America’s 20 Best Cities for Food Slideshow
America’s 20 Best Cities for Food
America is one of the most culturally diverse countries on the planet, and the incredible variety of its cuisines reflects that. You’d be hard-pressed to name a single food item that exists on earth that’s impossible to find somewhere in America (unless it’s illegal for import, and maybe even then…), and some cities are absolute food-lovers’ paradises.
When it comes to food, these 20 cities have the best in America.
Detroit is home to one of the country’s most intriguing food scenes. Sure, there’s no shortage of its legendary coneys (hot dogs topped with a thick, Greek-spiced meat sauce), pizzerias specializing in the city’s unique pizza style (which is currently all the rage in New York, of all places) and coney islands (diners also named for the city’s signature hot dog) — but there are also Polish, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Mexican neighborhoods where you’ll find truly spectacular food from those parts of the world.
Want barbecue? Slows serves some of America’s best. Michael Symon’s Roast is one of America’s best steakhouses, and other jaw-dropping newcomers include Selden Standard, Forest Grill, Mabel Gray, and Grey Ghost. In Detroit, there’s nothing short of a culinary revolution going on.
Houston has always been renowned for its steak and barbecue, but thanks to enterprising chefs like Chris Shepherd and Brian Caswell, it’s finally earning a place on the map of America’s best food towns. Ronnie Killen has single-handedly upped the city’s food game by opening the now-legendary Killen’s Barbecue and Killen’s Steakhouse just outside of town in Pearland, and his Killen’s STQ was one of last year’s biggest openings. Shepherd’s Underbelly is nothing short of legendary, and his One Fifth — which changes concepts every year — is one of the country’s most enterprising. The city is also renowned for its Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino restaurants.
#18 Washington, D.C.
Come for the half-smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl, stay for José Andrés’ seven restaurants (eight once America Eats Tavern re-opens in Georgetown). DC is home to restaurants for every stripe, from power brokers to college kids, and it just keeps getting better and better. Restaurants like Rasika and Rose’s Luxury are still drawing in crowds, but in the past couple years the city’s restaurant scene has positively exploded. Aaron Silverman (Rose's Luxury, Pineapple & Pearls) won a James Beard Award, Michelin began rating the city’s restaurants in 2016, and restaurateurs from all over the country, like Boston’s Michael Schlow (who opened three restaurants here) and Philly’s Mark Vetri (who opened a Pizzeria Vetri here) are taking notice. Zagat also named it the hottest food city for 2016.
Boston’s food scene is renowned for a lot more than baked beans and scrod. Sure, you can find top-notch versions of New England’s most legendary regional foods, like lobster rolls and clam chowder, but what makes Boston such a great food town are the renowned chefs who call it home. Barbara Lynch has No. 9 Park and Menton (among others); Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer have Toro, Coppa, and Little Donkey; Tony Maws has Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap & Trotter; Tim & Nancy Cushman have O Ya; Lydia Shire has Scampo. Michael Mina and Mario Batali have also recently set up shop in town (the latter with a Babbo Pizzeria and an outpost of Eataly), and there are also countless restaurants run by non-celebrity chefs that are racking up accolades.
Atlanta is home to some of the finest soul food in America, dished up in countless holes-in-the-wall to flocks of loyal regulars. But it’s also home to Buford Highway, along which you’ll find authentic and insanely delicious Asian and Mexican cuisine (the city’s huge Korean population makes its presence known all throughout the city as well). Chefs Kevin Gillespie (Gunshow, Revival), Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch), Hugh Acheson (Empire State South) Ford Fry (The Optimist, JCT Kitchen), and James Beard Award-winning Steven Satterfield (Miller Union) have changed the city’s dining game, and Jonathan Waxman and Sean Brock have also recently set up shop in town.
Nashville’s most famous native dish, hot fried chicken, might be having its moment in the sun right now, but there’s a lot more to eat in Music City than fried chicken dunked in spicy oil. It’s also home to the meat-and-three, a soul food staple of one main dish and three sides (meatloaf with collards, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese, for example), as well as some of the country’s most exciting restaurants. There’s an outpost of Sean Brock’s Husk, Acme Feed & Seed, Pinewood Social, The Catbird Seat, Southern-inspired Chinese at TKO, and John Besh’s Marsh House.
Cheesesteaks, roast pork sandwiches, and pretzels may be Philly’s best-known culinary contributions, but its dining scene is deep and multifaceted, with some of America’s best chefs choosing it for their base of operations. Michael Solomonov has blessed the city with the astounding Israeli restaurant Zahav (as well as hummus spot Dizengoff, doughnut and fried chicken utopia Federal Donuts, and funky Jewish-American spot Abe Fisher). Marc Vetri’s Italian gems include Vetri, Pizzeria Vetri, Alla Spina, and Bar Amis. Jose Garces’ 10 eclectic offerings include the upscale Volver, burger and cocktail spot Village Whiskey, bistro Garces Trading Company, tapas spot Amada, and modern Mexican restaurant Distrito. Restaurateur Stephen Starr is the force behind standouts like Morimoto, The Continental, Barclay Prime, and El Vez. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; Philly-based fast-casual concepts like Honeygrow and HipCityVeg are taking off, BYOB restaurants throughout the city abound, and the legendary Reading Terminal Market is a food-lover’s paradise.
