50 States of Fried Food
There’s something universally appealing about fried fare. At restaurants and state fair across the country, people are battering and frying favorite foods with local spins, including chicken-fried bacon and even battered butter on a stick. Here are the coolest State Fair-style fried foods in all 50 states.
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Tater Tot Hotdish on a Stick, Minnesota
Deep-Fried Cheesesteak, Pennsylvania
Boredom and a love for fried foods gave Hoagie Xpress owner Chalie McDonald the idea for this deep fried take on the iconic Philly cheesesteak. The City of Brotherly Love’s namesake sandwich usually combines paper thin slices of beefsteak with melted cheese — preferably Cheez Whiz — in a hoagie roll. While standing around on one cold winter’s day in nearby Levittown, Pennsylvania, McDonald decided to forego the bread, sticking thinly sliced griddled beef with American cheese in a wrap, plunging the whole thing in bubbling oil and adding an extra side of liquid cheddar for dipping. The result might just be better than the original, if such a thing is possible.
Deep-Fried Lobster on Stick, Maine
Lobster is serious business in Maine. Many restaurants and seafood shacks will only serve it steamed or cradled in a fluffy bun. But at Susan's Fish and Chips in Portland on Fridays and Saturdays, the fried-seafood experts deep fry lobster on a stick. Fresh lobster tails are dredged in cornmeal batter, impaled, sent for a swim in the deep fryer and served with drawn butter. This fairground-style lobster is a hot commodity in Portland, so the folks here advise guests to call ahead to ensure they haven't sold out.
Fried Cheese Curds, Wisconsin
Before cheese is formed into blocks or wheels, it starts out as cheese curds. The small chunks, which are the basis for Wisconsin’s famed cheddar, are mildly flavored and salty with a nice springy bite. They’re also delicious deep-fried and plunged into assorted dips. Ceaselessly snackable, fried curds are revered among Wisconsinites, especially when beer is involved. They’re found on bar and brewpub menus across the state such as Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, where squeeky Clock Shadow Creamery curds are battered, fried and served with garlic ranch.
Cheesy Enchilada Funnel Cake, Iowa
Some mishaps end up as a fortunate stroke of serendipity. When El Charro Cafe’s founding chef, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a big burrito into a vat of frying oil, she unintentionally invented the chimichanga. Now, those crisp, stuffed tortillas (filled with proteins like chicken, beef, shrimp, beans or carnitas) can be found in Southwestern restaurants from coast-to-coast, but true lovers of deep fried Mexican cuisine still make the pilgrimage to El Charro Café. Run by Flin’s descendents, it’s served quality Southwestern food since 1922.
Rocky Mountain Oysters, Colorado
Oysters may not leap to mind as a state specialty for land-locked Colorado, but Rocky Mountain oysters aren’t actually oysters. They’re bulls’ testicles. For real: Colorado is a big cattle state. At Bruce’s Bar in Severance, a small town just north of Denver, the “oysters” have been on the menu for more than a half-century. Bull or bison parts are breaded and fried, then served in a basket over fries.
French Fries, Idaho
Idaho’s potatoes are so world-famous, the state has its own potato museum. In the state capital, Boise Fry Company salutes the beloved spuds by dedicating an entire restaurant to fries. (O.K., it does serve burgers, too.) Sourced locally from M&M Heath Farms in nearby Buhl, Idaho, the fast-casual concept offer seven different varieties of potatoes — Russet, Gold, Laura, Yam, Sweet, Purple and Okinawa — chopped into choice of five different cuts. Whether you go for regular, curly, shoestring or whatever else, each order is deep fried to-order and served with a selection of housemade dipping sauces. Basically, this place is Choose Your Own Adventure of French fries, and it’s just as much fun as the vintage books.
Spam Musubi, Hawaii
Spam may have been created on the mainland, but nowhere in the United States is it as popular or beloved as in Hawaii. The Aloha State goes through about 5 million pounds of the canned meat per year. It’s the star ingredient in one of the island’s most-iconic dishes, Spam musubi, which is basically sushi with Spam instead of raw fish. Typically, the dish combines the canned pork product with a square of rice, wrapped in nori (Japanese seaweed). Maui’s Da Kitchen makes it sizzle. The meat-like product is breaded and deep-fried, then drizzled with sweet-soy kabayaki sauce.
Crab Balls, Delaware
Maryland may earn name recognition for its crab cakes, but Delaware’s deep-fried crab balls are just as good, and perhaps the Mid-Atlantic’s best-kept secret. Seafood shacks throughout the region serve them. For more than 70 years, Meding’s, a Milford seafood haven, has served little puffs of deep-fried crab for the masses to plunge into tartar sauce. Made with no fillers, the well-seasoned crab rounds are salty, sweet and truly addictive.
