New York. San Francisco. Philadelphia. New Orleans. Austin. There are a lot of cities vying for the title of "Best Foodie City." There are millions of words of copy out there on the internet of people's opinions of the best restaurant city in America. But what if it weren't an opinion? What if it were a fact, backed up by data? By science?
So, according to scientific data, what are the best cities in America for foodies? Where is the best food scene as told by the numbers? The data show it's not just the biggest cities that can make the biggest claims. It's smaller cities that are too often overshadowed by the foodie megacities, tourist destinations and college towns that can consider themselves the best, as well, driving thriving food scenes in places where the demographics are clamoring for them.
To arrive at our top 10, we crunched the dining-out data of every city in America. We narrowed the search to include only cities with a population of more than 100,000, which left us with 314 candidates.
For each of these, we counted the total number of listed restaurants within city limits and the total number of local (non-chain) eateries, then compared those numbers to each city's total population and land area size. From that, we calculated each city's number of restaurants per capita, restaurants per square mile and percentage of non-chain restaurants.
From this, we ranked every city from 1 to 314 in each category, then added together to determine an overall total figure and the top 10 best foodie cities, as follows.
Smart people gotta eat to maintain brain power, so it's no surprise that the campus sites of four of America's best universities all rank in the top 10 best foodie cities. Students, young grads and millennial families in places like Cambridge, MA, demand a unique, trendy and ethically-stocked local food scene. And that's what Cantabrigians get with more than nine out of 10 restaurants in the city being of the non-chain variety, good for sixth-best in the nation.
Home to both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge is the smallest city among our top 10 and with the fewest restaurants per square mile with less than 13. But that doesn't mean the college town doesn't have a robust and diverse cuisine scene.
Restaurants are serving the best in Massachusetts cuisine like clams, chowder, cod, bulkies and baked beans and an assortment of amazing fare at spots like casual Italian Giulia, buzzy Pammy's, trendy Alden & Harlow, Harvard fave Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs and Miracle of Science, an MIT student hang.
Cambridge's proximity to Boston has made it a bedroom community for bankers, brokers, tech professionals and entrepreneurs mingling with young families and college commuters, with high yet stable apartment lease prices. An average one-bedroom unit rents for a pricey $3,116 a month, the most expensive among our top 10.
It's cold in Minneapolis. In fact, it's the coldest. So, if you're going to get Minneapolitans to leave the house for a meal out, it best be a great one — and a hot one. With its predominance of residents with German and Scandinavian ancestry reflected in its cuisine, restaurants surely know how to serve hearty, hot meals to its frozen patrons.
Hot, fresh carb-and-protein heavy food is central to the cuisine scene of Minneapolis, from German favorites like rippchen, knackwurst and Wienerschnitzel to locally-sourced wild black rice soups, deep-fried cheese curds and walleye fritters. Of course, Scandinavian influence is predominant with Nordic dishes like lefse, lutefisk, pickled herring, gravlax and Swedish meatballs found in restaurants across the city.
And that's not even to mention dishes from around the world in one of America's most diverse cities, with large populations of Latinos, Southeast Asians and, most recently, Somalians and Ethiopians, each offering restaurants both neighborhood and upscale, centered on unique cuisines.
But Minneapolis is still the Midwest, and comfort foods flourish. Chief among these is the Juicy Lucy, a burger stuffed with melted cheese, most famously at rival eateries Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club.
Others will argue for the elevation of party favorite the hot dish, a Great Lakes traditional casserole of a variety of ingredients, most often beef, green beans and corn held together with cream of mushroom soup topped with cheese and tater tots, found at joints like The Bulldog and Mason Jar Kitchen. And with a large Vietnamese population, fabulous phở restaurants abound like Phở 79 and Zen Box Izakaya.
With a daily mean winter temperature of 19 degrees, you're going to be spending a lot of time at home. Good thing leases in this vibrant city run an affordable monthly average of $1,494 for an average one-bedroom.
It's New Haven, CT, of all places, that you need to thank for the most American of dishes. The invention of the modern hamburger on bread is commonly attributed to Danish immigrant Louis Lassen at his still-operating New Haven restaurant Louis' Lunch. That cheeseburger you're eating is a descendant of the vertically-broiled steak patties on toast (no ketchup) first served in New Haven 120 years ago.
