If you want to find some of the best food in the world, you don’t have to travel far. Each U.S. state boasts its own signature dishes that will get your mouth watering. These local fares grew out of the history, geography, and people that make each state unique, so you know you’re in for something special.
But what’s the best way to try them all? We recommend a food-filled road trip to satisfy your cravings for adventure and tasty cooking. After the list of iconic foods, we share tips to help you decrease your travel costs. Knowing how to compare credit cards for gas or dining, or ways to save on your trip can make these iconic dishes even more enjoyable.
The most iconic food by state
Alabama: White barbecue sauce
White barbecue sauce isn’t the main meal, but it typically accompanies all types of barbecued meats. We’re talking chicken, ribs, pulled pork, or anything else you want to slather it over. This sauce is unique because of its addition of mayonnaise as an ingredient, which gives it a white color (many barbecue sauces are red-ish).
Combining mayonnaise with vinegar, spices, and other ingredients gives you the finished product: a tangy, white sauce that traces its roots to 1925 and “Big Bob” Gibson’s family barbecues in Decatur, Alabama.
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Honorable mention: Lane cake
Alaska: Wild salmon
When your state can harvest nearly 900 million pounds of salmon in a season, you better believe some of that fish is making it to the dinner table. With these production numbers, it’s hard not to think of the Last Frontier State when mentioning salmon.
It’s easy to find ways to eat Alaskan salmon. Grill it up or bake it. Add it to a salad or use it to make sushi. You can’t really go wrong with this fatty fish that’s high in omega-3s.
Honorable mentions: King crab and reindeer sausage
The inventor of the chimichanga remains unknown, but history points at its creation revolving around two Arizona cities: Tucson and Phoenix. Restaurant owners in both cities claim their relatives were the first to deep-fry a burrito, but the evidence is inconclusive.
One known fact, however, is that some Arizonans want the “chimi” as their state food. Regardless of its origins, the popular stuffed and deep-fried burrito is here to stay. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Honorable mentions: Sonoran hot dog
Arkansas: Cheese dip
Would you guess Arkansas was the state where cheese dip originated? If not, join the ranks of Texans who don’t believe that’s the case either for their beloved queso. But believe it or not, Little Rock, Arkansas is one location where cheese dip became a popular mealtime addition.
Blackie Donnelly, a former Texas ranger (fuel the drama!), and his wife, Margie, opened the Mexico Chiquito restaurant in Little Rock in 1935. They’re the presumed originators of the famous yellowish-orange concoction enjoyed throughout the U.S. today.
Honorable mentions: Chocolate gravy and fried pickles
It may not be a cruffin, sourdough loaf, or french dip, but the avocado has ruled the roost in California for more than a century. You’ll find it spread across your toast in the morning, mixed into a fresh salad at lunch, and included in a California roll for dinner.
Today, the Hass avocado, created by California postman Rudolph Hass in the 1920s, accounts for about 95% of avocados grown in California.
Honorable mentions: Fish tacos and Cobb salad
Colorado: Rocky Mountain oysters
Colorado is a strange place for oysters, right? Exactly right. This is why Rocky Mountain oysters have almost nothing to do with the famous seafood dish they’re named after. These “prairie oysters” are instead infamous for their main ingredient, which is typically bull testicles.
Rocky Mountain oysters are usually breaded and deep-fried and often served with fries. They may sound off-putting to some, but this appetizer that originated on Western ranches is a delicacy in Colorado.
Honorable mentions: Bison burgers and green chili
Connecticut: Hot lobster rolls
The lobster roll is a popular dish throughout New England, but its makeup varies from state to state. The Connecticut-style lobster roll typically involves a split-top hot dog bun, hot chunks of lobster meat, and an accompaniment of warm butter. And that’s basically all you need. Sweet lobster flavors mix with rich buttery goodness, resulting in the perfect dish to enjoy your time along the Connecticut coast.
