What is “American food”? What comes to mind when thinking of the culinary classics in the United States? Hopefully, it is not just a Big Mac or a Cookout milkshake, but instead, the traditional plates you associate with different regions. From the Florida Keys to Minnesota, New York to Hawaii and many stops in between, the variance in fare can be tremendous. The distinction of American cuisine is that no one food defines our food culture. Instead, you must try them all. So here’s your culinary bucket list, America. Eat up; it’s your patriotic duty.

1. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog–Coney Island


Photo courtesy owlpacino via of flickr.com

A classic American tradition for the Fourth of July, the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest draws crowds of more than 30,000 annually. While you can purchase your own Nathan’s dog in your local grocery store, there is nothing like eating a fresh hot dog smothered in chili or sauerkraut at its home in Coney Island.

2. Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago


Photo by Ataya Kanji

Deep dish pizza resembles more of a casserole or a cake than a traditional pizza, which is precisely why it is amazing. It heralds from the Near North Side Neighborhood of Chicago, where two Italian-Americans, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, created their own unique take on the classic Italian dish.

3. A New York Bagel


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No explanation needed. Nothing compares.

4. True Southern Barbecue


Photo by Kristen Yang

Regardless of whether you’re of the tomato or vinegar based persuasion, you haven’t lived until you’ve had true down-home Southern barbecue.

5. Philly Cheesesteak


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While many try to imitate, there is simply no other place to eat a Philly Cheesesteak than in Philadelphia. The city even has its own folklore over who created the masterpiece. This classic too overplayed for you? Try these modern takes on the Philadelphia favorite.

6. Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys


Photo by Susan Bean

One of those desserts that’s almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

7. Spam


Photo by Julia Murphy

An American staple during World War II, Spam is still oddly prevalent in the island state of Hawaii. A region that has to import much of its food, the convenience of a precooked canned meat product has never lost its appeal. While I’m not heralding the product as fine cuisine, to eat Spam is to understand the sacrifices previous generations of Americans made in wartime.

8. Chicken Fried Steak/Country Fried Steak


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What’s more American than frying your steak?

9. New York Pizza


Photo by Kellyn Simpkins

Yes, pizza made it on the bucket list twice. Pizza is an American food group. New Yorkers and Chicagoans would assure you each style of pizza deserves a category of its own.

10. Shrimp Gumbo


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The only thing better than traveling down to New Orleans is trying this authentic French Creole dish in the famed Louisiana city.

11. New England Lobster Roll


Photo by Christin Urso

Such a simple concept: lobster soaked in butter served on a steamed roll. Such a classic flavor.

12. Mississippi Mud Pie


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Good luck eating just one piece of this chocolate decadence.

13. Minnesota Hotdish


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Minnesota’s version of what the rest of us call a casserole. Yet, hotdish is worthy of it’s own name. Traditionally containing your choice of meat and vegetables with a soup base and tater tots, check out this quick and easy version here. You’ll be missing grandmama’s cooking in a minute.

14. Ohio Buckeyes


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If you’ve ever visited Ohio you’ve encountered some sort of buckeye. A colloquial term for an Ohioan, the buckeye actually comes from the Aesculus glabra tree. According to legend, Native Americans dubbed the nut of the tree a “buckeye” because it resembled the eye of a deer. From their state tree to their University mascot, buckeyes are everywhere in Ohio. But the best kind of buckeye is this chocolate and peanut butter no-bake dessert.

15. Southern Grits


Photo by Kathy Dai

What are grits you ask? A thick corn-based porridge eaten for breakfast in the South covered with cheeseor at dinner with spicy shrimp.

16. Hushpuppies


Photo by Izzi Clark

Americans like to fry things. And when we run out of things to fry, we simply fry the batter and call it a hushpuppy.

17. Election Cake


Photo courtesy of Ann Larie Valentine via flickr.com

More of a bread than cake, the tradition of eating Election Cake on the day of voting traces its roots back to Revolutionary times. So come this November, after you submit your ballot try out this recipe just like the Forefathers.


Can’t make the trip? Check out these substitutes: