When it comes to food, the east and west coasts of the United States are very different. While both sides of the country have access to water—and therefore a ton of flavorful seafood—that doesn’t mean the dishes on either side are the same. In fact, there are a ton of differences between the east and west coast’s favorite dishes.
While people outside the US might think that living on the coast means eating seafood for every meal, that’s not the case. Sure, each coast is known for its particular type of seafood, but there’s more than that on the menu. Some locations on the West Coast are known for not only beachy dishes, but also ones inspired by the flavors South of the border. Sure, Californians are apparently passionate about their kale, but there’s more to their menus than just salad. And although the East Coast has waterfront access to the Atlantic, not every state has the passion for seafood that ones like Maine and Massachusetts do.
At the same time, just because California is on the Pacific coast, that doesn’t mean that every resident inland eats seafood all day. But with all that variety, it’s tough to know what comes from where and where to go for the best dishes. That’s why this ultimate showdown of the best dishes from each coast is helpful! Here are the top dishes from each state along the coast—more than one in many cases—so visitors can eat like the locals.
25 East: Pizza (New York)
All over the United States, New York is synonymous with pizza—and for good reason. They’ve got hand-tossed pizzas with tons of flavorful mozzarella and sauce—and the slices are usually gigantic. And maybe that’s the draw—it’s not tradition across the US to sell pizza by the slice, but in a bustling place like New York City or Brooklyn, it makes more sense to serve up giant slices instead of full pies. And while no one can explain exactly how NY pizza is the best, the fact is that it just is! Some people claim it’s because of NY’s “unique” water, but the jury’s still out on that one.
24 West: Taqueria Specialties (California and Texas)
While there’s great food to be found with international inspiration all over the US, it seems like most of the “fresh Mex” and “Baja style” food items are found in California. Between taco trucks all over the place and chain restaurants like Chipotle, Chevy’s, and El Pollo Loco, most west coast residents have tried a handful of dishes inspired by southern fare. While it’s tough to name a favorite dish, just know that you need to try it all when you come to CA! And it’s not hard to track down this particular type of food, since there’s at least one taco truck in every suburban city.
23 East: Lobster Roll (Maine)
It’s tough to place a sandwich on the list of top foods to try on the East Coast, but only if you’ve never had a lobster roll. Technically, this qualifies as a sandwich, but the buttery bun and sweet lobster don’t say “bologna” or “turkey and cheese” to us. It also doesn’t require much in the way of condiments—the lobster stands alone. And since lobster is so plentiful in this seaside state, you can bet they’ve got one of the best lobster dishes to offer up. Of course, this isn’t the only place to grab great lobster, as you’ll soon see.
22 West: Dungeness Crab (Washington)
If it seems like the West Coast has a lot of standalone seafood dishes to offer, they definitely do. Of course, seafood isn’t the only delicacy on this coast—but we’ll get to other types of dishes soon enough! Next up out of the sea is Dungeness crab, another crab that’s somewhat unique since it only lives on the western coast of the United States. These crabs taste sweet and moist, and their meat is fairly delicate. They’re smaller than Alaska crab, for sure, but they have a lot of flavor, according to resident seafood fans. That makes Dungeness crab a one-dish hit.
21 East: Buffalo Wings (New York)
While the origins of the original Buffalo wings are an often argued subject, some sources say that a bar in Buffalo, NY first came up with the concept in the ‘60s. Wherever the idea first came from, people all over the US are sincerely thankful for it. However, most people will argue that Buffalo New York still has the best Buffalo wings found on either coast, which would make sense if that’s where they came from. Of course, most people still don’t care for the celery sticks that come with the wings, but we’ll deal. Apparently, the celery (and blue cheese dip) is supposed to help “cool” your mouth from the heat of the wings—if you actually eat it.
20 West: Vietnam-Style Wings (Oregon)
Yes, among all the seafood, there is some good old-fashioned meat on the menu in Oregon. According to multiple sources, wings from Pok Pok are a top pick across many cities in Oregon. The wings feature a fish sauce, plenty of garlic, and tender, well-marinated chicken pieces. So there’s a bit of a seafood influence, sure, but these aren’t your traditional buffalo wings (we’ll get there, too!). They’re traditionally breaded in rice flour, and you can duplicate them at home, but we’d suggest just heading to Portland for this mouthwatering dish. And while you’re there, you can try some of the health-conscious menu items that we’ve heard also exist.
19 East: Fried Chicken (North Carolina)
With all the fanfare over fried chicken in the south, you might expect it to pop up in more than one state. But North Carolina is known in the US for having excellent fried chicken, and if you want to argue with them about it, you’d best book a flight to try it out for yourself. Depending on which restaurant you stop at, you may be met with fried chicken on a bun with a side of coleslaw, a plate of fried chicken alongside fried okra, or a pile of crispy chicken with ample honey dipping sauce—or whatever the house sauce happens to be where you’re at.
