20. Baltimore, Maryland
“Baltimore has always teetered on the edge of being an unbelievable food city,” chef Andrew Fontaine of the city’s Alexander Brown Restaurant told Baltimore Magazine earlier this year. “It just needs a little push and a tug and some exposure.” It probably doesn’t hurt that Yelp ranked it ninth among the country’s “Top Foodie Cities” for 2019. Seafood — and especially local oysters and the famous Maryland blue crab, either steamed or formed into crab cakes — is key here, as is almost anything sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning. Check out Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, Bo Brooks, Canton Dockside, or trendy Dylan’s Oyster Cellar.
Then move beyond the sea includes assorted Latin American specialties such as Alma Cocina Latina, Afghan dishes at The Helmand, and New York star chef Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern. You can also choose from any of James Beard Award winner Spike Gjerde’s places, including Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor.
19. Dallas, Texas
Texas is a great state for serious food of all kinds — there are four Texan entries on this list — but Dallas hasn’t attracted all that much attention for its dining culture until the last couple of years. Then Zagat gave it a place right in the middle of its 2017 list of the 30 most exciting food cities in America (at No. 16) — and last year, GQ’s Brett Martin named it the Next Best New Food City, noting that he “didn’t eat a bad meal in two visits there this year.”
Martin liked the Mediterranean fare at Sachet and the tacos at Revolver Taco Lounge (Gabriela & Sofia’s Tex-Mex, Avila’s, and Rafa’s Cafe Mexicano are among local favorites of the genre). Contemporary Southwestern pioneer Dean Fearing is still going strong with his Fearing’s Restaurant; Cattleack Barbeque and Pecan Lodge uphold Texas-style barbecue tradition; Namo Sushi brings first-class sushi to town; Billy Can Can serves innovative modern Texas fare in a Wild West atmosphere. There are also well over 100,000 Vietnamese in the city, and restaurants like Pho DK, Là Me, and Bistro B represent their cuisine splendidly — while Quoc Bao Bakery in nearby Garland serves an exceptional bargain-priced bánh mí.
18. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is sometimes considered a “Northern” city in the South. Maybe so, but it is definitely a capital of great Southern cooking, with longtime staples like Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the Busy Bee Cafe, and The Colonnade, as well as more contemporary establishments like Miller Union, Wisteria, and local celebrity chef-restaurateur Ford Fry’s JCT. Kitchen & Bar. The array of non-Southern places is impressive too, though. Long considered one of the city’s finest restaurants, Bacchanalia and its associated gourmet market and food counter, Star Provisions, have been thriving in a handsome new home since 2017. Elsewhere, the city offers top-notch sushi (Sushi Hayakawa, Tomo Japanese Restaurant), Mexican (La Oaxaqueña, El Rey del Taco), inventive American (Gunshow, Staplehouse), Italian (BoccaLupo, La Grotta Ristorante), barbecue (Fox Bros., Heirloom Market), and much more.
Add to the mix more informal options at LT’s Wings, Slutty Vegan (a meatless burger joint), and The Varsity — and don’t forget the150-acre Atlanta Farmers Market next to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world.
17. Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia’s state capital, has been hailed as “America’s next great restaurant-obsessed town,” and Eater praised its “bustling food scene, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.” Still under the radar for many food-lovers, it offers a wide range of restaurants, from the love-it-or-hate-it Mamma Zu, where very good old-school Italian food is served with a side of rudeness to the Virginia-focused farm- and sea-to-table restaurant Shagbark to two branches of the acclaimed Sichuan restaurant chain Peter Chang’s.
Local favorites like the seasonally focused bistro The Roosevelt, the lively bar-and-grill-like Saison, and Sub Rosa, which Bon Appétit called “one of the best bakeries in America,” help cement the town’s food reputation. Then there’s the modern Jewish deli Perly’s, The Fancy Biscuit, the sophisticated Maple & Pine, the oyster-centric Rappahannock Restaurant, the German-themed Metzger Bar & Butchery, the popular Greek place Stella’s, and the seafood specialist Alewife, among many other choices.
16. San Diego, California
Fish tacos, invented just across the border in Baja California, are San Diego’s heraldic contributions to American gastronomy, and while they may now be found all over the country, they’re virtually impossible to avoid in their adopted home. But why should you avoid them? Among the specialists favored by locals are Wonderland Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach Fish Shop, Mariscos el Pulpo, Puesto, Casa Guadalajara, The Taco Stand, and any of the three area locations of Rubio’s, which is credited with introducing fish tacos north of the border in the first place and is now a nationwide chain.
That’s just the start of the city’s culinary attractions, though. A different take on border food is the San Diego burrito, which substitutes French fries for rice and beans (Trujillo’s and Lucha Libre are favored venues). Italian specialties at Il Dandy and Biga and Japanese offerings at Sushi Ota and Menya Ultra are first rate. Born and Raised and Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop are the spots for steak, while The Fishery and Ironside Fish & Oyster serve impeccable seafood. The elegant Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, just up the road, was recently granted San Diego County’s only Michelin star for its innovative tasting menus. To make the local food scene even better, there are almost 40 farmers markets in the greater San Diego area; the Temecula wine country is only an hour’s drive north; and the increasingly exciting Mexican food town of Tijuana is just across the border.