Main Dishes and Savoury Snacks Recipes: 101 American Foods to Try in the USA

Living in another country, I often think about, talk about, or make reference to American (USA) foods with non-Americans. Many of my Italian friends have asked me for a list of American foods they should try when visiting the United States of America – here are my suggestions, in a short series of posts. I will be making the entire list available as an ebook for download! So halt your printers :)

**Important Note** This is not an exhaustive list! These foods are also not the most healthy or best-tasting food that the USA has to offer. I know that. Outside of this list there are wonderful, healthy and delicious food to be found in the USA.

This list is a mix of notable, iconic, and classic foods, and what I think a newcomer to American foods should try at least once, in America, or at least made by an American directly for them (none of those themed restaurants in other countries, please!) so as to understand some of our cultural references and films (how can you explain a Twinkie to someone if they’ve never eaten it?)

What would you add to this list? Is there an iconic or famous American food that you’d recommend a foreign visitor try? Put it in the comments!

In alphabetical order…Main Dishes and Savoury Snacks

  1. american_breakfastAmerican breakfast – The classic American breakfast: eggs (scrambled, fried, over-easy), meat (bacon/sausage), potatoes (hash browns/home fries) (see below), and one or more kinds of bread (bagel/toast/English muffin/pancakes). Add some fruit juice and/or a glass of milk to it and you’ve got a complete meal that will probably fulfill for your dietary needs for the entire day. (img by ricardo.martins)
    where to try
    : at home, breakfast restaurants like IHOP.
  2. bagelsBagel (w/ cream cheese or lox) A New-York style bagel has become the staple of many a “quick breakfast” – a bread that is boiled first and then baked, with a tight skin and a chewy inside. Try it with flavored cream cheese, or lox, smoked salmon. Bonus: “Everything” bagel with poppy and sesame seeds, garlic and rock salt. (img by yumarama)
    where to try
    : bagel shops (like Noah’s), or some supermarkets that make them fresh in their bakery department.
    [Recipes: bagelsmini bagelsbagels]
  3. baked_potatoBaked Potato – take an entire potato with the skin on, scrub it down, poke holes in it, and bake it in the oven. Then, slice it open and top it with your choice of butter, sour cream, chives, cheese, bacon, and more! There are entire stations devoted to topping a baked potato in some buffets. Bonus: try a twice-baked potato or baked potato soup! (img by stefano a)
    where to try
    : in restaurants or at home.
    [Recipes: twice-baked potatobaked potato soup]
    bbq_baked_beans
  4. Barbecue (BBQ) Baked Beans - a staple at any barbecue, baked beans are a mix of different beans, a little sweet, and perhaps a little bacon-y, too! (img by me, Sara Rosso)
    where to try
    : barbecue restaurants, at a BBQ, at home.
    [Recipes: barbecue baked beanshot and smoky baked beansthree bean baked beans ]
  5. bbq_ribsBarbecue (BBQ) Ribs – Barbecue pork ribs, to be exact, are rubbed with spices and smoked. Then they are smothered in homemade barbecue sauce and eaten with your hands. Sometimes referred to as short, pork or baby back ribs. (img by seanomatopoeia)
    where to try
    : barbecue restaurants or at home.
    [Recipes: baby back ribsbraised short ribs]
  6. bbq_sandwichBarbecue (BBQ) Sandwich – shredded chicken, beef or pork is mixed with barbecue sauce and served inside a bun or bread, sometimes with coleslaw inside, too. (img by dalboz17)
    where to try
    : barbecue restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: pulled porkBBQ porkBBQ chicken]
  7. black-eyed_peasBlack-eyed peas – before the band came along, black-eyed peas were known for other reasons! Not really peas, these beans are eaten in the south at New Year’s for good luck, and are a part of southern culture. (img by Erik Mallinson)
    where to try
    : restaurants or at home.
    [Recipe: black-eyed peas salsasouthern style black-eyed peasindian spiced black-eyed peascreole black-eyed peas]
  8. biscuit_gravyBiscuits and Cream Gravy (preferably sausage gravy) – something to be eaten at any time of day, but also in the morning, a warm, steamy biscuit that you can taste the butter in as it cuts through the cream gravy (with sausage pieces!) is bliss. (img by LauraFries.com)
    where to try: various (breakfast, barbecue, home cooking) restaurants
    [Recipes: biscuits and gravybuttermilk biscuitsbiscuitsbiscuits with sausage gravy]
  9. breakfast_burritoBreakfast burrito – Take the classic American breakfast, and wrap it in a flour tortilla with some salsa. A mobile way to enjoy your breakfast! (img by Marshall Astor)
    where to try
    : IHOP, or other breakfast restaurant, at home.
    [Recipes: breakfast burritosbreakfast burritoegg burritosbreakfast tacos]
  10. brisketBrisket – the cut of meat most used for barbecue – it’s rubbed with spices and smoked or slow-cooked and then sliced or shredded. (img by another pint please)
    where to try: barbecue restaurants, in the South, at home.
    [Recipes: oven-baked briskettexas barbecue beef brisketbeer oven-barbecued brisket]
