For the Foodies in the Group – All 50 States Ranked by Food

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All 50 States, Ranked by Their Food

If you could only eat in one state for the rest of your life, what state would it be?  It’s a complicated question informed by numerous factors — cities with quality restaurant scenes, singular state specialties, variety of fresh seafood and produce — and obviously the answer will vary tremendously from person to person. After all, one person’s Maine lobster binge is another person’s shellfish allergy-induced emergency room visit. Nonetheless, our intrepid panel (which is unbiased at least in this survey) put its best taste buds forward and devised this unassailable hierarchy of state-by-state deliciousness from not too good to the very best. Enjoy!

  1. West Virginia – Almost heaven… does not describe the flavor of a state where a glorified Hot Pocket is the signature food in the top five.
  1. North Dakota – Buffalo burgers! Um…North Dakota makes South Dakota look like France, doesn’t it?
  1. Nebraska – On the one hand, it’s home — claims to have invented the Reuben, and delivers steak to your mailbox – Omaha Steaks. On the other hand… so much corn. But weirdly, you have to go up to South Dakota to find a Corn Palace.
  1. Delaware – The signature food of Delaware is a piece of untoasted white bread with a medium amount of mayonnaise on it. Fine, that’s not true. But you believed it for half a second, didn’t you?
  1. New Hampshire – The Arkansas of New England minus the possum pie and apple cider donuts.
  1. Iowa – How does America’s largest pork producing state not have a better barbecue scene? And don’t try waving around that pork tenderloin sandwich.
  1. Utah – We’re all about “fry sauce,” and Sweet Jell-O molds!
  1. Wyoming – There’s some great food in the cities (both of them!), and Pitchfork Fondue is a marvel of modern eating. But for a state where the cattle population more than doubles the humans, it’s alarming how many restaurants are content to thaw out Sysco patties and frozen steaks!
  1. South Dakota – We’re on record calling the enormous expanses between fried steak tips in Belle Fourche, amazing steaks in Sioux Falls, great subs in Yankton, and the country’s best Indian tacos don’t exactly make for an amazing food state.
  1. Idaho – Boise’s making a play to become the Portland of Idaho, which means tons of great food, from high-end farm-to-table spots to great burgers, pizza, and some of the most innovative chicken wings we’ve ever seen. So potato jokes… um.
  1. Kansas – Let’s just say Kansas is extremely fortunate for the piece of the KC metropolitan area is has to bless it with the likes of Joe’s and a few other restaurants. Without it, there’s not much going on. T
  1. Alaska – It’s not all reindeer sausages in Alaska. Juneau and Anchorage have fantastic dining scenes. King crab is, um, the monarch of the dinner table. There’s even a low-key incredible Thai food scene in Fairbanks. And the rest of the state has… some pretty good reindeer sausage?
  1. Montana – A rich man’s Wyoming, one might say.
  1. Arizona – Allegedly inventing the deep-fried burrito definitely counts for something.
  1. Indiana – Indianapolis has come a long way in recent years. And when you’re outside Indy, keep your eyes peeled for some sugar cream pie.
  1. Oklahoma – You can spend a lot of time on food sites reading about people debating Oklahoma’s signature dish the onion burger? BBQ? Fried catfish?  OK?!
  1. Rhode Island – You’ve got frozen lemonade, grilled pizzas, generally serviceable Italian food.
  1. Connecticut – If there was a bit more going on beyond a rich hamburger history and one of the nation’s legitimately singular pizza cultures in New Haven. 
  1. Nevada – Las Vegas offers up every single food and drink you could ever imagine, making it something of a Disney theme park of world cuisine. The rest of the state is… well, hit Tahoe on the weekend; eat on the California side.
  1. Arkansas – Arkansas doesn’t have the signature dishes or styles of food so they’re standing just off the podium of culinary achievement.
  1. New Jersey – Despite all the negative PR, New Jersey is actually something of a poor man’s New York, particularly when it comes to Italian food but most of those red-sauce places let you bring your own wine.
  1. Kentucky – Yes, the robust bourbon culture in Kentucky isn’t technically admissible here, but polishing off a few bourbon balls absolutely is. Chefs help make Louisville a legitimate destination for anyone interested in eating well. As signature state foods go, however, the Hot Brown is just a turkey sandwich that quit midway through being made.
