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Most Popular Ethnic Foods in America

This Nov. 28, 2019, photo shows a plate of sweet and sour pork served at a Chinese restaurant in New York City.

Americans embrace and discover different cultures through their cuisine.

The United States is a melting pot, which means its food is, too. And although more states prefer Mexican cuisine, especially on the West Coast, more Americans overall give top marks to Chinese food, thanks in large part to the populous Northeast, which prefers the traditional standard takeout fare.

“Both cuisines have a rich history connected to the large immigrant Chinese and Mexican populations in the U.S., that brought their beautiful cuisines with them. And as generations settled in, they made both cuisines readily available and affordable,” says Georgie Mihaila of Chef’s Pencil. “Changing food patterns also play in. Americans are more adventurous and health conscious, and both cuisines are favored by these trends, Mexican, in particular, got a big bump by the avocado and taco crazes, which continue to grow strong.”

Chef’s Pencil, a foodie blog started by professional chefs, used Google date to determine the most popular ethnic cuisines in the country.

“Americans are becoming more adventurous in their food choices. Many of them are seeking new experiences, both when dining out and when cooking for themselves,” Mihaila says. “I think the pandemic was a great example of that with people trying out more foods that they would cook at home.”

Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines are also gaining U.S. fans. While immigrants often help refine America’s taste buds, in some cases, there’s a concerted effort to make certain ethnic foods more popular.

In 2002, for example, Thailand’s government started training chefs and sending them out to share their cuisine with the world. The aim of the "Global Thai" culinary diplomacy program was to boost the number of Thai restaurants worldwide.

Millennials, now the nation’s largest age group, are helping drive a desire for more diverse food experiences. Millennials, who are generally between the ages of 26 and 40, are more likely to share their experiences widely on social media.

“It's not just about the food, but also about the atmosphere, the culture, about ...experiencing something fun and memorable,” Mihaila says. “Millennials are so much more health conscious and savor cuisines that are less meat heavy, and they love to discover new cultures. This can happen easily through a cuisine, and once they discover something new, they share it with everyone they know.”

Taco selections at the Earth Plant Based Cuisine restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, Oct. 18, 2019.
Taco selections at the Earth Plant Based Cuisine restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, Oct. 18, 2019.

Ethnic food has generally been very affordable in the U.S. The immigrants who opened ethnic restaurants traditionally targeted other immigrants, who were not usually wealthy. Today, ethnic food continues, for the most part, to be cheaper than American food and certain ethnic cuisines like French food, which is considered to be upscale.

But that might be changing as more Americans look for a more elevating dining experience.

“Combining fine dining and ethnic food was not necessarily something people would go for in the past, but this has changed recently,” Mihaila says. “You have restaurants opening up across the country that are serving ethnic foods like Mexican, Thai or Indian, that are positioned to serve the upper end of the market, and the concept has been proven successful.”