June 13, 2024

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Unique Comfort Food From Every State

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Comfort food is a concept everyone understands: It makes you feel better when you’re sick, it cheers you up when you’re feeling down, and it reminds you of home. But which foods are considered comforting can be wildly different based on where you live, and one person’s comfort food might be another person’s nightmare. Check out these unique regional foods that make a slice of Americans nostalgic for home.

Related: The Best Spot for Comfort Food in Every State

Bottle of homemade Alabama white BBQ sauce

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If you’re used to seeing only tomato-based barbecue sauces on your table, the sight of a white sauce in Alabama might be a little startling. But the mayo-based, vinegar- and black pepper-heavy sauce is a great addition to barbecued meats, especially smoked chicken. If you’re a fan of ranch, you’ll love this stuff.

Related: Bucket List Barbecue in Every State

Akutaq, Alaska

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A specialty of Native Alaskans, akutaq is sometimes called Alaskan ice cream. It’s a dessert made with fresh local berries, sweetener, and animal fat, and sometimes dried fish or meat. The fat and berries are whisked with snow to make them smooth, creamy and airy, simulating the texture and look of ice cream. Today, vegetable shortening is often substituted for animal fat because it’s readily available.

Related: Comfort Food Recipes That Freeze Well

Arizona Cheese Crisp

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A cheese crisp is deceptively simple: It’s just a large, fluffy flour tortilla that’s topped with shredded cheese and broiled. It’s crisp, served open faced, and cut into wedges, so it’s more like a simple pizza than a quesadilla. But who wouldn’t love a crunchy, cheesy tortilla? Find it in restaurants around Tucson.

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Possum Pie Arkansas

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There are no possums harmed in the making of possum pie, a regional Arkansas specialty. Instead, it’s a pie made with a pecan shortbread crust, a cream cheese-based layer, a chocolate pudding layer, and a crown of whipped cream. Because all you see is vanilla whipped cream and not the chocolate filling, the pie is playing possum to trick you. Try making it yourself from scratch.

Related: Creative Pie Recipes

Hangtown Fry California

Jon K./Yelp

This dish has one of the most bizarre combinations on this list: bacon and oysters. The Hangtown fry was created when a prospector struck it rich in the goldrush, then went into a hotel and wanted the most expensive dish they could make. That turned out to be an egg dish with bacon and oysters. Not everyone will enjoy the combo, but who doesn’t love a good omelet?

Related: Amazing Bacon Dishes Across America

Pueblo Slopper Colorado

Miquela H./Yelp

Though the name is a little off-putting, the Pueblo slopper is a beautiful, sloppy creation. A cheeseburger is placed in a bowl and covered with onions, more cheese, and a ladle or two of hot Colorado green chili full of roasted peppers. This is a burger you’ll absolutely need to use a knife and fork with.

Related: Best Hole-in-the-Wall Burger Joint in Every State

close-up of clam pizza on tray

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New Haven-style pizza — called apizza there — is unique for its charred thin crust cooked in a coal-fired oven. One of the most popular types is white clam pie, topped with garlic, shucked clams, pungent aged cheese, and bacon. Any New Haven pizza joint worth its salt will have a version on its menu.

Related: Best Hole-in-the-Wall Pizza Joints Across America

Chicken and Slippery Dumplings

Andrea R./Yelp

With a name like slippery dumplings, it’s hard not to want to slurp them up. Unlike Southern-style dumplings that are fluffy and biscuit-like, these big, floppy rectangular dumplings are more like fat egg noodles. They’re cooked with a homemade chicken stock and vegetables for a hearty, comforting dish.

Related: Delicious Dumplings from Around the World

Washington DC Half-Smoke

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The capital’s version of a hot dog is called the half-smoke, and it’s a more substantial sausage than a frankfurter. It’s typically made with half beef and half pork (hence the name), smoked, and griddled before serving. The most famous place to grab one is Ben’s Chili Bowl, where they top it with mustard, onions, and homemade chili sauce.

Related: Best Hot Dog Stands Across America

Conch Fritters, Florida Keys

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Conch is the animal that lives inside those big, beautiful coral-colored shells that wash up on beaches. They taste a little like clams, and in Florida they’re most often made into conch fritters — similar to a hush puppy, but with a seafood pop. Like just about every fried thing, they’re great dipped in all kinds of sauces, but something sweet and tangy works best.

