Top 17 Traditional American Dishes

The most famous American foods can be found at restaurants big and small, in backyards at major events or small gatherings, and everywhere in between. They’ll make your mouth water and put a smile on your face.

Tasty hot dogs on wooden board, closeup

Some of them might also cover you in sauce. Or get stuck between your teeth. But it’s worth it. The deliciousness is often attributed to a simple recipe passed down through generations and prepared with love. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

This post will cover some of the most common and most popular American foods. You’ll see some crowd favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers, plus some of the most delicious desserts imaginable, like apple pie and chocolate chip cookies.

Most Popular American Foods

Once done here, you’ll be able to go out and get something to eat. The mouth-watering discussion is sure to get your belly rumbling. Hopefully, you can find something to satisfy your craving.


Burgers are a central part of American food and culture. They are the main staple of many fast food places, are found at tons of other restaurants, and are grilled in backyards countrywide.

I like a simple burger with onion, lettuce, tomato, bacon, mayo, and mustard. But, I also like to get creative with ingredients like goat cheese and roasted red peppers.

Burgers are so easy to customize all sorts of toppings and patty options.

Switch up the meat and use bison instead of beef. Or go for the vegetarian options with patties made from meat substitutes or alternatives

Apple Pie

While burgers are iconic and found virtually everywhere, it’s hard to argue that any food is more classically American than apple pie.

It is a simple dessert served at many events, sold at almost any grocery store, and offered at many restaurants.

Apple pie consists of a sugary apple filling, often spiced with cinnamon, surrounded by a flaky dough crust on all sides.

Sometimes people will get very creative with the pie covering, even going as far as to create a lace pattern that looks like art.

French Fries

Potatoes are incredibly versatile, but if you asked many Americans what their favorite way to have a potato cooked is, they’re probably going to say french fries.

They’re extremely popular as side items for nearly any dish but especially common with burgers.

French fries can be simple. Take a potato, peeled or unpeeled based on your preference, slice it up, and fry it. Remove once the outside has become crispy, then throw a pinch of salt on top.

Cut them into larger slices or make tiny slivers. Cook a bit longer for extra crispness, or take them out a minute early for a softer set of fries.

Most people eat their french fries with ketchup, but I like to dip my fries in mayo. It might sound weird, but don’t knock it till you try it!

Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are a common food item found in backyard barbeques all over America.

They are a cheap and easy way to feed many people, but they can also taste incredible.

A hot dog is made in many ways, but they are pork or beef sausage cooked and placed between a long bread bun.

People top hot dogs with popular condiments like mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish, but you can go crazy customizing them.

Some like to put on hot peppers. Others reach for the sauerkraut. Some like their bun toasted, while others hate it that way. You can keep those who avoid meat by using vegetarian hot dogs. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There’s nothing quite like eating a fresh chocolate chip cookie out of the oven or sneaking a bite of the raw dough while cooking them.

The sugary and sweet combination of just the right amount of sugar, dough, and chocolate makes your mouth water.

Most chocolate chip recipes are simple. Flour, sugar, and chocolate chips are the primary ingredients, but most people also throw in an egg as a binder and perhaps some baking powder and flavor enhancers.

You can find chocolate chip cookies nearly everywhere in America. Almost every grocery store will have them in stock in packages and fresh-baked. Some restaurants offer them as dessert options too.


Another popular way for Americans to feed large groups of people is pizza.

Put in an order for some pizzas with different toppings, place them in front of a group of people, and watch them quickly disappear. They’re also popular delivery items.

Pizza is made with a circular crust usually made from flour, covered with a tomato-based sauce, then topped with mozzarella cheese and other ingredients you want.

While pizza is a traditionally Italian food, it has become quintessential to American culture and American pizza is markedly different than the traditional Italian pies.

The most popular toppings are pepperoni, sausage, onions, bell peppers, ham, mushrooms, and pineapple, though that is a subject of controversy.

You can always stick with the classic cheese too. There are many flour-alternative crust options, and you can use a variety of sauces, cheeses, and toppings to switch things up.

Fried Chicken

Something special happens when you dip chicken in a bit of flour and then fry it. If done well, the crust gets hard and flaky while the meat is full of juice and flavor.

Fried chicken is another item found in many places, including almost every grocery store and many restaurants.

Many people have their secret recipe for fried chicken. But many of them use a technique that starts by dipping the raw chicken in an egg batter, then covering it in flour that might have some additional spices, then frying it up in a pan with a good amount of oil.

My personal favorite is Nashville hot chicken, which is fried chicken that gets coated in cayenne and hot sauce. 

The result is divine for those that like chicken.

Grilled Cheese

If you have any picky eaters, a grilled cheese sandwich is a great choice. It’s one of the most popular American foods, especially for children.

But more sophisticated grilled cheese options are available and can be made at home with care or purchased at restaurants.

Grilled cheese is a sandwich that consists of two slices of bread on the outside filled with your favorite melty cheese and cooked until crisp with some butter. The classic grilled cheese uses simple white bread and American cheese.

Advanced grilled cheese lovers will use different bread, like sourdough, and go for a more flavorful cheese, like an extra sharp cheddar.

I get even more creative by adding a spread of mustard and a few slices of pickles to mine. The acidity of the pickle goes well with the sharpness of the cheddar. 

Tater Tots

It’s no surprise that another way to cook potatoes is showing up on this list of the most popular American foods.