18 West: Animal Style Everything (California)
As popular as In-N-Out is on the West Coast, the company apparently has no plans to expand to the eastern part of the US. They have crept over toward Texas, but that’s as far as it’s gone so far. So unfortunately, you’ll have to go west to try a burger from In-N-Out. Of course, you can’t just order off the regular menu—that’s pretty barebones, with fresh burgers and fries and a “special” sauce. Order the off-menu animal fries, though, and you’ll get a heaping carton of fries topped with cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing.
17 East: Anything BBQ (South Carolina)
According to South Carolina’s tourism claims, their state is the “Birthplace of Barbecue,” and therefore they know what they’re doing when it comes to sauces and slow cooking. From BBQ pulled pork to ribs to brisket and more, the state offers up at least four distinct sauces to top your plate. These include mustard, vinegar and pepper, light tomato, and heavy tomato sauces, according to Discover South Carolina, though plenty of restaurants mix up their own flavorful (and protected recipe) blends, too. Whatever the sauce, you know you’ll find a messy plate of BBQ at any pit stop in SC.
16 West: King Crab (Alaska)
Another huge seafood harvest in Alaska is king crab. First of all, seafood lovers, king crab is huge—and it’s clearly aptly named. These beasts grow up to span up to six feet, which means massive legs for diners to enjoy. Fans of king crab say that the meat has a sweeter taste than East Coast varieties, and it’s also softer and more tender than other crab varieties. Sounds great—as long as we don’t have to catch it ourselves! Of course, a big part of the industry in Alaska is fishing for seafood, so as long as you can travel there to get it, your plate will be pretty fresh!
15 East: Key Lime Pie (Florida)
While a stark lack of dessert seems to darken an otherwise bright foodie spot on the East Coast, we’ve got the saving grace here. Key lime pie—which has historical origins in Key West, Florida—is a unique and decadent dish that pairs well with any of the lunch or dinner items on this list, whatever coast you’re on! Key lime pie uses pie crust, egg yolks, Key lime juice, and sweetened condensed milk for a citrusy pie that hits the spot. The dish originated with sailors who didn’t have access to fresh ingredients, so the easy-to-prep pie became ubiquitous on fishermen’s ships all over Florida and beyond!
14 West: Smoked Salmon (Alaska)
Alaska isn’t the first location many people think of when someone says “West Coast,” but it is part of the Pacific Northwest and definitely lies on the coast! Of course, there also other delicacies like moose burgers and even muktuk (basically whale skin and blubber), but those don’t typically wind up on the must-try list. And although there’s plenty of fishing to be had, one of the most popular dishes for diners in Alaska is salmon—smoked salmon, in particular. Plenty of residents in Alaska catch their own fresh fare daily, but that doesn’t mean you have to—stop by any restaurant in Alaska—or have some salmon shipped to you—to enjoy this geographical delight.
13 East: Sub Sandwich (New Jersey)
When you think of the state of New Jersey, it makes sense to think of a sub sandwich as the most notorious dish on the menu. But not just any sub will do—in New Jersey, it’s got to be a cheesesteak. A cheesesteak uses tons of prime cut steak strips, caramelized onions, and a fluffy bread roll for a sandwich that you won’t soon forget. And who needs vegetables, right? There’s no wilted lettuce or squishy tomato taking up space on this bun. Traditional NJ—and there’s not a West Coast contender to rival it, however hard they might try.
12 West: Cioppino (California)
More seafood—but this time it’s a variety platter! Cioppino is officially classified as a “fish stew,” but it’s much more appetizing than the name suggests. The dish involves sautéed onion and garlic, parsley, tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, vinegar, and herbs as the base. Then, you’ll rinse all the seafood (make sure to scrub the clams) and pour the sauce over it all. Clams and mussels go on top (for the steam effect), and then it simmers for about 20 minutes. But quite possibly the best part of cioppino is the side most Californians have with it…
11 East: Seafood Boil (New Hampshire)
The traditional New England boil involved plain old meat, but these days, a seafood boil is where it’s at. Depending on what restaurant (or relative’s house) you end up at, the dish can vary, but a popular variation across the East Coast is a combination of corn, sausage, red potatoes, and plenty of shellfish. Everything from shrimp to whole crabs and an assortment of mussels can make it in, and most places will serve this one family style in the traditional seafood boil style. It’s also great for barbecues and cookouts with a ton of people—everybody gets to grab what they want from the pot.
10 West: Razor Clams (Washington)
If you have friends in Washington, you may have heard about their backyard clam bakes (or grills), and that’s because the coastal areas are home to lots of razor clams. These clams can grow so big that they barely fit in your hand, and their unique shape is different from what many people are used to when ordering clams at a restaurant. And clearly, even if you own waterfront property in Washington, it’s a lot easier to get these already caught and cooked in a restaurant. Still, if you want to try your hand at digging some up for free, good luck with that!