Related: Strange But Surprisingly Tasty Local Foods to Try

Boiled Peanuts

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In areas where peanuts are not grown, people are generally unfamiliar with boiled peanuts, a Georgia favorite. Only fresh, green peanuts are used, boiled in big vats of water with plenty of salt and sometimes other seasonings. They become soft, like a bean, and are often sold at roadside stands for a locally grown snack.

Related: Foods That Americans are Missing Out On

Spam Musubi, Hawaii

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Hawaiians eat a ton of Spam. It became ubiquitous during World War II as troop rations, and it’s just stayed popular. One of the best ways to eat it is Spam musubi, a Hawaiian take on a portable Japanese rice ball wrapped in a sheet of nori. You can get them plain or dressed up with various sauces, and they’re available all over the place for a snack on the go.

Related: Bizarre Retro Dishes

Steak Fingers with Dip

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If you ordered “fingers” in any restaurant outside of Idaho, you’d probably get chicken fingers. But in the Western state you’ll get steak fingers, made with strips of steak, often marinated in buttermilk and spiced, then breaded and deep fried. They’re just as irresistible as the chicken version, and they come with dipping sauce too.

Related: Where To Find Great Cheap Steak in Every State

Horseshoe, Springfield, IL

Steve H./Yelp

Illinois’ capital has an unusual favorite dish: the horseshoe. It’s considered an open-face sandwich because it’s got some token toast on the bottom, but it’s a knife-and-fork dish. There’s a layer of ham steak or hamburger patties, loads of french fries, and ladles of cheese sauce over it all. It’s stick-to-your-ribs food.

Related: Where to Find a Good, Cheap Sandwich in Every State

Fried Brain Sandwich

Ryu C./Yelp

Fried brain sandwiches used to be common in the Evansville area, where a lot of German immigrants enjoyed it. In this dish, a calf’s brains are battered to resemble a fritter and served on a bun or rye bread with condiments and pickles. Tastes change, and the sandwich will be harder to find than others on this list.

Maid Rite Sandwich

Karen P./Yelp

There’s a very specific type of burgerlike sandwich in Iowa called the maid rite. It’s named after the most famous spot to make it, the Maid-Rite, in the same way tissue is called Kleenex. Instead of ground beef being shaped into a patty, it’s left as loose meat; you get a spoon to scoop up all the meat that falls as you eat. It’s simple and satisfying.

Related: You Have to Try These Famous Sandwiches in Every State

Homemade Beef Russian Bierocks with Cabbage and Onion

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Dumplings and types of stuffed bread are common in most cultures, and Eastern Europeans brought one in particular with them to Kansas: bierocks. It’s a handheld package of yeasted bread dough baked around a filling of ground beef, shredded cabbage and onions. You can also find these with nontraditional fillings such as cheesesteak, or in sweet versions.

Related: International Baked Goods to Try at Home, From Babka to Yorkshire Pudding

Burgoo, Kentucky

Kentucky Day Trips

Burgoo is a stew that’s usually made outdoors in large kettles, so it’s a common meal at large gatherings and events such as family reunions or church suppers. It has a long history in the state, and traditionally has been made with all kinds of game meats and vegetables. Today, it’s closely associated with the Kentucky Derby and includes a few kinds of meats, lima beans, and corn.

Related: Cheap and Easy One-Pot Meals

Shrimp Ya-ka-mein

Christine W./Yelp

Ya-ka-mein is an interesting mashup of Cajun and Chinese cuisine. It’s a ramenlike noodle soup, often found served in styrofoam cups from corner stores in New Orleans, filled with various meats, boiled eggs, green onions, and whatever vegetables are around the kitchen. It’s popular after parades and festivals as a street food to help cure hangovers.

Related: Hacks to Make Instant Ramen More Delicious Under $1

A traditional New England summer lunch: fried clams on a hot-dog roll served with tartar sauce and french fries

sbossert/istockphoto

You’ve definitely heard of the Maine lobster roll; the clam roll is underappreciated for being a much cheaper, but just as tasty, alternative. Plump, local clams are breaded and fried until crispy, then loaded into a split-top hot dog bun like for its lobster cousin.

