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American Food Favorites: 30 Must Eat Dishes

Fried Chicken at Guss Fried Chicken in Memphis
Image: ©2foodtrippers

The more we travel and eat great food around the world, the more we appreciate American food culture. It’s what we grew up eating in Atlanta and Philadelphia and it’s what we ate during the majority of our adult years until we hit the road.

We’re not just talking about one kind of American cuisine. We appreciate it all from loaded burgers to hoity-toity meals at restaurants like The French Laundry. It’s fair to call us equal opportunity eaters.

Burgers and Fries at In N Out Burger
This lunch for two at In-N-Out Burger hit our burger sweet spot. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

But let’s face facts. When it comes to food, America has a mixed global reputation due to factors like factory farming, ginormous serving sizes and artisan producers. The country also has a slew of iconic American foods that span decades if not centuries.

We experienced it all, for better and worse, during an epic US road trip that took us through the heartland. As a result, we crave America’s iconic dishes when we’re out of the country and eat as many as we can when we’re back home.

What to Eat in the USA

Buffalo Wing Selfie at Elmos in Buffalo
Eating Buffalo wings in in their home city made us happy… and full. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Choosing the best food in America has been a fun challenge. The fun part has involved culling through thousands of photos and reminiscing about great food experiences we’ve previously enjoyed from sea to shining sea. As for the challenges, they were twofold.

First, we had to make tough choices to keep the list at two digits instead of three. The bigger issue was warding off hunger pangs that developed every time we looked at our photos. Lets face it – the most famous American food is addictively delicious.

Deviled Egg at Husk Nashville
This deviled egg provided an auspicious start to our meal at Husk in Nashville. We’d be willing to fly to Nashville to eat more. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We persevered and ended up with a USA food list that caps out at 30 tasty dishes. For ease of use, we’ve separated our choices into the following categories:

Without further ado, these our favorite American food icons and the ones you must eat during your next American road trip:

American Breakfast Food Icons

French Toast at the Buhl Mansion in Sharon Pennsylvania
Staying at Bed and Breakfasts has its rewards. One of our rewards at Buhl Mansion was this breakfast. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

While some dietitians claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we partially agree. We rank the morning meal in our top four in a tie with brunch, lunch and dinner.

That being said, we like eating breakfast like the locals wherever we’re located. When we’re in Vietnam, we eat Pho. When we’re in London, for example, we often order the Full English Breakfast.

These are the iconic breakfast foods we like to eat when we’re in America:

1. Pancakes

Pancakes at Flora and Fauna in Lisbon
Topped with bacon and eggs, these American-style pancakes provided us with a taste of home when we ate them in Lisbon. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We’ve eaten pancakes around the world in dozens of cities including Amsterdam, Athens, Lisbon, Osaka, Riga and Taipei. Some were sweet while others were savory. They were all good but none were quite the same as the fluffy stacks of pancakes, often served with a side of maple syrup, in America.

American Pancakes hold a special place in our hearts. Whether they’re big and wide or shaped like silver dollars, we don’t care so long as they’re covered with butter and drizzled with maple syrup. That being said, we’re okay if they’re filled with chocolate chips or blueberries instead.

Pro Tip
Splurge on maple syrup produced in Canada or Vermont for the ultimate American pancake experience. If you really want to go hardcore, seek out Grade B syrup.

2. Bagel and Lox

Bagel and Lox at Philly Style Bagels in Philadelphia
While Montreal and New York are most famous for their bagels, we ate this textbook bagel and lox sandwich at Philly Style Bagels Philadelphia. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Eating a bagel and lox for breakfast is a treat we’ve enjoyed all over the US and in international destinations like Montreal, Budapest, Vilnius and Shanghai. However, there’s nothing like eating this savory salmon sandwich in New York City.

New York Jews started making bagel and lox sandwiches a century ago using bagels from Poland, brined smoked salmon from Norway and cream cheese produced in the US. Still popular today, this melting pot of a meal is what we want to eat for breakfast at American delis except when we’re in the mood for white fish salad.

Discover more New York food favorites.

