Zagat’s First-Ever Summer Food Survey: America Picks Its Favorites

By Zagat Staff  |  June 23, 2015
Credit: Nick Murway

Summertime is peak season for some of America’s most iconic foods, from ice cream cones to lobster rolls. The flip-side of all that affection? Intense disagreement. To try and get a sense of how people feel about these truly important food issues — like, what’s the best topping on a hot dog? — Zagat surveyed the preferences of more than 1,000 avid diners across the U.S.

Some of the highlights:

     — America’s quintessential summer dish, according to more than half of respondents, is the hamburger, followed by hot dogs, fried chicken and fish tacos.

     — The perfect refreshment to complement these savory summer eats? Iced tea is the No.1 nonalcoholic drink with 37% of the vote, with the proportion particularly high in the South compared to the other regions. The preferred alcoholic drink is beer with 35% of respondents. When broken down by gender, beer is tops overall among men, while women favor margaritas.

     — The majority of diners (51%) say ice cream is their favorite sweet treat in the summer (with males showing stronger support than females — 55% vs. 45%, respectively).

     —The worst thing to eat in the hottest months of the year? According to respondents, that would be hot soup (38%), followed by hot coffee (18%), fondue (13%), ramen and meatloaf (both 11%) and red wine (6%).

Read on to get deeper into the results; some of them may surprise you, and at least one of them is shocking — at least to anyone who grew up putting mustard, and mustard only, on hot dogs.

In the battle between East Coast and Midwest frankfurter styles, the classic NYC street dog (mustard only, with sauerkraut or stewed onions) eked out a 3% victory over the overstuffed Chicago style.

More shocking, however, especially to NYC hot dog loyalists, is the overwhelming percentage of people who mix mustard AND ketchup together on their dogs. Is it a sign of the food-pocalypse? Or just a sign that everybody loves to mix up salty and sweet?  

Though the flavor combination only dates back to the early 1980s, the crunchy-meets-creamy appeal of cookies ‘n’ cream now beats out chocolate and vanilla as America’s favorite ice cream flavor. Looking at the results by gender changes the results a bit: men pick cookies 'n’ cream as their No. 1, while women’s No. 1 pick is mint chocolate chip.

Over the past few years, lobster rolls have grown from a regional cult item to a national food phenomenon. Though Maine is the state most associated with the crustacean, diners chose the Connecticut-style lobster roll — served warm and dressed in butter — by a margin of almost two-to-one over the more common mayo-focused Maine style.

To coffee purists, frozen blended coffee drinks are an abomination. To everyone else, it’s just delicious! In our survey, the sugary-sweet beverage (which now comes in flavors like red-velvet cake and cotton candy at Starbucks) was America’s favor summer coffee drink by far. Even the trendy, hipster-approved cold-brew coffee can’t compete.

Whether you go to the carnival, the county fair or the boardwalk, the food stands are basically the same: favoring anything deep-fried, served on a stick or doused in powdered sugar. And no matter what you call the dish — elephant ears or funnel cake — the classic fried-dough specialty is diners' favorite carnival fare, beating out the next most popular item, corn dogs, by over a 20% differential.