Related: Amazing Seafood Shacks Across America

Coddies, Baltimore

Nelda P./Yelp

Crabcakes are the must-eat item in Baltimore, but coddies are what locals eat all the time: a potato and salt cod cake that’s deep fried for a crispy crust, then served with two Saltine crackers and mustard. The origins of this unique snack are disputed, but it’s been popular for at least a century at soda fountains, delis, and taverns in the area.

Related: Beloved Local Eats That Can Be Shipped to Your Doorstep

Homemade Fluffernutter Marshmallow Peanut Butter Sandwich for Kids

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If you grew up in Massachusetts, you may have had fluffernutters instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your school lunchbox. It’s a super sweet, soft concoction of peanut butter and jarred marshmallow fluff on white bread. It’s irresistible as it is, but grill it or add bananas to make it even better.

Related: Simple, Tasty Sandwiches That Cost $1 or Less to Make

Homemade Ginger Beer Boston Cooler with Ice Cream

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Weirdly enough, Detroit’s Boston cooler has nothing to do with Boston. It’s a dessert drink made by blending vanilla ice cream and Michigan’s favorite local soda, Vernor’s, until smooth, like a thin shake. It might be named after a Detroit street or neighborhood, but even if it’s a complete mystery, the beloved Vernor’s makes it Michigan through and through.

Related: Unique Regional Sodas You Have to Try — If You Can Find Them

Popular Scandinavian food Lutefisk cod with pea puree, baked potatoes and bacon close-up on a plate on the table

ALLEKO/istockphoto

Lutefisk is dried cod that’s been soaked in lye to preserve it. It was brought to Minnesota by Norwegian immigrants, and is still a popular church hall dinner. To make it safe for eating, it needs to be soaked in water for a couple days, resulting in a pungent and gelatinous filet. It’s an acquired taste, but luckily there will always be lots of melted butter to pour over it.

Related: Signature Cheap Eats From Every State

Pig Ear Sandwich at Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Mississippi

Rachel L./Yelp

The town of Jackson is home to pig ear sandwiches. They were created at the Big Apple Inn many decades ago, when a butcher next door offered the owner some leftover pig ears. The ears are pressure cooked to make them tender, then served on a small, soft bun with mustard, slaw, and hot sauce.

St. Paul Sandwich

Gizelle C./Yelp

Another sandwich with a geographic name? Legend has it that the creator of this one actually did name it after their hometown. The St. Paul sandwich is Chinese-American fusion, made with an egg foo young patty with optional meat, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and mayo between sliced white bread. It was probably created to appeal to American palates, and it’s still popular today.

Related: Historic Sandwich Shops That Changed Lunch Forever

Rocky Mountain Oysters Montana

William H./Yelp

Rocky Mountain oysters have nothing to do with seafood. It’s just the cheeky name given to these deep-fried treats because “Rocky Mountain bull testicles” didn’t sound so nice. They’re cut into strips, breaded, and deep fried, like so many favorite appetizers. The best place to eat them is on a ranch, where they’re sometimes cooked up fresh from the bull, but many restaurants serve them too.

Related: Bucket-List Food Experiences in Every State

Cheese Frenchee Nebraska

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It seems like it’d be hard to improve on a grilled cheese sandwich, but a restaurant in Nebraska in the 1950s did it by deep frying one. Though the restaurant is long gone, the cheese frenchee remains its legacy. Cheese (and maybe some mayo) is sandwiched between bread, then cut into fourths, breaded, and deep fried to become extra crunchy finger food.

 Basque Family Style Dinner Nevada

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Basque immigrants came to America during the gold rush and settled in northern Nevada when they didn’t strike it rich. Hotels with Basque restaurants popped up like weeds, and many are still around. Most serve their dinner family-style on communal platters, with traditional dishes such as lamb chops, sweetbreads, and a multitude of sides including Basque beans.

