20 Best Foodie Cities in the U.S.
Many American cities have impressive food cultures. But which ones are the creme de la creme?
Our editors took findings from a recent Rent.com study that looked at 51 cities and combined that with data from a 2019 WalletHub survey to answer that very question. The results were at turns expected (hello, New York City and San Francisco!) and surprising (Tampa?), but all of these culinary hotspots had truly diverse food scenes that make them worth your time.
Before you plan your next trip, take a look at the top 20 foodie cities in the U.S. to see what they have to offer visitors and locals alike. Did your favorite culinary destination land on the list?
20. Charleston, South Carolina
Affordability rank: 61
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 19
OK, Charleston didn't make the Rent.com list, but it did make the WalletHub list, and we believe it earns a spot in the top 20 on ours as well. That's because the food scene in Charleston goes well beyond the typical Southern fare of barbecue and fried cuisines. (Though the barbecue and fried food are terrific, of course.)
Given its geographic location on the coast, surrounded by marshlands (also known as the “Lowcountry”), the Holy City touts cuisine influenced by spices that made their way in via the colonial trade, ensuring plenty of diverse cuisines. Plus, the seafood is first-rate.
* Affordability and diversity rankings listed were sourced from the WalletHub survey.
What to Eat in Charleston
When eating in any foodie city, it's great to experiment — but essential to try the classics.
“My advice is when you are in a city you may not be familiar with, don't look for the restaurant you like — find out if there is a food that the city is well known for and eat in those restaurants,” Dr. John L. Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. John’s University, founder and editor of the Journal of Food Product Marketing and one of the experts featured in the WalletHub survey, tells Far & Wide.
In Charleston, the famous seafood scene is marked by traditional faves like roasted oysters, garlic crabs, and shrimp and grits. Try these and other Lowcountry staples at the locally beloved Poogan's Porch and Slightly North of Broad.
19. Oakland, California
Affordability rank: 18
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 121
Oakland might not spring to mind immediately when you’re thinking about food destinations, but don’t let its proximity to San Francisco, its well-known food-mecca neighbor, throw you off. This city can more than hold its own.
Oakland has landed on various top 10 food lists in recent years, thanks to its diverse culinary offerings, produced using ingredients from nearby farms. The variety of foods on tap makes sense, considering Oakland is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S.
What to Eat in Oakland
Be sure to check out Swan’s Market in historic Oakland for a variety of offerings, including Michelin-quality sushi and French-inspired small plates at Delage, coastal cuisine at The Cook and Her Farmer and made-from-scratch Californian-Mexican food at Cosecha.
The market demonstrates the city's breadth of cultural influences to delicious effect.
18. Tampa, Florida
Affordability rank: 56
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 13
Tampa is easily one of the most surprising cities on the list, but Brian Connors, clinical instructor of food and beverage management at Florida International University, wasn’t surprised it was included. Unlike other parts of Florida, he says that “Tampa’s got this young vibe happening, where a lot of young professionals and young families with a lot of disposable income and education are moving into that area.”
Additionally, it’s one of the craft-beer hubs of the East Coast. “They go hand-in-hand,” Connors says. “Where that craft beer culture is, foodie culture is as well, and vice versa.”
What to Eat in Tampa
While overshadowed by Miami, Tampa also knows its way around Cuban food, including the beloved Cuban sandwich. The Ybor City neighborhood hosts some of the city’s best restaurants hawking food from Florida’s southern neighbor, with Columbia Restaurant and Carmine’s Ybor among the best.
Wash your meal down with some of that famous craft beer; the city is home to both major producers like Yuengling and up-and-coming breweries like Cigar City Brewing.
17. Sacramento, California
Affordability rank: 43
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 17
Often overlooked in favor of trips to more famous cities in the state, Sacramento has come into its own as a major food destination. Between the access to fresh, local ingredients and low rents that attract innovative chefs, the city not-by-the-bay is the ideal place to start a restaurant.
