Table of Contents
- How We Travel for Food
- Our Picks for the Best Food Cities in the US
- Hungry for More American Food?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
We’re loud and proud about our appreciation for food in the USA.
We love it all from Cubanos in Florida to Poke in Hawaii. And don’t even get us started about our love for Hamburgers and Pizza. Sure, we can eat American food in our adopted city of Lisbon but it’s just not quite the same.
This love developed while we grew up in Atlanta (Mindi) and Philadelphia (Daryl). It blossomed during our many travels across the country both separately when we were single and then together after we met in 2006.
It came to fruition during a marathon 7-week North American road trip with the ambitious goal of eating our way around the country. And that’s exactly what we did during a whirlwind tour that hurtled us through 26 cities, 16 states and one Canadian province.
How We Travel for Food
Food was our passion before it became our profession. Accordingly, we enjoy doing tons of research to make sure we didn’t miss a bite before we visit a new destination. That epic U.S. road trip was no exception.
We almost killed ourselves while driving through snow storms in Pennsylvania, hail storms in Texas and torrential rain in Florida. And we’ll never forget the way our nifty Nissan Sentra rattled during the last few thousand miles. But we never got bored and we certainly ate well.
Our Picks for the Best Food Cities in the US
When it comes to food, some American cities stand above the rest. These cities tend to have mature food cultures as opposed to being famous for just one special dish. They also offer diverse great casual and upscale dining as well as great tasting food.
Based on the above criteria, the following cities get our votes for the top food cities in America:
1. New Orleans
New Orleans has all the makings for a rocking party – amazing food, festive music and flowing cocktails. This is a city where the good times roll all year long for both hometown locals and visiting travelers.
We’ve joined NOLA’s party multiple times when we were both single and after we got married. Though we haven’t yet visited during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, we’ve had as much fun as possible without breaking the law at other times of the year.
While we’ve enjoyed raucous second line performances on Frenchmen Street, shopping in the Garden District and touring Bourbon Street, most of our best New Orleans experiences have involved food. The others involved cocktails.
While we’re all about the city’s cheap eats ( think Beignets at Cafe du Monde, Po Boys at Parkway Bakery & Tavern and Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House), that’s just one aspect of eating in New Orleans. We also enjoy chowing down on both Cajun and Creole cuisine and dining at top New Orleans restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Cochon and Galatoire’s.
We plan to return to New Orleans sooner than later so that we can indulge in more decadent culinary experiences. We also plan to explore the city’s burgeoning international scene featuring Vietnamese, Israeli and Indian cuisines.
One of America’s oldest cities dating back to the 17th century, Charleston is a city that oozes history with its antebellum houses and cobblestone streets. It’s also a city that sets the bar for modern southern cuisine at neighborhood markets, casual eateries and upscale restaurants.
Charleston’s culinary scene has hit the international radar, with three restaurants (FIG, Husk and Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ) recognized with James Beard awards. Accordingly, making reservations is a must when visiting the Holy City.
We followed our own advice and arrived in Charleston with advance reservations at both FIG and Husk. Each meal was fantastic, featuring sophisticated dishes constructed with local ingredients. But these weren’t the only great dishes we ate in Charleston.
Lowcountry classics like Okra Gumbo and She Crab Soup displayed flavors and ingredients from the Caribbean and Africa. But, just like the city’s more upscale offerings, the tastes in these more humble dishes were 100% Charleston.
3. New York City
New York City isn’t just one of the best food cities in America. It’s also a culinary melting pot with food available from every corner of the world and at all prices.
On the high end, luxury diners can spend the big bucks at three-star Michelin restaurants like the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernadin, Masa and Per Se. Some of our favorite NYC restaurants like Le Coucou and Gramercy Tavern have Michelin stars too.
Without a doubt, New York’s temples of fine dining are amazing for those who can swing spending a car payment on dinner. Everybody else can eat equally well in Gotham for a lot less money.
We’ve had plenty of time to explore New York and its food scene. Mindi lived in Manhattan for eight years and Daryl worked in the city for that same amount of time. We ate it all from late Sunday bagel brunches, steak filled business lunches and late night pizza slices… and then we ate some more.