Honorable mentions: White clam pizza and steamed cheeseburgers
Delaware: Fries with vinegar
It’s tradition to grab some fries when you’re headed to the beach in Delaware. But the condiment of choice in the First State is apple cider vinegar instead of ketchup or another type of dipping sauce. In fact, the popular Rehoboth Beach fries spot Thrasher’s probably won’t even give you the option for ketchup in the first place — just vinegar. No worries, though, because the “right” way to eat fries here can make for a tasty afternoon experience.
Honorable mentions: Blue crabs and the Bobbie sandwich
Florida: Key lime pie
Florida’s state pie is especially popular in the Florida Keys area, where its recipe is thought to originate from, but you wouldn’t be surprised to find this sweet and tart pie in restaurants nationwide. The sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and graham cracker crust ingredients create a treat that’s almost too good to share. Top it with some meringue or whipped cream and your taste buds will thank you.
Honorable mentions: Cuban sandwich and conch fritters
Georgia: Peach cobbler
The Peach State has plenty of tasty peach dishes, but peach cobbler rises above the rest. This homey dessert is an ideal way to end a Southern-style meal with friends and family, and it’s often enjoyed dutch-oven style while camping. Because the trail is where cobbler dishes are believed to have originated from, it makes sense that a peach cobbler around a campfire feels so right.
Honorable mentions: Grits and fried chicken
Hawaii: Loco moco
Put a hamburger patty and a fried egg over a bed of white rice, and then pour gravy all over it. This is the epitome of diner comfort food and what the loco moco is all about. You’ll find this dish on menus throughout Hawaii, but it’s easy to make at home as well. Still, using your home kitchen might not elicit the same feelings of coming in from a day at the beach and looking for some delicious grub on the Big Island.
Honorable mentions: Shave ice and poke
Did you expect something else? Hopefully not, because Idaho is the potato capital of America, having officially voted the potato as the state vegetable in 2002. The Gem State produces nearly one-third of all U.S. potatoes, which equates to about 13 billion pounds of potatoes grown each year. This has led to potato festivals, the Idaho Spud Day, and countless types of potato dishes, like baked potatoes, fries, potato pizza, potato pancakes, and so much more.
Honorable mentions: Finger steaks and huckleberry ice cream
Illinois: Deep-dish pizza
Chicagoan food staples like Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs are popular Illinois dishes, but the deep-dish pizza might be the most well-known fare in the land. This Windy City icon is so blatantly different from New York thin-crust pizza thanks to its thick crust and super-stuffed portion sizes. Depending on the establishment, you might need a fork and knife to attack one of these delicious monsters.
Honorable mentions: Italian beef sandwich and Chicago-style hot dog
Indiana: Breaded pork tenderloin sandwich
A breaded and deep-fried pork tenderloin slab from Indiana could well be eaten with utensils due to its size. But instead, it’s thrown onto a bun that more often than not comes nowhere near to holding onto the tenderloin. And that’s all part of the appeal. Add your favorite toppings, like pickles and onions, and throw on some mayonnaise, ketchup, or mustard (or all three!) and you’ve got yourself a meal. Pairing Indiana’s unofficial state sandwich with fresh, golden fries wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Honorable mention: Sugar cream pie (Hoosier pie)
Iowa: Loose meat (Maid-Rite) sandwich
The loose meat sandwich resembles a sloppy joe, but without the sauce. It was said to have been created by bored Iowan butcher Fred Angell back in 1926. The newly created sandwich became the staple of the Maid-Rite restaurant and now both “loose meat” and “Maid-Rite” are often used interchangeably to describe the dish. It typically consists of ground beef, onion, pickles, and mustard served on a hamburger bun.
Honorable mention: Corn on the cob
You’ve likely never heard of bierocks if you haven’t spent time in Kansas. These small rolls or meat pies are often stuffed with ground beef, cabbage, onions, and a blend of spices. The original recipe was said to have been created in the Kansas area by German immigrants in the 1880s, but the recipe has evolved over time. Modern takes on this classic dish include other types of fillings, such as chicken, vegetables, or even Philly cheesesteak.
Honorable mention: Barbecue ribs
Kentucky: Hot brown
The hot brown, an open-faced turkey sandwich, was said to have been invented by Fred Schmidt in the 1920s at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Today, it still draws hungry fans to the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It’s a gooey masterpiece of Mornay sauce, sliced turkey, bacon, and tomatoes on top of toast. The gooeyness happens when it’s all placed under a broiler right before being served.
