This year, leisure travel returned with a vengeance, as folks emerged from a lingering pandemic-induced slowdown. Being able to explore more meant all those fluffy breads, cheesy sandwiches and Technicolor desserts we lusted over mid-lockdown were finally within reach, and we hit the road to satisfy those pent-up cravings. In Fifty Grande’s second annual food survey — last year’s results are here — we once again asked readers to tell us their favorites food cities in the U.S. from a list that represented every region and state across the country. More than 1600 respondents voted and here are the results.
Voting results: 43.9% of respondents named this one of their favorite food cities.
Last year: #1
For the second year in a row, New Orleans tops our list of best food cities in the country, according to our survey’s respondents. From classic Creole dishes like gumbo and jambalaya to modern, inventive fare, the Big Easy has a distinct culinary signature, and any cuisine that comes here gets Creolized, picking up the local ingredients and flavors. The result: No dish, not even a sandwich, is plain in New Orleans. Looking for a quintessential po’boy? Hit up Domilise’s for the iconic Louisiana sandwich. Hungry for Senegalese food? Reserve a spot at Dakar NOLA from James Beard Award finalist Serigne Mbaye. Want to try blue crab hummus? Head to Saba. When it comes to French Quarter restaurants, dine at historic Arnaud’s. And let’s not forget those famous beignets.
Voting results: 43.8%
Last year: #2
When we say the voting was close, we mean it was really close. With 43.8% of respondents saying it was their fave food city, New York City is in the second spot for the second year in a row. NYC’s superpower is its massive, diverse culinary scene, one that reflects the many cultures of its residents. The city was (and still is) built by immigrants from around the world whose cuisines help shape NYC’s gastro identity, from world-renowned restaurants to hole-in-the-wall eateries. In recent years, what was once the domain of Manhattan — trendy hot spots and culinary innovation — has also migrated over to Brooklyn (which won 16% of respondents’ votes on its own, separate from NYC). More so than ever, acclaimed spots like Korean steakhouse Cote, Michelin-starred restaurants like Clover Hill and a bajillion others share the spotlight with restaurants including Dept. of Culture in Bed-Stuy and Gertrude’s in Prospect Heights.
Voting results: 39.2%
Last year: #3
Chicago, the city of culinary contrasts, remains decidedly in the third spot again. It’s known for all-American grub, like deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s and Italian beef sandwiches from Johnnie’s Beef, as well as its high-end dining, like that of renowned chefs like Grant Achatz, who remains at the top of his game at three-Michelin-starred Alinea. The city is also the setting for everyone’s fave restaurant drama, “The Bear.” You might recognize chef Curtis Duffy’s Ever restaurant in season two of the show, where viewers witness the precise techniques employed at his Fulton Market spot. (ICYMI: It’s the place where loudmouth character Richie Jerimovich learns the finer points of fine dining.)
Voting results: 29%
Last year: #4
This California city is like a bouillon cube — a concentrated punch of flavor in a compact design. From Mission-style burritos to soup dumplings to sourdough bread bowls, San Francisco, like the other cities on our list, offers a diverse food scene that’s reflective of its multicultural population. Though the Bay Area was shut out of James Beard restaurant and chef awards this year, don’t let people tell you the food scene is no longer spot on. Locals will say you can still grab a bowl of cioppino at Sotto Mare, La Taqueria’s rice-free burritos, sustainable sushi and vegetarian omakase from newcomer Chīsai Sushi Club, and so much more.
Voting results: 25.4%
Last year: #5
As the all-you-can-eat buffet seems to be falling out of fashion in Vegas (don’t worry, there are still some out there), more and more celeb hot spots are filling in the gap alongside the plethora of star-chef options — Jose Andres, Tom Colicchio, Giada De Laurentiis, Emeril Lagasse, Nobu Matsuhisa, Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsay, Chris Santos and many others — already there. Martha Stewart recently opened her first restaurant, The Bedford by Martha Stewart, at Paris Las Vegas, which brings upstate New York farmhouse vibes to the Strip, along with a pricey potato topped with crème fraîche and a generous dollop of caviar. Because when in Vegas, why not? And of course, Bobby Flay’s Brasserie B is slated to open in late 2023 at Caesars Palace Las Vegas.
Voting results: 23%
Last year: Tied for #6
Given its coastal location, it’s not surprising that seafood — from clam chowder to lobster rolls to fried-clam shacks — dominates Boston’s food scene. But the city also has pockets of fare from other countries and regions as well. There’s pork dumplings in Chinatown, cannoli and Italian American dishes in the North End, Vietnamese cuisine and Caribbean soul food in Dorchester and Mexican food in East Boston, to name a few. And let’s not forget the Irish pubs, a category unto itself. Open for more than a century, J.J. Foley’s Cafe is a must-visit, serving up solid pub grub, along with pints.
Voting results: 20.2%
Last year: #9
Los Angeles might be the epicenter of farmers markets and organic food, but it’s also the city that gave us animal-style fries at In-N-Out Burger (although technically the chain was founded in Baldwin Park, but close enough). Which means when it comes to dining in L.A., balance is key. The city’s immigrant-led food culture has cultivated an eclectic mix of Korean barbecue, Mexico City-style tacos, Armenian bakeries and steamed dumplings combined with true California cuisine like the Cobb salad, which was invented at The Brown Derby in the 1930s.
Voting results: 19.7%
Last year: Tied for #6
Much like New Orleans, the food culture in Charleston is a blend of its past and the present, with a strong emphasis on local ingredients like shrimp, fish, crabs, oysters and rice. This all comes together to form a style of cooking known as Lowcountry. Think Southern comfort food like shrimp and grits, she-crab soup and hush puppies and cornbread. Even in modern-day restaurants, that Charleston sense of ingenuity and resourcefulness lives on. For example, the chefs at James Beard Award-winning restaurant FIG, which stands for “Food Is Good,” work with local fishermen to find ways to use “bycatch,” fish that’s good enough to eat but was caught accidentally during the fishing process.
Voting results: 17.5%
Last year: Not in top 10
Perhaps more than any other major city, food trucks are serious in Austin, with many established chefs hopping on the bandwagon to set up mobile kitchens, while aspiring cooks continue to test out their chops on the road. It’s because of this evolving environment that Austin attracts a slew of culinary talent. Six Austin chefs and restaurants, including Egyptian-Texan barbecue food truck KG BBQ, were named semifinalists for James Beard Awards this year (in the end, none of them won). Among this new, innovative cuisine, you can still count on staples like breakfast tacos, Tex-Mex dishes and Franklin Barbecue brisket, too.
Voting results: 17.1%
Last year: Not in top 10
While Boston and Chicago certainly have their foodie peccadillos, Philly might be the most adamant when it comes to its food rules. For example, when ordering a cheesesteak, do you want it “wit or without” (meaning with or without onions)? It’s a hoagie, not a sub. Authentic Philly soft pretzels are shaped like a figure eight. And scrapple is the mystery breakfast meat. Of course, it’s not all about carbs here — not that we’re complaining. You’ll also find Ethiopian food, Thai, Italian and even vegan, with a restaurant scene that welcomes a range of cuisines and cultures.