For outsiders, America is whatever is played back to us on movie screens or news alerts on Twitter. But the country is so much more than its soundbites. For starters, it's got one of the world's most diverse food scenes, with each city bringing its own unique history and talent to the table.
From the Michelin star-shining New York City to the coastal-cool Los Angeles and the underrated culinary gem of Lafayette, Louisiana, the best food cities in the U.S. are just waiting to be discovered by travellers hungry for adventure and the unexpected. Go beyond fried chicken in Kentucky and check out Louisville's progressive, modern takes on Southern-style cooking; find the world's best barbeque in Kansas City, Missouri; and definitely chow down on a James Beard award-winning Sonoran hot dog in Tucson, Arizona.
Stretching from New Mexico to Montana, America is vast, so we've narrowed it down with this list of the best food cities in the U.S. that you need to put on your bucket list, stat! Who knows what you might discover along your culinary journey through the States, but we can assure you, it will be something memorable.
The best food cities in the US
New York, New York
We once heard somewhere that "to be in New York is to be everywhere." From 3 a.m. dim sum in the East Village to coastal bites at Kindred or a coveted seat at Thomas Keller's three-Michelin starred Per Se, New York has it all — and usually at any time of the day. Ahem, it is the city that never sleeps.
New York has the most overall Michelin restaurants of any food city in the US, but it's not all white table cloths and long waitlists. Thanks to a diverse immigrant population, there are so many pockets in the city full of delicacies and down-to-earth bites from all over the world.
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Home of bourbon and the famous, crispy hot brown sandwich (stacked with turkey or ham and covered in a creamy béchamel sauce and shredded cheese), Louisville has all the classic comforts — plus, an evolving food scene that's full of welcome surprises.
Don't miss the quirky Proof on Main restaurant inside the 21C Museum Hotel that's innovating Southern-style cooking with seasonal dishes which change as frequently as its surrounding art installations. And make a reso way in advance for 610 Magnolia's gastronomic wonders that showcase the history and future of the city on a (very aesthetic) plate. After dinner, head to Hell or High water for cocktails that will blow your mind... if you can find the speakeasy's front door.
So you've probably heard of New Orleans, but Lafayette is Louisiana's underrated culinary treasure that actually has more restaurants per capita than New York City. Lafayette is the heartland of Cajun cuisine and you'll find endless food options along its Bayou Bounty culinary trail. Expect the freshest in Louisiana seafood, modern takes on time-honoured traditions, and the best darn gumbo you've ever had.
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In 2015, Tucson, Arizona became the first food city in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy — ironically, recognizing over 4,000 years of agricultural heritage. If it’s boozy brunches and tremendous tacos you’re after, you’ve come to the right place — but the accolade goes much deeper, to a culinary distinctiveness unique to the region and a tradition of making food that travels all the way from soil to table.
The UNESCO accolade has led to a boom of restaurants and food trucks popping up on every corner. From the James Beard award-winning Sonoran hot dog at El Guero Canelo to Barrio Bread's artisan loaves flour-stencilled with a saguaro cactus, the attention to detail and care given to food in Tucson is undeniably special.
Kansas City, Missouri
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Welcome to the world’s barbecue capital! Kansas City's signature style comes from restaurateur Henry Perry, who started a smoked-meat stand in 1908. This humble stand served a range of meat from beef to possum and woodchuck slathered with Perry's signature black pepper sauce.
Today, a version of Perry's restaurant still exists under the name Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque which is considered the most famous barbecue joint in the United States. For more stops on your Kansas city bbq tour, check out: County Road Ice House, Char Bar, Fiorella’s Jack Stack and Harp Barbecue.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
OK, admittedly, this one is technically a town, not a city. But we think this gem deserves a spot on the list. With more than 250 restaurants, this world-class resort town has lots to offer hungry travellers, from casual dockside dining at Skull Creek Boathouse to fancy French-inspired seafood served under twinkly lights at Charlies L’etoile Verte (they write their entire menu daily).
Every year, Hilton Head hosts a weeklong seafood festival that celebrates the best and brightest in Southern cooking. You can attend dinners hosted by celebrity chefs, crack a beer with America's best pitmasters and get your paws buttered up at a clambake to end all clambakes.
San Francisco, California
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Sourdough bread may have taken over the internet and the kitchens of millions since the pandemic started, but it's old news to the bakers of San Francisco, who have been perfecting this ancient practice for decades — the city's Boudin Bakery has been churning out loaves since 1849.
Every day, breadheads can be found lining up outside bakeries like The Mill, Acme Bread, Tartine Bakery and Semifreddi’s for a loaf of the good stuff. Pro trip: Sourdough is great for dipping into a steaming hot bowl of clam chowder. Better yet, slurp your clam chowder from a freshly baked sourdough bowl at Pier 39's Pier Market.
For a break from the carbs, head to local-fave Vietnamese restaurant Tu Lan or fight for a seat at Swan Oyster Depot.