Honorable mentions: Fried chicken and beer cheese
Louisiana: Crawfish boil
Louisiana is chock-full of iconic dishes, like the beignets of Cafe Du Monde fame, but for an authentic Louisiana experience, get yourself to a crawfish boil. You can’t be certain whether this is a dish or an afternoon event, but a good crawfish boil has plenty of food, typically including the namesake crawfish, corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage. Once you’ve had your fill, it’s likely time to walk it off or take a nap.
Honorable mentions: Beignets and jambalaya
Maine: Cold lobster roll
Connecticut has its hot lobster roll and Maine has its cold lobster roll. Choosing the better version may be a challenge best left unresolved, but let it be known that most of America’s lobsters come from Maine, so do with that information as you will.
The “Maine” difference between the two lobster roll styles comes down to the temperature of the lobster. Connecticut-style rolls use hot lobster and Maine-style rolls use cold lobster. In many instances, a cold lobster roll is more like a lobster salad, with lobster meat tossed in mayonnaise, and placed on a roll.
Honorable mention: Whoopie pie
Maryland: Steamed crabs
If you haven’t eaten steamed crabs in Maryland, are you sure you’ve actually traveled there? Maybe, but it’s hard to miss all the crab offerings around the Chesapeake Bay when you’re in the area. Steamed crabs aren’t the only way to go, though fresh crab liberally doused with Old Bay seasoning is a local favorite. For other crab delights, be sure to try the crab cakes as well.
Honorable mentions: Crab cakes and pit beef
Massachusetts: Clam chowder
Franks and beans, fried clams, and Boston cream pies are Massachusetts staples, but nothing is likely more iconic than a piping hot bowl of clam “chowdah.” Keep in mind that New England clam chowder is not the same as Manhattan clam chowder. The former is white while the latter is red. New England clam chowder often has clams and potatoes mixed together in a rich, creamy broth. Throw in some oyster crackers for a little crunch and you’re good to go.
Honorable mentions: Boston cream pie and Boston baked beans
Cornish immigrants brought their meat pie recipe to Michigan when they arrived to work in the iron mines. What was known as the Cornish pasty has been shortened to “pasty” and is now enjoyed throughout the Great Lakes State. Traditional pasties are stuffed with beef, potato, and onion, but modern takes may vary the ingredients. If you’ve ever had an empanada, you’re likely already familiar with what a pasty in Michigan might look like.
Honorable mention: Detroit-style pizza
Minnesota: Tater tot hotdish
It looks like a casserole. But is it a casserole? No, it’s not. At least not in Minnesota. When you have to endure Minnesota winters, you want food that sounds warmer. That’s why you have a baked food called a “hotdish” that’s perfect for potlucks and family meals. The tater tot hotdish is often a mixture of ground beef, green beans, and cream of mushroom soup. Top it with plenty of cheese and tater tots, and then bake it until golden brown to end up with a hot dish that takes away the chill and tastes amazing.
Honorable mention: Swedish meatballs
Mississippi: Mud pie
Mississippi is home to the city of Natchez, the biscuit capital of the world, but dessert fans come clamoring for the decadent mud pies. Mississippi mud pie doesn’t taste anything like the mud found along the Mississippi River (you would assume), but it’s a fun name for a tasty pie. This sweet dessert typically includes pecans, graham crackers, marshmallows, and plenty of chocolate.
Honorable mention: Biscuits
Missouri: Toasted ravioli
“Toasted” is in the name, but these square pockets of carb-loading goodness are typically deep-fried. Thought to have originated in St. Louis, Missouri, toasted ravioli can be served as an appetizer or an entree and typically comes with marinara sauce for dipping. If you want a true Missouri experience, start with some toasted ravioli, followed by Kansas City burnt ends, and finish with a portion of gooey butter cake.
