The Real Value of $100 in Each State
Regional price parity: 86.6
Value of $100: $113.4
We tried to track down the price of the fried green tomatoes at the Irondale Cafe, the place that served as a setting for the 1991 film "Fried Green Tomatoes." But those tomatoes aren't a la carte — they're one of at least two sides served with various meats. That said, you could serve 10 people and still have some leftovers if you ordered the "Meat and 2" package from the cafe's catering menu.
Regional price parity: 105.4
Value of $100: $94.60
Alaska hasn't designated any particular state food, but Alaskan King Crab seems like a fine choice. The Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage sells half-pound plates of Bering Sea King Crab legs for $27.95, meaning our bankroll will buy enough for three people and, maybe, some soft drinks.
Regional price parity: 95.9
Value of $100: $104.10
Arizona lays claim to the deep-fried burrito known as the chimichanga, but few as vociferously as the owners of the Macayo's restaurant chain. You can order eight $11.99 Chimis de Macayo at Macayo's Phoenix location and still have enough left for drinks.
Regional price parity: 86.9
Value of $100: $113.10
While some will claim fried catfish as Arkansas' key dish, there are few dishes that parallel the fried pickles that Bernell "Fatman" Austin first sold at his Duchess Drive-In — across from Atkins Pickle Plant just outside of Little Rock — in 1963. Austin closed his last drive-in 40 years ago and died in 1999, but fried pickles live on. At Cotham's in Little Rock, a starter plate of fried pickles goes for $6. With $113.10, you could order 18 plates of them.
Regional price parity: 114.4
Value of $100: $85.60
Pile it high, roll it tight, and have enough of an appetite to finish it: We're going for Mission burritos. Originally the food of choice for California farm workers who needed large amounts of food they could eat by hand, the big burrito from San Francisco's Mission District eventually made its way across the country. Here, $85.60 will buy nearly a dozen regular burritos ($7.15) at El Farolito in the Mission District, or 10 overstuffed Super Burritos ($8.25). Go with the latter.
Regional price parity: 103
Value of $100: $97
Because Colorado can't make up its mind about an official state dish, we're just going to pick Rocky Mountain Oysters. Created by ranchers who had to use all parts of the animal, this dish uses the testicles of various animals to create a grilled or fried appetizer popular in kitschier corners of the state. The Buckhorn Exchange in Denver sells full orders for $12.50 apiece. Your $97 will buy seven full orders, and a half order for one of your more squeamish friends.
Regional price parity: 108.7
Value of $100: $91.30
We could honor Ted's Restaurant and its steamed cheeseburgers ($91.30 will get you 15 of the $6 burgers), but we're going to go with New Haven's Neopolitan-influenced apizza. Our pick is Ernie's just off of the Merritt Parkway. There, $91.30 will buy five medium Ernie's Specials (mozzarella, sausage, and mushrooms).
Regional price parity: 100.2
Value of $100: $99.80
We could give scrapple to Pennsylvania, but that state has a lot of competing food interests. Scrapple has been here in the Brandywine valley since the Colonial era — making use of every part of the pig by grinding it into slurry and shaping it with cornmeal. Lucky's Coffee Shop in Wilmington sells it as a side for $3. That will buy 33 servings for $99.80.
Regional price parity: 99.7
Value of $100: $100.30
There's a case to be made for Key Lime Pie, but you ignore the modern history of Florida by overlooking the Cubano sandwich. Tampa claims it was created by Cuban workers at its Ybor City cigar factories and includes salami and mojo sauce atop its blend of pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles. Miami lays its own claim and wonders what salami is doing on a sandwich that isn't a medianoche. Tourist spots in Tampa will rake you for more than $10 a sandwich, but La Ideal still makes a 7-inch Cubano for $4.99. That's 20 sandwiches for $100.30.
