Happy Places to Eat in America’s Happiest Cities

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
March 28, 2014

A peek at the exterior of Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In. Photo courtesy Rainbow Drive-In

These are the things that data group Gallup used to determine the ten happiest cities in America: life evaluation, emotional health, daily feelings and mental state, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior, and basic access.


It’s okay, happy people of happiest city Provo-Orem, Utah, we can help you. Here are cheery places to dine in your very merry hometown, as well as the other nine ridiculously happy metropolitan areas that made the list.

10. LINCOLN, NEBRASKA: New York Times writer A. G. Sulzberger has said of Nebraska: It’s “a place where cattle outnumber people.” Thus, steakhouses abound. The Steak House’s hunting trophy wall featuring buffalo and woodland caribou might not read as “cheery” to everyone, but the steaks, which The Steak House has been grilling for over sixty years, sure do. Plus, you get to say you ate at The Steak House. “Which steak house?” “THE Steak House.”

9. SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND-FREMONT, CALIFORNIA: For a market so famous among tourists, San Francisco’s Ferry Building manages not to feel like a trap. Locals and out-of-towners alike hit the open-air farmers’ market on Saturdays, and a stroll through the stalls inside the building provide a snapshot of SF’s food scene that confirms why northern California is, well, the best. After you’ve taken it all in, park yourself at a sea-facing stool at Hog Island’s Oyster Bar and enjoy some sake that the extra-nice staff can pair with your bivalves. The bar is currently closed for renovations—more seats! later hours!—and will reopen this spring. 

8. SAN LUIS OBISPO-PASO ROBLES, CALIFORNIA: Ask anyone who lives in Paso Robles where to dine and he’ll say Artisan, run by brothers Chris and Michael Kobayashi. Why is it a happy place? Chris’s wife Shandi runs the farm that provides the restaurant’s produce. All in the family! Plus, look at their adorable child

7. NAPLES-MARCO ISLAND, FLORIDAPinchers Crab Shack is a Florida chain, but its Naples location is right on the water and speckled with a host of Caribbean-bright paints. As Food & Wine magazine put it, it’s “an endearing Xerox of Florida’s Redneck Riviera: country music, wooden tables with paper towels, and affordable crab-lobster rolls.” 

6. ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN: Mario Batali calls Zingerman’s Deli his “temple of deliciousness.” Enough said. (One more thing: order the Reuben.)

5. SAN JOSE-SUNNYVALE-SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA: It’s not exactly Sunnyvale, but Palo Alto is just a 15-minute drive, and it’s home to Cho’s Mandarin Dim Sum. A colleague favorited it because of its “awesome potstickers served by a grumpy old dude I refer to as the Potsticker Nazi.” Because sometimes, we’re happiest when we’re being treated badly.

4. HONOLULU, HAWAII: Things you will see at the Rainbow Drive-In: rainbow colors, surfboards, people in flip flops, chili dogs, slush floats, and smiling faces. It’s a favorite of LA chef Roi Choi.

3. FORT COLLINS-LOVELAND, COLORADO: Look at these yellow chairs! Snooze in Fort Collins looks straight out of the Jetsons, and it only serves breakfast and brunch. That means eggs, for as long as it’s open, every day.

2. BOULDER, COLORADO: The Kitchen is not only tasty, but it’s also environmentally friendly from top to bottom. They compost, they use wind power, and they save their leftover cooking oil to power the car of a server named Steve.

1. PROVO-OREM, UTAH: Communal puts its money where its mouth is: the entire restaurant is outfitted with communal tables, so you, happy Provo-Oremites, can break bread with other happy Provo-Oremites.

Shiny, happy people. Dining out.