What makes a dish truly iconic? Does it need to simply be popular from coast to coast? Does it need to have a long, illustrious history? Or does it need to say something important about how we as Americans dine, and have dined in the past? In our opinion, the most iconic foods check off all of these boxes.
Spend enough time traveling around the country and you’ll discover that every state has plenty of iconic foods to call its own. Alaska has its King Crab legs, Illinois has its deep dish pizza, and Indiana has its Hoosier sugar cream pie. Some of these foods have become popular nationwide, but many remain local secrets. Here’s more about the most iconic foods in every state.
And just like state foods, many cities also have their own culinary icons. In Cincinnati, for example, it’s spaghetti topped with meat sauce (called “chili,” but not like anything a Texan would recognize) and shredded cheese; Cleveland’s Polish Boy combines kielbasa with coleslaw, French fries, and barbecue sauce; and in Milwaukee, fresh cheese curds are battered and fried until golden brown and melty. (These are signature dishes from 50 American cities.)
Many of America’s most iconic dishes started out as regional or local specialties, some have origins that are hotly debated, some were invented by a single spark of inspiration, and many started out as “foreign” dishes that have become standard American fare, truly reflecting the American melting pot.
Regardless of how they first came onto the scene, these foods have become indelible, quintessential components of the American culinary landscape, and we simply can’t imagine life without them.