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The many different types of cuisine available in the U.S. are woven into the country’s fabric. Whether choosing a local or a chain restaurant, or a regional or national grocery store, there are typically plenty of food options to be found. That diversity is reflected in Americans’ food preferences, but a few types of cuisine appear to be more favored than others.

Recent CivicScience data show that two types of cuisine are beloved by Americans: Italian and Mexican. A third of U.S. adults vote Mexican food as their top choice when asked to select between six of the most popular types of cuisine commonly available in the U.S. aside from American cuisine (Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Chinese). More than a third (35%) say Italian is their preferred cuisine. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Indian cuisine are each less popular in comparison, although Chinese is favored by 14% of the general population.

How do food preferences vary across demographics? Age is a major factor when it comes to cuisine. Mexican food is the top choice among anyone under age 55, whereas Italian food is the leader among Baby Boomers. But it’s Gen Z that exhibits the broadest palette, followed by the Millennial generation. Together, Japanese and Chinese cuisine has much greater appeal to Gen Z adults (totaling 34%) than Italian food, differing significantly from adults 55 and up.

Cuisine Preferences Vary by Region

Preferences vary widely across the United States. Half of people living in the Northeast name Italian food as their top choice, but more than 40% of those in the West prefer Mexican.

Likewise, Americans living in cities are more likely to prefer Mexican cuisine than Italian, but Italian is the cuisine of choice for those living in the suburbs. Interestingly, urban and rural dwellers have similar taste preferences.

Restaurant and Grocery Shopping Choices by Taste

Naturally, preference for certain types of cuisine is bound to dictate to some extent where consumers dine and shop for groceries. Here are a few key restaurant findings from the CivicScience InsightStore:

  • People who dine most often at fast-food restaurants prefer Mexican food first (39% say it’s their top choice), followed by Italian (33%), and Chinese (15%).
  • For casual restaurant diners (such as Olive Garden, Applebees, etc.) and independent/local restaurant diners, Italian food is the top choice out of the six types of cuisine, followed by Mexican.
  • Fast-casual diners are about twice as likely to prefer Japanese cuisine when compared to those who like to dine out at other types of restaurants (fast-food, casual, upscale, or local/independent).
  • Those who like to dine at upscale restaurants are more likely to prefer Thai and Indian cuisine.
  • Italian and Mexican are the top choices among people who use restaurant delivery services such as DoorDash the most frequently (on a weekly basis).

Do food preferences have an impact on where consumers shop for groceries? Grocery store availability varies across the U.S. by region and location, but broadly, data show shoppers of certain types of grocery stores are more or less likely to prefer one type of cuisine over another. For example:

  • Mexican food is the leading cuisine type among supercenter (Walmart or Target) grocery shoppers, outweighing Italian.
  • People who tend to shop at membership clubs (such as Costco) and specialty grocers (such as Whole Foods) have the most diverse tastes. Notably, 15% of membership club shoppers prefer Indian cuisine, while 20% of specialty grocer shoppers prefer Chinese cuisine.
  • Italian food is tops for large regional grocery chain shoppers (such as Safeway), as well as for people who tend to shop at other types of stores not listed.

Italian and Mexican food continue to be incredibly popular among U.S. consumers, but preference varies widely by location and age. As the data show, Millennial and Gen Z adults appear to have broader cuisine preferences compared to older generations, which is likely playing into where they choose to dine and shop for groceries.

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