Signature Dishes from 50 American Cities

Source: golubovy / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Food snobs and scholars may debate whether or not there’s such a thing as American cuisine. A distinguished Yale history professor has even written a book on the subject.

What can’t be denied is that, whether or not they amount to a cuisine, we have a number of iconic dishes — burgers, fried chicken, apple pie, enthusiastically adopted imports like tacos and pizza, and more. These are foods that reflect our melting-pot origins and signal our appreciation for fare that’s flavorful and unpretentious — comforting, it might be said. (These are America’s favorite comfort foods.)

But America is huge, almost the same size as all of Europe combined. And while there may be dishes that are common across the land, we can also boast a treasury of local specialties indelibly identified with one small corner of the country or another, or even a single city.

24/7 Tempo has consulted scores of civic and regional websites and online food history resources to identify the signature dishes from 50 American municipalities, from coast to coast and border to border. These range from our biggest cities — like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — to such tiny towns as Freeman, South Dakota, and Madison, Minnesota.

Some of these emblematic foods have become nationwide favorites, like Buffalo wings, bagels, and Key lime pie. Others remain little known outside their birthplaces. The average American, for instance, is unlikely to have heard of chislic, kringles, or the Horseshoe Sandwich. 

In some cases, these signature dishes might sound familiar — varieties of barbecue or the aforementioned pizza, for instance — but they’re made with local twists that give them a unique identity. Others might sound a bit peculiar. (Here are the strangest foods from every state.)

All of these signature dishes, though, whether they’ve become famous nationally or remain known and appreciated only in their hometowns, are expressions of America’s diversity and individuality. They’re also well worth trying if you’re on their native ground.