As we begin to prepare for our cross-country road trip, something I’m beginning to make note of is food, as in what are some of the foods unique to each state that we absolutely must try along the way. As with my post from January, One Thing You MUST Do with Kids in Every U.S. State, I checked in with friends, family, fellow travel bloggers and state visitors bureaus for their suggested picks.
As you’ll note on the list below, there are some foods (and drinks) that are specific to a restaurant, like the Purple Vanilla Milkshake, which you can only get at The Purple Cow in Arkansas. In other cases, like in Iowa, the top pick is Sweet Corn, which you can pick up all across the state.
I hope you enjoy the following bucket list of taste experiences all across the United States. Let me know what you think and what else is a must-taste for kids in your state.
When in Alabama, make a stop to taste one of summer’s most popular dishes, Fried Green Tomatoes. Stop in the Irondale Café, which is just near the railroad tracks in the town of Irondale and is also said to be the inspiration for the book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Sure, you can go for Alaska King Crab, but you can get that anywhere. What you really want to try is Reindeer Sausage. Hop aboard a train on the Alaska Railroad and order up the Sunrise Skillet for scrambled eggs, sautéed peppers and onions served with breakfast potatoes and Alaska reindeer sausage.
A hot dog is a hot dog, or is it? In Arizona, stop in El Guero Canelo in Tucson for their world-famous Sonora style hot dogs. A Sonoran Hot Dog is wrapped in bacon and topped with beans, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cheese, mayonnaise and mustard (kids may want to hold the jalapenos and onions).
If you like hand-dipped milkshakes, it’s a must to visit The Purple Cow in Little Rock for a Purple Vanilla Milkshake, which apparently has been winning over diners for many years. They exclusively use Yarnell’s ice cream because Yarnell’s is able to create the preferred shade of purple for their icy treats.
Boysenberries may be popular in California, but I’ve got to go with the Fish Taco as the must-try food in the Golden State. I’m fairly new to fish tacos, but oh my gosh, they are amazing. More popular in SoCal, you’ll find fantastic fish tacos everywhere, including Blue Market Seafood Market & Grill.
Georgia may be the Peach State, but it’s Colorado that boasts the Palisade Peach Cobbler as one of the state’s signature dishes. During Eat Denver’s Harvest Week, restaurants have been known to create their own peach specialties. Kids will also love the Palisade Peach Festival in mid-August.
Connecticut may be popular among seafood lovers, but take your kids for the pizza. It was the classic Neapolitan Pizza (tomato sauce, oregano, garlic and romano cheese) that made a name for New Haven. And, of course, there’s always Mystic Pizza (and Mystic Pizza II) in Mystic and North Stonington.
Peach pie may be the official dessert of Delaware, but kids may want to go for a Lemon Italian Water Ice from Fusco’s. It’s a tradition in Delaware that dates back to the 1950s. Look for the red, white and green stand on Union Street in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood.
Florida is quite a diverse state. There’s gulf shrimp on the west coast, blueberries in Ocala, and of course, oranges throughout the Sunshine State. But my pick is still Key Lime Pie. You’ll find it statewide, and even better, travel to Key West and you’ll find Frozen Chocolate-Dipped Key Lime Pie on a Stick.
Try a “shrimpin’ excursion” with Lady Jane’s Shrimp & Dolphin Cruise in Brunswick to explore Georgia’s coastline. Then, head out for Shrimp and Grits, two of Georgia’s most loved foods. Try some at The Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival or get them any way you like at Captain Joe’s.
There’s much to sample in Hawaii. CNTraveler.com recently posted 10 Hawaiian Food Staples You Must Try, though most of these are for more advanced palettes. For little ones, go with a Malasada, considered by many to be the perfect doughnut. Try Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu and Waipahu.
When in Idaho, the potatoes are a must, but really you want the Fry Sauce. The Boise Fry Company serves up a spicy fry sauce. When ordering your fries, choose from russet, purple, gold, sweet, okinawa or yam. Bad Boy Burgers, also in Boise, is another great spot for fry sauce.
You could go for deep dish pizza, a Chicago classic, but why not go with a Ponyshoe, which was described to me as a “smaller, kid-friendly version of the Horseshoe sandwich.” The sandwich piles meat, fries and a special cheese sauce high on top of Texas toast. Try D’Arcy’s Pint in Springfield.
When in Indiana, order The Original Breaded Pork Tenderloin from Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington. It’s been a favorite in the Hoosier state since 1908. As a bonus, Nick’s also makes and sells one of the state’s best sugar cream pies, so indulge in two must-try foods while you’re at Nick’s!
When in Iowa, Sweet Corn is a must, of course. You can find it all over the state – local farmers’ markets, the grocery store, even roadside stands. The town of Adel has a Sweet Corn Festival every August. Go for the shucking, the eating and the Sweet Corn Festival 5K.
