From East to West, North to South, the cities in the USA are vastly diverse in their culinary offerings. Some cities are known for their local fare steeped in cultural roots, other cities are known for their hub of high quality chef driven restaurants and/or array of enticing, locally-sourced foods. The Pacific Northwest and Northeast coast have amazing local seafood, California and Florida have an abundance of almost year round fresh produce and the major cities are full of diverse, delicious culinary options.
On top of this, the USA is considered the great melting pot: home to immigrants and descendants of immigrants all over the world. There are cultural hubs all over the US that offer authentic international cuisine. It’s hard to argue ANY authentic cuisine in the world can't be found somewhere in the USA.
It’s hard to rank US cities in order for best food scenes, as this can be subjective depending on what you deem important for food scenes. This list focuses on major cities that you may expect as top culinary destinations as well as some up and coming foodie mid-size cities across the US that may not have been on your radar.
These cities are all worthy of eating your way through them and experiencing the US’ top culinary stops. If you live in, or have visited, one area of the nation, see what other cities have to offer before assuming your town has the best food scene. Other cities in different parts of the country may surprise you for what they have to offer.
20 Kansas City - Missouri
What do you think of Kansas City food? Kansas City is one of the places most associated with a rich barbecue history in the US. It is also associated with a strong offering of steak houses. However, Kansas City has more to offer than barbecue and steaks, although these alone may be justifiable for visiting Kansas City for the food.
In 2017, Kansas City was home to five James Beard semifinalists. Some of these chefs trained under famous chefs in larger cities and made their way to Kansas City to open their own restaurant. This shows Kansas City to be more than a city offering barbecue and steak houses.
19 Indianapolis, Indiana
The Midwest (except Chicago) often gets a bad rap for not being a foodie power house like other parts of the country. Indianapolis may have not topped any lists for food scenes in the US a few years ago, but just in the past two years Zagat, Food & Wine and Condé Nast Traveler have listed Indianapolis as a must culinary destination in the US.
What makes Indianapolis one of the best food scenes? Similar to Kansas City, high caliber chefs have been making their way here to open phenomenal restaurants. PCMA Convene suggests just in 2017 nearly 30 restaurants have opened in downtown Indianapolis which brings in more diversity and competition.
18 Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville has proved in the past years it offers more than being the home of country music and offering some fried Southern food. According to a 2016 article in the Tennessean, US Today ranked Nashville as the third best food scene in the country, and Zagat voted Nashville 6th best Next Hot Food Cities. Another accolade: Jimmy Kimmel supposedly flew from LA to Nashville just to eat.
Nashville still offers traditional, delicious Southern comfort foods, but chefs and restaurateurs in Nashville are pushing the envelope for not only creative Southern fare but other types of cuisines as well.
Just be forewarned: most of the best restaurants in Nashville need reservations, often weeks in advance. It is something natives are feeling the growing pains with having a bursting food scene.
17 Charleston, South Carolina
The country (and world) has been going crazy for Charleston, SC. It was named the best city in the US for five consecutive years from Travel + Leisure and voted second best city in the world. With these accolades, people from all over the US and the world are flocking to Charleston to experience this “best city”.
Traditionally, South Carolina coast is associated with low country cuisine, and Charleston offers some top spots to experience these flavors. This specific cuisine has notes of Southern, Cajun and African cuisine influences paired with the rich seafood that is off the coastline. A low country boil typically includes sausage, shrimp, crab, potatoes and corn all boiled together.
However, the depth of culinary options in Charleston goes beyond low country. Charleston too has been a hot spot for talented chefs to come and open top restaurants.
16 Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico is a special area in the US that is steeped in a strong, traditional cuisine. The Southwestern cuisine of Santa Fe and greater New Mexico gets its roots from the days of Christopher Columbus. It is a unique mix of flavors influenced by Mexico, Spain, Mediterranean and indigenous cuisines. Dishes with chilies reign supreme here and are often kept the same recipes for centuries.
In addition to this rich cuisine, Santa Fe offers award winning farmers' markets and cooking classes from local esteemed chefs. The beautiful, local produce is highlighted in these cultural dishes to make them shine. Make sure to visit other Southwestern culinary gems like Taos and Albuquerque while visiting Santa Fe.
15 Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis has been flying under the food radar. Minneapolis is usually thought of to many as a frigid, long winter city. However, more and more people are recognizing Minneapolis has much more to offer. In fact, Minneapolis was named as a top 10 place to visit in the world by the Wall Street Journal.