Ironically, our paths never crossed in New York. We later bonded over our mutual love for bagels when we met at a party in Philadelphia in 2006 and got engaged in Central Park later that same year.
We never tire of eating in New York. Our favorite NYC foods include Bagels + Lox in the Lower East Side, Soup Dumplings in Chinatown and Pizza in all five boroughs.
If we can’t eat it there, we can’t eat it anywhere. That’s why we’re happy to return multiple times a year to take more bites out of the big apple.
The past decade has been transformative for chefs in Houston as well as for the city’s six million residents. Not only is H-Town a mecca for meat eaters, but the city has also racked up notable accolades for its diverse food scene.
Brisket wasn’t a surprise when we rolled through the lone star’s biggest city during our road trip. We expected to find Texas Barbecue as well as Tex Mex and chef-driven cuisine. But we weren’t previously aware of the emergence of international cuisine, especially Vietnamese food, in Houston.
We got our first taste of Vietnam at Nam Giao. The Houston restaurant took as straight to Hue with authentic dishes like Banh Beo dumplings and Cơm Hến, a melange of baby clams, roasted peanuts and sesame seeds over rice. Then we ramped it up by eating Viet-Cajun Crawfish at Crawfish & Noodles.
Tasting Texas mud bugs seasoned with garlic and lemongrass was a revelation. Plowing through through a pile of tongue-tingling crustaceans, we feebly attempted to keep up with our Houstonian cousins who were clearly not first timers at this seafood rodeo.
It all made sense during a memorable lunch at now-closed Underbelly. After serving us dishes like Korean Braised Goat with Dumplings and Vietnamese Style Flank Steak, Chef Chris Shepherd rapped with us about the growing Vietnamese community. We learned, through Chef Shepard, that there are no crawfish in Vietnam and that Viet-Cajun Crawfish is a true Houston specialty.
Shepherd finished the conversation by letting us taste pork tacos that he had prepared that day for a Bon Appetite photo shoot. At the end of the day, that’s what Houston is all about – good food and southern hospitality wrapped together and tied with a bow.
5. San Francisco
San Francisco is easy to love. The hilly city has epic views on every corner and buzzes with electric energy at all hours of the day and night. Flanked by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and powered by cable cars, California’s cultural hub is nothing short of a feast for the five senses.
We’re not immune to the City by the Bay’s charms. Mindi lived in San Francisco for two years after college and we’ve both visited multiple times prior to and including our epic US road trip. It’s a city that simultaneously exhausts and excites us. Plus, it’s just a relatively short drive from both Napa Valley and Sonoma wineries.
Make no mistake – San Francisco isn’t a cheap city to visit as is the case with many of the world’s most dynamic cities. But it’s a city that demands attention from all who travel for food. On the high end, the city has three dozen Michelin starred restaurants including a trio (Atelier Crenn, Benu and Quince) honored with three stars.
But San Francisco isn’t just about expensive meals. Some of our favorite SF meals have involved eating little plates of dim sum and ginormous mission burritos. As for dessert, we never refuse pastries at B. Patisserie, Craftsman & Wolves or Tartine Bakery.
6. Los Angeles
Proving that San Francisco isn’t the only great food city in California, Los Angeles restaurants shine as bright as Hollywood spotlights. Let’s face it – stars and aspiring stars need to eat somewhere. In the City of Angels, that somewhere is everywhere.
We’re not kidding. Food trucks are literally everywhere in Los Angeles, bringing new meaning to the concept of a movable feast. These mobile restaurants serve a range of food from countries like Korea, Japan and Mexico.
Though we’ve never lived in La La Land, we both have siblings that did so in the past. Accordingly, we’ve visited multiple times and have explored the city’s culinary delights.
While we haven’t yet eaten at any of the city’s two dozen Michelin starred restaurants, we’ve eaten at enough Los Angeles eateries to find our favorites. Our top spots for eating in LA include Chengdu Taste, Petit Trois, Pink’s Hot Dogs and Zancou Chicken. Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza is high on our dining wish list for our next visit.
