San Antonio, TX
Courtesy of The San Antonio River Walk
When you travel by your stomach, the challenge may now be following the latest trends — literally.
Anna Brones, a food columnist at EcoSalon.com, recalls sitting in a San Francisco bar when she saw a woman walk in, dragging a cooler on wheels. “A crowd immediately surrounded her,” she says, “and my friend said, matter-of-factly, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the Tamale Lady.’ I figured I better buy one of the tamales from her cooler — and what an excellent choice.”
Such ever-changing culinary buzz secured San Francisco’s status near the top of America’s best cities for foodies, as chosen by Travel + Leisure readers. Within the important food and drink category of T+L's America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers weighed in on which major cities had the best big-name eateries, neighborhood cafés, ethnic cuisine, and farmers’ markets.
Indeed, today’s most enthusiastic foodies seek out indulgences well beyond the white-tablecloth variety. Markets are a key enticement for those wanting to experience the nationwide farm-to-table trend. Among the top 20 foodie cities, restaurant communities focused on fresh ingredients.
We found nearly as many fresh takes on comfort food — such as craft beer–infused mac ‘n’ cheese in Minneapolis — and the unstoppable recent trend of food trucks and pop-up restaurants. With more than 200 restaurants-on-wheels patrolling the city daily, Portland, OR, has food trucks for any craving, even Korean-Hawaiian fusion.
No. 10 San Antonio, TX
People say they come here for the historic Alamo, but it could very well be the queso- and chile-sauce-slathered Tex-Mex: San Antonio ranked in the top 10 for both ethnic fare and barbecue. If you want to get off the tourist grid, head to Southtown, south of downtown, to try the gastropub The Monterey or The Friendly Spot, an ice house with tamales, tostadas, and a dizzying long list of microbrews.
No. 9 Charleston, SC
This South Carolina city embraces its traditional low-country cuisine — southern cooking with a heavy dose of coastal oysters, crab, and shrimp. Stroll around the historic district and you’ll see (and smell) plenty of foodie magnets like the new HUSK, helmed by James Beard Award–winner Sean Brock. It’s another charming side to Charleston, which readers voted No. 1 for quaint neighborhoods, B&Bs, and friendly, attractive locals.
No. 8 Savannah, GA
This Georgian city may be known for its coastal-themed fine dining, but AFC voters love it best for its small cafés — home-cooking “neighborhood diners” with a local-ingredients bent. One popular spot: the Green Truck Pub, which offers appetizers such as spiced Georgia nuts and a pimento cheese plate. Readers also find the city nicely unpretentious, with a relaxing vibe, good cocktails, and entertaining people-watching.
No. 7 Seattle
The Pike Place Market is perhaps the most photographed farmers’ market in the country — and it’s right across the street from the original Starbucks (here coffee is practically its own food group). A hot neighborhood for new restaurants is nearby South Lake Union, where homegrown chef Tom Douglas recently opened three restaurants, including Tibetan-themed Ting Momo.
No. 6 Portland, OR
Super-green Portland has earned a reputation for its farm-to-table dining, well-crafted microbrews, and 200-odd food trucks. To get a sampling of the most popular — including Namu, excellent Korean-Hawaiian fusion — check out the food truck “pods” at Pioneer Courthouse Square or at SE Hawthorne and 12th Avenue. And don’t be fooled by the notion that these Oregonians are totally health-conscious: another culinary must-stop is Voodoo Doughnuts for its bacon-topped maple bar and the breakfast-cereal-crusted “Captain My Captain.”
No. 5 Chicago
The Windy City clearly makes people hungry: it ranked in the top 10 for burgers, big-name restaurants, and ethnic cuisine and — perhaps no surprise — took the top prize for pizza. But thanks to places such as Lillie’s Q and Pork Shoppe, Chicago may soon boost its middle-of-the-road standing in the barbecue category. There are also a number of Japanese barbecue-style robata restaurants, such as Roka Akor and Tokio Pub.
No. 4 New York
While the Big Apple may be a nerve center for big-name restaurants, luxury hotels, and diversity, New Yorkers can eat well at any price point and have embraced the food trucks and comfort-dining crazes. Evidence includes long lines at midtown street vendors, SoHo’s newcomer The Dutch, and the expanding Shake Shack franchise. Foodies are also increasingly heading to the outer boroughs for authentic, affordable fare, such as Chinese in Flushing, Queens.
Wendy Ball & Dara Albanese
No. 3 Providence, RI
For Rhode Island foodies, farm-to-table is just the beginning. Some great restaurants in Providence — such as Chez Pascal on Hope Street, or Nick’s on Broadway, in the West End — offer “boat-to-table” seafood that comes direct from local fishermen. AFC voters also love the homey vibe of this New England city: they ranked it third for its hole-in-the-wall cafés, burgers, and pizza (which some locals like grilled).
No. 2 San Francisco
The Bay Area’s Chez Panisse is still the mothership for foodies, but there are plenty more restaurants serving sustainable, seasonal cuisine, among them Baker and Banker in Pacific Heights. You have to keep moving to find the next hotspots, and food-truck lovers follow Off the Grid, a weekly circling of food wagons in different parts of town. San Francisco also scored in the top 5 for ethnic fare, coffee bars, and farmers’ markets. One hot trend: gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Courtesy of Parkway Bakery
No. 1 New Orleans
If you’re going to keep up with the nonstop party in the Crescent City, you’ll need a full stomach. New Orleans won the survey for neighborhood cafés, and came in No. 2 for its zesty ethnic fare. The post-Katrina rebuilding has extended deep into its restaurant scene, with chefs updating classic Creole cuisine at spots such as Meson 923 in the up-and-coming Warehouse District, and Sylvain in the French Quarter. While you’re waiting for a table, you can engage in one of the town’s great sports: people-watching.