Regional price parity: 92.1
Value of $100: $107.90
Georgia claims peaches as its state fruit, but grits as its official prepared food. Much as we'd love to dig into $107.90 worth of peach pie (that's four family-sized pies at Panbury's in Atlanta), we're going to stick with the cheese grits at Home Grown in Atlanta, a side option for just about every meal and on their own for $3. That's just shy of 36 bowls.
Regional price parity: 118.4
Value of $100: $81.60
Pick any produce, fish, or pork dishes you'd like, but nothing is as ubiquitous on the islands as the plate lunch. At Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu, a plate of Kalua pig, a scoop of mac salad, and a scoop of rice goes for $8.05. That will buy 10 plates for $81.60.
Regional price parity: 93.0
Value of $100: $107
Poutine is more of a French-Canadian delicacy, potato pancakes/latkes have a deeper cultural connection, and just about anywhere in the country can make a decent french fry or baked potato. So where does that leave Idaho and its official food? In great shape at Spuds in Sandpoint, where a full menu of oven-roasted potatoes includes the Papas Fresca with olive oil, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, Himalayan pink sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, and fresh ground pepper. At $7.50, you could take home 14.
Regional price parity: 98.9
Value of $100: $101.10
Sorry, Chicago, but salad hot dog, pizza casserole, and soaked pepper beef don't represent all of Illinois. Popcorn has been designated the official snack food, though, and any visitor to Chicago's Loop or O'Hare Airport (or satellite locations in Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, D.C., New York, or abroad) has come across Garrett and its mix of cheddar and caramel corn. While hot bags of it can be had for less in Illinois itself, a 1-gallon tin is $33 online. That's three gallons for $101.10.
Regional price parity: 90.3
Value of $100: $109.70
The pork tenderloin sandwich birthed at Nick's Kitchen in Huntington is the state's unofficial sandwich. Either deep-fried or grilled, it started as a take on wienerschnitzel by German immigrants who had a tough time getting their hands on veal in the Midwest. Today, with Nick's selling this plate-sized breaded sandwich for $7, you could get 15 sandwiches and have enough left over for a couple of soft drinks.
Regional price parity: 90.2
Value of $100: $109.80
The Iowa State Fair and its fried foods on a stick are legendary, though the quintessential corn dog is of disputed lineage. Still, there are more than a dozen takes on the corn dog at the fair anyway, with prices rising; Campbell's Concessions in Des Moines puts a base price of $4.50 on its corn dogs, which allows for buying 24.
Regional price parity: 90.5
Value of $100: $109.50
We should be forever grateful to Kansas for one particular culinary offering: White Castle. Founded in Wichita in 1921, White Castle and its steam-grilled sliders made its way across the country and into just about every supermarket freezer section. At 93 cents apiece, you could order 117 sliders with cheese for that $109.50 ... but you'd have to pick them up in Columbia, Missouri, as there are no White Castle locations in the chain's birthplace.
Regional price parity: 87.8
Value of $100: $112.20
The state fruit is the blackberry, the unofficial state dish is a stew known as Burgoo, and the most well-known state food kicked Kentucky out of its name to go as "KFC." But you don't have to trudge the Bourbon Trail to know that Kentucky's most beloved export is whiskey. At Louisville's Total Wine, $112.20 can get either one 750 milliliter bottle of Willett Family Estate 13 Year Bourbon or 4 liters of Maker's Mark.
Regional price parity: 90.4
Value of $100: $109.60
In 2004, the Louisiana legislature dubbed gumbo the state's official cuisine. For $109.60, you can get 14 cups ($7.50) or 12 bowls ($8.50) of duck and andouille at Galatoire's Restaurant or six quarts ($18) of seasonal gumbo at Cochon Butcher, both in New Orleans.
Regional price parity: 98.4
Value of $100: $101.60
Maine keeps its simple with the lobster roll: cold lobster meat stuffed into a warm, buttered, contrarian New England hot dog bun. But people spend an entire summer in line at Red's Eats in Wiscasset just for a taste of their legendary roll, overflowing with the claw and tail meat of an entire lobster. If you're going up to Portland to see the lighthouse and make a beer run, pop into Gilbert's Chowder House, one of the last divey, portside seafood houses in this rapidly changing dock city. At $16.95 each, you can either get five and a side of fries or bowl of chowder — or root around for some change in your car's seats and get six.
