Are These the 18 Best Food Neighborhoods In America?

By: Kevin Alexander and Liz Childers


Credit: Laura Hayes

If your ‘hood is on this list: congratulations. You’re probably gaining weight, as we made sure every neighborhood is a fantastic one for eating and drinking. Once we’d narrowed it down to our top 18, we examined two major factors to determine placement: 1) culinary history, and 2) what’s happening now. The first factor is important because as much as we love knowing about the new, cool spots popping up in changing neighborhoods, it’s just as important to us that these ‘hoods maintain some semblance of a connection with their food histories. And the second is obviously critical because that history is constantly being rewritten by new chefs and bartenders with crazy, innovative ideas—and lots and lots of mezcal.

As this does exist on the Internet, there will be disagreements, and we encourage you to express them using your inside voices in the comments. Until then, put on your most comfortable Skechers and some loose pants, and get ready to enjoy the best food and drink neighborhoods in the land of the free.

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Credit: Jennifer Olson

18. RiNo, Denver, CO

Once upon a time, this was a neighborhood Denverites would go to if they wanted to have a nice night out… and then get mugged afterwards. Now? It’s practically swarming with hot restaurants and breweries. Part of that is due to The Source, an enormous 20,000 square-foot “artisan food market” that houses one of Denver’s best restaurants (Acorn), coffee roasters (Boxcar), breweries (Crooked Stave), and plenty more. Four other exemplary craft breweries have taprooms in the neighborhood as well, including the Utah transplant Epic Brewing, which knows its way around a sour beer. For food, Work & Class serves up shared plates of delicious Latin American food, Cart-Driver is the tiny, high-quality pizza joint every neighborhood deserves, and Los Chingones is the Mexican food outpost of one of Denver’s finest restaurateurs. For something you likely won’t find in any other city, Infinite Monkey Theorem cans its own wine and has an expansive space in which to drink it.


Credit: Fette Sau Philadelphia

17. Fishtown, Philadelphia, PA

The legend here is that Charles Dickens named the area Fishtown when he visited in the 1800s, but, if you’ll excuse the pun, that story’s veracity kind of stinks. The old shad-fishing blue-collar Irish neighborhood is in the midst of the kinds of changes you read about when a New York Times writer visits, stamping it with the official mark of gentrification (see: Bonnie Tsui, October 9, 2013). And as much fun as it is to discuss the what ensues when the Times comes in and calls a place “scruffy,” you still want to go here and eat and drink. That’s thanks to places such as beer garden Frankford Hall (if you’ve never had a Kasekrainer, this is the time to do it), Johnny Brenda’s from the Standard Tap folks, Stephen Starr and Joe Carroll’s amazing BBQ spot Fette Sau, and the chorizo and potato tacos at Loco Pez. And yes, of course, there is a Barcade here, too.

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Credit: Two Ten Jack

16. East Nashville, Nashville, TN

East Nashville’s role in the Nashville food renaissance might be captured best by POP Nashville: Chef Sarah Gavigan ladles the city’s most-slurpable ramen four nights a week, but turns the 1,000 square-foot space into a pop-up for other chefs or even art galleriststhe rest of the week. With nationally acclaimed restaurants now dotting Music City, historic East Nashville acts more as an artsy small town fostering talent than a ‘hood in the state capital. From Porter Road Butcher, both a full-service butcher shop and one of the best sandwich shops in the city, the city’s first izakaya, Two Ten Jack, cocktail haven Holland House, and Pharmacy Burger Parlor’s juicy, hulking burger, wandering the area is like eating a Nashville sampler platter, condensed for your convenience.


Credit: Flickr/Andrew MacFarlane

15. Corktown, Detroit, MI

Detroit’s historic Corktown may be the city’s oldest neighborhood, but it’s also at the forefront of its new food frontiers. The stretch alongside Michigan Avenue, in particular, is exploding with flavor, courtesy of the newly legendary Slows Bar BQ, farm-fresh upscale Southern fare at Gold Cash Gold, and Italian at Ottavia Via. They all pair perfectly with after-dinner cocktails at Sugar HouseWant a burger? Three of Motor City’s bestMercury Burger BarNemo’s, and St. Cece’sare in Corktown. Deli sandwiches? Get one of the city’s best at Mudgie’s and pair it with one of the 100 plus craft beers on offer. And if you need a Coneyand trust us, you always need a ConeyOnassis has your back.