There’s been a Gold Rush of sorts among chefs in recent years to stake a claim in the Mile High City, and as a result Denver’s restaurant scene is absolutely booming. In the past year, chefs including Nobu Matsuhisa and Hugh Acheson have opened up shop here, and the team behind the famed Frasca in nearby Boulder recently opened Tavernetta here. Steuben’s is a perfect upscale diner, Sushi Den has been serving amazing sushi for more than 30 years, Guard and Grace is a near-perfect steak house, Rioja helped spark a culinary renaissance, Tacos Tequila Whiskey serves seriously delicious tacos, and Fruition is a dependable and mature fine dining destination. Denver has everything you can ever want in a food town, and more.
Seattle is surrounded by land that’s home to some of the country’s finest produce and livestock, and restaurants here take serious advantage of that. There’s of course Canlis, which revolutionized fine dining and essentially invented modern Pacific Northwest cuisine. Tom Douglas has restaurants all over town that turn fresh ingredients into stunning dishes; Ethan Stowell’s 14 restaurants (including Staple & Fancy) can do no wrong, Renee Erickson won a James Beard Award last year for her crowd-pleasers The Walrus and The Carpenter, Bateau, and The Whale Wins, and it seems like great new neighborhood spots are popping up every week. And if you’re just looking for a burger, there’s always Dick’s.
The Miami restaurant scene is as diverse as those who call the city home. Nearly every big South Beach hotel is now home to (at least) one high-budget showstopper from a world-famous chef; the Pubbelly team has transformed how locals think of Asian fusion noodles and sushi, Yardbird and Swine are serving exemplary Southern fare, Francis Mallmann’s Los Fuegos can compare with any of Argentina’s best steakhouses, and Naoe is in a league of its own when it comes to sushi. And don’t forget that Miami is also home to Little Havana, where you’ll find some of the finest Cuban food outside of Cuba; and South Beach is also home to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the country’s biggest food party.
#10 Portland, Maine
You might not have realized this, but the East Coast Portland is one of the most restaurant-dense cities in the country, with restaurants (and good ones, at that) lining nearly every street of Downtown. Its waterfront is still lined with active fishing wharves, bringing in some of the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere, and it’s being put to good use at restaurants like rough-and-tumble J’s Oyster to the insanely popular Eventide Oyster Co. But there’s a lot more to Portland than just great seafood; other must-visits include Central Provisions, Duckfat, and Fore Street.
Austin is a certifiable treasure trove for food lovers. Barbecue fans line up daily for Franklin Barbecue’s legendary ‘cue, but aficionados will tell you that John Mueller, Lambert’s, and La Barbecue (and The Salt Lick outside of town) are nearly as good. Austin is also Tex-Mex central (don’t leave without a breakfast taco from Papalote), and it’s also arguably the food truck capital of America, with more than 1,000 food trucks on the streets serving everything from vegan comfort food (Arlo’s) to deep-fried jambalaya on a stick (Baton Creole). It also has no shortage or hip and exciting Modern American spots.
Charleston is located right in the heart of South Carolina’s Low Country, and there’s no shortage of great chefs around taking advantage of the bounty of local ingredients. Mike Lata (FIG), Jeremiah Bacon (Oak Steakhouse), and Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s) have done their fair share to put Charleston on the map through their restaurants, where simple local crops like Carolina Gold rice and field peas have been elevated to new heights. Robert Stehling's Hominy Grill is arguably the finest classic Southern restaurant in America, and Charleston is also homebase of Gullah cooking, which can trace its roots back thousands of years to West Africa.
#7 Las Vegas
Every year, it seems as if another one of the world’s finest chefs opens a restaurant in one of Las Vegas’ gilded casinos. Charlie Palmer (Aureole), Mario Batali (B&B, Carnevino), José Andrés (Bazaar Meat, Jaleo, and others), Thomas Keller (Bouchon), Emeril Lagasse (Delmonico Steakhouse), Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay Steak), Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Prime Steakhouse), Joël Robuchon (Joël Robuchon), Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu), Guy Savoy (Restaurant Guy Savoy), Wolfgag Puck (Spago, CUT), and many other legendary chefs all have restaurants here, turning The Strip into a veritable who’s who of legendary chefs. There’s plenty to enjoy off the strip, too, for every budget; look no further than Lotus of Siam, which just might be the best Thai restaurant in America.
