The United States is a country that loves to eat. Look at any of our major holidays or any party and that becomes immediately clear. But anyone who has traveled from sea to shining sea can tell you that what food is served across America varies greatly from state to state. And each and every state in the union has its very own iconic, signature food.
A mainstay breakfast for a New Yorker will look different than what a Californian chooses to eat for their first meal, a dessert in Ohio will be different than one from Alabama, and the way that Washington residents drink their coffee is going to be quite different than how a Rhode Islander takes in their daily dose of caffeine.
To determine what is the most iconic food in every state, we looked at regional specialties and official state foods. When a state had neither, we considered the output and culture of that state. Delaware doesn’t have many actual ties to scrapple, but they sure do love the stuff. What dish, drink, or food best represents the place you call home?
Also called prize cake or Alabama Lane cake, this dessert consists of tender layers of white sponge cake filled with bourbon-soaked raisins and coconut. It’s a staple at weddings and Southern holidays, but its roots are all Alabama. It was invented by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, in the 1890s.
This Tex-Mex staple has a bit of a debated history, but as the story goes the chimichanga was invented at El Charro in Tucson, Arizona, when the restaurant’s founder Monica Flin accidentally dropped a burrito in a deep fryer. It was a beautiful accident, though, resulting in this crispy, iconic Southwestern dish.
Cheese dip is huge in Arkansas food culture, and nearly every restaurant has some variation of it. Though most Mexican restaurants have queso on their menu, Arkansas cheese dip differs because it contains processed cheese and oftentimes includes other added meats and vegetables.
Yelp / Nikki N.
Rocky Mountain oysters are one of those foods that aren’t quite what they sound like. No, they’re not shellfish; they’re actually calves’ testicles, thin-sliced, breaded, and deep-fried. They’re iconic cowboy fare and are served at bars and restaurants all across Colorado. Heck, you can even get them at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies.
Connecticut is the home to a few iconic foods and restaurants, including the supposed birthplace of the cheeseburger, Louis’ Lunch. But if you’re going to travel to the Constitution State, you have to try New Haven-style pizza. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana makes the best pizza in America, the white clam pie. While the combination of Romano cheese, garlic, olive oil, parsley, and clams may sound a little odd, trust us: It’s incredible.
Stu Spivack/Wikimedia Commons
Scrapple — a loaf made from pork scraps, cornmeal, flour, and spices — was actually invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch, but it’s really taken off in Delaware. The First State is the largest producer of this breakfast meat in the country, and every fall scrapple is honored at the annual Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware.
Key lime pie is an official Florida icon; it was named the official state pie in 2006. This tangy, creamy citrus pie was invented in the Sunshine State in Key West, Florida, and is the dish the state is best known for. It's unique because of the key limes, a smaller, most acidic lime that is native to the Florida Keys.
Famous people tend to hate it and others insist that deep-dish isn’t a pizza so much as it is a casserole, but however you choose to classify it, deep-dish pizza is an institution in Illinois. Any list of the best deep-dish pizzas in America will largely consist of pies from the Chicago area, and for good reason. No one else does this dish quite like Illinois.
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True Bay Staters know it’s spelled and pronounced chowdah, but no matter how you say it, this creamy shellfish soup is a true icon of Massachusetts. Fresh clams, bacon, potatoes, cream, and fish stock make for a hearty chowder that is best eaten in the region its named after, New England.
While Michigan has its own pizza style and a signature dish (the pasty), this state is all about cherries. Michigan is one of America’s leading producer of cherries; over 90,000 tons of this fruit is harvested in the state every year. Traverse City, Michigan, honors the cherry every July by hosting the National Cherry Festival.
Mississippi is the home to the Biscuit Capital of the World: Natchez. Chef Regina Charboneau started making biscuits at age 10, went to culinary school in the '80s, and is still working to perfect her flaky biscuit recipe to this day. Mixing together French styles and Southern styles, the biscuits in Mississippi are like nothing else you’ll ever try.
This twist on an Italian classic is said to have been invented in St. Louis and is served across the state as an appetizer and a main course. Despite their name, in true Midwestern fashion, these toasted ravioli are deep-fried, not actually toasted. It’s a classic Missouri way to make a relatively healthy dish indulgent.
A Russian-German cousin of a pierogi or a calzone, a runza is a stuffed sandwich of sorts, with a rectangular yeast dough bread pocket enveloping a filling mixture of beef, sauerkraut, onions, and other seasonings. In Nebraska, the chain Runza specializes in this dish, and it’s the best sandwich in the state.
Nevada loves its shrimp cocktail. This simple yet iconic appetizer was introduced to the gaming public en masse by the Golden Gate Casino in 1959 and it caught on quickly as an incredibly popular (and cheap) dish. While shrimp cocktail’s popularity comes and goes in the rest of the U.S., you’ll still find it on nearly every restaurant menu in the Silver State.
When you think of a New England-style boiled dinner, you may assume you’re about to eat a lobster boil or some steamed clams. But really, this iconic food from New Hampshire hearkens back to the colonial days. This traditional dish is made of corned beef or smoked ham, cabbage, potato, root vegetables, and onion boiled together in one pot. It’s hearty enough to get through any long, cold winter.
