The Ultimate U.S. Food Bucket List


People always ask me about America’s food and food culture when I travel outside the U.S. They think we all just eat hamburgers and hot dogs! Ugh! While those may be enjoyed from time to time (I can’t remember the last time I had a hot dog), the U.S. boasts some iconic American foods that should definitely be on your food bucket list! So, what are the most special culinary delights of the U.S. that everyone needs to try at least once?

American Food Culture

Of course, what we consider the best U.S. foods and American delicacies varies from state to state. I’ve taken 5 road trips from coast to coast, and the differences in American food culture are quite noticeable in each state, as are their bucket list foods. Hundreds of years ago, immigrants brought recipes from their countries of origin that today remain specialties in only certain U.S cities. I’m constantly surprised how much food diversity we still have in this age of connectivity. No matter where I am, I love finding out what special food I need to eat!

The food in the U.S.A. not only reflects the diverse melting pot of America’s population, but also its wide-ranging geography. The mountains, oceans, valleys, plains, and climate all impact the crops that grow, and the animals that can be raised, which in turn, influences the U.S. food culture and the different American cuisines. Some ingredients, especially seafood, tend to stay close to their native areas, and some dishes are so ingrained in the local culture that they epitomize that region.

U.S. food sources: farming, fishing, raising cattle

So, what are the most special culinary delights of the U.S. that everyone needs to try at least once? That’s what this food bucket list is about—the very best food in the United States (and Puerto Rico)!

Does it really matter where you eat these items? Yes! You may be able to find some of these items elsewhere in the U.S. (and around the world), and you can go ahead and try them, and may even enjoy them. But don’t cross it off your food bucket list until you try the real deal!

In order to compile this Ultimate U.S. Food Bucket List, in addition to my own favorites, I’ve asked chefs, food writers, and travel bloggers what they consider to be the best food in the USA, and boy did they deliver!

The Ultimate U.S. Food Bucket List


Where to eat this food bucket list item: Hawaii

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

The last time I went to Hawaii, I went for free and won a watch! The weird thing is I didn’t even want to go. The corporate company I was working for paid my way, and I thought it was a bad business decision to send me. The company eventually went under, but I have wonderful memories of Poke!

On the mainland, you can find hip Poke bowl restaurants in some of the major cities like Los Angeles and New York, but in Hawaii, Poke is not a trend, it’s a part of life, and should definitely be on your foodie bucket list. You can even find it in some family restaurants!

Poke which rhymes with okay, means “to cut crosswise into pieces.” Historically, Polynesian fisherman ate their cut off scraps of raw fish with sea salt, seaweed, and crushed candlenut (macadamia nut’s cousin).

Today, you will see different kinds of fish, mussels, and octopus in Poke recipes, but Ahi tuna reigns king of the Poke. Most commonly it is marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and onions. As with most dishes, there are many versions of this traditional recipe.

Some spice it up with sriracha, wasabi, or even kimchee (I prefer it spicy). Prominent in Hawaiian cuisine, pineapple is a popular addition (I’m allergic, so, no for me) as is avocado (can’t go wrong here). The vegetables can include cucumbers, peppers, and carrots, and sesame seeds, seaweed, candlenut or macadamia nut, and scallions for garnishes and added flavor.

Hawaiians enjoy Poke at all kinds of occasions, everything from a tailgate party to weddings. You will find Poke on many restaurant menus from casual to fine dining, and grocery stores even sell it.

Ahi Poke on our Food Bucket List.

Ahi Poke on our Food Bucket List.

Fried Cheese Curds

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Wisconsin

Recommended by: Brittany from life of brit

No visit to America’s Dairyland is complete without sampling a local favorite dish: Wisconsin cheese curds! This bucket list food is served either fresh or deep fried, cheese curds are an easy item to find on most Midwest menus.

Made from fresh pasteurized milk that’s undergoing the cheese making process, cheese curds are clots that form when whey (liquid) begins to separate from heated milk. The solid that’s left from this heated separation process is collected, compressed to release more liquid, seasoned, and broken up into the cheese curds we know and love today.

To check if a cheese curd is fresh, take a bite and listen for that sweet squeaky sound as you chew. They have a mild cheddar-like flavor and are often coated in unique seasonings like garlic, jalapeño, Bloody Mary, and more. Restaurants serve them deep fried until they’re hot and gooey and they’re a favorite snack or appetizer while out on the town.