What to Eat in Sacramento
Sac-town has been touting its farm-to-table cred since before that was cool, so make sure to seek out spots utilizing ingredients sourced local. The aptly named Localis is one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the city and features a rotating menu, depending on what’s in season.
Brunch is also de rigueur here. For this, try Echo & Rig — a steakhouse that also happens to be one of the city’s buzziest brunch locations.
16. Atlanta, Georgia
Affordability rank: 71
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 11
This Southern-to-the-core city touts, naturally, plenty of deliciously fatty Southern staples, from fried chicken and waffles to country-fried ham to cat heads (biscuits smothered in sausage gravy). But this is also a city very much on the cutting-edge, with James Beard accolades to its name and even a surprisingly robust vegetarian/vegan scene.
It’s this mix of the old and new, classic and surprising, that keeps foodies flocking to Hotlanta.
What to Eat in Atlanta
For belt-loosening Southern classics, head to one of the city’s South City Kitchen outposts. But to find some of the boldest flavors, you’re going to want to venture out of the downtown area and into the local neighborhoods. Visit Bacchanalia for a pre-fixe seasonal farm-to-table menu or the Iberian Pig for meat-centric Spanish tapas (vegetarian options are available, too).
There’s a lot going on in southwest Atlanta, between Greens & Gravy soul bistro, plant-based burger joint the Slutty Vegan and intriguing concept restaurant My Potato Factory, where you can find all manner of gourmet spuds.
And though you might not expect this southern city to be a hotspot for authentic Asian food, a visit to Korean restaurant Jang Su Jang, family-owned Sichuan restaurant Masterpiece or Sushi Hayakawa will change your mind.
15. Denver, Colorado
Affordability rank: 68
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 14
The Mile-High City is a great place to go if you’re a foodie with a sense of adventure. It’s home to an emerging craft spirits scene; cuisine from countries not often represented in the states, including Trinidad and Tobago; and, of course, plenty of cannabis-infused treats.
As local chef Carrie Baird put it in The Chicago Tribune, “Everyone’s pushing the envelope” in Denver. And that makes it one of the most exciting cities to eat your way through.
What to Eat in Denver
Even Denver’s signature dish has some edge. Rocky mountain oysters, for the uninitiated, are not seafood, but deep-fried bull testicles — and they’re surprisingly delicious. The Buckhorn Exchange, a steakhouse dating back to 1893, serves a mean version.
The easiest way to sample the city’s different cuisine styles is by heading to one of many large markets and food halls — like the Denver Central Market, the Source and the Stanley Marketplace, where old favorites and new dishes meet.
Denver also has a strong farm-to-table movement, represented at standout restaurants like Mercantile Dining & Provision, Beast & Bottle and Potager — the city’s local-cuisine pioneer.
14. Austin, Texas
Affordability rank: 15
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 15
If you think of food from Austin and breakfast tacos and barbecue immediately spring to mind, you wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s far more to Bat City than these Texas standards.
The third-fastest-growing city in America seemingly adds a new restaurant to its culinary scene every week. And like the hipsters who increasingly populate the city, it’s nothing if not trendy. Austin was an early pioneer in the food truck, farm-to-table and fusion-cuisine movements; of late, it’s embraced the natural wine trend.
This is the city to watch when anticipating what’s next in food and drink.
What to Eat in Austin
True, Austin touts diverse culinary options, but you can’t leave without trying some of its homegrown barbecue. Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue do it best.
Get a taste of the food-truck scene at Odd Duck, which started as a wildly popular truck before moving into brick-and-mortar digs. Best known for its pork belly sandwiches, the restaurant also serves up new twists on old favorites like beer sherbet, redfish ceviche and chicken-fried fish head.
