There’s a reason they call America a melting pot. Sure, the phrase refers to the diversity of the population, but that variety of culture has led to an equally diverse food scene across the country. While certain locations have staked claims in particular cuisines (we’re looking at you, Texas brisket), many cities are in a constant battle to be the top food-lovers’ paradises.
To do this, cities can’t just be known for one type of cuisine anymore. Foodies demand ingenuity, creativity, and guaranteed deliciousness across a wide culinary spectrum. Sure, you can still find spectacular fried chicken in Nashville, but you can now also get tasty high-end Chinese cuisine and some of the best Italian food in the country there as well.
And with chefs at all levels of fame and success having a harder time opening restaurants in major hubs like New York and Los Angeles due to a variety of factors (competition and prices chief among them), many are moving to supposedly second-tier cities to open up new joints. That’s why previously overlooked destinations like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Greenville, South Carolina, are becoming hotbeds for food tourism.
There are dozens of ways to judge a city for its food. The number of restaurants, for one, is certainly an important factor. But equally important is the diversity of restaurants, and the number of good restaurants (including those that are exceptional enough to earn Michelin stars, in the few U.S. cities the Michelin Guide covers). Also worth taking into consideration is the renown of a city’s native foods, how thriving its food scene is in general, how ahead-of-the-curve it is when it comes to culinary trends, and how many great chefs are drawn to it. In a great food city, a top-notch rendition of just about any dish or specific style of cuisine is never far away. These are America’s 20 best cities for food.
The food scene in Austin is unreal. Sure, you can come here for excellent barbecue at hot spots like Franklin Barbecue, Lambert’s, and The Salt Lick. Or, you can count on the city for its top-notch Tex-Mex (trying a breakfast taco from Papalote is a must). But you can also get some of the best sushi in Texas at Uchi or an over-the-top afternoon tea experience at The Driskill hotel. Can’t make up your mind about what you want to eat? No problem. There are more than 1,000 food trucks in the city serving up everything you can imagine from falafel over rice (Halal Times) and brisket Frito pie (Micklethwait Craft Meats) to chow-chow doughnuts (Lucy’s Mini Donuts). The hardest part will be deciding what not to try.
It’s not all about lobster rolls and clam chowder in Boston (although you can get some pretty stellar ones at Pauli’s and Summer Shack). The Massachusetts city is home to just about every other type of cuisine out there. “Top Chef” alum Carl Dooley has the French-inspired The Table at Season to Taste, Yume Wo Katare boasts world-class ramen, O Ya is home base for sushi lovers, and Outlook Kitchen & Bar at The Envoy Hotel is spot on with its New American. One of the most talked about spots in town? Toro. Their tapas are the best in the city, making it one of the hardest places to get a table.
Charleston is still going strong with one of the country’s hottest food scenes, and there’s a reason why. Sure, there are iconic South Carolina dishes like shrimp and grits (Poogan’s Porch) and she-crab soup (Hominy Grill) that you may find on many menus scattered across the Lowcountry. But you will also find some movers and shakers who have shaped the look of Charleston's future food scene. For instance, Shuai and Corrie Wang have taken unfamiliar Japanese sauces and ingredients and presented them familiarly; their O.G. Chirashi Bowl is the talk of the town and has a cult-like following. Rodney Scott took whole-hog barbecue from a small town in South Carolina and brought it to Charleston where he won a James Beard Award for his mouthwatering cuisine. And Mike Lata has created restaurants like FIG and The Ordinary where the concept of "farm to table" is perfectly put into practice.
Watch out for this up-and-coming Ohio foodie hot spot. Cleveland, once mainly known for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is making a name for itself in the culinary world with a number of new openings. Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, known for its innovative work in foraging and fermentation, offers house-made breads, pastries, koji-cured pastrami, and root beer fermented in-house. Ushabu features Japanese hot pot with seasonal vegetables and proteins like Berkshire pork, wagyu beef or live scallops. And Ninja City is a fun, and creative take and traditional Asian dishes served in a colorful, comic book-like setting. Most exciting of all is the highly anticipated opening of Ohio City Galley, which will be an 8,700-square-foot food hall from Galley Group featuring casual Mexican fare at Poca; The Rice Shop from Cleveland native Anthony Zappola, a veteran of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants; and Sauce the City with fried chicken and its own line of signature seasoning sauces.
