50 Top Eats: USA Foodie Bucket List

Alabama: Pecan Pie (it’s the state’s official nut), Lane Cake, Cheese Grits

Alaska: Salmon, King Crab

Arizona: Chimichangas, Sonoran/Mexican Hot Dog, Cheese Crisp

Arkansas: Fried Pickles

In 1963, Bernell “Fatman” Austin of the Duchess Drive-In first battered and deep-fried dill pickle slices and sold them for 15 cents for a basket of 15 to employees of the nearby Atkins Pickle Plant. Though both the restaurant and its proprietor are long gone, fried pickles have become an Arkansas mainstay, and the wafer-thin versions served at Sassy’s Red House in Fayetteville is one of the finest. They’re usually served with ranch dressing, though you can also find remoulade or ketchup, depending on the restaurant.

Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy

California: Avocado Toast

Colorado: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Don’t be fooled by the name. Rocky Mountain oysters aren’t actually seafood at all — rather, they’re a bull calf’s testicles. Sounds gross, but Coloradoans swear by the “oysters,” which are sliced, breaded and then deep-fried to crispy-golden perfection. Some people even claim that the delicacy has an aphrodisiac effect on anyone who eats them. 

Connecticut: White Clam Pizza, New Haven Pizza

Delaware: Fries with Vinegar

When in Delaware, the beach is everyone’s summer hideaway from everyone else, and when at the beach, a stop for a tub of hot fries at Thrasher’s on the boardwalk is as obligatory as a nap on the sand. A liberal dousing with cider vinegar is not quite as mandatory, but comes highly recommended by devotees of the snappy, salty, memory-making result. Just keep watch for dive-bombing seagulls.

Also: Scrapple

Florida: Key Lime Pie

Florida’s most famous export besides oranges may be Key Lime Pie. Named after the small, tart, aromatic limes commonly associated with the Florida Keys, the meringue-topped pie combines the tangy lime juice with sweetened condensed milk and egg yolk, all poured into a graham cracker crust. Variations appear on virtually every menu south of the Georgia border, but not all key lime pies are created equal. (Rule: Never trust a bright green filling!) The version found at Ma’s Fish Camp in Islamorada is prepared according to traditional Conch guidelines, well-balanced honeyed, citrusy base, piled high with sweet meringue.

Also: Cuban Food

Georgia: Peaches, Peach Cobbler, Boiled Peanuts,

Hawaii: Poke, Shave Ice, Loco Moco, Spam

Idaho: Jim Spud Baked Potato, Potatoes, Finger Steaks

Illinois: Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago-style Hot dog, Meat, Italian Beef sandwich,

Indiana: (Pork?) Tenderloin Sandwich (invented by Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington), Sugar Cream Pie

Iowa: Sweet Corn

If drive more than a few blocks in Iowa, you’ll likely see a few sprouting ears of corn growing. In fact, the saying is, “knee-high by the fourth of July.” Come mid-summer, farmers pack truck beds full of sweet corn to sell at markets and on street corners. There are even festivals dedicated to the kernels. One favorite hybrid is the bi-color peaches and cream, known for its exceptionally sweet flavor, and sold by Grimes Sweet Corn.

You haven’t really had corn on the cob until you’ve had Iowa’s sweet corn on the cob, which the state swears is the best in the country thanks to its nutrient-rich soil. Locals also know the secret to the perfect sweet corn: Eat it within one day of being picked, since the corn actually loses 60 percent of its sugar after the first 24 hours.

Also: Loose Meat Sandwich (sloppy joe without the suace)

Kansas: BBQ Ribs, Burnt Endsm Bierocks

Kentucky: The Hot Brown

In 1926 Chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel created a savory, creamy, hot, open-faced turkey sandwich intended to recharge the energies of the hotel’s nightly dinner-dance patrons. Schmidt layered sliced turkey on toast, covered it with Mornay sauce, tucked in some Roma tomato halves and toast points, ran the dish under a hot broiler and added crisp bacon slices as the topper. The Hot Brown, still available daily at the Brown Hotel, has its own webpage, which includes the original recipe. It remains popular enough in restaurants across the commonwealth that it has spawned its own best-of competitions.

