What to Eat in the USA

Updated June 27, 2020.

It’s an exceptionally special What I Ate Wednesday, everyone! American Thanksgiving is next Thursday, so this week, I’m giving you all the best food from my home country: the United States of America! It’s more than burgers and milkshakes, my friends. I hope you brought an appetite.

Apple Pie:
All Over America

Have you heard the phrase “as American as apple pie”? I don’t know if we came up with it, but we sure do grow a lot of apples in the States, and we sure do like pie! Warm, cold, with a side of whipped cream, or á là mode, apple pie can be found at every true American-style eatery!

Apple Pie
Homemade Apple Pie

BBQ (Barbecue):
The American South, Texas, and Midwest

Americans love barbecue. It’s a specific kind of meal in the States, not just anything you cook on a grill. Traditionally, barbecue is pork, but it can also be chicken, beef, venison, squirrel, or really any meat you might want. It’s usually smoked or grilled slowly on a low heat (also known as “low and slow”), then pulled apart because it’s tender enough that it can fall off the bone instead of being cut off. Pile it on a bun, slather it in the barbecue sauce of your choice, and you have an all-American meal!

As for the sauce, several states and regions claim to have the best! A North Carolina sauce will be vinegar-based, so it’s a thinner sauce. Alternatively, a South Carolina sauce is mustard-based and is yellow. A Kansas City sauce (from both Missouri and Kansas) has molasses in it, so it’s sweeter and thicker than other sauces. Alabama sauce is made with mayonnaise, and as a result is a white sauce. The Texas-style “Mop” sauce is thin and applied with a basting mop; it’s usually thinner because it’s made with stock or Worcestershire sauce. Sauces across America can include sugar, ketchup, maple syrup, fruit, and more, so there’s a combination for everyone! Interestingly, Memphis style barbecue traditionally comes without sauce because the meat speaks for itself, but you will find a variety of sauces wherever you have barbecue in Memphis. Want the real barbecue experience? Plan a trip to the Memphis in May International BBQ Contest!

But here’s the thing about barbecue restaurants: the ones that are serious about their barbecue will make their own sauces, sometimes 5-6 different kinds! Try them all before you choose one for your barbecue sandwich.

Pulled Chicken Barbecue with Sweet Potato Fries and Traditional Coleslaw
Still Hungry? What to Eat in Memphis

Banana Pudding:
The American South

It may look a mess, but it’s a sweet Southern staple! The story goes that in the time it took for bananas to be shipped from where they grew to the American South, they had gone bad! And wouldn’t you know, that’s the best kind of banana to use for banana pudding! Between the vanilla wafers, vanilla extract, and fluffy meringue, it’s the definitive Southern classic!

Homemade Banana Pudding, from my latest visit to my parents’ farm!

New York City, NY

Many regions in America claim to have the best cheesecake, but in general, the best known American cheesecake comes from New York City. A New York cheesecake includes heavy cream or sour cream, making it richer, denser, and creamier than other cheesecakes. There are many flavors and varieties to choose from, but all are delicious!

New York Cheesecake is traditionally plain (but tall!), but I prefer a more exciting cheesecake like this one with caramel and chocolate! Photo Credit: Tracy Russell

Philadelphia, PA

When in Philadelphia, you have to try a cheesesteak! It’s a long roll with shaved beef, onions, peppers, and cheese. Ingredients may vary by restaurant, but you can only get a “real” cheesesteak in the City of Brotherly Love.

Philly Cheesesteak
More here: What to Eat in Philadelphia

Texas and the Midwest

Known for being a cowboy’s meal, Texans claim to have come up with the original pot of chili. In fact, chili was made the official food of Texas in 1977! If you go to Ohio and the Midwest, however, they’ll tell you Skyline Chili is the original and best. But no matter where you get a bowl of chili, you’ll be in for a warm, spicy meal. It will include meat (maybe beef, maybe venison, maybe something shot earlier in the day. In Texas, it will not have beans, but just about anywhere else in the country it will. Top it off with sour cream, cheese, avocado, onions, peppers, chips, or anything else you like!

Homemade chili made in my crock pot and served in a pumpkin. Classic fall!

All Over America

English settlers would have died had the Native Americans not shown them how to grow corn. They just would have. So Americans have always embraced corn, which grows really well here! My favorite way to have corn is in corn pudding, but many people prefer it on the cob, in soups and stir-fries, or popped up as popcorn!

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Crab Cakes:
Chesapeake Bay Area, Maryland and Virginia

If you find yourself in Maryland, Virginia, or even Washington, D.C., you will find crab cakes on an awful lot of menus! Whether you prefer yours on a sandwich or on their own, a good crab cake will be heavy on the crab, light on the cake, and include spices similar to Old Bay seasoning.

Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake
Keep eating: What to Eat in Annapolis

All Over America

Cupcake shops are a fad that became the fashion that became an American baking icon! It’s no secret Americans like their sugary cakes and desserts of all sorts, but cupcakes are a little something that America has taken as its own. The first every cupcake-only shop is Sprinkles Cupcakes, which opened in 2005 in Beverly Hills and is still in business all over the States today. You’ll find cupcake shops in every major city and practically every whistle stop in between! You can get everything: sweet, savory, colorful, fruity, cupcakes inspired by pies, cupcakes inspired by cinnamon rolls—you can even get a cupcake “cake” in place of a wedding cake! What’s the best cupcake I ever ate? This one from Georgetown Cupcake!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcake from the world-famous Georgetown Cupcake in D.C.!
Where can you get great cupcakes? Here’s What to Eat in Georgetown!

