18 Pennsylvania Foods to Try

From its great tourist attractions to its important role in American history, Pennsylvania is known for lots of things, but being a culinary capital isn’t among them. After living here for 20 years, we believe it should be. There are so many famous Pennsylvania foods worth trying!

Whether it’s sweets or comfort food, these PA foods are as famous as the Liberty Bell or the Rocky movies. While you may see them imitated around the world, they have their humble roots here in the Keystone State.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite foods from around Pennsylvania.


Cheesesteak sandwich on plate
The iconic cheesesteak: ribeye and whiz on a sesame seed roll

Among the culinary delights and tasty treats, the Philly cheesesteak is probably the most famous food in Pennsylvania. Traditionally, the sandwich is made with melted cheese and thinly sliced ribeye–with or without onions–on a long hoagie roll. Simple and delicious.

The cheesesteak has several varieties in addition to the traditional, including pizza versions, vegan options, chicken cheesesteak, and more. The steaks are also famous (or infamous) for the rivalry of the two best known shops: Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly. Our favorites for a traditional steak are Dalessandro’s and Poe’s; Ishkabibble’s and McNally’s are winners when it comes to chicken cheesesteak.

Shoofly Pie

Shoofly pie is a common Pennsylvania food, especially in Amish parts of the state. In fact, it is very likely that shoofly pie was originated among the German immigrants in the state around the 1880s. It’s a rich pie known for its sweetness, which is why it can attract flies.

The pie is made from molasses or brown sugar with a mixture of flour, butter, and sometimes eggs. It is similar to coffee cake. It was traditionally served as a breakfast food, usually accompanied with hot coffee.

Soft Pretzel

Trays of buttered soft pretzels on display
Soft pretzels at Reading Terminal Market

The soft pretzel is to Philadelphia as deep dish pizza is to Chicago–an integral part of the city’s culinary fabric. Traditionally, it has a distinctive knot shape formed by intertwining the ends of long dough and folding them on each other. It was said that the soft pretzel was invented by an Italian monk to depict the crossed arms of praying children as a gift to them for learning their prayers. The tradition spread across Europe where it was embraced in Germany. Then, large numbers of German immigrants brought the doughy creation to Pennsylvania.

Soft pretzels are made of flour, water, and sugar. They can made topped with a wide variety of seasonings like cinnamon, salt, and nuts. In the Philadelphia area, they’re appropriate any time of day, including for breakfast.

For a company that does unbelievable things with pretzels, check out the Langhorne location of the Philly Pretzel Factory. They’re known for incredible designs, including pretzels shaped like leprechauns, Flyers’ mascot Gritty, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s nothing they can’t do.

Pittsburgh Salad

Pittsburgh salad is a layered salad mostly made with lettuce, salad dressing, vegetables, grilled meat, and shredded cheese. Sounds pretty standard, right? Except that the last (and arguably the most important) ingredient is French fries. The French fries help to add texture, saltiness, bulk and warmth to the salad. For a classic version, check out Pamela’s Diner.

Tomato Pie

Rectangular shaped pizza crust topped with tomato sauce.
Classic tomato pie

Tomato pie is another Italian-American food. It is very similar to pizza but is served without cheese and is comprised entirely of sauce (usually a thicker sauce that doesn’t run) and dough (the sprinkle of parmesan in our photo is an exception in an homage to the Eagles). The main ingredients are tomato sauce, salt, basil, and seasoning. Typically served at room temperature, tomato pie is usually cut as a rectangle instead of the common round pizzas.


Available as Kreamies, Krimpets, Kandy Kakes, or numerous other varieties, Tastykake is the brand name of a snack food that is is one of the most iconic foods in Philadelphia. From donuts to cupcakes and other sweet treats, they have been a regional favorite for over a century.

Roast Pork Sandwich

Thinly-sliced roast pork on a roll
Thinly sliced roast pork

Many long-time Philly-area residents believe the roast pork sandwich should get more accolades than the cheesesteak. Pork shoulder is slow roasted with onion, garlic, and lots of black pepper. Once sliced, the pork joins melted provolone cheese and broccoli rabe on a sesame seed roll. John’s Roast Pork in South Philly won a James Beard Award for theirs.


Pierogis are dumplings that have the shape of a half-moon. They are stuffed with mashed potatoes, fried onions, meat, or other ingredients such as eggs, vegetables, and cheese. They can be prepared fried or boiled, depending on your desired texture.

Pierogis are high in fat, but it mostly depends on the size, what they are stuffed with and how they are prepared. For more flavor, sour cream can be added to pierogis to lighten the dough. They are popular in Slavic countries and arrived with immigrants who came to the state to work in the anthracite coal fields.


Probably one of the more polarizing Pennsylvania foods, scrapple is made from scraps of pork that are combined with cornmeal and spices. The mix is then formed into a loaf and sliced before frying. It originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch as a way to avoid wasting food, and some people joke that it includes every part of the pig but the squeal.

