The 101 Most Iconic Restaurant Dishes in America
Iconic dishes occupy a lofty position in the American culinary landscape. They’re the dishes that we make pilgrimages to, the ones that are on The Great Foodie Bucket List, the ones that you can’t leave town without trying. They’re dishes that in many cases can only be found at one restaurant, and those experiencing them for the first time do so in quiet reverence. They’re the dishes that really are that good. In other words, these are the 101 dishes that you really should make an effort to try at some point.
So what, exactly, makes a dish iconic?
If it’s been around for decades, if the definitive version is still served at the restaurant that created it (or another that’s picked up the mantle), and if it’s earned legions of loyal fans, then it might be an icon.
If it’s so good that it’s put the restaurant that serves it on the map and influenced others, it might be an icon.
If it’s become so popular that it’s now a household name, imitated (but never replicated) at countless other restaurants nationwide, even as the restaurant that invented it is still going strong, it might be an icon.
If it’s the signature dish of one of the country’s great fine-dining chefs, and a must-order at their restaurant, it might be an icon.
Clearly, the parameters are rather broad. But there’s one thing all culinary icons have in common: You know it when you taste it.
In order to limit our list to just 101 dishes, we had to set a few boundaries. One, all of these dishes are savory and can be considered an appetizer or main course, so no desserts (sorry, Parker House’s Boston Cream Pie) or side dishes (sorry, Robuchon’s pommes purée) are included. All of these dishes are also readily available in their most iconic form; they’re not fondly-remembered relics of bygone restaurants. Finally, in the interest of fairness, we didn’t include dishes from major chains; there’s no denying that the Egg McMuffin is iconic, but that’s for another day.
Our list truly runs the gamut of American dining, from legendary burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and fried chicken to lesser-known regional specialties; from dishes that go back more than a century to ones that have only been around for a decade but have accomplished a lot since then; from blue-collar classics whose inventors are long-forgotten to fine-dining touchstones created by legendary chefs. If you have the opportunity to sample any of these, don’t pass on it: These dishes tell the story of American dining through the years, and they’re all undeniably iconic.