3. Sugary Cereal

Fruit Loops with Milk in Bowkl
Eating sugary cereal is a guilty pleasure that we enjoy every blue moon. We enjoyed these sweet, colorful Froot Loops for breakfast while cruising on an American ship in Asia. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Americans can’t take credit for inventing cereal since versions of oatmeal predate the country’s founding by millennia. However, Americans deserve dubious credit for producing sugary cereals in various shapes and colors.

Discover the best cereals in America.

Ironically, American entrepreneur and wellness preacher John Harvey Kellogg urged eating cereal as a health food to aid digestion. (You can learn more in the 1994 movie The Road to Wellville). While Kellogg invented corn flakes more than a century ago, his company later popularized less healthy cereals like Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Daryl’s favorite – Applejacks.

Fun Fact
Frosted Flakes are marketed as Frosties in Europe where they are sold in notably smaller boxes.

4. Biscuits

Rebel Within at the Craftsmen in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Rebel Within takes the biscuit concept to a higher level. We ate this ooey gooey miniature masterpiece at Craftsmen and Wolves. It was a show stopper. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

British visitors to America might be confused when they order a Biscuit if they’re expecting a sweet treat. What Brits call biscuits are called cookies in America while American biscuits are more similar to British scones.

Now that we have you thoroughly confused, just remember that an American Biscuit is a savory, flaky quick bread made with baking powder, flour, milk, salt and shortening. Also remember to add jam to your biscuit unless you fill it with eggs, breakfast meat or fried chicken.

Biscuits at Biscuit Love in Nashville
We’ve eaten a lot of biscuits in the American South. We ate these little beauties in Nashville. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

While we’ve eaten excellent biscuits in American cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco, the American South is the epicenter for this iconic bread. We’ve been especially impressed with the quality and quantity of the biscuits in both Charleston and Nashville.

Discover more Nashville food favorites.

5. Pop Tarts

Pop Tart at Bribery Bakery in Austin
Pop Tarts are firmly part of American pop food culture. We ate this copycat version at a bakery in Austin, Texas. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

As members of Generation X, we have fond memories of eating Pop Tarts for breakfast when we were kids. Topped with icing and decorated with sprinkles, these rectangular breakfast items were a treat best eaten when toasted.

Introduced by Kellogg in 1964, Pop Tarts are more popular now than ever with strawberry and brown sugar cinnamon topping the flavor charts. Are they healthy? Not really. Do they make us smile when we find homemade versions at bakeries in cities like Austin? Absolutely.

Discover more Austin food favorites.

Iconic American Snacks and Starters

Pretzel Bites at High Street in Philadelphia
Little snacks with big flavors are our jam. We enjoyed these pretzel bites at High Street in Philly. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We agree to disagree about snacks and starters. Mindi could happily make a meal out of two or three small plates while Daryl always wants a main course. This difference in dining philosophy comes up almost every time we dine at a restaurant both in America and around the world.

When we’re in America, these are the iconic snacks and starters that we both (but especially Mindi) rank at the top of our must-eat list:

6. Buffalo Wings

Buffalo Wings at Elmos in Buffalo
Buffalo wings may be the the most ideal bar food with their crispy texture and spicy flavor. We paired these Buffalo wings with pints of beer at Elmo’s in Buffalo. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Celebrated at an annual festival and served in pubs around the city, Buffalo wings are more prolific in its home city today than when Teressa Bellissimo first served them at The Anchor Bar in 1964. While it’s debatable whether Bellissimo actually invented the concept of deep-frying wings and coating them with peppery, buttery hot sauce, The Anchor Bar and Buffalo are forever connected to the American bar food staple.

Follow our recipe and bake tasty baked Buffalo wings at home.

Most Buffalo locals have a favorite spot for eating wings. Many favor Duff’s while other pick Elmo’s, Gabriel’s Gate, Bar-Bill and Doc Sullivan. Ironically, none seem to favor The Anchor Bar. As for us, we didn’t eat any bad wings in Buffalo during a week in New York’s Queen City. Sides of carrots, celery and blue cheese dipping sauce offset the calories – at least that’s what we told ourselves while licking our fingers in gluttonous glee.

Discover more great food in Buffalo.

7. Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder at Union Oyster House
Mindi ate this creamy bowl of New England clam chowder at Boston’s historic Union Oyster House. The restaurant has been a local fixture since 1826. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

When we think about eating chowder, the image that comes to mind is that of a fisherman huddling over a hot bowl of broth after bringing in a catch on a bitingly cold wet day. We also think about oyster crackers since it would be wrong to eat clam chowder without adding oyster crackers to the bowl.

Though associated with New England, great clam soup or “chower” is a hearty soup served throughout America’s eastern seaboard with one unifying factor – the clams themselves. New England clam chowder is a white, milky, creamy soup while Portuguese immigrants inspired the replacement of milk with tomatoes in the Manhattan version.

Daryl ate loads of clam chowder as a child with his family in Philadelphia. That chowder was more of a tomato/cream hybrid that was so good that it still sticks in a corner of his mind. This style is apparently rooted in Long Island but we’re not entirely sure.

Discover more great food in Boston.

8. Crab Cakes

Crab Cake in Lake Charles
Although associated with Maryland, crab cakes are available beyond America’s east coast. Mindi ate this spicy version at Jack Daniel’s Bar and Grill in Louisiana. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Although Americans weren’t the first to construct savory cake-like patties with seafood, cooks in the country’s Mid-Atlantic region claimed the crab cake as their own more than a century ago. It’s gotten to the point that many call this seafood dish Maryland crab cakes instead of just crab cakes.

Around the Chesapeake Bay, cooks whip up two versions. Although fried ‘Boardwalk’ crab cakes are easy to eat inside a hamburger bun, we prefer ‘Restaurant’ crab cakes made without fillers and served on a plate. We especially like them when they’re filled with lumps of local blue crab and flavored with Old Bay Seasoning.

But crab cakes aren’t just available in one part of the country. Near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana cities like Lake Charles, cooks add spicy Creole spices and Tabasco to their crab cakes. Further west, Pacific Northwest restaurants in Portland prepare their crab cakes with locally sourced sweet Dungeness crabmeat.

Discover Portland food favorites.

9. Gumbo

Cajun Gumbo at Herbsaint in New Orleans
We didn’t feel like a dumbo when we ate this gumbo at Herbsaint in New Orleans. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Gumbo could be the greatest soup in the world… assuming that it’s a soup and not a stew. What we do know is that roux-thickened, brown bowl of Louisiana gumbo, filled with thick slices of Andouille sausage, chicken or seafood, is one of the most quintessential eating experiences in America albeit with French, Creole and Native American influences.

Discover more of the best soups in the world.

Gumbo’s name traces back to the West African word for okra. But, in a typical twist of food evolution, not all Gumbos have okra. While some gumbos are indeed thickened with the slimy green vegetable, others, in a nod to Choctaw influence, are thickened with file (a thickening powder from the American sassafras tree).

Pick your gumbo passion – a food trip to the deep south is not the same without enjoying a heaping bowl of the stuff. Options include duck gumbo, crab gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo and gumbo z’Herbes, a (sort of) vegetable gumbo served at New Orleans restaurants on Fridays during lent.

Discover more great things to eat in New Orleans.

10. Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese at Dooky Chases in New Orleans
Eating creamy macaroni and cheese evokes warm and fuzzy childhood memories. We shared this dish and the resulting memories at Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Macaroni and cheese seems so simple when moms across America feed their kids by opening Kraft boxes and creating one pot meals. More industrious cooks combine macaroni pasta with cheese sauce, sometimes adding chopped up hot dogs and a breadcrumb crust. Then there are chefs who create more elevated versions with added foodstuffs like lobster at big ticket restaurants.

A deep dive into American food history reveals that this cheesy pasta dish has been part of American cuisine for two centuries since founding father Thomas Jefferson brought the concept back to Monticello from Europe. We sometimes forget about the magic of eating a hot bowl of mac + cheese but then we eat it and remember why it’s so good.

Fun Fact
Blue boxes of Kraft Mac + Cheese are also popular in Canada. Canadians call the dish Kraft Dinner or just KD.

11. Popcorn

Cajun Popcorn at Khyber Pass in Philadelphia
We don’t just eat popcorn at movies. We ate this spicy bag cooked in Benton’s Bacon Fat at The Khyber in Philadelphia. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

If you grew up in America, you probably ate a lot of popcorn. If you went to the movies, you ate much of it out of buckets as big as your head. We fit into both categories. But have you ever thought about what you were eating?

