The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world in climate, landscape, and cuisine. From sea to shining sea, there’s plenty of incredible food to eat—and not just burgers and fries, either. From innovative mom-and-pop shops to Michelin-starred cuisine, you’ll find it all. If you love to eat as much as you love to travel, these are the best food cities in the U.S. to visit.
Editor’s note: Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, quarantine/testing rules and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.
New York, New York
They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere, and that’s true of the restaurant scene more than anything else. New York City is one of the only places in the country where you can try literally every single type of cuisine in the world, from Nepalese momos to Venezuelan empanadas and everything in between.
What to Eat in New York City
Bagels and Lox: Bagels are an essential part of breakfast in the Big Apple. Check out Ess-a-Bagel, Russ & Daughters, or H&H for a traditional (and well-known) version, or simply head around the corner from your hotel—great neighborhood bagel joints are everywhere.
Pizza: There’s a great debate in the United States about whether Chicago (see below) or New York has the best pizza. Here it comes by the slice and should be so thin you can fold it in half to eat it. Grab one at Joe’s on Carmine or wait in line at Roberta’s in Brooklyn.
Black and White Cookies – A New York specialty, these deliciously fluffy cookies are covered in black and white icing. Zabar’s offers the best-known version, but most NYC bakeries carry them.
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Los Angeles, California
Did someone say tacos? That’s just the start of L.A.’s incredible cuisine. L.A. and New York have a rivalry when it comes to food, and as in New York, you’ll find an interesting mix of cuisines from around the world in Los Angeles, with prevalent Mexican, Japanese, and Korean influences. You can go celebrity-spotting at ritzy bistros or grab a few late-night tacos to-go—in the City of Angels, anything goes.
What to Eat in Los Angeles
Tacos: Say yes to tacos! If you think you know a taco, think again. Taco trucks parked around the city allow you to try every different style imaginable: al pastor (Pablito’s Tacos), seafood (Mariscos Jalisco), veggie (Guerilla Tacos), carne asada (Sonoratown) … just go ahead and order one of everything.
Smoothies: Celebrity culture means an obsession with healthy eating, dieting, and “wellness” foods. You’ll be able to find smoothie bowls, green juice, collagen, turmeric shots … whichever wellness trend of the day is en vogue, you’ll find it in Beverly Hills and beyond.
Burgers: California’s Route 66 started America’s fast food craze back in the 1950s, and Los Angeles offers some of the best. Try the cult-favorite chains of In-N-Out Burger or Tommy’s, or visit homegrown burger joints like Bill’s Hamburgers or Hawkins House of Burgers.
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Sweet home Chicago. It’s a city known for one of the most comforting anti-winter dishes out there: the deep-dish pizza. But it’s also a city known for innovation and avant-garde art and architecture, so it’s no surprise it has some of the most interesting gastronomy the country has to offer.
What to Eat in Chicago
Pizza: There’s only one style of pizza in Chicago and that’s deep-dish. It’s basically a cross between a tomato pie and a lasagna, and that’s a really good thing. Bring your appetite to the famous Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s, or try the original Pizzeria Uno, now a national chain.
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San Francisco, California
When you hear “California cuisine,” you’re thinking of lush farm-to-table spreads, vegetarianism, and homemade bread. That began in Berkeley with Alice Waters’ iconic restaurant Chez Panisse. You’ll find good eats all over San Francisco, but be warned—it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the country, so you’ll need to pay up.
What to Eat in San Francisco
Wine: You’re not far from some of America’s best wine production in Napa and Sonoma Valley. Drop by a tasting room on a day trip or hit one of the city’s excellent wine bars.
Sourdough: San Franciscans invented sourdough bread in the late 1800s, so we have them to thank for this deliciously fermented treat. Pop into Boudin at the Wharf—one of the very first sourdough bakeries in the country—or go straight to the bread mecca, Tartine.
Burritos: Mission-style burritos claim a category all their own for Mexican-American food. They’re huge, to start. In the Mission District, check out Taqueria La Cumbre or El Faro, who both claim they invented this dish.
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Miami makes the most of its sunshine, with a food scene dominated by Caribbean and Latin American influences. It’s the place to go if you love spicy seafood, miles of white sand beaches, and tons of live music.
What to Eat in Miami
Cuban Sandwich: Slap together ham, cheese, roast pork, pickles, and a little bit of mustard on some crispy, baguette-like Cuban bread and you’ve made magic. Try one at the famous Old’s Havana Cuban Bar and Cocina in Little Havana.
Key Lime Pie: Florida is home to some of the country’s best citrus groves, and Key limes have an extra special punch. It’s the official pie of the state of Florida, and it’s worth having for dessert once or twice or 10 times. Try the homemade version at comfort food spot Blue Collar or stop in at the W South Beach after sunbathing.
Seafood: You’re right on the ocean, so it doesn’t get fresher than Miami’s seafood scene. Try ceviche, king crab, or classic fried fish sandwiches at waterfront places like Garcia’s Seafood Grill and Fish Market.
