10 Signature Regional Recipes -- from the Rockies to the Deep South

By: Sara Elliott

Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza covered in top-notch ingredients. Check out some more comfort food pictures.

From sea to shining sea, regional dishes help enhance the American experience. Chances are that wherever you hail from, you have a soft spot for the foods of your youth, and these signature dishes hold the hearts and appetites of many Americans. From a side of grits with Sunday breakfast to a steaming bowl of gumbo on a warm and humid Louisiana night, foods often define the occasion, the season and the spirit of a region.

On the next pages, we'll explore 10 regional dishes that resonate in our national consciousness. If you haven't had a chance to travel the United States recently, trying a few in your own kitchen is a great way to renew your explorations, revisit an old favorite or learn more about the ways geography has helped shape our native tastes.


10: Chicago Style Pizza

We have Rudy Malnati of Chicago's Pizzeria Uno to thank for this decadent, deep-dish style pizza made with quality ingredients and sporting the sauce on top. Although devoted advocates will claim that you can't get authentic Chicago style pizza without using Chicago water, deep-dish pizza the Chicago way is still a treat you can approximate in your own kitchen [source: Pizanos Chicago].

When you're preparing this variety of pizza, don't forget to use sliced mozzarella instead of shredded. It will help keep the crust from getting soggy. Good quality sausage, and plenty of it, helps, too. Finish it all off in a very hot oven.


The basic recipe, found here, is a good place to begin, but the flour, yeast, and ambient humidity in your home will all have an impact on the final product. After a couple of attempts, you're bound to get a good approximation of this classic that suits your taste. To save yourself some effort, try prepping the dough in your bread maker.

[source: Chicago Style Pizza]

9: Rocky Mountain Trout

Among the cool rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountains, trout fishing is a perennial favorite. Whether you're a seasoned fisherman or rely on the local market to supply your catch, the aroma of fried trout cooked in the open air and seasoned with lots of pepper may be a minimalist's idea of culinary heaven.

Although trout is found in many areas of the United States, the scenic Rockies is where trout fishing is considered an almost religious experience. So grab your cast iron skillet, a little cornmeal and a mountain man's appetite, and prepare this traditional dish. You can simply fry the whole fish or add a few inspired embellishments, like almonds, pine nuts or crab. Trout is mild and flaky, but not plump, so it cooks quickly and will reflect companion flavors well. If frying just isn't your thing, try baking it instead. These recipes will get you started:


8: Country Grits

For basic sustenance and as an homage to the rib-sticking foods of America's past, you can't beat grits. Grits are made from ground, dried corn that has the texture of sand. They're prepared like oatmeal, by boiling, and are a classic Southern breakfast food that's also served as a side dish in some locations, often flavored with cheese, butter or other ingredients. They have a mild flavor, store well and are easy to prepare.

The word grits probably comes from the Middle English word grytte, meaning "coarsely ground." If you want to give this dish a try, choose a recipe that incorporates some of your favorite ingredients into the mix. The recipes below have grits as a base but add lots of strong flavors to enliven the unique texture of this important Southern fare.


  • Ham and Cheese Grits Souffle
  • Bacon and Maple Grits Puff

7: Texas-style Chili

Texas chili gets rid of the beans and focuses on the meat.
Texas chili gets rid of the beans and focuses on the meat.

If you haven't weighed in on the debate about whether or not to add beans to chili, then you may want to try some authentic Texas-style chili before you decide. Omitting the beans and using more meat makes this regional dish more robust and fortifying. Adding lots of peppers to the sauce can also result in a hotter chili than you're used to. It's more expensive to make, too, but it has wonderful flavor and a satisfying texture.

The origins of this chili may be in dispute, with some stalwarts insisting that the original all-meat variety is a Mexican import. Whatever your belief, Texas style chili is here to stay, and Texans aren't going to give up their bragging rights about inventing it any time soon.


If you still like a few beans with your meat, don't worry. With traditional Texas style chili, beans are served on the side where you can take 'em or leave 'em.

  • Texas-style Chili

6: Louisiana Gumbo

Essentially a stew made with rice, gumbo is a hearty bowlful that tastes delectable with meat or without. From the African word for "okra," kigombo, traditional gumbo often uses okra as a base and thickener. Where many traditional rice dishes incorporate the broth, rice and other ingredients into a one-pot meal, the savory broth of gumbo is made separately. The cooked rice is added later, or the broth and meat are ladled over the rice.

