Whether we’re picking a vacation spot or a new place to live, it’s safe to say that we let our stomachs guide our decisions. We want a city with great regional dishes and innovative chefs, and, well, restaurants with character (an alfresco farmhouse table just does something to us). Here are our picks for America’s ten best food cities, whether you’re pondering a move, or just lunch.
New York, NY
Sure, sure, it’s a no-brainer, but let’s take a look at what you can actually order up in the Big Apple. For one thing, NYC has twice as many three-star Michelin-rated restaurants as any other American city. And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s the $4.50 Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya (two dogs and a soda). And that’s to say nothing of those New York-specific foods you just can’t get anywhere else. We’re looking at you, bagels and lox, pastrami sandwiches, pizza (real pizza, guys) and black-and-white cookies.
San Francisco, CA
It’s hard to imagine a city more obsessed with food than San Francisco (and the surrounding Bay Area). It’s the kind of place where $4 slices of toast are now the norm--and when slathered with cream cheese, black pepper and sea salt, like they are at The Mill, that’s just fine by us. Iconic restaurants like Chez Panisse and Zuni Café helped define the American farm-to-table movement, and there are plenty of stellar newcomers following suit, such as The Progress (shaved romanesco salad with pig fries) and State Bird Provisions (crispy spiced quail with tart onions). Plus, if you live in SF you have a pretty fun neighbor: wine-guzzling Napa Valley.
Hot dogs loaded with pickles, peppers, mustard, tomato slices and celery salt. Deep-dish pizza so thick it might as well be a casserole. Chicago certainly does street food right.And if you’re in the mood for something on a white tablecloth, try Rick Bayless’s empire of authentic Mexican restaurants. Or maybe Alinea--Grant Achatz’s palace of molecular gastronomy for a 16-course meal featuring dishes like hot potato, cold potato, black truffle and butter.
Los Angeles, CA
Turns out, L.A. is more than just wheatgrass shots at Juice Crafters after a hike through Laurel Canyon (though that is kind of a magical duo). It’s also smoked-salmon pizza at Spago in Beverly Hills, chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s and the best chopped salad of your life at La Scala (it was, after all, Marilyn Monroe’s standing order).
New Orleans, LA
Welp, it’s hard to know where to begin with New Orleans, a city unlike any other in America, where food is fundamental to nearly everything. The logical place, of course, is Café Du Monde, over a powdered-sugar beignet and a steaming cup of café au lait. Move on to Creole classics like jambalaya and gumbo, catfish po’ boys, chargrilled oysters and anything cooked by John Besh.
Charleston may not be the biggest city on this list, but what it lacks in square mileage and population, it makes up for in grits. They do Southern staples right--from crispy fried chicken to tangy, mustard-sauced pulled pork (remember, barbecue in Charleston means pork down-home pit-cooked in mustard barbecue sauce). Then there are Sean Brock’s restaurants Husk and McCrady’s, where everything--save for the expansive wine lists--is locally grown in the South and prepared as an homage to traditional Southern cooking. Head 25 minutes downtown for steamed oysters and perfect sunsets at Bowens Island.
Yes, you’re right. The entire East Coast (or at least all of Brooklyn) has packed up and moved to Portland. Plopped down in the middle of verdant farmland, Portland has produce aplenty and knows what to do with it. Take Toro Bravo, where the kitchen dishes out tapas like marinated sheep’s cheese with rose-petal harrisa and mint, made from local ingredients and given a Spanish twist. Plus, there’s Pok Pok (some say it’s the best Thai food in the country), Voodoo Donuts and enough artisanal coffee roasters to keep your food tour highly caffeinated.
If we had to live on barbecue and tacos for the rest of our lives, we’re pretty sure we’d be just fine. Austin is pretty much killing it on both of those fronts. Fans flock to Franklin’s for brisket (after just a few hours in line) and The Salt Lick for sausage (and, well, more brisket). And while picking a favorite taco is like picking a favorite child, you certainly can’t go wrong starting with ones stuffed with scrambled eggs and chorizo at El Primo.
Everyone knows the cheesesteak (Pat’s? Geno’s? Jim’s?). Lesser known (but, dare we say, even tastier?) is the roast pork sandwich, dripping with melted provolone cheese and sautéed broccoli rabe. We recommend picking one up at Redding Terminal, the city’s bustling food market, before moving on to fried chicken and doughnuts at Federal Donuts, and some transcendent hummus and Israeli salads at Zahav or Dizengoff. Diet starts tomorrow.
If fish throwing is one of your top tourist attractions, you get a spot on this list. Enough said.