More: 11 TV & Movie Bars (And Restaurants) That You Can Actually Visit


Credit: Flickr/Active Steve

14. The North End, Boston, MA

It has the historypeople have lived there continuously since the 1630sand it’s been predominately Italian for well over 100 years. Until the Dig was completed, the Central Artery blocked it off from the rest of Boston, isolating the North End but also creating an even more tightly knit Italian-American community where food really, really mattered. When I was little, it was the only neighborhood I really knew about, because we’d always go eat at Florence’s, next to Paul Revere’s house, before Celtics games. It’s closed now, but plenty of the red sauce legends live on, like Giacomo’s, Pomodoro, and Mama Maria, next to the essential pizza spots (Galleria Umberto, Regina, Ernesto’s), and the infamous cannoli rivals (Mike’s and Modern). Not into Italian food? No problem (well, sort of a problem, but whatever). Neptune Oyster Bar and the Thinking Cup coffee house can keep you occupied. All of this within basically five blocks! Che è impressionante.


Credit: Garage Bar

13. NuLu, Louisville, KY

Also known as the East Market District, NuLu (that’s “New Louisville”) is quickly becoming downtown’s Southern answer to the bohemian, sustainably-minded food scenes popping up in other, bigger cities. Does that mean organic, farm-fresh hot browns? You bet it doesthis is Kentucky! But it also means some of the best food in the city, including innovative brunches at Please & Thank You (egg sliders!), modernized Southern staples such as fried chicken confit at Toast, gourmet food with a side of bourbon at Proof on Main, and one of the state’s best pizzas at Garage Bar. Naturally, you can’t be in Kentucky without bourbon… This hood has great drinking options, among them Meta and Against the Grain


Credit: Chona Kassinger

12. Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

This was where many of Seattle’s founders settled in the mid-1800s, when Henry Yesler was like, “I’m going to build a lumber mill right damn here, and then, 160 years later or so, I predict this area will see a wave of new restaurants and bars, AND I WILL STILL BE ALIVE TO ENJOY THEM.” And he was so right, about most of that stuff. P Squarethe place where Seattle-style hot dogs (with cream cheese and caramelized onions) were inventedhas everything you could ask for in a tight, eight-block radius: Il Corvo’s pastaBar Sajor’s everything, Salumi, DelicatusRain Shadow Meats Squared, and Tinello for sandwiches, cocktails at Damn the Weather, and beers and free popcorn at the P Square Saloon. You can even hit noted Thai spot Little Uncle on Yesler Way, because, though Henry may not still be alive, he’d be pretty happy knowing everyone can eat wild boar soup on his namesake road.


Credit: Ber Belly

11. Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA

Wait, you guys mean downtown LA right? No. While downtown’s revitalization is well underway, Koreatown has been the little engine that always could. Hit any block in the ‘hood and you’ll see what seems like hundreds of restaurants, including the amazingness you’d expect (KBBQ! Pho!). You’ll also see more unexpected restaurants, such as the hidden-in-a-strip mall bistro Saint Martha (home of a brisket dish that’s one of the best things we ate all year) and the gastropub Beer Belly, which is churning out next-level wings, burgers, and more. The recently-opened EMC Seafood finally means you don’t need to drive for a raw bar fix, Whiz has got your sandwich jones covered, and we even crowned the local steakhouse, Taylor’s, the best in the city. In other words, downtown may be hipper, but if you want the real-deal, K-town’s your best bet.


Credit: Flickr/thisisbossi

10. Logan Circle/14th Street, Washington, DC

New condos keep going up. The Whole Foods on P is very crowded. Debates rage about what to make of the changing face of this area along 14th NW, a few blocks from Logan Circle, but everyone can agree that the food has gotten fantastic. Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate (Michelle Obama eats there!) sits across from one of our favorite pizza places in the countryEtto. Walk north four blocks and you’ll hit one of our favorite bars ever, 2 Birds 1 Stone. Continue and you’re at Michael Schlow’s Latin spot Tico, and along the way and in between, you’ve got 68 other options. What once was a staid food city is quickly turning into a chubby person’s paradise. Now, if you’d like, insert political kicker joke about “getting our vote” here.


