What are the best food cities in America?
Where are the best restaurants in America?
According to the National Restaurant Association, there are 1 million+ restaurants in the U.S., making a total of $782.7 billion in revenue.
According to the Restaurant Technology Report, which surveyed diners about technology and the restaurant experience, delicious food is still the #1 priority for guests.
The truth is, though, that top restaurateurs open successful restaurants all the time, all over the nation. It's hard to pinpoint where the "best food cities" or the "best restaurants" are in the U.S. because there are new contenders every single day.
That's why I struggled to write this post. I wanted to make sure that I was presenting the best list of food cities for restaurateurs, foodies, and diners. This list had to be unbiased, factual, and, most importantly, helpful.
That's why this list is a compilation and combination of research performed by others, namely:
- WalletHub- This October, WalletHub crunched the numbers to determine the best and cheapest food cities among the 150 largest cities. They compared the cities across 21 key metrics, ranging from “cost of groceries” to “prevalence of affordable restaurants rated at least 4.5 stars” to “number of food festivals per capita.”
- The Washington Post - Reporter Tom Sietsema spent 60 days on the road and visited 271 restaurants, bars, food stores, and food markets before compiling this list.
- Conde Nast Traveler - Conde Naste asked their readers to rank their favorite food cities in the U.S. as part of their Readers' Choice Awards survey.
There you have it - one source crunched the numbers, one source journeyed out to restaurants across America, and one source crowdsourced opinions from diners themselves. This source - the article you're reading right now - compared these lists side by side and separately researched each city mentioned to make up the list you see before you.
Listed in alphabetical order, not by rank, here are the top food cities in America, along with a smattering of popular restaurants in each city.
Charleston, South Carolina is a small city that packs a serious punch in the restaurant space. A Southern destination, Charleston restaurants aren't shy of their roots. Charleston cuisine has always been "a small boat, a cast net, and fishing line away,” writes Douglas W. Bostick in “The Grand Traditions of Charleston Cuisine.” That means you'll find a lot of seafood and heritage animals, and that "farm-to-table" movement basically originated here. However, the cuisine isn't widely varied. But who can fault restaurants like those below for celebrating their culture with good, wholesome comfort food? [Photo Credit: FIG]
Popular Restaurants in Charleston
The first sign that Chicago is one of the best food cities in America? The James Beard Awards gala — basically the Oscars for great chefs in America — relocated to Chicago after 24 years in the Big Apple this year. Why? Chicago is home to over 40 chefs who won a James Beard award. Chicago also has a long history with food: wheat fields have been the center of the Windy City since 1812, transforming Chicago into a baking center. The city is also the country's meat capital. By 1900, 80% of all American meat was processed in Chicago. Now, restaurants boast creative takes on hot dogs, Italian beef, deep-dish pizza, and more, making their menus both inventive and approachable. [Photo Credit: Monteverde]
Popular Restaurants in Chicago
It's safe to say that Miami has come a long way. From pool parties and DJ hubs, Miami has evolved into a unique dining destination. With its Cuban influence, Miami has all the classics, including Cuban coffee, media noches, croquettas, and cubanos. But what separate Miami from its close cousin Tampa (where the cubano actually originates) is its chefs penchant for experimentation. You'll find classy, innovative, gastronomy, BBQ, and more on the shores of Miami Beach. [Photo Credit: Byblos]
Popular Restaurants in Miami
Well known for its music scene, Nashville is starting to up the ante when it comes to restaurants. Nashville food centers around their staple, hot chicken, which is coated in cayenne paste before fried in cast-iron pans, and is accompanied by Southern mains and sides we all know and love, such as meatloaf, country-fried steak, okra, mashed potatoes, and more. However, what makes the Nashville food scene so exceptional is its fusion between Southern comforts and culinary adventure. Nashville chefs don't forgo their roots - many in fact source their food locally - rather, they transcend them.
