Special Report

The Best Food Cities in America for 2019

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15. Portland, Maine

America is blessed with two superb food cities called Portland — this one and its Oregon namesake (see No. 6). The town’s first culinary celebrity, chef-restaurateur Sam Hayward, has been serving farm-, forest-, and sea-to-table cuisine for at least 30 years at his Fore Street Restaurant, and his other enterprises, including Scales Restaurant and Street & Company, are key members of the local dining community. Another longtime Portland locavore establishment is Local 188, while Miyake uses as much Maine-caught seafood as possible for its excellent sushi.

Central Provisions offers an impressively varied daily-changing menu, Eventide Oyster Co. serves impeccable shellfish (and redefines the lobster roll), and duck appears in various forms at Duckfat. Natural wine is the focus at Drifters Wife wine bar and the same proprietors’ Maine & Loire wine shop next door, while Browne Trading Company is a top retail (and mail-order) source for caviar and fresh seafood both domestic and imported.

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14. San Antonio, Texas

The most famous cuisine in this city on the edge of the south-central Texas Hill Country — the most affordable food city in America, according to WalletHub — is Tex-Mex. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate how good this hybrid food style can be should visit such local restaurants as Los Barrios, Mi Tierra, La Margarita, Ray’s Drive Inn, or Henry’s Puffy Tacos.

There’s a lot more to the local food scene than that, though. Biga on the Banks has long been the city’s go-to spot for upscale modern American food. Liberty Bar is a serious restaurant masquerading as a friendly, music-filled hangout. Mixtli takes the Tex out of Tex-Mex, with a seasonal menu of interior Mexican specialties, while 2M Smokehouse gives barbecue a Tex-Mex accent, and Bistro09 does French right. Cured produces some of the best house-made cured meats in the country. Shuck Shack is a first-rate seafood place, Battalion serves hearty Italian, and Range is a steakhouse with imaginative salads and pastas added to the mix.

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13. Seattle, Washington

A kind of gigantic food hall that opened in Seattle in 1907, generations before anybody knew what a food hall was. Seattle’s Pike Place Market — with its shops, restaurants, produce stands, and exuberant fishmongers — is an essential stop for any food-lover. (And not just food-lovers, apparently: Five years ago, Travel & Leisure identified it as the 33rd-largest tourist attraction in the world, welcoming about 10 million visitors annually.) Equally historic, the first-ever Starbucks is just across the street.

The Seattle fine dining scene is thriving, typified by places like modern Pacific Northwestern pioneer Canlis, the contemporary Valencian Tarsan i Jane, and the avant-garde Eden Hill. High-level Japanese restaurants are all over the place — Kamonegi, Adana, Sushi Kashiba, Wataru, and more. James Beard Award winner Renee Erickson delights diners with The Walrus and the Carpenter, Bateau, and The Whale Wins. JuneBaby, opened by another Beard honoree, chef Edouardo Jordan, was deemed one of America’s 38 essential restaurants last year by Eater for its evocative Southern food. (Erickson’s Bateau also made that list.)

The Pacific Northwest is famous for seafood, of course, and establishments like RockCreek, Blueacre Seafood, and the Vietnamese-Northwestern Salted Sea do an admirable job with it, and Flintcreek Cattle Co. cooks responsibly raised game.

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12. Austin, Texas

Let’s start where some of Austin’s best newer restaurants started: with food trucks. There are said to be an astonishing 1,000-plus of them in the Texas capital, roughly one for every 950 people (though Austin is the third fastest growing city in America, so the trucks will have to keep multiplying if they’re going to keep up). The innovative Odd Duck started life as a food truck, for instance. So did the Middle Eastern Halal Bros., the Detroit-style pizza place Via313, seafood specialist Garbo’s, and the celebrated Franklin Barbecue — whose owner, Aaron Franklin, was named Best Chef: Southwest at the 2015 James Beard Awards.

Other Austin musts: farm-focused New American restaurants like Wink, Lenoir, and Barley Swine; Chez Nous and Justine’s Brasserie for French; Matt’s El Rancho and Güero’s Taco Bar for Tex-Mex; Fonda San Miguel and El Alma for Mexican; Uchi for exquisite non-traditional sushi and Kemuri Tatsu-ya for Texas-style Japanese bar food; Elizabeth Street Cafe for Vietnamese-French and Loro for pan-Asian smokehouse fare (a collaboration between the proprietors of Uchi and Franklin Barbecue; L’Oca d’Oro and Vespaio for Italian; Hopdoddy Burger Bar and Hill-Bert’s Burgers for burgers. There isn’t much you can’t find here.

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11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The City of Brotherly Love has two signature foods, the cheesesteak and the roast pork sandwich. The question of where to get the best example of each has been known to stir unbrotherly strife. Top contenders for the cheesesteak title include Pat’s King of Steaks (which claims to have invented the sandwich), its longtime rival Geno’s across the street (which claims to have first added cheese), Dalessandro’s, Chubby’s, and such small local chains as Steve’s Prince of Steaks, Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop, and Larry’s Steaks. Roast pork sandwiches? Try John’s Roast Pork (which also makes a mean cheesesteak), DiNic’s, Marinucci’s, or Nick’s Old Original Roast Beef.

Once those essentials are out of the way, food-lovers should definitely visit the historic Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest and largest such institutions in America. Under its roof are, among other things, seven bakeries, four produce stands, six meat and poultry purveyors, seven specialty food shops, and 26 food stalls or restaurants — including the aforementioned DiNic’s, Pearl’s Oyster Bar, Sang Kee Peking Duck, Beck’s Cajun Cafe, Hunger Burger, and Umi Seafood and Sushi Bar.

Philadelphia is also home base for three nationally known chef-restaurateurs: Michael Solomonov, whose empire includes the Israeli restaurant Zahav and the offbeat Federal Donuts chain (which serves both fried chicken and doughnuts); Marc Vetri, who has the highly praised Vetri Cucina in the city, with a branch in Las Vegas; and José Garces, who has eight Mexican, Latin American, and American restaurants in Philadelphia and six other places elsewhere. Add in Oyster House for seafood, Square 1682 for contemporary American, and Suraya for Lebanese, among many others — and remember that the superlative La Colombe Coffee Roasters was founded here — and you’ll see why this historic city has become a major food destination.