Enjoyed by native American cultures for millennia, it’s not an overstatement to call popcorn a wonder of the biochemical world. Since we’re not scientists ourselves, it’s our vague understanding that popcorn has something to do with steam, pressure and endocarps. Archeologists have found evidence of corn and popcorn consumption in South America almost 6,000 years ago. FYI, we’re also not archeologists though we’re duly impressed.

We assume that ancient people ate popcorn during religious celebrations and at harvest festivals. Movies would have to wait a few thousand years, give or take.

Fun Fact
Americans eat more than 17 billion quarts of popcorn each year. That’s billions with a b.

12. Tater Tots

Tater Tots at Luckys Last Chance in Philadelphia
Tater tots taste good on their own and even better when loaded with toppings. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

When Americans of a certain generation or later think of tater tots, visions of a school lunch lady dishing out hotel spoons of the brown grated potato cylinders onto melamine plates resting on aluminum lunch trays come to mind. It’s inevitable.

Don’t bother trying to make a proper tater tot in a home or even restaurant kitchen. You really can’t. This is a product of large factories. In fact, Ore-Ida, a massive potato processing and frozen food company, invented the tater tot as a way to repurpose potato shavings that would otherwise go to waste in the making of frozen french fries. Some chefs attempt to make them from scratch while other chefs just order the frozen Ore-Ida version without pretense. To us, the latter is the smarter move.

Fun Fact
Tater tots hit the big screen when they were featured in the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

13. Nachos

Nachos in Montreal Apartment
We’ve eaten nachos all over the world in spots like Franschhoek and Da Nang. However, our favorites are the nachos we make at home. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Nachos may be the most popular American bar snack that wasn’t invented in America. First served in Piedras Negras, Mexico, spitting distance from the Texas border, nachos have become a staple at bars, ball clubs and movie theaters since Ignacio Anayo melted cheese over tortilla chips and sprinkled jalapeño peppers on top back in 1940.

America, being America, has taken Anayo’s simple nachos to the next level by loading them with a slew of additional ingredients options like ground beef, sour cream, guacamole and beans. Cheese options run the gamut, with the best cheese often being the one in the refrigerator.

While we don’t recommend it, ballparks and movie theaters use a ‘special’ nacho cheese processed into a pourable orange consistency. Many people associate Nachos with processed cheese sauce and choose to buy jars of it at the grocery store or from Amazon. Go figure.

Fun Fact
Pair your nachos with a margarita or mojito to make your happy hour extra happy.

Iconic American Sandwiches

Primanti Classic at Primanti Bros in Pittsburgh
Most American cities have a signature sandwich. We ate Pittsburgh’s sandwich star at Primanti Bros. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We love American sandwiches so much that we created a separate lists with our 20 favorites that go way beyond peanut butter and jelly. While we love all 20 featured sandwiches, the following are particularly noteworthy and have achieved icon status:

14. Hamburger

New York Hamburger at The Grill
We’ve rarely eaten an American hamburger that we haven’t liked. (We can’t say the same about burger in Europe.) We ate this burger beauty at The Grill in New York City. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Hamburgers are one of the foods we miss most when we’re away from the US. We’ve eaten so many bad ones during our travels that we’ve lost count. Some were served so rare that they were raw and others were cooked until they resembled leather. And then there were burgers prepared with the texture of meatloaf. But we digress.

Although the name of the sandwich has a link to the Northern German city of Hamburg, America deserves credit for popularizing that sandwich that we love eating at fast food chains like Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger as well as at upscale restaurants and local greasy spoons.

Although a hamburger is simply a sandwich with meat patties inside a roll, the options run the gamut with most restaurants offering a range of proteins and toppings. Sometimes we order thick pub or restaurant burgers medium rare, with a red center. Other times we experience the juicy joy of a smashed patty burger cooked medium well at Shake Shack, one of our favorite burger spots.

Discover the world’s best burgers.

