For some, road trips are typified by national parks and pitstop kitsch. For others, they’re an opportunity to map out an entire vacation around pepperoni rolls. Road trips, in whatever form or direction, are an Americana pastime that really kicks into full-gear in the summer, when parks are open and beaches beckon. But you’d be hard-pressed to find something more Americana than a road trip fueled by food: barbecue, pepperoni and pimento cheese.
Across the country, “food trails” offer deliciously themed itineraries oriented around specific regional foods. More so than mere roadside snacks, though, these trails are destinations in and of themselves. So this summer, if you’re not beelining it to Yellowstone, embark on a regional road trip to remember along any of these 10 great American food trails.
West Virginia is a place of rugged — and wildly underrated — beauty. It’s a place teeming with history and all-American lore. It’s also a place that knows how to treat pepperoni. Welcome to the Pepperoni Roll Trail, a route that traces West Virginia’s official state food — one that stuffs pepperoni inside various types of bread. Although they’re made differently in various parts of the state, pepperoni rolls initially emerged as a convenient snack for Italian immigrants who needed to carbo-load while working in coal mines. A far cry from a mere pizza pocket, the rolls are typically made by baking spicy, toothsome bits of pepperoni inside fluffy, doughy and slightly sweet rolls. That contrast of sweet and spicy, found in Italian-inspired bakeries and restaurants throughout the state, is what’s created an enduring snack specific to West Virginia. Along the state’s designated Pepperoni Roll Trail, stops include Barney’s Bakery in the northern town of Weirton, where yeasted rolls come with cheese and hot peppers; Colasessano’s World Famous Pizza & Pepperoni Buns, an aptly dubbed Fairmont eatery known for serving super-sized rolls that look more like open-faced sandwiches; and Country Club Bakery, the Fairmont institution credited with originating the art form of stuffing hand-cut pepperoni sticks into rolls.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is among the most iconic potable trails in the nation, but for something a little more curated, you’ve gotta rove through Covington. Oft referred to as the gateway to bourbon country, this charming small city on the Ohio River abounds with history, architecture, metropolitan amenities and foodie wonders aplenty. It’s all ideally experienced along The B-Line, a self-guided bourbon tour in and around Covington that makes for a convenient taste of the region and its multifaceted restaurants and bars. In addition to containing five distilleries that are also apart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, The B-Line includes several bourbon-centric bars and restaurants in Covington and neighboring communities like Newport, Maysville and Sparta. The different “sipping points” along the line offer distinct environments in which to imbibe, including classic Italian Caproni’s Restaurant, Lisse Steakhuis, the whimsically themed Second Sight Spirits and Revival Vintage Bottle Shop, featuring a masterfully curated assemblage of singular spirits. Be sure and stop at Libby’s Southern Comfort for a bourbon-soaked Cheerwine slush and a plate of goetta hush puppies.
From Juicy Lucys in Minnesota to green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, regional burgers can be found all over the country, which would make for an epic foodie road trip in and of itself. Or you can save gas and hone in on an underrated regional burger style found only in Oklahoma. Fried onion burgers, which first arose during the Great Depression when cooks pressed chopped onions into smashed patties as a way of stretching out their provisions, are primarily found in the town of El Reno, an Oklahoma City exurb about 30 minutes west. Here, there are three old-school institutions that have been slinging onion burgers for generations, and they’re all within a three-block stretch. Robert’s Grill, a tiny frills-free diner that’s been open since 1926, is arguably the best, joined by nearby Johnnie’s Hamburgers & Coneys and Sid’s Diner. They all serve similar versions of the same burgers — thin patties cooked on seasoned griddles with slivers of onions pressed right into the patties and seared until crispy. More modern versions of onion burgers have trickled east, making for a feasible onion burger trail that extends into the city. Stops include the fast-casual mini chain Tucker’s Onion Burgers, the newly opened Sun Cattle Co. and Nic’s Grill.
For dessert with a side of whimsy, save your sweet tooth for a drive through Surry County, North Carolina. Located just south of the Virginia border, this is the only place on Earth that refers to cobbler as “sonker,” which sounds just peachy. A buttery homage to the county’s seasonal fruits, the Surry Sonker Trail spotlights eight local businesses — including bakeries, a general store and a winery — putting their stamp on the confection. All located within 40 minutes of one another, stops include Anchored Sweet Treats and Savory Eats, Rockford General Store, Skull Camp Social House and Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, where you can have your cobbler a la mode with moonshine ice cream. Flavors change at all trail stops, based on what sonker-friendly fruits are in season, but rest assured each and every one will be ooey-gooey good. In other whimsical news, the same county just debuted a savory trail, the Surry Ground Steak Trail, which rounds up a regional hamburger specialty that looks like a sauce-free sloppy Joe.