Honorable mention: Gooey butter cake and Kansas City barbecue
Montana: Everything huckleberry
Huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry jam, huckleberry pie, huckleberry muffins — The list goes on and on for ways to use Montana’s popular purple berry. And for good reason. Huckleberries aren’t as common in many parts of the country, which makes them unique and something worth trying. In addition, they taste good. Next time you’re in Big Sky Country, get your fill of local huckleberry products.
Honorable mentions: Bison and elk
They call it a bierock in Kansas, but in Nebraska, it’s a runza. And they’re not exactly the same, though their origins are likely similar. The Nebraska runza is typically known as a long roll with meat and veggies inside. You can get them throughout Nebraska, including at one of the many Runza restaurant chain locations. A few Runza restaurants have even moved across state lines into Kansas, Colorado, and Iowa.
Honorable mention: Cheese frenchees
Buffets aren’t an iconic dish, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another “food” Nevada (Las Vegas) is known for. All-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi can be included here as well, though sushi connoisseurs might not like seeing their nigiri mixed in with Feast Buffets and the like. Regardless of how you view it, Las Vegas has loads of buffets, and everyone knows it. They’re a haven for indecisive eaters and hungry tourists alike.
Honorable mentions: Prime rib and shrimp cocktail
New Hampshire: Cider doughnuts
The Northeast has plenty of apple-picking locations and cider mills, and many of them are located in New Hampshire. This makes it easy to churn out apple cider doughnuts by the hundreds. Local grocery stores and supermarkets often have these delights for sale, especially during the fall months, but there’s nothing like getting a hot cider doughnut and a cup of cold apple cider straight from the source.
Honorable mentions: Poutine
New Jersey: Pork roll
The pork roll, or Taylor ham, is often regarded as the unofficial New Jersey state sandwich. Sliced and pan-fried or grilled pork is thrown onto a roll with egg and melted cheese and served to you for breakfast. If that’s not a great way to start the day, then what is? There’s nothing fancy about a pork roll, which is perfectly fine. Your breakfast food doesn’t have to look fancy to taste amazing.
Honorable mentions: Saltwater taffy and disco fries
New Mexico: Frito pie
Frito pie typically has nothing to do with dessert. Instead, it’s a great snack or appetizer that can be enjoyed at home, a sporting event, or a local restaurant. Frito pies often consist of a bed of corn chips topped with lettuce, tomato, beans, ground beef, cheese, and chile sauce. If you want, you could even eat your Frito pie right out of a Fritos bag. Although many Texans lay claim to the creation of the Frito pie, it’s arguably one of New Mexico’s favorite side dishes.
Honorable mention: Green chile everything
New York: Pizza
New York is home to loads of Italian dishes, but a New York-style pizza might be the Empire State’s most iconic. New York-style typically means a thin-crust pizza with just the right amount of sauce and cheese. This is different from a Chicago deep-dish pizza because thin-crust pizzas don’t often add a hefty amount of ingredients. It’s a simple affair that’s loved worldwide and heavily sought-after by visitors to New York.
Honorable mentions: Buffalo wings and bagels
North Carolina: Pulled pork
North Carolina barbecue revolves around the pig, which often ends up as pulled pork slathered in your choice of vinegar- or mustard-based barbecue sauce. Although it’s not improper to eat pulled pork right off your plate with a fork, you’re likely to see it packed onto a roll or bun and topped with coleslaw. For a different variation on a classic, try your pork chopped or shredded instead of pulled.
Honorable mentions: Krispy Kreme doughnuts
North Dakota: Kase knoephla (cheese buttons)
Cheese buttons are the German version of what you might call a dumpling or a pierogi in Poland. Their origin is thought to be from German settlers who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia. These doughy dumplings are stuffed with a cottage cheese mixture and often served with cheese, sautéed onions, and sour cream. You’d also be missing out if you didn’t try them in a hearty soup, called knoephla soup.
Honorable mention: Strawberry rhubarb pie or kuchen
Ohio: Cincinnati chili
What comes to mind when you think of chili? Is it cinnamon-spiced ground meat covered with cheese and resting on a bed of spaghetti noodles? If so, you’re likely from Ohio. Chili comes in all forms and flavors, but this chili dish is a lot different than your typical bowl of chili. Said to have been brought to Cincinnati by Macedonian immigrants, Cincinnati chili has more Mediterranean influence than Mexican influence.
