Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food Lovers

Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food Lovers

There are some assignments that are a writer’s dream, and this was one of them. What could be better than hopping from city to city just to try the tastiest food available? If you’re like me, food is a big part of your travel itinerary. News of a new local favorite is sometimes enough to get me on a flight halfway around the world. Whether you’re planning your own ultimate foodie holiday or you’re just stopping in one of the cities below on your next vacation, here are the 25 best American cities for food lovers.

The best American cities for foodPhoto by Victor Freitas from Pexels

40. Richmond, Virginia

Boiled peanuts, anyone? Virginia’s culinary contributions sound like the menu for a perfect picnic: apples, smoked ham, and wine. Richmond has a handful of exceptional fine dining establishments and a ton of casual ones, all of them whipping up an incredible, diverse array of food. The secret to its deliciousness is in the fact that chefs can source almost everything locally — the state is full of farmers.

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39. Buffalo, New York

Manhattan tends to get the most accolades for great pizza, but Buffalo will make you think twice about who should take the award home. Just like New York, Buffalo in the past welcomed an influx of Italian, Irish, and German immigrants, and the hearty fare reflects that. It’s also where chicken wings were invented, and you can eat your way around the globe with the ways these meaty morsels are served at countless spots throughout the city.

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38. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Do you like cheese? How about deep-fried cheese curds, served with marinara sauce and a pint of crisp IPA? If you answered yes, then Milwaukee is going to seem like food heaven. But it’s not all about cheese in Wisconsin (or is it?) Growing up around its recently booming beer culture are a variety of innovative new places that are crafting tasty dishes to go along with those delicious brews.

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37. Louisville, Kentucky

“Bourbon City” is getting a name in the culinary canon for putting a new spin on down-home Southern classics. Think smoked pork ribs with smoked peaches and smoky barbecue sauce — lots of smoke, basically, the perfect gustatory accompaniment to the local beverage of choice.

Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food LoversPhoto by Andrés Medina on Unsplash

36. Napa Valley, California

This is one of five Californian cities on this list, but there’s a reason they call it the breadbasket of the US. Fresh produce year-round and a healthy, deft way with food has diners raving over West coast cuisine. Napa has the added advantage of amazing wine pairings. It’s not cheap though — if $2 street tacos are more your style, skip it and head to one of our other Cali contenders instead.

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35. Birmingham, Alabama

This city doesn’t give a hoot about your waistline, but you won’t care after sampling all the local tastes. Mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, BBQ ribs, okra, pulled pork — every meal is a feast and Alabama does not hold back.

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34. Orlando, Florida

Disney World aside (we know you love those candy-coated almonds as much as we do!), there’s a lot to eat in Orlando. The abundance of restaurants catering to the year-round tourist crowd isn’t just schilling to make a buck, though. They’re creating exciting, tasty dining experiences that fit right in with the happiest place on earth.

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33. St. Louis, Missouri

Midwestern food doesn’t get a lot of attention — it has Southern and coastal cuisine to contend with. But St. Louis refuses to be defined by the bland prairie food of yore. It has a bustling indie food scene where you can find French crepes, vegan tacos, and a ton of other eclectic fare. Plus, it’s one of the only places in the US where you can have authentic Brazilian food — go figure.

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32. Houston, Texas

Surprisingly, we’re not going to mention barbecue here — we’ll leave that for another Texas destination further along in this list. What we love about Houston is how it has embraced nimble little pop-ups that are putting a global spin on classic cowboy fare. We could eat Korean style barbecue and Oaxacan fajitas every day of the week.   

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31. Savannah, Georgia

We’re happy to give two spaces on the list to the state of Georgia, where southern food doesn’t get more comforting or indulgent. In Savannah, a city already laden with moody history, the food is as seductive as the dreamy willows that line the streets. It’s the simple things that we love to eat too much of here: peaches, shrimp and grits, and fried green tomatoes.

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30. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is, at heart, a university town, which means lots of quick eats on the cheap. Plus, it has so many signature dishes that are on our last meal list: Boston baked beans, Boston cream pie, and New England clam chowder are just a few. There are also a lot of old-school classic restaurants here. Grabbing a table at Faneuil Hall is as good as sharing a bite to eat with the founding fathers.