Gumbo recipes often reflect the vegetable and meat offerings of a particular region. From Cajun gumbo served with andouille sausage to seafood gumbo overflowing with shrimp and oysters, gumbo is a winter favorite with roots that spread across South Carolina and Louisiana.


The three gumbo recipes below offer some variety in the basic ingredients, but there's no law against mixing and matching.

  • Chicken Gumbo
  • Spicy Shrimp Gumbo
  • Smoked Sausage Gumbo

5: Cobb Salad

Cobb salads have all the California goodness in them.
Cobb salads have all the California goodness in them.

A premier California salad, the Cobb salad incorporates strong flavors and fresh ingredients to make a main-dish salad you can really look forward to. Named for its creator Bob Cobb, the owner of Hollywood's Brown Derby restaurant, this unique salad was originally a late-night snack that tasted so good it landed on the menu. That was in 1937, and since then, it has become a national treasure. If you love avocado, hardboiled eggs, bacon, chicken, fresh greens and strong cheese, the classic Cobb is sure to become a favorite at your house [source: Murphy].

The recipes below will give you a taste, but you can also experiment with your local cheeses, like Roquefort or bleu cheese. Don't forget to explore the flavors and textures of your produce department, too, and build your salad on a delicate bed of watercress, chicory and romaine.


  • Cobb Salad
  • Crab Cobb Salad
  • Grilled Cobb Salad Sandwiches

4: Philly Cheesesteak

If you like your sandwiches messy, juicy, filled with razor-thin slices of quality beef and melted cheese on a long, fluffy, fresh roll, then say a silent thank you to Philadelphia, because the Philly cheesesteak was developed with you in mind.

Since 1930, this sandwich has been proclaiming the good taste of South Philly to the rest of the nation and celebrating the delicious insight of Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor who decided to branch out by adding grilled beef to his menu all those years ago.


The recipe below loses the bun in favor of a plate-bound Philly cheesesteak. It's still delicious, but a little less messy. To include a personal touch, either in a bun or on a plate, try adding sautéed mushrooms, peppers or fried onions [source: Gophilia].

  • Philly Cheese Steaks

3: Boston Baked Beans

Boston isn't called "Beantown" for nothing.
Boston isn't called "Beantown" for nothing.

Similar to other one-pot meals like stews and chowders that combine inexpensive ingredients and cook them together with lots of spices, Boston baked beans is a dish that began by making the most of available ingredients at the time: navy beans and molasses left over from the rum trade [source: State Symbols].

The story of baked beans doesn't stop there, though. Pilgrims who were discouraged from working on the Sabbath could make a big, thick pot of beans a day ahead and easily keep it warm overnight. Baked beans became a convenient, no-fuss meal for holy days, and a tradition was born.


You can make your own pot of baked beans using the recipe below, but don't forget the brown bread; it's a classic accompaniment to this comfort food favorite.

  • Boston Baked Beans
  • Molasses Brown Bread

2: Chowder

Chowder is one of those great concoctions that can be all things to all people. From a creamy soup filled with clams and potatoes to a vegan offering containing corn, chowder is part soup, part stew and all hearty American cuisine. Because New England is synonymous with chowder, particularly clam chowder, it stirs up visions of blustery winds, ocean waves and fishermen in yellow slickers. Chowder may come from more generic and less fishy beginnings though, depending on whom you talk to.

The word chowder may come from the old English word jowter, or "fish seller," which explains its association with clams and fish stews; or it could derive from the Latin calderia, which is just a fancy term for a big pot, or the French word chaudeau, meaning hot water or a thin broth. Whatever its origin, if you want to try your hand at making a simple chowder, here are some tasty traditional offerings to tempt you:


  • Creamy Clam Chowder
  • Easy Corn Chowder
  • Cheesy Potato Chowder

1: Key Lime Pie

The limes from Key West, Fla., make this sweet treat a little bit tart.
The limes from Key West, Fla., make this sweet treat a little bit tart.

It's tart, it's sweet, it's creamy and it's cold. Key lime pie, made with the very sour limes common to Key West, Fla., is a distinctive dessert whose popularity is gaining on its better known cousin, the lemon meringue pie. With its unusual color, this lime custard dessert with a meringue finish is a masterful blend of tart and sweet that engages your taste buds and makes a memorable impression.

A celebration of sun and citrus, this pie is as bold as a Florida sunset, and it's available by the slice. If you plan on making your own, try a couple of the variations below. They're a great way to finish a summer dinner outdoors.

  • Key Lime Tartlets
  • Key Lime Tarts

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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