From burgers and beer to pizza and popcorn (and a little bit of everything in between), visitors will encounter the delicious flavors of America as they travel through Mississippi River Country. Sample fresh-caught fish in the wilderness of northern Minnesota, tour a world-renowned distillery in rural Tennessee or marvel at the mixture of flavors and cultures at award-winning restaurants in New Orleans. On your trip through the heart of America, you’ll find food and drinks to satisfy any appetite. Here are some of the iconic dishes you’ll discover in Mississippi River Country.
Foods to try: Walleye, wild rice, Juicy Lucy
Where to try it: Minnesota is known as “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”, so it only makes sense that one of their top dishes is walleye, a freshwater fish found in many of the state’s lakes. Head to Bemijdi to find the Minnesota Nice Café, which features fish caught on nearby Red Lake.
Get a taste of Minnesota’s Native American culture with wild rice, some of which is still harvested using traditional methods in the northern part of the state. You’ll find Minnesota-produced rice in grocery stores and specialty shops throughout the state.
Looking for a local delicacy? Head to Minneapolis to try a Juicy Lucy—a burger with the cheese inside the patty—at Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club, which both take credit as the inventor of this savory sandwich.
Getting there: The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are easily accessible via car, shuttle and light rail from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Bemidji is a 375-kilometer drive (about 4 hours) from Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
Food/drinks to try: Beer, cheese curds
Where to try it: Wisconsin is home to numerous breweries, including the famous Miller Brewing Company, which has called Milwaukee home for more than 150 years. Tours are available daily at this historic facility. If you want to try beer that’s only available in Wisconsin, head to the iconic New Glarus Brewing Company, located about 45km southeast of Madison. New Glarus’ beer is not distributed to other states, so be sure to head to their brewery or buy a six-pack at a local store to sample New Glarus’ popular Spotted Cow lager.
Wisconsin is also known as “America’s Dairyland,” so visitors should sample ice cream, cheese and other delicious dairy products during your visit. Fresh cheese curds—which also come deep-fried—are available at bars and restaurants throughout the state and can even be found at the Wisconsin-based fast-food restaurant chain Culver’s. If you’re visiting in the summer or early fall, head to the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee or Green County Cheese Days in Monroe to taste more delicious curds.
Foods to try: Deep-dish pizza, Garrett Popcorn
Where to try it: Illinois offers an array of delicious food and drinks across the state, but there’s one dish that stands out above the rest: Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza. With a thick, buttery crust, gooey cheese and chunky sauce, this Windy City classic won’t leave you hungry. (Some pizza places even let you order a pie from out of state!) Two iconic spots for Chicago-style deep dish are Giordano’s, which has been making pizzas for nearly 50 years, and Lou Malnati’s, which has more than 50 restaurants in the Chicago area.
Food/drinks to try: Whiskey, barbeque
Where to try it: If there’s one thing Tennessee is known for, it’s whiskey. The Volunteer State is home to the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, featuring more than 30 distilleries that produce whiskey and moonshine. The most famous of these is the world-renowned Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, which is a 90-minute drive (120km) from Nashville.
If you’re headed to Memphis, don’t miss out on the city’s renowned barbeque while you’re checking out local attractions like Elvis Presley’s Graceland or Beale Street. For an out-of-the-way restaurant that offers out-of-this-world cuisine, visit Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has been serving mouthwatering barbeque for more than 70 years.
Food to try: Tamales, barbeque
Where to try it: When you’re traveling the Arkansas Delta, you’re sure to come across a roadside tamale stand. Arkansas’ tamales derive from the Spanish and African-American cultures of the Delta. They are usually made of ground beef, which is surrounded by cornmeal masa, wrapped in a cornhusk and then steamed. These delicious, quick snacks can be found in lots of places, but some of the best can be found at Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock and Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village.
Like its neighboring states, Arkansas is also well known for its barbeque. Travelers can discover many notable barbeque joints, like McClard’s Bar-B-Q in Hot Springs, a favorite of former President Bill Clinton, or Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, which is Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant.
How to get there: Visitors can fly into Clinton National Airport in Little Rock. From there, it’s about a one-hour drive (90km) to Hot Springs, a 90-minute drive (155km) to Marianna or a two-hour drive (200km) to Lake Village.
Food to try: Soul food, seafood
Where to try it: Soul food is the soul of Mississippi cuisine. It’s not hard to find restaurants that serve delicious fried chicken, okra, biscuits and gravy, collard greens, cornbread and more. Head to Jackson, the state capital, to find authentic Southern food at Bully’s Restaurant, which opened in 1982.
Catfish—particularly fried catfish—is a staple at many Mississippi restaurants, as it has more catfish farms than any other state. Visit Jerry’s Catfish House, located just south of Jackson on Highway 49, for delicious catfish in a family-friendly restaurant. Head to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to discover more delicious seafood like crabs, shrimp and oysters in cities like Gulfport, Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Popular dining destinations in this area include Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi and Gulfport and The Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis and Biloxi.
Getting there: If you’re staying in Jackson or want to explore the Mississippi Delta, fly into Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. For those wishing to visit destinations in the Gulf of Mexico, head to the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
Dishes to try: Cajun and Creole cuisine, cocktails
Where to try it: If there’s one place you shouldn’t miss when it comes to food in Mississippi River Country, it’s Louisiana. The melting pot of cultures here has created a unique blend of cuisines that incorporate French, Spanish, Native American and African American traditions. Cajun cuisine comes from the French Canadians who settled in Louisiana and is described as “country food,” while Creole cuisine is “city food” that comes more from the descendants of the area’s French and Spanish settlers. No matter what terms you use, the food is delicious; visit New Orleans and enjoy po’ boys at Adams Street Grocery and seafood and oysters at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House.
While you’re in New Orleans, you’re going to want to stop and have something to drink—this is the home of the cocktail, after all. Many famous drinks trace their origins to New Orleans, including the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane. In fact, New Orleans is home to the Museum of the American Cocktail, located inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.
Getting there: Visitors to New Orleans fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.