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29. Asheville, North Carolina

You’re probably scratching your head, thinking “Where?” Asheville is one of the smaller cities on our list, but it pulls its weight when it comes to good food. Packed with dozens of little eateries, the chefs of Asheville have a philosophy: pick one thing, and do it to perfection. To that end, you can find the best grilled octopus, the most amazing handmade pasta, and killer Appalachian chow.

Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food LoversPhoto by Mgg Vitchakorn on Unsplash

28. Denver, Colorado

It’s no surprise that the only state with a university offering a degree in cannabis has an off-the-charts food scene. Whether your munchies are herbally-influenced or not, Denver has an epic food truck scene and lots of great restaurants with food from all over the map. The best part is, you can count on your table having a great view of the mountains.

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27. Baltimore, Maryland

The port city has been making its name on great seafood for ages — especially the scrumptious crab cake. Baltimore has always been a bustling hub for art and museums, and now its restaurant scene is rising to the occasion, too. You don’t have to look very hard to find Lebanese, Korean, or Mexican food — all of it great.

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26. Washington, DC

The brutalist architecture of the capital might be less than appetizing, but the food here is top shelf. It’s nothing but the best of the best for the movers and shakers of America; Chesapeake oyster and blue crab, Peruvian plates, and Korean BBQ, for instance. The city also has a thing for big, juicy, burgers, the perfect hangover cure for all those late nights schmoozing.

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25. Tucson, Arizona

Tamales. Those savory filling-stuffed bundles of pudding-like masa wrapped in corn husks and steamed are more than a delicacy in Tucson — they’re a point of pride. Here, you can get them in endless varieties, and the creativity chefs invest in these harbingers of yum recently earned the city a Unesco designation as a City of Gastronomy. Tucson has a lot of other cool eats on offer as well –and while you’re there, make sure to stop by the Biosphere!

Tucson: The best American cities for foodPhoto by Tai's Captures on Unsplash

24. Portland, Maine

Lobster rolls must truly be the food of the gods, if they exist. Fluffy white bread lightly toasted and slathered with butter is piled with the fruity, succulent meat and accompanied by chips and coleslaw. The perfect meal? It might just be, and it’s served up fresh off the boat in this East coast city.

Portland: The best American cities for foodDana Moos/Wikimedia

23. Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Twin Cities approaches food as if everyone’s eating for two, and the brutal winters have inspired some serious fare. The Juicy Lucy, for example, is a cheese-stuffed burger that any foodie would be proud to have oozing all over her Instagram feed. Besides your classic American favorite, there’s a surprising burst of restaurants lately boasting their global takes on cold-weather classics, like Indian curries, Japanese ramen, and more.

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22. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cheesesteak. The phenomenon of thin strips of steak smothered in hot gooey cheese sauce heaped on a bun has spread far and wide since it was invented in the city of brotherly love. Beyond that, its vibrant food scene is diverse and fast-paced. There’s always something new to try, and an influx of up-can-coming young chefs is bringing global influence to the menu.

Philadelphia: The best American cities for foodImage by Stephen Levin from Pixabay

21. Nashville, Tennessee

If America has a fried chicken capital, then Nashville is it. Locals call it simply “hot chicken,” and everywhere you look there’s a street stall, diner, or fine restaurant selling it. The secret is in the breading, and it’s all a matter of taste. You can get it crisp and spicy, pankoed and drizzled with mayo, or layered with pickles and dropped on a bun. It’s so good you’ll never get tired of it, but if you do, Nashville is full of exciting new dining experiences featuring old favorites and new.

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20. Boulder, Colorado

Think of Boulder’s food scene as the younger sibling to Denver’s: it’s taken the bigger city’s offerings and distilled it to the best of the best. Think artisanal ice cream, craft breweries where the food rivals the beer, and essential eateries that cover all our favorite cuisines: Creole, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Southwestern, and more.

Boulder: The best American cities for foodPhoto by Mark Cruz on Unsplash

19. Charleston, South Carolina

If you’ve never had a seafood tower before, this is the place to try it. Scads of fresh seafood like crab, lobster, and mussels, are practically de rigueur. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the down-home Southern cooking that the gentile city is also known for. Catfish and collards are a staple in Charleston, but so is the finest caviar, augmented with chopped egg and lemon. Throw on a seer-sucker suit, suck down an oyster at dusk, and you’ll feel just like a local.

