parlors, farm stands, and the regional Burgerville chain during the summer.
Recommended by Michelle of Roam Redmond Oregon.
Pennsylvania – Philly Cheesesteak
Beefsteak, onions and cheese all combined together to sit in a deliciously fresh baked long roll (or as locals call it, a hoagie roll) are the iconic ingredients known as a Philly Cheesesteak. Growing up in or around the Philadelphia area, this hearty meal is a staple in almost everyone’s diet and it garnishes a few debates about who has the best in the city.
Pat’s (Pat’s King of Steaks) and Geno’s (Geno’s Steaks), located across the street from each other on 9th and Passyunk Ave in the heart of Philadelphia, rival each other in who is the best, ultimately resulting in many “steak offs” from tourist. However, they aren’t the only ones throughout the city who have a giant group following, as you can find lines around the block at places like Jim’s Steak on South Street and Dalessandro’s Steaks in Manayunk (still within Philadelphia).
The art of ordering can be slightly intimidating for tourist and first timers. So here is a simple guide on how to order:
Quantity + your cheese choice + “Wit’” (with onions) or “Wit’Out” (without onions)
Example: Two Wiz Wit’, or One American Wit’out, or One Provolone Wit’ and Peppers
While you can get a cheesesteak throughout the world, there is truly none like those here in Philadelphia.
Recommended by Melissa of https://portlypassengers.com/.
Pennsylvania – Tomato Pie
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and spending most of my adult life in the city itself, I can’t imagine any event without someone bringing a tomato pie. Backyard barbecues and birthday parties alike always featured tomato pie and I thought that was a universal way of life. Once I left the Philadelphia region for college, and most recently moved abroad for an expat assignment, I found out this wasn’t a known and loved favorite everywhere. I also realized that it’s a difficult culinary concept to describe.
Hearing the name of this food makes you think of an oven-baked casserole or a warm, flaky-crusted pie with juicy tomatoes inside, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s looks a bit like a sicilian pizza, but it’s far from any pizza you’ve ever tasted because it’s served cold and doesn’t have cheese. It’s completely unique, a local favorite and you just need to experience it yourself to fully understand the edible majesty of tomato pie.
Tomato pie is a focaccia-like dough covered in tomato sauce and baked in a large rectangular pan. It’s then allowed to cool and often refrigerated until served. It can be sprinkled with parmesan or romano cheese – even oregano – but is never topped with melted mozzarella or any other traditional pizza toppings. In Sicily, there is a similar street food called sfincione, but I’m told the dough is different because the bakers who brought it from Palermo to Philadelphia didn’t have the same access to ingredients.
Philadelphia is a city of ethnic neighborhoods that expanded rapidly with the influx of European immigrants in the early 1900’s. As you might imagine, you can find the best tomato pie in the Italian Market located in the East Passyunk neighborhood. The neighborhood has amazing Italian bakeries, like Sarcone’s Italian Bakery (758 S. 9th Street) which has been serving tomato pie for five generations. You’d be missing out to visit Philly and not try their tomato pie, but get there early because they are among the best in town, bake it daily and when it sells out you have to wait until the next day. If you’re in the suburbs, visit Corropolese Bakery (2014 Old Arch Rd Norristown, PA). It’s been around since 1924 and serves award winning tomato pie at four locations in the area around Philadelphia.
When you visit Philadelphia, don’t get too full on cheesesteaks – or at least save room for this less famous local staple. It’s one of the first foods I seek out when I visit my hometown and I know you won’t be let down.
Recommended by Derek Hartman of robe-trotting.com.
South Carolina – Lowcountry Boil
Where: coastal SC and GA
The southeast US’s “Lowcountry” encompasses coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Fittingly, the dish that this area is famous for is called Lowcountry boil. You just can’t visit this part of the country without trying it. Also referred to as Frogmore stew, the dish is a one-pot meal that can feed a small army – at least, when we make it!
