The Most Iconic Food from Every State
Fried dill pickles. Hot dogs with chili and cole slaw. A dessert made of snow. These are just some of the more unusual and iconic foods found throughout our United States. And while each state lays claim to bragging rights for common fare, it's the stuff you don't tend to find everywhere else that defines the most iconic food from every state.
Alabama: Ole Hickory Banana Pudding
Southerners reserve bragging rights for all things barbeque, so it’s hard to discern what’s iconic from just plain good—but in the case of Ole Hickory BBQ, its banana pudding puts Alabama on the map. Fresh cut bananas. Vanilla wafers. Meringue. And of course, the custard. People swear it’s just like the kind Meemaw would make—if Meemaw was a world-class chef. Can’t make it to the smoker at Ole Hickory? Try this recipe instead.
Alaska: Alaskan King Crab Legs
Moose burgers? Whale blubber snacks? Caribou chili? Nope, the most iconic food from Alaska is Alaskan king crab legs. After all, Alaska is in its name. The waters off the coast yield sweeter meat than other crab legs, and locals use the legs for everything from stews to sandwiches.
Arizona : Chimichangas
The chimichanga was invented at the El Charro Cafe—the oldest continually run Mexican restaurant in the U.S.—when a cook accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep fryer on the way out to a customer in the colorful dining hall. The customer didn’t complain, and neither do we.
Arkansas: Fried Dill Pickles
In the early 1960s, enterprising businessman “Fatman” Austin built a restaurant across from a pickle plant. He needed a hook—something to bring in curious customers. And so, The Arkansas fried pickle was born. While his restaurant closed in the late ’60s, the fried pickle lives on—and Fatman is still honored in Atkins, the pickle capital of the world.
Hungry for more? Try this recipe.
California: In-N-Out Double Double
California is known for many food trends (avocado and bean sprout toast, anyone?) but there’s one place locals and out-of-towners head for on a regular basis—In-N-Out Burgers. After all, celebs who’ve just won an Academy Award are known to go to the restaurant still in their tuxes and gowns to order a Double-Double, a burger with double patties and double cheese, and eat with their Oscars on the table.
Colorado: Lamb Chops
One might think that Rocky Mountain Oysters (look it up at your own risk) is the most iconic food in the Rocky Mountain state, but that’s a novelty. Instead, it’s lamb chops—as well as all things lamb, like lamb stew and lamb fondue. How about recreating some of Colorado’s favorites?
Connecticut: Steamed Cheeseburgers
For a delicacy found only in Connecticut, venture to Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden for its steamed cheeseburger. Cooked on individual trays in a steam cabinet, these burgers are paired with steam-melted two-ounce blocks of cheddar cheese that gets draped on top in a gooey slide of enveloping deliciousness. Locals swear it’s the juiciest burger you’ll ever eat.
Delaware may not have created scrapple—that distinction belongs to the Pennsylvania Dutch—but it has wholeheartedly embraced it, making Delaware the largest producer of the dish. Scrapple is a loaf made from pork scraps (hence the name) mixed with cornmeal, flour and seasonings and formed into a loaf.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
The Florida Keys produce key limes—and key limes are the start of a great key lime pie. Fun fact: the pie is made with canned sweetened condensed milk because in the early days, fresh milk wasn’t readily available in the Keys. Variations on the tart treat include mousse and frozen pies.
Hawaii: Spam Musubi
The canned lunch meat is a favorite on the islands, and is served up many different ways, from fried as a bacon substitute for breakfast to Spam musubi, which is a slab of the meat atop a square of sticky rice and wrapped in a seaweed sheet for a different take on sushi—one that celebrates Japan’s influence on Hawaiian culture.
Idaho: Ice Cream Potato
The Westside Drive-in in Boise celebrates Idaho’s claim as spud capital of the U.S. by taking the humble potato to an extreme. The drive-in features the ice cream potato—but fear not, it’s not an amalgam of potato and ice cream toppings. Actually, it’s vanilla ice cream dusted with cocoa powder to look remarkably like a baked potato with sour cream on top.
Illinois: Chicago Mix
Walk down the street in Chicago and you’ll see queues of people outside popcorn shops. They’re waiting on fresh-popped batches of Chicago Mix, a combination of caramel-coated and cheddar cheese popcorns. The combination of salty and sweet becomes addictive. The best known of the shops is Garrett’s—and it produces the longest lines when the caramel is cooking.
Indiana: Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
The humble heart of the Midwest also has a humble foodstuff that it calls its own—the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Take a pork cutlet, pound it flat, dip it in breading and fry it up. Serve on white bread with a few condiments and you have a Hoosier staple.
Iowa is home to the Maid-Rite, a loose meat sandwich that seems to be a staple in every Iowan’s diet. The sandwich is made of seasoned ground beef served on a warm bun, with the contents spilling every which way. Find locations serving this and the Cheese-Rite, a loose meat sandwich topped with you-know-what, on their website.