  1. Virginia – Many excellent things have been happening in northern Virginia thanks to the halo of DC’s ascendant dining scene. Many excellent things have been happening with country ham in Virginia.
  1. Minnesota – The Twin Cities have so many things going for them. Vibrant Korean and Somali food scenes. Truly exceptional and unique wild rice. A tater tot and cheese-laden foodstuff that sounds like something a dishwasher might call out in a restaurant kitchen (hot dish). Butter coffee and a bunch of Nordic dishes that are pretty weird but at least interesting!  How about the beloved Jucy Lucy, aka the signature MN burger with the cheese cooked inside, is not that good. Part of the problem is that it leaves you with…do you eat the burger while hot and risk scalding your mouth on molten cheese? Or do you wait for the cheese to cool but transfer its heat to the surrounding burger patty, thus overcooking and drying it out?
  1. New Mexico – Everyone makes a really big deal about the green chiles, but you know what they’re forgetting?!?! Oh, I guess the best things with those green chiles are cheeseburgers.
  1. Vermont – We’re not medically advising you to subsist solely on a diet of maple syrup, boutique ice cream, and artisanal cheeses, but if one were, Vermont would be the place to do it. 
  1. Ohio – Cleveland has established itself as Midwestern leader in the Rust Belt food revival. Regional dishes like the Polish Boy and Columbus-style pizza hold their own. Add to that the legacy of putting chili on spaghetti, then throw in some ice cream and it’s safe to say that Ohio’s shaping up. 
  1. Mississippi – The Magnolia State boasts of a slew of deep-fried Southern and soul food gems, like catfish and pork chops, not to mention the po-boys, and jambalaya. But Mississippi is also famous for its bountiful pecan trees, caramel cakes, and Gulf crabs and shrimp. They also have award-winning barbecue, and even an astonishingly active and interesting hot tamale trade in the Delta.
  1. Florida – Your state has lots going for it in the food department, from the oranges and key limes, to the starfruit, to the incredible stone crabs and conch fritters. Miami’s Cuban influence means glorious sandwiches stuffed with pork, pastelitos, arroz con pollo, vaca frita, and coffee. St. Petersburg is quietly turning into a hip, creative, culinary enclave with all the obligatory delights you’d expect to back that up.
  1. Maryland – Crab cakes and football, right everyone? That’s a quote from a hit 2005 movie called Wedding Crashers. Beyond the crabs, there’s Baltimore’s pit beef, which is one of America’s most underrated carnivorous indulgences. There’s also the Smith Island Cake, which is really just a chocolate layer cake.
  1. Missouri – Both Kansas City and St. Louis boast some really fine BBQ joints, and there are some who would argue that burnt ends are the finest piece of meat you can ever put in your mouth. So fine, in fact, that it’s easy to ignore the abomination that is the St. Paul sandwich comes from the very same state, and that Provel cheese is considered an acceptable substitute for mozzarella on pizza.
  1. Colorado – Were craft beer a factor here, Colorado would be skyrocketed to the top of the list.  Colorado has some of the best edibles in the US. It’s certainly helpful when you consider that an appetizer of a weird-tasting baked good makes most things taste better, and considering things already taste great., it’s astounding. It’s tough to pin down the “thing” that really defines Colorado food-wise — it’s kind of a mish-mash of Western influences that’ve migrated from elsewhere with a heavy dose of meats like buffalo and Colorado lamb.
  1. Hawaii – There’s some sort of magic in the air in Hawaii, a confluence of Polynesian, East Asian, and mainland cultures that manages to set it apart as one of the most singular American cuisines out there. It doesn’t take a ton to make the state’s bounty of seafood incredible, or its Kalua pork a very real rival to the Carolina throne.
  1. Alabama – The knee-jerk food talking point that television show hosts get fed in their ears by producers right before they have to talk about food in Alabama is white sauce barbecue, and honestly white sauce is delicious, tangy and peppery and also full of mayonnaise. And Birmingham itself, but specifically the Avondale hood, has quietly been a great place to eat and drink for years now. Outside of Birmingham, an incredible summer dinner series pulling in top chefs from all over the south, make a pretty good argument against going to FloraBama every night. And the farm-raised oyster movement there, started in an attempt to combat over harvesting, has produced some incredible nationally acclaimed oysters with thriller film names. Also, Alabama peaches are much better than Georgia peaches!