Wisconsin travelers can find some of the state’s best fried curds at popular eateries like The Old Fashioned and Curd Girl Food Truck in Madison, or Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. For the fresh stuff that squeaks, look to Cedar Valley Cheese and Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery who hosts an annual cheese curd festival every year. Don’t forget to order a pint of local Wisconsin beer to wash them down.

Fried Cheese Curds on our Food Bucket List.

Fried Cheese Curds on our Food Bucket List.

Royal Red Shrimp

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Gulf Shores, Alabama

Recommended by: Sarah from You Found Sarah

When you think of beaches, Alabama might not be the first place that comes to mind. There are only 32 miles of shoreline in the state, but what Alabama’s beaches lack in quantity is made up for in quality. The sugary white-sand beaches are made of quartz rocks that tumbled their way from the Appalachian Mountains all the way to the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago.

Naturally, when you head out to get your dose of Vitamin Sea, the first cuisine you think of is seafood. But down here in Alabama, you’ll see something a little different on the menu that needs to be on your list of bucket list foods.

A “Royal Red” is an extremely large shrimp that is only found in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Relatively unknown 20 years ago, these puppies are now insanely popular with locals and in-the-know tourists.

What makes Royal Red shrimp so special is that they taste more like a lobster or bay scallops because of their briny, delicate, and slightly sweet flavor.

Since they are so delicious on their own, the best way to eat these ocean jewels is by keeping it simple. Try them steamed with a little melted butter and a lemon wedge. Just don’t forget the napkins!

Be aware that Royal Reds typically come served in their shell with their heads on. Don’t be put off – just “pinch ‘em” at the neck area and twist from side to side. The head will pop right off.

While you can get Royal Reds year round, head into the area around late summer through the end of fall. You’ll miss the tourists and get the freshest catch. You could also plan you trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast at the beginning of October to check out the Annual National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores (cancelled 2020 due to COVID-19).

Let’s keep this between us, but my favorite place to grab a plate of these juicy, buttery delicacies is at The Gulf Shores Steamer in Orange Beach.

Royal Red Shrimp on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Sarah from You Found Sarah

Royal Red Shrimp on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Sarah from You Found Sarah

Barbecued Brisket & Pecan Pie

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Texas

Recommended by: Erin from State of Dinner

“If it ain’t brisket, it ain’t barbecue!” At least that's what they say in Texas, where smoked brisket is a point of state pride. Texans smoke brisket low and slow over wood, and it takes almost a whole day to cook! In the end, the payoff is worth the time invested. Texas smoked brisket has crispy bark, rendered fat, salty seasoning, and smoky flavor, and the cooking method produces tender, melt in your mouth beef.

Today a popular dinner meal in America, smoked meat was originally brought to Texas by Czech and German settlers in the 1800s. Instead of wasting surplus meat, they would smoke it to help it last longer. Other influences from these cultures are evident in New Braunfels foods and other Texas Hill towns.

Black's Barbecue in Lockhart, Texas added smoked brisket to their menu in the late 1950s and became the first restaurant to sell the delectable dish. Customers loved it, and the popularity quickly spread to restaurants across the state. Today, customers line up daily outside of the state’s most popular barbecue restaurants. Many sell out of their brisket every day, so you have to show up early to get a slice.

There is no better finish to a Texas smoked brisket dinner than a slice of Texas’ state dessert, pecan pie. Pecans are native to Texas, growing in abundance across the Texas Hill Country. Archaeologists have found evidence that Native Americans in Texas used pecans more than 8,000 years ago! There are many ways to enjoy pecans, but when Karo syrup introduced the pecan pie recipe on its packaging in the 1920s, Texans went crazy for it! You’ll now find pecan pie on almost every family’s holiday table across the state.

So, if you’re visiting Texas, you can cross off 2 food bucket list items in one meal! That may be the best reason I’ve ever heard to go to the Lone Star State.

Barbecue Brisket & Pecan Pie on our Food Bucket List. Images courtesy of Erin from State of Dinner

Barbecue Brisket & Pecan Pie on our Food Bucket List. Images courtesy of Erin from State of Dinner

Maryland Blue Crab

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Maryland and Delaware

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

Luckily my husband’s from Maryland and we get to visit the state, and eat Maryland Blue Crab often. There are lots of ways to enjoy these crabs, and if you have the chance, you should try as many as possible! Here are my top 5 ways to eat this bucket list food!