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Known for its global cuisine, Portland is one of the best food cities in America. Whether you’re looking for comforting Southern-style food or to experience a slice of Cote d’Ivoire, you’ll probably find it in Portland’s mix of sit-down restaurants, food carts, and farmers markets. Plus, it’s super vegetarian-friendly.
What to Eat in Portland, Oregon
Craft Beer: What makes Portland a must-visit destination is its craft beer scene. With 84 breweries in the greater Portland area, you have plenty to choose from. Beer lovers should visit Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Great Notion Brewing, and Gigantic Brewing, to start.
Donuts: Every city has its sweet tooth, and Portlanders love their brioche-style donuts topped with all manner of fanciful creations. Voodoo Doughnut started it all, but it’s also worth stopping at Blue Star Donuts and Coco.
Dungeness Crab: Try the best the Pacific Ocean has to offer in Portland. The city is best known for crab, but oysters, wild salmon, and rockfish are worth trying, too. Taste innovative stylings at splurge-worthy Castagna, or go for an at-home feel at scenic Salty’s on the Columbia River.
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Las Vegas, Nevada
Somewhere in the mid-2000s, Vegas turned into a culinary destination. Every casino sports a celebrity-chef restaurant, you can sample the best restaurants from New York City, Paris, Tokyo, and more all in one place. Even if you don’t like to gamble, you’ll find plenty of entertainment and excitement for your taste buds in Sin City.
What to Eat in Las Vegas
All You Can Eat: Vegas is a city of excess, and food is no exception. There are few things more American than eating as much as you possibly can in one sitting, so bring your elastic waistband to the buffet at the Bellagio, the Wynn, or the Mirage.
Steak: Go high-end with Kobe beef, prime rib, and more. Steakhouses are all over the Strip, but you’ll find an old-school setting at Golden Steer or a global-inspired meal at Chef Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meat.
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The East Coast Portland may be small—population 66,000—but its food scene is mighty. Here you’ll find some of the best New England fare at restaurants that could easily find a spot in trendy neighborhoods of New York City. Expect seafood, seafood, and more seafood.
What to Eat in Portland, Maine
Lobster Roll: New England’s most famous export is the lobster roll, a slab of delicious lobster meat held together by a little bit of mayonnaise on a toasted bun. Most seafood shacks worth their salt offer a fresh-caught version, but we love Eventide Oyster Co., Luke’s Lobster, and Bob’s Clam Hut.
Whoopie Pie: Pennsylvania and Maine argue about who invented this dessert, which involves two chocolate cakes held together with marshmallow frosting. Regardless of who created it in the first place, you’ll want to try one at Tandem Coffee and Bakery or Two Fat Cats.
Poutine: Maine takes a cue from Canada with poutine, which is basically loaded French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Try some at Duckfat—it’s worth the wait.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
It was the French who founded New Orleans in the 1700s, making it one of the oldest and most unique cities in the United States. You can still feel French influences everywhere, from Creole cooking to architecture. The cuisine brings together the best of sweet and savory with seafood-heavy stews and soups.
What to Eat in New Orleans
Po-boys: First invented in the 1920s, these “poor boy” sandwiches are loaded with fried fish, roast beef, and fixin’s on a loaf of French bread. Go to family-owned Radosta’s or cult-favorite Domilise’s for your fix.
Beignets: Pillowy, delicious confections covered in sugar and fried, beignets alone are worth the trip to the Big Easy. Cafe du Monde is the best-known spot, but you’ll find them all over the French Quarter.
Gumbo: A literal melting pot of cuisines, gumbo throws together the best of New Orleans’ history. Every gumbo is a little bit different, so try Gabrielle Restaurant’s upscale quail version or the award-winning Chef Ron’s Gumbo Stop for a classic seafood-based stew.
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Some of the most American food out there is barbecue, and Austin has some of the best of the best. Texas-style barbecue usually means beef brisket, smoked over a low, wood-fired heat for hours.
What to Eat in Austin
BBQ: You’ll need to wait in line, but it will be worth it at Franklin Barbecue, the king of kings when it comes to smoked meat. But you can find fantastic joints all over the city—and don’t forget your beans, slaw, and potato salad on the side.
Mexican Food: They call it Tex-Mex for a reason. It’s Austin’s version of comfort food, so you’ll find delicious versions of enchiladas, tamales, and burritos at places like Cielito Lindo, Joe’s Bakery, and historic Tamale House East.
Steak: Have we mentioned that Texans like their meat?
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More from SmarterTravel:
- The 10 Best U.S. Regional Foods
- 17 International Recipes That Bring the World into Your Kitchen
- Hotels’ Beloved Comfort Food (and Drink) Recipes
Always in search of adventure, Kayla Voigt hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can usually find her at the summit of a mountain or digging into a big bowl of pasta. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.
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