  11. caesar_saladCaesar salad – romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons and a lemony-peppery-egg dressing are characteristic of this salad which is found on almost any large restaurant’s menu. (img by Caro Wallis)
    where to try
    : restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: chicken caesar saladartichoke caesar saladvegan caesar salad]
  12. fried_catfishCatfish – Often breaded in cornmeal and fried, or blackened. Catfish is most enjoyable if you actually see it before you eat it, so you see those funky whiskers and get the “cat” reference. (img by ehfisher)
    where to try
    : in fish restaurants, at home
    [Recipe: fried catfish]
  13. cobb_saladChef or Cobb Salad– a salad isn’t a salad unless it includes the kitchen sink. The “chef” salad usually means the chef put what was available or left over in it – including meat, cheese, vegetables and other treats. A Cobb salad has a more specific formula (Cobb salad on about.com) (img by nemo’s great uncle)
    where to try
    : restaurants across the country, at home.
    [Recipe: Cobb salad]
  14. chicken_fried_steakChicken Fried Steak – one of my “discoveries” in college – a steak is pounded thin, dipped in batter and fried like chicken…but it’s a steak! And it’s marvelous. (img by KB35)
    where to try
    : barbecue restaurants, in Texas, at home.
    [Recipes: chicken fried steak]
  15. chicken_parmesanChicken parmigiano (or parmesan)- another Italian-American invention – a breaded chicken breast is paired with a tomato sauce (!) and sometimes served over pasta (img by seriouslygood1)
    where to try
    : Italian restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: parmesan chickenchicken parmigiano]
  16. chicken_pot_pieChicken pot pie – a classic “TV dinner” food – a savory crust pie contains chicken, potatoes and a few other vegetables, and topped with the same crust and baked. (img by helga’s lobster stew)
    where to try
    : in a restaurant, at home.
    [Recipe: chicken pot piedeep dish pot piechicken pot pie]
  17. chicken_wingsChicken / Buffalo Wings – those little chicken wings are breaded, fried and then covered in wing “sauce” – often ranging from slightly spicy to nuclear hot. Some restaurants will actually provide a hot scale and make you wear gloves to protect yourself. (img by rick)
    where to try
    : chicken wing specialty restaurants or barbecue restaurants, at home. Often offered as an appetizer in many other restaurants.
    [Recipes: chicken wingsbuffalo wings]
  18. chili_con_carneChili (con carne) – a thick and often spicy mix of red kidney beans, tomatoes, ground beef, and chili peppers, served hot and usually with cornbread. It’s the official dish of Texas! (img by metzecki)
    where to try: restaurants around the country, barbecue / Texan restaurants.
    [Recipes: beef / 3 bean chilibarack obama chili7 chile chili]
  19. clam_chowderClam chowder (New England and Manhattan style) – A hearty soup made with potatoes, clams, and lots of cream (New England style) or with a tomato base (Manhattan), this is a favorite soup for many Americans. Friday is the day that most restaurants have this soup as Soup of the Day. (img by purploony)
    where to try
    : in restaurants (especially Fridays), especially on the waterfront. Try it in a sourdough breadbowl in SF at Boudin Bakery!
    [Recipes: clam chowdernew england clam chowdercalamity chowder]
  20. coleslawColeslaw – a fresh salad made with raw shredded cabbage, carrots, and celery with the addition of mayonnaise to make it creamy. Usually eaten with BBQ. (img by coconut&lime)
    where to try
    : anywhere, at supermarket deli counters, hopefully at a local BBQ, or at fried chicken fast food chains KFC or Popeye’s.
    [Recipes: crunchy coleslawblue cheese coleslawcoleslaw]
  21. cornbreadCorn bread – a cakey bread made with corn flour, sometimes with corn kernels in it. To be eaten with BBQ, chili (below) or other southern food. (img by food in mouth)
    where to try
    :
    make cornbread at home, restaurants in the south
    [Recipes: corn breadsouthern corn breadbeans and corn bread]
  22. corndogCorn Dog – a hot dog on a stick, dipped in corn meal batter and deep fried, topped with a little mustard and/or ketchup. So good. (img by jpwbee)
    where to try
    : fairs and festivals, seaside locations, at home (w/a deep fryer).
    [Recipes: corn dogs at homeoven baked corn dogs]
  23. corn_on_the_cobCorn on the cob (and grilled!) – one of the best foods in the planet – eat boiled or grilled sweet corn directly off the cob with a little butter and salt / pepper and other spices. (img by stevendepolo)
    where to try
    : at home, at a BBQ, fair, or restaurant.
  24. dungeness_crabDungeness crab – perhaps one of my favorite things in the world, I think a good Dungeness crab needs no adornment, or just some simple cocktail sauce. Just crack it open and eat. (img by Zeetz Jones)
    where to try
    : on the West coast, in a fish restaurant or on the wharf.
    [Recipe: cocktail saucecocktail sauce]
    egg_salad
  25. Egg salad – boil some eggs, cool them down and mix them with mayonnaise, mustard and other spices, and put it between two slices of bread, and you have an egg salad sandwich! (img by monkeycat!)
    where to try: at home
    [Recipes: egg saladegg saladegg salad]
  26. fettucine_alfredoFettuccine alfredo – a dish that’s completely Italian-American (rather than Italian), a parmigiano/parmesan cheesy-creamy sauce is generously mixed with fettuccine noodles for a dish that’s on most Italian restaurant menus in America. (img by yuichi.sakuraba)
    where to try
    : Italian restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: fettuccine alfredofettuccine alfredo- fettucine alfredo]
  27. fried_calamariFried Calamari – something that seems to be available across the country as an appetizer is fried calamari. Most Americans like just the rings, and not the legs. (img by roboppy)
    where to try
    : restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: fried calamarifrittura di calamari]
  28. fried_okraFried Dill Pickles and Okra – not that similar, but they have a lot in common – two green vegetables full of seeds – dill (sour) pickles sliced, battered and fried, and seedy-silky okra sliced, battered and fried – two better side dishes in the south cannot be found! (img by coconut&lime)
    where to try
    : restaurants in the south, fried pickles on the east coast, at home.
    [Recipes: southern fried okrafried okrafried dill pickles]
  29. fried_green_tomatoesFried Green Tomatoes – there is also a movie by the same name – are similar to the above-mentioned fried okra and pickles. Sliced green tomatoes are battered and fried! (img by coconut&lime)
    where to try
    : restaurants in the south, at home.
    [Recipes: fried green tomatoesfried green tomatoesfried green tomatoes with milk gravy]
  30. garlic_breadGarlic bread – a must for Italian-American food or at a barbecue, butter and garlic (and sometimes cheese) are spread on a baguette or bread and broiled or grilled. Bonus points: with a roasted garlic head. (img by surfzone)
    where to try
    : Italian-American restaurants, at a BBQ, at home.
    [Recipes: garlic breadgarlic bread]
  31. green_bean_casserole Green bean casserole – another holiday dish, green beans are mixed with milk and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions (from a can!) and baked in the oven. (img by bengarland)
    where to try
    : at a Thanksgiving-holiday dinner, at home.
    [Recipes: green bean casserolefoodie green bean casserole3 mushroom green bean casserole]
  32. grilled_cheeseGrilled Cheese Sandwich – a classic comfort food made at home, it can be as simple as two pieces of white bread with some cheddar and buttered on the outside and pan-fried to fancy versions with bacon and pesto. It’s frequently paired with a bowl of tomato soup. (img by maggiephotos)
    where to try
    : make it at home.
    [Recipes:
    bacon pear grilled cheesegrilled cheese and honey]
  33. gritsGrits / Hominy – Soul food, grits is a corn-based dish that is thick in consistency and is often eaten plain or with a little butter. It can be eaten for breakfast/lunch/dinner depending on the way it’s prepared. Hominy is made similarly from a different kind of corn. (img by flirty kitty)
    where to try
    : in the south in restaurants, at home.
    [Recipe: grits recipesgrits with corn and onion greens]
  34. hamburgerHamburger & French Fries – with more than just cheese on it! A real American hamburger is personal, and exactly the way you want it. You want fresh tomatoes, bread-and-butter pickles, lettuce, caramelized onions, mushrooms, bacon or Swiss cheese on it? Just ask. Make it your own. (img by vanessa pike-russell)
    where to try
    : everywhere, at home.
    [Read: A Hamburger Today blog – 20 Hamburgers to eat before you Die.]
  35. home_fries Home fries / hashbrowns / Tater tots – at breakfast, potatoes are shredded and pan-fried to get a crust (hashbrowns) or cubed and mixed with seasonings in a skillet (home fries), or made into little cylinders and fried (Tater tots). Tater tots are often eaten with non-breakfast dishes, too. (img by mistersmed)
    where to try
    : IHOP, or other breakfast restaurant, at home.
    [Recipes: home frieshome fries ]
  36. sausageHot Dogs & Sausage – this needs its own category – kielbasa, andouille, bratwurst, summer sausage, pork, chicken, turkey, pesto, artichokes, hot peppers, sweet, breakfast, Italian – you need to try as many types of sausage as you come across. They are integral! (img by pkingdesign)
    where to try
    : supermarket, at the ballpark, street vendors, specialty sausage locations (like Rosamund’s in SF), BBQ or breakfast restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: how to make homemade sausagehomemade sausage]
  37. hushpuppiesHushpuppies – a deep-fried ball of cornmeal and spices that usually accompanies barbecue and southern foods. (img by The Rocketeer)
    where to try
    : restaurants in the south, at home.
    [Recipes: hush puppieshush puppies]
  38. macaroni_cheeseMacaroni and Cheese – Mac’n’Cheese Definitely one of my favorite comfort foods ever, elbow pasta or other short pasta is mixed with cheddar and other cheeses, butter, and milk, and served immediately or baked. From basic to fancy, everyone has their favorite recipe. (img by Tammy Green)
    where to try
    : restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: macaroni & cheesefondue mac and cheese3 cheese macaroni and cheeseorgasmic mac ‘n’ cheese]
  39. macaroni_saladMacaroni Pasta Salad – a classic “picnic” food, this cold/room-temperature salad is made with elbow pasta and a mayonnaise dressing and can include anything from tuna / shrimp, olives, pickles, onions, celery, etc. (img by kumquatgirl)
    where to try
    : at a BBQ/picnic, at home.
    [Recipes:
    macaroni saladshrimp macaroni salad]
  40. mashed_potatoesMashed Potatoes – boil potatoes, mash them with butter and milk/cream (and garlic!) and you’ve got a favorite dish for turkey and holiday dinners, steaks and roasts. With or without skins? You decide. (img by coconut&lime)
    where to try
    : restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: garlic mashed potatoescreamy mashed potatoesextra creamy mashed potatoes]
  41. meatloafMeatloaf – a classic way to “dress up” ground beef into a big loaf of meat, bread, and other spices. Each family has their own version. (img by su-lin)
    where to try
    : some home-cooking restaurants or preferably in someone’s house, at home.
    [Recipes: cajun meatloafmeatloafhorseradish meatloaf]
  42. omeletOmelet - at breakfast, a “Denver” omelet – bell peppers, onions and ham with cheese is a classic, but omelets again are as you want them – beaten eggs folded in half over mushrooms, spinach, meat, or other things and of course, cheese. (img by pacificbro)
    where to try
    : breakfast restaurants, hotels, at home.
    [Recipes: omeletteskinny omelettespring omelette]
  43. onion_ringsOnion Rings – not those constituted onion rings but real, whole thick onion rings breaded and fried to a crisp, served alongside a hamburger or a steak. (img by Adam Kuban)
    where to try
    : in a restaurant or burger joint, at home or wherever they have a deep fryer!
    [Recipe: fried onion ringsonion strings]
    pastrami
  44. Pastrami – a sandwich meat that is served hot or cold – pastrami is beef is brined and then smoked, usually the outside is peppered. (img by stevendepolo)
    where to try
    : at home, any number of specialty sandwich places (a few chains: Togo’s, Quizno’s) or delicatessens / supermarkets that sell it
    [Read: on pastrami]
  45. pot_roastPot Roast - a hearty winter meal – a large slab of meat is first browned on all sides, and then “roasted” (braised) on the stovetop together with a few stew-like vegetables like carrots, potatoes, celery, and onions. (img by subspace)
    where to try
    : at home
    [Recipes: pot roast –  pot roaststove-top pot roastmom’s pot roast]
  46. ranch_dressingRanch dressing – this “buttermilk” dressing for salads has made its way into uses and applications in parts of America – on pizza, fresh vegetable dip, and the aforementioned chicken wings! (img by ubikiberry)
    where to try
    : supermarket, in a restaurant, at home.
    [Recipes: buttermilk dressinghomemade ranch dressing]
  47. rocky_mountain_oystersRocky Mountain Oysters : bull/buffalo testicles, breaded and fried (also called Prairie Oysters) – sometimes they are given to an unsuspecting eater and then told later (by their friends, of course)! (img by Sklathill)
    where to try
    : in some southwest restaurants / county fairs, or at
    The Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas (that’s where I ate them!)
  48. scalloped_potatoesScalloped Potatoes – a winter side dish, potatoes are sliced, layered with cheese, butter and cream and topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. (img by tofutti break)
    where to try: in a restaurant, or make it at home.
    [Recipes: scalloped potatoesvegan scalloped potatoes]
  49. sloppy_joesSloppy Joes – a classic “kid’s” food – ground beef is mixed with spices and tomato sauce and served on buns. The “sloppy” part comes from how much mess you’ll make! (img by su-lin)
    where to try
    : buy a mix like Manwich in the supermarket or make it at home.
    [Recipes: sloppy joeshomemade sloppy joessan francisco sloppy joes]
  50. submarine_sandwichSubmarine (or Hero or Hoagie) sandwich – the American sandwich can never have “enough” – lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, veggies, sprouts, sauces and creams – whatever you want on it, it works. Get some interesting bread, while you’re at it (like dutch crunch). (img by barron)
    where to try: at home, any number of specialty sandwich places (a few chains: Togo’s, Quizno’s) or delicatessens
  51. stuffed_turkey Turkey w/stuffing – a turkey with stuffing is perhaps the most iconic of American meals (after barbecue!) and is used at Thanksgiving and often Christmas. A bread “stuffing” – cubes of bread seasoned and mixed with various ingredients – is a necessary accompaniment and is completely personal! (img by s.yume)
    where to try: in an American’s home at Thanksgiving!
    [Read: Bread dressings Recipes: how to roast a turkeybread stuffingfresh bread stuffing]
  52. veggie_burgerVeggie Burger – just like the hamburger has become a staple in the American diet, veggie burgers have become a delicious alternative if you’re not in the mood for meat. Mushrooms, rice, black beans, and other ingredients are popular veggie burger varieties. (img by Adam Kuban)
    where to try
    : supermarket, in restaurants, at home.
    [Recipes: ultimate veggie burgerveggie burgers ]

Up next…Drinks and Regional Specialties!

Note: Many of the photos in this post are possible thanks to the authors providing them with a Creative Commons license that allows sharing. Please visit the photo authors to share some love! Also hat tip to Food Blog Search for help finding recipes!

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Comments

  1. kataroma says

    What a great list – making me hungry for all those yummy American foods. :(

    One tiny thing – no anchovies in the Waldorf Salad? Without anchovies the salad really lacks flavour.

  2. says

    Best place to try a breakfast burrito is from a Mexican restaurant that serves breakfast (many taquerias do!) And if you like Hush Puppies, I should take you to this awesome breakfast joint here called J’s Pots O’ Soul.

  3. says

    Mmmm. This list is great prep for my upcoming trip back home. I’d actually forgotten about some of these foods!

    I would add Philly cheese steaks.

  4. says

    You must be a southerner. Or come from Rebel stock. I love me some grits, but that’s highly unusual among my people. Fried green tomatoes? Okra?

  5. says

    I love this idea. And I see you have Rice Krispy treats in the desserts, and Ranch dressing here, so you’re doing well on the Utah specialties!

  6. Brian says

    Please don’t forget Toasted Ravioli and Canneloni. A St. Louis favorite that lighly breads the ravioli, then deep fries them until golden brown, and served with a side of marinara to dip them in. Good Stuff, on almost every menu and buffet table in St. Louis.

    It was really hard explaining it to relatives in Sicily. They thought it was ravioli with a piece of toast on the top and bottom. They were repulsed at the idea when they understood the concept. If only they would try it.

  7. Diana says

    Pancakes! With blueberries or pecans…I know you mention them briefly in the breakfast section. Our friend makes these for their Italian friends in Rome. They are so different from the crepes that are sold in Italy.

  8. Tracey says

    Great list worthy of National Geographic, truly!

    One thing: #17, Buffalo Wings, were invented at ONE bar in Buffalo, New York, the Anchor Bar, which still serves them. They are served with a side of bleu cheese dressing (not ranch) and celery sticks as the classic presentation.

  9. Maggie says

    I can get behind everything but the Green Bean Casserole! Really, not how we want to be remembered ;)

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