Drinks, Local Specialties and Resources: 101 American Foods to Try in the USA

I will be making the entire list available as an ebook for download! So halt your printers :) If you have suggestions about what additional information you’d like to see in the ebook, please let me know.

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.

**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!

Bonus: Drinks…in alphabetical order:

  1. apple_ciderApple cider -usually served in autumn or winter, when apples are harvested, apple cider is unfiltered/raw apple juice and therefore a bit pulpy and cloudy, and in the winter it’s often served mulled/spiced and hot, or “sparkling” / carbonated at New Year’s. Some orchards offer cider doughnuts, too! (img by sholeh)
    where to try: apple orchards, supermarkets.
  2. arnold_palmerArnold Palmer – half lemonade, half iced tea, I love this drink on a summer day. There is actually a real “Arnold Palmer” who is an old professional golfer and this was one of his  favorite drinks. If I’m making it the “fast” way, I add a little lemonade concentrate directly to the tea! (img by Eric Rice)
    where to try: some restaurants may offer it (more probable in the south) but it’s probably easiest to try it at home.
  3. dr_pepperDr. Pepper – love it or hate it, Dr. Pepper has a very unique taste that is not similar to Coke, or any other soda you’ve ever tried. Dr. Pepper reminds me of Chinotto, Italy’s most popular “acquired taste” drink. (for the record: I like DP, but hate Chinotto). (img by kendrak)
    where to try: supermarket, in restaurants
  4. eggnogEggnog – a drink served normally during the holiday times made with cream, eggs, sugar and other spices. It can be made alcoholic with rum, or served without alcohol. It’s quite rich, but entirely necessary! Most supermarkets will carry cartons of it in the fresh milk area during the holidays. (img by izik)
    where to try: supermarkets, at home.
    [Recipes: eggnogegg nog recipeeggnog]
  5. ginger_aleGinger Ale – a carbonated drink made with ginger. Now used in SF as a chaser after a Fernet Branca shot, Ginger ale is a classic drink that everyone knows but not that many people drink anymore. (img by Gush Party, USA)
    where to try: supermarkets, bars, at home.
    [Recipes: homemade ginger aleDIY ginger ale]

  6. grape_juiceGrape juice – deep, dark purple goodness, the most well-known kind is made from Concord grapes, and the most well-known brand is Welch’s grape juice. There is so much sugar in grape juice it’s bound to send you into sugar tilt, but a little won’t hurt. Bonus: try white grape juice, too – it won’t stain your fingers or clothes. (img by jek in the box)
    where to try: supermarkets.
  7. root_beerRoot Beer – this dark, very sweet carbonated drink is traditionally made from sassafras, and various roots but today varies from brand to brand. It’s often paired with pizza (kids can drink “beer” this way, too!) Bonus: take 2 scoops of ice cream, put them in a tall glass and pour root beer over them – now you have a famous Root Beer Float! (img by lucky pines)
    where to try: diners, restaurants, pizzerias, and supermarkets (try Barq’s, A&W or IBC Root Beer or one of these numerous brands!)
  8. slurpeeSlurpee / Icee – a frozen, carbonated beverage that is usually brightly-colored (unless it’s Coke flavor) sold by 7-Eleven convenience stores. It’s basically sugar, ice and flavoring, but it might be welcome on a hot summer day instead of a regular soft drink! (img by bchow)
    where to try: 7-Eleven stores, ballparks, other convenience stores.

Bonus: Nationally-know, locally-best foods – recommended to be eaten only at the source!

This is purposely a limited list as I obviously haven’t visited all of the USA (only 27 states at my count this morning!) so I welcome input about specialties from the states you know best!

  1. gumboCajun food: Po’boy sandwich / Jambalaya / Étouffée / Gumbo (New Orleans, Louisiana) – New Orleans cuisine needs its own post, its own book! I cannot do it justice in this small space. But Cajun food is not to be missed, and some of the dishes I listed here are a definite must. Dirty rice, too! Read up on Cajun cuisine and get crackin’! (img by simplerich)
    where to try: New Orleans
  2. cioppinoCioppino (San Francisco, CA) – cioppino, a fish stew with dungeness crab, with a tomato and therefore red base, was invented in America from Italian immigrants and remains one of the most interesting and involving dishes to eat in San Francisco. You will probably have to crack open your dungeness crab with a cracker and protect your clothes with a bib! (img by Kelly Sue)
    where to try
    : start at the Fisherman’s wharf in SF: Scoma’s or Alioto’s 8 are good places to start.
  3. coney_dogConey Dog” Hot Dog (Coney Island / Cincinnati,Ohio / Flint, Michigan)  – a hot dog with mustard and ketchup on top? That’s for amateurs. Top it instead with meat chili, minced fresh onions and cheese, and you have a real Coney dog. (img by Lan Bui)
    where to try: Coney Island, Cincinnati or Flint, Michigan. :) Wherever they sell “Coney-style” hot dogs.
  4. chicago_pizzaDeep-dish Pizza (Chicago, Illinois) – this is where a pizza “pie” really makes sense – these pizzas are baked with high crusts in a pie-like baking dish (sometimes up to 3 inches tall!)  It’s not Naples, but this variety of pizza needs to be tasted! (img by gtrwndr87)
    where to try: Chicago – Gino’s East or Lou Malnati’s or other famous Chicago pizzerias
  5. philly_cheesesteakPhiladelphia Cheesesteak (Pennsylvania) – also known as the “Philly” cheesesteak, this is often imitated around the country but the original needs to be tasted. A roll is sliced and filled with thin-cut steak and cheese. (img by mhaithaca)
    where to try: start in Philadelphia, at Geno’s or Pat’s or Jim’s
  6. texas_bbqTexas Barbecue (BBQ) (Texas) – good Texas barbecue doesn’t really use plates or even barbecue sauce – waxed paper or paper serve as the base for Texas BBQ with some bread (thick-sliced Texas toast is best), pickles, onions and your pick of meats (sausages and brisket most popular) and your hands for eating. (img by bigbirdz)
    where to start: Texas, of course!
  7. fajitas“Tex-Mex” Fajitas / Chili con Queso (Texas) – when Mexican food meets Texas, you get Tex-Mex. Lots of beef and cheese, with the fabled fajitas (meat grilled on a cast iron plate and served with onions and bell peppers and tortillas) are worth trying with a bowl of chile con queso and tortilla chips as an appetizer. (img by Daremoshiranai )
    where to try: any number of Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas
  8. key_lime_pieKey Lime Pie (Florida Keys) – made with limes from the Florida Keys (the most southern part of the United States) and often topped with a fluffy meringue. The limes are a little harder to transport than other limes available in the US, so for the freshest Key Lime Pie you can get, go to the source! (img by foodistablog)

In the end there are more than 101 items on this list, and I expect it to grow! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did compiling it. The ebook will be available online soon!


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  1. says

    A Coney Island is a strange creature where Italian, American, Greek and Asian food live together in strange harmony. Central to that harmony is the Coney Dog, surpassed by known in its simplicity yet perfect flavors. I live in Flint and have traveled across the world (Asia, Europe, Latin America) and have found nothing like it! I know where I going to lunch today…

  2. says

    Del’s lemonade in Rhode Island. A Louis’ Lunch cheeseburger in New Haven, CT. A hot lobster roll in Connecticut. Or a clambake/lobster boil on the North Shore of Massachusetts or in Maine. Maple Syrup in New Hampshire or Vermont. Vermont cheese. And would microbrewed beer fit on the list? It seems to me to a bit different than other beers around the world.

  3. dan bateman says

    soft crabs… one of the finest foods in all the world (I’d put it up against white truffles or cinghiale) from the land of pleasant living try a soft crab. A Blue crab during it’s shell regrowth…. dusted in flour, sautee’d in olive oil eaten in it’s entirety… often on a soft white bread with in season tomatoes…

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