7. Las Vegas
Food travelers could easily visit Las Vegas without gambling and still have a great time. They could also eat well without leaving the strip; however, that second move would be an unfortunate mistake.
While many accomplished chefs operate restaurants like Carbone, Guy Savoy, Mizumi and NoMad Bar in casinos, many of the city’s most exciting restaurants are located off the strip. Some are downtown while others are in strip malls. Many serve food from countries like China, Japan and Thailand.
We’ve spent a good bit of time in Las Vegas both before and after our road trip. Not only have we attended three weddings in Sin City, but Daryl’s brother lives in Henderson, a suburban neighborhood not far from the action.
Our recent trips have all focused on eating off the strip when we’re not spending time with family. Highlights have included an omakase anniversary dinner at Raku as well as meals at spots like The Black Sheep, Sparrow and Wolf, Lotus of Siam and Partage.
Philadelphia may be located half way between New York City and Washington DC, but it no longer lives in the shadow of those two cities when it comes to food. The Philly food scene has garnered national attention for cuisine that goes way beyond Cheesesteaks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Cheesesteaks! After living in the historic city for many years, we’re still happy to chow down on a great Cheesesteak at John’s Roast Pork once in a while. But Philly’s most famous sandwich is just one food worth eating in the City of Brotherly Love.
Let’s start with sandwiches. Philly has wonderful Roast Pork Sandwiches and loaded Hoagies (local submarine sandwiches typically topped with Italian meats and cheese) that are equally if not more satisfying than Cheesesteaks. And this doesn’t include more eclectic options like Falafel, Tacos, Banh Mi and Bagels + Lox.
But let’s not stop at sandwiches. Philadelphia’s restaurant scene competes favorably with both NYC and DC thanks to a cadre of talented chefs who have made the more affordable city home. Nationally recognized restaurants like Zahav, Vernick and Vetri Cucina are so popular with both locals and food travelers that advance reservations are an absolute must.
Beyond chef-driven dining, Philadelphia’s best restaurants include cozy BYOBs, Asian eateries and pizza joints. With the addition of craft beer bars and Italian bakeries, Philly easily earns its slot as one of America’s best food cities.
Although Portlanders take pride in keeping things weird, Oregon’s largest city demands attention for a diverse food scene that goes way beyond gimmicks. The Rose City does many things well from earthy-crunchy hipster food to sophisticated dining.
Portland is a mecca for food travelers who savor eating and drinking locally when they travel. From food trucks to fine dining, most Portland eateries incorporate local, seasonal ingredients into their offerings with a passion that borders on obsession.
Originally intended to be a quick stop during our US road trip, Portland excited us so much that we extended our stay by several days. Even still, it was a challenge to fit the best Portland food into our hungry bellies in just five days.
The city initially hooked us with a third wave coffee scene that equals its craft beer scene. Specialty coffee shops like Heart and Coava gave us daily caffeinated boosts that powered us to explore the city’s scene from dawn to dusk.
Portland features a wide variety of food options with many chefs focusing on a unique cuisine, whether it be Thai at Pok Pok, Russian at Kachka, New American at Ned Ludd or Ice Cream at Salt & Straw. We ate at these spots as well as ramen bars, noodle houses and donut shops.
Once an elite American city, Buffalo spent decades as a brunt of jokes. Well, as the saying goes, Buffalonians are getting the last laugh.
New York’s Queen City has re-emerged as a city worth visiting for reasons beyond its proximity to Niagara Falls. Not surprisingly considering its presence on this list, one of the primary reasons is Buffalo’s emerging restaurant scene.
Globally famous for buffalo wings invented at Anchor Bar, Buffalo claims credit to a handful of quintessential American foods. We ate those famous wings at multiple pubs plus a slew of other Buffalo food favorites during our week-long, food-focused visit.
Many other aspects of Buffalo exceeded our expectations. After eating a range of food at classic spots like Ted’s Hot Dogs and Schwabl’s as well as at modern restaurants like The Dapper Goose and The Black Sheep, we loved everything and everywhere we ate.
Located just 230 miles from Havana, Miami is a destination for anybody who loves Cuban food but can’t visit Cuba. However, Cuban food is just one part of Miami’s food story, albeit an important part. The city’s food scene is equally notable for foods like stone crabs and ceviche.