It sorta looks like a rock—Kansas’ own bierocks are stuffed rolls that are filled with seasoned beef, shredded cabbage and onions, then baked until they’re brown.
Kentucky: Hot Brown
Created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, the Hot Brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon drenched in a cheesy Mornay sauce. If you can’t make it to Kentucky for the Derby, try this at home.
There are many iconic foods in Louisiana, from crawfish boils to gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys. But perhaps the most iconic food is the one people line up for outside Café Du Monde in New Orleans: the beignet. It sounds simple—fried dough with a heaping helping of powdered sugar on top—but it’s highly addictive.
Maine: Whoopie Pies
It’s a cookie. It’s a pie. It’s a cake. It’s the whoopie pie, the official state treat of Maine. Typically, it consists of two soft baked cookies with a thick layer of whipped cream in between. Get them at Labadie’s Bakery—which has been churning them out since 1925. Want to go exotic? Try these lemony gingerbread whoopies at home.
Maryland: Berger Cookies
Charm City boasts its fair share of sweets—after all, celebrity pastry chef Duff got his start with Charm City Cakes—but locals clamor for Berger Cookies, and have been clamoring for decades. It’s a neat treat packed in an unassuming form: a simple sweet cookie topped with a thick (and we mean thick) layer of chocolate ganache.
Massachusetts: Chow Mein Sandwich
It is what it sounds like: Chow Mein with brown gravy heaped between the slices of a standard hamburger bun. It originated in the 1930s and 40s in Fall River, as a cheap eats sort of thing, then became a Massachusetts tradition. It’s served strained—without veggies—or unstrained, meaning with all the vegetable fixin’s you’d associate with the Chinese dish.
Michigan: Detroit Pizza
Detroit does things differently—as in a square pizza. It’s crispy fare, with caramelized cheese throughout and a very thick crust. The crust is twice-baked, giving it a crunchy edge on the outside and a chewy inside. Rumor has it the Detroit pizza started at Buddy’s Rendezvous restaurant in 1946; the pizzeria later became Buddy’s Pizza, which still operates today.
Do not confuse hotdish with a casserole. Yes, hotdish is baked in one pan, like a casserole, but hotdish, in the self-deprecating words of Minnesotans, is simpler fare: a can of vegetables, a can of some sort of creamed soup, some rice and a form of meat protein. And it’s usually topped with tater tots.
Mississippi: Mud Pie
Like a lot of Southern states, Mississippi tries to lay claim to being the birthplace of barbeque—but that’s a war we won’t wade into. Instead, we’ll tout the delights of the Mississippi mud pie, which includes a chocolate cookie crust and a dense layer of chocolate cake that resembles the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.
The Slinger is a St. Louis specialty, and is purported to be a cure-all for whatever late-night revelry has wrought upon a person. Made with two eggs, hash browns, a hamburger patty and drenched with chili con carne (and a sprinkling of cheese), The Slinger is often accompanied with a liberal splash of hot sauce.
Montana: Bison Burgers
Bison is big in Big Sky Country, with all sorts of dishes prepared from the meat, like bison shank and bison lasagna. But almost every restaurant and diner have a take on the bison burger. Considering that bison has higher nutritional value than beef, with fewer calories and less fat, it’s no wonder Montanans prefer their burgers bison.
Nebraska: Runza Sandwich
A close cousin to the bierock delicacy of Kansas, the Runza is a doughy rectangle-shaped pocket filled with beef, sauerkraut and onions. It originated in Russia and was brought to Nebraska in a wave of turn-of-the-century immigration. Now, a Nebraska-based restaurant chain has laid claim to the name, offering variations on the Runza of old.
Nevada: Shrimp Cocktail
What could be more Vegas than a shrimp cocktail? After all, the Golden Gate Hotel-Casino in downtown Las Vegas introduced it to the gaming public in 1959, and it quickly became a lure to entice folks to visit casinos. And it still does today. Served in a tulip-shaped glass and nestled on a bed of lettuce with spicy cocktail sauce, it’s a classic.
New Jersey: Tomato Pie
There’s pizza, and then there’s tomato pie. And the difference is in the preparation. This treat has pizza dough, like a pizza, and cheese and tomato. But in the tomato pie, the cheese goes on first and then is topped with a heaping ladle of crushed tomatoes, instead of pureed sauce. See the difference?
New Mexico: Red and Green Chile Sauce
At restaurants throughout New Mexico, the wait staff will simply ask “red or green?” As in, “You want red chile or green chile sauce?” After all, the chile is the official state vegetable. If you don’t know what type you want topping your tamale, just say “Christmas style,” and you’ll get both red and green chiles.
New York: New York Cheesecake
Cream cheese was first manufactured in the Catskill Mountains of New York in the 1870s, but it took until the 1950s for Junior’s in New York City to make the outstanding New York Cheesecake. Want to try some yourself? Junior’s takes online orders.
