Best Signature Food in Every U.S. State
Among America's bounty of exceptional foods, which are best of all? To answer that question, we've rounded up every state's best signature food — items that are, more than delicious, central to the culture of the place.
Read on to find out what meat dish is most beloved in Texas, what sweet Georgia is sweet on and what trendy dish California can't get enough of. Then, see if you agree with our picks for the best place to eat each food in every state.
Alabama: Pecan Pie
If there's one thing Alabamians go "nuts" for, it's pecan pie — and can you blame them? With its sticky, syrupy filling and flaky crust, this pie is easy to love.
The earliest pecan-pie recipes appeared in the 1870s and 1880s in Texas, though the recipe that most Southerners use today was actually created by the wife of a Karo syrup salesman (which just happens to be a main ingredient!) in the 1930s.
In any case, it’s Alabama that’s really embraced this sweet treat as its own. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the pecan is the state’s official nut?
Alaska: Smoked Salmon
Smoked salmon has been around for centuries, peaking in popularity all the way back to the Middle Ages. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the smoked-salmon industry was established in America, with Alaska leading the way.
Still today, smoked salmon remains beloved in Alaska, where it’s often eaten plain or on a slice of crusty bread. People use any variety of wild Pacific salmon (like coho or sockeye) found swimming through the state's waterways, then brine the fish before tossing it in the smoker for up to seven hours.
Arizona: Sonoran Hot Dog
You won’t find ketchup and relish on many hot dogs in Arizona. That’s because the Southwest state is known for its Sonoran hot dog (also known as a Mexican hot dog), a bacon-wrapped frankfurter piled high with pinto beans, grilled onions, jalapenos, mustard and mayonnaise.
Traditionally, it's also served with a roasted yellow chile pepper on the side.
Where to Find the Best Sonoran Hot Dog in Arizona
Visit: Nogales Hot Dogs
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Arkansas: Chocolate Gravy
Arkansas is all about biscuits and gravy — chocolate gravy, that is. Made with just five ingredients (butter, cocoa, flour, sugar and milk), this sticky-sweet syrup is drizzled over warm fluffy biscuits for an uber-indulgent brunch.
Many say it’s a tradition that dates back to their grandmothers, who passed the gravy recipe down from generation to generation.
Where to Find the Best Chocolate Gravy
Visit: Ozark Cafe
Location: Jasper, Arkansas
California: Avocado Toast
Brunch-lovers have California to thank for the avocado toast trend that's swept the nation. The Instagrammable eat, which started as simple mashed ripe avocado spread on a slice of toast, has since evolved to encompass hundreds of different styles and varieties. Some like it sweet with sliced fruit and a drizzle of honey, while others prefer it savory with a hard-boiled egg or sprinkling of sea salt.
The actual origin of avocado toast is a bit murky, but California — known for its savory Hass avocados — is undoubtedly the place it’s most closely associated with today. (And yes, millennials enjoy it very much.)
Where to Find the Best Avocado Toast
Location: Los Angeles, California
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.
Where to Find the Best Rocky Mountain Oysters
Visit: The Fort Restaurant
Location: Morrison, Colorado
Connecticut: White Clam Pie
Ask anyone in Connecticut and they’ll tell you that their next-door neighbors in New York have nothing on their unique pizza, a specialty known as white clam pie.
If you're searching for the best "apizza" (a thin-crust style specific to the Northeast), head to Frank Pepe, one of America's oldest pizzerias — it opened in 1925 — and the birthplace of the pie topped with mozzarella, garlic and fresh rubberneck clams.
Where to Find the Best White Clam Pie
Visit: Frank Pepe
Location: There are several locations throughout the state, but the original is in New Haven
While Delaware’s dish of choice was technically invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch, the state has proudly claimed the breakfast meat as its own. Made of spices, pork parts and cornmeal, pressed into a patty and then pan-fried, it’s a staple at Delaware diners.
Want to stir up debate among Delawareans? Ask them to select the best topping: ketchup, syrup or nothing at all.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
The song may say to put the lime in the coconut, but Floridians know you should always put the lime in the pie instead.