Miami was a necessary part of our journey to taste America. Not only did stopping here give us the chance to scratch our Cuban food itch, but it also allowed us to stroll on the beach and eat amazing seafood.
Following the Miami playbook, we also ate Cuban food at Versailles and Peruvian ceviche at CVI.CHE 105. However, funky Wynwood hit our sweet spot with casual spots like Zak the Baker, Panther Coffee and Salty Donut.
Ironically, one of Seattle’s greatest contribution to American food culture isn’t technically a food. It’s a drink. Whether you love or hate Starbucks, there’s no debate that the Seattle-based company has changed the way that the nation drinks coffee.
Travelers should absolutely visit numerous Seattle coffee shops when they pass through Seattle. It’s a must. But eating is equally a must for any visit to the Emerald City.
It goes without saying that we drank a lot of coffee, including flat whites at Storyville in Pikes Place Market, during our Seattle sojurn. But we also ate great food including modern Korean dishes at Joule and comforting breakfast dishes at Lola. Other top Seattle restaurants include Canlis and JuneBaby.
Food enthusiasts will want to visit the aforementioned Pike Place Market where fish literally fly through the air. Although it’s a tourist spectacle, this public market is a fun spot to stroll among stalls manned by local fishmongers, farmers and artisans.
Chicago is a city that demands attention. After visiting the Windy City three times (twice separately and once together), we’ve only scratched the surface of the midwestern city with a food culture that inspired a devoted cult following.
And who can blame fans for loving a city that specializes in deep dish pizza and loaded hot dogs (i.e. Chi-Dogs). Beyond these foods, the city is home to two dozen Michelin starred restaurants including Alinea, one of the country’s most innovative restaurants.
Eating in Chicago is nothing short of exciting. During our most recent visit, we ate at chef-driven restaurants including avec, Girl & the Goat and Publican. We also chowed down on hamburgers at Au Cheval, scarfed Chi-Dogs at both Hot Dougs and Wrigley Field, drank third wave coffee at Intelligentsia and experienced modern mixology at The Aviary.
As much as we accomplished during our visits, we somehow missed out on eating Italian Beef and Jibarito sandwiches. This omission is reason enough for us to plan a return visit, not that we need an excuse since we love eating in Chicago.
If you visit Nashville and don’t eat Hot Chicken, did you really visit Nashville? While we ask this question with our tongues in our cheeks, there’s no denying the importance of this dish in Nashville’s food scene.
Legend has it that hot chicken dates back to the 1930s when Thornton Prince’s girlfriend added an inordinate amount of cayenne pepper to the batter to punish her cheating man. Often imitated but never replaced, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack has been serving the popular poultry ever since that fateful act.
Beyond hot chicken, Nashville is a worthy dining destination for fans of southern food. We dove into the virtual frying pan during our week-long visit by eating Grits and Shrimp at Husk and buttery Biscuits at both Biscuit Love and Sweet 16th Bakery.
We enjoyed a lot more during our visit including a delightful dinner at Rolf & Daughters and decadent donuts at Five Daughters Bakery. It’s no wonder that we want to plan a return visit during our next US road trip.
Popular with honeymooners and bucket list travelers, Honolulu is a food city hiding in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not many visit the Hawaiian capital for its food, but those who do are rarely disappointed.
While Mindi visited Honolulu with her sisters years ago, Daryl is yet to travel to Hawaii. After enjoying Poke in cities like Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Lisbon, he is anxious to eat it at the source.
When he’s not enjoying Honolulu’s natural beauty, Daryl plans to eat as much yellowfin tuna as possible. As for Mindi, she can’t wait to eat more of the best pineapple she’s ever tasted.
We both want to eat local dishes like Loco Moco as well as Malasadas, the popular Portuguese dessert that’s even more popular in Hawaii. As for Poi, we’ll leave that for the locals to enjoy though Daryl says he’ll try that too.
Boston is a city of contrasts when it comes to food. The historic city has numerous old-school restaurants including Union Oyster House, the country’s oldest continuously operating restaurant.
