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The Best American Food: All of the Dishes You Have to Try!

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According to Reference.com, Americans eat thirteen billion hamburgers every year, about 3 billion pizzas, and 2 million tons of french fries. Holy moly. 

In the United States, we really do love our American fast food (and our Mexican fast food, Chinese fast food, and all other types of fast foods…). 

That said, not all typical American food is super-unhealthy or purchased at a drive-thru window. American food culture is rather versatile, including a mix of all-American classics, meals passed along from Great Britain, and even traditional foods from other cultures. 

Exploring a country’s food and eating habits is a fantastic way to learn about that country and its people. In this article, I’ll introduce you to:

  • Several popular American foods
  • Foods that are hard to find outside the United States
  • Useful food-related vocab
  • Three American recipes to make at home

Let’s get started.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in English Table of Contents
  1. Must-Try Dishes in U.S. Restaurants
  2. Overseas vs. Authentic U.S. Food
  3. Unique U.S. Cuisine
  4. Food-Related Vocabulary
  5. Bonus: American Food Recipes You Can Make at Home
  6. Final Thoughts

1. Must-Try Dishes in U.S. Restaurants

Trying out new restaurants is my favorite part of traveling, How about you? In the following sections, I’ll show you a few of the most famous American foods you should try during your travels in the U.S. 

A- Breakfast

There are so many American breakfast foods that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. While it’s true that many Americans skip breakfast altogether or eat a simple bowl of cereal, there are three breakfast dishes that you need to try during your visit! 

Biscuits & Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

I grew up eating my grandma’s biscuits & gravy recipe, so I had to include this one. It’s breakfast comfort food at its finest. 

Biscuits & gravy (sometimes called gravy & biscuits) is exactly what it sounds like: biscuits with gravy. The biscuits can be made from scratch, though they can also be the kind you pop out of a can and put in the oven. The gravy is usually a thick, creamy combination of flour, milk, some kind of animal fat, and meat (sausage is the most popular). 

Biscuits & gravy is especially popular in the southern United States, so do be sure to order this dish while eating out in the southern U.S. Just about any cafe or breakfast chain should have this on the menu.

Eggs & Bacon 

Eggs and Bacon with Sausage, Hash Browns, and Toast

This is another classic American breakfast dish, also named after its sole components. Generally, the eggs are either fried or scrambled, and the bacon is fried in a pan. Growing up, I always ate this breakfast with the eggs fried in bacon fat (very unhealthy, but so good). 

From my personal experience, “eggs & bacon” usually comes with other sides. These can vary based on where you are, but toast, grits, and fresh fruit are common. 

I recommend this dish because it’s simply an American staple and so tasty. 

Chicken & Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

This is another popular breakfast item in the south (though it can also be eaten for lunch or dinner). As this recipe continues to grow in popularity throughout the United States, one can find many variations of it. 

Traditionally, the dish, known as “chicken & waffles,” consists of fried chicken, waffles, and maple syrup. Some varieties are made with grilled chicken, a chicken salad mixture, and different kinds of waffles. 

I recommend this dish because of its growing status in the United States, and its increasing availability in breakfast chains across the country. 

B- Lunch / Dinner

Food palates, eating habits, and local ingredients vary widely from one area of the U.S. to another. For this reason, I struggled to keep this list short. Following are some examples of lunch- and dinner-time American food items you need to try next time you’re at a restaurant! 

Cobb Salad

Cobb Salad
Photo by Elizabeth under CC BY 2.0

The Cobb salad is a classic American dish, dating back to the 1920s or 1930s. This is a salad that’s generally made with four types of salad greens, tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled egg, chicken, and cheese (usually Roquefort). 

I recommend this dish because it’s a semi-healthy American food classic, super-tasty, and something you probably won’t find outside the United States. Give it a try (and learn how to make it yourself at the end of this article)! 

Pizza

New York Pizza

While pizza is not “classic” American food, the United States does have two very unique takes on this dish: New York-style pizza and Chicago-style pizza.

The New York version is quite similar to the traditional Italian version, with a thin but wide crust, a little tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sometimes additional ingredients. 

The Chicago version, on the other hand, is very different. It comes in a few different varieties, but its most defining feature is a very thick crust. There are a few different types known as “deep-dish,” “stuffed,” and “party-cut thin-crust.”

Of course, you can always order a simpler pizza from American food chains like Domino’s or Pizza Hut, both of which you can find just about anywhere in the country. 

If you’re surprised at how many pizza varieties the United States has, it’s simply because of our long-time love affair with pizza…

Philly Cheesesteak

The Philly Cheesesteak (also called the Philadelphia cheesesteak), is an all-American sandwich that originated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The main ingredients in this dish are beef, onion, and cheese, put on some sandwich bread. 

