Eat & Drink

The Essential Food Experience You’ve Gotta Have In Every US State

Brought to you by Qantas

This feature is brought to you by Qantas, who are proud to play a part in bringing travellers together with the people they love from around Australia and across the globe.

The USA isn’t all burgers and fries. Yes, ‘Murica is partial to a drive-thru, but its 50 states form a veritable United Nations of eating options.

From food truck tacos just north of the Mexican border to the Creole cuisine that blends French, Spanish, and African flavours in Louisiana, eating your way around America is the perfect way to explore how culturally diverse the world’s third-largest country really is.

Wondering where to start? From Alabama to Wyoming, we’ve compiled a guide to the one meal you’ve got to seek out in every US state. A word to the wise: elastic waistbands are your friend.

Alabama

 

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Fried Green Tomatoes: an underrated 1991 movie starring Kathy Bates and also the name of Alabama’s quintessential side dish. For the full southern experience, order yours with fried chicken, dip ‘em in some cool ranch dressing, and wash it all down with a sweet iced tea.


Alaska

Alaska’s all about crab – specifically, king crab legs, doused in butter and dipped in sweet and spicy sauce. Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau lays claim to the “Best Legs In Town” and who are we to disagree?


Arizona

 

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Legend has it that Arizona invented the chimichanga when a chef in Tucson accidentally dropped a burrito in a deep fryer and came away with this beautifully bastardised take on Mexican cuisine. Get yours topped with sour cream, cheese, and chilli at El Norteno in Phoenix.


Arkansas

In Arkansas, you’ll find the crowd favourite that is “cheese dip” – literally just a bowl of melted cheese, scooped up with corn chips – on pretty much every restaurant menu in the state. The lactose intolerant need not apply.


California

 

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One word for you: tacos. California does Mexican food better than everywhere except Mexico itself, with stands slinging mouth-watering shrimp, baja fish, pork, and chicken creations on just about every street corner around the state. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can’t go wrong with cult favourite Guisados.


Colorado

Lamb might not seem like the most typically American dish, but Colorado serves up some of the best in the world. Order a rack with sides like crab fried rice, cream corn, and hash browns at upmarket steakhouse Elway’s to do it in style.


Connecticut

You should go to Connecticut for pizza, but not just any pizza. Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven is reputed as the country’s best slice and has been inspiring lines around the block since 1925. Their signature dish is the clam pie, topped with Romano cheese, garlic, olive oil, parsley and, well, clams.


Delaware

Scrapple. That’s what Delaware calls its favourite dish, a meatloaf-esque blend of pork scraps, flour and spice, fried until crispy and often served with egg and potatoes. So beloved is scrapple that a whole festival is staged in its honour in the town of Bridgeville every October.


Florida

 

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A slice of key lime pie is the taste of Florida. The real deal is made with limes from the Florida Keys and baked in a Graham cracker crust – it should be white, not artificially coloured bright green, like the ones sold at Key Lime Pie Co.


Georgia

Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches? Georgia’s so famed for producing this particular fruit it’s now known as the Peach State. Bite into one fresh over the sink or get them in a peach cobbler, where they’re baked underneath a hand-wrought crust at diners state-wide.


Hawaii

The raw fish bowl known as poké has become an international sensation the last couple of years, but it all began in Hawaii. For the traditional taste of the Aloha State, order yours with cubed tuna or cured octopus – salmon poke is considered inauthentic.


Idaho

Idaho loves potatoes so much it founded an organisation called the Idaho Potato Commission to protect and promote its delicious, carby export. For a truly memorably spud experience, eat ‘em loaded with sour cream, cheddar cheese, butter, caramelised onions and teriyaki steak strips at the Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum.


Illinois

Chicago, Illinois, is the home of Kanye West, Al Capone, and deep-dish pizza. Halfway between traditional pizza and pie, deep-dish slices ooze with up to 7cm (!) of cheese, meats and garlicky tomato sauce wedged between the crust and topping. Healthy? No. Delicious? You bet.


Indiana

Meet the pork tenderloin sandwich: a cut of pig that’s been pounded into a thin schnitzel, breaded, fried, and shoved in a white bread bun. Indiana’s unofficial state dish was created at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington back in 1908 and you can still get them in the same spot all these years later. May as well go a side of onion rings, too.


Iowa

The Midwest is all about comfort food: think casseroles, mac ‘n’ cheese, and tater tots. But Iowa’s particularly famous for corn production, making this the ideal place to get down with a plate of cornbread. Keep it sweet by drizzling some honey on top or use it to sop up a spicy chilli con carne.


Kansas

There’s lunch, and then there’s the “Z-Man”. The sandwich staple at Joe’s Kansas City stuffs slices of beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, two crispy onion rings and sauce into a roll so big you may struggle to get your mouth around it. Ron Burgundy would approve.