This tart treat, which has a creamy custard filling made with Florida key limes, can be eaten in the traditional style or, if you're feeling adventurous, enjoyed frozen and dipped in chocolate on a stick.
Georgia: Peach Cobbler
There ain't nothing sweeter than Georgia peaches — except, perhaps, Georgia peach cobbler. This delicious made-from-scratch dessert is a summer staple in the state, particularly from mid-May to August, which is prime peach season.
P.S.: It's best enjoyed hot out of the oven with a healthy dollop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Hawaii: Loco Moco
Comfort food, but make it Hawaiian. That's what you'll get when you order the loco moco, a traditional island dish that consists of a beef-burger patty nestled on a bed of sticky white rice and drenched in brown gravy with a fried egg on top.
Legend has it that the loco moco was invented in 1949 by the owner of a local grill looking to appease a group of famished teenage athletes.
Where to Find the Best Loco Moco
Visit: Cafe 100
Location: Hilo, Big Island
Idaho: Ice Cream Potato
Idaho doesn't just do potatoes better than anywhere else — it also does ice cream potatoes better.
One of the state's best-kept secrets, popularized by the Westside Drive-In, this dessert-in-disguise looks just like a real spud but is actually vanilla ice cream rolled in cocoa powder. And that "sour cream" on top? Whipped cream, of course, plus a smattering of chocolate sprinkles and fudge sauce.
Illinois: Deep-Dish Pizza
The first deep-dish pizza was served in 1943 inside the kitchen of what is now Pizzeria Uno. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Today, there are few things that Chicagoans are as passionate about as their pie with its thick chewy crust smothered in cheese and then chunky tomatoes (yes, the sauce goes on top of the cheese to prevent the cheese from burning!).
Where to Find the Best Deep-Dish Pizza
Visit: Lou Malnati's
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Indiana: Tenderloin Sandwich
What’s for lunch? If you live in Indiana, the answer is probably a tenderloin sandwich. A variation of the German Wienerschnitzel, this dish is comprised of a breaded pork cutlet that's been pounded super thin and deep-fried.
In most cases (or rather, the best cases), the tenderloin is so massive that it hangs over the edges of the toasted bun that it's served on.
Where to Find the Best Tenderloin Sandwich
Visit: Nick’s Kitchen, which reportedly invented the dish back in 1908
Location: Huntington, Indiana
Iowa: 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.
Kansas: Burnt Ends
Burnt ends don't sound all that appetizing, but people in the Midwest, namely Kansas or Missouri, swear by them. Essentially, they're the little bite-sized bits of brisket that caramelize around the edges when beef is being smoked.
Some restaurants have taken what’s become known as “meat candy” to the next level by offering a gourmet variety made from pork belly.
Where to Find the Best
Visit: Joe’s Kansas City (previously Oklahoma Joe’s)
Location: Kansas City, Kansas
Kentucky: Bourbon Balls
If you want the original Kentucky bourbon balls, head to Rebecca Ruth Candy, where you'll find the chocolate candies filled with a boozy cream center and topped with a whole pecan.
Legend has it that the "Kentucky truffles" were inspired by a former governor's comment that there was nothing better than chocolate followed by a sip of bourbon — so Ruth Booe combined them in 1936.
Where to Find the Best Bourbon Balls
Visit: Rebecca Ruth Candy
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
In Louisiana, gumbo is almost a religion. In fact, you'll likely hear locals explain that the Cajun stew, starring a creamy roux as the base, contains both the Pope and the Holy Trinity. They aren't talking about the Catholic church, though — in Creole-speak, the Pope is a head of garlic while the Holy Trinity is green bell peppers, onions and celery.
To which we say: Amen.
Where to Find the Best Gumbo
Location: Mandeville, Lousiana
Maine: Lobster Roll
One of the best ways to eat Maine's fresh lobster is in the form of a lobster roll. A staple in the summertime, the sandwich consists of cold lobster meat on a toasted hot-dog bun with a smear of mayonnaise for good measure.
