Eat Your Way Through the USA With Our Food Bucket List

Sampling the range and diversity of food in the United States could take a lifetime. Many books are dedicated solely to food in the United States, so this list is hardly comprehensive—it’s just a starting for your food bucket list. Bon appétit!

tray with various barbecued meats, greens, and mac and cheese in the texas style
Texas-stye BBQ. Photo © Joshua Resnick/Dreamstime.

Barbecue

There are many barbecue styles across the country, and we love them all.

  • Texas: The focus of Texas barbecue is smoking the meat with the right kind of wood for the perfect amount of time, and purists of this form would never consider adding sauce.

  • Kansas City, MO: This barbecue style features slowly smoked meat slathered in a tomato-based sauce.
  • Memphis, TN: The barbecue in Memphis is known for being tangy and sweet.
  • North Carolina: Two styles vie for dominance in North Carolina. Eastern-style uses a thin vinegar and pepper sauce, while Lexington-style sports a thicker, sweeter, but still vinegar and pepper-based sauce.
  • South Carolina: Although all variants of barbecue sauce can be found in the state, South Carolina’s signature contribution is a hot, sweet mustard-based sauce.

Beef Sandwiches

The hamburger might be the food most associated with the United States, but across the country, there are varied preparations of beef served between bread.

  • Runza and Bierock: Nebraska and Kansas have different names for this spiced beef, cabbage, and onion sandwich.
  • Onion Burger: Oklahoma’s variation on the burger adds thin pieces of grilled onion to the beef, which gives the patty a savory crust.
  • Philadelphia Cheesesteak: Last but not least, Philly’s style of beef sandwich uses slices or chunks of meat, rather than ground, with the signature layer of cheese.
can of rogue brewers beer sitting on a hillside in oregon
Photo © Noah Smith, courtesy Rogue Ales & Spirits.

Beer

Beer can wash down any of the foods in this list, and craft brews in particular are only gaining in popularity. Here are a couple of hot spots for the beer enthusiast.

  • Portland, OR: Known as Beervana, Oregon’s biggest city is the epicenter of the country’s craft brewing revival.

  • Denver, CO: The capital of Colorado has 125 breweries and tap rooms, and one of the founders of its first brewpub went on to become governor of the entire state of Colorado.

Burritos and Tacos

Several areas are known for Mexican food, whether authentic or with a regional spin.

  • San Francisco: The Mission burrito, essentially an incredibly large version of the tortilla-wrapped oblong dish, is a specialty in this Northern California city. Try it at popular spots like El Farolito or James Beard-recognized La Taqueria.
  • Tucson and Nogales: The cuisine styles of Northern Mexico, such as machaca, fill the burritos and tacos of southern Arizona.
  • Chicago: The nation’s third-largest city is home to the largest Mexican American population outside California and the Southwest, with the taquerias in the Pilsen neighborhood to show for it.
a fry bread taco on a table
Fry bread taco. Photo © Bhofack2/Dreamstime.

Fry Bread Tacos

A major element of Native American cuisine, fry bread is a round of deep-fried dough. When it’s topped with ground meat, cheese, lettuce, and other fixings, it becomes the dish with names such as Indian tacos, Navajo tacos, or Hopi tacos. Try them in New Mexico and Arizona.

  • Kayenta: AZ: One of the best restaurants on Navajoland, the Blue Coffee Pot Restaurant serves outstanding home-style Navajo, American, and Mexican food. The Navajo taco here is simply terrific, as are the beef ribs.

  • Petrified Forest National Park, AZ: Painted Desert Diner serves delicious fried chicken, Navajo tacos, burgers, and other road-food favorites in a cool Route 66 retro dining room.
  • New Mexico: Try a fly bread taco at flea markets, such as the ones in Albuquerque (weekends at the fairgrounds) or Shiprock (daily, intersection of U.S. 491 and U.S. 64), or at AshKii’s Navajo Grill in Farmington.

Pizza

Just as there are barbecue rivalries, pizza is also a subject of much debate across the country.

  • Chicago, IL: Also called deep-dish, this style of pizza is thick. The mozzarella is packed on the dough and a topped with a layer of tomato, rather than the other way around.

  • New York City, NY: The big-as-your-head slice is ubiquitous, but for a sit-down meal, there’s the crispy-thin, coal-oven pies.
  • New Haven, CT: New Haven has its own style, called apizza. A thin, hand-tossed dough is baked in a coal-fired oven and, in the plain version, topped with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and pecorino cheese.

Vietnamese Food

Warm, savory pho noodle bowls and other Vietnamese specialties can be found across the United States. Here are some of the best in the USA:

  • New Orleans, LA: No-frills Lilly’s Café on Magazine Street is perfect for a bowl of pho or a banh mi.
  • Oklahoma City, OK: Try Lido Restaurant, which blends Vietnamese and colonial French dishes, or Pho Lien Hoa with the best pho in the state.
  • Maui, HI: At A Saigon Café, opt for clay pot dishes with rice, chicken, and vegetables, or try the pho, banh hoi, or tasty Vietnamese soup.