14 Unique Pennsylvania Foods You Need To Try

If you think the only food that Pennsylvania is known for is its cheesesteaks, you should think again. While the cheesesteak is a huge claim to fame for Philly, there is much more to the state than that. There are unique foods and traditions that come from all over — including Pittsburgh — and even many things from the Pennsylvania Dutch.

But why try out all these potentially rare-to-you items? Well, for one, some of them are a genuine delight and your life would be all the richer for trying it. But, other Pennsylvania food items are, frankly, unique in a less appealing way. But still, the Pennsylvania area fawns over all these items, so we believe they are all at least worth a taste. From sweet desserts to many types of sandwiches, pizzas, breakfast items, and Amish creations, here are unique Pennsylvania foods you need to try at least once in your life.


Talk about a food with a questionable reputation. If we were making this list solely based on public opinion, scrapple probably wouldn't make the cut. In fact, it's likely a regional dish you've never even heard of. But, if you have heard of it, you probably thought the concept of it sounded gross. 

Scrapple is another staple Pennsylvania breakfast meat (brought over by German settlers), and it just happens to have a lot of baggage. It's consists of pork meat and trimmings and is formed into a loaf, then sliced and fried. It's extremely salty (perfect to go with plain eggs and toast), and it stays on the menus of countless restaurants and diners because, yes, people actually order and enjoy it. Even if the idea of it doesn't sound appealing to you, we think it's still worth trying this one, as you'll either find your new favorite breakfast food, or you'll gain major bragging points for having tried it.


People will put just about anything on top of french fries, won't they? Cheese, bacon, truffles, chives, and more are all common toppings nationally. But one we think is a crying shame that isn't more widespread is crabfries. And no, it's not a lump of crab meat on top of unsuspecting fries. Crabfries make any baseball game, a trip to the Ocean City boardwalk, or casual Saturday night dinner better.

Crab fries can be described as the perfect union between French fries and Old Bay seasoning. It's simply the combo you didn't know you needed in your life. Originated by the regionally-popular Chickie's and Pete's sports bar and restaurant, the concept of crabfries has exploded through the area, with countless eateries adding their own versions of the item to their menus. The people love crabfries, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't try them at least once.

Soft pretzel

Not all Pennsylvania food traditions pop out of Philadelphia. The state is much bigger than that. We're sure you've heard of soft pretzels, maybe at a certain mouthwatering stand at the mall, but in the Pennsylvania area, pretzels are less of a mall novelty and more of an institution.

Reading, Pennsylvania is actually known as the "Pretzel Capital of the World," and produces quite a ridiculous amount of pretzels, both of the large soft pretzel and smaller hard pretzel variety. And not only is the town production-central on pretzels, but they originated there, too. Well, at least in America. If you haven't set your sights on getting an authentic Pennsylvania soft pretzel, prepare to be disappointed in all other local-to-you pretzels moving forward. It's kind of like trying a real bagel from New York and then realizing the bagels in Florida are horrible (no offense to the Floridians).

Pittsburgh salad

Oh, Pittsburgh, you really know how to amp things up. Why have a normal lettuce and toppings salad when you could put french fries on it? No, we're not kidding. A Pittsburgh salad is famous for having a few key toppings on it, but specifically, the fries are what seal the deal.

You probably have to go to Pittsburgh to try this unique dish, as it's not commonly served anywhere outside the city. This salad typically has some veggies, like cucumber and tomatoes, along with the quintessential french fries and grilled chicken — and it's all drizzled with a very American ranch dressing. Of course, you could get it with any dressing you'd like on top (though you may get a few side-eyes). The Pittsburgh salad just proves that anything can be a salad if you try hard enough, and if you felt your croutons of the past just weren't enough carbs for you, the this salad will surely solve that dilemma.

Pittsburgh-style pizza

Pennsylvania has a slew of pizza styles throughout the state, and Pittsburgh lands its own claim to fame with the Pittsburgh-style pizza. It's easily not your average pie, as the ratio between the cheese, sauce, and bread is skewed far to one side. A Chicago deep dish pie will have the ratio between the three key pizza elements lean far toward the bread side, with a thick layer of bread on the bottom (hence the name "deep dish"). New York-style pizza will typically have a pretty thin crust and equal layers of all the main players, with no one element outshining the other.