Regional price parity: 109.5
Value of $100: $90.50
Unless you're putting newspaper down under your plate, strapping on a bib, using a mallet, and tasting crab seasoned in something other than Old Bay, you're just eating a crab puck and hoping for the best. Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn in Baltimore will serve four steamed crabs with sides, with enough left over to come back the next day for crab cake sandwich.
Regional price parity: 107.8
Value of $100: $92.20
Massachusetts has to share a chowder with the rest of New England, has to argue with a bunch of other coastal states over who makes the best clam strips, and has a cream pie named for Boston that nobody actually eats, but it has steak tips — marinated flap meat or tri-tip — all to itself. A plate at the Galway House in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood goes for $13, which buys seven servings.
Regional price parity: 93.3
Value of $100: $106.70
Michigan has tried to lay claim to Sicilian pizza, cherries, paczki, Great Lakes fish, apples, rye bread, and other items. But little is more inherently Michigan than the pasty, which was brought over by Cornish miners and embraced by the Yoopers of the Upper Peninsula. Lawry's in Ishpeming and Marquette has made them for more than 70 years and, for $106.70, will give you 20 of the $5.19 12-ounce beef pasties and some change.
Regional price parity: 97.5
Value of $100: $102.50
Minnesota gave you the Honeycrisp apple and a "hot dish" casserole as its unofficial food. It can do better. We'll give lutefisk a pass and go with lefse: A soft Norwegian flatbread made on a griddle from a mix of potatoes, flour, butter, and cream. At Jacobs Lefse Bakeri in Osakis, a family pack of 25 rounds goes for $45. Pick up two for $90 and you'll have $12.50 left to spend on two jars of jam from Norsland Lefse in Rushford.
Regional price parity: 86.4
Value of $100: $113.60
There's no way to win or lose a Mississippi food debate. Gulf shrimp, gulf oysters, blue crab, barbecue, comeback sauce, mud pie, okra ... there isn't much Mississippi doesn't do well. But its po' boys, with all apologies to Louisiana, get the most into one bite. Rosetti's in Biloxi has a po' boy with blue crab patty, cheese, and fries at $9.99 that takes this in a walk. That's 11 full plates for just under $113.60.
Regional price parity: 89.5
Value of $100: $110.50
You have to be a monster to suggest anything other than barbecue here, but what do you pick: St. Louis or Kansas City? Don't. Joes' Kansas City sells a half slab of ribs and sides for $24.99. Roper's Ribs in St. Louis sells a slab of St. Louis ribs and sides for $21.99. You could get two slabs from each and still have enough left over to get a drink or two.
Regional price parity: 94.1
Value of $100: $105.90
With plenty of elk and bison still roaming Big Sky Country, it isn't odd that some of it would find its way into the local cuisine. At Cafe Kandahar in Whitefish, the Snug Bar features an $11 elk burger and $13 buffalo and elk meatloaf. That's either nine burgers or eight servings of meatloaf for your party.
Regional price parity: 90.5
Value of $100: $109.50
Listen, New York, you have dozens of options for your "official" food. Can you just let Nebraska have its story of the miraculous invention of the Reuben, that convoluted corned beef sandwich? The Crescent Moon in Omaha sells one for $8.99 and can give people a dozen sandwiches for that price. Know how many Reubens that $109.50 gets you at Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side? Four, and with turkey instead of corned beef.
Regional price parity: 97.4
Value of $100: $102.60
Sorry, Nevada, you don't really have a regional cuisine: You have cheap buffets that get people to drop some money and perhaps gamble some more. Our $102.60 could feed a family of four at the Paris Las Vegas weekend dinner buffet. Caesars offers similar buffet deals at the Flamingo and Rio, but get off the strip and it'll cover nearly a week's worth of lunch and brunch buffets at the Rampart Casino.