Honorable mention: Buckeyes
Oklahoma: Chicken-fried steak
Possibly one of the ultimate comfort foods, the chicken-fried steak is part of Oklahoma’s state meal. (Oklahoma is the only state with a state meal.) The meal also includes cornbread, barbecue pork, grits, fried okra, squash, biscuits, sausage and gravy, corn, black-eyed peas, strawberries, and pecan pie. In other words, a whole platter of goodness. However, a breaded and fried steak covered in country gravy might already be more than enough to fill your stomach.
Honorable mention: Fried-onion burger
Oregon: Marionberry pie
If you have an uncommon product that tastes pretty good, hold onto it and make it your thing! Similar to the huckleberry situation in Montana and the surrounding area, marionberries aren’t seen in many places, which Oregon residents would likely say makes a slice of marionberry pie all the more special. Marionberries resemble blackberries because they’re both members of the blackberry family.
Honorable mention: Dungeness crab
Philadelphia and cheesesteak are the perfect pairing, but Philly isn’t the only city in Pennsylvania that sells this warm and gooey sandwich. In fact, the cheesesteak has become popular nationwide. But loads of visitors still head to the source for a taste of the original. But if you can’t make it to the Northeast, thinly-sliced beef, onions, and melted cheese on a long roll are all you need for this classic.
Honorable mentions: Scrapple and shoofly pie
Rhode Island: Coffee milk
Not exactly a food or dish, but coffee milk is unique enough to earn its spot on the list, and it’s actually the state drink of Rhode Island. Coffee milk is made with coffee syrup and mixed with milk to create something new. If you add ice cream to the mix, you get a different drink, called the coffee cabinet. Order one at restaurants and diners throughout Rhode Island or pick up some syrup yourself and make coffee milk at home.
Honorable mentions: Clam cakes and stuffies
South Carolina: Frogmore stew
Frogmore stew has nothing to do with frogs and is sometimes called a Beaufort stew or low country boil. In many ways, it resembles a crawfish boil from Louisiana, but the ingredients are slightly different. South Carolina’s Frogmore stew typically has shrimp or crab instead of crawfish and plenty of Old Bay seasoning. Dumping the whole meal onto a newspaper on a picnic table is one of the best ways to dig into a Frogmore stew.
Honorable mention: Shrimp and grits
South Dakota: Chislic
South Dakota’s chislic dish likely originated from Russian immigrants, but today it’s a Mount Rushmore State staple. These bite-sized chunks of deep-fried or grilled meat are often served on skewers or with toothpicks. You select your meat, with common choices including lamb, beef, mutton, venison, and goat. Chislic was named the official state nosh, which means snack, in 2018, cementing its popularity.
Honorable mention: Fry bread
Tennessee: Hot chicken
Americans love chicken sandwiches, and the hot chicken craze out of Nashville, Tennessee, is starting to catch on nationwide as well. You might think there’s not a lot different when comparing your typical fried chicken sandwich to a hot chicken sandwich. But you would be mistaken. The deep orange, sometimes red, color of hot chicken is an indication of the inferno about to hit your mouth. And yet, it’s delicious. Sometimes the best things in life require a little bit of suffering.
Honorable mention: Moon pie
It’s hard to nail down an iconic food selection for Texas, especially with all the barbecue and Tex-Mex options. But brisket is by far one of the top reasons to visit the Lone Star State and get your fill of good Texas grub. Slow-cooked and smoked meats can take hours to get right, and at certain restaurants, you might be waiting hours before ordering. That’s how good the brisket is in Texas — and it’s more than worth the wait.
Honorable mentions: Chili (no beans) and queso
Utah: Fry sauce
Can a condiment count as an iconic food? In Utah, it can. Just about every restaurant in Utah that serves burgers or fries or something similar has its equivalent of fry sauce. But the Arctic Circle fast-food chain claims to be the original inventor of this ketchup and mayonnaise mixture. If you’re craving some of the original fry sauce, many local grocery stores carry it in stock.
