Though American cuisine was once derided for consisting mostly of fast food and TV dinners, it is today recognized as having some of the most complex and creative cooking in the world. More than that, though, because of the country’s great cultural diversity, we have restaurants representing virtually every imaginable food tradition in the world — either in reasonably authentic form or as adapted by creative chefs to contemporary tastes and available ingredients.
Being a great food city isn’t just a matter of having good restaurants, of course. Food trucks, food stands, food halls, and other casual venues that can’t quite call themselves restaurants are vital to the scene too. These expand the available possibilities and to give beginning chefs a way to hone their skills and build a clientele with minimum investment.
Beyond that, though, the best food cities have strong support systems — a dining public that appreciates good food in whatever form and is willing to pay for it.
Good food cities are also full of people who like to cook, and thus who patronize farmers markets, specialty food shops, and high-level grocery stores. Peripheral businesses such as coffee shops, cheese shops, bakeries, wine and spirits stores, ice cream parlors, and patisseries add richness to the mix in more ways that one. Craft breweries and distilleries and proximity to farms, fishing ports, and/or wineries are added advantages.
The best food cities in America span the country, from Maine to California, Florida to Washington. They cover 14 states plus the District of Columbia. Three of them, perhaps not surprisingly, are in California, the nation’s market garden and primary producer of fine wine and the birthplace or nursery for many of our food trends. Four of them, on the other hand, are in Texas — which might come as a surprise to some. Though it’s not the only thing that counts, these 20 cities are homes to some of the best restaurants in America.
They’re not the only good cities in which to eat well around the country, of course. These, for instance, are the 30 U.S. cities with the most underrated food scenes. But this selection represents the best of the best, and any one of them is worth a visit, preferably an extended one if you love to eat.
To assemble and rank this list of the best food cities in America, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous roundups from a wide range of online publications, including U.S. News & World Report, Eater, Far & Wide, Jetsetter, WalletHub, the Washington Post, Zagat, Thrillist, Food & Wine, Southern Living, the Travel Channel, The Daily Meal, and Eat This Not That, as well as numerous city-specific sites. Based on a consensus from these sources, the final choice of cities was judged editorially, as was their position on the list.