Poutine: Fries, Cheese Curds, Gravy

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French fries are a go-to comfort food already, but top them with cheese curds and gravy and they’re next-level. The French Canadian heritage of many New Hampshirites has led to a bastion of poutine lovers. You can get a classic, no-frills version all over the place, or fancy stuff in nice restaurants topped with all kinds of things. There’s even a poutine festival.

Related: Outrageous French Fries You Need to Try

Sloppy Joe at Town Hall Deli in South Orange, NJ

Rolfe S./Yelp

The sloppy joe in New Jersey is nothing like the sloppy joe you grew up with if you lived anywhere else. Instead of a saucy ground beef sandwich, it’s a cold triple-decker deli sandwich. The constants on the sandwich are rye bread, coleslaw, and Russian dressing, but the deli meat and cheese depends on your preference. Like its Manwich namesake, this one’s messy too, thanks to the slaw.

Top view of white bowl full of split white corn over wooden table

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There are so many ways to eat corn, but chicos are not well known. The kernels of dried corn are used as an ingredient in stews, soups, and other dishes. To make them, fresh sweet corn is roasted in the husk overnight to impart a smoky flavor, then the cobs are hung to dry in the sun. They’re rehydrated before eating.

Garbage Plate New York

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Though the name does not inspire confidence, the garbage plate is a Rochester delicacy, especially after a night of drinking. It was created at Nick Tahou Hots, probably in the 1910s, when hungry students asked for big plates of whatever “garbage.” Today, the plate includes a base of starchy things such as home fries and mac and cheese, meat such as a hamburger patty or hot dog, meat sauce, onions, and mustard.

Related: The Best Cheap & Free Stuff New York State Offers

Livermush breakfast North Carolina

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In the pantheon of loaf-style breakfast meats (think scrapple and goetta), livermush is unique because of its large proportion of liver and cornmeal as its binder. It’s made with pork scraps and liver, then cooked and chilled in a loaf before it’s sliced and pan fried before being eaten with eggs and grits or on a sandwich.

Knoephla North Dakota

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It’s difficult to get more comfort from a bowl than with knoephla, a creamy German or Russian chicken-based soup named after the small dumplings that float in it. The chicken stock is thickened to almost a stewlike consistency, and potatoes add a second hit of carbs. It’s great for taking the chill out of you on blustery winter days.

Related: Best Place for Hearty Soup in Every State

Polish boy's sandwich with sausage, cabbage salad, fries and barbecue sauce close-up on the table

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Practically every city has its own signature sausage-on-a-bun; in Cleveland, it’s the Polish boy, made with a fat link of kielbasa topped with french fries, vinegary coleslaw, and barbecue sauce. You can get a version at all kinds of bars and barbecue spots, and it’s best with a side of potato and cheese pierogies.

Oklahoma Lamb Fries

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Lamb fries are the diminutive cousin of Rocky Mountain oysters, and they’re served in steakhouses and other restaurants in Oklahoma. They’re usually made of thin slices of testicles that are breaded, deep fried, and served with cocktail sauce or another dip.

smoked, candied salmon, canada, delicacy, west coast salish treat

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It’s no surprise that salmon is a mainstay in the Pacific Northwest, but preparing it as “candy” is unique. It’s not actually as sweet as candy, but it’s got a sweet glaze made with brown sugar or maple syrup and it’s heavily smoked, so it ends up like a sticky, somewhat sweet salmon jerky. It’s a great snack on a beach trip.

Cold Cheese Pizza Pennsylvania

Karla D./Yelp

We’re not talking leftover pizza from the fridge. Pizza joints dotting the state serve this Ohio Valley-style pizza made by cooking the crust with only tomato sauce, then piling cold toppings — shredded cheese and all — on top before serving. The contrast between the warm crust and cold cheese is said to be the main appeal.

Related: The Craziest Pizzas in Every State

Rhode Island Stuffies

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Clams are abundant in the Rhode Island shores, including giant quahogs about the size of a fist. Arguably the best way to prepare them is stuffing them, turning them into what locals call stuffies. The clams are chopped, then mixed with bread, Portuguese sausage, bell peppers, and spices, then packed back into the shells before baking.