Early 2018 when Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl, the culinary scene got further put on the map. In fact, in January 2018 Esquire called Minneapolis the world’s best kept food secret. Minneapolis offers a good amount of high quality Scandinavian inspired restaurants, but there are many more cuisines you can find in the Twin Cities. Need more reasons to check out this food scene? Minneapolis had 13 James Beard Finalists in 2017.
14 Boston, Massachusetts
Boston can get over passed as a top culinary destination for other larger cities like New York, Chicago and LA. However, Boston should not be over looked as a food scene destination. Boston is of course known for famous dishes like lobster and clam chowder. Another interesting fact of Boston, that shapes the culture, is it has 35 colleges and universities in the city.
Some of these universities are quite notorious and have been around since the early days of the nation. The young vibe of these college-goers can sometimes clash with the old ways of this classic city, and the culinary scene is sometimes also a give and take on traditional dishes and new, cutting edge dishes.
13 Denver, Colorado
Denver has seen a huge increase in people moving there in the past few years. Along with the influx of people is an influx of amazing chefs and restaurants that are taking over the city. In 2016, Denver was named third hottest food city in the nation. In 2017, culinary competition Top Chef Season 15 was in Denver which amplified the culinary spotlight on this city.
Like other larger cities in the US, Denver is fast becoming home to many James Beard Award winning chefs who offer amazing, diverse food and dining experiences. Denver cuisine is originally known for green chilies, Palisade peaches, bison or elk……. But beware of those Rocky Mountain oysters!
12 Detroit, Michigan
The Motor City, Motown... foodie town? Detroit has more to offer than four pro sport teams, automobile and music history. In March 2018, the Chicago Tribune called Detroit a foodie's paradise. In 2016, The Washington Post called Detroit a food mecca. Before, Detroit was considered a working class, poor city that didn't really serve much fancy food. In the past few years, high quality chefs have been coming in droves to open new restaurants in the Motor City.
The city is a multi-ethnic hot spot which brings a wide variety of authentic international cuisine. Motown has definitely had economic struggles throughout its history - present and past. Hopefully with the rise in the culinary scene, it will continue to propel the city forward.
11 Miami, Florida
Miami has beaches, warm weather, bountiful, fresh produce, seafood and international flare. Of course, Caribbean and Latin influences are local and traditional flavors here. What adds to the Miami food scene is many famous and successful chefs in New York, LA or Chicago are opening counterpart restaurants in Miami.
A 2017 CNN article asked the question why so many New York restaurants were opening restaurants in Miami. There are many reasons why. One factor is there is a somewhat strong connection between the two cities, as many New York transplants live in or visit regularly to Miami. Whether you are looking for top NY chef based restaurants or to dig into the local flavors of Miami, it will be sure to please your taste buds.
10 Austin, Texas
Austin, like Charleston, SC, has been blowing up in popularity and on the culinary scene in the last few years. Austin has way more than the typical Tex-Mex cuisine. Sure, it has tacos, but tacos in Austin can be considered a class all alone. The taco game is strong here; you could eat tacos all day for multiple days and be totally happy. Besides tacos, Austin is also known for its strong showing of delicious and diverse food trucks.
The past few years, Austin has seen a dramatic increase in award-winning chefs opening restaurants here and pushing the envelope with flavors and creativity. Austin has something for everyone: high end bistros, award winning Ramen restaurants, arguably some of the best tacos and unbeatable food trucks.
9 Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is of course nicknamed the "Sin City" with all the lights and drama of casinos on the infamous "Strip". Las Vegas attracts tourists (usually coming with extra money) from all over the world making it a perfect spot for the best restaurants to attract international clientele.
There are fancy buffets at casinos, and some of the best international award-winning chefs have restaurants surrounding these casinos. However, Las Vegas' food scene offers more than just the restaurants on the Strip. For example, maybe some of the best tacos can be found from a gas station restaurant, Chili Verde. That's right, Chili Verde is indeed in an unassuming gas station, but Chef Carlos Cervantes has trained all over the Western US before opening this small gas station restaurant.
8 Seattle, Washington
Seattle has a deep food culture from coffee to seafood to produce to one of (or the) best food markets in the country. There are strong influences from Asia in the local fare as well as Native influences. Many chefs have come to Seattle, and the greater Pacific Northwest, because of the strong array of local, fresh ingredients at hand.
