U.S. States Ranked by Their Food
How does one quantify a happening culinary scene over a stale one? After all, everyone has their own palate and preferences. One person’s deep-fried butter is another’s filet mignon.
But we’re not here to mince words and stew over technicalities; we’re here to make bold, piquant declarations of superiority when it comes to what’s on tonight’s menu.
Is the West Coast the best coast when it comes to cuisine? Or does the South win the day by relying on copious amounts of butter? And what about the Northeast, home to amazing seafood and locals who will fight you if you criticize their food?
Using a mix of objective research and totally subjective opinion, we've assessed each U.S. state's signature foods and diversity of offerings to address exactly which state has the best food. Get ready to feel insulted, shocked and maybe a little smug. Here’s a worst-to-best ranking of America’s food scenes by state.
Nothing quite says “terrible food scene" like copious amounts of reindeer and marine-mammal-derived oils. If you want to eat like a local here — and trust us, you don’t — then head to the local pub for a reindeer sausage and muktuk finished off with a bowl of aqutak.
Try having a fun Christmas again after serving reindeer sausage to the kids. As for muktuk and aqutak? The former is whale blubber and skin frozen together and eaten raw, while the latter is a “dessert” made from seal oil, reindeer fat, snow and wild Alaskan berries.
At least the salmon here is abundant and super-fresh?
49. North Dakota
The cuisine of North Dakota is heavily influenced by Norway, which is a major red flag. Norwegians eat strange and gummy seafood products like lutefisk. To make this “delicacy,” one needs lye — yes, the caustic sodium hydroxide that literally burns human flesh on contact.
If that’s not your thing, you can just fill up on a giant plate of hotdish, the state’s signature meal, composed of a starch like potatoes, canned cream of mushroom soup, frozen or canned vegetables, and some kind of meat product. It’s popular at funerals, because it’s not appropriate to enjoy anything when honoring the dead.
Your best bet here is walleye fish, grilled or fried, which is totally palatable.
48. South Dakota
It’s everything that’s bad about North Dakota cuisine, only farther south. Oh, and when cattle or bison are castrated in South Dakota, their testicles are used for a dish called Rocky Mountain Oysters that has nothing to do with bivalve mollusks.
What is good in the state? Well, some restaurants serve bison steak, which is definitely satisfying, and it’s not too hard to find decent pie. So there's that.
Don’t worry, the culinary experiences of the Beehive State will not make you a convert. Unless, that is, you crave a sauce of ketchup and mayo at every meal.
Utahans call it Fry Sauce while the rest of the world eats something better. As simplistic and awful as it sounds, people go bananas for Fry Sauce (and probably put it on bananas too).
And that, folks, is how you end up with a forgettable food scene.
The state affectionately known as America’s appendix is many things to many people. It’s often called the craziest state thanks to the abundance of bizarre criminal activity that takes place there. And now let it be forever known that Florida has one of the worst food scenes in the U.S.
Now, before you Floridians start coming at us, let us be clear here than the state is huge and certainly has some awesome places to eat. Miami’s food scene, for one, is fantastic (order all the Cuban sandwiches) and the coasts produce some excellent seafood.
The problem is that, despite being a diverse state, Florida carries a weird torch for bland chain restaurants. Orlando has more fast-food restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. Hooters and Burger King were both founded in the state, as was something called Tijuana Flats that has over 100 locations, looks like a worse version of Taco Bell, and boasts charmingly named hot sauces like Jason’s Mom’s and Smack My Ass & Call Me Sally.
Stay classy, Sunshine State!
What, you were expecting cultured palates in the heartland? This is corn country. This is beef country. Bring your fiber pills when you dine in Nebraska.
To be fair, corn and beef (and corned beef) alone aren’t so bad. In fact, they’re pretty dang good. It’s the subtler choices of those living in the Cornhusker State that are the real head-scratchers.
Take, for instance, a beloved dish that consists of a bowl of chili and a cinnamon roll. Eaten together. Nebraskans are apparently conditioned to “enjoy” this dubious pairing as early as grade school.
Oh, and the state has the country’s second-largest number of fast-food restaurants per capita. Pass.
Although a small sliver of Kansas City is in fact located in Kansas, the state gets no credit for barbecue. That honor goes to Missouri, which has the “real” Kansas City.
In Kansas, you’ll instead have to settle for a loose-meat sandwich. These are particularly depressing because you can tell they’d rather be a hamburger, but someone was too lazy to actually press the meat together. Instead, they overcooked it and bathed it in some saccharine-tasting sauce with a few pickle slices for appearances.
