Lay's New Tastes of America Chips, Ranked
Over the years, Thrillist has continually chosen to highlight distinct regional food traditions across all 50 states (even Florida!), as we quickly realized the intersection of food and culture is, by extension, one of the most universally understandable and tangible shared differences in our lives.
Basically, people like to:
A.) Have a sense of pride/bragging rights about food they grew up with
B.) Explore food traditions in other places
C.) Think/read about food in general
And Lay's -- who have been known to veer slightly off the rails in the name of flavor experimentation -- are starting to lean in on regional foods, too, with the release of their new "Tastes of America" line. The eight new flavors will represent some of the most entrenched regional food favorites from sea to shining sea, and we are here today to test them, and rank them. This is essentially the most patriotic food you could possibly eat, this side of broiling a bald eagle -- which, actually would be unpatriotic, as they're endangered species and also a symbol of our freedom. So yeah, eat these chips instead.
8. New England Lobster Roll(Northeast)
This is a bigger bummer than a Masshole keying your car outside Yawkey Way just because you're rocking N.Y. plates.
I was more excited for this flavor than any of the other seven, mainly, because I really like lobster rolls, and feel like the seafood-flavored chip market is severely underserved. Let's get this straight: none of the chips in this line are bad, per se. They are still potato chips, and all the new flavorings are subtle enough to not make them sharply unappealing to the chip-eating masses. But this one… doesn't really taste like anything at all except a big chunk of semi-spicy butter. Which again, is fine. But it ain't no lobster.
7. Cajun Spice(Central Gulf)
This Cajun Spice flavor promised to send me straight to a culinary Carcosa, but what I got was a slightly less intense version of the "Crab Spice" flavor, listed below. It was underwhelming, and certainly not as memorable as a night out on Bourbon Street. Would not toss beads in its general direction.
6. Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice(Mid-Atlantic)
This is where things start to get (regionally) interesting. Everyone knows that Maryland does three things: Crab Cakes, Football, and Wedding Crashers quotes. And Old Bay -- oops, I mean "Crab Spice" -- is essential to at least one of those. These chips definitely taste like the "Crab Spice" Maryland natives routinely sprinkle over everything they consume -- short of their Natty Boh's. But it's a fairly one-dimensional flavor, which makes it pale in comparison to some of the complexity of these other chips. Yes, I'm serious.
5. Pimento Cheese(Southeast)
I'll be honest, I have not had the exquisite Southern pleasure of snacking on copious amounts of sharp, spiced Pimento Cheese in my day. But I like these chips. They basically taste like a cheddar that's celebrating a cotillion. They are a slight-spicy debutante ready to be introduced as a full blown snack food. It's just a little more refined than your normal chip, and it's fit to be melted down and spread over any number of hors d'oeuvres.
4. Thai Sweet Chili(Pacific Northwest)
I was extremely happy to see this specific choice from Lay's, as it highlighted one of most overlooked and underrated regional specialties in the country -- and one of my personal favorite dishes. The spice was there. The sweet was there. But, as with some of these flavors, I just wish they fully dug into the flavors, instead of curbing them. This should have been spicier, sweeter, and more true to the original flavor that inspired the chip. But yea, I still ate like 100 of them.
3. Deep Dish Pizza(Heartland & Mid-America)
As a big fan pizza chips in general (and someone who is still lamenting the loss of these beauties) a specifically deep dish varietal piqued my interest immediately. And, despite the fact that Chicago deep dish is generally an affront to my East Coast-elitist pizza values (it's more like an Italian sauce cake than a pizza, let's be real) Lay's partnered with Chicago legends Giordano's to make this cross-branding work of pizza-chain art. It has the tomato acidity right up front, but then there's this kick of seasoning at the end that is unmistakingly Chicago deep dish. This chip succeeds in actually tasting like the thing it is supposed to taste like. Which is frankly a pretty big deal here.
2. Chile Con Queso(Texoma, Mountain, SoCal)
I was skeptical about this flavor…. as, it didn't outright interest me at first. There was nothing about this flavor that stood out, and I feel as though -- unlike a lobster roll chip, for example-- I've had this chip before. But sometimes the things we expect the least out of, surprise us the most (like the Mission Impossible films, for example). This chile con queso flavor was spicy, cheesy, and most importantly, had this aftertaste that actually replicated the slight pepper kick of real chile con queso. It was like eating that gum in Willy Wonka that tasted like a full pot roast dinner, without any of the unsettling, body-morphing side effects.
1. Fried Pickles with Ranch(Midwest)
Coming in, this was an obvious favorite. I love pickles. I love ranch. And naturally, I love these chips. Frankly, this was probably the easiest chip for Lay's to make, as pickle-flavoring and ranch-flavoring each gel so well with potato chips in the first place. It's a proven commodity, 2x. And this chip nails it. From the packaging itself -- which inspired my mouth to water on first glance -- to the instant rush of pickle, and then, finally, the cascading touch of ranch that follows every bite, it all just works. Out of all of these chips, the fried pickle con ranch is the one that may truly make the leap from novelty to mainstay. And God in Heaven, I hope they don't last for a mere "Limited Time Only." I hope these chips are here to stay.