Whether you love food trucks or fine dining, you know happy travels and eating well go hand in hand. Debates, er, “conversations,” about where you should go to eat the best food can get heated. Avid travelers can be equally passionate about getting you to try the food in their hometowns as they are about suggesting their recent vacation spots. In the U.S., some cities are known and celebrated for their famous restaurants, while others boast hoppin’ food trails, amazing farm-to-table and ocean-to-table ingredients, and regional specialties you won’t find on menus anywhere else.
Our readers have voted and these are their picks for the best food cities from coast to coast.
1. New Orleans, Louisiana (Winner)
Gumbo, Jambalaya, Beignets, Po’Boys
NOLA’s Creole and Cajun eats, plus favorites like fluffy beignets served alongside chicory coffee, earn it the number one spot on this list. Don’t miss your opportunity to taste some of the best at Emeril Lagasse’s iconic Commander’s Palace.
After a night out, Erika Ebsworth-Goold recommends Killer PoBoys, which offers unique twists on the sandwich, including pork belly, cheddar omelet, and Thai barbecue tofu options in addition to classic shrimp. If you have to have fried oysters on your po’boy (I do!), Eric Leath of Serious Eats says you should visit Bevi Seafood Co., where you can also get “hot plates” with all kinds of seafood, sausage, and even fried green tomatoes.
Don’t miss Cafe DuMonde (world-famous chicory coffee and beignets) or Antoine’s, the oldest family-run restaurant in America. And for a taste of NOLA’s distinct Vietnamese cuisine — and evidence of the city’s melting-pot history — Ebsworth-Goold points diners to 9 Roses in the French Quarter.
Want More Seafood? Check out Anastasia Mills Healy’s eight favorite seafood restaurants to experience in New Orleans.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
Lobster Rolls, Italian Eats, Craft Beer
TravelAwaits’ readers and writers love lobster rolls, and Boston serves up some of the best (shh — don’t tell Portland, Maine, listed below). Get your Boston lobster roll fix at Neptune Oyster, one of our picks for the 11 best restaurants in Boston, or Red’s Best in Boston Public Market. Both are in Boston’s historic North End, where you could eat your way through a day inspired by Michelle Snell’s favorite stops on a North End neighborhood food tour.
When it comes to Italian, Andrea McHugh recommends the pillowy gnocchi (one of my favorite pastas!) at Trattoria Il Panino and one of Boston’s iconic cannolis across the street at Modern Pastry. Of course, you’re free to satisfy your curiosity and sweet tooth with a stop at Mike’s — which is less than a block away — for one of their super-famous cannolis.
Finally, the booming Boston beer scene deserves your consideration, even if you don’t drink. Many craft breweries’ tap rooms, including highly regarded Trillium at Fort Point, have kitchens on site. Enjoy food created with locally sourced ingredients with or without a beer in hand.
Want To Splash Out? Make yourself a reservation at the Whitney Hotel’s Peregrine restaurant in Boston’s luxurious Beacon Hill neighborhood.
3. Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri
Barbecue, Tacos, Comfort Food
Kansas City is famous for its barbecue, so it’s no surprise it earned a spot in the top three (sorry, Memphis and St. Louis). Tim Trudell and Jill Dutton both recommend Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, which has been in operation since 1958. Bryant, the so-called “King of Ribs,” served his barbecue to Presidents Truman, Carter, and Obama.
Dutton also recommends anyone traveling to Kansas City make time for tacos — delicious evidence of the area’s growing Hispanic population. In addition to ground beef and shredded chicken options, Kansas City, Kansas (“KCK”), restaurants, local chains, and even supermarkets serve tacos that range from super-traditional to trendy (fruit tacos at Paleterias Tropicana).
Need Comfort Food Or A Pick-Me-Up? Dig into the old-fashioned, pan-fried chicken at James Beard Award-winning Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor. Or, for something internationally inspired that will put a little pep in your step, try a Vietnamese iced coffee from Cafe Cà Phê, recommended by Trudell, a true coffee aficionado.
4. New York, New York
Pizza, Delis, Everything Else
Anyone who’s been or dreams of going to the Big Apple is probably after at least one New York-style slice. New Yorkers Sue Davies and Regina Ang recommend the jumbo slices from Koronet in Manhattan and say “You can’t go wrong on Arthur Avenue” — aka Little Italy — in the Bronx. I had the best pizza of my life (served alongside a double-shot) at San Matteo Pizza & Espresso Bar on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan across the street from quaint Rupert Park.
Of course, New York’s delis are just as famous as its pizza joints. You’ve probably heard of Katz’s, and if you’re up for the line, go for it. Davies and Ang also recommend Baz Bagels in Manhattan’s Little Italy for “traditional Jewish food — bagels and cream cheese, smoked fish, matzoh ball soup, potato latkes, and blintzes — with an LGBTQ twist.” Yes, this is the place where you can get your rainbow bagel. For an all-vegan menu, I can personally recommend Orchard Grocer, also in Manhattan.