All that said, Kansas isn’t totally a culinary wasteland; there are a few great barbecue joints on the Kansas side of KC, and an abundance of cattle makes for some mean pot roast. But we definitely suggest popping over to Missouri (see No. 22 on this list) if you want the better all-around food scene.
Oklahoma has never been Texas, and that’s clearest when it comes to food. Where the Lone Star State scores high praise for its cuisine, its neighbor to the north is trying to create the world’s largest fried onion burger.
The El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day Festival is a big deal in the Sooner State — as in, the sooner we can go anywhere else the better — which is partly why the state has cracked the list of the 10 worst food scenes in America. Fried beef and onions slathered in bright-yellow mustard looks like a lot of things. It just doesn’t look like something you want to eat.
We'll admit that the barbecue is often quite good here, though, and the locally beloved chicken-fried steak is definitely worth trying.
Some years back, an Iowan took Chex cereal and drowned it in sugar, peanut butter and chocolate. People ate it and Puppy Chow was born. Iowans, like their food-culture-less Kansas neighbors, are also obsessed with loose-meat sandwiches, which reportedly got their start in Sioux City.
But Iowa’s biggest offense to the culinary arts is the taco pizza from Happy Joe’s. It calls for mixing together taco sauce, pizza sauce and refried beans. Enough said.
(We will give Iowa this, though: It produces more pork than any other state in the country. And pork is awesome.)
It’s all about meat in this Mountain West state. A giant rib-eye is served with a side of ham and a cheeseburger. Bison filets are nestled among pulled pork and cracklings. Chicken gets wrapped in bacon then stuffed into a leg of lamb, breaded and deep fried to medium-well.
So really, this is a matter of taste. If you like meat and only meat, Wyoming might be near the top of your list. If you think the food pyramid should include other foods, too, well...Wyoming probably isn’t for you.
True, Idaho isn’t only about potatoes. Boise, for instance, has a pretty diverse and innovative culinary scene. But the state does produce more potatoes than any other by a long shot, and in many regions, Idahoans subsist largely on potatoes, meat, potatoes, meat and a dessert that looks like a potato even though it actually contains no potato.
Granted, there’s nothing wrong with potatoes. It's just that there's such a thing as too much potato. Not to mention, there’s nothing particularly nourishing about potatoes, especially when they’re fried, as is often the case here.
The Sagebrush State would’ve scored much lower here if not for Las Vegas, which if it’s anything is a great food destination.
Leave the glittering lights of Sin City, though, and you’ll find yourself wandering a food-culture desert. A typical dining experience consists of the $10.99 all-you-can-eat surf-and-turf buffet that’s located at every casino and gas station in the state. This could be a romantic evening out, a family dinner, a power lunch, a quiet supper alone or your average Wednesday night in Elko.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy or offensive about the culinary trappings of the Badlands, and that’s why it’s such a disappointing food scene. Bland, run-of-the-mill chain eateries dominate the picturesque landscape. And even if you find something “local,” it’s going to be a pretty basic burger or steak — or those wonderful morsels of manhood known as Rocky Mountain Oysters.
We will say this, though: The state knows how to use its bounty of local huckleberries. There's huckleberry jam, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry flapjacks, even huckleberry wine. And it's all awesome.
37. New Hampshire
Blink and you’ll miss this state’s sliver of coastline, but it does exist — a fact that has apparently led locals to adopt the lobster roll as their own. The problem is that Maine exists, and let’s be real, it’s a much better place to go if you want to spend $20 for some lobster on bread.
The same goes for maple syrup. It’s not that New Hampshire makes bad syrup, but that Vermont does it so much better.
New Hampshire needs to get more of its own thing going. Until then, it just can’t measure up to its New England neighbors.
36. West Virginia
West Virginia is not exactly known for culinary innovation. The fact that one of the state’s most popular annual fairs is the Roadkill Cook-Off is alone enough to raise questions. And then there’s the state’s fried squirrels. Yes, that’s a real thing.
The state’s saving grace, and the reason it doesn’t land lower on the list, is the city of Charleston, which has one of the country’s more interesting up-and-coming culinary scenes. (With, blessedly, no roadkill to be found.)
With its proximity to Mexico and California, one would think Arizona would be right up there as a top food destination. Unfortunately, this is very much not the case.
True, there’s a decent amount of quality Mexican food here, which is why the state isn’t even lower on the list. But it’s also really hard to eat local here, due to a lot of fast-food restaurants.
Do better, Arizona!
34. New Mexico
Plenty of people enjoy a Santa Fe Chicken Salad, but we think putting chips and beans in a salad doesn’t make it New Mexican or good, and that the whole thing is kind of suspect. Add to that an obsession with the Frito Pie — a big pile of Fritos topped with chili — and you can see where New Mexico’s problems arise.