9 East: Blue Crab (Maryland)
More crab! But hear us out: residents in Maryland claim that their blue crab is super special: crabs from Chesapeake Bay have to pack on a lot of fat to survive the super cold winter. Translation? Buttery and sweet crab that’s only found off the East Coast in the chilly Atlantic. The crab itself might be a lot of work to eat if you order a whole one, but it’s worth the work for the flavorful insides. Plus, you can expect a lot of tender meat from male crabs, which grow to over six inches wide and up, and there’s also the roe (eggs) inside female crab that’s considered a delicacy.
8 West: Sourdough Bread (California)
In gold rush times, bakeries in San Francisco came up with sourdough bread—and the tradition has continued with tons of local bakeries continuing to produce the delicious side dish. Sources say San Francisco sourdough is best because of the unique bacteria that exists on the West Coast—the bacteria is what makes the sour flavor! And it’s definitely a staple with cioppino, plus plenty of other seafood dishes. The best West Coast sourdough, though, is a bowl with any kind of hot soup inside—split pea, clam chowder, whatever. Bonus points if you get to keep the “lid” of the bread to nibble on, too.
7 East: Clam Chowder (Massachusetts)
You knew clam chowder had to be somewhere on this list—and here it is, courtesy of Massachusetts. Boston clam chowder is usually creamy and thick and it incorporates ingredients like chowder clams, onion, diced potatoes, peppers, asparagus, cream, and spices. But the best part? The bacon! Although some recipes call for salt pork instead, but that all depends on the restaurant you’re ordering at. But authentic clam chowder that’s thick and creamy is definitely courtesy of Boston—Rhode Island and Manhattan have their own variations with different broths. They all have clams, but the sauces vary from tomato-based to nearly clear broth.
6 West: Pear & Blue Cheese Ice Cream (Oregon)
Oregon’s official state fruit is the pear, and the West Coast produces most of the United States’ pear crop every year. Clearly, they’re experts on the fruit—which is why we’re not surprised they came up with this iconic and decidedly Oregonian frozen treat. Pear ice cream itself is an interesting enough concept, but Salt & Straw in Oregon gets their pears from Salem, Oregon, and use Blue Cheese from a local creamery to make this creamy and delicately flavored confection. Taste testers said they couldn’t quite detect the cheese, but we’ll leave that up to you to report back on.
5 East: Clam Cakes (Rhode Island)
If you thought all the fried and breaded items were farther south, you’d be wrong! Rhode Island is pretty famous for its clam cakes, although other eastern states offer them up, too. These clam cakes use chopped clam with a breading a few other ingredients for a fried and crunchy seafood delight that also has a bit of sweetness to it. Pop them one at a time just like you would popcorn chicken—but grab plenty of napkins for these deep-fried beauties. Obviously, the best choice is to get clam cakes as close to the coast as possible—thus ensuring your cakes are delightfully fresh.
4 East: A Whole Lotta Ham (Virginia)
In a lot of places, this unique ham is known as Virginia ham, but in other places, it’s simply a country ham. Whatever the name, it’s the preparation that makes this dish so special. Virginia hams usually start out with a salt cure followed by a hardwood smoke, and then the hams are aged for anywhere from a few months to a few years. It’s up to you what to do with a whole or partial ham, but it has a great flavor when it’s fried up and served with some gravy and biscuits. And you don’t have to travel far for this one—most grocery stores carry the shrink-wrapped ham that’s packaged fresh in VA.
3 East: Crab Cakes (Delaware)
Sure, you can pop into any grocery store on any coast (or even farther inland) and grab some frozen crab, but it’s just not the same as fresh crab cakes from Delaware. To achieve the right taste, you need super fresh crab, a bit of breading to hold it together, and enough oil to fry them up to a crisp. It sounds too good to be true, but the combo of crab meat, an egg, bread crumbs, mayo, and seasonings really hits the spot. If you want some really authentic crab cakes, consider a jaunt over to Delaware—they’ve got a reputation for having the very best.
2 East: Chicken & Dumplings (Georgia)
I have to admit, the last time I visited relatives in Georgia, there wasn’t even room on the grill for my pile of veggies. It was barbecued and fried everything—and everything also had bacon in it! So while I’d have to declare old-fashioned comfort food to be tops in Georgia, one dish that stands out is chicken and dumplings. It’s deliciously breaded yet not overly greasy, and the chicken and gravy are satisfactorily southern. That said, you might be hard-pressed to find chicken and dumplings with any veggies in the dish, at least in my Nana’s neck of the woods.
1 East: Grinders (Connecticut)
Another sandwich makes the list with Connecticut, but it’s a particular type that’s gained quite a bit of notoriety. In other places, people call this a hero sandwich or a hoagie, but Connecticut’s grinders are a different kind of sub. A spot called Nardelli’s has been rated the best in CT for a few years running, and their top sandwich is the Italian Combo, which they claim is “world famous.” The creation features pruzitini (a baked ham with black peppercorns), capicola (spiced and smoked pork shoulder), salami, and provolone cheese, among other delicacies. That’s not the only popular menu item though—definitely check out Nardelli’s if you have the chance!