REGIONAL TREATS ON A BUDGET
The bounty of delicious regional dishes unique to each state in the U.S. should satisfy just about any curious palate, whether you're a local or a tourist on the prowl for a good, cheap meal. To whet your appetite for your next road trip and to enjoy some local pride in your state's signature food, we've pulled together a state-by-state list (including the District of Columbia) of the best local eats. We set the price bar at a high of $10, but most of these delights can be devoured for $5 or less.
Inland, stoneground grits are an inexpensive must, and a half-moon cookie (pecan base, half covered in dark chocolate) at Full Moon Bar-B-Que is worth the indulgence. On the coast, Mobile is home to delicious seafood, although the big-name restaurants like Wintzell's Oyster House and Felix's Fish Camp Grill can be pricey unless you're sharing a dish.
Grilled or smoked, however you like it, there's no place better to get fresh salmon than Alaska. It's not always cheap, though, so if you're looking for something less expensive, try reindeer sausage instead.
Prickly pear, a type of cactus, is a regional specialty that you can find in jellies, jams, and syrups. It shows up in some cocktails, as well.
You can now find fried dill pickles nationwide, but Bernell "Fatman" Austin claims he invented them while working at the former Duchess Drive-In in Atkins. The small city, population 3,059, is now home to the annual Picklefest, where you can relish the original recipe.
Whether you're along the Front Range or high in the Rockies, Rocky Mountain oysters (that would be, um, bull testicles) are a local "delicacy" worth a try. Rather indulge on something sweet? Pikes Peak doughnuts lay claim to fame as the only doughnuts made at more than 14,000 feet above sea level.
The secret is out: One of Connecticut's most beloved, inexpensive hot dog spots found its way to TV's "Man v. Food." Doogie's in Newington sells its famous 2-foot-long hot dogs that can be loaded with everything from kraut and Swiss cheese to barbecue baked beans and bacon. While you're in the Nutmeg state, you're also going to want to nosh on a steamed cheeseburger from Ted's Restaurant in Meridan, and head to Sally's Apizza for a slice (or three) of the namesake apizza, a thin-crust, coal-fired Neopolitan pizza that New Haven is famous for.
While passing through Delaware, three local specialties cry out for attention: Rapa-brand scrapple (a mix of cornmeal, flour, pork scraps, and spices shaped into a loaf, sliced, and then fried), pumpkin mushroom soup at the Back Burner Restaurant & Bar in Hockessin, and just about anything with blue crab.
A slice of Key lime pie, enjoyed while your feet are up and the waves are splashing away, provides more than a few tasty and cheap bites.
There are many outstanding dishes associated with Georgia, but Brunswick stew prepared with barbecue pork, tomatoes, and corn is high on our list. The state fruit, the peach, is not to be missed, nor is anything containing the state vegetable, the Vidalia sweet onion.
Hawaii is filled with unique foods that are little-known on the mainland. Try the sweet taro and coconut fudge-like kulolo, a bowl of poi, a cup of local Kona coffee, and a manapua, which is similar to a Chinese pork bun.
Idaho is known for potatoes and corn, but you can also gorge on local huckleberries and fresh trout, elk, and deer, all found in nearby mountains and streams.
Popcorn has been the official snack food of Illinois since 2003 — no surprise, given the 12 million acres devoted to growing corn. Garrett Popcorn has been stirring up flavored mixtures like Macadamia CaramelCrisp for more than 60 years. When in Chicago, don't overlook the Depression Dog (mustard, onion, hot pepper, and relish) at Redhot Ranch, Jimmy's Red Hots, or Gene & Jude's.
Sugar cream pie (exactly what it sounds like) and persimmon pudding are delicious, inexpensive desserts that are hard to find outside of Indiana.
Barbecue is the food in many states, but Kansas City barbecue merits a shout-out for its burnt ends.
While in Kentucky, take a break from foods you can chew. A mint julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, goes down nice and easy.
Creole and Cajun food rule in Louisiana, so don't miss the opportunity to try gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish boils, and red beans and rice.
Maine's coast is dotted with lobster shacks serving relatively inexpensive lobster dishes, including lobster rolls, salads, and stews.
Baltimore's Berger cookies are thick and crusty, with a generous slathering of chocolate icing on top.
A hot bowl of New England clam chowder is always an option, but if you're in Boston, head to Mike's pastry shop in the North End for delicious cannolis and Boston cream pies.
Every Michigander knows about Coney dogs, hot dogs served with raw onion, chili, and mustard.
Arriving in Minnesota with Scandinavian immigrants were cheap eats that the locals love: lefse, a flatbread made from potatoes and flour, and lutefisk, dried or salted whitefish.
Mississippi is known for its cheese straws. Originally available only in a cheddar flavor, there are now sweet, savory, and spicy straws, as well.
Barbecue and Kansas City are synonymous, but don't stop your noshing there. Continue on with toasted raviolis, a slinger (eggs, hash browns, burger, onion, chili, and cheese), or St. Louis-style pizza, with its super-thin cracker-like crust and provolone topping.