And while you can find tons of variations on the traditional, most chefs say simpler is better, adding just a touch of lemon juice or pepper on top.
Where to Find the Best Lobster Roll
Visit: The Clam Shack
Location: Kennebunk, Maine
Maryland: Crab Cakes
To quote the movie “Wedding Crashers,” “Crab cakes and football, that's what Maryland does!"
While the state has a few other pluses too, the film did get the crab cake part right. Whether you get them broiled or fried, the thing that sets Maryland-style crab cakes apart is their generous use of Old Bay seasoning and their fresh blue-crab meat sourced straight from the Chesapeake Bay.
Massachusetts: Clam Chowder
Made with a thick, creamy base, New England-style chowder typically contains fresh clams, hunks of potato, onion and celery. Don't forget to sprinkle a few oyster crackers on top, too!
And yes, many locals call it “chowdah,” but they might side-eye you if you try to do the same.
Where to Find the Best Clam Chowder
Visit: Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Michigan: Coney Dog
Start with a plain hot dog in a bun, then pile it high with meaty chili, chopped raw onions and yellow mustard. Voila: You have yourself a coney dog.
While the real Coney Island may be in New York, Detroit is full of its own "coney islands," the name for the Greek diners that serve up these chili dogs.
Minnesota: Fried Fish
In Minnesota, there's one thing everyone looks forward to when the weekend rolls around: the Friday night fish fry. Served with a pint of cold beer and crisp French fries, the fried fish is flaky, beer-battered and the perfect shade of golden brown.
While you'll find everything from cod to Pollack on the menu, the most popular pick is fried waslleye, which is the official state fish.
Jackson may be the capital of Mississippi, but Natchez is the Biscuit Capital of the World. Of course, you can find the classic Southern comfort food in kitchens all over the state, which prides itself on these big buttermilk biscuits that are part doughy, part flaky ... and 100 percent buttery.
Eat them sliced open with a smear of honey butter or jam, or smothered in country gravy. (Or why not try one of each?)
Where to Find the Best Biscuits
Visit: M7 Coffee House
Location: Ridgeland, Mississippi
Missouri: Gooey Butter Cake
To answer your question: Yes, gooey butter cake tastes just as good as it sounds. A St. Louis original, this decadent dessert consists of a cookie-like crust that's topped with a creamy buttery filling and then sprinkled with powdered sugar.
But the first gooey butter cake was actually a mistake. Apparently, a baker added too much butter to his coffee cake and ended up with what's now a state-wide favorite.
Where to Find the Best Gooey Butter Cake
Visit: Park Avenue Coffee
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Montana: Huckleberry Everything
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.
The Reuben isn't the only sandwich that Nebraska is famous for. It's also home to the runza, a warm, doughy pocket stuffed with ground beef, onions and cabbage.
Also known as a bierock, the unique sandwich comes from Nebraska's German roots; it was invented by the daughter of a German immigrant and first sold at fast-food chain Runza for just 15 cents.
Where to Find the Best Runza
Location: The namesake restaurant that has 78 locations throughout the state
Yes, yes, we know: Buffet isn’t a food. But why pick just one food when, in Nevada, you can so easily have them all?
Las Vegas specifically is considered the unofficial buffet capital of the country. There are over 200 buffets in Sin City, each allowing you to gorge yourself on seemingly endless spreads of seafood, sushi, steak, dessert, brunch and much (much much) more. As if that's not enough, some buffets even offer bottomless booze!
New Hampshire: Apple Cider Donuts
There are few things better on a crisp fall day than a bag of warm apple cider donuts. While you can buy them in most grocery stores, the best way to experience this New England tradition is to head to a pick-your-own apple orchard.
There, you'll be treated to a homemade donut that's the perfect balance of sweet and spicy with its cinnamon-sugar coating.