18. Cincinnati, Ohio

Until recently, Cincinnati’s cuisine scene was dominated by skyline chili, a blasphemous but delicious spaghetti-chili combo. We’re not ready to say goodbye to that rib-sticking signature just yet, but lately, the city has a lot more to offer. Young chefs have been flocking to the area and opening fun, hip pop-up restaurants galore. The metropolis is also known for its public markets, where specialty shops sell gourmet cheese and candy in an endless assortment.

Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food Lovers Chris Glass/Wikimedia

17. Las Vegas, Nevada

Vegas has more restaurants than you could try out in a lifetime. The city is famous for its all-you-can-eat buffets and award-winning restaurants from celebrity chefs. While the prices might look like they cater to high-rollers only, once you get off the strip it becomes a whole lot more affordable — and fun. Delectable tacos, super-stacked pancakes, and secret pizza make getting a meal in Vegas as fun as seeing Cher at Ceasar’s Palace.

Las Vegas: The best American cities for foodAnna Irene/Wikimedia

16. Juneau, Alaska

In the last decade, Juneau has put itself on the map as the city where fine dining meets region-specific staples like bear meat and whale blubber. More recently, the fast-casual trend has taken the dining scene by storm. You can suck down king crab legs made to order, or duck into the people-pleasing GonZo for banh mi or waffles.

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15. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A few years ago, Pittsburgh took to the whole farm-to-table concept with gusto. By championing its local produce, it has managed to nab some serious foodie respect. We love Pittsburgh because even though the food is amazing, it never puts on airs. Its also delightfully diverse, with mouthwatering pierogi shops rubbing shoulders with Vietnamese pho palaces.

PIttsburgh: The best American cities for foodImage by Free-Photos from Pixabay

14. Miami, Florida

When you talk about the Miami food scene, you have to talk about two things: Cuban food and snow crab. It makes sense that, with a huge Cuban population, the Cuban food here is amazing — some claim it’s even better than in Cuba, though we won’t take sides. There’s also a lot of healthy food to be had, like nutrient-packed acai bowls. But the king of the Miami dining experience is snow crab, specifically, the arms, which grow back eighteen months after the local fishermen tear them off for your culinary experience. Humane? No. Tasty, especially dipped in melted butter? Um, yes.

Miami: The best American cities for foodImage by Elle Katie from Pixabay

13. San Francisco, California

Here are a few examples of the treats you can expect to find in San Francisco: the best Indian food you’ve ever had, amazing Burmese cuisine, vegan cinnamon rolls, made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, French soul food – the list is endless. With lots of affluent millennials around, the city has gotten to be as packed with creative food joints as it is with failing tech start-ups. Don’t miss experiencing some of the city’s iconic establishments such as Tartine Bakery, The Sycamore for brunch, and Swan Oyster Depot where they’ve been dishing out seafood since 1906.

San Francisco: The best American cities for foodPhoto by Erik Dungan on Unsplash

12. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Is it Tex? Is it Mex? Who cares, the food here is amazing. One of the best things about Santa Fe is that it’s really small too, so the best eats are all within shouting distance. But you have to try the insanely spicy green chile at the Plaza Café (make sure you get a sopapilla on the side — scratch that, get two!) and the tamales at the little stand in the town square. Or, go in September during hatch chile season and eat the smoky green chilis with the one-of-a-kind flavor fresh off the grill.

Santa Fe: The Best American Cities For FoodImage by Alain Lefebvre from Pixabay

11. Rochester, New York

It’s pretty rare to see Rochester on a list for anything good — the city is usually written off as a waystation for tourists heading to or from Niagara Falls. But Rochester has some surprises for food snobs and eat anything types alike. Craft beer and coffee roasters are starting to proliferate, but we’re fans of Rochester’s low-rent local delicacy, something called a “garbage plate.” You can get it at the Public Market (you can get healthy food here too, but, whatever). It’s a styrofoam plate of french fries loaded up with toppings, which can be anything from fried cheese curds to fried bacon bits. Our heart monitors are complaining, but our taste buds are saying more.