With some similarities to Spam, scrapple isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of people who regularly enjoy it for breakfast hot off the grill. If you’re looking for somewhere to try it, we recommend Dutch Eating Place in Reading Terminal Market. It doesn’t get more authentic.


Wawa Italian hoagie sandwich with cold cuts, lettuce, and tomato on a Wawa wrapper
The iconic Italian hoagie from Wawa

Hoagies are a Pennsylvania classic. The sandwich comes on a long bread roll piled high with cheese, meat, and vegetables. It originated from Italian immigrants at the Hog Island shipyard during World War I, earning it the nickname of “hoggie,” which later became “hoagie.”

The rolls are usually at least six inches in length and served cold. Because it originated from Italian immigrants, many of the ingredients tend to be Italian.

Whoopie Pie

One of the best loved sweets in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, whoopie pie is a traditional Amish food. It is typically two pillowy chocolate cookies sandwiching a sweet, creamy filling. According to Amish legend, children would exclaim, “whoopie!” when they got one of the cakey creations for lunch, thus giving it its exuberant name.

Whoopie pies are widely available around Pennsylvania. They’re especially easy to find around Lancaster thanks to the Amish presence, but many bakeries also carry them, sometimes with different flavors of cookies and filling.

Chipped Chopped Ham

Chipped chopped ham is a staple of western Pennsylvania. It starts off as a loaf of ham made of ham chunks, trimmings, and seasonings that are ground together and molded into a loaf. Using a meat slicer or chipper, the chopped ham loaf is sliced super thin to give it a fine texture often called “Pittsburgh-style.” For the classic, Isaly’s brand is the way to go.

Water Ice

Cup of water ice
Water ice: shaved ice in the ubiquitous paper cup

Water ice is a Philly mainstay. Typically available from March 1 through late October, this refreshing fruity snack is similar to sorbet or granita, but if you call it anything other than “water ice,” you will instantly brand yourself as an outsider.

The frozen dessert is made of water, sugar, and juice or puree. The best ones also include small pieces of fruit and stay away from extra flavorings. If something can be both firm and soft at the same time, that is the texture of water ice.

The broad presence of Rita’s Water Ice locations means it’s easy to find, but Philly purists will let you know that the best places for water ice are usually considered to be classics like John’s and Pop’s in South Philly.

Herr’s Chips

Herr’s chips is a brand of potato chips based in Chester County. For over 75 years the family business has supplied some of the best chips around to delis, grocery stores, and more. Whether kettle chips, barbecue, or classic sour cream and onion is your style, Herr’s has you covered. There are dozens of potato chip flavors as well as pretzels, popcorn, and cheese puffs.

Herr’s is well-known for its regular contest in which they make chips that echo flavors found in popular Philly dishes like roast pork and tomato pie. People are encouraged to try all the new, creative flavors and to vote for their favorites.

Birch Beer

Birch beer is a sweetened carbonated soft drink made from the sap of birch trees. While it sounds a little unusual, the flavor is similar to root beer with notes like vanilla, wintergreen, and licorice. You may find it in red, brown, and clear versions.

Mushroom Strudel

Roughly half of the mushrooms in the US come from Chester County, hence the famous Kennett Square Mushroom Festival held every September. As a result, it’s no surprise that mushroom dishes like mushroom strudel are popular.

Similar in appearance to classic Austrian dessert strudel, mushroom strudel frequently includes sliced button and shiitake mushrooms. They can be sautéed with garlic and butter or combined with other delicious add-ins like ham and cheese. The filling gets wrapped in phyllo pastry before being baked to a golden brown and sliced.

Irish Potato Candy

Three Irish potato candies and a box from Shane Confectionary
Irish potato candy looks like a mini potato

In eastern PA, the spring means Irish potato candy season. These tasty little treats are sold in the weeks leading up to Easter and are an annual tradition. And, no, they aren’t actual potatoes.

These seasonal Irish potato confections are made from butter and powdered sugar plus cream cheese, sweetened coconut flakes, and vanilla extract. Once everything is combined, they are shaped into mini potatoes and rolled in ground cinnamon to complete the look. Given the dairy, these need to refrigerated…and consumed quickly, which usually isn’t a problem.

These treats are eaten almost exclusively in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. If you keep a lookout in the spring, you’ll often find lots of riffs on the traditional candy, including Irish potato flavored cookies from Insomnia Cookies and even ice cream.

Burnt Almond Torte

Burnt almond torte is a delicious and unique cake typically baked in a square shape and made with almonds, brown sugar, eggs, flour, cornstarch, and whipping cream. It is usually filled with pastry cream and covered with sugared almonds. Burnt almond torte was first created by Henry Prantl at Prantl’s Bakery in Pittsburgh, and it has been the bakery’s signature for over 50 years.

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