Tater tots are similar to french fries but not identical. And they’re also not quite as popular. You’re more likely to find them in the frozen food section of a grocery store than in a restaurant.

Tater toes are shredded potatoes formed into small bite-sized pieces shaped like small barrels. They can be fried or baked and are often dipped in ketchup.

Most people take the easy route for tater tots and buy them already made and frozen.

Then, toss the desired amount onto a baking sheet and put them in the oven until warm. Simple, quick, and delicious.

Ice Cream

For some people, there’s nothing better than ice cream on a hot summer day.

They’re popular in beach areas and summer vacation destinations but can also be scattered everywhere.

Once again, you can find various ice cream flavors and recipes. But the main ingredients in almost every traditional ice cream include milk or cream and sugar that’s frozen in a specific way to create a soft consistency you can sink a spoon in.

Vanilla and chocolate are two of the absolute most popular flavors, but you can find ice cream with cookies, syrup swirled throughout, and tons of other candies inside.

You can also skip the lactose and use coconut milk or other milk alternatives.


While chocolate chip cookies are best fresh out of the oven, sometimes that can’t happen.

And that’s when people turn to the packaged Oreos, one of the most famous American foods.

Oreos consist of two disc-shaped chocolate wafers with a layer of sweet cream sandwiched between them.

Many people serve them with a glass of cold milk, which you can dunk your cookies into or sip on the side.


While this isn’t the healthiest option on this list, it might be one of the most famous American foods.

You can find donuts in many settings, from offices to churches, in tiny corner stores and supermarkets.

Donuts are circular-shaped dough with a hole in the center, fried or baked, and then covered in sugary coatings like plain sugar icing, chocolate, or other flavors.

My favorite donut is a classic cake donut with a simple glaze or sugar coating. 

Some people can get carried away with donut toppings, and specialty shops will go nuts. You can also find other types of donuts and different shapes, like the rectangular long john and the spherical donut hole.


There is something special about a big piece of beef sizzling on a grill. As a result, steak is more common at smaller home barbeques and restaurants of all kinds.

Steak is made from various cuts of beef, including New York strip, porterhouse, or tenderloin, which are then seasoned and grilled to your preference.

The seasonings usually include salt and pepper at a minimum, but some people will also use a variety of spices.

Steak enthusiasts will cry if you order a steak well done, meaning that it is fully cooked all the way through.

So instead, they will order it rare or medium-rare, which will have some red or pink interior. The middle of the road is medium.

Corn on the Cob

A summer cookout isn’t complete without corn on the cob. It’s one of the most popular American dishes. And it’s easy to make.

Corn on the cob is an entire husk of corn that is cooked, seasoned, and eaten directly off the cob. It’s not the cleanest part of any meal, but it can be delicious when done correctly.

I cook corn on the cob in many ways. Some people go for a large pot of boiling water. I prefer to have them grilled with the husk on.

However, regardless of the method, you’re probably going to want to top with some butter, salt, and pepper. Then dig in.

Mac and Cheese

The most famous American foods list would be entirely incomplete without mac and cheese.

Of course, Mac and cheese is a household favorite for many children, but it’s also a common restaurant offering for both children and adults.

The basic recipe for mac and cheese is macaroni pasta covered in melty cheese and served similar to a casserole.

You can buy prepared versions in a box or purchase high-quality pasta and cheeses. There are lots of different cheeses you can use in mac and cheese!

To take your mac and cheese recipe up to the next level, add in some bread crumbs or throw the entire cooked dish in the oven or broiler for a few minutes to make it a bit crispy.

Barbecue Ribs

If you haven’t noticed yet, many of the most popular American foods are best cooked on a big ole grill. And barbecue ribs are another one of those.

Once again, the recipes for barbeque ribs are limitless. But they all start with a slab of ribs, often pork ribs, that are then saturated in a tangy barbecue sauce and grilled or smoked to perfection.

The meat can fall off the bones and into your mouth if cooked properly.

But make sure to have some napkins handy. Barbeque ribs are usually handheld food that can get very messy.

Bacon and Eggs

We haven’t gone over many breakfast foods, but that’s for a good reason. The most popular American foods for breakfast must be bacon and eggs.

It’s a delicious combination of densely-packed food that will keep you full throughout the day.

The bacon is usually cut from pork belly or sides, then baked to crispy goodness and eaten alone.

Some people will put a bit of maple syrup on their bacon. Other times it is infused into the smoky meat.

The eggs served with bacon are usually prepared as fried or scrambled. Fried eggs retain the yolk hole and can be cooked just on one side (sunny side up), turned over for a quick second (over easy), or left turned over until the yolk is hard (over hard).

Most Popular American Foods

  1. Burgers
  2. Apple Pie
  3. French Fries
  4. Hot Dogs
  5. Chocolate Chip Cookies
  6. Pizza
  7. Fried Chicken
  8. Grilled Cheese
  9. Tater Tots
  10. Ice Cream
  11. Oreos
  12. Donuts
  13. Steak
  14. Corn on the Cob
  15. Mac and Cheese
  16. Barbecue Ribs
  17. Bacon and Eggs

Final Thoughts

And there you have it—a nice list of the most popular American foods. So next time you think about a backyard barbeque, visiting a grocery store, or going out to a restaurant in the United States, you know what to expect.

Hot dogs and hamburgers everywhere! Ice cream on every corner. And potatoes and pizza wherever you turn next. So order your steak and eggs the way you like them, and have some napkins around if you order ribs.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.