Top 10 foodie cities in America
When it comes to culinary centres of excellence for the gastronomically-obsessed, America delivers. Here’s our pick of the 10 best USA cities that stand out for their chef-driven restaurants, gourmet farmers’ markets, binge-worthy street food, and adventurous bistros, bars, cafés, coffee shops and diners.
10. New Orleans, Louisiana
Why: It’s not just about the jazz-fuelled partying and world-famous Mardi Gras celebrations in The Big Easy. Having established itself at the forefront of American dining for its cutting-edge cuisine, scrumptious seafood, and palate-tingling Creole and Cajun specialties, this cultural melting pot is home to some of best fusion chefs and high-profile restaurants on the planet.
Defining dishes: Chargrilled oysters, red beans and rice, jambalaya (rice dish with chicken, sausage, seafood - or any mixture of the three), beignets (deep-fried dough dusted with powdered sugar), muffulettas (sandwich with cold cuts and cheese), gumbo (stew with rice), and po’ boys (roast beef or fried seafood-stuffed French bread sandwich with lashings of gravy).
Book a table: Willie Mae’s Scotch House for the crispiest fried chicken in town, Café Minh for its French-Vietnamese cuisine, Casamento’s for its oyster loaf, Restaurant August for its hybrid French-Creole menu, and Dinner Lab for offerings by up-and-coming chefs. Equally visit-worthy is Gambino's Bakery for its Red Velvet cake, Hansen's Sno-Bliz is for crushed-ice snowballs and syrups, and grand-dame Antoine’s for Oysters Rockefeller and Eggs Sardou.
9. San Francisco, California
Why: The West Coast city that started the farm-to-table obsession in the 1970s is an avant-garde foodie paradise that presents a game-changing amount of choice. Considered by many connoisseurs and critics as America’s food and wine capital, the restaurant scene is as exciting as the farmers’ markets that kick-started the worldwide trend for fresh, organic and local produce.
Defining dishes: Cioppino (crab, shrimp, scallops and clams cooked with wine, tomatoes and herbs), fortune cookies (made with flour, sugar and vanilla oil), Crab Louie (crabmeat salad with red-chilli-based dressing), and Chicken Tetrazzini (casserole with creamy parmesan sauce). Don't leave without trying the Hangtown Fry - an egg omelette filled with bacon and fried oysters.
Book a table: Chez Panisse at the Berkeley for Alice Waters’ famous Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces, Kokkari Estiatorio for Modern Greek cuisine with a seafood and game-leaning menu, The Slanted Door for caramelised shrimp, and Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Café for fried eggplant sandwiches. Also try Zuni Café for its chicken-for-two, and the Mission Chinese Food for groundbreaking Chinese-American cooking.
Further reading: A true taste of San Francisco
8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Why: The food scene in the cradle of America is currently enjoying a renaissance with many esteemed kitchen talents relocating here to cook up some of the City of Brotherly Love’s most fascinating food. But it’s not just about Philly's rapidly-evolving restaurant scene; there’s still plenty to satisfy your appetite at the old classics that are the backbone of many neighbourhoods.
Defining dishes: The Philly cheesesteak (crusty roll with thinly-sliced sautéed ribeye steak, fried onions and melted cheese), hoagie (Italian roll with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions), Philadelphia Pepper Pot (soup with tripe, meat, vegetables), and soft pretzels. Wash it all down with a Philly Special - a shot of Jim Beam whiskey with a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Book a table: Chickie’s & Pete’s for crabfries, The Gobbler for the signature Wawa Gobbler packed with gravy, turkey and cranberry sauce, Khyber Pass Pub for Benton's Bacon Grease Popcorn, and Federal Donuts for the Strawberry Lavender Donut. Also try Pat’s King of Steaks for Philly cheesesteak, Zahav for hummus, Cheu Noodle Bar for dumplings, Serpico for sophisticated global eats, and Jerry's Bar for one of the city’s best brunch menus.