Where to Find the Best Apple Cider Donuts
Visit: Meadow Ledge Farm
Location: Loudon, Massachusetts
New Jersey: Salt Water Taffy
Despite what its name implies, there actually isn't any salt water in salt water taffy. Instead, this sticky sweet that's found in shops dotting New Jersey's Atlantic City boardwalk is a concoction of corn syrup and sugar that's pulled and rolled into two-inch pieces.
The chewy candy comes in almost every flavor imaginable, from blue raspberry to chocolate to licorice.
New Mexico: Green Chile
As the Chile Capital of the World, New Mexico is home to 26 species of chile peppers. The most popular is the Hatch green chile, which is confusingly actually a red chile pepper that's been harvested before it's fully ripe.
And it does more than just add heat to your food. Green chiles also have as much vitamin C as six (!!) oranges and can boost your metabolism.
Where to Find the Best Green Chile Dishes
Visit: El Patron Cafe, where the pepper adds a kick to brisket nachos, chicken enchiladas, posole and even upside-down cake
Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico
New York: Bagels
New Yorkers are fiercely proud (and protective) of their bagels — and for good reason. The doughy spheres, which are famously puffy and chewy compared to their flatter counterparts in other areas of the country, are made with recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Top your bagel with whatever you'd like, or stick with the classic cream cheese and lox.
Where to Find the Best Bagels
Location: New York, New York
North Carolina: Fried Green Tomatoes
Southerners are known to fry anything and everything, including unripe tomatoes. Behold fried green tomatoes: thin slices of the fruit picked fresh from the vine, then dredged in a mixture of cornmeal and spices before being fried to a golden crisp.
The comfort food staple in North Carolina is typically eaten plain with a side of "secret sauce" or on a sandwich smeared with mayonnaise.
Where to Find the Best Fried Green Tomatoes
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
North Dakota: Hotdish
Call it casserole or call it hotdish; either way, it's one of North Dakota's favorite meals.
There's no one set recipe for this comfort food, but it's always some sort of cheesy, meaty, veggie-filled concoction that's more often than not topped with tater tots and baked to bubbly perfection in a 13x9 pan.
Where to Find the Best Hotdish
Visit: Sons of Norway
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Ohio: Cincinnati Chili
Two-way, three-way, four-way or five-way? Those are your options when you go to order a piping-hot plate of Cincinnati chili, which isn't much like your average chili at all.
More like meat sauce than a thick stew, it's served over spaghetti (that's two-way, FYI) and then embellished with your choice of toppings. A five-way, for instance, includes spaghetti, chili, beans, onions and cheese.
Oklahoma: Onion Burger
Imagine a juicy burger stuffed with caramelized onions and you've got yourself the Oklahoma onion burger. While it's developed a cult following over the years for being a regular burger's much more flavorful cousin, the onion burger actually began during the Great Depression when ground beef was very expensive.
One man still wanted to eat burgers, though, so he added onions (which were cheap) as filler to cut costs.
There are regular blackberries ... and then there are marionberries. A cross between two types of blackberries (the chehalem and the olallieberry), marionberries are only grown in Oregon, where they're ripe for picking in mid-July.
And what sets them apart? Not only are they firmer than your average blackberry, but they're also a little richer in flavor, with an unmatched combination of both sweet and sour.
Pennsylvania: Philly Cheesesteak
It should come as no surprise that Pennsylvania's food of choice is the famed Philly cheesesteak. But what might come as a surprise is this little-known fact: The first cheesesteak actually didn't have cheese at all!
While the sandwich is now often eaten with American or provolone cheese (or occasionally Cheez Whiz), when it was invented in the 1930s, it was simply beef on a bun.
Where to Find the Best Philly Cheesesteak
Visit: John’s Roast Pork
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Rhode Island: Stuffies
New England is renowned for its fresh seafood — particularly the Quahog clams found off of Rhode Island's shore. So it makes sense that one of the state's signature dishes is "stuffies," aka stuffed clams.
Each oversized Quahog shell is filled with a mixture of chopped clam meat, veggies, bread crumbs and spices before being baked.