When I’m in Maryland I have to have a crab feast at least once. Many restaurants offer them, and the feast accompaniments may vary, but they all offer endless Maryland steamed crabs coated in Old Bay seasoning! Grab a crab from the pile on the table and “pick” the sweet seasoned crab meat. The crabs are so addictive, I stick to them, maybe a few shrimp, and a piece of corn. I let the others indulge on the hushpuppies, fried chicken, and whatever else may be spread across the table. If you can only pick one Maryland Blue Crab experience for your Food Bucket List, pick this one!

I make damn good crab cakes, so I don’t usually order them in restaurants, except when I’m Maryland. You’ll see them as an entrée, appetizer, and in sandwiches. If you’re ever in Ocean City, Harborside Restaurant has a terrific Crab Club sandwich with a crab cake and a soft shell crab.

Soft shell crabs have a very short season from May through September when the Blue Crabs molt and shed their shells. The whole crab is eaten usually fried or sauteed. The slight crunch can be a little weird the first bite, but then the second bite is quite tasty, and then soon you want another one! .

Crab dip is very popular as an appetizer served with a soft pretzel, bread, or crackers. Go to a family cookout (that’s what they call a BBQ there), and there will be crab dip! You’ll also see it creatively used on burgers, in quesadillas, or to stuff fish.

And lastly is the famous Maryland Crab Soup, one of my husband’s favorite soups in the world. This soup is literally everywhere, even at some fast food restaurant chains, but please, don’t judge it on those!

Maryland Blue Crab feast on our Food Bucket List.

Maryland Blue Crab feast on our Food Bucket List.


Where to eat this food bucket list item: Puerto Rico

Recommended by: Jenny from Traveling Party of Four

Puerto Rico is known for many things; palm-tree lined beaches, water sports galore, loud and lively music, dancing, and a unique and vibrant culture. But the infusion of Taíno, Spanish, and African culture that makes up the cuisine known as Cocina Criolla is the best attraction on the island.

I am drawn to this quote from Anthony Bourdain, "The history of the world is on your plate, all food is the expression of a long struggle and a long story." So true in Puerto Rico.

The Taíno provided corn, tropical fruit, and seafood. They perfected Barbacoa, which is similar to what we know as a Barbecue. And they used a pilón, a tool similar to a mortar and pestle, to mash ingredients, such as yuca, sweet and green plantains to create a dish they called mofongo.

The Spaniards added beef, olives, garlic, bacalao, and cilantro to the culinary mix. And the Africans added coconuts, okra, and taro, plus a new cooking method—frying.

Picture this...Meet mofongo...fried green plantains, mashed in a pilón with garlic, olive oil, and pork rinds; the dreamy mix molded into the shape of a bowl, the bowl now filled with seasoned pork, chicken, beef, seafood, or octopus salad, always served with either a fresh salad or beans and rice. And an ice-cold Medalla Light, the local light and refreshing beer. Are you with me?

After a day of snorkeling in Puerto Rico, or hiking, or swimming, or relaxing by the pool, chowing down on mofongo is hands down the best reward and my favorite Puerto Rican meal.

Yes, you will return from your holiday with a few extra pounds, but it will be worth it.

Mofongo on our Food Bucket List.

Mofongo on our Food Bucket List.


Where to eat this food bucket list item: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Recommended by: Anisa from Two Traveling Texans

A Cheesesteak is a hot sandwich with thinly sliced pieces of beef and cheese in a long hoagie roll. You can choose either Cheese Whiz (a processed cheese spread), Provolone, or American cheese. Some people like to add grilled onions and hot or sweet peppers to the sandwich.

The famous cheesesteak came about by accident. One day Pat, who ran a hot dog stand at the time, decided to try something different for lunch and got some chopped meat from the butcher shop. He cooked the meat on his hot dog grill and put the meat onto an Italian roll with grilled onions. One of his regular customers saw the sandwich and wanted to try one as well.

He liked it so much that he told Pat to stop selling hot dogs and start selling these steak sandwiches. It wasn’t until years later when employees and customers wanted a change that cheese was added to Pat’s cheesesteak recipe.

While the cheesesteak was invented at what is now called Pat's King of Steaks, it is not the only place in town that serves the iconic sandwich. There is a big debate whether Pat’s Steaks or Geno’s makes the best Philly Cheesesteak, while some locals prefer less touristy options. Both shops are located close to the Italian Market at the intersection of S. 9th Street and E. Passyunk Avenue.