Burgers, balls, and loafs are just three of the many inexpensive ways bison is served in Montana.
Little known fact: The Reuben sandwich (grilled rye bread with pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing) is thought to have been invented in Omaha by Bernard Schimmel for his friend, and fellow hungry poker player, Reuben Kulakofsky, though an alternate account says Arnold Reuben invented it in New York City. Regardless, Nebraska claims it as its own and it's definitely worth a try while you're there.
Imported from Canada but a rarity elsewhere in the U.S., poutine consists of a plateful of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. New Hampshire is also known for maple syrup and apple cider.
New Jersey boasts the invention of several unusual hot dog varieties, including the ripper (deep fried), the Jersey breakfast dog (bacon-wrapped and deep fried), and the Italian hot dog (with a pizza-dough bun). Saltwater taffy on the shore is another local favorite.
Two of the most iconic New York foods, pizza and bagels, rarely cost much. Sure, a premium slice or a bagel loaded with lox ain't cheap, but a cheese slice or a bagel with schmear (a thin spread of cream cheese) will rarely set you back more than a few bucks.
Barbecue in North Carolina differs from the kind you'll find, say, in Kansas City. Thinner and less sweet, North Carolina's version incorporates a healthy dose of vinegar and contains little (if any) tomato sauce. If you need something to wash down all those pulled pork sandwiches and ribs, try a cherry-flavored Cheerwine soda.
Perhaps you've tasted one of these delicious snacks somewhere else, but North Dakota confectioner Widman's has been making "chippers" (chocolate-covered potato chips) for generations.
Cincinnati is known for its chili, famously served three ways (spaghetti, chili, cheese), four ways (add beans or onion), or five ways (spaghetti, chili, cheese, onions, and beans). The Buckeye state has a bit of a sweet tooth, and chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls are rightly called Buckeye candy. Ohio is also one of few states where you can find grape pie.
Fried okra is a local favorite and an inexpensive snack. Other cheap favorites include chicken fried steak (a breaded beef patty), fried pies (deep-fried fruit-filled turnovers), and the city of El Reno's own creation, the onion burger.
Marionberries and more marionberries. Try them as a jelly, spread on a piece of toast, or go all out with marionberry shakes, pies, and salads.
Of course, the Philly cheesesteak springs to mind when thinking of Pennsylvania. But get hold of a slice of shoo-fly pie (a molasses pie) or savor the flavor hit from a bit of chow-chow (a pickled relish) added to your meal. Also try Pennsylvania Dutch favorites such as corn fritters, scrapple, and potato rolls.
The perfect thing to munch while on the road or simply watching TV, boiled peanuts became the official snack food of South Carolina in 2006. For something more filling, try shrimp and grits or Frogmore stew, a scrumptious combination of sausage, shellfish, corn, and potatoes — but no frogs.
Chislic is cubed meat, often something gamey like lamb or venison, that's deep-fried and served in small pieces or on a skewer. Flavored with seasoned salts, sometimes battered, and often partnered with soda crackers, a serving is well within the cheap zone.
Hot chicken is a spicy piece of marinated and fried chicken served atop white bread. It's a Nashville specialty; there's even a Music City Hot Chicken Festival.
In spite of the name, breakfast tacos filled with egg, salsa, and meat are delicious any time of day. After dinner, enjoy a slice of pecan pie; the pecan tree is the official tree of Texas and the pecan nut is the official state nut.
Vermont is known for dairy products and maple syrup. You've probably scarfed down what was once only a local favorite, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but have you sampled maple candies?
It sounds odd unless you've tried it, but Virginia peanut soup is creamy, hearty, easy to make, and even easier to eat. The state is also known for its seafood and ham. Smithfield hams are perhaps the most famous and, by law, must be cured within Smithfield's town limits.
Halfpops are a simple and cheap snack food (they're literally half-popped popcorn) that is starting to spread across the country but originated in Seattle. Also not to be missed: Rainier cherries (named after Mount Rainier), fish and chips, and Tim's potato chips.
Late-night favorites, although they're good anytime, are the overflowing chili dogs from Ben's Chili Bowl and the enormous jumbo pizza slices in Adams Morgan.
Pepperoni baked inside a soft white bread, locally known as pepperoni rolls, are a cheap grab-and-go lunch item.
Love cheese? Love deep-fried foods? Wisconsin offers a bit of both with fried cheese curds. The curds must be fresh, which is why this treat is hard to find unless you're near a cheese factory. Equally satisfying are creampuffs (a favorite at fairs) and kringles, layers and layers of flaky, buttery dough with nut or fruit fillings. The pride of Racine, the kringle is so good, it was named the state pastry.
Nothing says Western cuisine quite like beef. Try cube steak breaded, fried crispy, and served with savory gravy. Popular alternatives with less fat include bison and elk. For dessert: a cowboy cookie. Oatmeal, chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans combine for a tempting and satisfying treat.