15. Hot Dog

New York Hot on on Red Table in New York City
We topped this classic hot dog with mustard when we ate it at Gray’s Papaya in New York City. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

GM auto brand Chevrolet summed up the iconic status of hot dogs with a 1970s jingle that linked the sausage sandwich with baseball and Apple Pies. The fact that hot dogs have roots in Germany is irrelevant to their popularity at cookouts and ballparks across America.

When we think of American hot dogs, we typically think of grilled all-beef wieners topped with spicy mustard and sweet relish at Gray’s Papaya and Nathan’s Famous in New York City or loaded Chi-Dogs in Chicago. But these preparations merely represent the tip of the hot dog hierarchy.

Fun Fact
Despite its famous hot dogs, New York doesn’t lead the pack in hot dog consumption. According to the Nielsen Company, that honor goes to Los Angeles.

Hot Dog at Teds in Buffalo
Inspired by local traditions, we topped our charbroiled hot dog with spicy sauce and a pickle at Ted’s Hot Dogs in Buffalo. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

During our travels in the US, we’ve eaten charbroiled hot dogs in Buffalo, Elk jalapeño cheddar dogs in Denver, Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson and way too many ‘dirty water dogs’ in New York City to count. Other regional variations include half smokes in Washington, DC, poi dogs in Hawaii, coneys in Detroit, corn dogs in Dallas and Tijuana dogs in California.

Discover more great hot dogs around the world.

16. Philly Cheesesteak

Cheesesteak at Pat's in Philadelphia
The Philly cheesesteak is famous around the world. We ate this one at Pat’s King of Steaks where the sandwich was invented. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

There’s no argument that the Philly cheesesteak was invented in the City of Brotherly Love – the city’s name is in the sandwich name after all. There’s also no argument that the most appropriate toppings for the long chopped steak sandwich are cheese (either Cheez Wiz or provolone) and fried onions.

Instead, the argument focuses on who makes the best Philly cheesesteak in the gloriously greasy sandwich’s home city. While most locals stand by either Pat’s King of Steaks (the original) and Geno’s Steaks located directly across the street from Pat’s. Others vote for Jim’s on South Street and Dalessandro’s in Manayunk. As for us, we vote for John’s Roast Pork in deep South Philly.

Discover more Philadelphia food favorites.

17. Lobster Roll

Lobster Roll
Don’t be confused with the lobster roll’s casual appearance. Filled with lobster, these sandwiches don’t qualify as cheap eats. | Image: WoodysPhotos /

New England’s lobster roll is well-named considering that this sandwich fills a ‘top split’ hot dog-style roll with lobster chunks. Other typical ingredients include mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce.

Lobster rolls aren’t cheap whether you eat them in Connecticut where they were invented or elsewhere. Luxurious lobster is the star of this sandwich show. We’ve eaten great versions in Massachusetts as well as in Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio.

Discover more great food in Columbus.

18. Po Boy

Po Boy at Chimes in Baton Rouge
Though the po boy was invented in New Orleans, great versions can be found throughout Louisiana. We ate this prodigious po boy at The Chimes in Baton Rouge. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The only thing confusing about the po boy is its name. Also called a poor boy, there’s nothing low class or deficient about this iconic sandwich especially when it’s topped with fried oysters

Invented in New Orleans in 1929, the po boy stands out as NOLA’s most popular sandwich. (Sorry, muffaletta fans! You snooze, you lose.) But, seriously, we can’t blame Louisiana locals for favoring the hoagie hybrid that tops a Leidenheimer baguette with either crispy seafood or slow cooked beef. We love eating po boys too.

Most NOLA natives have their favorite po boy spot with many partial to Parkway Bakery and Tavern, Liuzza’s by the Track, Killer PoBoys and Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar. We have our favorite too though we’re happy to return to the Big Easy and try some more just to be sure.

Read about our favorite New Orleans Po Boys.

Iconic American Dinner Dishes

Salmon at High Street Philly
Call us what you want. Just don’t call us late for dinner when it involves grilled salmon and a colorful beet salad. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

If you believe that bigger is better, the following American dishes will make you smile. They make us smile every time we eat American food for dinner. They also fill us up until our next meal also known as breakfast.

19. Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken at Guss Fried Chicken in Memphis
Fried chicken is American comfort food coated with batter and fried to achieve GBD (golden brown delicious) status. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Southern Americans didn’t invent the concept of battering chicken and frying it to crispy goodness. That honor goes to savvy Scotts and ancient Romans before them. However, it’s fair to say that soul food cooks in America’s south have more than mastered the art of preparing fried chicken.

The roots of American fried chicken are intertwined with slaves who introduced West African spices to the mix and Colonel Sanders who popularized fried chicken across the country and around the world. Modern variations include crunchy chicken sandwiches, brunchy chicken and waffles, sweet and spicy Korean fried chicken and Nashville’s fiery hot chicken. Don’t get us started on chicken fried steak (which ironically doesn’t involve chicken at all).

Discover more of the best fried chicken in America and beyond.

20. Pizza

Pepperoni Pizza at Bocce Club Pizza in Buffalo
Although New York and Chicago are famous for their pizza styles, good pizza is available at numerous pizzerias across America. We ate this excellent pie at Bocce Club Pizza in Buffalo. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

America’s history with pizza dates back to 1905 when Naples native Gennaro Lombardi started making coal-fired pies in New York’s Little Italy. Since then, the entire country has fallen in love with the cheap eats favorite that combines dough, tomatoes, cheese and various toppings to create a food that’s as simple as it is complex. The cities of Chicago, New Haven, Detroit and Buffalo are particularly noteworthy for creating unique American pizza styles.

Ironically, two of our favorite pizzerias aren’t located in any of these cities. Pizzeria Bianco is in Phoenix while Pizzeria Beddia is in Philadelphia. However, there’s nothing like eating a humungous pepperoni-topped slice in New York City when anybody (including us) craves the quintessential Italian American pizza experience.

Read our New York City pizza guide.

21. Barbecue

BBQ at Q39 in Kansas City
Kansas City’s BBQ is just one style of BBQ in the the US. We ate this meaty melange at Q39 in the midwestern metropolis. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Americans love cooking their meat over fire, whether it’s over a hot grill or low and slow in a smoker. The latter is so popular that the country has four distinct BBQ styles.

  • Carolina Style: This approach serves (mostly) whole hogs with tangy, vinegary sauces.
  • Kansas City Style: Barbecue pit masters apply dry rub to all sorts of meats before smoking them and finishing with sweet BBQ sauce.
  • Memphis Style: Locals prepare a hodgepodge of BBQ from saucy to dry. Memphis barbecue occupies a middle ground between western and coastal BBQ with diverse offerings ranging from smoked ribs and pulled pork to barbecue spaghetti.
  • Texas Style: This is arguably the most pure of the four regional American barbecue style. Texas pit masters typically season meat with a basic rub of salt and pepper before cooking it for many hours in wood-fired pits. Brisket, sometimes smoked from 8 to 12 hours, is the star of this BBQ style.
Beef Rib in Lockhart Texas
Many people consider Texas BBQ to be the best BBQ in the world. After eating this beef rib in Lockhart, TX, we get their point. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Growing up in the northeast, BBQ contemplated anything cooked over a grill. However, southern styles of barbecue have grown in popularity to the point where it’s no longer difficult to find the ‘good stuff’ up north. There’s even a kosher BBQ joint in Brooklyn that cooks low and slow brisket.

Discover the best BBQ in Texas.

22. Chili

Chili in Philadelphia
We ate this loaded chili in Philadelphia and then we took a nap. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

When most people think of chili (the stew, not the pepper), they think about Texas’ chili con carne eaten by real-life cowboys as well as cowboys in John Wayne movies. It’s meaty and spicy and chock full of ingredients that include chili peppers, tomatoes and sometimes beans. A staple at chili cook-offs and Super Bowl parties, it’s great but it’s not the only American chili worth eating.

Beyond less traditional chili made with meats that run the gamut from turkey to venison, our favorite variations include Denver’s green chile made with Pueblo chiles and Cincinnati chili made with cinnamon and other exotic spices. We were once crazy enough to detour to Ohio’s Queen City to eat heaping bowls piled with cheddar cheese and later smart enough to cook it from scratch at home.

Try our Cincinnati chili recipe at home.

