If there is one thing America does well, it’s food. The sheer variety of cuisines and dining experiences alone makes it a country worth traveling, especially for those who are gastronomically adventurous. There is almost nowhere in America you can go and not find one decent meal – decent being relative, of course – but there are some cities that just do it so much better than all the rest.
Here is a look at some of America’s best metropolises for good eating, chosen for their diversity of specialties and culinary experiences.
1. New York City
It wouldn’t be a proper list of great food cities without a mention of New York City. Sure, it may seem cliché, but New York City offers up just about every kind of food you desire. This author is partial to the basics of what New York does best – flavorful bagels, pizza cooked to perfection, soft pretzels from street vendors. But then there are the traditional delicatessens, inventive dishes like oysters bolognese at M. Wells Dinette, and delicious dim sum in Chinatown. New York also boasts four restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, including Le Bernardin and Per Se. You could never leave New York and still try some of the most out-there foods in the world, such as duck embryo (a Filipino delicacy) and sannakji, or live octopus that is famed in South Korea, at various city restaurants.
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to eating in Chicago, so much so that you’ll want to venture beyond the deep-dish pizza for which the city is famous. Chicago has the distinction of being home to “America’s most life-changing hot dog”, according to Esquire, and sees an ever-expanding restaurant scene that offers up treats such as tempura mashed potatoes (Little Goat Diner), proper Southern food (Carriage House) and Alpine-inspired cuisine (Table, Donkey and Stick). Thrillist recommends The Cut for great steaks and Doughnut Vault for satisfying your sweet tooth. You can even sample the dish made famous by America’s neighbor to the north, at the BadHappy poutinerie, where you’ll find a wholly American (and delicious) take on Canadian poutine.
3. Kansas City
Though the question of which American city has true bragging rights for best barbeque inspires heated debate, Kansas City emerges as the true champion. It even has the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which describes itself as “the world’s largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts with over 15,000 members worldwide.” The city is home to quite a few barbeque joints, so you can test them all and judge for yourself which one is best. The Wall Street Journal names Arthur Bryant’s BBQ and Woodyard Bar-B-Q as being among the best in the city. Even legendary New Yorker writer and author Calvin Trillin sings its praises, having once called it “the single best restaurant in the world.”
The number one food-related reason to visit Portland is the food cart scene here. Yes, food trucks have been gaining popularity throughout the country, but the options in Portland are particularly diverse and vibrant. Whether you’re having a yen for quality Italian, some creative Korean, Southern comfort foods or a twist on classic PB & J, you can find it at the carts in Portland. This is a great way of indulging your palate when you’re seeking alternatives to a typical restaurant scene, or when you’re eating on a budget. For something really different, check out Kargi Gogo for Georgian food (from the European country, not the American state) that includes delicious cheeses and meat dumplings. If you’re looking for more a traditional dinner setting, Portland has plenty of options for outdoor dining, and restaurants serving up pizza, Chinese food, oysters and many other tasty dishes.
5. New Orleans
There’s no end of good eating in the Big Easy, but the top gastronomic reasons to come here are clear: Cajun fare and seafood. The distinct flavors of Cajun cooking, which takes its tastes and preparation techniques from both Southern and French cuisine, are a staple of the New Orleans food scene and have been for generations. You can’t leave the city before trying some sumptuous gumbo, though you’ll probably want more than one taste of the good stuff. Creole cooking is similar to Cajun, according to New Orleans Online, but its influences come from Africa and various parts of Europe. Serious Eats has called the local seafood “phenomenal”, so you’ll want to leave room for a sampling of oysters, shrimp and other fresh catches as well.
The beauty of America’s multi-ethnic culture is that there is such an array of foods to eat in various cities across the country. Masterful approaches to fusion cooking of some of the world’s greatest spices and cooking styles, not to mention the ingenuity of cooks ranging from food cart chefs to those at the helm of five-star restaurants, leaves you with more tastes, flavors and creative dishes than you could sample in a lifetime – though it’s certainly worth giving it a try.