Kentucky

 

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It’s a heart attack waiting to happen, sure, but that’s part of the fun. The Hot Brown, served at Louisville’s Brown Hotel, is a mound of turkey, bacon, cheesy Mornay sauce, tomatoes and toast best described as an open sandwich. Again, Ron Burgundy would approve.


Louisiana

Jumbo, jambalaya, fried chicken, beignets, and red beans with rice should be on the menu for every trip to New Orleans. But the city’s most famous dish, however, is the po’boy, a French baguette that comes stuffed with anything from fried shrimp to roast beef. You can’t go wrong anywhere around town but Killer PoBoys in the Quarter is always a solid choice.


Maine

 

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Cold lobster meat stuffed in a warm bun shouldn’t be this good and yet, it is. The lobster roll is so ubiquitous in Maine that you’ll find them everywhere from nice restaurants to gas stations and, um, McDonald’s. But to do it right, get yours from Red’s in Wiscasset, the humble seafood shack that’s become a Maine institution.


Maryland

Fans of The Wire might remember a certain Baltimore dish featuring in the HBO show. In season one, Detective Jimmy McNulty bribes a pair of patrol cops with a bag of hot crab cakes from Faidley’s, a real restaurant that’s still open to this day. These crab cakes are so good NASA once commissioned the restaurant to make an outer space-friendly version of the recipe, but you’ll only have to travel as far as Maryland to get them.


Massachusetts

Fresh clams, potatoes, cream, and fish stock combine to make clam chowder, the delicacy available everywhere in Massachusetts but best enjoyed at Legal Sea Foods. Now remember: it’s pronounced chow-dah.


Michigan

Sure, Michigan didn’t invent the Cornish pastie, but it definitely perfected it. The beef and potato-stuffed pastries are a state favourite; get yours at Lawry’s Pastry Shop in Marquette or Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Co in Mackinaw.


Minnesota

Fun fact: the snowy state of Minnesota is big on Norwegian cuisine. The town of Madison has dubbed itself the “lutefisk capital of the world” – an honour that involves its population eating more, um, dried cod soaked in lye than anywhere else in the world – but we’d rather get stuck into lefse, a Nordic flatbread available at the likes of Jacob’s in Osakis.


Mississippi

 

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A trip to the south without fried chicken? Hell no. At Mississippi’s hole-in-the-wall soul food joints, you’ll find wings, drumsticks and breasts where the meat is tender and juicy, the batter is crispy and light, and the side dishes are plentiful. Hit the Old Country Store in Lorman for a guaranteed great feed.


Missouri

You’ll need a whole lot of wet wipes to get through a meal at Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, but we’re not complaining. The ribs here are the best in the state: smoky, saucy, glazed to perfection and likely to sell out before dinnertime.


Montana

Huckleberry pie: fun to say, fun to eat. At Park Cafe in Saint Mary, Montana, you can get acquainted with the state’s signature fruit (huckleberries are a bit like blueberries, only sweeter), which are stuffed into deliciously flaky pastry and served hot.


Nebraska

Heading to Nebraska? You won’t be able to miss the “runza” – a hollowed-out bread roll stuffed with meat, spices, cabbage and onion, available around the state but most famously sold at a fast food chain called, well, Runza.


Nevada

The food might not be the most famous thing about Las Vegas but that doesn’t mean Nevada capital is without some signature bites. For the true Sin City experience, order a shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate Casino, which invented the dish back in 1959 and still serves them up all these years alter.


New Hampshire

 

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New Hampshire is a stone’s throw over the border from Montreal, so it makes sense that the state knows it way around a plate of poutine. Get the cheesy, gravy-soaked fries at Chez Vanchon in Manchester or any tap house worth its salt. Très bien.


New Jersey

I’m going to need you to drop everything and set the GPS for Holsten’s Ice Cream in New Jersey, the quaint ice creamery that served as the setting for the last ever scene of The Sopranos. For the taste of Tony Soprano’s final meal, order the onion rings.


New Mexico

The green chile stew at The Shed in Santa Fe is famous throughout New Mexico, with good reason: its mix of spicy, roasted chillies with pork and potatoes is a life changer.


New York

 

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Street hot dogs, dollar slice pizza, pretzels, cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, a lox bagel from Russ & Daughters… Truth be told, there’s a few essential food experiences in New York City. But our vote for the best of the lot is a pastrami sandwich at Katz Deli – it’s iconic because of the When Harry Met Sally scene, sure, but the supercharged, ultra-American atmosphere at this old world deli alone makes it worth the trip. Not to mention the sandwich itself is *kisses fingers*.


North Carolina

Only one animal needs to die for your trip to North Carolina and that’s the hog. Pork is the order of the day in this south-eastern state – eat it chopped in a sandwich at Skylight Inn BBQ, eat it pulled and with vinegar sauce at Barbecue Center in Lexington, just, for the love of God, make sure you eat it.