23. Cobb Salad

Cobb Salad at Craft Kitchen in Las Vegas Nevada
This tasty cobb salad provided us with a burst of energy when we ate it for lunch at CRAFT Kitchen in Las Vegas. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Some salads are dainty starters filled with vegetables typically eaten by rabbits and vegetarians alike. The cobb salad isn’t one of those salads. Instead, it’s a protein-laden main course dish that offers a different taste in every forkful. Avocado? Check. Blue cheese? Check check. Crispy bacon? Check check check.

Try our tasty Cobb salad recipe at home.

Although Bob Cobb (yes, that’s his real name) introduced his signature salad at The Brown Derby in 1937, we didn’t taste the inspired California chopped salad until more than a half century later. Filled with avocado, bacon, chicken breast, hard boiled egg slices and blue cheese, those first bowls weren’t our last bowls.

The cobb salad is best eaten in Los Angeles where it was invented. Discover more tasty Los Angeles food experiences.

24. Jambalaya

Jambalaya at Coops in New Orleans
We satisfied our jambalaya craving with this heaping serving at Coop’s Place in NOLA’s French Quarter. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

It’s not unusual for people to confuse jambalaya with gumbo. After all, the two dishes are both Creole/Cajun dishes popular in the Bayou. But, in reality, these are two totally different dishes. While gumbo is a soup, jambalaya is rice dish inspired by settlers from Spain and West Africa. Though nobody knows for sure, we like to think that Spanish settlers from Valencia attempted to recreate their abuela‘s paella using West Indian spices.

Beyond rice, a proper jambalaya recipe includes andouille sausage, shrimp, Louisiana’s vegetable trinity of celery, onions and green peppers and a whole bunch of spices. Creole jambalaya adds tomatoes while Cajun jambalaya is a tomato-free dish.

Fun Fact
Jambalaya inspired Hank Williams to write Jambalaya on the Bayou, a festive song that’s been covered by a slew of artists including Hank Williams Jr.

25. Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits at Beauty Shop in Memphis
We took this beauty shot at The Beauty Shop in Memphis. Then we ate the bowl of shrimp and grits with gusto. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Although eating shrimp and grits at restaurants is a relatively recent food trend in the grand scheme of American cuisine, the dish is far from new. Low country fishermen have been eating freshly caught shrimp over grits for more than a century though they simply called the dish breakfast shrimp. Food historians trace the dish back further to slaves who may have brought the idea of pairing shrimp with hominy grits from Africa.

Our history with the dish is far more succinct. We didn’t eat shrimp and grits when we were kids. It just wan’t a dish that our mothers prepared at home nor did we encounter it on restaurant menus. We’ve since made up for lost time by eating shrimp and grits in multiple southern cities including Charleston, Asheville, Nashville and Memphis.

Discover more great food in Memphis.

Iconic American Desserts

Ice Cream Sandwich at Cream in Las Vegas Nevada
This ice cream sandwich with chocolate chip cookies and M&M candy screams American dessert. We ate it quickly in Las Vegas before it melted. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Our mutual passion for American sweets started with ice cream and birthday cake in Atlanta (Mindi) and Philadelphia (Daryl) and has since blossomed to a full-blown love affair. We love local favorites like moon pies in Tennessee and Ghiradelli chocolate in San Francisco just like we love the country’s most iconic sweet treats.

If you’re wondering how to satisfy your sweet tooth beyond American candy, we recommend starting with the following American dessert icons:

26. Apple Pie

Apple Pie in Philadelphia
We ate this slice of deep dish apple pie on March 14th, also known as Pi Day, in Philadelphia. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Apple pie isn’t just the most popular pie in America, it’s also a symbol of Americanism. When people want to describe something that’s purely American, they say that it’s “as American as apple pie.” Ironically, despite this patriotic expression, apple pie wasn’t invented in America.

Dutch people were eating apple-filled pies called Appeltaarts before America was colonized. The Brits ate a version back then too. Once European settlers started baking apple pies on the left side of the pond, the dessert became an instant classic. In a country of immigrants, this mongrel of a dessert fit right into the fold. Or, in this case, the pie pan.

Fun Fact
Unlike apple pie, pumpkin pie, key lime pie and lemon meringue pie were all invented in America.