This is a fantastic comfort food, especially if you want some decent American fast food. You can generally order the philly cheesesteak in different varieties, such as one made with chicken instead of beef; there’s even a vegan version. 

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are most popular in the state of California, so if you plan on visiting Cali, do try its famous fish tacos. 

The content of a fish taco can vary, though it’s generally some kind of fried, breaded white fish topped with cabbage and a special sauce, placed in a corn tortilla. As far as American food goes, fish tacos are actually pretty healthy. 😉

BBQ

A BBQ with Meat and Veggies

Though BBQ is not uniquely American, we do have our own barbeque varieties, and many American neighborhoods smell of barbeque during summer…

The kind of barbeque you can expect to find depends on where in the United States you are. Each region, and each state, has its own special varieties. Generally, a barbeque meal consists of meat (usually pork or beef), which is cooked with smoke from a grill and served (or prepared) with special seasonings or sauces. 

Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

There are several varieties of clam chowder in the United States, though the two most popular are New England clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder. 

The New England variety is often a thick chowder made with milk or cream, and also contains potatoes, clam meat, and onions. The Manhattan variety is quite different, having a tomato base; it’s thought to have been the creation of Portuguese immigrants in the U.S. 

C- Dessert

When on vacation, you can’t skip the dessert. Here are three of the most popular and widespread American desserts. 

Apple Pie

Apple Pie with a Slice Taken Out

Apple pie is considered the most American food out there (even though it originated in Britain…), so it’s a must. 

Generally, an apple pie consists of a handmade pie crust, in which there’s a sweet apple compote, sometimes with cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s served warm, and more often than not, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  

Banana Split

A Banana Split

The banana split is a classic dessert, enjoyed by Americans for many, many years. Despite its simplicity, it never fails to amaze the taste buds! 

A banana split is usually served in a long dessert dish. One or two bananas are split in half, placed in the dish, and covered with scoops of ice cream and other toppings. If you’re into cold, creamy desserts, do try a banana split! (Learn how to make one at home at the end of this article.)

Cheesecake

Cheesecake with Raspberry Topping

Not everyone likes cheesecake, but you should definitely give it a try. 

Despite its name, cheesecake is actually more similar to a pie in appearance. It usually has a soft, crumbly crust, and a sweet-sour creamy filling. I don’t know what to compare it to, because it has such a unique flavor and texture. Served cool, it’s very refreshing during the spring and summer! 

2. Overseas vs. Authentic U.S. Food 

It’s no secret that many “American” foods are not purely American. The United States is well-known for snatching recipes and food ideas from other countries, though some of these “overseas” foods were slowly integrated into American culture over time. 

I will note that many “American” foods actually originated from England, and came to the Americas as Europeans began to settle in the present-day U.S. So some foods that even Americans consider authentic may actually have origins in England! 

Below are two lists of food: those brought to America from other countries (mentioned in parentheses), and those that are generally considered authentically American. 

A- Overseas Food

  • Burritos / Tacos (Mexico)
    • Americans love Mexican food! We’ve Americanized a lot of it, and we eat it all the time
  • Hot Dogs / Burgers (Germany)
    • Two of the most American foods are actually thought to have originated in Germany…
  • Pizza (Italy)
  • Fried Chicken (Scotland)
    • Considering the vast number of fast food chains dedicated to making the best fried chicken, it’s a bit disappointing to learn that our fried chicken likely originated from Scotland (and not the  state of Kentucky). 

B- Authentic Food

Here’s a breakdown of four very popular and well-loved foods that are (supposedly) all-American. 

Meatloaf

It’s a loaf of meat. Usually, ground beef (or turkey) is combined with onions, tomato, and savory spices. Then, it’s placed in a loaf pan (usually used for bread), baked in the oven, and served in slices with various sides. 

Macaroni & cheese

Lovingly called “mac & cheese” or “mac ’n’ cheese,” this is made with macaroni noodles, a variety of cheeses, and sometimes additional ingredients. The ingredients are put in a casserole dish, baked in the oven, and served. 

‘Smores

The word “s’more” (sometimes spelled “smore”) refers to the fact that you’ll always want “some more.” 

S’mores are usually made outdoors, often when camping. A marshmallow (roasted over an open fire until golden-brown or burnt) is placed on a graham cracker, topped with some chocolate, and then eaten like a sandwich with another graham cracker on top. 

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are made by mixing flour, sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, baking soda, and chocolate chips together in a bowl, laying out individual portions of the mix onto a baking sheet, and baking them until they achieve the desired consistency. An American favorite. 

