Eat + Drink

Traveling for Thanksgiving? Eat Like a Local With Our Coast-to-Coast Holiday Food Guide

Thanksgiving is the ultimate American epicurean celebration. And though turkey is synonymous with the holiday, Thanksgiving dishes can vary greatly based on where the dinner table is set.

Every region of the country has its own unique take on the holiday’s food, incorporating its own culinary traditions, local produce and ingredients, and of course, the tastes of people who have settled there throughout the years.

No matter where in the U.S. your Thanksgiving travels take you, this coast-to-coast food guide will prep you for what might grace your plate — and the best local spots to sample these dishes.

Butternut Squash

Where: New England

The first Thanksgiving was in New England, so it’s no surprise that this region remains close to the original menu eaten by the Puritans and Native Americans. New England butternut squash is a close relative of stewed or boiled pumpkin, which was believed to have been enjoyed in the 1600s. The updated version is often seen pureed or made into a casserole with maple syrup and cinnamon for a sweet side dish.

Take in Boston Harbor views and Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, including butternut squash, at 75 on Liberty Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts.

Sauerkraut

Where: Baltimore

thanksgiving travel
Tangy sauerkraut dishes are a hit in Baltimore. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sauerkraut isn’t just for hot dogs or Reuben sandwiches. German immigrants in the 1800s brought the tangy dish to Baltimore at just around the time that Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1864. It’s been a staple ever since. Fans love the tartness of the fermented cabbage to offset rich turkey and sweeter fare like cranberries and sweet potatoes.

Head to Das Bier Haus for traditional German brews and beerhall fare, including seven different types of sausage served with sauerkraut.

Frog-Eye Salad

Where: Western United States

Despite its name, frog-eye salad doesn’t include amphibians or eyeballs. Frog-eye salad (also called Frogeye or frog’s eye salad) is a pasta-based dessert popular in the Western part of the country, in states like Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.

The dessert resembles rice pudding and features acini de pepe, a bulbous pasta similar to orzo. Mix-ins vary but can include vanilla pudding and sweetened coconut flakes along with fruit like mandarin oranges and mini marshmallows.

Many attribute the salad’s popularity to Mormon cuisine. Mormon culture is based in Utah and has spread to Nevada, Wyoming and California (known as the “Mormon Corridor”). Recipes often include convenience foods like Jell-O or pudding mix. With an emphasis on communal and social gatherings like potlucks and buffets, dessert salads are especially popular.

Enjoy casual, buffet-style eating and sample frog-eye salad at one of the Mormon Corridor’s oldest buffet restaurant chains, Chuck-A-Rama.

Spinach Maria

Where: Tennessee

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Creamy Spinach Maria is a must-eat in and around Tennessee. (Photo: Getty Images)

In Tennessee, Spinach Maria is a popular skillet dish that’s a spicy twist on creamed spinach. The cheesy dish features Monterey Jack, cheddar, and Velveeta and a kick of heat from red pepper flakes — all baked until bubbly hot.

The dish’s origins go back to Calhoun’s, a local steak and barbecue restaurant in East Tennessee, that opened in 1983. During holidays Tennesseans swap traditional spinach casserole or creamed spinach for their own copycat restaurant version of Spinach Maria.

Go back to where Spinach Maria originated by stopping at Calhouns. Don’t forget an order of ribs!

Flan de Calabaza

Where: Florida

In South Florida the influences of Cuban and Caribbean culture are undeniable. Flan de calabaza takes a popular Latin dessert, flan, and combines it with calabaza (pumpkin) for the Thanksgiving holiday. Made with condensed milk, cinnamon and pumpkin, it’s a seasonal twist on a familiar favorite.

Cuatro Leches Dessert Bakery has been serving Latin-American desserts in Miami for more than 30 years. Pick up the flan de calabaza plus the famous tres leches.

Cheesy Potatoes

Where: Michigan

thanksgiving travel
When in Michigan, try the cheesy potatoes. (Photo: Getty Images)

From mashed to au gratin, potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple. When in Michigan, try a state favorite: cheesy potatoes. As its name suggests this indulgent side dish features hash-brown potatoes oozing with cheese, sour cream and cream of chicken soup. Don’t forget the crushed potato chips on top.

Michigan had significant waves of German immigration and this side dish is likely a modern twist on Kartoffelgratin, a German potato casserole.

Head to Rykse’s award-winning, family-owned restaurant in Kalamazoo, Michigan — serving food from scratch for more than 31 years — for their cheesy potatoes.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

Where: Texas

The Thanksgiving cuisine of Texas is greatly influenced by its Mexican heritage. Sopapilla cheesecake combines sopapilla, a sweetened fried dough believed to have originated in Spanish culture hundreds of years ago, along with American cheesecake ingredients to create a buttery, sweet and cinnamon-infused dessert.

Sopapillas are enjoyed in many Spanish-speaking countries. For Mexican Americans celebrating Thanksgiving in the Lone Star State, sopapilla cheesecake is truly a cultural fusion.

Get a taste of sopapilla cheesecake at Bake Diva’s Bakery — which offers homey recipes inspired by the owner’s mother — in Burleson, Texas.

Mirliton Casserole

Where: Louisiana

With French, Spanish and African influences, the food of Louisiana reflects its international roots. Mirliton is a pale green squash (known as chayote in other parts of the country) that is dubbed the unofficial squash of New Orleans.

Mixed with Louisiana staples like Creole spices and shrimp — and sometimes spicy andouille sausage — this casserole (also called a dressing) is a favorite side dish in Louisiana.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, some of the most beloved mirliton dressing comes from the local supermarket. Head to a Breaux Mart location for this holiday favorite.