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California Cuisine – famous dishes in the Golden State

California Cuisine shows the ethnical diversity of the people who make up this state. It’s a mix of fresh ingredients, vegetables, fresh cheeses, grilled meat, fish and seafood, nuts, and an assortment of cross-cultural dishes influenced by other international cuisines: Mexican, Chinese, and European.

California Cuisine – a cultural fusion shaped by history

Over time, California’s cultural history shaped its gastronomy. First, there were Native Americans, with their diet based on fruits, corn, pumpkin, and beans. When the Spanish arrived, they brought garlic, peppers, and olives, adding an exotic note to the way people prepared the meals. During the Gold Rush, a great influx of fortune seekers came to California from all over the world, bringing their own culinary traditions. Foods and dishes from China, Italy, and France, but also from the East Coast, merged with the existing West Coast gastronomy. California style of cooking began to take shape.

READ MORE: Cannoli – a staple of Sicilian cuisine

Later, in 1971, Alice Waters opened the famous restaurant “Chez Panisse” in Berkley, focusing on fresh and local products, organically and ecologically grown. It was a big difference from the traditional way of cooking, and the restaurant became a great success, first in the Bay Area and soon after in the whole state. That was the beginning of “California cuisine”, an internationally recognized gastronomy style, which leveled up the way people cook and eat their meals in the Golden State.

Today, eating in California provides you with a great diversity of tastes, adapted ethnic food with roots in immigrants’ home kitchens, and fusion dishes with a focus on freshly prepared local ingredients and constant innovation. 

Typical dishes in California

If you are wondering what the Golden State’s most-iconic dishes are, here’s the list of 8 California typical foods:

California Pizza

© California Pizza Chicken Restaurant

California Pizza is a type of light, thin-crust pizza with fresh local ingredients as toppings – artichoke, goat cheese, chicken, and avocado. Instead of tomato sauce, sometimes peanut sauce can be used. This type of pizza became very popular on the West Coast throughout the 1980s and even today is a Californian signature dish.

Where to try it:

Spago (Los Angeles), Chez Panisse (Berkley), Wolfgang Puck (Los Angeles), California Pizza Kitchen (Los Angeles).


California Pizza from

Cobb Salad:

© Fundamental Restaurant Los Angeles

Who doesn’t know the popular Cobb Salad? But did you know that it originates from California and has almost 100 years? In 1930, the now classic salad was invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. One night, the owner of the restaurant came home very hungry, and he made himself a dish with whatever he had in the kitchen at that late hour: Lettuce, Egg, Avocado, Tomato, Chicken, Onion, Bacon, and Blue cheese. And this is how one of the California signature dishes was born.

Where to try it:

Fundamental (Los Angeles), California Pizza Kitchen (Los Angeles)


Cobb Salad from


© Sotto Mare Restaurant

A fish or seafood stew (squid, Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, white fish) made with tomato sauce, garlic, and sometimes red or white wine. It’s a popular dish, especially in northern California, in San Francisco. The best place where you can have a Cioppino is North Beach, the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco. This is where, during the Gold Rush Era, Cioppino was invented by an Italian immigrant.

Where to try it:

Sotto Mare (San Francisco), Ferry Plaza Seafood (San Francisco)


Cioppino from

French Dip


It may come as a surprise, but French Dip is an American dish, and the only French thing is the bread. The recipe is simple: a french roll with sliced beef meat. But what makes this sandwich special is the fact that the roll is previously dipped in the juice from the meat-roasting process. It is said that it was invented in Los Angeles by Philippe Mathieu, a French immigrant, in 1918. While he was making a sandwich for one of the restaurant clients, he dropped the bread accidentally into a pan of roasting juices. The client loved this combination, he asked for the same sandwich the next day, and this is how a classic American dish was born.

Where to try it:

Phillippe’s (Los Angeles)


French Dip from

Burritos & Tacos

©The Taco Shop San Francisco

In California, you can find one of the most authentic and spicy Mexican Food. San Diego and San Francisco feature the best American-Mexican cuisine, with traditional Mexican dishes as well as fusion ones: California burrito – a classic burrito with fries added, Fish Tacos – with grilled or fried fish, lime, and avocado, and Mission Burrito – a huge foil-wrapped burrito, with lots of meat and sometimes without rice.

Where to try it:

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill (San Diego), La Taqueria (San Francisco), Taco Shop (San Francisco)


California Burrito from

Dungeness Crab

© Scoma’s Restaurant San Francisco

Like lobster is to the East Coast, this is how Dungeness Crab is to the West Coast.

Named after the port of Dungeness, Washington, the Dungeness Crab is very loved for its sweet and delicate taste. It is fished all along the coast, but people say the best crab is the one from the Bay Area, where the water is warmer.

Where to try it:

FarallonScoma’s (San Francisco)


Garlic Roasted Dungeness Crab from

California Roll

© California Roll Company Restaurant

Asian food was first introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s, with the first Chinese immigrants arriving in California. After 1920, the popularity of this food considered exotic began to grow, and many Asian dishes were adapted to fit the American style. California Roll, for example, is a fusion of Japanese and Californian cuisine and originated in Los Angeles in the 1960s’. The roll is made with rice, cucumber, avocado, and fish but is rolled inside out. Practically, a Japanese dish made with American ingredients in a new fusion style.

Where to try it:

California Roll Factory (Los Angeles), Akiko’s Sushi (San Francisco)


California Roll from

Sourdough Bread


Sourdough Bread tastes a bit more sour than normal bread due to its fermentation process, and the texture is denser. Although it’s said that Egyptians were the inventors of Sourdough Bread, San Francisco is the place that made it famous during the California Gold Rush. At Boudin, the oldest bakery in San Francisco, Sourdough Bread has been baking since 1849. This type of bread goes perfectly with other typical Californian dishes – like Cioppino and Clam Chowder, which is often served in a bowl made of Sourdough Bread.

Where to try it:

Boudin, Tartine Bakery (San Francisco)


Sourdough Bread from

Did you try one of these special California dishes? Let me know in the comments below!

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