Fried Avocado Tacos, California
Alligator Bites, Florida
Fried Pimento Cheese Balls, Virginia
Fried Apple Pies, Georgia
Toasted Ravioli, Missouri
In a state known for its deep-fried cheese curds and burritos, toasted ravioli — which are not toasted at all — may be the most-iconic deep-fried dish of all. While it is a total misnomer, the dish is just as it sounds: crispy, breaded ravioli filled with meat and typically served with marinara sauce. At St Louis barbecue spot Salt + Smoke, toasted ravioli gets a wood-smoked spin, with a filling of chopped oak-smoked burnt ends inside, a dusting of garlic and herbs outside and Alabama-style white barbecue sauce for dipping.
French-Fried Onions, Illinois
A golden mass of deep-fried snack food, Hackney’s Original French Fried Onions are basically a pile of onion strings shaped into the form of a brick. Thinly sliced Spanish onions are coated in a bready batter, deep-fried to a rich amber hue and piled into a rectangular loaf that’s become a local obsession, best enjoyed on the patio with a beer.
Fried Bologna Sandwich, West Virginia
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, North Carolina
Krispy Kreme’s airy, deep-fried rounds are now available around the globe, but the beloved chain was founded in Old Salem, North Carolina, back in 1937. And it’s still an intense source of pride. At stores all around the state (and globe), when the red neon “Hot Now” sign is on, fluffy doughnuts are served fresh off the conveyor belt, seconds after they’re pulled out of the fryer and coated with that sweet glaze. The original, unflavored circles are still the number one pick; however, the company now offers a wide variety of flavors including, at one point, a Cheerwine soda-filled version, the ultimate Tar Heel State-inspired deep-fried treat.
Bacon Maple Doughnut, Oregon
Maple and bacon may seem like a standard (albeit exquisite) combination these days. Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut might just be credited for opening the food world’s palate to the joys of sweetened, salty pork in its notorious Maple Bacon Bar. Raised yeast dough is formed into logs and deep-fried to cloudlike consistency. The top is slathered with maple frosting as well as a crisp piece of bacon broken in half, decoratively placed side by side, so that smoky, snappy meat is evenly distributed in each ethereal bite.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, Indiana
Hog-friendly Indiana knows how to pile pork onto a sandwich. The unofficial Hoosier State sandwich is deep-fried, breaded pork tenderloin on a bun, beloved in restaurants and home kitchens from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River. The Mug, a “farm-to-curb” drive-in in Greenfield with a second location in Indianapolis, is one of the top places to take a bite. Made from local, pasture-raised hogs, the pork is pounded thin, breaded, deep-fried and set on a strikingly small bun. The overhanging tenderloin is like the food equivalent of Chris Farley’s fat guy in a little coat, which is part of what makes people love it so much.
Rippers, New Jersey
Louisiana’s deeply entrenched French influence gives it a cultural edge over many other states, especially when it comes to food. A prime example: beignets. Long before doughnuts became a trendy food, NOLA residents were tucking into powdered sugar-dusted pillowy rounds of fresh-out-of-the-fryer beignets 24 hours a day at legendary coffee shop Café du Monde. The iconic French Quarter spot is globally renowned for its puffy rounds of fried dough, perfect for dunking in the shop’s chicory-scented coffee.
Chicken-Fried Steak, Texas
Texas is renowned for its beef-centric fare, including brisket, hot links and hunks of prime steak. One of the state’s most-popular dishes is chicken-fried steak. Huge, comforting and served all over the state, it combines the crispness of fried chicken with the heft of steak. One of the most-beloved versions is offered an hour south of Austin at Gristmill. The three-story restaurant, set on the banks of Guadalupe River, draws large crowds for its buttermilk-battered gravy-topped steak.
Fish 'n Chips, Massachusetts
Massachusetts might as well be the fried-seafood capital of the United States. Sure, fried shrimp and crisp fish fillets abound from coast to coast, but the Codfish State — with plenty of coastline and fishermen — elevates batter-coated seafood to an art form. For a taste, head to The Druid in Cambridge for tender, crisp-crusted, classic fish ‘n’ chips. Run by natives of County Clare, Ireland, the pub gets fresh cod delivered daily. Each fillet is dipped to order in a simple batter of milk, butter, flour, salt and pepper, then fried in vegetable oil and nestled tightly in newspaper with fries just like they do in the old country.