  1. Wisconsin – It’s easy to talk about Wisconsin solely in terms of cheese and sausages and fried things and sausages topped with cheesy fried things. But to focus solely on that delightful component of Wisconsin’s edible culture does a disservice to the accessible sophistication of Milwaukee and Madison’s restaurant scenes, the simple pleasure of a lakeside fish fry, and the instant happiness that comes with taking that first bite of Kringle; which could be filled with cheese; we just mentioned fried things again.
  1. Massachusetts – Baked beans are gross. Greek-style pizza isn’t great. Necco wafers taste stale even if you eat them right at the factory. Boston cream pies are only good in donut form. Cranberries are OK? And no one talks much about molasses since that incident in 1919. But just when you think this is going to be bad, you remember all the glorious things that make the Bay State competitive in any food conversation: New England clam chowder, the finest of all soups. Lobster rolls. the cannoli triangle, fried full belly clams, Kelly’s roast beef. The “Dirty Italian” grinders and the legendary “cheeseburgs” with fried onions.  Massachusetts’ food scene is complicated and polarizing and frustrating, but beautiful. 
  1. South Carolina – There is Charleston, of course, which held a Hot New Food Town crown for many years, as it’s now a staple on America’s culinary tourism circuit, and boasts both the legendary whole hog barbecue and Central Texas brisket, making it in the conversation for one of the best barbecue cities in America. Greenville is slowly creeping into the international food conversation, thanks to a revitalized downtown though people still whisper about the legend – The Owl. Throw in frogmore stew and the fact that South Carolina is the second state that claims their peaches are much better than incredibly overrated Georgia’s.
  1. Georgia – Atlanta has had something of a cultural moment, but there’s more to eating well there than just lemon pepper wings. And while we’re at it, there’s also more than pecan pie and peach cobbler. Dining in Atlanta can increasingly hold its own with just about anywhere, and yet the state still boasts of the slow-smoked, Southern fried goodness that makes the rest of the region taste so good — Savannah in particular deserves its own shout-out. It’s the kind of combination that can make you forget what happened at the Super Bowl.
  1. Maine – Portland is, pound for pound, one of the finest food cities in all of North America, and we could spend the rest of our time name dropping every jealousy-inducing spot in Portland’s general area. Maine comes down to a few key things done better than everywhere else. Namely: Blueberries! Lobster rolls! Clambakes! Blueberries and lobster rolls and clams stuffed into LL Bean boots and then baked! Throw in a trip to the outlets in Kittery for some cut-price maple syrup, and Maine proves you really can have it all.
  1. Michigan – It’s weirdly the original home of the Coney hot dog, enormous pasties (the meat pies), and the currently hot, always-square Detroit-style pizza, and the fact that Little Caesars and Domino’s more or less defined American takeout pizza as we know it. The Detroit Metro area also has a massive wealth of Polish, Greek, and Middle Eastern food, while Traverse City and Grand Rapids are fast becoming food destinations unto themselves. BBQ and soul food.  Additional points for the state’s farmers market cred, and for its wealth of fish fries and venison chili.
  1. North Carolina – It would be one thing if North Carolina only boasted one of America’s great barbecue traditions, but it just so happens that it has two of them. But there’s more going on here than just whole hog artistry, from the abundant seafood shacks lining the coast from Nags Head to Calabash, to an Asheville food scene that’s increasingly catching up with its beer, to a Charlotte food scene that’s consistently underrated. 
  1. Pennsylvania – Philadelphia boasts an incredibly rich eating scene, from the cheesesteak and roast pork, to the middle ground, which we’d imagine hovers somewhere over Federal Donuts Not to be undone, the Pittsburgh of the last few years has become a national food darling, and the farmlands of southeastern PA are increasingly impressive, especially if you want dairy products. And we haven’t even gotten into Amish foods, which should be noted if only because they list the number one favorite Amish food as pie. Legend.
  1. Washington – This state’s a produce powerhouse and farmer’s market dream come to life. Their oysters are delicious, and the state manages to overtake the entire western seaboard when it comes to seafood. And, um, riverfood: You’ve never had salmon until you’ve had it smoked on a cedar plank, or experienced coffee culture in a cafe that requires you to take a ferry. Seattle’s a place where you can always get a fine slice of cherry pie… either in the actual diner from Twin Peaks or from the hundreds of charming places nearby, which might just have the best German food in the west. But seriously, you should get that salmon.