Louisiana: Beignets, Gator Sausage, Po’ Boy, Mufuletta, Gumbo, Jumbalaya, Crawfish

Maine: Lobster or Lobster Roll

Maryland: Steamed Crabs (and Crabcakes)

Nothing shouts Maryland quite like blue crab, the Chesapeake Bay crustacean prized for its sweet, white meat. Annual catches have been on the decline in recent decades, but conservation efforts are helping to bring this state treasure back in force. The purest way to enjoy these clawed beauties is the simplest: steamed and dusted with a piquant spice mix (like Old Bay!). Order them at crab houses across Maryland — think Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis or Costas Inn just outside Baltimore — where steamed crabs are sold by the dozen and dumped directly atop tables covered in newspaper or brown butcher paper. Prepare to get messy, since no utensils are required but your own two hands and the supplied crackers and mallets.

Massachusetts: Clam Chowder

Legal Sea Foods — or Legal, as it is fondly known here — opened in 1950 in Cambridge and has become a New England institution, now counting dozens of outposts along the eastern seaboard. (Disclosure: This writer’s mother worked here decades ago!) Owner Roger Berkowitz recalls: “Initially we had done only fish chowder, [but] we tried an experiment with clam chowder and it went over well. … As soon as we introduced it, I thought, ‘Boy, why didn’t we do that before?'” Today the clam chowder — featuring fresh clams, salt pork, potatoes, light cream and a homemade fish stock that Berkowitz thinks is key — outsells fish chowder 20 to 1.

Also: Boston Cream Pie, Fluffernutter Sandwiches

Michigan: Pasty, Cherry Pie, Coney Dogs

Minnesota: Hot Dish

It might look like a casserole to you, but ask any Minnesotan what they call this combination of beef or chicken, veggies and canned cream of mushroom soup — traditionally topped with Tater Tots — and the response will be “hot dish.” This easy to make casserole can be found everywhere from church suppers to family reunions. It’s even at the center of a highly competitive culinary competition that pits the state’s congressional delegation against one another to see just who makes the best hot dish. While it’s mostly a dish made at home, The Mason Jar, located in Eagen, serves a version that will remind you of your grandmother’s cooking, if your grandmother made everything from scratch. Ground beef is browned and stirred into a rich and creamy mushroom sauce, and draped over tots. Melted cheddar cheese and a few more tots crown the top for rib-sticking glory.

Also: Jucy Lucy

Mississipi: Biscuits (and Gravy), Catfish

Missouri: Kansas City BBQ, Toasted Ravioli, Gooey Butter Cake

Montana: Huckleberry Ice Cream

Jam, jelly, pies, syrup, pastries, even beer…Montana locals will (and love to) eat huckleberries in almost everything imaginable. Similar to blueberrys in look and taste, huckleberries are often a deeper shade of purple and are both crisper and tarter than their more popular blue relative. 

Peaking in late July to mid-August, the coveted berries can be picked by hand in Montana’s mountains.

Nebraska: Tin Roof Sundae

The tiny town of Potter, Nebraska, is home to this big treat, an ice cream sundae that played with sweet and savory combinations long before it became a trend. Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer came up with the combination, which tops chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, then a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then warm marshmallow cream. The whole thing gets a sprinkling of skin-on Spanish peanuts. The Potter Sundry in town is the place to get one, and it draws tourists from around the globe to sample the dessert, especially in the summer.

Also: Runza, Reuben

Nevada: All You Can Eat Buffet

New Hampshire: Poutine

Natives with a strong French-Canadian heritage, especially near Manchester, carry a gravy-slathered torch for this iconic cheesy French fry combination. The dish is offered as a basic recipe in many bars around town, but at New England Tap House Grill in Hooksett, the fries are given a Parmesan and fresh rosemary dusting and the gravy is enriched with a sherry-peppercorn demiglace, then a heady spritz of truffle oil. Authentic: No. Worthy: Yes.