Everyone talks about Austin, but the north Texas city of Dallas has one of America’s best up-and-coming food scenes. Namo, the first Dallas sushi concept focusing solely on Japanese temaki (handrolls), opened in August 2018. Zaytinya opened their second location in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in February 2018, featuring an innovative mezze menu inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines. Billy Can Can, the first project from restaurateur Tristan Simon’s hospitality group (Rebees) officially opened its 4,800-square-foot restaurant in June 2018 with a Texan menu. No wonder why GQ named Dallas their “Next Best New Food City” earlier this year and why it was ranked 16th in Zagat’s “30 Most Exciting Food Cities in America 2017.”
The Mile-High Colorado City is on our list for many reasons. First, Denver loves homegrown concepts and is home to quite a few now-major chains, like Chipotle, Qdoba, Noodles and Company, and Smashburger. Second, over 50 new restaurants are expected to open here by the end of the year, including Pacific Rim restaurant Chimera, Mongolian hot spot Chubby Cattle, and Spanish eatery Corrida. Third, it’s attracting James Beard Award-winning chefs like Alon Shaya, who just opened Safta in The Source Hotel (his first project outside of New Orleans). And the city even kills it with their sandwich-making skills, as sandwich shop Call made Bon Appetit’s list of the 10 best new restaurants in 2018.
When it comes to food and Florida, Miami gets all the accolades. But The Magic City should watch out for its northerly neighbor Fort Lauderdale. The coastal city continues to gain recognition as an all-encompassing dining destination, with everything from mom-and-pop neighborhood nooks to iconic waterfront gems and fine dining concepts. Most recently, Greater Fort Lauderdale has grown in popularity not only for its award-winning local chefs but also for a wave of nationally acclaimed chef owned/operated restaurants arriving on the scene. Geoffrey Zakarian opened seafood heaven Point Royal, and Michael Schulson has sushi spot Monkitail. Or, you can stick to some of the local favorites like the American fare at Café Maxx or Italian at Valentino. Bonus: All of these come with a side of Florida’s famous sunny, warm weather.
There is a surprising food scene in Greenville that goes beyond the typical "Southern comfort food" and showcases genuinely authentic flavors from all over the world. Sean Brock opened an outpost of his famed Husk here; The Anchorage, a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, is based in Greenville; and Michael Kramer's Jianna serves up some of the best house-made pastas in the South. Then there are new restaurants like Monkey Wrench BBQ, Golden Llama Peruvian Rotisserie, authentic Afghan dishes at Aryana’s, and Seedlings, the first farm-to-table restaurant for kids. Proud of their foodie offerings, Greenville even hosts two major culinary events, Euphoria and Fall for Greenville, which let you sample the best the city has to offer all in one place. Michelin’s North American headquarters are in Greenville for tire manufacturing — but their restaurant guide must surely be taking note as well.
Who says the top 20 food cities have to be in the continental U.S.? It’s worth the long flight to Hawaii not only for the stunning beaches, but also Honolulu’s culinary scene. Head to The Street in Waikiki's famed International Market Place, which features a collection of culinary stations carefully curated by chef Michael Mina. Foodies will love the line-caught Kajiki Ceviche with pineapple, coconut and habanero from Almita Cantina and the Loco Moco (a combo of fried rice, a hamburger patty, sunny-side-up egg, and gravy) at Burger Hale. Other stations include International Smoke by Ayesha Curry; Indie Girl for healthy bowls and smoothies; Little Lafa, an homage to Mina’s Mediterranean roots, and more. Then head north from Oahu’s iconic Waikiki Beach to the scene-stealing Kaka’ako neighborhood, which is home to the inventive Hawaiian fare at Merriman’s, run by three-time James Beard finalist Peter Merriman.