  1. Illinois – Any top-five list of American cities to eat in that doesn’t include Chicago is a bad and wrong list, and  its inclusion starts in on some rant against deep dish pizza. The rest of the state lags behind a bit, but isn’t without its charms, such as a frighteningly caloric regional indulgence known as the horseshoe and a better-than-you-realized barbecue culture in the southern portion of the state.
  1. Oregon – There is Portland, with its farm-to-table movement, food carts, donuts, and endless brunch lines. Move to central and western Oregon , with its prized beef. The coast, with its bounty of Dungeness crab and famous tuna and Goonies. Hood River with all its fruit, the fancy-pants fine-dining and casualness of the Willamette Valley wine country, and all that Tillamook cheese. People who live in Oregon have an issue of going on and on about how great the food is. They’re right.
  1. Tennessee – There’s an obligatory remark to be made about Nashville’s food scene being so hot right now, much like a certain spicy chicken dish popularized there. But we should make sure that the state’s other ample culinary delights get their due — like, it’s worth mentioning that if fried chicken is your thing, Memphis is arguably the pound-for-pound better city for poultry. On the flip side, Memphis better watch its back when it comes to barbecue, as Nashville’s profile as a worthy destination strictly on barbecue terms. But the point of all this isn’t to get into some kind of inter-city food shouting match, but just to celebrate a singular American state anchored with two vibrant-yet-connected food cultures.
  1. Louisiana – If New Orleans was its own state, it would probably still end up in the top 10, because of not only the foods that’ve come out of there — po-boys, oyster Rockefeller, beignets, King Cakes, pralines, sno-balls, turtle soup, bananas Foster, blackened redfish— and the legendary restaurants but also a modern food scene that can go toe to toe with any other city in the country. But beyond that, there is a uniqueness to Louisiana’s food culture that separates it out from other states, the whispers of history are all around the food.
  1. New York – Even though it’s the “Big Apple” it also has a few other things going for it, from the major immigration hub for generations – the pizza’s just the tip of the iceberg – to the delicious results that come from waves of chefs flocking there. Basically, any kind of cuisine you can crave can be found somewhere in the state, and often in its purest and best form. There are the Buffalo wings, Fresh Long Island seafood, bagels that NY won’t stop talking about, and the hot dogs are unquestionable  Apparently, the New York state of mind is one induced by a food coma. 
  1. California – Imagine the incredible agriculture and farming system that helps provide the staging ground for every imaginable food culture. Sizzling Sonoran hot dogs and fresh fish tacos drizzled with crema and burritos stuffed with fries. A style of griddled, thin, American cheese-laced double burgers copied all over the country. Another type of burger out of Sacramento with a “skirt” of cooked cheese nestled around it. A style of pizza that blends. Both garlic and cherries in Gilroy. Avocado trees in your backyard next to the Meyer lemon and lemon trees. Oysters up by Point Reyes. Cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. The bounty of the wine country. A food scene in Los Angeles that is currently the hottest in the nation.
  1. Texas – Normally you would think of Texas as a place where folks wearing big belt buckles meet folks wearing BIGGER belt buckles to buy American-made trucks to drive to high school football games. But just for a moment consider the glory that is the Texas food world: A barbecue scene that is the best in the world, thanks to not only the dominance and perfection of the craft of Central Texas-style brisket, but the fact that there happen to be several different styles of barbecue just in Texas alone.  A Tex-Mex style of food that is admittedly delicious, and was elevated into a national culinary craze, as “Southwestern.”  Four substantial cities with their own unique food scenes and styles: Dallas’s perfection of the meat-centric steakhouse, Houston’s incredible mix of ice house, seafood, all often colliding at once, San Antonio’s small but mighty scene – named a “Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO”, the best overall Mexican food of any Texas city, and Austin’s ability to disguise itself as the most non-Texan place in Texas draws chefs from all over the country to come and try their hands at that Detroit-style pizza, while maintaining the best traditionally Texan barbecue and food truck culture that continues to innovate.  All of this is to say: Texas is having its national food moment; time to get a BIGGER belt buckle!
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