17 unique American dishes everyone should try

We all know there's more to American food than burgers and pizza, and there are many destinations known for their fabulous restaurants and food truck scenes. Culinary creativity is boundless here, and the USA has an astonishing variety of dishes to choose from. Not all of it is healthy, but it all tastes good. Here's our pick of some of the most uniquely American dishes and snacks to try when you're travelling in the USA.

Virginia oysters and Maryland crab cakes

Thanks to the Chesapeake Bay estuary, coastal Maryland and Virginia is America's primary destination for seafood lovers. Famous for Virginia oysters and Maryland crab cakes, the region offers a smorgasbord of ocean plunder, all cooked in the Chesapeake tradition.


New England style Clam Chowder

Look even if New England didn't invent the Clam Chowder, it certainly gave it its natural home. An iconic New England dish for centuries – it's thought the clam, potato and cream-based dish was introduced settlers in the 1700's – theres almost no point eating it anywhere else. Try it at Chowdafest which takes place in October.


Chilli Half-Smoke hot dog

Ben’s Chili Bowl is an institution in Washington DC. A family run business for 58 years, Ben's is home to the signature chilli half-smoke hot dog, considered DC's signature dish. Bestsellers include Ben's Chili Cheese Fries, Chili Dogs, Chili Cheese Burgers, Veggie Dogs and Rice Bowls. Barack Obama is a big fan and has name checked Ben’s on numerous occasions.

Primanti Sandwich

Now known for its food scene as much for its ailing steel industry, Pittsburgh is one of the top foodie cities in the US. Historic sandwich restaurant Primanti Bros is known for its hefty Italian bread sandwich filled with meat, coleslaw, tomatoes and French fries. Arrive hungry.

Tuscon's Sonoran Hot Dog

The Sonoran Hot Dog, which you'll find in Tuscon, Arizona, is a bacon-wrapped hot dog in a toasted bolillo roll – essentially a Mexican baguette – covered in pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onion, mustard, jalapeno sauce and mayonnaise. Inherited from the neighbouring Mexican state of Sonora. Local eatery, El Guero Canelo, recently won a James Beard America’s Classic Award for theirs.

Chicken and waffles

Deep fried chicken served on a waffle and drizzled with sweet maple syrup surely isn't health food. But it must be a welcome respite to the rampant healthy veganism currently sweeping Los Angeles, California. Said to be one of Barack Obama’s favourite haunts, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles even has a dish named after the president.


Nashville Hot Chicken

Musicians like their fried chicken hot apparently. A staple in NashvilleTennessee, Nashville hot chicken is breaded then coated with hot spices and served with bread and pickles. It's now so popular it's spreading overseas including to cities like London.  



The conch is like a giant sea snail that lives in the Gulf of Mexico surrounding the Florida Keys, where it's celebrated each year with a quirky festival. The meat is delicious and in the Keys is used to make conch fritters, conch salad, and conch chowder.  


The Corn Dog

The corn dog has become synonymous at fairs and festivals in the US as a tasty deep-fried abomination. Actually it's one of the USA's best loved snacks. Turns out, it all started in Springfield, Illinois, the best place to eat them? Try Springfield's Cozy Dog Drive In which makes them fresh with its own special recipe batter.


The name may seem a little off-putting but grits are a southern staple. Divisive they may be; they're most likely appeal to people who like porridge oats, grits are made from ground cornmeal and often served with shrimp. They're particularly good at Bleu, a gourmet restaurant in downtown Memphis. If that's not your thing why not try a burger from Dyers, where they deep fry their burgers in 100+ year old grease to 'improve' the taste.  


Juicy Lucy burger

How to improve on the hamburger? Minnesota claims to have succeeded by putting cheese in the centre of the burger patty so that it oozes out when cooked. The resulting Juicy Lucy burger is a signature dish in Minnesota. Try it at Matt's Bar, the 5-8 Club and The Nook jockey, though variations of it are served throughout the state.  


Texas Pete Krispy Kremes

Quite literally a hellish marriage between two of North Carolina's most famous foodstuffs; Texas Pete Hot Sauce and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Yep you couldn't make it up. Yet someone did. Believe it or not people love this hot sauce-glazed doughnut and devour them in large numbers at the North Carolina State Fair.  

Loco Moco and Spam Sushi  

Loco Moco is hugely popular In Hawaii despite being a bizarre combination of white sticky rice, topped with a hamburger and a fried egg, and covered with thick brown gravy. And if that doesn't tempt you, locals also have a thing for spam sushi – spam wrapped in sticky rice, then wrapped in seaweed. Hawaii certainly is a mix of cultures!  

Lobster Poutine

Lovers of Canadian poutine - chips with cheese curds and gravy - might be intrigued by Maine's spin on the Quebecois dish. Quebec's unusual snack has been enhanced in Portland, Maine with the addition of lobster meat. Try it at local favourite East Ender. For dessert why not try sweet ice cream with chunks of real Maine lobster at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium!  


Moon Pie

Perfect for those with a sweet tooth, the Moon Pie is a southern snack made from two graham crackers with marshmallow filling and chocolate coating. It's so popular there's an annual RC Cola Moon Pie Festival held in Bell Buckle, Tennessee every year.


Food trucks

There are more than 1,000 mobile food trucks in Austin offering unpretentious food, from tasty cupcakes at Hey Cupcake! to Chi'Lantro's taco-and-Korean barbecue; street eats occupy every niche. Breakfast tacos are the cuisine of choice for Austinites and Texans alike: carefully curated tortillas with essential, well-seasoned fillings of all types. The best destinations for tourists are the food truck trailer parks, a kind of pop up food court.

Po’ boy

Invented by the Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis, to feed striking streetcar drivers in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1929, a Po’ boy consists of fried beef or shrimp served in a baguette with deep south flavours including cayenne pepper and paprika. And there's nothing poor about this Deep South special, when it's done well.  

Posted on: 28/04/2019

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