On the flipside, the state does boast some delicious food in Santa Fe (besides the aforementioned salad!), with red and/or green chilis adding a healthy kick to meals.
33. Rhode Island
Rhode Island is so bad at the food game that someone once looked at a bowl of clam chowder and said, “You know what would make this chowder really good? Taking all the things out of it that make it a ‘chowder.’” Yes, Rhode Island is infamous for its “clear broth” clam chowder.
But the state’s most ghastly culinary crime is something it stole from southern Massachusetts: the Chow Mein Sandwich. Take a mound of this Americanized Chinese staple and put it between a hamburger bun, then serve it to your least favorite person on Earth.
The one bright spot? Providence, where the seafood is first-rate.
Guy Fieri, a living, breathing premixed margarita, eats just about anything. When even he waits 12 years to visit your state for his TV Show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” you know your food scene is nonexistent.
That said, Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach are starting to come into their own as culinary destinations, and at least the food is cheap; Delaware has no sales tax.
Virginia actually has one of America’s best food products — country ham — so all is not lost in Old Dominion. But when you think a proper way to eat this culinary delight is to simply toss a few slices on a plain, dry biscuit, we have to question your sensibilities.
And we also have to question your unofficial state dish, Brunswick Stew, especially when it’s made the “authentic” way with squirrels.
Graeter’s Ice Cream is a national treasure that hails from the Buckeye State, which could’ve put Ohio much higher on this list.
Sadly, however, Ohioans also think it’s OK to put thin, chocolatey “chili” on top of spaghetti before burying the whole mess with a pound of cheddar cheese. If you haven’t heard of, let alone tried, Skyline Chili, consider yourself very lucky.
If you’re able to subsist on beer and cheese alone, then there are few places in the world you’d rather be. But if you’d like something to go with those rich items, you won’t find it here. The Green Mountain State might also be the only place in the world where it’s socially acceptable to shotgun both a beer and a pint of raw milk with the in-laws.
On the other hand, the maple syrup here is sugary-sweet perfection and this is where Ben & Jerry’s started making ice cream best consumed by the pint. So we'll just say that this state is a bit of a mixed bag.
Pork brain is a popular meat in many cultures, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly appealing. In Hoosier country, it’s very much a thing. They bread it and deep fry it, then slather it with mustard and stick it in a bun. Still, it’s rubbery, soft, greasy and generally cringe-inducing.
Stick to the American classics and pub food that makes most of the state palatable.
Mississippi makes some exceptional, if totally unhealthy, soul food: fried okra, fried catfish, collard greens, cornbread, the works.
So why doesn’t it crack the top half of the list? Mainly, because of a food item that you might assume is native to the bowels of hell, but actually comes from The Magnolia State: Koolickles. These pickles that have received a second brining in Kool-Aid are an abomination, and there are not enough jokes in the world to make them OK.
At No. 25, Alabama has the worst of the best food scenes in the U.S. Most Southern states have good enough food — albeit the heavy, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food — and some states do it a lot better than others. Alabama is somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The state’s best dish is fried green tomatoes, which are awesome, but dubiously claimed; the dish actually isn’t Southern at all.
Also, Alabama has more fast-food restaurants than any other state in America, which is...not the greatest, unless you really love Mickey D’s.
Georgia is called the Peach State and its official crop is peanuts. We get it, you’re into peaches and peanuts. You’re also into everything else that encompasses the Southern smorgasbord. And you do it all well. So how come you’re not ranked higher?
Blame Georgia’s own Paula Deen, whose culinary sensibilities created banana-split brownie pizza and bacon, cheese, egg and hamburger sandwiched between a halved Krispy Kreme doughnut and called “Lady’s Brunch.”
Sure, many of Deen’s butter-soaked concoctions are tasty, but she — and Georgia — sometimes seem to forget that there is such a thing as just too much.
Kudos to the Bluegrass State for inventing the Hot Brown, a smothered open-faced sandwich that is the ultimate late-night drunk dish. You’ve also got the Derby Pie (a divine chocolate and walnut tart), Beer Cheese (no surprise, a spread made with cheese and beer) and Spoonbread (basically a cornbread souffle).
Things were looking up, but then you stopped trying. First, you put your name on thousands of shops that sell a product vaguely familiar to fried chicken made from something that sort of resembles a chicken. Second, you made “fries” from lamb testicles.
We’re done here.
Missouri, how did you make it this far? It certainly wasn’t because of your processed provolone ripoff Provel. It had zero to do with the yeast-free cracker squares you claim to be pizza. And it most assuredly wasn’t because you slice bagels like a loaf of bread, you freaks.