Also: Apple Cider Doughnuts

New Jersey: Tomatoes, Disco Fries, Salt Water Taffy, Pork Rools

New Mexico: Green Chile

“Hatch, to be specific, but Bueno is good too. We put it on everything: burritos, eggs, pizza, burgers, and we have green chile chicken enchiladas, green chile stew — hell, it’s even on our license plates! It originated in New Mexico, comes from New Mexico, and is a staple New Mexico food. We take great pride in it and love it!”

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New York: Buffalo Wings in Buffalo, Pizza in NYC, Bagels in NYC

North Carolina: Pork BBQ,Lexington-Style Barbecue, Fried Green Tomotaoes

North Dakota: Cheese Buttons, Hot Dish (also listed in Minnesota), Bison Burgers, Lefse, Knoephla

Ohio: Cincinatti Chili, Buckeyes (peanut butter and chocolate), Skyline Chili

Oklahoma: Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Okra, Fried Onion Burger

Oregon: Marionberry Pie

Marionberries were bred at Oregon State University by crossing two types of blackberries. Because they don’t ship well, most fresh marionberries are used in-state to make muffins, jam, ice cream and the beloved fresh pie. The Willamette Valley Pie Company in Salem, which processes an average of 12 million pounds of berries per year, makes three kinds of marionberry pie and lets you pick your own marionberries in the summer.

Pennsylvania: Philly Cheesesteak

Rhode Island: Stuffies (stuffed clam), Clam Cakes, Coffee Milk, New York System Wiener

South Carolina: She-Crab Soup, Low country Boil (aka Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Stew), Sweet Tea, Chicken Bog,

South Dakota: Fry Bread, Lefse, Kuchen, Chislic, Rancher Tips

Tennessee: Tennessee / Nashville Hot Chicken

Legend goes that Nashville Hot Chicken was invented in the 1930’s when a scorned lover tried to exact revenge by spicing up Thornton Prince’s fried chicken with an insane amount of pepper until it was an infernally dark red color and blazingly hot in flavor. It turned out he loved it and asked his paramour to cook more of it for him and his friends, eventually opening a restaurant to serve it to the masses. Today, there are multiple places to buy and try the piquant poultry, but the current generation of the Prince family still serves the original version, which many consider to be the best.

Texas: Smoked Brisket, Tex Mex

Utah: Fry Sauce, Jello, Funeral Potatoes, Utah Scones

Vermont: Apple Pie (with cheddar), Maple Syrup, Sugar on snow

Virginia: Peanuts, Peanut Soup, Ham

Washington: Seafood Chowder, Rainier Cherries, Dungeness Crab

How are Rainier cherries any different than regular cherries? Not only are they a gorgeous golden hue but they’re also much sweeter, with the highest sugar content of any cherry variety. Named after Washington state’s active volcano, Mount Rainier, the juicy fruits are also the only to boast their own holiday: National Rainier Cherry Day on July 11. Orchards across the state allow you to pick your own. 

West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls

What started as an easy-to-eat snack for coal miners has quickly become a fan favorite in West Virginia. The pepperoni roll is a fluffy dinner roll wrapped around a thick stick of pepperoni. Depending on which diner or bakery you snag yours from, it might be made with cheese or served with Italian sauce for dipping.

Wisconsin: Fried Cheese Curds

Cheese curds are small, bumpy lumps of (usually) cheddar that are collected before the cheese has formed into blocks. Kids of all ages love them for their moist, springy bite and mild, salty flavor. Try to get them as fresh as possible, before they are fully chilled, because that’s when they squeak. Yes, this cheese makes noise when you eat it. Fresh cheese curds are hugely popular in Wisconsin, but deep-fried cheese curds have attained cultlike status. Batter-fried and served with tasty dips, they’re on the menu at such restaurants as the landmark Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. Guess what goes really well with them? Yep: beer.

Wyoming: Fry Bread, Chicken-Fried Steak, Beef Jerky, Soda Bread

Washington DC: Mambo Sauce, Half-smoke

Other:

  • The Hamburger in New Haven (Louis’ Lunch)
  • Wine in Napa Valley
  • Wine in Sonoma Valley
  • Fortune Cookie

Sources:
https://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/packages/best-food-in-america/photos/most-iconic-food-united-states

https://www.farandwide.com/s/best-food-every-state-a66f5f079d914bab

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