Regional price parity: 105.9
Value of $100: $94.10
The Puritan Backroom in Manchester, founded by Greek immigrants who also put kebabs, spanakopita, and fried feta on the menu, claims to have invented chicken tenders in 1974. Maybe it only invented the name, but that's enough to make it a bona fide New Hampshire contribution to American cuisine. You can have them in spicy, Buffalo or coconut versions, but the standard with house sauce is $13.95 — about six plates for $94.10.
Regional price parity: 113.2
Value of $100: $86.80
New Jersey debates whether to call its processed mystery meat pork roll or Taylor ham, but a 6-ounce box costs $3.39 at any Shop-Rite in New Jersey (a $2.19 generic can only add so much more mystery). That adds up to 25 to 39 boxes of pork roll. If you're feeling spendy, upgrade to a $6 Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich at Little Falls' Six Brothers Diner. You'll still get 14 sandwiches for your $86.80.
Regional price parity: 93.6
Value of $100: $106.40
The home of the Hatch chile doesn't play around with dishes that use them. Cafe Jalisco in Silver City warns customers in its menu that you can't send back a dish for being too spicy. The New Mexico Meat Enchiladas with chicken and green hatch chiles is $10.99. Your $106.40 will be enough for nine, leaving enough to have a fried egg placed atop one of them.
Regional price parity: 115.6
Value of $100: $84.40
Other cities have made valiant attempts at New York pizza, deli sandwiches, Buffalo wings, and even bodega chopped cheese, but fail miserably at making New York bagels. Boiling the bagels is the least of what's needed, but it's where most places give up before simply making bagel-shaped rolls. At Ess-a-Bagel on the Upper East Side, a baker's dozen bagels (13) sell for $16.20 unsliced. That $84.40 will buy five bakers' dozen and another two individual bagels for 67 in all.
Regional price parity: 90.9
Value of $100: $109.10
We toyed with the idea of $109.10 in pimento cheese. Instead, we're walking into the minefield that is Carolina barbecue. Representing the West, we have Lexington BBQ and its $10.20 chopped barbecue plate with fries and rolls. Out of the East, we have Wilber's and its $9.75 plate with coleslaw and hush puppies. Either can feed 10 people for $109.10, but the latter leaves a bit more change.
Regional price parity: 91.5
Value of $100: $108.50
The German dessert kuchen took on a life of its own in North Dakota. Basically pastry, fruit filling, and custard topping, kuchen is filled with rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, apricots, and just about any other fruit you can imagine, and is served at the Kroll's German-American diner chain throughout North Dakota for $4 a slice. That's 27 slices of Kuchen, or two- to three-and-a-half pies, depending on who's slicing.
Regional price parity: 99.8
Value of $100: $100.20
Marionberries: for when your state is overgrown with Himalayan blackberry but you feel the need to create a different berry just for laughs. Each summer, anyone within earshot of Oregon has to hear about the sweet-yet-tart flavor of this Oregon State University cultivar while homeowners and landscapers around the state battle literal walls of wild-growing blackberry. You can either buy two $39 Marionberry pies from Willamette Valley Pie, buy a dozen 2-pound bags of frozen marionberries for $7.99 a pop at Safeway — or pocket the money, drive on any Oregon road in July, pull off at the nearest overgrown culvert and pick bushels of blackberry on your own.
Regional price parity: 98.4
Value of $100: $101.60
Pennsylvania has given the world Hershey's chocolate, Just Born candies (Mike and Ike), Snyder's of Hanover pretzels, Herr's chips and pretzels, Utz snack foods, Tastykakes, Sturgis pretzels, Auntie Anne's pretzels, Yuengling beer, Turkey Hill ice cream, Heinz ketchup, Philly cheesesteaks, Primanti Brothers sandwiches, root beer, and stromboli. But a $6 roast pork, sharp provolone, and broccoli rabe sandwich from DiNic's in Philadelphia may be the state's greatest culinary contribution. Your $101.60 buys 16 sandwiches.