Napa Valley and wine are synonymous. But the Northern California city of Napa has long played second fiddle to nearby San Francisco when it comes to the food scene, and downtown Napa was previously considered a drive-through town. Today the region continues to transform, with more than 65 restaurants and 27 tasting cellars. The opening of Kenzo introduced the town’s first Michelin three-star chef, and the new Miminashi serves ice cream so popular that there’s a dedicated take-out window. Another newcomer, Gran Electrica (sister outlet of the original in Brooklyn, New York) serves an authentic and market-driven Mexican menu. And just a few miles from downtown, the recently opened Vista Collina Resort, a Meritage Collection property, is home to Fivetown Grocery which sells everything from house-made pasta and sauces to smoked barbecue and freshly baked bread, all made from scratch in small batches by chef Vincent Lesage. The hottest spot of all, though, is the new Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar at the Archer Hotel in Napa. It’s overseen by Charlie Palmer and is the only rooftop lounge in the Valley.
Nashville firmly cemented itself as one of the top foodie cities in the country with spots like Husk, City House, and Rolf & Daughters and restaurant openings are showing no sign of slowing down. Two of the most highly anticipated openings include James Beard Award-winning chef Tandy Wilson’s casual, come-as-you-are concept, Mop / Broom Mess Hall, and the pizza-centric Folk from Phillip Krajeck of Rolf & Daughters. And with the addition of new hotels opening in 2018, downtown Nashville is showing that Tennessee’s Music City cuisine is about more than hot chicken. Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill opened on the fourth floor of the Fairlane Hotel, serving mid-20th-century dishes, and the top floor of JW Marriott Nashville is home to award-winning chef Michael Mina's indoor-outdoor American steakhouse, Bourbon Steak. Drool.
Need there be any explanation? New Orleans has long been a foodie mecca, attracting gastronomes from all over the globe to southern Louisiana. There are many posh, award-winning restaurants such as Domenica, Seaworthy, Chophouse New Orleans, The Grill Room, M bistro, Naked Crab, Luke Restaurant, Restaurant August, Café Adelaide, Johnny Sanchez, and Maypop; and classic old-timers like Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, and Antoine’s. Then, there are the new hot spots like Nina Compton’s Bywater American Bistro, Alon Shaya’s Saba, and two new food halls: Pythian Market and Auction House Market. And don’t forget about the country’s best fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House!
Chinese food at 2 a.m.? Pizza for a dollar? Michelin-rated restaurants on seemingly every corner? Yes, New York has long been one of the greatest food cities in America. Whether you want cheap eats or decadent dining, the Big Apple has delectable dishes in every category of fare. In fact, there are whole neighborhoods dedicated to cuisines and cultures (Chinatown, Little Italy, Koreatown, etc.) that you could spend years wandering and never eat at every joint. And best of all, there are always new, inventive restaurants opening. In late 2018, NYC’s first and only freshwater eel restaurant, Unagi, will open, featuring an eel tank set in the center of the restaurant from which fresh catches are chosen for preparation on a charcoal grill while patrons watch. There’s a reason it’s the city of foodie dreams.
The Palm Springs food scene is as hot as the desert that surrounds it. But the hottest culinary spots of all are actually hotels. Counter Reformation at the Parker Hotel serves up inventive tapas like foie gras macarons, The Pink Cabana at The Sands has house-made pork terrine, and 4 Saints at the Kimpton Rowan is known for their house cavatelli. Not to mention, the popular Wexler’s Deli in Los Angeles will soon open its fourth location at the Palm Springs’ Arrive hotel. Outside the hotel scene, you can find fabulous fare at spots such as Shanghai Red's Oyster Bar, Vietnamese-American food at Rooster and the Pig, and New American dishes at Copley's on Palm Canyon.
It’s nearly impossible now to go to Philly and have a bad meal. You can still get all of your local Pennsylvania favorites like cheesesteaks (Dalessandro's), roast pork sandwiches (DiNic's Roast Pork), and pretzels (Miller’s Twist). But they’re downright killing it in every other food genre as well, and it’s the home base of legendary chefs Marc Vetri, Michael Solomonov, and Jose Garces. Lebanese fare? Yup, Suraya makes excellent kebabs and grilled fish. Craving meat? Kensington Quarters owns the animal-to-table concept with its juicy burgers, charcuterie, and sausage offerings. Want seafood? Head over to Oyster House for its incredible raw bar. New American? Square 1682 at The Kimpton Hotel Palomar uses ingredients from an aeroponic garden on the 25th floor for its dishes. How about Italian? Le Virtù’s seasonal pasta dishes are a must. Philly even managed to make popcorn (complete with red plum, white chocolate, and corn sponge cake) part of a seasonal corn-oriented tasting menu at Lacroix at The Rittenhouse.
