If there’s one thing Americans know and love, it’s great food. American cuisine represents a rich tapestry of traditions, cultures, and influences, incorporating a vast array of ingredients and flavors.
From coast to coast, from Detroit to Houston and everything in between, the best food in each state — some of them, anyway — just may surprise you.
So instead of planning your next cross-country road trip around national parks or famous landmarks (although, in fairness, we're huge fans of doing that too!), plan it around the best food in each state.
The Best Dishes and Food in Each State
From classic American dishes to meals you've never heard of and some things that'll surely make you scratch your head, the best food in each state is incredibly diverse.
When it comes to American cuisine, classic barbecue should be on your list. Alabama is home to a unique creamy, mayonnaise-based version of barbecue sauce that pairs perfectly with grilled chicken.
In the nation’s largest state (by far!), there’s no shortage of great seafood. When it comes to fresh fish, salmon reigns far supreme. Choose from sockeye, coho, pink, chum, or chinook, also known as king.
When you think of the best food in each state, Arizona's Sonoran hot dogs quickly come to mind. It takes everything you love about hot dogs and then adds south-of-the-border staples such as spicy peppers, onions, and salsa, then wraps it all bacon.
While you may have enjoyed fried pickles before, you have to try this battered and deep-fried deliciousness in Arkansas. Enjoy them with a side of ranch dressing, ketchup, or remoulade.
Unsurprisingly, one of our largest states has several examples of the best food in each state. The avocado is arguably their best export, however. Come here for avocado toast, which can be enjoyed as-is or dressed up with cheese, veggies, or even caviar.
Mary may have had a little lamb, but Coloradoans definitely have their lamb chops. Enjoy this flavorful protein alone or served with cheesy fondue or fresh chilies, the Colorado way.
In the great pizza wars, you’ll hear places like “Brooklyn” and “Chicago” tossed around. When in Connecticut, though, you must try white clam pie, a thin-crust pizza made with Romano cheese, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and clams.
While it originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, the nation’s very first state lays claim to scrapple, a pressed and fried patty made of pork, spices, and cornmeal. It’s a popular breakfast staple here, making it a great hyper-regional example of the best food in each state.
Key lime pie is named for the tart citrus fruit that lends its distinct flavor and aroma. If you’re going to enjoy a slice, the Florida Keys is THE place.
Speaking of desserts, peach cobbler is a classic Southern favorite. There’s no better place to enjoy this than the Peach State, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the summer. This is one of our personal favorites for the best food in each state!
Shaved ice is a fun treat in Hawaii, which is warm and sunny all year (perfect weather for enjoying a treat any time!). Choose from classic fruit flavors such as strawberry and passion fruit to more creative varieties like wedding cake and cotton candy.
The potato is king in Idaho. One of the state’s best-kept secrets is the ice cream potato, served with whipped cream, cocoa powder-dusted ice cream, chocolate sprinkles, and fudge sauce.
Deep dish pizza is the preferred style within Illinois’ borders — and clearly outside of them, too, because Chicago-style pizza is one of the most popular country-wide. Be sure to bring a knife and fork to enjoy the multiple layers of a thick golden crust, hearty tomato sauce, gooey cheese, and loads of toppings.
When you’re in the land of Hoosiers, you absolutely have to try a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Inspired by German Wienerschnitzel, this meat dwarfs the bun that it’s served on.
Similar to Indiana, Iowa has its own take on a massive fried pork tenderloin sandwich. If you’re enjoying this classic in the Hawkeye State, pair it with sweet corn on the cob to really see why this is in the running for the best food in each state.
Kansas is a heavyweight in stateside BBQ wars, so when you’re here, be sure to get some barbecue — particularly burnt ends. These bite-sized pieces of brisket are smoky and crunchy, and often referred to as “meat candy.”
Known primarily for its bourbon, Kentucky has a bit of a hidden sweet tooth with its bourbon balls, chocolate with boozy cream centers, topped with a pecan.
If you visited Louisiana without enjoying a heaping bowl of gumbo, did you really go to Louisiana? While there are lots of slight variations, this rich Cajun stew features a dark roux base and proteins such as chicken, sausage, and shellfish.
Maine is the go-to for lobster rolls. These sandwiches feature soft, buttery rolls stuffed with juicy lobster, chilled,and lightly dressed. To enjoy it like a local and find out why this is a best food in each state, dip your sandwich in drawn butter.
What Maine is to lobster, Maryland is to blue crab. When you’re in the state, be sure to get your fill of steamed blue crab, simply prepared or dusted with Old Bay seasoning. Peak season is April through November.
Anyone else noticing the seafood trend here? Massachusetts is the best state for New England-style (cream-based) clam chowder. This hearty soup features clams, light cream, potatoes, fish stock, and salt pork or bacon.
Despite the fact that Coney Island is in New York, the best coney dogs are actually found in Michigan. In fact, they're often called Detroit Coney Dogs! Enjoy a hot dog topped with beefy chili and chopped onions, then finished with yellow mustard.
Fried, beer-battered whitefish (don't forget the fries!) is the meal of champions in Minnesota. To really see why this is a best food in each state, choose from cod, pollack, or walleye, the state fish.
The Magnolia State is the place to go for buttermilk biscuits. Eat the flaky, fluffy biscuits as part of a meal or on their own, either smeared with butter and jam or drowning in creamy country gravy.