New Jersey is obsessed with the pork roll. Also known as Taylor ham, the pork roll was reportedly invented in 1856 by John Taylor and is made of salty minced pork meat. Somewhere between Canadian bacon and normal bacon, this crispy yet soft take on ham is most popularly eaten with egg and cheese on a bagel for breakfast.
Red and green Hatch chiles are practically a way of life in New Mexico. The chile is the official state vegetable, and a spicy sauce made from chiles is served with practically every meal. Can’t decide if you want red or green chiles with your food? Just order “Christmas.” It’s slang, but everyone knows that means you want both.
Ask anyone living in New York: You just cannot find a decent bagel outside of the state. There’s something in the water (literally) that makes the outside perfectly crisp while maintaining a soft, doughy inside. Whether you eat your New York bagel with lox, cream cheese, and capers or go for the classic bacon, egg, and cheese, the bagel is an icon of New York City and beyond.
Ohio’s nickname is the Buckeye State, but because the actual chestnut from the buckeye tree is highly poisonous, Ohioans had to make their own treat to resemble their icon. The buckeye is a creamy, mega-sweet peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate. It resembles the nut itself and tastes 100 times better than any peanut butter cup.
The marionberry is a cross between two different kinds of blackberries; it was developed and cultivated at Oregon State University in the 1940s and released in the state in 1956. Oregon’s climate is practically perfect for the growing of marionberries, but because the fragile fruit doesn’t ship well, it’s not seen much outside of the region. It’s primarily used in marionberry pie, jam, and ice cream.
You’ve heard of chocolate milk and even strawberry milk, but unless you’re from the Ocean State, you probably haven’t heard of coffee milk. No, it isn’t a healthy creamer for your coffee, it’s actually just coffee extract and milk together. Weird? Kind of! But it’s the official state beverage of Rhode Island.
Boiled peanuts are salty and slightly mushy peanuts that almost take on the form of beans, and can be found at roadside stands and gas stations across the South. But people from South Carolina have such a fondness for this food product that they named boiled peanuts the official state snack in 2006.
Frybread is the official state bread of South Dakota. Like a lot of foods with simple names, frybread is exactly what its name implies. It’s a flat dough bread deep-fried in oil or lard. It can either be served sweet with powdered sugar or honey or savory by being turned into what is called a “Navajo taco” with ground beef, beans, shredded cheese, and other classic taco toppings.
Nashville hot chicken is taking the country by storm, but its roots (as the name implies) are all in Tenessee. Allegedly first created by a lover scorned, who in turn wanted to scorn her dining partner, Nashville hot chicken truly is h-o-t, with a deep red color and a peppery sauce that will light your tastebuds on fire.
If you order a side of fries in Utah, don’t forget the fry sauce. Popularized by burger chain Arctic Circle, fry sauce is the simple yet irresistible combination of ketchup and mayonnaise. It’s perfectly creamy and tangy, and it’s honestly baffling it isn’t more widespread. Heinz may call this combination mayochup, but Utahans know it’s fry sauce.
If you had to pick just one icon from the state of Vermont, it’d have to be the maple tree. The maple tree is the state tree, and the state even named maple its official flavor. There’s no product more singularly popular from the Green Mountain State than maple syrup. Drizzle it on waffles, pancakes, or in your coffee if you want, but true Vermonters know sugar on snow (which is maple syrup drizzled on top of snow) is the best way to eat it.
Smithfield, Virginia, is known for its namesake ham, a dry salt-cured, smoked, and aged ham. Also called country hams or Virginia hams, this pork product is best served atop a bed of lettuce for the perfect Southern presentation.
Washington State is famous for a lot of things: Its fresh salmon, oysters, geoduck, and apples are all icons of the region. But no export of Washington is as world-famous as its coffee. Yes, the biggest and best coffee chain in America, Starbucks, got its start in Seattle in 1971. Today, the mega-chain has over 13,000 stores nationwide.
Yelp / Sherri M.
served in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding areas. This link is typically larger and spicier than your average hot dog, and the meat within the casing is coarser. It may be a bit of a tourist trap restaurant, but D.C. locals will tell you to head over to Ben’s Chili Bowl to get their iconic half-smoke, served with mustard, fresh onions and homemade chili sauce.
Go to any convenience store in West Virginia, and you’re going to find pepperoni rolls. Like the name implies, the pepperoni roll is a yeast bread roll with pepperoni and oftentimes mozzarella cheese inside. As the rolls are cooked, the oils from the pepperoni seep into the dough, creating a crusty yet seriously satisfying texture and meaty flavor.
Is there any state that’s more true to the wild, wild west than Wyoming? The state’s trademark is a bucking horse and a rider, for goodness’ sake! So of course, the state’s most famous food is jerky. Beef jerky, buffalo jerky, and turkey jerky are all fine and good, but the most quintessentially Wyoming food has to be bison jerky. It’s not the only state symbol out there, and we bet you can’t guess the icon of every state in the union!
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