9 Iconic American Regional Foods

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There are nine official regions of the United States, and many hundreds of dishes to be enjoyed in them

9 Iconic American Regional Foods

What we call “regions” in the United States can be very general at some times (“the West”) and very specific (“Lowcountry South Carolina”) at others, but according to the United States Census Bureau, there are four official statistical regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) of the United States, and nine divisions within these areas. We are here to tell you the foods you absolutely must eat at each one of these nine key regions of our great country. 

Northeast (New England): Clam Chowder

There’s a reason so many of America’s 40 Best Seafood Shacks are in New England: nobody does no-frills fried or buttery seafood better than this division of the Northeast. If you’re in Boston or Newport, Rhode Island, enjoy perfectly dense clam chowder at the Barking Crab

Northeast (Mid-Atlantic): Soft Pretzel

Yes, pretzels were made in Europe long before the United States existed, and there are many variations around the world, but the Pennsylvania is where 80 percent of the pretzels in America are baked. You can get hard pretzels anywhere, but you want to eat a large, soft, Philly-style pretzel at Center City Pretzel Co. in Philadelphia for the most authentic experience. 

Midwest (East North Central): Fried Cheese Curds

In Wisconsin, cheese curds, especially deep-fried cheese curds, are an absolute must for any visitor. Graze in Madison fries the tangy goodness in vodka batter. 

Midwest (West North Central): Chislic

Not seen too much outside South Dakota, chislic is a dish of cubed red meat (usually beef, mutton, or venison) that’s deep-fried or grilled and served on skewers. (The curious name is an Americanization of shashlik, the Russian word for shish kebab.) Indigo Pallette, and art gallery–cum–live music venue–cum–restaurant in Sioux City, serves a version with sirloin. 

South (South Atlantic): Shrimp and Grits

Originally a breakfast staple of South Carolina fishermen in the Lowcountry, shrimp and grits is at home on most menus in the South. Go to Rita’s Seaside Grill in Folly Beach, South Carolina, which serves classics like shrimp and grits along with out-of-the-box items like blackened tuna nachos with watermelon pico de gallo. 

South (East South Central): Southern-Fried Chicken

While good fried chicken can be found in almost every state, nobody does it quite like the East South Central region of the South, which consists of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, where you’ll find many of America’s 50 Best Fried Chicken Spots. No. 1 on that list is Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, the original of which is in Macon, Tennessee, although they have since opened a few different locations in the South and are franchising all over the country. 

South (West South Central): Chicken-fried Steak

This region, which consists of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, has a whole lot of iconic foods, but we chose chicken-fried steak (a breaded, fried steak that has no chicken in it whatsoever) because of its popularity in Oklahoma, whose cuisine does not get much attention, as well as Texas. (It might be hard to find in Louisiana.) Foursquare users voted Cheever’s Cafe in Oklahoma City as having the very best; you want to listen to the locals. 

West (Mountain): Rocky Mountain Oysters

Wikimedia Commons/Paul Lowry

If you think this is seafood, think again. Rocky Mountain oysters are deep-fried bovine, pig, or sheep testicles. They have a few different names, like cowboy caviar and Montana tendergroins. Try them at the Buckhorn Exchange, a Denver institution.

West (Pacific): Poke

The Pacific West consists of a few states that are pretty far from one another: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. The foods you’ll get there are very diverse. No one could argue, though, that fresh seafood dishes aren’t extremely popular, particularly in the far reaches of this region. Most commonly associated with Hawaii, poke is a salad typically made of raw tuna, tomatoes, and onions. Eat it in America’s westernmost state at Da Poke Shack in Kailua, Hawaii.