Cheesy Bacon Pork Rinds on a Stick, Kansas
Fried Clam Cakes, Rhode Island
This third-generation family-owned diner is a seafood-lover’s Shangri-La. Just minutes from the beach, Aunt Carrie’s serves straight-out-of-the-sea platters of steamed clams, lobsters, clam bellies and more with a view of Point Judith Lighthouse on the horizon and a briny ocean breeze wafting through the air. The deep-fried clam cakes are a staple. The kitchen goes through so many on a summer’s day, a large cement mixer is used to prepare the batter. Balls of chopped clams, flour, water and seasoning are dropped into searing beef shortening until perfectly chewy and crisp, and the perfect New England answer to crab cakes.
Deep-Fried Deviled Eggs, Nevada
Sopaipillas, New Mexico
Fried dough takes many regional forms across the U.S., including New Orleans’ beignets Hawaiian takes on Portuguese malasadas. In Michigan, Polish-style paczki — pronounced “punch-key” — reign supreme. Resembling jelly doughnuts, but with richer dough, these rounds are stuffed with custard or jams in classic flavors , along with more-interesting fillings like rose hip or stewed plum. Try them in well-known paczki bakeries like New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck, the heavily Polish town outside Detroit.
Funnel Cake Chocolate Balls, Arkansas
Fried Oreos, fried funnel cake balls, fried lemon balls, fried Snickers, fried Twinkies: Mom’s Kozy Kitchen, a Hot Springs food truck, conjures a fairground’s fried smorgasbord of desserts without the fleeting timeline of a State Fair. The funnel cake chocolate balls are the blue ribbon winner. Funnel cake batter studded with a chocolate kiss in the center, each ball is tossed into a 350-degree fryer, then dipped in powdered sugar. Served warm, the ball releases a pool of melted chocolate that infuses the sweet and fluffy cake.
Hot Chicken, Tennessee
What supposedly began as the fiery revenge of a lover scorned has morphed into Nashville’s most-famous dish. Legend has it that Thornton Prince’s girlfriend concocted this blazingly hot, insanely peppery dish as retribution for a particularly late night out on the town. He loved it enough to ask for seconds, and eventually opened Prince’s Hot Chicken to bring the aggressively spiced birds to the general public. The dish now appears across the United States, but Prince’s original is still considered the standard bearer.
Deep-Fried Pickle, Mississippi
Huckleberry French Toast, Montana
Set under the dramatic mountain peaks of Glacier National Park, this seasonal, family-owned cafe is a top destination for tourists and locals through the summer months. The views are stunning, the staff is friendly and the food has received national praise. The stuffed French toast is a top pick, filled with combinations like hazelnut-vanilla and caramel-apple. The most-beloved rendition, that’s most-emblematic of Montana and certainly most-famous, is the huckleberry. French toast is stuffed with local huckleberries and cream cheese, dipped in batter and deep fried until crisp on the outside, gooey within. The whole thing is dusted with powdered sugar and crowned with more huckleberries and a dollop of whipped cream.
Deep Fried Pizza Slice, New York
This Times Square institution is hailed for its cool Japanese pub vibe and incredible sake selection. You don’t have to be an aficionado of rice wine to enjoy the place, though: It’s also known for its excellent bar bites (and inexpensive beer). The most-iconic dish on its menu — and the one most representative of NYC — is the deep-fried slice. For each order, a slice of of plain cheese pizza (of unknown origins) is dipped in tempura batter and lobbed into a vat of hot oil. Although it sounds like it would feel like a brick in the gut, it’s not. These battered slices are actually light, crisp and devoid of excess grease.
Cheese Frenchees, Nebraska
Nebraska leads the rest of the country when it comes to superlative grilled cheese. Found in diners and restaurants across the state, Frenchees are essentially deep-fried grilled cheese sandwiches. Yet, they are far more interesting than they sound. American cheese and a touch of mayo is layered between two slices of white bread and cut into triangles. Each section is battered, rolled in crunchy coating and dunked into a fryer. Try it at one of the seven Don & Millie's locations spread around Omaha, Lincoln and Bellevue.
Poutine, New Hampshire
Chislic, South Dakota
Fleischkuekle, North Dakota
Deep-Fried Mashed Potatoes on a Stick, Oklahoma
Southern Catfish Sundae, South Carolina
Sundaes and carnivals are like fish and chips. They don’t have to go together, but they fit quite nicely as a pair. At the South Carolina State Fair, DeAnna’s Concessions merges all four into a Southern Catfish Sundae. Don’t worry: There’s no ice cream in the mix. This special sundae combines deep-fried catfish fingers coated in a seasoned batter with fries, a spicy remoulade sauce and cooling tartare piled together like a sundae.