One thing is for certain, if you are visiting Philly, be sure to follow the specific protocol when ordering your cheesesteak. First, tell them which cheese and then if you want it “wit or without” onions.

Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia. Images courtesy of Anisa from Two Traveling Texans

Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia. Images courtesy of Anisa from Two Traveling Texans

Steamers or Soft Shell Clams

Where to eat this food bucket list item: New England and Long Island

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

Steamers are a soft shell clam know as longnecks or Ipswich clams, and are found in New England and Long Island. Please note, although they are steamed and in the clam family, Steamers are NOT what most of the U.S. calls steamed clams!

They also do not really have soft shells; their oblong shell is really more brittle than soft. Often referred to as “piss clams,” Steamers have a long protruding siphon or foot that will squirt if they are stepped on.

Soft shell clams are not eaten raw, but served steamed or deep-fried. I happen to love both, but prefer them steamed. The traditional way to eat them is to hold them by the long dark foot, dip it into the hot broth they were cooked in, swirl around, then dip into melted butter. YUM! You may be surprised that you can eat a full bucket yourself!

Unfortunately, however, when I was a picky kid growing up on Long Island, I watched my family gorge buckets of Steamers so many times, and I would not go near them. Now that I love them, I am 3,000 miles away!

Don’t make the same mistake! If you find yourself on Long Island, or traveling through New England, you should cross steamers off your food bucket list!

New England Steamers on our Food Bucket List.

New England Steamers on our Food Bucket List.

Hot Brown

Where to find this food bucket list item: Kentucky

Recommended by: Candace from Where I’ve Been

If you find yourself in Kentucky, you must eat a Hot Brown! It’s not only one of the best things to eat in the Bluegrass State, but also one of the best things to eat in the USA. Kentucky has a rich culinary and agricultural tradition and many regional dishes including beer cheese, burgoo, benedictine, and the mint julep. But no dish is more famous than the delicious Hot Brown.

A Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich with turkey covering white bread, smothered in a creamy mornay sauce, then topped with Cheddar cheese, some crisp bacon, and fresh tomatoes. A decadent dish, its beauty is in its simplicity.

The Hot Brown gets its name from The Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, where it was created by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. Turkey was usually only served on holidays, so finding it on a sandwich was a special treat and customers of the Brown Hotel couldn’t get enough.

Originally developed as an item to appeal to customers after a long evening of dancing, the Hot Brown is now one of Kentucky’s iconic dishes. You’ll find this beloved sandwich on menus all over Kentucky, but one of my favorites is served at Winchell’s Restaurant in Lexington. If you’re in Louisville, then definitely visit the historic Brown Hotel and enjoy the original!

Hot Brown on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Candace from Where I’ve Been

Hot Brown on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Candace from Where I’ve Been

Maine Lobster

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Main and Massachusetts

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

Maine Lobster is one of my favorite foods in the world, and should be on every foodie’s bucket list! Aficionados consider meat of the Maine Lobster the most sweet and tender lobster meat of all with the tail being the most prized section.

Maine Lobsters also have 2 large meaty claws that are also delicious, while many other species, like the spiny lobsters we have in California do not.

You can find Maine Lobsters throughout the United States, but they are freshest nearest the source, and less expensive! It’s easy to find a great seafood restaurant in Maine and indulge. In fact, going to Maine or Massachusetts in May and June is like going to lobster heaven!

On my last visit, I couldn’t believe restaurants were offering 2 for 1 lobster specials during this time. Who could eat 2 lobsters? Turns out I can! We ate this specialty from Boston to Maine, and by the end of the trip, one didn’t seem enough.

I am a purest when it comes to Maine Lobster; I prefer them steamed or grilled with drawn butter, and a little salt. Fancy restaurants prepare Thermidor recipes and creative versions, but I haven’t found one that I’d choose over the simple traditional preparation.

It is hard to believe that this delicacy was once used as fish bait by Native Americans!

Main Lobsters on our Food Bucket List.

Main Lobsters on our Food Bucket List.


Where to eat this food bucket list item: New Orleans, Louisiana

Recommended by: Jade from Escaping Elsewhere

New Orleans is well-known for its distinctive Creole cuisine. Although influenced by a variety of other countries around the world, it is most prominently French, and Beignets are no exception. ‘Beignet’ is the French name for the deep-fried pastry served with a mountain of icing sugar.