There’s also a lot of interesting fusion food happening here, like izakaya-meets-smokehouse restaurant Kemuri Tatsu-ya; the Elizabeth Street Cafe, crafting inspired French-Vietnamese cuisine; and Barley Swine, which serves up flavors from far and wide using hyper-local ingredients.
13. Houston, Texas
Affordability rank: 8
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 25
In 2018, "GQ” named Houston the “new capital of southern cool,” owing much to its thriving food scene.
America’s fourth-largest city has some amazing barbecue, of course, as every Texas metropolis worth its salt must. But Houston’s food culture is about more than smoked meats. Like Oakland, the city benefits mightily from its ethnic diversity, which makes it an ideal spot to try all kinds of cuisine.
What to Eat in Houston
First thing’s first: When it comes to the 'cue, Houston is particularly good at brisket and ribs. Try both at Gatlin’s BBQ, which lands on most best-of lists for a reason.
Outside barbecue, where to begin? For a taste of the city’s diversity, try the Cajun-Creole brasserie Eunice and State of Grace, where Atlanta restaurateur and Houston-native chef Ford Fry serves up everything from Thai curry Spanish octopus to wild boar Bolognese to cream cheese-frosted cinnamon rolls.
12. Orlando, Florida
Affordability rank: 22
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 7
Rows of chain restaurants may come to mind when you think of Orlando. And for good reason — it’s one of the biggest test markets in the country for fast-food joints.
The next thing you probably think of is Disney World. And according to Florida International University’s Connors, that’s one of the main reasons Orlando ranks so highly on this list. He calls it the “Disney Effect” — not only are there some amazing restaurants on Disney property, but the theme park’s many eateries serve as a training ground for chefs.
The city also touts what Connors calls “micro-foodie heavens” in neighborhoods outside the theme-park zone.
What to Eat in Orlando
One of the best restaurants in Disney territory is Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort. Its seasonal menu delivers, and there’s a healthy array of vegetarian options available.
Renowned fusion chef Norman Van Aken has had his restaurant, Norman’s, in the city for years, and it remains a must-visit.
The best local neighborhoods to eat your way through are Winter Park and College Park; both are havens for hip establishments serving inventive fare.
11. Washington, D.C.
Affordability rank: 146
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 12
Our nation’s capital has been getting a lot of attention as a food destination recently, including being named Bon Appetit’s 2016 Restaurant City of the Year. Culinary options run the gamut from Michelin-starred fine-dining spots that cater to political A-listers, to a plethora of excellent food trucks — and everything in between.
The one caveat here? The D.C. food scene doesn’t come cheap, which kept it from earning an even-higher spot on the list.
What to Eat in Washington, D.C.
Unlike some of the other cities on here, D.C. isn’t known for any one particular dish or style. Instead, your best bet is to try a little bit of a lot of things.
Our picks? The inventive food stalls at Union Market, which include modern Israeli vegan street food at Shouk and old-school NY soda-shop Buffalo & Bergen; the bountiful brunch bread options at Le Diplomate; the unlimited small plates of Balkan food at Ambar; and Hanumanh, serving dishes made by mother-son chefs and leaders of the Lao food movement.
10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Affordability rank: 46
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 19
Philadelphia isn’t one of those under-the-radar food cities: It wears its local cuisine and customs with pride.
The City of Brotherly Love gets heated when discussing which restaurant makes the best cheesesteaks (or if the roast pork sandwich is actually the superior option) and touts such nationally known icons as the historic Reading Terminal Market.
What to Eat in Philadelphia
A cheesesteak is a must, obviously, and while everyone has their favorites, you can’t go wrong at Tony Luke’s or John’s Roast Pork.
But there’s so much more to Philly than its signature sammy. Seek out Abe Fisher (which puts imaginative international spins on traditional Jewish foods) or Noord, a minimalist-chic BYOB bistro featuring Dutch cuisine.