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie on Flower Plate (1)
Chocolate chip cookies taste best when eaten straight out of the oven. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Nestlé, a Swiss company, owns the rights to the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip recipe. It doesn’t matter. This tasty cookie is as American as apple pie. And, unlike apple pie, the chocolate chip cookie was actually invented in America.

Ruth Wakefield gets credit for adding chocolate chunks and brown sugar to buttery cookie dough at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts back in the 1930s. Although she later sold the recipe to Nestlé and the inn has closed, the cookie is as popular today as it was nearly a century ago. Maybe even more so.

Fun Fact
Legend has it that Nestlé paid Wakefield with chocolate in lieu of money.

28. Cheesecake

Cheesecake at St Elmo Steak House in Indiana
Mindi ate this classic American cheesecake at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Cheesecakes aren’t hard to find in America. You can find them in diner dessert cases across the country as well as at exclusive steakhouses and on upscale restaurant menus. Made with Philadelphia brand cream cheese, classic New York cheesecake has a thick, dense texture and rich luxurious mouthfeel that’s neither airy or light. These elements plus its tasty tang are what make American cheesecake great.

Though we’ve eaten excellent cheesecake in American cities like Indianapolis and, of course, New York, we’ve also eaten a great version in France’s Lyon. Junior’s and The Cheesecake Factory have built entire businesses on the back of this creamy cake.

It’s a great American dessert. Just don’t confuse it with Japan’s fluffier version.

Fun Fact
The literal French translation of America’s cheesecake is Gâteau au Fromage Blanc. However, the French call it cheesecake too.

29. Cronut

Cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York
Daryl’s cronut was so special that it came with instructions. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

When world-famous pastry chef Dominique Ansel introduced his mighty donut/croissant hybrid at his Soho bakery back in 2013, the cronut became an instant classic and had its own copyright within nine days. Somehow, we never ate a cronut in the early years when hundreds of crazed ‘cronutfiles’ would line up to snap up the limited supply of cream filled, multilayered beauties every morning. It wasn’t until a 2019 trip to Manhattan that Daryl finally got his greedy claws on one.

That being said, we’ve eaten various imitations over the years including 100-layer donuts at Five Daughters Bakery in Nashville and “doughssants” at Jason Bakery in Cape Town, South Africa. Both pastries channeled Ansel’s genius and tasted great.

Get donut inspiration if you’re not near Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York.

30. Ice Cream Soda

Root Beer Float in Philadelphia
We drank this adult ice cream soda made with both root beer soda and root beer liqueur in Philadelphia. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Although ice cream wasn’t invented in the US, American soda jerks and their employers get credit for inventing a myriad of ice cream desserts including the milkshake, sundae, banana split and ice cream soda. An American also invented the egg cream but that Brooklyn classic has milk instead of ice cream.

The ice cream soda achieved national popularity when Robert M. Green invented the fountain favorite in 1875. The root beer float followed 19 years later and quickly became an American dessert icon.

Made with vanilla ice cream and root beer, a root beer float is best enjoyed with a straw as well as a spoon available on a ‘just in case’ basis. Originally produced with sassafras root bark, root beer has an herbaceous flavor that blends distinctively with vanilla ice cream.

Pro Tip
Order a brown cow float if you want chocolate syrup added to your root beer float.

Useful American Facts

  • The USA is in North America.
  • The USA’s currency is the US Dollar.
  • English is the USA’s predominant language.
  • Tips are expected and comprise a large component of a server’s compensation. The standard is 15-20%.

Video Recap

Hungry for More in America?

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About the Authors

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.


Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

We purchased and ate the food featured in this article.

Original Publication Date: March 14, 2021


Thursday 3rd of November 2022

English is not the official language of the USA. There is no official language I. America. Odd error in the article.

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Thursday 3rd of November 2022

You're officially correct.

Javier Antonio Quinones Ortiz

Thursday 3rd of November 2022

The notion that food is allegedly better abroad reeks of the laughable stereotypical American inferiority complex among the self-styled chic crowd in America.


Tuesday 26th of July 2022

Some strange choices with so many staples not mentioned. Bacon and eggs, pot roast, grilled cheese and tuna salad for a start. At 70 I have never had several of the ones on list.

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