Credit: Andy Kryza

9. Ohio City, Cleveland, OH

The Ohio City neighborhood is at the center of Cleveland’s culinary resurgence, and at its center is West Side Market, one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the country. The butchers, bakers, and farmers serve as the pantry to Ohio City’s booming restaurant scene. In one short walk, you can get everything from fresh charcuterie and fried-egg pizza at Bar Cento, one of the nation’s best burgers at Nano Brew, a steak at the converted bank Crop, otherworldly pork belly at Black Pig, farm-to-table plates at Flying Fig, and Southern fare with whiskey at SOHO Kitchen. And that’s to say nothing about the beer: The OC is among the most densely populated and fastest-growing brewery areas in the U.S., something that kicked off with Great Lakes and shows no sign of stopping. Think of it as the Midwest’s Williamsburg, minus the hipsters and inflated price tags.


Credit: Squire Fox

8. Upper King Street, Charleston, SC

Charleston has long been a great food town, but it wasn’t until recently that it became a NATIONALLY KNOWN great food town. That’s thanks in part to Sean Brock’s McCrady’s and Husk restaurants. Now, four years later, walk just 10 minutes up King from Husk and you’ll find a once college bar-focused area teeming with amazing restaurants and bars: incredible oysters and razor clams at The Ordinary, the Track Burger (get cheese) and Aviation cocktail at The Rarebit, grouper bologna at The Macintosh, and all the cocktails at Proof. And that’s just starting to scratch the fried green tomato-covered surface.  


Credit: Julie Soefer Photography

7. Montrose, Houston, TX

Fun fact: I was born in Houston in 1981 in a hospital, I think. But our house was a couple of blocks off Westheimer, down from Montrose Boulevard. Funner fact: My mom has informed me that the Montrose area was not exactly “jumping off” in1981. But it certainly is now: Older places such as Chef Hugo Ortega’s eponymous Mexican restaurant mix in nicely with the new folks, such as craft cocktail bar Anvil. Then there’s Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly, James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole’s Uchi (get the damn bacon tataki!), and Hay Merchant, where you can eat sweet and spicy pig ears and the famed Cease and Desist Burger ‘til your heart stops (or is content). Although some legendary spots have closed (RIP late-night cha gio at Hollywood Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant), there are few better areas in the country to eat so much good food so close. Maybe it’s time I move back.  


Credit: Anastacia Uriegas

6. East Sixth, Austin, TX

Ten years ago, only the most adventurous eaters crossed IH-35 into East Austin. Nowadays, the area has been swept up in a wave of gentrification, meaning many of the Tejano bars were replaced with clusters of food trailers, pre-Prohibition-era cocktails, and tasting menus. Via 313 slings the finest pizza in the state of Texas (Detroit-style!), East Side Showroom shakes some of the city’s best drinks (with vaudeville musical accompaniment), and Paul Qui, the patron saint of the Austin food scene, has stamped his recipes all over the block, from the cheap Thai and fusion eats at his two East Side King trailers to his envelope-pushing eponymous brick and mortar. And new game-changing restaurants are popping up every day, from satellite locations of Counter Cafe (best breakfast in America!) and Cuvee Coffee to French newcomer LaV and the fried chicken experts at Red Star Southern. Despite the gentrification and gringos, you can still find plenty of Mexican fare, from trailer tacos (Pueblo Viejo) to traditional eats (Takobaand Licha’s Cantina).


Credit: Sean Cooley

5. The West Loop, Chicago, IL

The West Loop doesn’t share the rich history that some other prime Chicago ’hoods do (Logan Square, Wicker Park), but this former warehouse district exemplifies what makes Chi’s food scene so compelling. Next and Moto are some of the more innovative restaurants in the country. Paul Kahan’s The Publican went all-in on beer, pork, and oysters before an endless lineup of trend-chasers did the same. But it’s not all about big-name chefs:  J.P. Graziano’s still serves some of the best Italian subs you’ll find in Chicago. Or anywhere. And even beloved Mexican sandwich joint Cemitas Puebla chose the West Loop for its expansion. Basically, if you want a snapshot of what’s exciting about Chicago in a compact area, The West Loop is where you’re headed.