3. Unique U.S. Cuisine

Bourbon

Bourbon in a Glass Next to a Pitcher

Bourbon is an authentically American whiskey, originating around the nineteenth century. While its origins are murky, the state of Kentucky is often credited as being where bourbon originated. 

This type of whiskey is bottled and sold at around forty percent alcohol by volume, and is used both for drinking and cooking (usually in BBQ dishes).

It is exported to other countries, though much of it remains in the United States.

Cream Cheese

A Bagel Smeared with Cream Cheese

Cream cheese is a favorite condiment to some Americans (and a least favorite to others). We often spread cream cheese over bagels and sometimes use it when cooking or baking creamy dishes. 

Technically, cream cheese originated in Europe, though the United States was the first country to begin its mass production. 

Peanut Butter

A Jar of Peanut Butter Surrounded by Peanuts

I just found out that most countries don’t have peanut butter readily available. I can’t even imagine, because peanut butter is such an American staple. 

Peanut butter is a semi-creamy, semi-solid substance that’s generally made using peanuts and certain oils. 

We use it to make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and peanut butter cookies, we eat it by the spoonful, and it’s the best part of a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

Thanksgiving Dinner

A Typical Thanksgiving Table

While this isn’t a single food, and you can find most of the basic Thanksgiving foods in other countries, the entirety of the average Thanksgiving dinner is uniquely American. 

Popular food items for Thanksgiving dinner include:

  • Turkey + Ham (usually roasted whole and then sliced)
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Twice-baked potatoes
  • Deviled eggs
  • Green beans (or green bean casserole)
  • Beans
  • Bread rolls
  • Sweet potato casserole 
  • Ambrosia (fruit salad)
  • Pie of all kinds (apple, pumpkin, pecan, berry, chocolate)
  • Alcoholic beverages of all kinds
  • Other “odd” dishes and desserts

This is just what I could think of off the top of my head! I’m sure there’s more.

Check out our list of Words for Thanksgiving Day in the United States to learn more food names and other useful words! 

Do you have any major feasts in your country? If so, what are the most popular foods eaten for these feasts? Let us know in the comments! 

4. Food-Related Vocabulary

A- Describing Food

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Veggies

This chicken is fantastic!

Here are some common words we use to describe food, from taste to texture! 

DefinitionIn a Sentence
SweetTasting of sugarBanana splits are sweet.
SaltyContaining much salt; tasting of saltI thought the fish was too salty.
SavoryContaining many flavors, usually complexI would like a savory steak for dinner.
RichHaving a strong flavor or textureThe cake was a little bit too rich
BlandHaving a weak flavor or texture; flavorlessIt’s bland; add more salt next time.
CreamyHaving a smooth, silky, or milky texture; containing creamThe sauce is really creamy.
SmoothNot crunchy; lacking rough or crunchy texturesKeep stirring to get the gravy smooth.
CrunchyNot smooth; containing rough or crunchy featuresI like my peanut butter crunchy.
SpicyHaving a strong spice elementJill doesn’t like spicy foods.
MildHaving little or no spice elementThe dish was mild.
GreasyContaining a lot of grease, fat, or oilWhy is the pizza so greasy?
DeliciousAlmost synonymous with each other; all positive ways of describing a food or dishThis pie is delicious!
TastyThe meal you made was really tasty.
DelectableWhat a delectable dessert! 
FantasticThis chicken is fantastic
WonderfulThe breakfast we had was wonderful.
Mouth-wateringCapable of making your mouth water (salivate) in anticipation of eatingLook at that bread, so mouth-watering
OkayA word you can use to describe a dish you didn’t like very much, but thought was decentDinner was okay, but I liked yesterday’s dinner more.

You can also see our list of the 50 Most Common Adjectives if this list isn’t enough for you. 😉

B- Ordering Food

A Couple Ordering at a Restaurant

I’ll have ___, please.

Here are some phrases you can use to order food at a restaurant and effectively communicate with your waiter. 

PhraseWhen to use it
Can I see the menu?Use this phrase after you’re seated to ask your waiter for the menu. (But usually, a menu will be provided already.)
Can I see the wine list, please?If you would like some wine with your meal, you can ask your waiter to see the restaurant’s wine list. 
What do you recommend?In the United States, it’s very common to ask your waiter what he or she recommends. You can do this if you’re not sure what to order, and want to know what’s popular or particularly tasty. 
What’s today’s special?Some restaurants will have a “special” for each day of the week. This is a particular meal or meal combination that you can get for a lower price on that day only.
What is the soup / salad of the day?Similarly, some restaurants will have a particular soup or salad that they’re serving only on that day. You can order this to go with your meal. 
Can we have a bottle of wine with our meal, please?Are you eating out with your spouse, best friend, or in a large group? In some restaurants, you can ask your waiter to bring an entire bottle of wine to the table (this can get pricey, though!). 
Do you have any ___ dishes?If you have any dietary restrictions or are in the mood for something specific, you can ask your waiter about the menu. 