North Dakota

The Wood House Restaurant in Bismarck, North Dakota, has declared itself the home of the world’s finest hamburgers. It’s a big claim that you really ought to investigate for yourself.


Ohio

Chili, beans, cheese, onions and spaghetti: this, apparently, is the state dish of Ohio. It’s called Chili Five Ways and it’s served 24 hours at Cincinnati local legend Camp Washington. I find Google images of this dish quite unsettling. To each their own, Ohio.


Oklahoma

 

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Not many beloved foods originate from Great Depression, so hats off to Oklahoma for breaking the mould. Their famous onion burgers — sold at Tucker’s Onion Burgers, and pretty much everywhere else in the state – were born when chefs in the 1920s realised that a very thin beef patty tasted great when topped with a mound of onion.


Oregon

Is there anything more delightfully all-American than a slice of pie? In the cosy cafe surrounds of Willamette Valley Pie Company in Salem, you can have yours filled with Marionberries, a type of berry that pretty much only exists in Oregon. Get it hot by the slice or take a whole one home to eat later. Or both.


Pennsylvania

No prizes for guessing that Philadelphia’s favourite food is, of course, the Philly Cheese Steak. Thinly sliced beef, onions and Cheez Whiz (you may know it as “cheese in a can”) are piled into a crusty bread roll to create one of America’s most famous sandwiches. Every local has their own go-to spot but Pat’s, Geno’s and John’s are consistently ranked among the city’s best.


Rhode Island

 

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Coffee Milk is part milkshake, part caffeine kick, all Rhode Island. So beloved is the beverage (similar to chocolate milk but made with coffee syrup) that Coffee Milk has been the state’s official drink since 1993. Find it at Dave’s Coffee in Providence or Charlestown.


South Carolina

Grits are proof that you should never judge a book by its cover. The dish – basically a bowl of boiled cornmeal not dissimilar in appearance to, um, gruel — isn’t the most appetising thing to look at. But when it’s topped with sautéed shrimp (and, at Hominy Grill in Charleston, added mushroom, bacon and cheese), it’s a downright Southern delicacy. Trust us.


South Dakota

Put lamb cubes on a stick, fry them in oil until crispy, salt liberally, and you’ve got chislic, South Dakota’s quintessential snack. Practically a health food!


Tennessee

Nashville likes its chicken hot. Really, really hot. Get yours with pickles and bread (to soak up that delicious, artery-clogging oil) at the legendary Prince’s Hot Chicken Shop – yes, it’s worth the hour-long wait to get in.


Texas

 

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Who knew three little letters could make a mouth water so? Texas is the home of BBQ, a meal which, when done right, encompasses the meat of at least two different animals with sides like slaw, mac ‘n’ cheese, and beans. You’ll have to start lining up at around 10am to get your brisket and pulled pork from an institution like Franklin’s in Austin before they run out, but it’s worth it.


Utah

A common misconception about In-N-Out Burger is that it’s only available in California. Not so: you can also get your burger done animal style at two locations in Texas and, funnily enough, in Salt Lake City, Utah. So, if you missed out in LA — or just want another round — this is the place to do it.


Vermont

 

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Vermont shares a border with Canada, so it should come as no surprise that this is a state that likes its maple syrup. Just pick a diner, order a triple stack of pancakes, and start pouring.


Virginia

No, Virginia doesn’t only do hams. The state is also prime peanut territory, with vendors at local markets selling the simple, salted, classic American bar snack by the bag.


Washington

If your USA diet is a getting little too burgers and brisket-heavy, head up to the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, you can freshen up with the traditional dish of cedar-planked salmon, which derives from the Native American of cooking fish on the plank over an open flame to infuse it with the wood’s smoky flavour. Elliott’s Oyster House and Chinook’s, both in Seattle, are great places to sample it.


West Virginia

 

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The pepperoni roll is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a fluffy white roll stuffed with sticks of meat that soak the bread in their delicious, gooey fat. It’s simple but the good ones, like those served at Tomaro’s Bakery in Clarksburg, are unforgettable.


Wisconsin

You may know cheese curds as the traditional topping of poutine but in Wisconsin, they’re sold on their own, deep fried and seasoned with Cajun or buffalo flavourings. You can wash a bowl of them down with a beer at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee and still have change from a $20 bill – eat them while they’re hot to hear the curds squeak.


Wyoming

Wyoming is all about steak, but not any old steak. Here, you can chow down on a medium rare bit of bison, the animals that still roam America’s least-populous state. Or, if you’re in the mood for some #cleaneating, get your bison together with a quinoa and roast veggie bowl at Persephone Cafe in Jackson Hole.

Qantas flies to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Honolulu. Book your USA adventure at qantas.com.

(Lead image: Valeria Boltneva / Pexels)