But ask any New Havener, and they'll tell you the hamburger isn't the story of New Haven — it's the pizza. Locals insist their unique New Haven-style pizza is the best in the nation. Invented at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven-style, known as “apizza," is a coal-fired Neapolitan pie served on a charred thin crust.
The traditional, or “tomato pie" version, is topped with tomato sauce, grated Pecorino Romano, garlic, oregano and olive oil. Pepe's is also known as the originator of the white clam pie, with fresh clams and without tomato sauce. Other favorite New Haven-style pizza shops include Sally's Apizza and Modern Apizza,
Sure, New Haven has other fares — Blue State Coffee (for grilled cheese, of course), cinnamon roll pancakes at The Pantry, Lithuanian coffee cake at Claire's Corner Copia or the upscale gentility of the Union League Café — but when you're surrounded by burgers and pizza, who needs anything else?
Whether you're tackling the 100-minute commute into New York City every day or a Yale student enjoying life off-campus, New Haven is a relatively pricey rental city. A one-bedroom unit rents for $2,058 a month on average.
Just an hour down the road from New Haven, Stamford — home to many an iconic scene from “The Office" — is a more robust bedroom community than the Yale city. An internationally recognized financial center, Stamford has greater influence from New York City — just an hour from Midtown Manhattan — than counties upstate.
Property in Fairfield County is among some of the most prized and expensive in the nation. The city is just 18 square miles, the smallest in the top 10, but it packs nearly 400 restaurants into those blocks mostly downtown. The residents are some of the wealthiest in America and as such, they demand a robust, diverse and upscale dining scene. Because of this, Stamford ranks as No. 4 in the nation for the lowest percentage of chain restaurants. These folks aren't as much into their French fries as they are into their French bistros.
One of those is beloved authentic French eatery Chez Vous Bistro, where you can dine on dishes like French shepherd's pie, Hudson Valley duck confit and crème brulee. Elsewhere, be sure to sample Latin fusion Brasitas, seafood staple Fjord Fish Market and homey Italian spot Fortina.
But there's one joint that's most assuredly non-upscale that Stamford is best known for. Colony Grill — a dive bar even the hoity-toity don't avoid — is locally-famous for its non-traditional hot oil pizza. The pies at this 85-year old pizzeria are served on a cracker-thin sea salt crust topped with an even layer of mozzarella and a spicy and greasy chile-infused olive oil, customarily served with charred jalapenos, or “stingers."
As a convenient residential spot for Wall Street traders and corporate executives commuting daily into New York City, rents in Stamford remain elevated. An average one-bedroom apartment leases for $2,317 each month.
Both native Honolulans and Polynesian tourists alike enjoy getting out to eat. Why sit at home when beautiful weather, stunning scenery and a massively popular food scene is calling out. And while you might think dining in Honolulu is mostly poi, poke bowls and luaus, its gateway location as an international hub brings culture and cuisine from all over the world.
That's not to say that Honolulu isn't filled with a slew of traditional Hawaiian restaurants. But the food of the islands isn't limited to what you see in the movies or as a tourist. Hawaii's isolation has allowed Honolulu to source locally-sourced fresh meat, vegetables and fruit decades before it was trendy. Restaurants across the city are serving up old-school island delicacies like kalua pig, laulau, haupia pie, pipikaula, lomi lomi salmon, and — yes — poi and poke.
But as a destination dating back to its first visitors by canoe, Honolulu cuisine has taken the best from the region and made it its own. Specialties from around the world like chicken long rice and saimin (from China), teriyaki beef (from Japan), pasteles (from Puerto Rico), kimchi (from Korea), pão doce (from Portugal) and, of course, Spam from stationed soldiers' rations make up the full picture of Honolulu cuisine.
You can find this mix of traditional and borrowed cuisine at hotspots like Japanese eatery Rinka, locally-infused Texas barbecue joint Sunset Smokehouse, family favorite Keiki and the Pineapple, iconic Paia Fish Market, tourist and local fave The Pig and the Lady and Morimoto Asia Waikiki from the Iron Chef himself. But if traditional Hawaiian food is still your goal, look no further than Helena's Hawaiian Food, an institution dating back to the '40s.
You might be startled to find out that despite how expensive it might be to visit or even just to fly there, Honolulu isn't wallet-busting when it comes to renting. A one-bedroom lists for just $1,981 monthly on average.