Want More NYC Eats? Davies and Ang point readers to Le Colonial for Vietnamese fine dining and recommend these five amazing food tours to experience in and around New York City. Gramercy Tavern in the city’s Flatiron District also made our readers’ list of favorite splurge-worthy restaurants in 2023.
5. Chicago, Illinois
Hot Dogs, Deep Dish, Michelin Stars
Outside the Windy City, hot dogs might be regarded as “kid food.” That’s not so in Chicago, where eating one like a local means “all-beef hot dog, poppy seed bun, vegetable toppings… but never ketchup.” Jill Dutton suggests you check this snack off your bucket list at a neighborhood spot like George’s Hot Dogs or Red Hot Ranch (both in Bucktown), or The Wiener’s Circle (Lincoln Park).
Deep dish is not my jam, but Chicago’s offerings have an ardent following. I have friends who’ve driven through the night for Uno’s and flown pies from Lou Malnati’s to St. Louis. Even my toddler daughter loves it. If, like me, you’d rather skip the deep dish, check out Beyond Deep Dish: 11 Pizza Places Chicagoans Love.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
Waterfront Dining, Lowcountry Flavors
Charleston is a city at one with the water and its restaurants make the most of it. Carol Ivey recommends Fleet Landing, Saltwater Cowboys, and six other memorable establishments in her picks for Charleston’s best waterfront restaurants.
While in the Lowcountry, you’ll want to get a feel for its flavors. Sandi Barrett recommends the Frogmore Stew, a Lowcountry boil at Bowens Island Restaurant on Folly Creek. Try some she-crab soup at Poogan’s Porch, where you can enjoy brunch 7 days a week.
Planning A Night Out In The Historic District? Book a table at FIG (Food Is Good) — yet another reader pick for splurge-worthy restaurants in 2023 — where Chef Mike Lata makes the most of the local ingredients that have put the Lowcountry on the foodie map.
7. San Francisco, California
Chowder, Chinese, Taffy & Treats
San Francisco is hands down my favorite city in the United States, in no small part because of the delicious bites I’ve enjoyed there. If you eat seafood, chowder is a must. Carol Colborn and I both endorse Boudin Bakery’s chowder. For a full-on SFO experience, get it at Boudin at the Wharf, the bakery’s flagship location (conveniently a 10-minute walk from Ghirardelli Square, where literal squares of chocolate, and more, await).
In Chinatown, window shop while snacking on dim sum, grab a Mai Tai at Li Po Cocktail Lounge, or sit down for fine dining at Eight Tables by George Chen.
Sweet Tooth? Make your way to iconic Pier 39 where you can get saltwater taffies from Candy Baron or (my favorite) an old-fashioned candied apple from Trish’s Chocolate or The Fudgery.
8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Southwestern Flavors, Food With A View
Red and green chile reign supreme in Albuquerque. Melody Pittman planned her recent Alburquerque trip all around food — breakfast burritos, to be exact! — and recommends establishments from the casual Owl Cafe to upscale Cocina Azul, plus the Indian Pueblo Kitchen at the can’t-miss Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
For food with a view of the striking Sandia Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, see if you can get reservations at immaculate TEN 3 — one of the 12 restaurants with amazing views that our readers love. Or try Level 5, at Old Town’s Hotel Chaco, which rounds out the list of our readers’ favorite splurge-worthy restaurants in 2023.
Want To Dine Al Fresco? Kim Croisant recommends these nine fantastic restaurants in Albuquerque perfect for outdoor dining.
9. Portland, Maine
Lobster Rolls, Pub Grub
Boston may have come in second on this list, but it’s not the only city to boast a mean lobster roll. Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris recommend these nine delicious stops for a DIY Portland lobster roll crawl. Portland Lobster Company (stop number 8) even gets a shoutout in Melissa Curtin’s From Lobster Rolls To Blueberry Pie — 12 Delicious Restaurants To Experience In Coastal Maine.
Portland’s craft beer scene is one of its defining features. If you’re into beer, Katy Spratte Joyce recommends checking the Bissel Brothers’ can-release schedule and planning your visit accordingly. Either way, treat yourself to a few hearty plates from their kitchen, which offers house-pickled veggies, locally sourced charcuterie boards, hearty sammies, and even a kids’ menu.
Want To Try An Unforgettable Donut? Writer Cindy Barks suggests Holy Donuts’ “creative flavors such as pomegranate, chocolate sea salt, and maple bacon” — all made with Maine potatoes as their “secret” ingredient.
10. San Antonio, Texas
Tex-Mex, Barbecue, RiverWalk Restaurants
According to SJ Morgensen, if you’re a foodie of any sort, San Antonio belongs on your bucket list. It’s one of only two UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in the U.S., thanks in part to its unique Tejano heritage, which gives us delicious Tex-Mex cuisine. Try it at one of Morgensen’s eight favorite places for Mexican food in San Antonio or on this epic Tex-Mex food tour with Julia Celeste Rosenfeld. La Fonda on Main is another delicious Tex-Mex establishment that made our list of San Antonio’s best restaurants.
Get your fill of Texas barbecue at Smoke Shack BBQ and Southern Kitchen, another San Antonio’s best restaurant contender that comes highly recommended, even by a transplant who was born and raised in Kansas City.