Credit: Leela Cyd Ross

4. SE Division, Portland, OR

Portland is a city whose neighborhoods feel like small towns, and each of has its own food scene. But none since Alberta a decade ago have exploded quite like the SE Division corridor has in the past three years. The quiet neighborhood birthed two national phenomena in the form of Thai legend Pok Pok and Stumptown Roasters back in the day, but it’s since become PDX’s food capital. In the course of 20 blocks, you can hit a sea of food cartsthere are 19 in one lot at the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden, one of which serves beerwait in line for Salt & Straw’s world-famous ice cream, score new-wave Indian food at Bollywood Theater, and get a slice of pizza. That’s to say nothing of new Italian hotspot Ava Gene’s, the comfort food of New American Local, upscale Mexican fare at Xico and Nuestra Cocina, or Cambodian at Sok Sab Bai. And this is just the Cliff’s Notes. Walking those 20 blocks hungry could result in a three-day odyssey.


Credit: Andrew Zimmer

3. Flushing, New York, NY

This Queens neighborhood tucked at the end of the 7 train is wonderfully, blissfully free of the gentrification stamp. It’s the epitome of New York’s culinary melting pot, with a choose-your-own adventure trip through Asia that never has a bad ending. Go Cantonese at giant, banquet-style Lake Pavilion and order clams that you’ll fish out of a spicy, rich XO sauce, grab Taiwanese garlic links at Xiao Yuan Huang, or opt for spicy Korean pork ssambap at Myung San. Or go even more localized; the specialties get so specific that there are three stalls serving Uighur cuisine inside New World Mall. You’ve probably never heard of food from this tiny Turkish-speaking minority group in China, but take a bite of hand-pulled noodles swimming in spicy, garlicky, gingery chicken stew, and you’ll want to know more.  


Credit: Flickr/Kent Kanouse

2. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

From the Freret Street corridor Uptown, with its invitation to go from the best burger in the country to the best cocktail spot a block away, down to the Bywater, whose myriad of new spots has earned it the official hipster branding, NOLA is one of the few cities in America that, neighborhood by neighborhood, can make other cities blush in jealousy over it cuisine. At the crown of it all is the French Quarternot the Lucky Dog-strewn Quarter, but the one that houses legends such as Antoine’s and Tujague’s and Arnaud’s, three of the oldest restaurants in the country. It also plays host to newer legends such as Bayona, Susan Spicer’s ode to Creole food that earned her a James Beard Award. If you’re worried creativity is dead here and good eats are limited to the old guys, just try Killer Poboys’ spins on the iconic sandwich, such as the spiced lamb sausage and tzatziki po’boy, or taste Meauxbar’s crispy pork belly and scallops that come with kimchi vinaigrette or the lamb hearts served with a corn chow chow at SoBou.

Oh, and you can drink, too. Tiki Tolteca is one of 2014’s best new bars, and Cane & Table are our recommendations. Remember, the cocktail was invented here andbesides that pesky Prohibition periodthe best gin fizzes, sazeracs, and grasshoppers in the country have never stopped filling glasses on nearly every corner.


Credit: Joe Starkey

1. The Mission, San Francisco, CA

As I mentioned earlier, one of the central factors we discussed when coming up with the list dealt with a mix of old and new. The Mission has that in spades: Founded around the Mission San Francisco de Asis by Spanish missionaries in 1776, it expanded when the Spanish government gave permanent land-owning grants (ranchos) to prominent Spanish-Mexicans with names you may recognize, such as Dolores, Guerrero, and Valenciano.

Fast forward to the 1940s and ’50s, when many more Latinos moved into the area after being moved off Rincon Hill while the Bay Bridge was under construction. After this, Latin food culture in the Mission became prominent, most clearly defined today by the national dominance of the Mission-style burrito (I like La Taqueria the most, and so apparently does Nate Silver AND THE WORLD). But on top of the fact that you can get high-level, low-price Mexican food at any number of places along Mission and Valencia, the Mission continues to be the arbiter of cool and new culinary trends in the city, from Delfina, Bar TartineBeretta, and Bi-Rite, to Trick DogFlour + WaterMission Chinese, and Lazy Bear. Nowadays the balance between the old and new has gotten more precarious with soaring prices, but it doesn’t change the fact thatfor eating and drinking in Americano other ‘hood can hold a candela to the Mission.

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