Regional price parity: 99.6
Value of $100: $100.40
Rhode Island has some of the most insular cuisine in the country: Del's frozen lemonade, Woonsocket dynamites, Awful Awfuls, coffee cabinets, gaggas (a hot dog variation). But our favorite is coffee milk, largely because it's easy to make anywhere: Target sells bottles of it for $4.99. That's roughly 20 bottles, or years of coffee milk, for $100.40.
Regional price parity: 90.3
Value of $100: $109.70
South Carolina's lowcountry cuisine shares a heritage with Georgia's and looks an awful lot like Cajun. A plate of shrimp and grits at the Hominy Grill in Charleston goes for $19. That's five plates with some change for $109.70, but you can boost it to seven by taking the $14 dish at the Early Bird Diner instead.
Regional price parity: 88.3
Value of $100: $111.70
Fry bread is the official state bread of South Dakota, but that's a mixed blessing. Made by Native American tribes from provisions issued by the U.S. government during a 300-mile forced relocation, fry bread stands as a symbol of both native resolve and suffering. The Laughing Water Restaurant at the Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer serves it as part of a "Native American Taco" with meat, cheese, and beans. At $10.20, you can buy 11 with your $111.70. Bring 10 friends to see the memorial and find some significance in what you're eating.
Regional price parity: 90.2
Value of $100: $109.80
Memphis barbecue is a must during a stop in Tennessee, and it's hard to go wrong at the Rendezvous. Pork is king here, and you'll be tempted to go with a combination of ribs and pork shoulder. But a large order of ribs here is $21.50, which means you'll be able to get five with no problem.
Regional price parity: 96.9
Value of $100: $103.10
We're going to give Texas barbecue a pass (sorry, brisket folks) and go with Frito Pie. You can get great Frito Pie at just about any Friday night football game in Texas (thanks, boosters), but if you're from out of town, you'll likely end up paying $6.99 for it at a place such as The Shady Grove in Austin. That's still 14 servings, but just know the locals are laughing at you.
Regional price parity: 101.6
Value of $100: $98.40
Ben & Jerry's ice cream? Cabot cheese? Just about anyone's beer? Nope, we're going with the good stuff: maple syrup. The Vermont Maple Farm will sell a gallon of it for $59.99 and another half gallon for $36.99. At just under $98, that's about as on-the-nose as this little spending spree gets.
Regional price parity: 105.5
Value of $100: $94.50
You could pay for about 23 drinks at parking-lot espresso carts, or you can have the salmon. Go to the Skamania Lodge's Cascade Dining Room in Stevenson, bring a friend, and have the $32 Columbia River Steelhead that was swimming in the river outside the restaurant window that morning — with starters or sides.
Regional price parity: 87.6
Value of $100: $112.40
Cornbread is a side everywhere else, so we'd do the state a disservice by calling it a "dish" here. But pepperoni rolls based on recipes made by Italian immigrant coal miners are the real deal. Tomaro's Bakery in Clarksburg makes the most famous version, and if you can scrape together another 55 cents, you can have five dozen delivered to you anywhere in the country for $112.99.
Regional price parity: 92.8
Value of $100: $107.20
Wisconsin is great for cheese and beer, sure, but bratwurst is king, and the Milwaukee Brat House starts its bratwurst sandwiches at $7.95. That's 13 brats — not so great when a box of that many brats sells wholesale for $21.71 straight from Usinger's. Do yourself a favor: Spring for five boxes of brats instead.
Regional price parity: 96.7
Value of $100: $103.30
This is where the buffalo roam, and you're going to find a lot of buffalo meat here. At the Gun Barrel in Jackson, that $103.30 will buy either two buffalo prime rib ($45 apiece), three orders of buffalo ribs ($31) or two buffalo sirloin dishes ($36) with plenty left over.
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