Although Kansas City-style burnt ends are also a big deal in Missouri, the state's signature toasted ravioli is a strong contender for the best food in each state. Traditionally stuffed with beef, you can also find these crispy, breaded pockets of goodness filled with...burnt ends.
Although the character “Huckleberry Finn” is associated with the South, Montana is where you go for all things huckleberry, including pies, jelly, syrup, ice cream, beer, and even burgers.
Runza is a pocket sandwich (think the OG hot pocket!) filled with ground beef, cabbage, and onions. It's also commonly called “bierock” and comes by way of German immigrants.
Thanks to the Strip, downtown Las Vegas, Reno, and other major metropolises, there are many dishes to enjoy in Nevada and not necessarily one clear contender for the best food in each state. Rumor has it that “Steggs,” or steak and eggs, are the meal of choice, tasting even better at 3:00 in the morning.
When you’re visiting the Granite State, be sure to enjoy the soft, gently spiced goodness of apple cider donuts. The best place to get them is at an orchard where you can also pick your own apples. During the fall, you'll even encounter roadside stands selling fresh donuts!
Disco fries feature crispy french fries smothered in melty mozzarella cheese and warm gravy. Think of it as the New Jersey answer to Canada’s poutine.
When you think of the best food in each state, some are simply more iconic than others. One such example is hatch green chilies. New Mexico is widely considered to be the Chile Capital of the World, as it’s home to 26 varieties of chilie peppers. Hatch, the most popular, is a must-try, especially in salsa, nachos, and other dishes.
Debates will rage about the "best" New York dish to try. Truthfully, it's such a melting pot of cultural influences, that many of its most popular foods are actually the signature food of other places!
To keep it classically New York, we recommend going with an everything bagel smeared with cream cheese and lox.
In the battle for BBQ, the Tar Heel State has plenty to say. Lexington-style barbecue is uniquely tangy and vinegar-based, and really shines on shredded, chopped, or pulled pork. Isn't it interesting that BBQ comes up so often as the best food in each state?
The dumpling is one of the world’s most versatile food staples, available in different preparations and under many names. In North Dakota, these cottage cheese-filled delights are known as “cheese buttons.”
“Chili” means a lot of different things to different people. For Ohioans, “Cincinnati chili” is more akin to a meat sauce than a stew, and it’s commonly served atop spaghetti with cheese. Spaghili?
This is one example of "don't knock it 'til you try it." Smoked bologna is a longtime favorite in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the South. It’s served nearly everywhere and affectionately nicknamed the “Oklahoma tenderloin,” proving it earned its spot as a best food in each state.
Marionberries are a favorite in Oregon. A little richer than the extremely similar-looking blackberry, marionberries are available in ice cream, jellies, pies, and other baked goods.
When it comes to iconic sandwiches, the Philly Cheesesteak rules the roost with its thinly sliced beef served with onions, peppers, and cheese (Provolone or the squeezable variety) stuffed into a toasted roll.
The nation’s smallest state by area is the best place to try stuffies. These are clams stuffed with fresh clam meat, buttery breadcrumbs, garlic, and finely chopped veggies, one of the more ultra-regional variations of the best food in each state.
On your next visit to the Lowcountry, be sure to grab a bowl of she-crab soup. Similar to bisque, this rich soup is a blend of cream, crab meat, sherry (the "she"), and orange roe from the female crab.
Introduced by Crimean immigrants, chislic is skewered cubes of marinated lamb, beef, or venison. They’re a popular snack in bars and eateries across South Dakota.
Although Tennessee is another BBQ heavyweight, Nashville hot chicken should be on your list of the best food in each state. It’s fried chicken covered with a spicy sauce made of cayenne pepper and hot oil, and comes as a standalone or served on sandwiches, always garnished with coleslaw and pickles.
If there’s a BBQ battle brewing, the Lone Star State will always show up with smoked brisket. This slow-cooked cut of beef is juicy, tender, and flavorful, enjoyed alone or in a sandwich.
A combination of ketchup and mayonnaise, Utah's "fry sauce" originated as a sandwich condiment. Over the years, it became more popular as a dip for french fries and is now wildly popular.
Take your pancakes, waffles, or French toast to another level with Vermont maple syrup, another iconic example when it comes to the best food in each state. Fun fact: Vermont alone produces nearly half of the nation’s syrup!
In Virginia, ham is a way of life. Enjoy slices on a sandwich with homemade pimento cheese (which, in fairness, could also be considered a best food in each state!), or a thick-cut ham steak served with redeye gravy.
Rainier cherries are much sweeter than their dark red counterparts. Recognizable by their red and gold coloring, they even have their own statewide holiday on July 11, when you can pick your own in orchards across Washington.
West Virginia is home to the pepperoni roll. Introduced by Italian immigrants, these fluffy rolls contain spicy pepperoni and in some cases, sauteed onions, peppers, and marinara sauce.
Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production. When you’re in the land of Cheeseheads, you simply must try fried cheese curds, usually served with various dips, and always enjoyed with beer.
Many restaurants in the Cowboy State offer dishes featuring bison, a leaner alternative to beef. Enjoy this dense protein, which is also the official state mammal, as steaks, sausages, or burgers.
Did you know The Wander Club has US State Tokens and US State Park Tokens? They make wonderful, unique souvenirs, commemorating your visit or honoring your home state. You can even customize them with a date or saying on the back!