While famous as a coffee city, Seattle is a foodie's haven along the Puget Sound. Not only is it the largest city among the top 10 by far, but it's also the most jam-packed. Seattle offers a delicious 28 restaurants per square mile stuffed into its borders. And of those nearly 2,400 eateries in the Emerald City, nine out of 19 of them are local, non-chain establishments.
While your first impressions of Seattle cuisine may be ham & cheese foldovers from Starbucks and fresh fish thrown around at Pike Place Market, you're just scraping a very crusty surface. Sure, second wave coffee and all its accouterments and uber-fresh seafood are abundant in Seattle.
But Pacific Northwest cuisine offers much more, including meats from non-traditional sources like elk, moose and caribou, local wild mushrooms and kale that thrive in Washington's wet soil and Seattle dogs — hotdogs smothered in cream cheese and grilled onions. As well, much of Seattle food is highly influenced by the city's robust Asian population, where fusion foods thrive like Korean tacos and deep-fried sushi.
Seattle is booming with a slew of locally-sourced and farm- or ocean-to-table restaurants that aren't named “Starbucks." A wide variety of options include trendy upscale Terra Plata, French-Chinese fusion Monsoon, Southern spot JuneBaby, Cafe Munir for vegetarian specialties, The Shambles butcher shop and local institution Matt's in the Market.
Living the Rainier foodie life in Seattle doesn't come cheap. It'll run you an average of $2,534 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Cheap living and good eats are the names of the game in Rochester, NY. The Kodak City offers the lowest rents among the top 10 best food cities, with an average one-bedroom listing for a monthly rate of just $1,484. But the city on Lake Ontario, halfway down the Thruway between Syracuse and Buffalo, is also one of America's most underrated food paradises, with a surprising 51 restaurants per 10,000 capita, good for 11th best in the nation.
Upstate New York is a distinct food culture from its downstate Manhattan and Brooklyn counterparts. And Rochester offers up some of the best dishes from around the state, including beef on weck and wings (Buffalo), tomato pie (Utica), salt potatoes (Syracuse) and one of Upstate's iconic Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's four locations. But what stands out in Rochester cuisine annals is local favorite the garbage plate.
A garbage plate, for the uninitiated, is everything a hearty, hard-working Western New Yorker would want in one dish: one or an assortment of meats including hamburger, Italian sausage, steak, chicken or uncured, unsmoked hotdogs called hots (or occasionally a grilled cheese, fish or eggs) atop a base of French fries, home fries, baked beans and macaroni salad. The entire dish is then often smothered with onions, mustard and Rochester hot sauce, a greasy, spicy sauce with bits of meat and served with sliced white bread and butter.
Authentic Rochester garbage plates are served in a plethora of styles at local joints like Nick Tahou Hots (the dish's originator), Dogtown, Steve T. Hots & Potatoes and Mark's Texas Hots. Looking for something different? Check out vegan spot The Red Fern, Pelican's Nest overlooking the Genesee River, artsy hip Good Luck Restaurant or Magnolia's Deli & Café, a favorite of President Obama.
Pittsburgh? Yes, Pittsburgh. The Steel City. Home of the Black, Gold — and the seventh-highest number of restaurants per capita in the nation. Long gone are the days of steel mills, coal mines and smoky air. Today's Pittsburgh is a modern, shining business and tech hub, alive with culture, music, sports bars and a growing foodie culture.
Even as Pittsburgh experiences a 21st-century renaissance, Yinzers are still industrial blue-collar down-and-dirty hard hats at heart. Despite its No. 3 best foodie city ranking, the lunch pail crowd still loves its go-to easy eats, as it's just 45th ranked for local eateries.
The 'Burgh is a unique mix of East Coast and Midwest, busy coastal and slower Great Lakes. And its cuisine represents that mix, as well. Its biggest national food lexicon contribution is putting French fries right on a sandwich, as popularized at Pittsburgh's iconic Primanti Brothers. But its Midwest food pedigree emphasizes the city's traditional German, Polish and Eastern European influences, with local favorites leaning heavily on pierogis, cabbage rolls, kielbasa and chipped ham.
But it's not just the traditional carb-heavy meals that win steel hearts across bridges and tunnels and among the hills and three rivers at places like Teutonia Männerchor, Dish Osteria and Wholey's. Experience a very non-lunch pail meal at spots like Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, savory fresh Pie for Breakfast or Carmi Soul Food.
Despite residing in the same state as East Coast Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is pure workaday Midwest. Rental prices reflect more Middle America than coastal. A one-bedroom apartment leases for an average of just $1,566 a month.
