10. Washington, D.C.
Ten years ago or so, the nation’s capital probably wouldn’t have made this list, but things have changed a lot since then. Bon Appetit dubbed it the 2016 Restaurant City of the Year. Last year, Food & Wine singled out Kevin Tien of the Japanese/Vietnamese/Southern Himitsu as one of its best new chefs of 2018, pegged the Middle Eastern/Central Asian Maydan as among its restaurants of the year, and for good measure named the Ethiopian hot chicken sandwich as one of the year’s best bites. In addition, this year, the prestigious Guide Michelin granted a star to some 15 local establishments (including Maydan) and gave two to another two restaurants, plus three stars to the suburban Inn at Little Washington.
D.C. would be a major restaurant city, though, on the basis of José Andrés alone. The prolific, indefatigable chef and humanitarian is based here, and the city is home to his two-star Minibar and to Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, China Chilcano, and America Eats Tavern, among other enterprises. The capital’s other two-star is the extravagant Pineapple and Pearls, known for its imaginative tasting menus. Other places not to miss include the New American Rose’s Luxury, the southern Italian-themed Masseria by Nicholas Stefanelli, the Laotian Thip Khao, the Filipino Bad Saint, the barbecue-centered Federal Pig, the Ethiopian Zenebech, the Indian Rasika, and the unconventionally Mexican Poca Madre (which offers a taco omakase menu) — as well as the “Jew-ish” Call Your Mother Deli and the 1958-vintage landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl.
9. Miami, Florida
Cuban food sets the pace here, whether at Cafe la Trova, which seeks to reproduce the atmosphere of 1950s Santiago de Cuba or the classic Versailles or an outpost of the La Carreta chain. Mexico is well represented, too, though, by places like Bakan, Lolo’s Surf Cantina, and the Tijuana-style seafood restaurant Pez. KYU is a modern Asian place, NIU Kitchen is Catalan in style, La Mar is Peruvian, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink is a James Beard Award-winner — Michael Schwartz’s — all-American flagship, La Petite Maison is a trendy import from the Côte d’Azur, Los Fuegos is Argentinean grill master Francis Mallman’s elegant South American place, and Joe’s Stone Crabs — probably Miami’s most famous restaurant — is a veritable icon.
The city also boasts at least 10 food halls — like Time Out Market, curated by the publication of the same name, with some 19 local restaurants represented. The city’s food scene shows no signs of slowing down as more restaurants continue to open. Other recommended food experiences range from a visit to the monthly food truck convocations at Tropical Park to a leisurely dinner at the haute-Continental Thomas Keller restaurant The Surf Club in neighboring Surfside.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana
The capital of Creole and Cajun cooking and birthplace or adopted home of dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, the muffaletta, the po’ boy, and beignets, among other, sometimes gets left off lists of the country’s best restaurant cities. Maybe that’s because the city’s signature dishes are so well-known and often ordered that people think that’s all the Big Easy has to offer diners. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with those foods, and establishments like Central Grocery, Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar, the revered Dooky Chase Restaurant, Cafe Dauphine, the very upscale Commander’s Palace, the fabled Galatoire’s, and the late Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen represent local tradition admirably.
But then there are multiple James Beard Award-winning chef Donald Link’s regionally flavored non-traditional places, like Herbsaint, Cochon, and Peche Seafood Grill; Nina Compton’s Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, combining American, Caribbean, and French influences; Vincent’s Italian Cuisine, serving Louisiana-Italian fare; Saffron Nola for Indian dishes; Marjie’s Grill, where the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos inspire original dishes; Alon Shaya’s Middle Eastern and North African Saba; the multitude of choices at the Pythian Market and Auction House Market food halls; and of course what may well be the country’s ultimate fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It’s no wonder that, as if to announce to the country that it was time to take another look at New Orleans as a culinary destination, Southern Living named New Orleans the top food city in the South.
7. Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City might as well be called that for the sin of gluttony, considering the concentration of extravagant and usually excellent restaurants around town, many of them located in glamorous hotel-casinos on the Strip. Best-known among these are outposts opened by famous chefs whose main establishments are elsewhere.
Ubiquitous Japanese master Nobu Matsuhisa has two namesake restaurants in the city, for instance; Wolfgang Puck has an iteration of his reimagined steakhouse CUT, among other places; José Andrés has a number of restaurants, including Bazaar Meat and the tasting-menu experience é by José Andrés. Multi-starred French chefs Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, and the late Joél Robuchon all opened in Vegas and all their places are thriving. TV celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio, Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, and Giada de Laurentiis are also in the mix, as are Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Roy Choi, Morimoto, and Michael Mina.
What locals know and visitors are starting to discover, though, is that there are plenty of less glitzy restaurants of quality off the Strip. District One in Chinatown is a must. Esther’s Kitchen serves authoritative Italian cooking; at Sparrow & Wolf it’s wood-fired comfort food; Flock & Fowl channels Asian hawker fare; it’s pizza at Good Pie and Vietnamese-tinged modern American at The Black Sheep. A food-lover could eat very well here without hitting the big-name places at all.
6. Portland, Oregon
WalletHub named the West Coast’s Portland the No. 1 food city in America based on some 30 indicators measuring affordability, diversity, accessibility, and quality. Even without considering its many fine restaurants, the city shines. It has food trucks like any other city, but more common here are food carts, most of which are parked in permanent slots in groups called pods. There are said to be more than 600 of these around town, offering a United Nations of cuisines — Korean, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Egyptian, Mexican, Burmese, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Polish, Hawaiian-Filipino, and many more. Then there are the city’s microbrewing scene, its urban wineries, its artisanal coffee shops, its chocolate and doughnut specialists, and more.
But of course there are restaurants, too. Standouts include the wood-fire specialist Ox, the suave French bistro Le Pigeon, chef Andy Richter’s Pok Pok Thai, the bright New American Coquine, the wine-centered Noble Rot, the nuevo tapas bar Ataula, the Duck House Chinese Restaurant, the eclectic pizzeria Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, the charcuterie and restaurant Olympia Provisions SE, the imported Japanese ramen place Afuri, and the Russian Kachka.