Foodie Road Trip in the Midwest

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The Midwest is a great choice for your next food road trip, as it offers a mouthwatering selection of food, from urban restaurants to rural locales that grow fresh produce. From Nebraska to Michigan, you can sample famous diner foods, enjoy the immigrant heritage of the region, and connect with local food systems.
We’ve created a state-by-state guide to the best foodie spots in the Midwest. Aim for at least two days to hit the best spots in each state. Make sure you have car insurance and roadside assistance with Jerry before you go.
Loosen your belt—but not your seatbelt—and get ready to discover the ultimate foodie road trip in the Midwest!
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Kansas

Kansas is full of epic foodie destinations and you can cross the entire state in just seven hours. Whether you like classic barbecue, traditional German food, or innovative contemporary eats, you can find it here.

Why go to Kansas

Kansas is famous for BBQ made with a thick, sweet sauce. This state also invented the slider and they make a mean fried chicken. Finally, early German settlers in this area have created a legacy of old German food to discover. 

What to do in Kansas

A mural of famous Kansas figures and landmarks in front of three tall buildings.
Kansas City
  • Take a BBQ tour: The best spots for a BBQ tour are in Kansas City and Wichita. In KC, try Slap's BBQ and Jones Bar-B-Q. Stop in Overland Park out of town and hit Q39 and Jack Stack Barbecue. When you reach Wichita, head to The Angry Elephant or family-owned Bite Me BBQ to sample their killer relish bar.
  • Clay and Fire ($$): You’ll find plenty of classic diner-style options along the highway, but if you want to branch out beyond BBQ and counter-service, try the incredible Clay and Fire restaurant in Kansas City for some Mediterranean options. 
  • Farm dining options: If you’re feeling very adventurous, head to a farm like Juniper Hill or Liquid Art in Manhattan for the freshest food you’ll get.
  • Dessert options: Keep your eyes peeled for sour cream and raisin pie, a Midwestern classic. Another delicious item to sample in Kansas is grebble, a German fried dough dessert that is famous throughout the state.
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Missouri

Missouri is a perfect destination for a Midwest foodie road trip. There’s a lot to enjoy here in between meals! 

Why go to Missouri

Can you ever eat too much BBQ? We don’t think so. Missouri boasts a hybrid style of barbecue and an east-west trip across the state from Kansas City to St. Louis provides lots of tasting opportunities. Plus, you can find classic American treats like root beer floats (invented here!) and butter cake.

What to do in Missouri

Vanilla ice cream melts down a root beer float in a chilled glass.
Root beer float
  • Lambert's Cafe ($$): Lambert’s Cafe is a must-see stop (it’s home to “throwed rolls”). 
  • Long-and-slow cooked meat: But the real highlight is the low-and-slow meat. Kansas City is famous for burnt ends, but foodies should also sample the best of St. Louis’s BBQ at Pappy's Smokehouse or The Shaved Duck
  • Kemoll's ($$): Head to Kemoll’s for Italian fare in an upscale setting with a view.
  • Clinton's Soda Fountain ($): If you have a sweet tooth, make sure you hit up a soda fountain for a root beer float with authentic, Missouri-made Fitz’s Root Beer. Clinton’s Soda Fountain in Independence is a good choice.
  • Park Avenue Coffee ($):  Butter cake is another beloved treat in Missouri, and Park Avenue Coffee in St. Louis has 73 varieties to sample.

 Pro tips

  • It’s worth planning your stops in advance if only to ensure you have enough room in your stomach to sample everything!
  • Kansas City is split between Kansas and Missouri—be sure to double-check your addresses.

Illinois

Chicago is obviously a major foodie hotspot, but Illinois has a ton of hidden gems for the true foodie to uncover. Chicago is obviously a major foodie hotspot, but Illinois has a ton of hidden gems for the true foodie to uncover.

Why go to Illinois

The Windy City has a hot food scene with trendy restaurants galore. It’s also home to deep-dish pizza and a surprising abundance of German food. Leaving the city, you should visit Rockford, Peoria, and Springfield to get the full scope of Illinois’ best culinary offerings.