Nope. It was because, based on all scientific research available, your barbecue is some of the best in the world.
The air is so thin in Colorado that it makes everything taste better. (That may or may not be true.) Which is why Rocky Mountain Oysters can be a thing here and the Centennial State can still have a top-rate food scene.
Mexican-inspired fare like green chili is the unofficial state food, but sadly so is the bland and boring Chipotle chain. That keeps Colorado out of the top 20 despite a sizeable expat community making Denver a go-to destination for excellent Vietnamese fare.
It’s no surprise that the Bay State rocks the seafood game with clam chowdah (yes, that’s how it’s officially spelled) and all manner of tender white fish. Baked beans are also way better than they should be. And the sizable Portuguese community churns out some awesome sweets.
But then the state had to mess it all up by introducing the fluffernutter, which locals inexplicably consider a dietary staple.
Swedes have been migrating to these parts for generations, but they’re not really known for their food — eating is more a necessity than a pleasure. Still, Minnesota broke free of its cured whitefish blues long ago and has crafted an interesting food scene.
Wild rice, the state grain, is used in tons of different ways, including in creamy soup, breads and desserts. And no state farms more turkeys than the Land of 1,000 Lakes.
Just avoid the “pickle dog” at all costs (we’re not even going to explain).
Meat reigns supreme inside these borders, as does Balkan cuisine from generations of Southeastern Europe migration to the region.
But the state known as America’s Dairyland is most obsessed with dairy, which would be awesome (so much good cheese!) except for the fact that it’s also paved the way for the butter burger.
This is exactly what it sounds like, only even more so. Every element — meat, cheese, onions and bun — is swimming in butter. Many, many people would call this amazing. We have no comment.
There’s a joke that the best thing to eat in the Wolverine State is whatever your neighbor just killed. In reality, there’s actually many delights to be had in these parts.
Kellogg's is headquartered in Michigan, which means cereal is an acceptable meal any time of day. Detroit has its own style of pizza, which is rectangular and quite good. And don’t get between a Michigander and their double-baked rye bread unless you’re ready for a real brouhaha.
With a nickname like the Nutmeg State, you better have some good food.
Connecticut is perhaps best known for its white slice, a clam pizza perfected in New Haven. Italian food overall is very good here. And they steam burgers instead of fry or grill them, which doesn’t actually ruin the experience.
Also, you’ve never had a better cider-cinnamon doughnut anywhere, and the grinder sandwiches are the best in New England.
Everyone born in the Old Line State knows how to pick a crustacean, so don’t try to pass off some store-bought crab cake for the real lump-meat beauties born on these shores unless you’re looking for a fight. Cuisine in Maryland starts and ends with crab, but it somehow works. They even put crab flavor on chips. And it’s delicious!
Plus, everyone knows that Old Bay seasoning makes everything better, even ice cream.
14. South Carolina
Depending on your sauce preference, the Palmetto State has arguably the nation’s best barbecue. South Carolina even created a special trail dedicated to the culinary art of the ‘cue. Whole hog, butts and shoulders, ribs — it doesn’t matter, it’s all amazing.
If that’s inexplicably not your thing, then head to the coast for some of the best crab soup you’ll ever taste and wash it all down with a cold sweet tea.
13. North Carolina
Just like South Carolina, only north and with more mountains.
We’re kidding (kind of) — this state has its own thing going on, too. Take, for example, its Lexington-style barbecue, which relies on a truly delightful ketchup-based sauce with a vinegar kick.
If you think Hawaii is the land of Spam and Spam alone, you are in need of a tropical vacation. It’s true that this World War II culinary creation is beloved here, but that’s because it can actually be made well.
Moreover, the Aloha State is a great example of East meets West. Its seafood is exceptional, and the Asian influences make the overall cuisine some of the most exotic in America. Then there’s the luau, an entire event centered around food in which a whole kalua pig is buried in scorching hot coals and cooked for hours.
Oh, and shave ice! Need we say more?
How could the land of Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and other “Plain People” produce any kind of notable food culture? Simple: Locals may shun modern advancements, but they really like to eat well.
In fact, Pennsylvania Dutch culture contains the only truly regional food in the U.S. because there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Add to that the Philly Cheesesteak, and you’ve got one heckuva food scene.
Does anyone else think lobster is kind of overrated? It’s expensive — like really expensive — and often lacking in flavor. Sometimes it feels like eating butter-poached paper towels.
So how could lobster-happy Maine have the 10th-best food scene in the U.S.?