9. Miami, Florida
Affordability rank: 100
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 3
Miami ranks so highly because of the authenticity of its food, Connors explains. The region is experiencing a boom of what Connors calls “pockets of authenticity, where restaurants are becoming hyper-focused on one particular thing” in neighborhoods like Wynwood or the Brickell financial district, as well as surrounding areas like Coral Gables and even up to Fort Lauderdale.
What to Eat in Miami
A few years ago, Peruvian food was the craze — and while the fervor has died down a bit, it’s still well worth eating in the Magic City. Jaguar Latin-American Kitchen serves some of the best Peruvian food outside Peru, including a perfectly tangy ceviche.
Today, it’s all about food from Oaxaca, Mexico. Get in on the hype by trying the queso fundido with Oaxaca cheese at Bakan.
And then, of course, there’s high-quality Cuban food, a Miami favorite for decades that will never go out of style. Try the best Cuban food of your life at local chain La Carreta.
8. Seattle, Washington
Affordability rank: 162
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 6
Seattle doesn’t fare well in terms of affordability, but at least you can trust that what you’re paying for will be worth it.
The home of the iconic Pike Place Market and the first Starbucks is not just about throwing fish and mass-produced lattes; in recent years, it’s come into its own as a culinary leader, thanks to its special combination of easily accessible fresh seafood, ethnic diversity and an innovative spirit.
What to Eat in Seattle
If you’re in the mood for seafood, there’s plenty of it, including at Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Hitchcock and Matt’s in the Market.
Or try something different at the Flintcreek Cattle Co., which serves up responsibly raised game meats like bison hanger steak and wild boar shoulder, as well as hearty vegetarian fare including pickled vegetables in a blue cheese-tahini sauce.
In addition to new American cuisine, there’s plenty of international offerings as well, like Lebanese food at Cafe Munir, Caribbean sandwiches at Un Bien and Mexican favorites at the family-owned La Carta de Oaxaca.
7. San Diego, California
Affordability rank: 60
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 9
Like the other entries from California on this list, San Diego benefits from being relatively close to abundant produce, ensuring the fare here is fresher than fresh. Add in some of the most creative chefs in America, and you have the recipe for a winning foodie destination; no wonder it’s also been named one of the top destinations for food lovers by Yelp.
What to Eat in San Diego
Not sure where to start? A reservation at Herb & Wood is a good bet, with menus that change daily featuring a modern Italian bend.
Opt for some of the city’s other gems, like southeast Asian food with a California twist, at Dija Mara; elevated comfort food at Whisknladle; or The Marine Room, which pairs coastal cuisine with sweeping views of the sea.
Oh, and make sure to carve out time to try the San Diego-bred California burrito, stuffed with all the usual fillings plus a healthy helping of French fries. Nico’s Mexican Food and Lucha Libre serve what are widely regarded to be the best renditions.
6. Chicago, Illinois
Affordability rank: 98
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 10
Like the other great immigrant cities on this list, the Windy City has no shortage of international cuisine, as well as plenty of local favorites. But what really makes the city stand out its balance of haute fine-dining and low-frills comfort food. It touts 22 restaurants with coveted Michelin stars, for instance, but also counts the humble hot dog among its signature dishes.
Little wonder the city is so frequently lauded, including being named the 2017 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit.
What to Eat in Chicago
The aforementioned hot dog, sold at stands throughout the city, is of course a must; just make sure to hold the ketchup, as is Chicago custom.
Deep-dish pizza also famously hails from the city (try Gino’s East or Lou Malnati’s, among many excellent options), as does Chicago-style popcorn, a mix of cheddar and caramel flavors that can be enjoyed at Garrett popcorn shops throughout the city.
With vibrant Greek, Vietnamese, Italian, Polish, Mexican and Chinese neighborhoods, you can eat your way around the world over a weekend. For a taste of the high-end options, there’s the first Michelin-starred brewpub and Parachute (featuring James Beard Award-winning chefs).