Popular Restaurants in Nashville
New Orleans, LA
As a city founded by the French, ruled by the Spanish, and devastated by Hurricane Katrina only ten years ago, New Orleans is a city where food brings people together. Chefs in New Orleans aren't prideful, they're humble; diners in New Orleans aren't eating just because they have to, they're settling into a cozy meal with each bite. Creole, Cajun, Vietnamese, African, Irish, German, Italian, German, and Haitian food surround you in New Orleans, with meals like po'boys, , joie de vivre, gumbo and more in restaurants. As of two years ago, New Orleans had 2,375 restaurants, up from 2,138 a decade ago and 1,860 the year after Katrina, according to the Census Bureau, and there will surely be more to come. [Photo Credit: Mondo]
Popular Restaurants in New Orleans
New York City, NY
With over 45,000 restaurants, 200 different cuisines, and many famous chefs and restaurateurs such as Mario Batali and Danny Meyer, The Big Apple is known for its variety. New York is home to more James Beard Award-winning chefs and Michelin restaurants than any other city, but also to many mouth-watering bagel shops, pizzerias, food halls, and food trucks. As a diner, you can have one experience one week and a totally different one the next week, depending on which types of restaurants you visit. The ability to curate your own dining experience because of all the options is what makes New York City one of the best food cities. Creative takes on classic dishes, friendly service and great hospitality at every turn, and a large foodie community help set New York City apart. [Photo Credit: Minton's]
Popular Restaurants in New York City
In the city that gave us Heinz ketchup, a vibrant food culture is suddenly brewing. For decades, Pittsburgh was just a cheap destination for disillusioned New Yorkers (or, more accurately, New Yorkers who could no longer afford their rent.) Over time, however, the city has reinvented itself, appealing to young millennials graduating from The Big Apple and to chefs inspired to pursue innovative cuisine. Pittsburgh is more than just a food destination; to many, it's home, and that sense of community is imbued in every meal. Plus, without the pressure of being surrounded by 45,000 restaurants, chefs can take more risks and open new ventures at a faster rate. There's even a chef incubator, Smallman Gallery, that refines chefs' cooking skills and acts as a launch pad for successful chef careers. [Photo Credit: Butcher and the Rye]
Popular Restaurants in Pittsburgh
San Francisco, CA
The California Food Revolution, as authorJoyce Goldstein coined it, is alive and strong in San Francisco. Tucked away on the coast, San Francisco has long been a culinary testing ground for new food trends - heard of the sushiritto? - and a hot bed for new restaurants and chefs. In fact, at least one restaurant opened every week in the city last year, according to the San Francisco Business Times. From Chinese restaurants to seafood pop-ups to extreme fine dining, San Francisco has it all. Somehow, amidst all the new culinary adventures, San Francisco doesn't sacrifice the classics such as bread bowls, crab Louis, and Ghiradelli chocolate. One of the best food cities for tracking food trends and eating seasonally, San Francisco is definitely a foodie paradise. [Photo Credit: In Situ]
Popular Restaurants in San Francisco
When I think of Seattle, I don't necessarily think of food. I think of start-ups like Microsoft and Amazon, the Space Needle, Starbucks, and of course, Grey's Anatomy. (Don't judge.) However, as a city that's home to a greater variety of local produce and protein than any other while simultaneously embracing worldly cuisines, there's no question about its inclusion on this list. Teriyaki, pho, Mexican, and Indian restaurants thrive alongside farm-to-table concepts and vegan fine dining - and what each and every restaurant has in common is the confidence to take risks. [Photo Credit: Anchovies & Olives]
Popular Restaurants in Seattle
Washington, D.C. is home to just over 650,000 residents and over 2,000 successful restaurants, which earned a whopping $3 billion in sales last year in the District alone. Diners can enjoy thrilling meals at all price points, with the added plus of creative cocktails and craft beers. In a city home to the First Family, nearly 200 foreign embassies, and many workers in a high-stress environment, D.C. restaurants, whether fine dining or fast food, are always a breath of fresh air for those who live there. D.C. is a blend of many cuisines, many styles, and many restaurant types, so foodies always have a choice when it comes to where to dine. [Photo Credit: Compass Rose]
Popular Restaurants in Washington, D.C.
Of course, there were a few up-and-coming food cities we wanted to mention here, but didn't quite make the cut to top 10. Here they are, alongside three popular restaurants in the area. Perhaps in 2017 they will make the list!
Over to You
What do you think are the top food cities in America? What restaurants would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!