10 Classic American Foods Everyone Needs to Try
Head south of the border for these delicious dishes of American cuisine.
This sandwich of sliced steak and melted cheese on a long roll is a Philly classic, said to have its roots in a 1930s hot dog variant. Its purveyors are subject to plenty of “best of” ratings, including this 2014 GQ survey. Now served all across the city and the continent, variants include your choice of cheese—provolone, American and Cheez Whiz are common offerings—and toppings include fried onions, mushrooms, peppers, ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce. If you’re feeling really daring, shake things up with a chicken or even a vegetarian cheesesteak. The latter, with a tasty mélange of fried vegetables in place of the steak, is now sold at By George! in the famous Reading Terminal Market, worth a visit for more than just its sandwiches.
Lobster Rolls, Maine
While most strongly associated with Maine, lobster rolls are served all over New England and are said to have originated in Connecticut in the 1920s. Their most classic incarnation is simply lobster meat soaked in butter and served on a hot dog roll, split from the top rather than the side, and served with potato chips or French fries. But you’ll find all sorts of variations along the northeast coast: the lobster might be mixed with mayonnaise, celery or green onions, for instance, or the bun might be swapped for a croissant or even garlic bread. Whichever way they’re prepped, they’re best enjoyed in summer, on a sunny day, with the Atlantic in sight.
Get the recipe for Grilled Lobster with Limoncello Butter.
Pizza, Chicago and New York
While the dish originates in Naples, Italy, there’s no question that American pizza is a style of its own. Two classic variants to sample include those of New York City and Chicago. The latter type, known as deep-dish, is cooked in a pan similar to that you might bake a cake or a pie in, with deep sides that allow the medium-thick dough to hold in several layers of toppings, usually starting with cheese on the bottom, then meat and vegetables, topped with sauce. Typical New York-style pizza, on the other hand, has a large, wide and relatively thin crust, topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella and crispy yet still malleable enough to be folded, a way a slice is commonly eaten.
Burger, Fries and a Milkshake, California
A burger and fries is the quintessential American meal that’s gone on to conquer the world, but fast food doesn’t have to mean bad food. In the American West, the classic trinity is still served with passion, best enjoyed by driving up to the restaurant with the top down. Try In-N-Out Burger, founded in 1948, for its basic and “not-so-secret” menus—besides the usual you’ll find variations like the heart-stopping 4X4, four beef patties layered with four slices of cheese. The Counter is another worthy contender, with its more than 300,000 combinations, selected by local availability and ordered by clipboard: pick your patty, your bun, your toppings and your sides for a combo that’s 100 per cent yours.
Key Lime Pie, Florida
Originating in the pre-refrigeration days of this southern state, Key lime pie was traditionally made from common staples: egg yolks, condensed milk and tiny, yellow local Key limes, whose acidic juice reacts with the canned milk to thicken without baking, and whose colour, combined with the egg yolks, means the pie is truly yellow, not green. Now usually baked for food safety reasons, the sweet dessert is a menu staple that’s slightly different everywhere you go: the crust might be flaky or graham cracker; the filling thicker, creamier or frozen; the topping meringue or whipped cream. No matter how you like it, sampling the Sunshine State’s official pie (yes, the legislation was passed in 2006) is a must on any Florida vacation.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with these refreshing and simple-to-make recipes.
Southern Barbecue, North Carolina
The American South is a patchwork of barbecue traditions, from the Carolinas through Tennessee and Alabama all the way to Texas. And whether they use pork or beef, parts of the animal or whole, served with tomato-based sauce or vinegar, each region has its own preferred method of slow-cooking meat over fire. Nevertheless, whole-hog barbecue as prepared in North Carolina is a must-try for meat lovers for both its flavours and traditions, and you might want to extend your best-of quest to the whole region.
Get the recipe for Texas-Style Barbecued Chicken.
Cajun and Creole Cuisine, Louisiana
A melting pot of cultures, including Acadians exiled from the Canadian Maritimes in the 18th century, Louisiana and its main city New Orleans are home to a vibrant cuisine that blends French technique with locally available ingredients and the ingenuity of a waste-not food culture. While differences between Cajun and Creole foods exist, such as the predominance or lack of tomatoes—and locals will be sure to share their thoughts on the matter with you—both share similar dishes. Look for gumbo, a thick stew prepared with meat and/or seafood and vegetables often including okra; jambalaya, a stew that includes cooked rice and, in the Creole version, tomatoes, sausages, seafood and vegetables; and, for dessert in New Orleans, beignets, the local take on doughnuts.
Check out The World’s 10 Most Famous Streets.
Plate Lunch and Shave Ice, Hawaii
Hawaiian cuisine spans the gamut, from street food all the way up to fine dining utilizing the best local ingredients the islands have to offer. But if there’s one pick that epitomizes a typical meal in this Pacific state, it’s the plate lunch: two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad and an entrée, often beef teriyaki, breaded chicken or kalua pork (pig cooked in an underground oven). Make the entrée a hamburger patty or Spam with a fried egg on top and the dish becomes a loco moco. Finally, round out your meal with a shave ice: fine shaved (not crushed) ice topped with flavoured syrup, often using tropical or Asian flavours such as guava, passionfruit or lychee, and traditionally served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or azuki bean paste.
Tex-Mex, San Antonio
Mexican-style but with its roots in Texas, Tex-Mex is a cuisine all its own and is credited for ubiquitous dishes like fajitas, chili con carne and chimichangas. While you’ll find plenty of examples all across Texas and beyond, San Antonio is the culinary centre of gravity. It’s home to the Latin American-focused campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and the perfect place to start exploring the best of Tex-Mex. Start at 24-hour Mi Tierra and then compare with other popular spots like Rosario’s. Finally, for a more modern take on Latin American cuisine, head to the CIA’s own Nao Restaurant, winner of San Antonio Magazine’s award for the city’s best margarita.
Sourdough Bread, San Francisco
While most bread found today in North America is leavened using cultivated yeast, sourdough is made with a starter, a mixture of flour and water that is slow-fermented thanks to bacteria and yeast picked up from the air and the flour. Only part of a starter is used for a batch of bread—the rest is “fed” with more flour and water and kept active continually. This method of bread-baking was brought to San Francisco during the 19th-century California Gold Rush, and some bakeries trace their starters back that far. Pick up a loaf at one of the city’s top bakeries and serve with your favourite soup or chowder.