Beignets are often mistakenly confused with being another name for a different-shaped doughnut. They are also supposed to be a different texture and weight making them unique to the much-loved doughnut. But are they worth the hype? If you are a lover of all things fried and doughy, then yes!

Served at a variety of cafes and restaurants, the Beignet is iconic to Café du Monde, which has become famous for its Beignets and café du lait since the Civil War in 1962. Located in the French Quarter, just across from Jackson Square, the café is unquestionably a tourist attraction (because why wouldn’t you want to try these?). We managed to fit Café du Monde into our New Orleans 3-day-itinerary for dessert, but it can become slightly busy and overcrowded, so it is worth remembering that this café is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Most importantly, one order of Beignets at Café du Monde serves you three crispy-on-the-outside, but soft-on-the-inside hot Beignets powdered with sugar.

Beignets on our Food Bucket List.

Beignets on our Food Bucket List.

Mole Negro

Where to find this food bucket list item: Los Angeles, California

Recommended by: Cynthia Clozman

One thing I love about living in Southern California is Oaxacan cuisine. During the Christmas holidays (and other special occasions for that matter) it’s not hard to find good homemade moles, a specialty of Oaxaca, Mexico. Moles are thick, rich sauces made from seeds, nuts, chiles, chocolate, and— I kid you not—about 20 other ingredients. Mole is spicy, but not super hot.

There are several kinds, but my favorite is mole negro. The best mole negro I’ve ever had is used liberally in the chicken tamal at El Nopal on Los Angeles’ west side. Wrapped in a banana leaf, the tamal is presented like the gift that it is, and will leave you feeling full for days. The mole within is dark, thick, smoky, somewhat sweet, somewhat spicy, with a very complex and earthy flavor.

Want to sample different moles? Head to downtown LA’s Grand Central Market, where you’ll find “Chiles Secos,” a vendor specializing in dried chiles and moles. The moles are in pans behind glass and could be mistaken for gelato. Besides the classic mole negro, there is also red mole, mole with sesame seeds, and more. While the red mole looks great, I think I’ll stick to the one that’s more reminiscent of dark chocolate. Because you can never go wrong with chocolate in my book!

LA’s Grand Central Market. Image courtesy of Cynthia Clotzman

LA’s Grand Central Market. Image courtesy of Cynthia Clotzman

Key Lime pie

Where to eat this food bucket list item: Key West, Florida

Recommended by: Lori from Travlinmad

One of the best things about traveling for food is how much the local food says about a place, and south Florida and the Florida Keys are well-defined by the tiny Key Lime, so much so that the pie that bears its name is the Official Pie of Florida — the Key Lime pie, one of Florida’s famous foods.

Key limes are much smaller than the large Persian limes traditionally found in grocery stores. They’re more yellow in color than green, and the juice is aromatic and a bit more tart than a Persian lime, with more seeds. While the fruit is not native to the US (they originated in north Africa and the Middle East) they do grow well in south Florida, but mainly come from Mexico, and Central and South America.

If you’ve never had a slice of Key Lime pie, you may wonder how it’s made, why it’s so special, and where to find the best pie. And you’ll no doubt get many opinions. But there are a few things all Key Lime pie lovers agree on: the basic ingredients, and the fact that it is never, ever green.

Just three ingredients generally go into a good Key Lime pie: 1) sweetened condensed milk, 2) 100 percent key lime juice, and 3) a good graham cracker crust. Every Chef will make it unique, but few deviate from a good basic recipe.

So where can you find the best Key Lime pie? Key West is a good place to start, though most Chefs throughout the Florida Keys will have a great version to end your tropical Floribbean meal. Don’t miss it on your next trip to Florida!

Key Lime Pie on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Lori from Travlinmad

Key Lime Pie on our Food Bucket List. Image courtesy of Lori from Travlinmad


Where to find this food bucket list item: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaia

Recommended by: Kanupriyaa from Sunset Jeans

Pierogies are a Pittsburgh favorite that every person that has ever lived in the city swears by. Pittsburgh is an unassuming town in the middle of Pennsylvania and admittedly it won't be the first to come to mind when you think of cuisine hotspots but that is only because it’s such a well kept secret.

The town boasts incredible history, culture and most importantly food - Pierogies. The pierogies were introduced to the area by immigrants who settled here and became part of the local culture very quickly.