What to do in Illinois

A mural in Chicago depicts a yellow bear nibbling on a slice of pizza.
Chicago pizza mural
  • Alinea ($$$): Chicago’s Alinea—of Chef’s Table fame—is an incredible eating experience, though costly. 
  • Mi Tocaya Antojeria ($$): We also recommend Mi Tocaya Antojeria for small multiregional Mexican dishes. 
  • Lou Mitchell's ($$): Go to Lou Mitchell’s for a classic diner downtown with breakfast classics. 
  • The Berghoff ($$): Want some history with your meal? Hit the Berghoff for elevated German food and steins. 
  • Pizza spots: Pequod's ($$) is the famous deep-dish pizza joint in Chicago, although Giordano’s ($) is just as good.
  • Eats outside of Chicago: Continue your road trip to Rockford where Abreo ($$$) offers light but satisfying twists on American food. One World Cafe ($$) in Peoria has breakfast and lunch, and don’t miss the gourmet desserts. D'Arcy's Pint ($$) in Springfield is Irish food like you’ve never had it before.
Pro Tip:  Downtown Chicago has amazing food, but don’t be afraid to venture into the ‘burbs.

Iowa

Iowa has more than just cornfields! This state has old-school eats and award-winning treats that are guaranteed to satisfy.

What to do in Iowa

Among the buildings in this nighttime Des Moines skyline is the 801 Grand. Below, a river catches light reflections.
Des Moines
  • Proof ($$$): In Des Moines, head to Proof for fine dining. 
  • Iowa River Power Restaurant ($$): Iowa City’s Iowa River Power Restaurant is a great place for a delicious meal with a nice view.
  • Canteen Lunch in the Alley ($): Veer off the beaten path to Ottuma to dine at an Iowa classic, Canteen Lunch In the Alley, where you can try loose meats and homemade pie.
  • Bluff Lake Catfish Farm ($): Fish fry is the last classic you need to sample in Iowa. Head east to Bluff Lake Catfish Farm for the best in the state.

Pro tips

  • Don’t overlook simple foods on your foodie road trip. A freshly plucked ear of corn will blow your mind if you give it a chance.
  • Try to time your Iowa adventure so that you can hit up a State Fair or other major culinary event. This way you’ll get to meet the growers in person!

Nebraska

Did you know that Nebraska is the birthplace of Kool-Aid? Thankfully, that’s not the most surprising culinary discovery you’ll make when road tripping in this state.

Why go to Nebraska

The dark horse of Nebraska’s culinary scene is great Mexican food, thanks to farmworkers who settled here. In a state where school lunch means chili and a cinnamon roll, you can’t go wrong.

What to do in Nebraska

Faded bricks cover a road in Omaha. Cars are parked in front of shops and restaurants along the street.
Omaha
  • Meals to look for: Start your adventure by sampling the German foods famous in Nebraska: runza sandwiches, Reubens, and the sour cream raisin pie. Runza is Nebraska’s specialty, and it’s a delectable bread pocket filled with spiced meat and vegetables.
  • Dairy spots: Dairy is a big deal here, too. The deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich, AKA Cheese Frenchee, is indulgent and you can find it at most roadside stops. Ice cream parlors abound, too—we recommend heading to Omaha to try Coneflower Creamery ($).
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Wisconsin

Abutting the Great Lakes, Wisconsin offers excitement around every corner—and not just good eats but outdoor activities, too. This is one of the best destinations for a slow foodie road trip in the Midwest.

Why go to Wisconsin

You can find every type of quintessential American food here. There’s a coastal food trail, farm-fresh food, cranberry field, Danish pastries, and world-class cheese.

What to do in Wisconsin

On the left, three short docks jut out into the Milwaukee river. A white two-level boat travels on the opposite side.
Milwaukee
  • Take a cheese tour: If you want to hit the cheese trail and stuff yourself silly with cheese curds, then here are the best stops in Wisconsin: Fromagination, Penterman Farm, and New Glarus. Grab the official map before you go, and remember to bring a cooler if you plan to take anything home.
  • The Packing House ($$): Madison and Milwaukee have plenty of drool-worthy dishes to offer, too. Fish fry is popular in Milwaukee, and you can eat it just a few blocks from Lake Michigan at The Packing House.
  • Teddywedgers ($): Pasties are a beloved Wisconsin dish, and you can sample some of the best at Teddywedgers in Madison.
  • Racine:  Home to the Kringle—a flaky Danish pastry that’s become famous across the country thanks to the immigrants who brought the dish over with them. 
Pro Tip: Central Wisconsin has one final sweet treat: cranberries. Go in mid-autumn to enjoy harvest season at a real cranberry bog.

