United States Food Culture: 9 Dishes to Try in America

American food culture

No one loves their food more than the Americans and this is reflected in the United States food culture. It incorporates big and bold flavors with a mix of global cultures that makes the USA so unique. Over its history, immigrants from the world’s most incredible culinary cultures called America their home.

From the Italians settling in New York City to Mexicans moving up into Texas, United States food culture takes inspiration from all over the world. As a result, the range of dishes available in this amazing country is more vast than you’ll find just about anywhere. Each state, too, has its own unique culture. There’s Tex-Mex in the Deep South, cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and everything in between.

If you’re planning a trip to the United States soon and want to try out its best dishes, then this article is for you. Discover the nine meals you just have to order the next time you’re traveling across America.


Photo by Envato Elements

Is there anything more American than a cheeseburger? Juicy, oozing with melted cheese, and topped with the most mouthwatering ingredients, a cheeseburger is one of the most divine and satisfying meals. Like many aspects of United States food culture, though, it didn’t originate in America. It was brought to the country by immigrants in the form of a hamburger that was created in the German city of Hamburg.

Then, the Americans did what they do best and added a slice of cheese right on top. By the 1930s, most Americans were wealthy enough to eat beef on a daily basis and the cheeseburger became a staple of the American diet. The food was then popularized by fast-food restaurants. There’s even a National Cheeseburger Day, held on September 18.

Hot Dogs

Photo by Envato Elements

The cheeseburger aside, there’s one other dish that perfectly encapsulates American food culture: the hot dog. This deceptively simple snack merely involves placing a steamed or grilled sausage into a bun. Add your choice of toppings – grilled onions, ketchup, and mustard is traditional – and you have yourself a perfectly delicious hot dog. Yum.

Like the cheeseburger, this didn’t originate in the United States but was imported from Germany. No one knows sausages quite as well as the Germans. In fact, they’ve been eating these frankfurters since the 13th Century. The hot dog first became popular in New York, where it was an easy and quick food to serve at baseball games. Since then, it’s become one of the most commonly-served street foods across the entire nation.

Chicago-Style Pizza

cooked pizza
Photo by Envato Elements

Pizza has to be among the most popular foods eaten in the United States. Like so many of the dishes on this list, though, it is, of course, not really American. Pizza originated in Italy in the 18th Century. Soon after, Italians began migrating to the United States, bringing this wonderful food with them. Thank you, Italian American immigrants.

The Americans made it their own, though. They made the crusts thicker and added a ton more cheese than you’ll find on a traditional Neapolitan pizza. Different regions of America have their own styles, too. The New York pizza, which is thin with wide, foldable slices, may be the most well-known. However, we recommend trying Chicago-style pizza. This deep dish pie just oozes with delicious melted cheese and chunky tomato sauce.

Buffalo Wings

Buffalo Wings
Photo by Envato Elements

Everyone loves chicken wings, which is why they’re so commonly eaten in places as diverse as Singapore and Nigeria. However, if you’re looking for a truly American style of this classic, then you have to try Buffalo wings. There’s simply nothing else like it. As the name implies, these originated in Buffalo, New York, in 1964.

After being deep-fried, the key to Buffalo wings is serving them with a sauce. Take your pick from ultra-spicy hot sauce to mild ranch. The best version of this dish is found in New York but you’ll get good ones just about anywhere in the United States.

Fried Chicken

fried chicken
Photo by Envato Elements

Chicken is one of the most widely consumed foods on the planet, being eaten everywhere from Cambodia to Costa Rica. However, there’s something deliciously distinct about American fried chicken. It’s particularly eaten in the South, where African slaves introduced their spices to a deep-frying method popular in Scotland. This combination of Scottish and West African cuisine created a delectable treat that’s still loved to this day.

The most popular kind is Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is sold all over the world as KFC. However, many southern states have their own variety with subtle differences. Give them all a try to experience the flavor explosion of heavily-seasoned, deep-fried chicken.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Photo by Envato Elements

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich (better known simply as a PB&J) is exactly that: two slices of bread filled with peanut butter and jelly. Among American children, this is one of the most commonly consumed foods. In fact, the average American will eat 1500 of these before they graduate from high school. Adults tend to eat fewer of them but this is still a treat worth having every now and then.

If you’ve never tried it, it may seem like a slightly odd flavor combination. Give it a go, though – you might just fall in love with the PB&J. This recipe dates back to at least 1901 when it was the preserve of the wealthy. As the cost of peanuts went down, the American working class began consuming this delicious dish. It’s now even included as part of US army rations.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese

American Mac 'n' Cheese
Photo by Envato Elements

American food often involves improving food with the addition of cheese. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Macaroni and cheese – more commonly referred to simply as mac ‘n’ cheese – is a great example of this theory in action. It’s not as American as you might initially think, though. Pasta with cheese has been eaten since the 14th Century and this particular dish was first spotted in Paris by Thomas Jefferson.

If a Founding Father says it’s good, though, then it has to become a staple of United States food culture. Just as the Founding Fathers imported the best of European philosophy, they also brought over the best of European cuisine. That’s what makes America the amazing country it is today.

Philly Cheesesteak

Philly Cheesesteak
Photo by Envato Elements

If United States food culture could be summed up in two words, it would be meat and cheese. Nothing exemplifies this more clearly than the Philly cheesesteak. As the name implies, this amazing sandwich originated in Philadelphia, where it is most commonly consumed today, although it’s eaten across the country.

The invention of this incredible sandwich is credited to two Italian Americans in the 1930s. After a cab driver bought one, he told the food vendors to immediately stop making hot dogs and put all their energy into the Philly cheesesteak instead. Thus, a legend was born. Hard to find in other countries around the world, the Philly cheesesteak is a true American classic.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner
Photo by Envato Elements

Thanksgiving is an important part of American culture as a way of giving thanks for the nation’s freedom and prosperity. The original celebration took place in 1619 and this tradition has continued ever since. This annual meal sums up United States food culture in that it was founded by English settlers who emigrated to America for a better life.

Similar to the Christmas feasts enjoyed all across Europe, the jewel of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. Although different types of fowl were originally eaten on this special day, the turkey has become traditional. Go to any American’s home on Thanksgiving and you’ll have the best cooked, most flavorful, and juicy turkey of your life.

What is traditional food in the United States?

American food is uncompromising and packed with flavor. Americans are known for their love of cheese and meat, especially beef or turkey during the holidays. They take European food and make it bigger and more exciting.

What is the United States’s most popular food?

Much of the United States food culture is commonly eaten all across the world. However, the quintessential American food and by far its most popular has to be the cheeseburger. Perhaps it’s the massive influence of Mcdonald’s but people across the world just can’t get enough of this American classic.

What is a traditional breakfast in United States?

American breakfast is rarely healthy, often consisting of pancakes with maple syrup. If you want a less sugary option, then fried or poached eggs are also a common way to start the day in the USA.

What makes the food in United States unique?

United States food culture, much like America itself, is made up of a mix of many other cultures. This crashing together of Asian, Latin American, African, and European cuisine creates something new and exciting. Once an American twist is added, you’re left with familiar food that’s been taken to another level.


For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

View stories