This blog post was updated on June 28, 2023.
The top three largest cities in the U.S. — New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — are foodie destinations in their own right. Visiting these classic U.S. cities never disappoints when breakfast, lunch, or dinner rolls around. However, if you’re looking for other distinctive foodie destinations, you don’t have to be limited to these three staples. From Charleston to Portland, we’ve searched out some of the best cities in the U.S. to park your fork and please your palate.
Charleston, South Carolina
It comes as no surprise that the oldest city in South Carolina is one of the great foodie cities in the world. Coupled with its stately architecture and gracious hospitality, Charleston has a food scene that emphasizes farm-to-table cuisine. And, you’ll find a wide variety of options, from fish shacks and barbecue joints to local haunts with classic shrimp and grits. Charleston serves up the epitome of Lowcountry cuisine, offering a blend of traditional Southern, African, French, and Caribbean flavors. You’ll find just that at places like Husk Restaurant, led by James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Broc. You should also check out FIG, a purveyor of serving only the freshest, in-season, local ingredient-filled dishes.
Oregon’s largest city is also a haven for a distinctive and quirky urban culture. It comes as no surprise that Portland’s adventurous spirit and open-mindedness also applies to its food scene. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, Portland takes great pride in its reputation for tasty restaurants and rich food truck scene. The city can thank its surroundings for rich local produce on the menu as well as wines from the Willamette Valley.
You won’t be hard-pressed to find loads of neighborhood spots in Portland serving up creative, constantly changing menus that emphasize local products and sustainability. From Russian to Peruvian, the food scene in Portland lends gems like Pok Pok, known for its Thai specialties. Next, visit Le Pigeon, spearheaded by James Beard Award winner Gabriel Rucker.
Amid all of the marble monuments and politics, the nation’s capital has become a go-to spot for chefs and restaurateurs to expand their culinary visions. Picked by Zagat as the top foodie city in the U.S. for 2016, Washington D.C. can thank the constant infusion of different cultures for its great food scene. Foodies get a great deal of bang for their buck here. You can find almost any cuisine you crave, from Ethiopian to Salvadoran. And as Washingtonians like to dine out a lot, you won’t have trouble finding a restaurant with an appealing menu.
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Just as you can expect music flowing from the street corners and wrought iron balconies draped in greenery, you can always anticipate a good meal in New Orleans. The city of Southern traditions and Creole cuisine is easily one of the great foodie destinations in the country. Cuisine in New Orleans is all about community. From po’ boys to sugary beignets, menus reflect the many cultures that have come through the city. You can visit staples like Antoine’s for French-Creole or celebrity chef establishments like Emeril’s from Emeril Lagasse. You can also check out one of the city’s many diverse neighborhoods to see what they deem the best style of gumbo.
New York City
New York City is a dream destination for foodies. What makes the Big Apple so amazing when it comes to culinary culture is the sheer diversity of what food lovers can expect when walking the city’s concrete canyons. Whether you want to feast on $1 slices of pizza or sit down at a Michelin-starred restaurant, New York City has something for everyone. Manhattan alone has some of the greatest culinary offerings imaginable. These include authentic Italian restaurants in Little Italy and a wide array of Asian cuisine in Chinatown and beyond.
While Manhattan might get all the attention, visitors hoping to experience the full breadth of New York’s food scene should consider checking out the city’s outlying boroughs for other amazing offerings. Head to the neighborhood of Astoria in Queens to chow down on moussaka at an authentic Greek restaurant. Next, hop on the G train for a bag of paczki at a Polish bakery in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.
Like any major city, Chicago has more than its share of world-class restaurants headed by talented chefs. Of the countless restaurants and bars that dot the Windy City’s streets, over 50 of them are led by chefs who have earned the distinctive James Beard Award. Foodies hoping to experience the full array of Chicago’s food culture should first consider sitting down for a meal at the acclaimed Alinea. The establishment is an internationally celebrated restaurant famous for its tasting menu.
But, like most big cities, Chicago is a melting pot, attracting restaurateurs from around the world. Whether you want to try adobo from master Filipino chefs at Kasama or enjoy carnitas at the up-and-coming Taqueria Chingón, Chicago is one of the best urban centers for foodies with a hankering for international fare. Meanwhile, no visit to Chicago would be complete without a taste of the Windy City’s two signature dishes, deep-dish pizza and hot dogs…served without ketchup!
A Houston stop on a foodie’s tour of the U.S. should come as no surprise to people familiar with the Bayou City’s immense diversity. Home to 145 different languages, Houston is one of the most multicultural cities in America. This diversity pays off in a wide range of eating establishments. While many visitors might be happy to enjoy a plate of ribs at any one of the countless traditional Southern barbecue restaurants in Houston, guests of the city looking for something more unusual can head to Crawfish & Noodles for an inspired fusion of tastes. Drawing on a range of flavors from the Southern U.S. and the far reaches of Vietnam, Crawfish & Noodles is at the forefront of the Viet-Cajun culinary movement. Adventurous foodies visiting Houston can also try out an exciting medley of flavors from West African eating establishments or partake in dishes from south of the border in the many Mexican restaurants and food trucks that serve the city.
After experiencing San Francisco’s culinary delights, foodies will wish they could leave more than just their heart in the City by the Bay. A city of progress and innovation, San Francisco has always been one of the great pioneers in food culture. The city is home to the first Chinatown in the U.S., a neighborhood dating back to the middle of the 19th century. With the neighborhood’s great age comes culinary institutions that are known the world over, including the famed House of Nanking. This establishment is 40 years old, delighting their visitors with delectable noodles and sesame chicken.
Foodies with a knowledge of food history will know that one of San Francisco’s best culinary creations is sourdough bread, a treat that Boudin Bakery has turned into an artform. Visitors to Boudin can enjoy sourdough any way they choose, from sandwiches and hamburgers to pizzas with all the works. Foodies visiting San Francisco will also adore a visit to the Ferry Building Marketplace, one of the oldest farmers markets in the world.
Did we leave your favorite foodie city off our list? Tell us about it in the comments below!