Related: The Best Seafood Restaurant for Takeout in Every State

Benne Wafers

Timothy A./Yelp

Sesame is called benne in the lowcountry because it’s what enslaved West Africans called the African plant. Benne wafers are a thin, crispy and delicate cookie filled with nutty benne seeds, brown sugar, and vanilla. You can find them at bakeries and gift shops all over Charleston.

Related: Spices and Sauces to Keep Home-Cooked Meals Interesting

Chislic South Dakota

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There’s a lot of meat to be had in South Dakota, so it makes sense to turn it into a snack and not just an entree. Chislic are cubes of meat that have been deep fried, treated with spices such as garlic powder or seasoned salt, and served with crackers or just a toothpick. The meat can be lamb, beef, or game meats such as deer, and is usually served medium or medium-rare.

Related: Restaurants for Wild Game Across America

Red Eye Gravy Steaks

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A slab of savory country ham is just screaming out for a ladle of red eye gravy that’s served in diners and cafes all over the state. Because it’s not usually thickened, it often comes served in a bowl alongside your breakfast. It’s made with the ham’s drippings and strong black coffee for an unusual combination that will wake you up.

Snow Cone

Roderigo ../Yelp

Pickle juice is one of the most popular flavors of snow cone in Texas, and you’ll find the salty, acidic treat using pickle brine instead of syrup at shaved ice stands alongside more typical flavors such as cherry and lime. If you really want something different, ask for a piccadilly, made with pickle juice, chamoy, and red Kool-aid.

Related: 50 Unique Ice Cream Flavors and Creations

Frog Eye Salad, Utah

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Don’t worry: No frogs were harmed in the making of this dish. This sweet, dessertlike salad is made with acini de pepe pasta, which are tiny round spheres. When mixed with the Cool Whip, canned fruit, coconut, marshmallows and other goodies in the salad, they kind of resemble frogs’ eyes.

Related: Jell-O Salad and Other Old-School Recipes We Secretly Love

Maple Cremee Vermont

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The maple creemee takes advantage of two of Vermont’s top industries: dairy and maple syrup. The syrup is usually the only flavoring, so the taste shines through, especially when a dark amber syrup is used. Creemees are made in a soft serve machine and swirled high onto cones all summer.

Related: Best Soft Serve Ice Cream Shops in America

Virginia Peanut Pie

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Anyone not from Virginia might guess that peanut pie includes peanut butter and mounds of whipped cream, but peanut pie resembles pecan pie more than it does anything creamy. A layer of chopped peanuts get toasted to a crunch atop a layer of gooey, dark filling full of butter and brown sugar.

Related: Under-the-Radar Restaurants with Amazing Homemade Pie

Pacific giant clam (geoduck) before being cooked in a fish restaurant

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The world’s largest burrowing clam is the geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), and it’s harvested on the Washington coast. It’s used in all kinds of dishes from sushi to chowder, and has a firm, crunchy texture. The real unusual part is the way it looks, though, with an undeniably, well, phallic shape.

Southern Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy

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Biscuits and sausage gravy are a hearty Southern breakfast food, but have you heard of their sweet cousin, biscuits and chocolate gravy? Instead of sausage, the gravy is made from cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. It’s essentially just a thick, hot chocolate sauce over fresh biscuits, and the daydream of kids all over Appalachia.

Filet americain is the Dutch version of "steak tartare". Recipes vary but it is usually made with finely ground raw beef, onions, paprika powder, pepper, capers, tobasco, and often also mayonnaise. It is commonly eaten on bread or with toasts.

Takeaway

Cannibal sandwiches are an unusual concoction often served at family gatherings during the holidays in Wisconsin. Raw ground beef (ground that day only from a well-known source, please) is spread onto a slice of cocktail rye and topped with shaved raw onion and pepper. While many people immediately turn their noses, this is just an everyman’s steak tartar that brings back memories of childhood.

The Fry Bread House in Phoenix, Arizona

Mel G./Yelp

Fry bread is an irresistible fluffy, chewy deep-fried bread. It can be eaten plain or topped with honey, fruit, or savory ingredients such as taco fillings. Because the fry bread base is large and a little unwieldy, fry bread tacos are more like a taco salad, but even better. To make it even more Wyoming, look for versions that use ground bison as the filling.

Related: Tasty Taco Places Across the Country