Pierogies are soft potato and cheese filled dough pastries that have been lightly fried and then drizzled with fried onions and butter. It is no surprise that pierogies captured everyone's imagination so quickly, what else warms the heart in the brutal Pittsburgh winter like piping hot potato food and some cider.

Nowadays you can find restaurants taking a modern twist by introducing spinach or feta and other ingredients to give the pierogies a newer taste. Pretty much every local restaurant and festival that is hosted in Pittsburgh has pierogies on the menu and you quickly learn to identify them by their deep buttery smell.

Pierogies are one of the most unique and best things to eat in Pittsburgh and if you ever happen to chance upon the city you should definitely try this delicacy.

Pierogies on our Food Bucket List.

Pierogies on our Food Bucket List.

Sourdough Bread

Where to eat this food bucket list item: San Francisco, California

Recommended by: Savannah at The Travelling Barnacle

When I visited San Francisco, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know what sourdough bread was. So, I’m pleased to say that I was actually able to try sourdough bread for the first time in the city famous for it, without even realizing it!

I’ve tried other sourdough breads since and nothing compares to the sourdough made in San Francisco. Sourdough bread is unique from other breads in that it’s made with a specific type of wild yeast, whereas most other breads are made with “commercial active yeast". The different acids in the dough lowers the pH, which then give the bread it’s famous flavor.

The way sourdough is made is truly fascinating. Bakeries keep a mixture of this wild yeast, flour, and water alive in what is known as the “mother sponge" or “mother dough". Boudin Bakery was the first in San Francisco to make sourdough. They opened in 1849 and are making dough from the same mother dough to this day!

Sourdough bread can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptians! So what brought it to San Francisco? The Gold Rush! The yeast for the bread was easy to find, and bread was an ideal form of sustenance for miners due to the ease of carrying it with them and keeping it for long periods of time.

What makes San Francisco sourdough different from everywhere else though? As weird and gross as it might sound, the bacteria! There’s a bacteria only found in San Francisco called lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and that’s what gives the bread it’s unique flavor! So, there you have it! If you’re ever visiting San Francisco, you should most definitely try this unique and delicious bread!

Sourdough Bread shaped like animals. Image courtesy of Savannah at The Travelling Barnacle

Sourdough Bread shaped like animals. Image courtesy of Savannah at The Travelling Barnacle

Pastrami on Rye

Where to eat this food bucket list item: New York City

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

New York's signature sandwich, Pastrami on Rye, can be found at every New York delicatessen in Manhattan (as can Lox and Bagels and New York Cheese Cake). The word Delicatessen comes from German, and can mean either “delicacies to eat,” or “to eat delicious things,” and in Yiddish, it means the same thing.

The Pastrami on Rye sandwich was invented in 1988 when New York City’s German and Yiddish speaking Jewish population was increasing. It was first sold at a deli on Delancey street and became very popular with spicy brown mustard and a side of Kosher dill pickles. I like it with coleslaw and have been known to put it on the sandwich itself (reminiscent of my pulled pork sandwich)!

Made from beef brisket cured in a seasoned brine with salt, sugar, and spices for up to a week, the meat is then dried and coated with a more spices. This is some of the most flavorful sandwich meat you’ll ever have. It can be fatty, but that’s what makes it moist.

Today’s delicatessens seem to compete for who can fill this classic sandwich the most, which works well for the customers. If somehow you are not full after your Pastrami on Rye, have a slice of New York Cheesecake which is also available at any New York Deli worth its salt.

Pastrami on Rye on our Food Bucket List.

Pastrami on Rye on our Food Bucket List.

Fish Tacos

Where to find this food bucket list item: California

Recommended by: Joanna from Oko-Logic

Fish tacos might have been invented in Baja California, Mexico but they quickly became one of the most popular dishes in California, USA. Personally, I never heard of fish tacos before I moved to Los Angeles. The tacos I was used to on the east coast where usually made with ground meat cooked forever and served on store-bought taco shells. I didn’t like them much.

Then, the epiphany! Californian fish tacos! There are so many varieties and they are, when done properly, brimming with fresh flavors of the endless California summers.

What’s the best fish and toppings for fish tacos? I’ve eaten tacos made with white, flaky fish, broiled or grilled. I’ve had tacos made with breaded and fried fish. And, I’ve seen tacos - and love them - made with sushi-grade fish such as tuna or salmon. The toppings usually involve some type of cream sauce. When I make mine, I buy crema at the local Mexican grocery and spice it up with chiles in chipotle sauce or mix the crema with avocado and lime juice.