Fried Chicken:
The American South

I’ve never seen fried chicken the way the American South does it outside of the United States or a U.S.-based chain (I was delighted to see a KFC when I lived and worked in Japan). It is dredged in egg wash, rolled in a flour mixture, sometimes dredged and rolled again, and then deep fried to crispy perfection. It’s usually served with mashed potatoes and gravy, so get ready to carbo-load!

True, Southern Fried Chicken: Made by My Dad

Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, and Bacon Cheeseburgers:
All Over America

Americans like their beef! On any American menu, even in fine restaurants, you will find a burger–maybe it’s a high-quality bison burger, maybe it’s a pepper jack cheeseburger, or maybe it’s the ultimate: a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. Burgers of all kinds traditionally come with fries, too!

Bacon Cheeseburger and Fries

Hot Dogs:
All Over America

It’s the best-known American street food: the hot dog. Don’t ask what’s in it, because you won’t want to know. Just have one and savor it! It will come inside a long roll for easy handling. I like mine with ketchup, mustard, and sweet pickle relish, but you can top it however you like. No one is too sure of the origin, but you can literally find them in every grocery store, every city, and every state in the Union! Want to go the extra mile? Top it with chili and cheese, and it’s a chili dog! And in true American style, everything is better topped with cheese and bacon:

Bacon and Cheese Hot Dog

Key Lime Pie:

You will find Key Lime Pie all over the Southeast Coastal region, but especially in the state of Florida. Key limes are smaller and usually sweeter (but still sour!), and it will pretty much always come with whipped cream, like the one below!

Key Lime Pie with Raspberry Sauce

All Over America

Lemonade is simply lemon juice, water, and sugar. Little kids make it to sell in the summer time to learn a little something about entrepreneurism. Moms make a big pitcher of it for pool parties and Fourth of July get-togethers. I made it for my husband and me as a refreshing summer drink! You can find it all over America, but rarely have I found it elsewhere! When you see it on the menu, give it a try!


Macaroni and Cheese:
All Over America

Macaroni and cheese first came to America on Thomas Jefferson’s table–probably–and ever since, it’s been an American favorite! It’s usually a side dish, but I’ve seen it on some menus as an entree, especially if it includes meat. America may not have invented cheese, but we really love cheese. And America may not have invented pasta, but we really love pasta! And really, nothing beats a warm bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese.

Mac and Cheesey!

Peanut Butter and Jelly:
All Over America

What? You mean peanut butter isn’t a thing everywhere? I was quite truthfully shocked the first time I realized not everyone has access to creamy, wonderful peanut butter! You can find it everywhere in the States, and not just the peanut variety: macadamia nut butter, cashew butter, almond butter–any kind of nut can be made into a nut butter. How can you improve peanut butter? Pair it with jelly or jam and put it between two slices of bread! Grape jelly is the usual jelly pairing, and as it turns out, that’s a rarity elsewhere in the world, too! But really any kind of jam or jelly will do.

I personally like my peanut butter sandwich with honey and banana, and my mom prefers a peanut butter and potato chip sandwich–yum! If ever you find yourself in the United States, do yourself a favor and pick up a jar of peanut butter at a grocery store, convenience store, or on the kids’ menu at many restaurants!

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, perfect for picnics, sack lunches, or any meal throughout the day!

New York City, NY, and Chicago, IL

It’s true, America did not invent pizza. But if you find yourself in New York or Illinois, you’ll quickly learn that America may have perfected it! New York style pizza has a thin crust and cut in triangles; Chicago style is very thick, with multiple layers of toppings and is often served up more like a casserole than a traditional slice of pizza. No matter where you get your pizza, you will not be disappointed!

New York Style Pizza: cut in triangular slices. This is a “Hawaiian” pizza, which always includes pineapple and ham!

Primanti Brothers Sandwich:
Pittsburgh, PA

My husband hails from Pittsburgh, so a Pittsburgh Primanti Brothers’ sandwich has to make this list! It’s larger than life with thick-cut bread, piled high with meat, and as you can see below, the fries come on the sandwich instead of on the side!

Primanti Brothers Sandwich

All Over America

A friend pointed out to me recently that America is the only country where you regularly find steak on the menu. I’m sure someone else can come up with a correction or an exception (like Kobe steak from Japan), but generally, steak is perhaps the most American of American meals! Whether it’s prime rib, New York strip, filet minion, or another cut of beef, it’s all-American all the way!

All-American meal! Porterhouse Steak, corn on the cobb, and roasted potatoes.

Hungry for more? Check out my World Foods Page!

And for more on America, you’ll want to see my United States Page, too!

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8 responses to “What to Eat in the USA”

  1. Why do I always come across food posts when I am actually hungry? It all looks delicious. I haven’t been in US yet and when I do come it will be all about food. 🙂

    1. Hahahaha! We do love our food here! Bring your appetite when you come! 🇺🇸 And maybe a friend so you can have a bite of theirs, too!

      1. Definitely. And we have to order different things to try as much as possible. 🙂

  2. Excellent, comprehensive post! I may be a bit biased, but I also have to add southwestern cuisine, and specifically green chile! There is nothing like eating a breakfast burrito in the chilly morning at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta while the sun comes up.

    1. Thank you! I worked on this one a long time! 🤣 What a great addition—I LOVE a good breakfast burrito!

  3. I had a really good Philly Cheesesteak at a Chinese restaurant near Independence Hall when I worked in Philadelphia. 🙂 They’re also known for their pretzels.

    1. Yum!

  4. […] Still hungry? Iconic Eats Across the USA […]

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