Reindeer Sausage Corn Dog, Alaska
Open since the late 19th century, Juneau’s Red Dog Saloon feels as if it was plucked straight from the days of the frontier. Its wooden walls are adorned with taxidermied animal heads, a walrus oosik (let’s just say bone) and a collection of antique guns, and sawdust coats the floor. The seasonally changing menu offers an array of Alaskan classics, including smoked chowder with Alaskan smoked salmon and brats cooked in local beer. From October through April, reindeer sausage corn dogs are a menu favorite. Exactly as they sound, the dogs feature mild Alaskan reindeer sausage dipped in a secret batter and fried to golden brown, served with fries and Dijon mustard on the side.
Cheddar Stuffed Tater Tots, Vermont
Deep Fried Derby Pie, Kentucky
Kern's Kitchen's Derby-Pie is as much of a Kentucky tradition as the Derby itself. The classic chocolate-walnut dessert, developed at Melrose Inn in 1950, is trademarked and baked with a secret recipe. At the State Fair, that treasured treat is battered and fried, coated with powdered sugar frosting and a raspberry drizzle. When you bite in, sugar will most likely coat your face, but the raspberry oozes together with the batter and nutty, chocolatey filling.
Unicorn Droppings, Washington
Seattle's Capitol Hill might just be the only neighborhood in the country to have two dueling carnival-themed bars. Each one has a unique vibe offering whimsical food and beverage menus, as well as an arcade, claw machine and photo booth. The 21-and-up Unicorn & Narwhal is like a playground for adults. The dessert menu focuses on fair-style, deep-fried sweets with upscale takes on funnel cake and deep-fried candy bars. Unicorn Droppings taste much better than they sound. Peanut butter cookie dough bites are deep fried to warm, gooey and crisp-crusted results.
Funeral Potatoes, Utah
This former auto garage shop is has become a go-to Salt Lake City hangout. It’s known for its fun riffs on comfort classics and is hailed for its deep fried interpretation of the traditional Mormon post-funeral side dish, a storied piece of Utah’s food culture. Instead of serving spoonfuls of cornflake-crusted casserole, this riff is rolled up into balls of Idaho potatoes, cheddar cheese, jalapeno, bacon and scallions, coated in a cornflake crust, "œbaptized in hot oil.” The savory, slightly spicy, crispy result is to die for. Just kidding!
Fried Green Tomatoes, Alabama
Fried green tomatoes are a mainstay throughout the South. The version sold at Irondale, Alabama’s Irondale café, though, is responsible for pushing the traditional dish into the national limelight — and the Hollywood spotlight. Since the release of Fried Green Tomatoes, the 1991 film based on Fannie Flagg’s book, the crisp, salty, tart slices of fruit jumped out of the South’s frying pan and into the national fire. And the restaurant that inspired the heartfelt movie became the preeminent fried green tomato destination, selling 600 to 800 slices a week to hungry tourists looking for a slice of female empowerment. Available as a side dish or main course, the rounds are served with a creamy and spicy remoulade.
Fried oysters are a staple up and down the East Coast, from the top of Maine down to Key West. But in South Norwalk, Connecticut, Match's Chef-Owner Matt Storch has created an upscale variation that could be the state dish. Local bluepoint oysters are dredged in semolina batter, fried to a flaxen hue and set back in their shells. Served warm, each mollusk is topped with cool beef tartare and a touch of aioli.
Pitchfork Fondue, Wyoming
Cowboy cookouts are on many tourists' Wyoming to-do list. Though it often means meats cooked out over an open-flame, Pitchfork Fondue prefers to serve meat cooked on a pitchfork in large cauldrons of hot oil heated by wood fire. Guests take in views of the Wind River Mountains while noshing on sizzling hot, deep-fried steak, chicken, buffalo bratwursts and sides like potato chips and onion rings.
Barberton-Style Chicken, Ohio
Fried chicken is popular around the globe, but Barberton, Ohio, is confident enough in its take to declare itself the Chicken Capital of the World. That’s due to the bounty of fried chicken joints that use recipes imported from Serbia 80 years ago. The wings, breasts, thighs, legs and backs (dubbed chicken ribs) of fresh Amish-raised birds are lightly salted, dusted in flour, coated in egg wash, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried in lard at places like Belgrade Gardens, where it’s served with white bread, coleslaw, fries and “hot sauce,” which is actually a Serbian-influenced stewed tomato and rice dish.