Minnesota

Why go to Minnesota

 The forests of northern Minnesota hold some delicious secrets, and your tastebuds will surely thank you for the extra few hours on the road. You can sample wild rice, native to the region, and catch your own walleye at one of the many lakes. 

What to do in Minnesota

Pink flowers partially frame a view of Minneapolis buildings. The Capella tower stands tallest among them.
Minneapolis
  • Matt's Bar ($): No Minnesota foodie road trip is complete without trying the Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar—just get ready to loosen your belt. The other classics are a tater tot hotdish (best served at a neighbor’s house who invited you over for a spur-of-the-moment dinner) and the walleye.
  • Scandinavian-inspired specialties: Scandi specialties include lefse, a lightly flavored flatbread, and lutefisk, which is cod prepared as a seasonal delicacy. 
  • Hot restaurants in Minneapolis-St. Paul: In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the hottest restaurants that highlight Midwestern flavors are Young Joni, Restaurant Alma, and Hyacinth
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Michigan

Car insurance is expensive in Michigan, but they make up for it with Detroit-style pizza. You’ll also find authentic Middle Eastern food, breweries, and the world’s fudge capital. Here’s what you need to know about taking a foodie road trip in Michigan!

Why go to Michigan

Detroit’s innovative food scene alone is definitely worth the trip, but the smaller cities like Ann Arbor offer plenty to discover thanks to a large population of Middle Eastern immigrants. Plus, Michigan is the fudge capital of the world and has some of the best local breweries in the Midwest.

What to do in Michigan

A carriage gets pulled down the street by two horses. Behind it is a bright yellow inn.
Mackinac Island MI
  • For Michigan sweets: If you like fudge, then go to Mackinac Island. Be prepared to take some home for later. Another famous sweet Michigan treat is a pie made from tart cherries. We also recommend Shatila Bakery in Dearborn for some incredible traditional pastries, cookies, and cakes straight out of the Fertile Crescent.
  • Try paczkis: When it comes to dessert, paczkis, Polish jelly-filled pastries, are beloved by locals. You can sample the best in the Hamtramck neighborhood at New Palace Bakery, or head southwest to Kalamazoo to visit the Sarkozy Bakery.

How do I plan a foodie road trip?

The best foodie road trips take some planning—nothing’s worse than planning your road trip around a restaurant that ends up being closed upon your arrival! Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Start by choosing what type of food you want to try. Are you looking for affordable and farm-to-table meals, or do you want to sample Michelin Star-quality food? Perhaps you are on a mission to find the best burnt tips in the Midwest.
  • Now, commit to a length. Is this a half-day trip, a weekender adventure, or a week-long pilgrimage? This area of the country boasts incredible art and recreational activities, and it’s well worth setting aside time for more than just eating. This decision will also impact your route since you can choose between the main highways or the sideroads.
Remember, you can always sleep in your car!
  • Make sure you have a roadside assistance membership: Before you hit the road, sign up for a roadside assistance membership with Jerry. Features include lockout services, towing, and even Uber credits (basically, everything to make sure you get to that dinner reservation on time, no matter the circumstances).
  • Choose a time of year. Traveling in the off-season (i.e., not summer) can save you money and allow you to avoid long wait lines. If you plan to invite friends or family, give them plenty of warning so they can set aside vacation time.
  • Check the Yelp reviews to avoid surprises. Sometimes restaurants change hands or hire new chefs and it doesn’t go to plan.
  • Don’t forget to make reservations and double-check operating hours! The "Closed" sign is a foodie’s worst nightmare.
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Roadside assistance

Getting hangry when you’re sitting on your couch? No problem. Finding yourself starving and stuck on the side of the road because of a flat tire? MAJOR problem.
Roadside assistance is the best—and cheapest ($6.99)—way to ensure that your road trip goes as planned. You can get towing assistance, flat tire replacement, fuel delivery, and even Uber credits if you get a membership with Jerry.
For the price of a couple of paczkis, it’s well worth the price to have on-call assistance in case of emergency.

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FAQs

What are the most famous fancy restaurants in the Midwest?

Alinea in Chicago is probably the most famous Midwestern restaurant. Chef Grant Achatz was featured on the Netflix show Chef’s Table. It’s very fancy (and very expensive), so be prepared to shell out for a nice meal here.

How many days should I road trip for?

If you’re only visiting one state, you could easily complete a foodie road trip in the Midwest on a weekend. You should allow seven to ten days for your road trip if you plan to explore more than two states.
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