But Boston’s food scene isn’t stuck in the past. It’s also teeming with modern culinary trends like bagels, sushi and donuts.
Sure, it would be easy to spend an entire visit eating clam chowder at Union Oyster House, pizza at Regina Pizzeria and everything at Faneuil Hall, but that would be a shame. The Boston food scene has much more to offer food travelers willing to make the effort.
Although Memphis is just 200 miles from Nashville, the two Tennessee titans are a world apart when it comes to food. Sure, both cities serve some similar foods like Biscuits, Grits and Fried Chicken. But, while Nashville focuses on Hot Chicken, Memphis’ claim to fame is its barbecue.
We can’t overstate the importance of barbecue in Memphis. With more BBQ joints than would be humanly possible to visit in a week, the Bluff City justifiably deserves a place in any BBQ hall of fame along with the Carolinas, Kansas City and Texas.
As we gleefully discovered during our week-long visit, Memphis serves its ribs both wet (prepared with sauce) and dry (prepared with spicy rub). This approach makes condiment junkies like Mindi and purists like Daryl as happy as pigs in… Well, you know what we mean.
Since we were tempted to exclusively eat BBQ in Memphis, we took a self-guided crawl to spots like Paynes Bar-B-Que (our favorite), The Bar-B-Q Shop, Cosy Corner and Central BBQ. However, we didn’t stop there.
We continued our Memphis exploration at iconic eateries including The Arcade Restaurant, The Beauty Shop, The Four Way and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. Since all this eating made us thirsty, we also explored the bars in Memphis.
Don’t worry – these two food fanatics hit important Memphis sites including Graceland and The National Civil Rights Museum too.
18. Kansas City
It would be wrong to visit Kansas City and just eat barbecue but that’s exactly what we did. And why not? The city calls itself the ‘Barbecue Capital of the World’ after all.
Disclosure – We also ate donuts in Kansas City in our quest to eat donuts across America.
Kansas City’s commitment to barbecue qualifies it for this list of the best food cities in the US. It also made the city a necessary stop on our mad dash around the country.
During our 24-hour visit, we ate slow-roasted meat slathered in sweet sauce at three joints – Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, LC’s Bar-B-Q and Q39. We hate to pick favorites, but we’re heading straight to LC’s and ordering burnt ends when we return to KC.
Austin is yet another American food city that specializes in barbecue. In this case, the barbecue is the Texas variety which very well may be the best variety.
Texas barbecue involves slow cooking meats like brisket and sausage over mesquite wood. Unlike other American barbecue styles, Texas pit masters rely on technique instead of sauces to achieve maximum flavor. Food travelers to Austin can sample Texas barbecue at super-popular Franklin Barbecue as well as in nearby Lockhart.
After eating our weight in BBQ in Lockhart during our American road trip, we high-tailed it to Austin. However, we focused on eating the best of the rest at local food trucks and restaurants.
Culinary highlights of our Austin visit included eating donuts at Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts, sushi at Uchiko and Tex Mex at both Maria’s Taco Xpress and Polvo’s Downtown. We washed it all down with beer, coffee and avocado margaritas – as one does in Austin.
Cincinnati may be less famous for its food compared to other cities on this list but don’t count out Ohio’s City of Seven Cities. The salt-of-the-earth city has a burgeoning food scene and two iconic foods to call its own.
We specifically drove to Cincinnati to eat those two foods with no regrets. What can we say? We love ice cream and we love chili. Apparently, we also love chili topped with spaghetti and cheddar cheese.
Eating ice cream was our top priority when we visited Cincinnati and not just because we had arranged a private tour at Graeter’s Ice Cream. The family-owned ice cream factory produces what may be the best ice cream in America with its labor-intensive French Pot small batch process. We adore every flavor but especially the Black Cherry Chocolate Chip chock full of chocolate chunks.
Chili was our second priority – specifically Skyline Chili made with spaghetti, chili and shredded cheddar cheese. Known as 3-Way Chili, this Greek-inspired local specialty is cooked with cinnamon, nutmeg and hints of chocolate. It’s a must-eat for anybody who loves comfort food with a kick.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.