Lowcountry boil is a seafood boil with shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes. We like ours with onions, so we add those when we make it, too. After it’s all boiled up in one pot with a healthy dose of Old Bay seasoning for flavor, it’s drained and served with a ton of sliced lemon. If you’re really going for old school tradition, cover the table with newspaper and dump the entire contents onto it, so everyone can gather ‘round and dig in!
There’s hardly any prep, unless you decide to cut down the potatoes or corn down to more manageable sizes. And the cook time is short, too. Just dump each food item into spiced boiling water one at a time until the pot is full – potatoes first for a few minutes, then the sausage for a few, then the corn for a few, finishing up with the shrimp for 2 to 3 minutes (note: not a minute longer on the shrimp, or they’ll be overcooked!). Then, drain and dump.
If you don’t want to try your had at making it, the Lowcountry’s got you. It’s served in several seafood restaurants in coastal SC and GA (other names to look for are Beaufort Stew/Boil). I recommend a place that also offers a good marsh view, so you can really get that Lowcountry atmosphere!
Recommended by Mary Beth of MB Sees.
Tennessee – Hot Chicken
Nashville, TN may be known as Music City, but it’s famous for more than just country music. It’s the home of Nashville Hot Chicken, a local favorite that is sure to spice up any trip to this Southern city. While you can find this dish served all around town, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the original.
The story goes that Thorton Prince loved the ladies a little too much, and his girlfriend was not happy when he came home too late one night. The next morning, she served up fried chicken with an unusually large amount of peppers and spices to get even. Unfortunately, he loved it and eventually opened Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack after perfecting the recipe. His great niece continues the tradition to this day.
The key to hot chicken is the spicy paste, made primarily of lard and cayenne pepper, that is added to the chicken. The chicken is soaked in buttermilk and spices, floured, fried, and then the paste is added, squeezing it into the chicken right after it finishes frying. You’ll find it traditionally served with pickles and white bread.
Several other delicious hot chicken joints have popped up in Nashville over the years. Hattie B’s is a tourist favorite and for good reason. The chicken is delicious, as are the sides like the pimento mac n cheese. If you really want to push the limits and your heat tolerance, you can go for their “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” seasoning. Other local favorites, like Loveless Café, serve up their version as a special dish.
If you are heading to Nashville any time soon, get ready with your glass of milk to see if you can handle the heat in the local hot chicken!
Recommended by Sarah of Moment Mom.
Texas – Breakfast Tacos
If I had to choose one thing I miss the most about Austin, TX, it would be all the breakfast tacos! It’s hard enough to find really good tacos outside of Texas, let alone in Germany, where I live now. And breakfast tacos? Mostly people just act surprised that tacos can be consumed first thing in the morning.
There are two things I want to say upfront. First of all, although breakfast tacos are a big part of Austin culture, they were not invented in Austin. The earliest mention of the term “breakfast tacos” online can be found in “The Arizona Republic” by a correspondent who describes trying breakfast tacos on a culinary tour of San Antonio.
A few years ago Eater Austin published an article “How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco,” and it didn’t go very well. The people of San Antonio (Austin’s main rival when it comes to tacos) were so outraged with the article that they started a petition asking the author to leave Texas for good. The petition got over 500 hundred signatures. True story.
Second of all, when we talk about breakfast tacos we mean a certain type of tacos, not just the tradition of eating tacos for breakfast which was common in Mexico for centuries. In Austin, breakfast tacos are usually made with scrambled eggs, chorizo, bacon, and potatoes (that’s right, potatoes!) and other “breakfasty” ingredients. If you are planning to spend a weekend in Austin, some of the best places to try breakfast tacos are: Taco Deli, Torchy’s Tacos, and my personal favorite — Tyson’s Tacos.
Recommended by Yulia of That’s What She Had.
Texas – Chili Con Queso
Chili Con Queso, or queso as referred to by locals, is a staple in every Texan’s diet. Served with tortilla chips, this warm and creamy Tex-Mex fondue can be found on the menu of every Mexican restaurant in the state.
Traditionally made by mixing green chiles and diced tomatoes in with melted cheese, queso is the guest of honor at every tailgate, church gathering or backyard bbq. While some restaurants stick to the traditional recipe, many cooks enjoy experimenting with the ingredients by using white cheese over the usual orange, or adding meat, guacamole and other spices.