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
Affordability rank: 20
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 8
Las Vegas may not be known for its cultural offerings, but it is known for having some of the best restaurants in the world. Though food used to be an afterthought — expansive buffets were a way to get people in the door of casinos — that is no longer the case.
Ever since Ruth’s Chris came to town in 1989, luxury dining options in Sin City have proliferated; now even the buffets are high-end. It’s also the epicenter for celebrity-chef outposts. If you have a favorite chef from the Food Network, chances are you can eat their food in Vegas.
What to Eat in Vegas
Wolfgang Puck was one of the first A-list chefs to set up shop in Vegas, opening his first outpost more than 25 years ago. Today, you can still try his cuisine at various restaurants around town, including Cut.
You can also dine out at Nobu Matsuhisa for sushi, named after the legendary Japanese chef; Guy Savoy’s restaurant at Caesar’s Palace; and Pierre Gagnaire’s only restaurant in the United States, among many others.
4. Portland, Oregon
Affordability rank: 17
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 5
The affordable, high-quality food in Portland put it at the top of WalletHub’s list, earning it in the top five on ours. Famous for its farm-to-table culture and the availability of the freshest ingredients, PDX is a dream-come-true for innovative chefs.
Looking for something more casual? Portland has you covered there, too.
3. Los Angeles, California
Affordability rank: 80
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 4
As a city full of immigrants and transplants, it makes sense that L.A. has one of the most exciting food cultures in the country. It’s also relatively easy for a new chef to get started in this town, thanks to an abundance of food trucks and the opportunity to set up shop in a small strip mall.
In a city where many residents look like (or are) models, it also makes sense that healthy eating reigns supreme. The city’s vegetarian and vegan scenes are second to none, with PETA recently naming it “vegan heaven.”
What to Eat in L.A.
Go full California at Baroo Canteen, which serves up fermented veggie and grain bowls, or Plant Food + Wine, where star chef Matthew Kenney puts his indelible spin on vegan dishes.
Downtown LA (or DTLA, as it’s become known) used to be no-man’s land but, today, hosts some of the best eateries in the area, including hotspot Bestia, serving elevated Italian food.
L.A. has always been a city of neighborhoods. To try a lot of what the city has to offer in one place, visit the historic Grand Central Market, where you can sample offerings from some of L.A.’s favorite cuisines.
2. San Francisco, California
Affordability rank: 127
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 2
The City by the Bay is the personal favorite of St. John’s University’s Stanton.
“There are so many great seafood restaurants, but there is also a downtown with all sorts of ethnic food,” he says. “Additionally they have one of the best Asian restaurant scenes. Add in the beauty of the city, and it's my number one.”
Considering the city's No. 2 spot on this list, Stanton is clearly not alone in his glowing assessment.
What to Eat in San Francisco
With so many options — that only seem to be getting better — it can be hard to choose where to eat in San Francisco. Waterfront spot Angler, serving that exemplary seafood Stanton was raving about, surely won't disappoint. It was named Esquire’s best new restaurant of 2018.
Next, try Scandanavian food at Kantine, pinsa (pizza’s older cousin) at Barbara Pinseria and western Indian Gujarati cuisine at Besharam, before sampling Chinese food to your heart’s content at China Live Market Restaurant.
Then, book your next trip because there’s a lot more to eat.
1. New York, New York
Affordability rank: 175
Diversity, accessibility and quality rank: 1
“In my expert opinion, New York is still the one to watch,” Connors says. “New York is still the epicenter of defining and then creating food trends.”
It's no wonder, then, that NYC ranks first in the category of "diversity, accessibility and quality" and earned a No. 1 spot on our list. With restaurants and shops from virtually every corner of the planet, each of the five boroughs has something different to offer. Plus, fine dining doesn’t come better — NYC has 93 Michelin stars, more than any other city in the country and the fifth-most in the world. Yes, it can be pricey, but you can also find a delicious slice of pizza on practically every corner for less than $5.