Honorable mentions: Pastrami burgers and thick milkshakes
Vermont: Maple syrup
If Utah gets fry sauce, Vermont gets maple syrup. This isn’t the corn-based syrup we’re talking about here. This is the bonafide liquid gold that’s produced by the millions of gallons in Vermont, far exceeding maple syrup production in the next closest state (New York). Vermont residents enjoy maple syrup on pancakes, waffles, bacon, and even snow. In addition, the state flavor of Vermont is, you guessed it, maple.
Honorable mention: Apple pie with cheddar cheese
Virginia: Country ham
Smoked country ham is a big deal in Virginia, most notably in the Smithfield area. However, you’ll find opportunities for eating country ham all over the state. Country ham biscuits are an ideal lunch entree, especially when accompanied by Southern classics like macaroni and cheese or grits. For some of the best cuts in the state, check out a local institution like Edward’s.
Honorable mentions: Brunswick stew and peanuts
Washington: Razor clam chowder
Razor clams are found along parts of the Pacific coast, which is why they eventually find their way into Washington chowder bowls. Clamming is a favorite pastime for Washingtonians, but you can find razor clams on the menu at loads of local restaurants. Pike Place Chowder in the famous Pike Place Market of Seattle is a popular destination to get your chowder fix.
Honorable mentions: Rainier cherries and salmon
West Virginia: Pepperoni roll
A pepperoni roll is likely what you think it is: a roll with pepperoni inside. It sounds almost too simple to be an iconic dish, but the pepperoni roll is a West Virginia favorite and named as its state food. The original creation of the West Virginia pepperoni roll is attributed to an Italian baker trying to find an easy meal for coal miners to take for lunch. If you’d prefer a modern take on a pepperoni roll, try adding peppers and onions with marinara sauce.
Honorable mention: Skillet cornbread
Wisconsin: Fried cheese curds
Wisconsin is serious about its cheese. The Badger State is the only place outside of Europe with a Master Cheesemaker program, and it’s the only state in the U.S. that requires a license to make cheese. This is likely why cheese curds are a popular snack and appetizer. Throw them in some hot oil and you’ve got a fried version that’s to die for. They are similar to mozzarella sticks, but they’re typically smaller, almost like nuggets or tater tots.
Honorable mention: Beer bratwurst
If you want to munch on some tasty dried meats, head over to Wyoming to stock up. The type of jerky will vary, but common meats include buffalo, elk, and beef. Getting your hands on some venison or rattlesnake jerky is likely doable, too. It makes sense for jerky options to abound in Wyoming, with so much wild game roaming the countryside. Make sure you grab a few bags of this savory snack before heading out to explore the Cowboy State.
Honorable mentions: Chicken-fried steak
How to save money on your next road trip
If you have your next road trip planned out, consider applying these tips to help you save money while traveling:
- Earn cash back on gas. The best credit cards for gas can help you save money on frequent stops to pump fuel. Many cards earn bonus rewards on gas purchases, which is money being put back into your pocket. Check out popular gas cards like the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card and Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express.
- Get rewarded at restaurants. The best credit cards for dining are an ideal way to pay for restaurant expenses if you’re embarking on a foodie road trip. These types of cards often earn higher rates on dining purchases, so it’s like getting a discount whenever you eat out. Cards like the Chase Freedom Flex and American Express Gold Card are ideal dining cards to keep in your wallet.
- Earn valuable hotel points. The best hotel credit cards offer excellent opportunities to earn rewards points on different types of purchases. These points can be redeemed for award nights at thousands of hotels nationwide. So if you want to discount your hotel stays while traveling, consider cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and World of Hyatt Credit Card.
- Pack what you need. You don’t need to bring everything you own on a road trip, but packing road trip essentials can be helpful. A water bottle you can fill up at gas stations, a cooler to pack your own groceries, and mobile apps for navigation can all help you save money in their own ways.
Hitting the open road is a great option for exploring new places and scratching that travel itch. As you plan your epic road trip, remember you have plenty of options for unique destinations countrywide. The U.S. is a multicultural melting pot filled with rich history. In addition, you have loads of opportunities to eat amazing and iconic dishes in every state.
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