The best thing about fish tacos is that they are so versatile and forgiving. You can add whatever topping you like, and they usually will taste great: shredded cabbage, sliced cucumber, bean and corn salad, shredded carrots, sliced if avocado, kimchi, and do on. What a good fish taco requires, in my view, is a generous amount of lime or lemon juice and a good sprinkling of fresh cilantro.

Fish tacos can be served in either flour or corn tortillas, that is up to personal preference. I like my “sushi tacos” with tuna or salmon tartare on flat tortillas that are like bigger round tortilla chips. Topped with sliced jalapeños, avocado and lots of lime or yuzu juice, they are simply irresistible!

Fish Tacos on our Food Bucket List.

Fish Tacos on our Food Bucket List.


Where to eat this food bucket list item: Louisiana

Recommended by: Denise from Chef Denise

Louisiana, and especially New Orleans is one of those places with so much extraordinary food that it could have its own Food Bucket List. The last time I went to New Orleans, I gained 5 pounds in 4 days—a record for me! I love it all: Gumbo, Muffuletta, Beignets, Crawfish, and of course, Jambalaya!

There are 2 kinds of Jambalaya: Creole (red) and Cajun (brown), the difference being tomatoes. Spaniards trying to replicate their famous rice dish, Paella, substituted tomatoes for saffron, and invented Jambalaya in the 18th century in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

As the dish ventured into poorer and more rural areas of Louisiana, tomatoes were less available, and the brown Cajun versions is still more popular in the areas further from New Orleans.

For both, rice is combined with andouille sausage and most often chicken with the New Orleans “Holy Trinity” of bell pepper, celery, and onions. Many variations exist with additions of ham, shrimp, crab, and crawfish. And the spice level will depend on the sausage used and the seasonings, usually a blend of garlic, onion, paprika, and cayenne at a minimum.

Years ago, for a cooking school project, I developed a recipe for Jambalaya Arancini, and they were such a hit I still make them!

Jambalaya on our Food Bucket List.

Jambalaya on our Food Bucket List.

Cuban Sandwich

Where to find this food bucket list item: Florida

Recommended by: Pauline from Beeloved City

Florida is home to the largest Cuban community in the United States. The Cuban culture and food is everywhere in the Sunshine state!

Not only can you get delicious Cuban coffee but also amazing Cuban sandwiches.

A Cuban sandwich uses a variation of ham, roasted pork, cheese, mustard, and pickles. It's so delicious!

It was originally created by Cuban immigrants which is why it's particularly popular in Tampa, Miami, and the Florida Keys.

If you are staying in Miami, make sure to head to Little Havana. This Cuban neighborhood is the perfect place to soak up Cuban culture. Versailles is the oldest restaurant in the area. They serve delicious Cuban sandwiches and other typical dishes.

While you can get a great Cubano in Miami, if you are visiting Tampa, you must head to Ybor City. It's the oldest Cuban settlement in Florida and that's where you will find the most amazing Cuban food.

Columbia Restaurant is iconic in Tampa and it's known for being the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich in Florida (although some places in Key West and Miami are arguing that).

Eating Cuban food is entirely part of Floridan culture. People love it (and we know why!) and you will find many variations of this famous sandwich!

If you'd like to try a bit of a different and unique version of the Cuban sandwich, head to Botega, in downtown St Petersburg.

Little Havana in Florida. Image courtesy of Pauline from Beeloved City

Little Havana in Florida. Image courtesy of Pauline from Beeloved City

Indeed, if you google “American cuisine” you will see many images of hamburgers and hot dogs along with other mundane meals such as peanut butter and jelly, meatloaf (our recipe is delicious!) and mashed potatoes, and oatmeal.

But I hope this Food Bucket List proves that the U.S. offers an extraordinary variety of outstanding must try dishes!

I especially think our breakfasts are some of the best in the world. Like my recipe for Loaded Potato Breakfast Skillet proves, I like many Americans appreciate a hearty breakfast. We fuel up on eggs, waffles, and French toast and we’re good for a few hours. I don’t understand how in some countries a roll with butter is supposed to do the same thing!

Anyway. . . I’d love to hear what you think of our list! How many have you tried? Is there something you’ve had that you think deserves to be on this list? What one thing are you eager to try? Please let me know in the comments below!

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