North Carolina: Cheerwine
Cheerwine, a sweet black cherry-flavored soft drink, has been around for more than 100 years, and devotees of this decidedly southern treat go to great lengths to get it shipped to them across the U.S. Apparently, this bubbly soda is a must-have if you’re eating BBQ. And southerners know what they’re talking about when it comes to BBQ.
North Dakota: Knoephla
It’s the original soup that eats like a meal. Knoephla is a super thick, super rich chicken, potato and dumpling soup that resembles a stew. The main attraction is the knoephla dumplings— knoephla is a derivation of the German word for little knob or button.
Oklahoma: Onion Burgers
First, throw some roughly chopped onions onto a flattop grill. Then flatten a hamburger patty onto the onions, embedding the onions in the burger for a rich flavor. Voila! You have the classic Oklahoma onion burger—it’s equal parts onion and meat, topped with cheese and served on a bun.
Oregon: Voodoo Donuts
There are donuts…and then there are Voodoo Doughnuts, which take the simple treat to outrageous extremes. There’s the Bacon Maple Bar with a slice of real bacon on top. And, of course, there’s the Voodoo Doll, a raised yeast raspberry-filled confection in the shape of, well, a voodoo doll. With a pretzel stick to inflict damage on enemies, of course.
In the 1930s, a hot dog vendor in Philadelphia put some sliced beef on his grill, served it on a hot dog bun, loaded up the cheese, and the cheesesteak was born. Now, the cheesesteak uses thinly sliced ribeye beef and various toppings, like onions or peppers on a long roll. Try this open-faced variation on the classic.
Rhode Island: Coffee Milk
The official state drink of tiny Rhode Island packs a big punch. Coffee milk is the combination of coffee syrup and milk, which is a substitute for that morning cup of joe. There are three distinct varieties of flavor: Autocrat coffee syrup gives you a sweet jolt; Eclipse balances sweetness with a stronger coffee flavor; and Coffee Time provides the most robust coffee taste.
South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits
The coastal waters of South Carolina are brimming with shrimp, and they’re the perfect addition to a ladling of cheesy, warm grits. Try this great, easy-to-make recipe.
South Dakota: Kuchen
It’s a custard. It’s a cake. It’s a fruit pastry. It’s kuchen, and if you’re in South Dakota, you’re in the kuchen capital of the United States. It’s a sweet custard filling in a sweet crust with sweet toppings like peaches or strawberries, inside to boot. Sweet! You can make it at home with this easy, time-tested recipe.
Tennessee: Moon Pies
First made at the Chattanooga Bakery in 1917, these graham cracker cookies filled with marshmallow and drenched in chocolate have been delighting people for generations. Word has it a request for a snack “as big as the moon” was the impetus for the creation. Lucky for you, Moon Pies are now available at retailers nationwide.
Fajitas were brought into Texas by immigrant ranch hands; the skillet-based meal of highly seasoned skirt steak and vegetables made for an easy-to-prepare meal after a long day of cattle herding. There are infinite variations—here are a few that are easy to make and simple to serve.
Vermont: Sugar on Snow
What could be simpler? There are two ingredients for this Vermont treat. Fresh snow, which Vermont has an abundance of…and maple syrup, which Vermont has in abundance. Drizzle the syrup on the snow and grab a spoon. Seriously.
Virginia: Brunswick Stew
This thick stew is made using a tomato base, with corn, chicken, lima beans and potatoes simmered for hours. Originally made with small game, like rabbit, the recipe is tinkered with in restaurants throughout Virginia, with each proclaiming theirs to be the definitive take on this early 19th century meal.
Before there was Starbucks, Washington was known as the center of the salmon universe, with a wide variety of the fish caught and processed there. In fact, there are so many varieties that one doesn’t take precedence over another. Washington natives love them all. Here’s a few recipes that maximize the famous food of Washington state.
West Virginia: Slaw Dog
Take your standard hot dog on a bun. Add a mound of chili. Give a liberal squeeze of yellow mustard on top of that. Then add cole slaw. Yes, cole slaw. Congratulations! You’ve made a West Virginia slaw Dog.
Wisconsin: Fish Fry
Wisconsin is known for its cheese. And beer. And bratwurst, which is often cooked in beer and served with cheese. But the quintessential Wisconsin meal is the fish fry. It’s a meal usually consisting of a beer-battered cod, perch or walleye fillet with tartar sauce, fries, coleslaw or a potato pancake.
Wyoming: Deka-Guy Hee Fry Bread
Wyoming is still as Wild West as it comes, so it’s no wonder Native American fry bread is the go-to foodstuff when visiting. This light, airy flatbread is the perfect vehicle for taco meat, lettuce and tomato and Deka-Guy Hee, which is Shoshone for “the eating house,” celebrates Native American heritage with this delight.