I hunted and hunted, and while I hate to double-up on Barbecue (barbecue also got the nod in Tennessee), it’s a good choice. Look to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City. Order the ribs. Your little ones will love getting messy (restaurants use more sauce in Kansas City than they do in Memphis!).
In Kentucky, try both a Hot Brown and a slice of Derby Pie. You’ll find the originals at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, though I’m sure these classics can be found statewide. A Hot Brown is a toasted open-faced sandwich with turkey and bacon, while Derby Pie is a delicious chocolate nut pie.
Of course, Cajun-style food is king in Louisiana and little ones will love a good old-fashioned Po’ Boy. While unique to New Orleans, you should be able to find the po’ boy sandwich statewide loaded with Creole-seasoned fried seafood (often shrimp), lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Try Guy’s Po-Boys.
Maine is in love with its wild blueberries, so be sure to order up a slice of Blueberry Pie. You’ll find blueberry pie in bakeries and restaurants across the state. Or, visit during the popular Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, which takes place every August. Pie eating contest, anyone?
Maryland is known far and wide for Blue Crabs (the Chesapeake Bay blue crab is even the official state crustacean). Steamed crabs can be found everywhere in Maryland, but especially at waterfront establishments on the Eastern Shore. Try Phillips Crab House in family-friendly Ocean City.
I wanted to pick a donut from Dunkin’ Donuts given the deep roots the state (the first location opened up in Quincy in 1950), but given you can get one anywhere, even at the airport, I went with New England Clam Chowder (that’s the white one, people). Drop in some oyster crackers and it’s delicious.
The Pasty (yes, pasty, not pastry), is a hand-held meat and vegetable pie that can be found across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Try Roy’s Pasties & Bakery in Houghton. When in Detroit, reach for a Coney Dog, which got its start in Motor City. You’ll find some of the best at American Coney Island.
Try a Hotdish in Minnesota (it’s how you say casserole in the state) made from wild rice, which grows in the lakes in central and northern Minnesota. The classic Minnesota Hot Dish includes ground beef, onions, corn, tater tots and cream of mushroom soup. Pinterest has loads of Tater Tot Hotdish recipes.
Don’t leave Mississippi without ordering up Fried Catfish. Try Taylor Grocery in Taylor, which serves both fried and grilled catfish. They claim to have “The South’s Best Catfish,” so there you go. Another to try is Jerry’s Catfish House in Florence, and don’t forget the cole slaw and hush puppies.
In Missouri, the Toasted Ravioli is a real crowd pleaser, both among children and adults. More well-known in St. Louis, ravioli is fried up and served with a marinara sauce. Yum. For some of the best Toasted Ravioli in town, head up to The Hill, the historically Italian neighborhood in St. Louis.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve Huckleberry in Montana. Look for huckleberry pie, huckleberry jam, huckleberry ice cream. Get a cone or sundae at Big Dipper Ice Cream in Missoula. Or, head to Loula’s in Whitefish for one of the most delicious huckleberry pies.
When in Nebraska, try a Runza, a pocket-style sandwich filled with beef or pork, plus cabbage and onions. You can get one at a regional fast food chain called, what else, Runza. At least they’re clear about what they sell. Or, grab a Runza recipe and make your own at home.
Given Nevada’s strong Basque culture, be sure to try a Chorizo Sandwich. Basque chorizo has unique seasonings that differ from Spanish and Mexican chorizos, but is just as delicious. Try Villa Basque Deli, a deli and butcher shop in Carson City.
Clam chowder may be a favorite in New England, but in New Hampshire, they mix it up by substituting corn and bacon for clams. Try Collins Brothers Chowder Co. in Nashua where the Corn and Bacon Chowder is served up daily. The chowder at Colby Hill Inn in Henniker is also a winner.
A quick Google search let me know that New Jersey is home to the Pork Roll (also known as the famous “Taylor Ham” Pork Roll). It’s actually the official state sandwich. If you’re headed to the shore this summer, one of the best can be found at Johnny’s Pork-Roll & Coffee Truck in Monmouth Beach.
The official state cookie, the Biscochito, is an absolute must in New Mexico. It’s a crispy butter-based cookie flavored with cinnamon and anise. Try the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque. More adventurous children may want to try the variety with a New Mexico green chile baked in.
Sure, you can get a bagel anywhere, but when you’re in the home to the very best bagels, go ahead and order a bagel and cream cheese. In particular, a New York City Bagel. Not long ago, NewYork.com published a write-up on the 16 Best New York City bagels and what makes them so good.
My mouth is watering just thinking about the Sweet Potatoes in North Carolina. Try Sweet Potatoes restaurant in Winston-Salem for the Build Your Own Sweet Potato with toppings like brown sugar, crumbled bacon, pineapple and toasted pecans. Look to the dessert menu for Sweet Potato Cheesecake.