Pittsburgh-style pizza chooses the cheese element of pizza and absolutely runs with it. There's as much cheese on a Pittsburgh-style pizza as there is dough on a Chicago deep-dish pie — and maybe even more. The ratios of this beast are probably 75% cheese, 20% dough, and 5% sauce. The Steel City is proud of its creation, and if you're in Pittsburgh, you could easily find a slice of Pittsburgh-style pizza on just about any block. Be prepared to take home leftovers, as it is a very hearty meal.

Tomato pie

Tomato pie, if you're unfamiliar, is not a delicate French pastry topped with ornately cut tomatoes. In fact, tomato pie is yet another kind of pizza that Pennsylvania is known for. And we're here for it. Tomato pie is an originally Sicilian creation, and it's focaccia bread topped with tangy tomato sauce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese on top. But here's the catch — the cheese isn't melted, and it's very common to eat this pizza cold. Not in a second-day leftovers way, but in a way that is entirely intentional.

Like gazpacho or a bloody mary, there are merits to cold tomato products, and the tomato pie just further proves that point. You'll often find a massive size of this square-cut pie laid out at parties or family gatherings for people to put a slice on their plate, and there's often even debate about whether you want a middle piece with no crust, or if you're a fan of extra crust and take that notorious corner edge piece. Tomato pie is genuinely good, and you're missing out if you don't give it a chance.

Water ice

No, we're not talking about shaved ice, sherbet, gelato, ice cream, or any combination of those sweet treats. We're talking about water ice, and, yes, it's an extremely popular Pennsylvania-region dessert. Water ice (or "wooder" ice, if you say it as such), is a term sometimes interchangeable with Italian ice, but it depends on what you're talking about. If you're referencing popular Italian ice spot Rita's, then you might say, "Let's go get some water ice at Rita's." 

Water ice is not the hard as the more solid Italian ice you might find in the freezer section of your supermarket — it's soft enough to easily put your spoon into, but it's not a liquid. It comes in a ridiculous amount of flavors, but if you've never tried it before, we recommend sticking with a simple flavor, like lemon, cherry, or root beer. Just be aware: Some places put little pieces of real fruit in the water ice, so keep that in mind.


While many confuse the calzone with Stromboli, there is a real difference between the two. Calzones are an Italian import, while Stromboli is a uniquely American spin on things, created in, you guessed it, Philidelphia.

If you've never tried a Stromboli before, let us enlighten you with what you'd be eating. A Stromboli is another iteration of toasted bread and cheese, and like so many greats before it (pizza, quesadillas, grilled cheese, etc.), what makes it special is the way the ingredients are put together. A rectangular piece of dough is filled with cheese, meat, and often peppers, and it's rolled, cooked, and cut up into easy-to-eat pieces. It's totally worth deviating from your usual order at your pizza place to try out a Stromboli. It just might become your new favorite "sandwich," or even your go-to lunch or dinner. Who doesn't love a rolled-up pizza filled with your favorite meats and cheeses?


They're literally called Tastykake for a reason. This gas station staple across Pennsylvania has so many different products, from miniature donuts to cakes to cookies, that if you're from the area, we'd be shocked to hear that you never tried one item from the brand at all. You can find these products, which cover everything from chocolate covered honey buns to fruit-filled danish, pretty much in every grocery store, Wawa, and Sheetz across the state. 

It's no surprise the baked goods are so beloved in the Keystone State; the brand is based in Pennsylvania — Philadelphia, to be exact. So the next time you're looking for a little afternoon treat, go ahead and try one of the many sweet treats from Tastykake. While the Tastykake product lineup includes plenty of great options to choose from, we're particularly fond of the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes and the Butterscotch Krimpets.

