Like many midwestern states, North Dakota’s local cuisine was heavily influenced by European immigrants to the area. Because of this, the state’s most famous foods include a number of Scandinavian and Russian-German dishes, as well as classic Midwestern potluck food.
Check out our nine favorite dishes from North Dakota below, in no particular order:
Fleischkuekle (also spelled fleischkuchle) translates to “little meat pie”, and is a popular dish among North Dakota’s Russian-German population. The deep-fried turnover comes from Black Sea Germans and Crimean Germans, who immigrated to the Dakotas beginning in the late 1800s.
It begins with handmade dough, rolled into circles. The filling, usually comprised of ground beef, chopped onion, and spices, is folded inside the circles of dough, to form pockets of meat. The pastries are then deep-fried to create a crispy, golden-brown crust.
Many restaurants throughout North Dakota serve fleischkuekle (pronounced fliesh-KEY-kluh), particularly in Mercer County. Kroll’s Diner has an entire section of their menu dedicated to German specialties. The 50s-style diner operates several locations in the state, in Bismarck, Minot, Fargo, and Mandan.
Hotdish is certainly not unique to North Dakota, but it is especially popular in the state. The term “hotdish” comes from the Upper Midwest, and it’s something of a catch-all term for a specific type of casserole. Generally, hotdish contains a starch, a meat, and a vegetable, all mixed with canned cream soup.
One of the most popular varieties of hotdish combines tater tots, ground beef, and cream of mushroom soup. Other common fillings include pasta, green beans, corn, peas, hash browns, and potato chips.
Hotdish is a convenient dish that’s easy and inexpensive to make. This helped it establish a foothold throughout the Midwest as a way to feed many people at once. It became a popular food at church gatherings, potlucks, and large family dinners in the early 20th century.
You’re more likely to find hotdish at the family dinner table than at a restaurant. It’s very simple to make for yourself, however.
Nearly one in three North Dakotans have Norwegian heritage. It makes sense, then, that one of the state’s favorite dishes comes from Norway.
Potatoes, cream, and butter come together to create lefse (pronounced LEFF-suh). The Norwegian flatbread looks similar to a tortilla, though it’s a bit flatter and more irregularly shaped (and, unfortunately, rarely contains tacos). Lefse is often cooked on a griddle, topped with butter and sugar, then rolled up for serving.
Besides butter and sugar, common lefse fillings include cinnamon, jelly, sliced fruit, and even peanut butter. The dish is popular around holidays in North Dakota.
Freddy’s Homemade Potato Lefse has been in operation in Fargo since 1946. It began in the home of Fred and Lorraine Cox but expanded throughout the 1900s. The Cox family owned and operated the lefse company until 2020 when they retired and sold it to another North Dakota family with Norwegian ancestry.
Every Monday, Freddy’s ships out orders of lefse all over the country. Customers can use the company’s website to order boxes of this flatbread. Options include boxes of 20, 30, 60, or 140 lefse rounds.
Chippers have been called the “most famous dessert in North Dakota”. Invented in 1885, chippers are simply chocolate-covered potato chips. The snack food is salty-sweet with just the right amount of crunch.
William Widman, the inventor of the treat, hailed from Iowa, but he passed his recipe on to members of his family, who spread it throughout the Midwest. George and Betty Widman opened Widman’s Candy in 1949 in Grand Forks, and the confectionery is still run by the Widman family today.
Chippers are usually made with ridged potato chips– Widman’s uses Red River Valley chips, so even the potatoes are local. They can be dipped in any kind of chocolate and are often sold by weight.
Chippers are a popular gift around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. You can purchase them at either of their North Dakota locations or order online and have them shipped to you.
Though the walleye is not North Dakota’s official state fish (that designation belongs to the northern pike), it’s one of the most popular catches for fishermen in the state. The local walleye can grow up to 30 inches long and live for more than 20 years.
Many cities in the upper Midwest call themselves the “walleye capital of the world”, including Garrison, ND. Garrison boasts that it’s home to Wally Walleye, a 26-foot walleye statue (not to be confused with Willie the Walleye, the giant walleye statue in Baudette, Minnesota).
Regardless of which city or town actually catches the most walleye, you can’t visit the “Sioux State” without sampling the fresh-caught fish. You can eat them grilled or fried, added to salads or sandwiches; whatever your mood, walleye may just be the answer.
Beer & Fish Company in downtown Fargo offers several different walleye dishes, along with a variety of other fish. They also serve gooey butter cake, another Midwest favorite, for dessert.
Also known as kase knepfla, cheese buttons are another North Dakota dish with Russian-German roots. Similar to ravioli, they are small dumplings filled with a cottage cheese mixture.
Cheese buttons start with a soft noodle dough, which is flattened and cut into small squares or circles. Cottage cheese, sometimes mixed with egg, chopped onions, salt, and pepper, is dolloped into the center of each piece of dough. They’re then pinched shut and cooked in boiling water.
The small dumplings are popular enough in North Dakota that it’s been suggested they be named the state’s official food.
Lavonne’s Cheese Button Factory Plus showcases a variety of German foods, including both sweet and savory cheese buttons. They are located in Bismarck. Be sure to check online for hours of operation before heading out.
In 2007, a class of Williston 6th graders wrote letters to North Dakota legislators, proposing that the chokecherry be named the state fruit. The campaign was successful, and the small, purplish berry received the official designation.
The town of Williston holds the North Dakota Chokecherry Festival every year in August. The festival includes a free pancake breakfast, a fun run, live entertainment, a dog jumping competition, an outdoor movie, and a cornhole tournament.
In addition to all the events, the festival also features vendors with many chokecherry products. You can find chokecherry-flavored jam, butter, Italian soda, syrup, juice, and more.
If you aren’t visiting North Dakota during the festival, you can still find plenty of chokecherry products to commemorate your time in the state. Berry Dakota, a company started in 1996 in Jamestown, North Dakota, makes chokecherry jam, jelly, and syrup. Order forms and contact information can be found on their website; they will ship your order to you.
Cactus bread doesn’t really have anything to do with cacti or bread—it’s actually a type of pizza. It’s the signature dessert item at the popular Midwest chain Pizza Ranch. Though the pizza buffet didn’t get its start in North Dakota, it’s immensely well-liked here.
Cactus bread is a round cinnamon streusel topped with a sugary crumble and a drizzle of icing spiraling out from its center. The dessert is so sweet and soft, many people make the trip to Pizza Ranch just to get their fix of cactus bread.
There are over a dozen Pizza Ranch locations throughout North Dakota. Many of the locations offer online ordering and delivery services. Some of them also have a Pizza Ranch FunZone arcade attached to the restaurant.
Hot Beef Sandwich
Okay, the hot beef sandwich is technically a sandwich, but don’t plan on eating it with your hands. It starts with toasted bread, piled with sliced or shredded beef, but it doesn’t stop there. The sandwich is cut in half, and a scoop of mashed potatoes is plopped right between the halves. The entire dish is then slathered in gravy.
It’s not exactly certain where the hot beef sandwich comes from. There’s evidence of restaurants in the Midwest serving gravy-covered beef sandwiches as far back as the 1950s. Regardless, the warm, savory sandwiches are an excellent wintertime comfort food.
Charlie’s Main Street Cafe in Minot is a family-owned American-style restaurant. They serve hot beef sandwiches and, for those who aren’t fans of red meat, hot turkey sandwiches. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast and lunch.
Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty, filling meal or a sweet treat, North Dakota has what you’re looking for. Next time you’re traveling in the “Peace Garden State”, don’t miss out on their most iconic dishes.