For example, you could ask: 
  • “Do you have any vegetarian dishes?”
  • “Do you have any seasonal dishes?”
Does it contain ___?This is another useful phrase if you have dietary restrictions. 
  • “Does it contain dairy?”
  • “Does it contain nuts?”
How spicy is it?If you’re not sure how spicy something will be, it’s always a good idea to ask! 
I’m allergic to ___.If you have a severe allergy to something, it’s good to inform your waiter about it right away, before ordering. 
  • “I’m allergic to shellfish.”
  • “I’m allergic to nuts.”
I will have ___, please.When you’re finally ready to order, you can use this phrase. Just fill in the blank with the menu item you want! 

C- Cooking

A Woman Chopping Veggies

Do you enjoy cooking at home? Here are some words for American food staples and food preparation! 

    → Also see our Cooking vocabulary list to hear the pronunciation of these words!

Ingredients and Foods

DefinitionIn a Sentence
IngredientSomething that is used in combination with other things to create a whole entityI can’t make the cake; I’m missing an important ingredient.
SaltA seasoning that brings out the flavor in different foodsThe soup needs more salt.
PepperA seasoning that adds flavor to food; black, and a little spicyCan you pass me the pepper?
Cooking oilAny oil that’s used to cook withPlace 1 Tablespoon cooking oil in the pan.
ChickenThe meat from a chickenChicken is my favorite meat.
PorkThe meat from a pigPork is my least favorite meat. 
BeefThe meat from cattleI love eating beef stew.
FishAny kind of fish that’s prepared or cooked for consumptionI think I’ll make fish tomorrow.
EggUsually refers to the egg of a chicken, though it can also refer to quail, ostrich, goose, or even fish eggsHenry cracked the egg into a bowl.
VegetableThe root, stem, or leaf of a plant that’s used in cooking (or sometimes eaten raw)What’s your favorite vegetable?
FruitThe part of a plant that bears seedsFruit is very refreshing.
RiceA type of grain that’s simmered in water until softI make rice with almost every meal.
BreadMade from flour, sugar, and similar ingredients, and bakedHow do you bake bread so well?

Preparation and Cooking Methods

Potatoes and Carrots Simmering in a Pan

DefinitionIn a Sentence
PrepareTo get something ready, in this case, the foodI need to prepare dinner.
Set the ovenThis phrase is used a lot in recipes, and it simply means to turn on the oven and set it for a specified temperatureSet the oven to 400 degrees F. 
ChopTo use a knife in order to cut something, usually into many piecesChop the carrots evenly.
SliceTo use a knife to cut something, usually in order to make a thin layer or small pieces of itWill you slice the turkey, please?
CubeTo cut something into cubes; often used to describe how to cut meat in recipesNext, cube the chicken breast.
SeasonTo put seasonings on somethingHow do you season the salmon?
Stir-fryTo fry several ingredients together in a pan, while stirring oftenStir-fry the veggies in olive oil.
BakeTo cook something by putting it in the ovenBake the casserole for thirty minutes.
BoilTo get water or another liquid hot enough that it bubbles rapidlyBring the water to a boil.
SimmerTo let something cook on low heat, usually in a hot liquidLet the meat simmer.
Let coolSome recipes are best served after cooling; this phrase is sometimes used in recipes when this is the caseLet cool before serving.

Cooking Utensils and Tableware

A Metal Spatula

DefinitionIn a Sentence
StoveUsually a surface on top of an oven, containing burners used to cook foodTurn on the stove, please.
OvenA cooking device used to cook, bake, or roast food at a specific temperature by placing the food insidePut the dough in the oven.
PotA cooking utensil that’s usually deep, and used for meals that contain a lot of liquid (soups/stews) or to boil waterFill the pot with water.
PanA cooking utensil that’s usually shallow, and used to cook foods that don’t require much liquid; especially popular for stir-frying or sauteing. Coat the pan with olive oil.
SpatulaA utensil used to handle food with while it’s hot or still cooking; it usually has a flat, slightly curved end, with or without slots in itStir the veggies using a spatula.
Cutting boardFood is placed on a cutting board to be cut, chopped, or slicedOn a large cutting board, chop the tomatoes.
ColanderA utensil that’s shaped like a bowl and has many holes in it; used to drain something of liquid, usually noodlesDrain the noodles with a colander.
BowlA dish with raised sides, usually with a round shape; often used to hold soups, stews, salads, and other meals that are best eaten from a bowlMix the ingredients in a bowl.
PlateA shallow or flat dish that food is often served onServe the meal on a plate.
SpoonA utensil that’s used for eating food that’s liquidy (like soup) or of a semi-liquid nature (like yogurt)I dropped my spoon on the floor.
ForkA utensil that’s used for eating solid foods; it contains prongs at the end to stab food withThis fork is dirty.
KnifeA utensil that’s used for cutting food, either during preparation or during consumptionCan you get me another knife?