#6 Portland, Oregon
Portland’s thriving food scene grew from the stunning bounty of the Pacific Northwest, and local ingredients continue to serve as its backbone. Portland has served as a certifiable chef magnet over the years thanks to its amazing ingredient, whether they arrive to run a fine dining restaurant or one of its more than 500 food carts. Beast, Pok Pok, Clyde Common, Le Pigeon, Paley’s Place, Olympia Provisions, and Ned Ludd are just a few of the restaurants that have helped but this city’s stunning culinary scene on the map.
The Windy City has something for everybody. Love pizza? There’s a whole genre of pizza that Chicago made legendary (and plenty of thin-crust places, too). Love Mexican? Rick Bayless has chosen Chicago to open some of America’s finest Mexican restaurants. Italian? Spiaggia is one of the best Italian restaurants in the country. Steak? Chicago’s always been a steak town, and it’s home to some of America’s best steakhouses. Molecular gastronomy? Ever heard of Grant Achatz? Burger? Kuma’s Corner has lines out the door every day. And if you’re just looking for a great roast beef sandwich, the Italian beef is quite possibly the most delicious sandwich on earth. The Boka Restaurant Group (the team behind Stephanie Izard's standouts like Girl and the Goat and Duck Duck Goat as well as showstoppers like Boka and GT Prime) seems to open a new winner every six months. Oh, and did we mention the hot dogs? It’s impossible to visit Chicago and not fall in love with its food.
#4 Los Angeles
The Los Angeles dining scene is impossible to summarize in one paragraph. It’s so varied that you can live your whole life there, eating at a different restaurant every day, and you’ll still probably feel like you’ve missed something big (just ask Jonathan Gold). You have an endless supply of produce-driven cuisine thanks to its year-round growing season, ridiculously good Mexican food and Korean food (and chefs like Roy Choi to mash them up in his Kogi truck and kick off a nationwide craze), food trucks hawking everything under the sun, and everything in-between. Wolfgang Puck forged his empire here; the trio of Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo have created their own zeitgeist with their restaurants including Trois Mec, Animal, and Son of a Gun; and did we mention how good the tacos are? Food in Los Angeles is exciting, democratic, constantly in flux (as Joel Stein recently put it, “Michelin no longer puts out a guide to L.A. because it would have to be published weekly”); and always ahead of the curve; if it’s going to become a nationwide trend, it’s going to catch on here first.
#3 New Orleans
New Orleans is synonymous with Cajun and Creole cuisine, which means it’s also synonymous with deliciousness. Barbecue shrimp, po’boys, jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, beignets, muffuletta, red beans and rice… these are some of the most delicious dishes on earth, and while you can probably find serviceable variations outside of New Orleans (and environs), they’ll never be as good as the real deal, served at legendary institutions like Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Dooky Chase, and Tujague’s. Chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, and Donald Link have brought this classic cuisine into the 21st century, and New Orleans also has plenty of amazing restaurants that aren’t remotely Cajun or Creole; You can find arguably the best fried chicken on earth at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and the city’s more than 14,000 Vietnamese residents have also left their mark on the local dining scene.
#2 San Francisco
The dedication to fresh, regional, seasonal ingredients pioneered by chefs like Judy Rogers (Zuni Café) and Alice Waters (just across the Bay Bridge at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse) is still a guiding principle in San Francisco, elevating restaurants like Gary Danko, Nopa, Saison, Quince, and Benu to greatness, but this city is about so much more than that. Impeccably fresh seafood can be found at the ancient, renowned Swan Oyster Depot. Some of the country’s best Neapolitan-style pizza can be found at Una Pizza Napoletana. Yank Sing serves some of the best dim sum outside of China. Boccalone makes some of the best charcuterie this side of Genoa. And we hear the burritos and sourdough bread are pretty good there too.
#1 New York City
New York, New York, the greatest food city in America, and possibly on earth. Whatever you want, you can find it here. Even the cheap pizza is good. You don’t know what a bagel is until you’ve had one here. The fine dining here is second only to perhaps that of Las Vegas, but more non-household-name chefs are opening a lot more mind-blowingly good restaurants here than in Sin City. Want Mexican? There’s a neighborhood for that. Want Russian? There’s a neighborhood for that. Want Asian? There are a few neighborhoods for that. How about Uzbeki? Ethiopian? Tibetan? Burmese? Korean barbecue? Just a subway ride away. Not only does New York have pizza, bagels, and Jewish deli to claim as its own, it also has upscale, downscale, highbrow, lowbrow, insanely cheap, jaw-droppingly expensive, hidden gems, world-renowned institutions… the list goes on. Spend a few days eating your way through New York, and you’ll agree that it’s the best food town in the States. Want to know more? Here's the ultimate list of the best food and drink in every state.