From Kansas City to Texas Hill Country, makeshift barbecue trails can be found in meaty meccas all over the U.S. But the largest barbecue trail in the country is hidden where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it: Mississippi. While the state may not have the barbecue reputation of some of its regional peers, the low-and-slow cuisine is a revered pastime here, and it’s aptly celebrated and showcased via an epic Barbecue Trail that includes more than 200 stops, from full-service restaurants to gas stations and food trucks. With so many eateries on the trail, stops are scattered throughout the entire state, including Clay’s House of Pig in Tupelo, Magnolia Blues BBQ Company in Brookhaven, Abe’s Bar-B-Q Drive-In in Clarksdale and The Pig & Pint, a Jackson staple that skews contemporary with barbecue tacos, pork belly corndogs and fried baloney sandwiches.
Fun fact: root beer was invented in Pennsylvania in 1875, and it’s such a beloved beverage that it helped inspire an entire trail dedicated to fermentation and pickling. Nowadays, the trail delves well beyond root beer to include all manner of fermented fodder, from kombucha and cheese to teas, ciders, beers and sauerkraut. More than 100 stops on the trail can be found all over the state, including plenty of country farmhouses serving their own homemade root beer. In western Pennsylvania, stops include the kombucha bar at Collage Coffee and Art House, Fairview Swiss Cheese, Core Goods for sauerkraut and pickles and Blackbird Distillery for moonshine and fermented sundries. Further east towards the center of the state, Dutch country roads make for a particularly tasty route, teeming with farmers markets and roadside stands slinging everything from chow chow to cottage cheese. Then there are the Poconos, home to adorable businesses like The Canning House, Bullfrog Brewery and Berry Fields Farm.
In South Carolina, pimento cheese is more than a snack — it’s a way of life. One of the earliest printed recipes for pimento cheese dates back to a 1912 cookbook published in the state capital of Columbia, and it’s remained a revered native staple ever since. In 2019, the city created a Pimento Cheese Trail and passport program that allows hungry visitors to indulge in various comfort food iterations all over town. By using the digital passport, visitors can easily follow along the trail that includes nearly 20 stops — each one offering its own special variation. These include spicy Creole pimento cheese at Bourbon bar, Southern egg rolls filled with pimento and pulled pork at The Root Cellar, a vegan pimento dip at Good Life Cafe, pimento cheese fries at Midwood Smokehouse, pimento and sausage biscuits at Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits, pimento cheeseburger pizza at Terra and good ol’ fashioned pimento cheese sandwiches at Sandwich Depot.
Pizza trails are far from novel, with versions in New Jersey, Connecticut, Alabama and, um, Scranton. But one newcomer spotlights a singular style of pizza in a city not typically regarded as a destination for such things. We’re talking about Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and an underrated gem when it comes to food. This is particularly true in the pizza department, as evidenced by the city’s recently launched Pizza Trail, which rounds up and showcases a unique style of pizza. Columbus-style pizza is marked by its thin, crunchy crust, toppings covering every square inch of the pie, and small square-shaped slices, found in restaurants of all different styles around town. The trail can be traced via a free digital pass, which contains nearly 20 venues to hit up — these include Antolino Pizza, Grandad’s Pizza, Pasquale’s Pizza & Pasta House and Cardinal Pizza, a relative newbie that gets crafty with toppings like elote, meatballs, oven-roasted tomato pesto and even a cinnamon-flecked Hawaiian pie.
Even though you should probably consume bacon-wrapped hot dogs in moderation, there’s something undeniably special about Sonoran hot dogs. A Tucson tradition, they’re made with bacon-wrapped dogs piled with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, mayo, mustard and salsa in a fluffy bolillo-style bun. Larger and burlier than standard Americana hot dogs, they’ve become the resident comfort food of southern Arizona — enough to merit a full-blown hot dog trail of its own. All easily accessible in and around Tucson, and all served in casual settings, said trail features icons like Aqui con El Nene and El Guero Canelo, a joint that started as a food cart and earned an America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation in 2018. Other stops include BK Tacos, El Sinaloense Hot Dog Cart and Ruiz Hot Dogs, a local classic served out of a permanently parked cart on the south side, where the horchata provides a pleasantly sweet counterpoint to all that meat.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in Wisconsin, eat your weight in cheese. This famed dairy state — which produces some 2.8 billion pounds of cheese annually — is proud of its traditions, with creameries and cheese-slinging markets and restaurants found in every nook and cranny, from big cities to small towns. It’s such a central part of local lore here that the state created the Great Wisconsin Cheese Tour, two multi-day itineraries that weave their way through different regions. One option is the Southwestern route, which winds through Madison, Green County, Sauk City and Spring Green at stops like Fromagination cheese shop, Dane County Farmers Market, New Glarus Brewery and Carr Valley Cheese, which is particularly famed for its curds. The other regional option covers the Eastern portion of the state, including stops like Usinger’s Famous Sausage in Milwaukee, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa and the Union Star Cheese Factory in Fremont.