Altoona-style pizza

You might be thinking to yourself, where in the world is Altoona? If you're at all familiar with Pennsylvania geography, you'll know that Philadelphia is on the very eastern edge of the state, and then working your way west, you'll hit Allentown, Reading, Lancaster, and Harrisburg (north of which is Scranton). And if you keep going, you'll hit State College (We Are!), and Altoona. After that, if you just keep driving west, you'd finally hit Pittsburgh. That's all to say that Altoona is right in the middle between Philly and Pittsburgh, and like those two cities, it has its own signature dish: Altoona-style pizza.

If you thought that Pittsburgh-style pizza had a lot of cheese on it, wait until you hear about Altoona-style. This pizza can barely be called a pizza in our books, but it does technically hit all the markers. There's toasted bread, sauce, and cheese, but, ahem, the cheese on this pizza is, well, unique. Altoona-style pizza has gooey, melted American cheese slices on top of it, along with salami and green peppers. Those ingredients on their own sound like they would come together to create some sort of Wawa hoagie, but the folks in Altoona got creative and turned it into a pizza. Like scrapple, if you try this one, you'll either be pleasantly surprised with how much you enjoy it, or at least it'll be a story to talk about.

Amish friendship bread

Of course, the most wholesome food name on this list would be from the Amish. Amish friendship bread, adorable name aside, is a staple of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch, if you're unaware, are a specific group of Amish folks that settled in rural Pennsylvania hundreds of years ago, and have been contributing their culture to the region ever since. Among excellent carpentry, delicious chicken pot pies, and more, one of their contributions has been the iconic Amish friendship bread.

A bread that looks almost like a cake, the ingredients are simple, but what makes this bread shine is the amount of time and effort it takes to make — 10 days, to be exact, along with having an excellent starter to get things going. Most people put a large slab of butter and cinnamon on top of their Amish friendship bread and have it as an easy breakfast item or an afternoon snack.

Roast pork sandwich

Though many may say the best sandwich in Philadelphia is obviously the cheesesteak, others may stake a claim that the best sandwich in Philly is a roast pork. Both meat-based sandwiches are incredibly popular across the state and area, so much so that if you're from the region, you might not even realize the rest of the country doesn't have roast pork sandwiches on the regular as the folks in Pennsylvania do.

A roast pork sandwich is probably not a hard one to guess what's in it, just based on the name. It starts with a toasted hoagie roll, and is filled with slow-roasted pork (the best part) and toppings of your choice, like cheese and peppers. It's a uniquely Pennsylvania sandwich that would be a crying shame for more people not to try.

Primanti Bros. sandwich

Another Pittsburgh staple, the Primanti Brothers, known as the Primanti Bros., created a sandwich so compelling that the entire city has loved it for generations. Unlike some of the more meat-forward sandwiches of the Philadelphia area, Primanti Bros. sandwich is known for its topping of potatoes. That's right, the folks there are putting a carb on top of a carb, and what's not to love about it? The sandwich is comprised of french fries (there's that potato), coleslaw, melted provolone cheese, tomatoes, and a meat of your choosing, usually either ham, roast beef, salami, or even kielbasa.

But why try this if you're content with your cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches? Well, it's because the folks in Pittsburgh really go big or go home. The Primanti Bros. have essentially taken all the elements of a sandwich you typically enjoy, including the sides, and put them together in one mouthful. It's a symphony of flavors, and the fact that you get to choose your own adventure with the kind of meat you want just further proves this sandwich is all about the consumer experience, and there's no wrong way to do it. Except, that is, if you don't try it at all.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table, Mashed, and The Daily Meal.


Of course, it wouldn't be a Philly list without the not-so-humble cheesesteak. Not only is this a food item you should try from Pennsylvania, but you have to try this food if you're in Philadelphia. Whether you've heard of the famous rivalry between Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks or not, you probably understand that this sandwich is a Pennsylvania staple.

The sandwich that inspires so much trash-talking is comprised of a fairly long hoagie roll (yes, a hoagie, please don't call it a sub), with thin slices of warm beefsteak layered on it. But that's not where you stop — the fun is all in the toppings. You can get cheese on top (common choices include cheese wiz and American cheese), the biggest stack of caramelized onions you've ever seen, and as many spices as your heart desires. How can anyone call themselves a Pennsylvania expert or local if you haven't had an authentic cheesesteak?