Tex-Mex is a fusion of American and Mexican Cuisine. Derived from dishes created by “Tejanos”, Texans of Mexican descent, it’s no surprise that what we know of as queso was inspired by menu items you can still find in northern Mexico today, such as Queso Chihuahua and Queso Fundido.
With so many places serving queso throughout the state it’s not hard to get it at every meal. If you’re looking to make it yourself, the easiest recipe is to buy a block of Velveeta Cheese and a can of Rotel from the grocery store (typically stocked together) and melting them together in a pot. That’s it! That’s queso in its most basic form.
If you aren’t willing to make your own, keep in mind not all queso is created equal. I’m a bit biased, but I believe Austin is home to some of the best queso in the state. Some of my favorites include Torchy’s Tacos, Bob Armstrong Queso at Matt’s El Rancho and Kerby Queso at Kerby Lane. Other options to visit are L and J’s Cafe (El Paso), Queso Borracho at El Capataz (Laredo), Mia’s Tex-Mex Restaurant (Dallas) and El Tiempo Cantina (Houston).
Recommended by Tayler of travelingtayler.com.
Texas – Barbeque
Within a few days of my move down to Houston, my friends were already urging me to indulge in Texas BBQ. Since BBQ was a norm on summer evenings back home in Toronto, I didn’t know how unique the experience was, until I gave it a go at City Market in Luling, Texas. Using a very traditional Texan style of preparation, the dishes were hearty and delicious. Whether it be a slice of bacon or a stack of ribs, these palatable meats were tender to the point of falling off of the bones. Briskets are generally a BBQ favorite when visiting any Texan joint. These thick slices of beef are cooked slowly over charcoal or wood, enhancing its flavor. Some sauces may be added for preference, and a piece of bread can turn this dish into a hefty sandwich. Due to its long history in Texas, smoked brisket is often seen as synonymous with Texas culture and lifestyle.
The restaurant experience was just as enticing. Standing in line with a tray in my hand, I only placed my order after reaching a table full of different cuts of meats. The chef placed my choices on my plate and I went onwards to grab some salad in a buffet-style setting. City Market was small and crowded. The heat from the kitchen oozed in through the doors and wooden, cowboy-inspired decorations lined the walls. Combined with the food and chitchats, I felt like I experienced Texas in its most genuine form.
Recommended by Daisy of Beyond my Border.
Utah – Ice Cream
Where: The whole state
Utahans love Ice cream! There is always a friendly competition between creameries for the title of the best ice cream shops in Utah. There are so many flavors to choose from but there are also some unique choices. Utah has some local dairies that compete for the title of the best ice cream.
Utah State University in Logan claims that Aggie’s Ice cream is the top choice. Aggie’s ice cream has over 23 flavors. It’s most popular flavor is Blue Mint (oreo cookies and white chocolate chunks). Aggie’s creamery has been around since 1888!
Many Utahan’s from Provo, Utah where Brigham Young University is located, claim that the BYU Creamery holds the title. There are over 37 flavors with the Graham Canyon (graham cracker crumbs and honey comb cereal) ice cream flavor being the top seller. The rivalry between the two is really intense.
Notable Ice cream shops:
- Rockwell Ice cream located in Provo actually won a national competition as the “best ice cream in America”
- Leatherby’s is a locally owned ice cream shop that specializes in large portions. The caramel sauce is amazing! The “Best of State award” is one title this place holds!
- Another spot to check out is Bear Lake. Bear Lake is a popular summer destination and is known for famous raspberry shakes. They are worth the drive!
- If you have been enjoying the national parks in Utah and find yourself in Moab, pop into the Garage Ice Cream shop for a delicious treat.
- Utah consumes a good amount of ice cream each year but the competition is what makes Utah a fun place to be the judge for yourself and try them all out.