7. Charleston, South Carolina
Why: The past decade has seen a slew of budget hole-in-the-wall eats and upscale eateries springing up in Charleston - the Southern charmer most famous for its grand antebellum mansion and eponymous 1920 dance. Most exciting here is the ‘Lowcountry’ cuisine - classic recipes with a mix of English, French, Mediterranean, Caribbean and West African influences.
Defining dishes: Traditional shrimp and grits made with butter, She Crab soup, oyster roasts, corn bread, tomato pie, pimento cheese, shrimp purloo, frogmore stew, and boiled peanuts - the official state snack. A must-try is the original Benne Wafer - a thin cookie made with toasted sesame that’s only available from Olde Colony Bakery in Mount Pleasant.
Book a table: Superstar chef Sean Brock’s Husk for dishes created only with ingredients sourced in the South, Martha Lou’s Kitchen for craggy golden fried chicken and succulent shrimp, Minero for shrimp and masa grits with chilli sofrito, and The Westendorff for posh comfort food. Also try 167 Raw for its seafood, Artisan Meat Share for its hearty sandwiches, and Edmund’s Oast for its Carolina Gold Heritage Chicken Porridge and house-brewed beer.
6. New York City, New York State
Why: The Big Apple lays claim to some of the biggest names in the business and offers around 8,000 restaurants for those keen to expand their gastronomic horizons. The food scene is unbelievably diverse - you’d be hard pressed to find a global cuisine that hasn’t been given some trendy twist by one of the city’s superstar chefs.
Defining dishes: Bagels and lox (salt-cured or brined salmon), hot dogs, chicken on waffles, pastrami on rye, black-and-white cookies, potato knishes (thick dough that’s baked, grilled or deep-fried), and New York cheesecake made with cream cheese, cream, eggs and sugar. Further highlights include the Waldorf Salad, pizza, and burgers with all the trimmings.
Book a table: Bouley for artisan French fare, Grand Central Oyster Bar for oysters, Bâtard for Markus Glocker’s culinary wizardry, and Russ & Daughter Café for pickled herring and the city’s best egg cream. Also try Peter Luger for steak, Oceana for seafood, and Lure Fishbar for the much-hyped Bash-Style Burger. For fine dining that’s worth the price tag, there’s Nobu, Alain Ducasse at The Essex House, Eleven Madison Park, The Lambs Club, and Craft.
Further reading: Top 10 restaurants in New York
5. Washington D.C.
Why: The capital’s formerly stuffy dining scene has evolved into a something of a foodie mecca, with some of the hippest movers and shakers opening some of the country’s best restaurants here. There’s now more choice than ever for foodies; from sophisticated spots with prix-fixe tasting menus to neighbourhood cafés, farmers’ markets, and gourmet food trucks.
Defining dishes: Half-Smokes (smoked half-beef, half-pork sausage seasoned with red pepper flakes), jumbo slice (oversized pizza), and Ethiopian cuisine - Washington D.C is considered the second-largest Ethiopian city in the world outside of Addis Ababa. Other staples include steak, burgers, and navy bean soup made with navy beans, ham hocks, onions, butter, and water.
Book a table: Zaytinya for its Crispy Brussels Afelia (made with Brussels sprouts), Jaleo for its tapas, Ben’s Chilli Bowl for its half-smokes, and Founding Farmers for its farm-to-plate dishes. Also try Rogue 24 for its Liquid Chicken, Mintwood Place for its blend of French and local cuisine, and either Meskerem, Dukem or Ethiopic (ideally all three) for Ethiopian cooking.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Why: The Windy City has confirmed its place as one of the country’s elite dining destinations for its confident cooking, improvised fusion menus, award-winning chefs, and strong passion for local and sustainable ingredients. It also has a huge amount of neighbourhood farmers’ markets and is committed to funding training for young farmers.
Defining dishes: Deep-dish Chicago pizza, Chicago-style hot dog (all-beef hot dog on a steamed poppy seed bun topped with yellow mustard, relish, tomato wedges, chopped onions, a pickle spear, hot peppers and celery salt - never ketchup), and Italian beef - a long Italian roll piled with seasoned roast beef that sometimes comes with cheese.