Best American Cities For Food: RochesterEugene Peretz/Wikimedia

10. New Orleans, Louisiana

Oyster Po’ Boys, Shrimp Creole, gumbo, jambalaya, muffaletta — New Orleans has more than its fair share of signature dishes. Its eclectic culture is reflected in the food, which mixes African, French, and Spanish flavors. Bonus points if you go during crawfish season and treat yourself to a boil. For sweets, look no further than the praline pecan which was invented here. Not to mention beignets — pillowy fried dough topped with mountains of icing sugar.

The Best American Cities For Food: New OrleansEncinalense/Wikimedia

9. Honolulu, Hawaii

Just as it is in every other respect, Hawaii is a paradise for foodies. Fresh seafood and South Pacific flair characterize the dishes here. Plus, you can expect tropical fruit like guava, passionfruit, and pineapple to play a big role at every meal. But our favorite is the Hawaiian plate lunch. The comfort food bento-style meal comes with chicken katsu, coconut rice, and macaroni salad. Beach bodies are overrated, anyway.

The Best American Cities For Food: HonoluluArnold Gatilao/Wikimedia

8. Austin, Texas

Everyone who’s eaten a meal in Texas comes back astounded at the portions. You can order four-pound steaks at most highways stops in the state, where restaurants have been serving up cowboy favorites for decades. We like Austin for the new gourmet spin its putting on old classics, and because you can depend on the quality matching the quantity.

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7. San Diego, California

San Diego calls itself the best city for foodies, and it’s hard to argue with that. Appropriately for the California coast, you’ll find more takes on the fabulous fish taco than you can possibly eat in a lifetime. The restaurants are as handy with the latest molecular gastronomy as they are with fast food. Some don’t-miss classics include In n’ Out Burger (expect a line), and The Crack Shack, which serves fried chicken so good you’ll understand why they named it after an addictive substance.

6. Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City has become something of a culinary darling. Originally a consolation prize for up-and-coming chefs who couldn’t afford to open up in New York, it’s now on the gourmet map in its own right. You can fill up on Chicago classics like deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, or break the bank on innovative small plates at chef extraordinaire Stephanie Izard’s Girl & The Goat.

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5. Los Angeles, California

Home of the rich and famous, LA has a lot of exciting eating opportunities, but we had a hard time coming up with just one dish that characterizes the West coast city. Is it the ubiquitous street taco? The friendly, approachable hot dog? Or the $400 small plates at Wolfgang Puck? Most likely, it’s that familiar frosty beverage clutched in the manicured hands of every starlet since forever — the Frappuccino.

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4. Atlanta, Georgia

Never mind that chicken place: it’s the entire city of Atlanta that’s finger-licking good. Smoky, spicy barbecue sauce? Check. Fluffy, fresh-baked cornbread? Check. Sides that are even better than the main course? Check. People often look to other cities for their Southern comfort food, but Atlanta does it best, whether it’s at a fine dining establishment or a cafeteria-style buffet. Don’t believe me? Tell that to the ribs I smuggled home in my luggage last time I went there.

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3. Portland, Oregon

Say what you want about hipsters, they’ve transformed Portland from an industrial bore-fest to a foodie mecca. No city does brunch better, has a better selection for beer, or higher standards for casual fare. There are establishments here that have reached cult status, like Voodoo Donuts, where the over the top treats live up the hype.

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2. New York, New York

The city where the cronut was invented deserves a place in the foodie hall of fame. Other dishes that we can thank New York for are Red Velvet Cake, the Waldorf salad, eggs Benedict, and the hot dog. For pure diversity and plentitude, New York beats other cities hands down. It’s got the best of everything, pizza on every corner, and dining experiences that border on the theatrical. There’s a reason the hottest chefs in the world love New York and all we can say is: same.

The best american cities for food: New YorkLWYang/Wikimedia

1. Seattle, Washington

The heading says Seattle, but you could really just go to Pike’s Place Market and leave it at that (locals will hate that sentence but come at me, I dare you.) Take a selfie at the first-ever Starbucks if you must (the coffee at that one is as bad as all the rest) and then eat your way around the world! Piroshki is a forever-favorite, serving up delightful Ukrainian pastries stuffed with potato, cheese, meat, and the sublime. Another cheeky essential is Biscuit B*tch, where you can gorge on an American fave: biscuits and gravy. It’s a great hangover cure, not that we’ve ever over-indulged. Nope.

Road Trip: The Best American Cities For Food LoversImage by Vickie McCarty from Pixabay