5. Bonus: American Food Recipes You Can Make at Home

A Couple Cooking in the Kitchen Together

Do you want to try American food, but don’t yet have a trip planned? No worries! Here, I’ll show you how to make American food yourself at home.

A- Biscuits & Gravy

Makes 8 servings, and ready in 15 minutes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce can of refrigerated jumbo buttermilk biscuits (or you can make your own!)
  • 9.6 ounces of crumbled pork sausage 
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Bake the biscuits according to the package directions.

2. Cook the sausage in a large pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the flour. Gradually add in the milk, and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Split the biscuits in half. Spoon the gravy equally over each set of biscuit halves (there should be 2 halves per plate). 

This recipe is adapted from one on Allrecipes.com. You can read the original recipe (and some rave reviews) if you need more guidance.

Enjoy! 

B- Cobb Salad

Makes 4 to 8 servings, and ready in 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 8 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 6-ounce chicken breasts (boneless and skinless)
  • Zest in wide strips, and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large head Bibb lettuce, torn into pieces
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce, cut into pieces
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Directions:

1. Cook the bacon in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, stirring until crisp (15 to 20 minutes). Drain on paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover them to about 1 inch in cold water. Bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover; remove from heat, and let stand about 10 minutes. Drain, and run under cold water to cool. Peel the eggs while under running cold water, and then peel and chop them; season with salt. 

3. In a medium saucepan, combine the following ingredients: chicken, lemon zest and juice, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and a pinch of salt. Add enough cold water to cover the chicken by ½ inch. Over medium heat, bring it to a bare simmer (do not boil) and cook for about 7 minutes; the chicken is done when a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of it reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Move the chicken to a cutting board and let cool for about 5 minutes.

4. While the chicken rests, make the dressing. In a serving bowl, whisk the following ingredients together: vinegar, shallot, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt. Next, whisk in the olive oil until emulsified (blended), and season with pepper. Dice the chicken. In a separate bowl, toss the chicken with 1 tablespoon of the dressing.

5. Halve, pit, and dice the avocados. Season the tomatoes with salt. Add Bibb and romaine lettuce to the serving bowl, on top of the dressing. Arrange the bacon, eggs, chicken, avocados, tomatoes, and blue cheese atop the salad in rows. To serve, toss the salad and season with salt and pepper. 

You can check out this recipe on FoodNetwork.com

C- Banana Split

Makes 1-2 servings (a single banana split), and ready in 15 minutes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana (split lengthwise)
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
  • 1 scoop chocolate ice cream
  • 1 scoop strawberry ice cream
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Marshmallow creme
  • Whipped cream
  • Chopped, lightly toasted nuts
  • 3 maraschino cherries

Notes:

1) The ingredients in italics are for garnish, and are optional. You can remove any of these ingredients, or even add your own that aren’t listed! 

2) If it seems like too much to buy three different tubs of ice cream, you can just buy Neapolitan ice cream. This is ice cream that’s a blend of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors. 

Directions:

1. Gather the ingredients.

2. Place the banana slices against the sides of a long, narrow dish.

3. Place the ice cream scoops in a row between the banana slices.

4. Drizzle vanilla and strawberry ice cream scoops with chocolate syrup.

5. Spoon some marshmallow creme over the chocolate ice cream scoop.

6. Now add the whipped cream, nuts, and cherries.

This banana split recipe is originally from TheSpruceEats.com. Check it out! 

6. Final Thoughts

A Man Who Ate Way Too Much

You’ve reached the end of this massive article, congratulations! 

Which of the must-try American foods I listed do you want to eat first, and why? Are there any foods I forgot to mention that you’ve already tried, and think other readers would enjoy? Let us know in the comments! 

If you want more detailed articles like this one, fun and educational video/audio lessons, and exceptional vocabulary-learning tools, create your free lifetime account with EnglishClass101.com today. We look forward to having you and helping you reach your English-learning goals!

Until next time, happy learning from the EnglishClass101 family.

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