There's never a dull moment in the Portland culinary scene, and even now the destination is experiencing a restaurant renaissance, with renowned Oregon chefs like Gabe Rucker and Cathy Whims coming out with a new wave of new openings to complement their original fan-favorite concepts Le Pigeon and Nostrana. French restaurant Bistro Agnes focuses on classic Parisian fare like black pepper gougeres with chicken liver mousse, seared foie gras French toast, and steak frites. Six-time James Beard Best Chef Northwest Award nominee Cathy Whims and partner David West just unveiled a wine bar focused on natural and experimental European wines, alongside classic, regional Italian dishes. And Palomar is a new bar with a sizable menu featuring classic Cuban diner food. Oh, and that’s in addition to the more than 500 food carts that call the Pacific Northwest city home.
No question that North Carolina’s capital city is heating up the kitchen and having a major food moment. The growing culinary scene challenges its neighboring Southern cities, going way beyond your delicious shrimp and grits and pimento cheese. Renowned chef Ashley Christensen calls the city home, and her Beasley’s Chicken + Honey has some of the most hyped fried chicken, which should be ordered with a side of pimento mac and cheese custard. Brewery Bhavana, selected to Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2017, has scallion pancakes that you won’t want to share. And Big Ed’s is a must-try quintessential Southern breakfast with salt-cured country ham and red-eye gravy served with all the fixins. Other honorable mentions go to Garland, a no-brainer lunch stirred by James Beard Award-nominated chef and musician Cheetie Kumar, and Morgan Street Food Hall & Market, Raleigh’s No. 1 newest multi-vendor hot spot.
You might think of San Diego as a surfer’s paradise, but it’s a foodie heaven as well. The city has so many diverse food neighborhoods (Little Italy, Barrio Logan, the Convoy, etc.), it gives New York a run for its money. Much like Los Angeles, you can drive all around the city seeking out foodie destinations or stick to one or two neighborhoods and eat your way down city blocks. And don’t just think it’s all Mexican and Cal-Mex food (even though Puesto and Lola 55 have some of the best). You can also get amazing New American (Juniper & Ivy), French (Jeune et Jolie is opening later this year), and Japanese (Menya Ultra). Even chefs are buzzing about the food scene; it was just announced that Boulud Sud chef Travis Swikard is leaving New York to open a concept in San Diego.
Some of the best produce and livestock in America are found in Washington, just outside this Pacific Coast city, and the local chefs take advantage. Fine dining establishment Canlis basically invented modern Pacific Northwest cuisine. Staple & Fancy is just one of Ethan Stowell’s 14 restaurants featuring fresh ingredients. Renee Erickson won a James Beard Award for her foodie favorites The Walrus and the Carpenter, Bateau, and The Whale Wins. And beloved newcomer JuneBaby won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Of course, you can always grab more casual (but just as delicious) bites like a burger at Dick’s.
No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, all foodies can agree D.C. gets the majority vote for its restaurant scene. You know you can come here for a classic good meal at now-legendary spots like Rasika and Rose’s Luxury. But what’s catching the eye of many food fans is the number of new restaurants opening by some of the country’s top chefs like James Beard Award winner Aaron Silverman and Boston’s Michael Schlow. Although, leave it to a local to really make the city stand out. Maryland-born chef Nick Stefanelli opened Masseria restaurant in and earned a Michelin Star in the city's first-ever guide in 2016. He is now set to open Officina, a three-story culinary complex inspired by Italian markets. And the booming Southwest Waterfront, with its brand-new housing developments, shops, and restaurants, has infinite potential. No wonder Zagat named the nation’s capital the hottest food city for 2016. And of course, D.C. is also the home of the half-smoke at ben’s Chili Bowl, one of the finest hot dogs in America.
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