Headed For The RiverWalk? It’s the number one attraction in San Antonio and home to these fantastic hotels and restaurants that you’ll want to consider as you plan your getaway.
11. Portland, Oregon
Asian Flavors, Food Cart Pods, Donuts
I’ve only been to Portland once, and when I think about it, the first thing that comes to mind is the boat of pineapple fried rice I devoured after visiting Powell’s Books. That was over a decade ago, and Portland’s Asian food scene has only gotten stronger and more diverse since then. Try Phuket Cafe or Oma’s Hideaway, two of Heide Brandes’s favorite restaurants to experience in Portland. Jo-Anne Bowen recommends Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen and Wendy Lee suggests Pok Pok for “authentic and delicious Thai food available at five locations throughout the city.”
Brandes and Lee both shout out Portland’s food cart pods, a can’t-miss experience. “Unlike the food trucks that roam the city, the food carts are semi-permanent structures, often gathered in parking lots or empty lots,” Lee explains. “It’s estimated that there are 500 food carts currently operating in the city.” Try Portland Mercado, 30 carts that represent more than a dozen countries, or Hinterland Bar and Food Carts for a pod that’s anchored by a full bar where you can enjoy your drink of choice along with your meal.
So You Want A PDX Donut? Of course you do. Brandes says, “No trip to Portland and its donut scene would be complete without hitting up the famous Voodoo Donut, made world-famous by introducing the maple bacon bar to the mainstream donut-eating public.” But today, Portland’s donut scene is so much more, and Brandes recommends you try Pedal’s Donuts of Portland Bike Tour because the proof is in the, well, donut.
12. Nashville, Tennessee
Hot Chicken, Live Music, More Southern Fare
I am a huge fan of Nashville hot chicken, and so are our readers and writers. And with KFC discontinuing its Nashville hot strips (RIP!), you might as well pack your bags and go to the source. When in Nashville, get your fill at the original Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, or try Hattie B’s, Pepperfire, or Moore’s.
Whether you want more hot chicken or a taste of something else, you won’t want to miss a meal accompanied by live music when in Music City. Patricia King recommends these eight best Nashville restaurants with live bands.
Craving Southern Dining That Goes Beyond Fried Chicken? Amy Sward recommends The Loveless Cafe, Puckett’s Restaurant And Grocery, and French-meets-Southern cuisine at Liberty Common, one of nine incredible Nashville restaurants for outdoor dining.
13. Omaha, Nebraska
Steak, Brunch, International Flavors
Our family spent a long weekend in Omaha this spring and we ate well. Obviously, steaks come first in Omaha, and I can recommend the swanky and romantic Committee Chophouse inside the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel (also the number one entry on Tim Trudell’s list of 11 Unique Steakhouse Dining Experiences In Nebraska).
Brunch is a thing in Omaha. Start your morning off right at one of these 11 places to try, or opt for The Orleans Room — The Cottonwood’s take on a French bistro, where my sister and I enjoyed our Omaha brunch on Easter morning.
Want To Taste Japanese, Italian, Pan-African, And Beyond? You can have it all in Omaha. Check out our picks for best Italian restaurants in Omaha and fabulous ethnic restaurants to try. (I’m still sad I didn’t make it to Kathmandu Momo Station while we were in town!)
14. Seattle/Tacoma, Washington
Coffee, Asian Cuisine, Fresh-Caught And Foraged Food
When you hear “Seattle,” you probably think “rain” and “Starbucks,” and no one is going to fault you for that. The city’s been dubbed the coffee capital of the country, and you’re welcome to visit and tour Starbucks’s flagship at 1912 Pike Place if you’d like. Or skip the line and get caffeinated at one of these nine delicious coffee shops to try in Seattle that aren’t Starbucks.
When you’re hungry for something more than bean water, Cindy Barks recommends “the culinary delights of China, Vietnam, Japan, and other Asian cultures” — all accessible in Seattle’s International District. See her picks for the best foods to try there, “from plump shrimp dumplings served in a bamboo basket to crispy banh mi baguettes filled with barbecue pork to artfully arranged raw-fish sashimi,” plus where to get them, in 9 Amazing Asian Foods To Try In Seattle’s International District.
After The Best Fresh-Caught And Foraged Food In The Pacific Northwest? Check out these seven fabulous new restaurants to try in Seattle and Sage Scott’s favorite restaurants to experience in Tacoma, Washington.
15. Austin, Texas
Fusion, Outdoor Dining
You’ve heard the call to “Keep Austin Weird,” and its fusion restaurants are doing their part. Try “flavorful cuisine featuring influences from Portugal and Goa (western India) with a Texas twist [that touts] blends of heat, spice, and acidity” downtown at Vixen’s Wedding, recommended by Janie H. Pace. Another great downtown spot, Suerte is where you can order traditional Mexican dishes made with the best Texas ingredients.
Want To Sit Outside? Make a reservation or snag a spot at any of these best Austin, Texas, restaurants perfect for outdoor dining.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.