Don’t leave North Dakota without sampling a Meat Pie (also known as a Fleischkuekle). They’re popular throughout the state and they’re hand-held so you can grab one while on-the-go. You’ll also find loads of recipes online if you return home and decide you and the kids need more meat pie in your life.
Don’t leave Ohio without ordering Cincinnati Chili from Skyline Chili. There are multiple locations across Cincinnati. Try the chili on top of spaghetti or as part of a Coney, a specially made hot dog in a steamed bun with chili, mustard, onions and shredded cheddar cheese (little ones can skip the onions).
Believe it or not, Oklahoma has an official state meal, which includes fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie and black-eyed peas. WOW. For Fried Okra, in particular, try Billy Boy Bar-B-Que in Shawnee.
Oregon is well-known for its hazelnuts, as well as Marionberries. Pick up a bottle of marionberry syrup or jam made by Oregon Hill. Head to Piece of Cake Bakery in Portland for a slice of Marionberry Poppyseed Cake or Cherry Strawberry Marionberry Cheesecake. Mmm…
It probably should come as no surprise that pretzels are the must-try food in Pennsylvania. Sure, your kids have likely eaten pretzels before, but there’s just something about getting a Soft Pretzel in Philadelphia. Stop by Center City Pretzel or the Philly Pretzel Factory for one of their famous soft pretzels.
For such a small state, Rhode Island has a number of unique foods, including Hot Wieners, which are said to be “worth a trek to Rhode Island alone.” The best place to get them is Olneyville New York System. They even have a secret wiener sauce. Kids may also enjoy the Frozen Lemonade from Del’s.
The Praline Pecans (remember, it’s “prah-line,” not “pray-line”) are the perfect sweet treat in South Carolina. Look to Market Street Munchies in Charleston for Southern Pralines and Praline Pecans. You may be on a sugar high for hours, but it will be worth it. Yummy.
Try the Chislic in South Dakota. A traditional dish of cubed red meat, try it deep fried or grilled along with some crackers. It’s most often served hot on a skewer, like shish kabob, or with a toothpick. Chislic can be made from venison, lamb or beef and is tasty as a snack food in between meals.
Travelers from all across the country flock to Tennessee for the fantastic Barbecue, including ribs, wings, BBQ nachos and pulled pork sandwiches. Memphis, in particular, is a hot spot for barbecue joints. A few restaurants of note include Central BBQ, Interstate Barbecue and Cozy Corner.
It’s hard to get more Texas than Chicken Fried Steak. The tenderized steak is fried and covered in gravy with sides like mashed potatoes, green beans and fried okra. It’s a classic southern comfort food and it’s popular for breakfast, too. Try Sodolaks Beefmasters in Bryan and Norma’s Café in Dallas.
They do love their fry sauce in Utah (as they do in Idaho), but I’m going to go with Collegiate Ice Cream. Both Utah State University and Brigham Young University in Provo are among just over a dozen universities nationwide that make their own ice cream. At USU, the best-seller is Aggie Blue Mint.
Sugar on Snow is a must in Vermont. It’s hot maple syrup drizzled over snow, which hardens and becomes a sweet candy. Many believe Sugar on Snow is best eaten with sour pickles, even doughnuts. Sugar on Snow parties take place during sugaring season, which runs from March through mid-April.
Buckwheat Pancakes are a must in Virginia and what hungry traveler doesn’t crave a tall stack of pancakes? Try the restaurant at Mabry Mill, a working mill at mile marker 176.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Kids will also love live trade demonstrations, like blacksmithing, spinning and basketry.
The fish in the Pacific Northwest is fresh and delicious, so when you stop in Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, get acquainted with Salmon (fresh or smoked). Order up a Salmon Sandwich at Market Grill with oven-fresh bread, lettuce, tomato, grilled sweet onions and homemade tartar sauce.
When in our Nation’s Capital, make a trip to Capitol Hill for the famous Senate Bean Soup, which you can get daily in the Senate’s cafeteria. If you try it, love it and want to make it when you return home, bookmark the Bean Soup Recipe. Made with navy beans, ham hocks and onions, it makes a tasty meal.
Kids will love snacking on the Pepperoni Roll, a popular snack in West Virginia. This official state food was invented by an Italian immigrant who worked in the coal mines in the Clarksburg-Fairmont area. The pepperoni roll is most often associated with Colasessano’s restaurant in Fairmont.
A statewide favorite is Cheese Curds. In Wisconsin, they eat them fresh or deep fried. No matter where you go in Wisconsin, you’re going to find a place that sells fresh cheese curds and nearly every single restaurant has some variety of deep fried cheese curds.
It’s a must to enjoy a Bison Burger when you visit Wyoming. One of the best places to order a tasty bison burger is Terry Bison Ranch near Cheyenne. The meat on a bison burger is leaner than an ordinary burger and delicious. Try it plain or opt for a BBQ-Bacon Cheddar Burger or a Chili Cheese Burger.