19 Classic U.S. Dishes Everyone Should Try

Written By Jill Taylor

Cooking in the U.S. has been highly influenced by immigration, and the foods we now enjoy here have origins in European, Indigenous American, African, Latin American, Asian, Pacific, and other international cuisines. Still, some original foods from the U.S. are deliciously unique. Here are 19 quintessentially American treats that deserve to be sampled at least once.

Apple Pie

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As American as baseball, apple pie may have started life in 14th century England, but American colonists made it their own, using readily available tart apples like Granny Smith and McIntosh. Today, apple pie variations are endless, with crumbly or flaky crusts and fillings that use spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. However you bake it, it’s a delectable all-American desert.

Fried Chicken

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The exact origins are debated, but The BBC claims that Scottish immigrants first brought fried, coated chicken to the U.S. However, it was the southern states that made it their own, and it’s now an iconic symbol of the Deep South. Perfect fried chicken needs a crispy, well-seasoned batter made with buttermilk, flour, spices, and sometimes even potato chips for added crunch.

Texas Barbecue

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Barbeque is popular worldwide, and each American state has its own preferences. In Texas, brisket is popular; it’s smoked over oak wood for hours (sometimes overnight), resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Ribs, such as St. Louis-cut pork ribs, are also a must-try. They are similarly slow-smoked and then bathed in a tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce. Yum!

Cheesesteak

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Britannia says the Olivieri brothers invented this iconic Philadelphia sandwich in the 1930s. It consists of an Amoroso bakery roll filled with tender, thinly sliced ribeye steak covered in cheese such as Cheez Whiz or provolone. Toppings like chopped onions, green peppers, and hot sauce are often added, and multiple regional variations now exist. Still, the classic remains the best!

Chili

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This hearty stew has its roots in Texas, where cowboys would simmer meat (usually beef) with peppers, spices, and beans over an open fire. Today, there are plenty of regional chili variations, and many incorporate beans like kidney or black beans. Toppings are essential—shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, and a dollop of guacamole take chili to a whole new level.

Lobster Roll

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Indulge in a taste of luxury with this New England specialty. According to Sandwich Magazine, the first lobster roll was created at Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut, in the 1920s, although dressed lobster salad had featured in cookbooks for decades before then. Cooked lobster meat is piled into a hot dog bun with mayonnaise, lemon juice, and sometimes chopped celery.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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These delicious cookies are the happiest accidents known to man and consistently rank as the nation’s favorite cookie. When baker Ruth Wakefield ran out of baker’s chocolate and chopped up a Nestle bar instead, she created cookies with actual chunks of chocolate, and they’re now universally beloved. We recommend trying a classic, homestyle American cookie if you haven’t already.

Deep-Dish Pizza

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Unlike its thin-crust New York cousin, Chicago deep-dish pizza has a generous amount of dough that rises high and is filled like a bowl with a thick layer of chunky tomato sauce, plenty of mozzarella cheese, and your choice of toppings (usually sausage, pepperoni, and vegetables.) National Geographic claims it was invented in Ike Sewell’s Chicago pizzeria in 1943.

Clam Chowder

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If you asked us which one is better, the creamy New England chowder or the tomato-based version from Manhattan, we couldn’t decide. You really should try both. New England chowder has a rich, milky base packed with clams, potatoes, onions, and sometimes bacon. Manhattan clam chowder features a lighter tomato broth with clams, vegetables, and a splash of clam juice for extra flavor.

Corn Dog

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This purely American invention was created in the early 20th century and remains a popular savory on-the-go snack, particularly from street vendors or at state fairs and carnivals. A hot dog is dipped in a cornbread batter and deep-fried until golden brown, resulting in a crispy coating around a juicy hot dog. It is often accompanied by mustard or ketchup for dipping.

Gumbo

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This flavorful stew is another southern food. It originated in Louisiana and is strongly influenced by French, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Gumbo features a rich roux sauce traditionally made with oilfilé powder and flour, simmered with vegetables like onions, bell peppers, celery, and okra. The type of protein added varies, although chicken, sausage, and seafood are popular choices.

Hamburger

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Okay, so most people worldwide have tried a hamburger, but you really need to try a classic American version (no, not at McDonald’s!) Originating in the 19th century from the Hamburg steaks brought by German immigrants, a proper U.S. burger features a quality grilled ground beef patty in a soft bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.

Jambalaya

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Like Gumbo, this Louisiana staple is a one-pot wonder with a roux base, but it uses tomato as the predominant flavor, alongside other seasonings and spices. Rice is often cooked in the broth along with ingredients like chicken, sausage, shrimp, and the most essential vegetables in Cajun cuisine – bell peppers, onions, and celery. The result is a hearty, tasty tomato stew.

Mac and Cheese

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This childhood favorite is a simple but hearty dish that is infinitely adaptable. Macaroni pasta is bathed in a creamy cheese sauce, often made with various kinds of cheese, including cheddar, Gruyère, and fontina. Classic recipes add breadcrumbs and extra cheese for a crispy, gooey topping, and many also throw in vegetables like broccoli or bacon for additional nutrition, flavor, and texture.

Milkshake

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You might think this is a beverage, but a classic American milkshake is so thick and filling that it counts as dessert! Emerging in the late 19th century alongside the newly invented soda fountain, classic American shakes are traditionally made with ice cream, milk, and flavored syrups like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Nowadays, there are more adventurous options, like salted caramel and banana.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

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This lunchbox staple is something almost every American child enjoys. Salty peanut butter (either creamy or crunchy) is paired with sweet grape or strawberry jelly between two slices of soft white bread. While modern variations abound with different kinds of nut butter and bread, you really should try the classic style first—it’s a surprisingly delicious portable snack.

Reuben Sandwich

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A true New York City deli classic, the Reuben features corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing served on wholesome toasted rye bread. It’s believed to have emerged in the early 20th century and soon became a popular lunchtime meal or light dinner. You’ll love the combination of soft, salty meat alongside crisp, tangy sauerkraut and smooth cheese.

Po’Boy

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The po’boy is a gigantic sandwich that originated in 20th-century New Orleans bakeries catering to streetcar workers (“poor boys”). A crusty French baguette is traditionally filled with roast beef and gravy and dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. However, several variations exist, including those with shrimp and fried catfish. We warn you now: it can be quite messy to eat!

Twinkie

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It may be nostalgic and inexplicably long-lived, but the classic Twinkie is a classic American treat food that everyone should try at least once. Soft, sponge cake is filled with creamy vanilla filling and smothered in a thin layer of chocolate. Introduced in 1930 by Hostess Brands, Twinkies have become a pop culture icon and have featured in several American movies.

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