Book a table: Avece for its innovative small and large plate offerings, XOCO for Rick Bayless’s Mexican bistro-style food, Alinea for Grant Achatz’s modular gastronomy, and Fat Rice for the cuisine of Macau. Also try Parachute for its creative Korean-American fare, Gene and Jude’s for its signature hot dogs, De Quay for Dutch-Indonesian delights, and Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf for its much-hyped Classic Ribeye Chicago Cut.
Further reading: A true taste of Chicago
3. Los Angeles, California
Why? It’s mostly about the healthy eating hotspots in the City of Angels, especially at the vegan sanctuaries, raw food bars, and Hollywood Farmers’ Market that combines some of the country’s finest produce with A-list sightings. But if you’re craving more than chopped salad, this culinary boomtown also has Cal-Asian fusion dishes, classic steakhouses, and plenty of Mexican food.
Defining dishes: Tacos, ramen, burgers, sushi (especially California rolls made with cucumber, crabmeat or imitation crab, and avocado), raw foods, gluten-free foods, green juices, and ripe avocados. Also try the city’s juice bars for every type of fruit and veggie in liquid form; from made-to- order smoothies to detox wellness shots.
Book a table: République for refined French- and Italian-influenced cooking, Animal for a meat fest, Son of a Gun for raw fish, and Jon & Vinny's for pizza. Also try Bar Amá for Tex-Mex, Kogi trucks for Korean tacos, Orsa & Winston for Japanese-Italian fusion, and Ledlow for laid-back comfort food. Don’t miss the Beverly Hills Juice Club, Orchard Flats and Totes Juices for supercharged juices, and Yang Chow for its signature slippery shrimp.
2. Portland, Oregon
Why: Portland deserves its reputation as one of the world’s most vegan- and vegetation-friendly places in the world that also has a brilliant street food scene. But what also gives this Pacific Northwestern city its edge are the heavy-hitting hipster restaurants, artisan coffee shops, farmer’s markets, microbreweries, and urban wineries.
Defining dishes: Buttermilk-battered chicken, modern Portland-Asian cuisine, fresh seafood, hazelnuts, burgers, and all sort of tasty delights from the 600-plus gourmet food carts (known as street fooders) scattered throughout the city. For the caffeine-addicted, coffee is taken very seriously, with champion baristas enjoying near-superstar status.
Book a table: The People’s Pig for its pork burger, Bunk for its pork belly cubano, Ping for its baby octopus skewers, Toro Bravo for its tapas, and The Whole Bowl for its lemon and garlic Tali sauce created with a secret recipe. Also try The Woodsman Tavern for oysters, Ataula for Spanish gastropub fare, and Voodoo Doughnuts for the delicious Bacon Maple Bar Doughnut, Triple chocolate penetration Doughnut, and Grape Ape Doughnut.
1. Houston, Texas
Why: Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city is quickly climbing the ranks as a diverse dining destination with an incredible cocktail scene. There’s a bit of everything here for everyone; from chef-driven restaurants where the menu takes a Southern spin on global dishes, to gourmet food carts that offer quality bites at very reasonable prices.
Defining dishes: Kolache (semi-sweet or savoury pastries topped with fruit, jam or meat), fajita burger, chicken-fried steak, soup dumplings, barbecued meats, slow-smoked beef brisket, and chilaquiles (crisp tortilla chips simmered in salsa).
Book a table: Caracol for Mexican seafood dishes, Killen’s Barbecue for brisket and ribs, ECK Bakery for egg custard tarts, Niko Niko's for Greek fast food, Gigi's Asian Bistro and Dumpling Bar and Shanghai Restaurant for high-quality Cantonese. Also try Guru Burgers & Crêpes for innovative burgers and crêpes made from organic ingredients, Latin Bites for Peruvian food, and the privately-owned trucks that operate across the city selling Mexican-style tacos.
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