One reason why restaurants may thrive better here than in other parts of the country that are constantly dealing with labor struggles is Seattle's minimum wage is at $15/hour. This may help keep stability in restaurants where as other parts of the country have a battle to keep staff from turning over.
7 New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has arguably one of the strongest cultural roots and cuisines for any US city. The cuisine here has strong influences in flavors from France and Creole and Cajun traditions. Familiar dishes here include: dirty rice, gumbo, po' boy sandwich, beignets, oysters Rockefeller, crawfish, seafood boil, shrimp and grits just to name a few. You could spend days in this city and scratch the surface of the traditional fare here.
Right on the Gulf, New Orleans has access to many seafood options which makes it one of the best places to eat seafood in the US. Add on the Creole or Cajun flavors and you can see why eating in New Orleans is like any other place in the US.
6 Washington, DC
Washington DC has been named hottest food city in 2016 by Zagat and continues to top many charts as a top culinary destination in the USA. Washington DC has many James Beard finalists and winners along with Michelin star restaurants and top restaurants from Bon Appetit.
In fact, there are so many Michelin star chefs and restaurants (about 16 total), there is a Michelin Star Guide for DC. You may even want to venture just outside DC proper to Virginia where there is the only 3 star Michelin rated at The Inn at Little Washington. What more can you add to the mix for reasons to check out DC's food scene?
5 San Francisco, California
San Fransisco's food culture is almost as well known as the Golden Gate Bridge. In San Fransisco, you have the origins of sourdough bread, the fresh seafood from Fisherman's Wharf and the farm to table movement with the ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
On top of these traditional foods and cuisines, San Fransisco has an impressive 55 Michelin starred restaurants and seven restaurants with 3 Michelin star rating. What San Fransisco is also known for is cost, as it has one of the highest rents in the nation. Food costs in San Fransisco have also gotten a rap for being high. In 2014, the city received national buzz discussing the cost of $4 toast (which at some places is even higher now). Is the high price toast worth it? The only way to know is to try it for yourself.
4 Los Angeles, California
LA is a diverse mix of people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and income levels. LA may have one of the strongest diversities of ethnic neighborhoods which bring authentic, international cuisines. This diverse mix of people along with the availability of fresh ingredients all year long makes it a perfect mix for being a top food destination in the US. Chefs flock to LA to get their hands on these ingredients and the chance to work with the close farms in the area.
3 Chicago, Illinois
What's the best (big) city in the USA? According to Condé Nast Traveler, Chicago tops the list in the USA for 2018. On top of this, Bon Appetit named Chicago "Restaurant City of the Year" for 2017. What makes Chicago's food scene so great? The Windy City has a lot more than just deep dish pizza it's traditionally known for.
One of Chicago's best restaurants, Alinea, has earned a 3 Michelin star rating and is considered one of the best restaurants in the world. Many other restaurants in Chicago have Michelin stars and other prestigious awards and recognition. Chicago is not in short supply for award winning chefs and restaurants, and the list keeps growing.
2 New York City, New York
New York City (NYC) has named after it some iconic food styles such as the bagel, pizza, cheesecake and pastrami. It is one of the top destinations for chefs all over the world, as the saying goes: "If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere." Having a top restaurant in NYC, with so much competition, means you really are the best of the best.
NYC has some of the best restaurants in the US and in the world. New York City restaurants Eleven Madison Park was ranked fourth best restaurant in the world and Le Bernardin was ranked 26th best in the world for 2018. Le Bernardin was also ranked top (tied) restaurant in the world for 2018 from Paris based La Liste. Even if you don't have the budget to visit these top restaurants, NYC has so many other food experiences to enjoy no matter your budget or desired cuisine.
1 Portland, Maine
How can this smaller, less heard of Portland, ME beat out bigger cities like NYC, LA and Chicago as the top food scene in the US? Ask Bon Appetit. They ranked Portland, ME as the top restaurant food city in the US for 2018.
Portland's population is well under 100,000 and is traditionally known for fresh lobster of course. But how did Portland, the smallest city yet, make the top restaurant food city according to Bon Appetit? It seems chefs have been going to Portland lately in masses, and these are top quality chefs not just fresh out of culinary school chefs. Portland's food scene is literally growing leaps and bounds which is a major reason why it is pushed to the top of food lists in the US. Therefore, if you have been to Portland in the past just to enjoy the delicious, iconic Maine lobster, you may want to come back to check out the widely diverse, upscale food scene in Portland.