Where to Find the Best Stuffies
Visit: Anthony’s Seafood
Location: Middletown, Rhode Island
South Carolina: Lowcountry Boil
Lowcountry boil, Frogmore stew, Beaufort stew … call it what you want, it’s all the same (and it’s all delicious!). This South Carolina summer staple consists of fresh jumbo shrimp, yellow corn on the cob and hunks of heirloom potatoes.
Just be ready to get messy — the "stew" is actually eaten with your hands, often at backyard barbecues on newspaper-covered picnic tables.
South Dakota: Fry Bread
A traditional Native American dish, fry bread is exactly what it sounds like: a hunk of fluffy fried dough.
The beloved bread can be sweet (drizzled with honey, cinnamon and sugar, or topped with a scoop of ice cream) or savory (stuffed with ground bison meat to make "Indian tacos").
Tennessee: Hot Chicken
Take a bucket of crispy fried chicken, douse it in fiery hot sauce and you've got yourself Tennessee's favorite food. While there are plenty of hot chicken shacks around Nashville, you'll want to stop at the original, Prince's, where you can order your poultry from plain to XXXHot.
But first-timers be warned: People have been seen crying from the heat!
Where to Find the Best Hot Chicken
Visit: The one, the only, the original — Prince’s
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Texas: Smoked Brisket
All Texas barbecue is delicious, but the state’s smoked brisket is particularly delicious. The Lonestar State has four different regional styles of smoking beef brisket, and you honestly can’t go wrong with any of them.
There's Central (which uses a dry rub and is cooked over pecan wood); East (which is marinated in a tomato sauce); West, also known as “cowboy style” (which is cooked over mesquite wood); and South (which uses a thicker BBQ sauce).
Utah: Fry Sauce
Ketchup + mayonnaise = Utah's famous fry sauce. It was first invented by a chef at Arctic Circle (a regional fast-food chain) in the 1940s when he mixed white BBQ sauce with ketchup. After serving it on sandwiches, he eventually served it on the side — and discovered that people couldn't stop dipping their French fries into it.
Some 70 years later, it still has a cult following in the state.
Where to Find the Best Fry Sauce
Visit: Crown Burger
Location: You can visit several throughout the state
Vermont: Maple Syrup
Sticky, sugary, sweet: These are all words that describe Vermont's most famous export of maple syrup. The small state has over 1,500 sugarhouses that combined produce nearly half of America's maple syrup — a whopping 2 million gallons annually.
But it's hard work to make your favorite pancake topping. In fact, it takes the sap of four adult maple trees just to produce 1 gallon of syrup in a year.
Those giant peanuts you get at the ballpark? Yep, they're most likely Virginia peanuts, which are the largest of their kind and are grown in the southeastern region of the state.
Making up 15 percent of the total peanut production in the U.S., Virginia's legumes are also among the most common types used for making creamy (or crunchy!) peanut butter. Try them at various peanut factories across the state.
Where to Find the Best Peanuts
Visit: The Peanut Shop
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Washington: Rainier Cherries
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 ones to boast their own holiday: National Rainier Cherry Day on July 11. Orchards across the state allow you to pick your own.
Where to Find the Best Rainer Cherries
Visit: Barrett Orchards
Location: Yakima, Washington
West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll
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.
Where to Find the Best Pepperoni Roll
Visit: The Donut Shop (yes, the donuts are great here, too!)
Location: Buckhannon, West Virginia
Wisconsin: Cheese Curds
There's a reason people who live in Wisconsin are called cheeseheads. They love their dairy — and especially their cheese curds, made from cheese that’s been harvested before becoming fully aged.
The result is a chewy, milky morsel that, when it's at its freshest, will squeak when you eat it because of the protein inside rubbing against your teeth.
Where to Find the Best Cheese Curds
Visit: The Old Fashioned
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Wyoming: Chicken-Fried Steak
Not to be confused with fried chicken, chicken-fried steak is one of the Cowboy State's favorite comfort foods. The steak, pounded thin and then dredged in a crunchy coating, is fried just like chicken (hence the name).
The big difference is how you eat it: smothered in cream gravy, often with a biscuit and mashed potatoes on the side.