From authentic Mexican food trucks in LA to experimental Michelin-starred fare in Chicago, the US has more than its fair share of foodie cities just brimming at the seams with showstopping restaurants – and there’s no better way to explore a new destination than through its cuisine.
Naturally, the word ‘foodie’ takes on different meanings to everyone: some diners languish in long, lavish meals, while others take more joy from simple dishes in modest settings. But, whether you have a hankering for a lowkey bite or you’re keen to try some of the world’s most revered fine dining restaurants, Elite Traveler’s guide to the best foodie cities in the US has you covered.
Kicking off our list is New Orleans, which, to many, is the uncontested foodie capital of the US. The city’s cuisine takes inspiration from far-flung corners around the world, from Paris and Spain to the Caribbean, and all the way back to homegrown Louisiana staples.
New Orleans cuisine is all about big comforting dishes and huge flavours, with a big focus on seafood – lucky you if you visit during crawfish season. Gumbo (a thick smoky stew packed with veg and either meat or shellfish) is a staple on most menus in the city, with irresistibly overfilled po’boy sandwiches being another unmissable New Orleans dish – Walker’s BBQ is hailed as the best spot to get them. And, when it comes to sweet treats, look no further than the delightfully messy, powdered-sugar-coated beignet.
There are some spots for fine dining in New Orleans, too. The iconic Commander’s Palace down in Garden District, for example, has been serving what it describes as ‘Haute creole cuisine’ since the late 1800s. Come here for the classic NOLA flavours with an elevated edge, but stay for the fun-filled martini menu. One thing is for sure: you’re not leaving New Orleans with an empty stomach.
If one thing’s for certain, it’s that the people of San Francisco love food. They love talking about it, they love cooking it and most importantly, they love eating it. The enormous breadth of eateries in the city means that any craving can be instantly satisfied – from delectable fresh seafood and slurp-worthy ramen to authentic street-style tacos and fresh handmade pasta, San Francisco’s reputation as one of the best foodie cities in the US is well deserved.
The city is littered with top-notch restaurants, but it is its impressive number of Michelin stars that is the real draw for many. Among its starred destinations, an impressive three restaurants – Atelier Crenn, Quince and Benu – have the maximum of three Michelin stars, putting it second in the country for three-starred restaurants, only behind the culinary Mecca that is NYC.
For a more laid-back foodie experience, San Francisco still has plenty to offer. Head to Lucca Delicatessen for take-out sandwiches, Cotogna for rustic Italian classics and La Cocina Municipal Marketplace for market-style food with a conscience. The city is also highly regarded for its amazing farmers’ markets, with The Ferry Plaza market hailed as the place to be to buy fresh, sustainably grown produce. Head here on a Saturday morning and you’re all but guaranteed to see at least one of the city’s best chef’s scouring stalls for menu inspiration.
Another must-visit spot on a tour of US foodie cities is Chicago. Staking a claim as a hotspot for Michelin stars, the city is home to a remarkable 20 starred restaurants, with visitors travelling from far and wide to investigate its culinary delights.
Its only three-starred restaurant, however, is the incomparable Alinea which has topped Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants list an impressive six times. Regarded for its boundary-pushing take on modern cuisine, under the lead of chef Grant Achatz Alinea targets every sense simultaneously with a series of surprising tricks and creative dishes. The restaurant’s status precedes it, however, so be prepared to work hard for a table.
But, while the city’s slick fine-dining operation is a force to be reckoned with, no mention of Chicago’s food scene is complete without its most famous dish: pizza. Rivalries run deep here, with everyone claiming to know the best spot for a classic deep dish pizza pie, but head to either Burt’s Place or Lou Malnati’s and you won’t be disappointed.
Of course, no list of the best foodie cities to visit in the US would be complete without a mention of New York, where a melting pot of cultures and cuisine come together to create one of the most diverse culinary destinations in the world, with everywhere from Nigeria and Mexico to India and Vietnam represented here.
Naturally, fine dining is a staple of the New York food scene, with the city boasting more three-Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the country. Thomas Keller’s Per Se is a long-standing favourite among local gourmands and tourists alike, while Eleven Madison Park is a must for anyone wanting to experience the new wave of vegan fine dining. The one-Michelin-star Carbone is also a must-visit, with guests clamouring to secure a reservation at the ever-popular Italian eatery.
And, as is the case with most food-centric cities, the Big Apple’s fine dining restaurant scene is matched by the quality of its more casual eateries. Hand-rolled bagels smothered in cream cheese and topped with lox are a staple of NYC cuisine, with no trip to the city complete without one. There’s plenty of contention about who serves the best, but Russ & Daughters, Ess-a-Bagel and Zabar’s top many a list.
You don’t need us to tell you that in LA, Mexican food is the real deal. From taco trucks for on-the-go bites to sit-down Oaxacan feasts, the City of Angels has it all. Wonderful as this is for visitors, it can make it tricky to separate the good from the bad when that craving for tostadas kicks in.
If its Baja classics with an elevated edge and a focus on fresh, local produce that you’re after, head to Damian, which is one of the latest outposts from celebrated chef Enrique Olvera, in downtown LA’s Art District. When it comes to taco trucks, Mariscos Jalisco is a favourite among those in the know.
Asian-inspired cuisine is also a mainstay on the LA food scene, with most of its Michelin-starred restaurants fusing contemporary techniques with traditional Japanese flavours. The tiny Hayato, for example, which serves up artfully created kaiseki-style menus to just one seating of diners per night, is a coveted dinner reservation among Los Angeles’ elite, as is the equally celebrated n/naka.
This article originally appeared on Elite Traveler.