Anything containing wild blueberries or strawberries, tons of non-lobster seafood, the Seven-Napkin Burger, Whoopie Pies and Portland, the small city with a huge culinary scene. That’s how.
The Evergreen State owes its culinary prestige to its abundance of year-round produce and Pacific Northwest seafood. The best cherries and apples in America are grown here. Its sockeye salmon is fresh-from-the-sea perfection. It knows its way around oysters better than most any other state.
But what really makes the state sing is its emphasis on culinary diversity. It takes inspiration from Asian and American Indian cultures and has a huge Japanese population (and Japanese food is so much more than sushi and hand rolls).
Add to all that some of the best beer and wine in America and you have the makings of a “Bon Appetit” photo shoot.
8. New Jersey
Appropriately, when it comes to food, the Garden State might be best known for its tomatoes. Its huge Italian population means plenty of red-sauce joints and pizza that rivals even that of neighbor New York.
The state’s long immigrant history has helped shape a diverse cuisine scene, and it even has its own charcuterie: the Taylor Ham roll. Perhaps most importantly, Jersey has more diners than any other state. And let’s be real, it’s hard to go wrong with a Denver Omelet.
Oregon is so much more than bitter IPAs and granola. Like Washington to the north and California to the south, the Beaver State maintains a year-round farming industry and locals love to eat local.
It shares many culinary traditions with Washington, and game meats like moose and elk are big here. Portland’s diverse population means Southeast Asian foods are especially good. And the state is one of the only places in the world where you can hunt for wild truffles.
Nashville largely put Tennessee on the culinary map, and with good reason. Its barbecue and hot chicken are second to none, but it also has excellent versions of fried pickles, sweet potato fries, and biscuits and gravy.
Volunteer Staters are also super-serious about their catfish and country ham, and meat and three joints are ubiquitous. Just avoid Elvis’s banana-peanut butter-bacon whatever-it-is and all will be good.
Our Top 5 countdown begins with the Land of Lincoln and deep-dish pizza. Chicagoans are more serious about their hot dogs than anyone on the planet, but their culinary stylings borrow from the kitchens of Polish, Italian, Mexican, Serbian/Croatian and Pakistani immigrants too. Then there’s the Jibarito, which was created at a Puerto Rican restaurant but today appears nowhere on the island nation and is instead an Illinois favorite.
Need more reason to love this state’s culinary offerings? One word: Kronos. The world’s largest maker of gyros is headquartered here.
Texas is known for its Tex-Mex, a combo that actually works brilliantly, and its cuisine is heavily influenced by the many Czech and German immigrants who call the Lone Star State home. The hamburger was invented here, as was the frozen margarita. (Thanks Texas!)
Better yet, if you can handle 10-gallon hats, line dancing and a thick accent, Texas barbecue is exemplary. And unlike other barbecue capitals, Texas relies on beef for its slooooooow roasting.
Few places in the world have as serious of food traditions as the Bayou State. And when Creole and Cajun cuisines compete for superiority, everyone wins.
New Orleans is arguably the food capital of America, and it’s easy to see why. Gumbo, po’ boys, etouffee, jambalaya, red beans and rice, Cafe Du Monde, crawfish — the list could go on for days, just as some of the cooking preparations do.
Eating is an experience in Louisiana, and one meant to be savored.
2. New York
It would be impossible to sum up the Empire State’s cuisine in a few sentences, so let’s just say that it’s a lot more than bagels and pizza. But also, there’s no place we’d rather get a bagel or pizza.
New York, thanks to the Big Apple, is one of the most diverse states in the U.S. And diversity in people means diversity in cuisine, which is what makes a food scene memorable. In New York City, you can try ethnic cuisine that it’s extremely hard to find anywhere else, from Serbian and Yemeni to Barbadian and Danish.
In fact, New York could’ve easily been No. 1 on this list if not for the existence of...
We chose California for one reason: avocados. Just kidding. We chose it for many reasons, but avocados are the best reason.
Like New York, California’s melting pot of cultures (it’s the most diverse state in the country) creates a culinary map that spans the entire world.
Plus, the Golden State’s agricultural supply is so vast — more than 450 crops! — that it supplies much of the country with its produce, while supporting tons of four-season farmers markets. More almonds are harvested here than anywhere in the world, and oranges grow even in the winter. Take that vitamin D-starved rest of the country!
Want haute cuisine? Try eating in L.A. or San Francisco, where Michelin-starred restaurants abound. More in the mood for cheap and greasy? Head to a taco truck for the best Mexican food north of the border, or order an animal-style burger at In-N-Out, so good you’ll want to cry.
This state has it all, honestly. And if you don’t agree that it has the best food scene in America, well, you’re just plain wrong.