Recommended by Lisa of Planning Away
Vermont – Maple Syrup
Where: The whole state
There is no question that pure maple syrup is the most iconic local food of Vermont. If you think syrup is just something you pour over pancakes, visit Vermont and you’ll discover many more uses for it. Vermonters incorporate maple syrup into all kinds of recipes from sauces to ice cream, and even use it to sweeten coffee. I have to admit, syrup in coffee didn’t sound so good to me, but I did enjoy it! And after one taste of the real deal, I created my favorite make-ahead breakfast recipe, Maple Pecan French Toast Casserole.
Vermont’s 6 million maple trees produce 47% of the maple syrup consumed in the U.S. You can find it at the local grocery stores, souvenir shops, and any of the 1500 sugarhouses in the state. Visiting one of the sugarhouses, what I think of as syrup farms, is a great way to learn about harvesting the state’s liquid gold and the standards of color, clarity, density, and flavor requirements in order to be labeled pure Vermont maple syrup. The bottles that qualify are then further identified as belonging to one of four color classifications: golden color (delicate taste), amber color (rich taste), dark color (robust taste), very dark (strong taste). You’ll need to taste them all to pick your personal favorite!
Recommended by By Denise of Chef Denise
West Virginia – West Virginia Hot Dog
Huntington, West Virginia is my childhood home. It’s where I was born and raised and where my family still lives. I grew up exploring the beautiful decay and abandoned industrial landscapes that once boomed there some time before I met the world.
Huntington is also a hotdog town and I grew up eating lots of hotdogs. Not all of my favorite childhood hotdog joints still exist but I wanted to visit the ones that did and shed a little light on the magnificent West Virginia Hotdog. I didn’t realize until I moved away that West Virginia has a particular type of hotdog that you can’t find anywhere else in the world (at least that I can find).
Characteristics include a fairly small to standard sized hotdog, a steamed white bun, mustard, onions, “sauce” (a beanless meat sauce either mild or spicy), and slaw. Slaw to me is the main defining characteristic (followed by the sauce). Slaw in WV is not a salad, it’s a condiment. The slaw is chopped finely with carrots and sweet onions and has a sweet creamy dressing balanced with vinegar.
In Huntington people put slaw on many sandwiches but especially on a WV dog or slaw dog as they’re sometimes referred to. But any meat-on-bread sandwich is reasonable (e.g. pulled pork, ham, bbq, etc.). You can buy the “sauce” in local grocery stores in cans labeled “hotdog sauce” that only seem to be available locally. I’ve heard the phrase “sauce” is used more in western WV where the eastern and central parts of the states often call it “chili” but it’s the same ingredient.
Another characteristic is that the hotdogs are fairly small instead of the larger and breadier hotdogs I find in other places. You need two, sometimes three for a meal, so it allows you to try several different kinds of hotdogs. This might be why there seem to be a plethora of other hotdog types you can often order. This characteristic can be found in other local food like the regional style of “donuts” which are also quite small.
So if you find yourself driving through Huntington, WV, make sure you stop by a local classic drive-in and order a West Virginia Dog (or three) with a mug of local root beer. You won’t regret it.
Recommended by Daniel of The Wandering Hedonist.
Wisconsin – Cheese Curds
Where: Milwaukee (and statewide)
If you are a cheese lover you have to head to Wisconsin. They don’t call us cheeseheads for no reason, Wisconsin knows their cheese. We suggest spending the weekend in Milwaukee where you can get your fill of cheesy delights from fresh squeaky cheese curds at the Wisconsin Cheese Market or gooey deep-fried cheese curds with ranch dressing at just about any restaurant. We think the fried cheese curds pair well with a local Milwaukee brew, Milwaukee is also known as Brew City.
There are tons of Milwaukee attractions to check out but our personal favorites are all the local microbreweries to check out and sample. Our favorite breweries are Lakefront Brewery & MKE Brewery. The best place for cheese curds in Milwaukee is the Milwaukee Ale House located right on the Milwaukee River. Always ask for some ranch dressing too, there is nothing more we crave from home than fried cheese curds dipped in ranch!
Recommended by Adam Lukaszewicz of Getting Stamped.
No matter where you find yourself traveling, either for work or pleasure, you can make sure to try out some local dishes. What’s on your USA food bucket list?