Berkeley, CA, is known to most for three things: The University of California at Berkeley (or just Cal, if you love football), a long history of social activism and as the epicenter of educated hippie culture. It's long been a city with a populous known to be free-thinkers and ethical eaters. So, it's no wonder that this Bay Area college town is the best foodie city on the West Coast.
The geographically smallest city in the top 10, this burg is big on cuisine that's farm-to-table, organic and locally sourced. That's what gives it a ranking of No. 2 in the nation overall but also is the second-ranked city for non-chain restaurants. In a city of just more than 120,000, there are just 31 chain eateries.
While Berkeley may be famous for its coffee (and home to the original Peet's Coffee), it's also a hotspot for the best Northern California cuisine. The vibe is what's known as “chef-driven," menus created and curated meticulously by some of the finest chefs and chef-owners utilizing new techniques and new foods, often low in saturated fat and heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean beef and chicken and fresh-caught seafood. The chef-driven California movement borrows heavily from Asian (and particularly Japanese) and Mexican cuisines, even up the Coast.
It was Berkeley restaurant pioneer Alice Waters who founded Chez Panisse, an iconic eatery north of Downtown, in 1971 who is credited with helping to create and popularize California cuisine — was Water's establishment where now world-famous California-style pizza was invented.
Today, you can find some of the best California pizza anywhere at Chez Panisse, along with spots like The Cheeseboard Pizza, Gioia Pizzeria and Lucia's. Looking to catch The Big Game between Cal and Stanford? Try Pappy's Grill & Sports Bar. And for the best in locally-sourced, check out quaint café La Note, hipster spot Gather and vegan favorite The Butcher's Son.
Berkeley might be a college town, but rent prices are not for those on a student budget. A one-bedroom rents for an average of $2,285 monthly.
In quite the feat, Miami has both the most chain restaurants and non-chain restaurants among the top 10. It's those sheer numbers that push Miami to No. 1 despite having the most land area of the top 10 (by far) with a city population that doesn't even crack half a million. A paradoxical city, a tourist mecca still full of real locals, Miami is — according to the data — the best foodie city in America.
Miami is most well-known for its booming Cuban cuisine scene, with local joints serving authentic Cuban food across the city. On nearly every block in Miami, you can find a restaurant serving fresh, meaty Cubano sandwiches — a ham, pork and Swiss panini laced with pickles and mustard — medianoches and croquetas.
As well, many double as cafecito cafés offering up the city's signature Cuban coffee specialty, a sweetened espresso shot with natural brown sugar whipped into a creamy foam often for under a buck and regularly enjoyed at 3:05 p.m. (for Miami's area code).
Of course, Miami is more than just Cuban food. The diverse city offers up a variety of “Floribbean" cuisine, combining Southern, Asian, Hispanic and Caribbean influences, as well as ceviche and a plethora of fresh seafood restaurants and top steakhouses. Not to be outdone, Miami is also home to the corporate offices of national chains Burger King and Benihana.
Some of the best places to dine in Miami include the Ms. Cheezious grilled cheese and mac and cheese shop, Cajun-Vietnamese fusion Phuc Yea, CRUST pizza and La Carreta, authentic Cuban food with multiple locations including 8th Street, Kendall and Miramar.
To live the beach life in South Florida, expect to pay some elevated rental prices. An average one-bedroom unit runs for $2,535 a month.
If you expand the top foodie cities list out to the top 50, some other patterns emerge. While most cities at the top of the list have a strong showing of local restaurants, none of the next 25 falls within the top 10 non-chain restaurants cities with the exception of San Francisco, the top city in the nation for local spots.
The expanded list also shows that a number of the overall top 25 are also cities on either the highest per capita and per density top 10 lists. Eight of the nation's 20 largest cities are also among the top 50 best foodie cities. The tiny but trendy San Francisco suburb of San Mateo is the smallest among the top 50, the 18th-least populous city on our list with just 104,000 residents.
|Rank||City||State||2019 Population||Restaurants Per Capita Rank||Restaurant Density Rank||Local Restaurants Rank|
|14||West Palm Beach||FL||111,955||6||53||55|
|26||Salt Lake City||UT||200,567||17||40||96|
Tourists gotta eat. So, predictably on a list of cities with the most restaurants per person, the cities at the top are the magic kingdom of Orlando, beach vacation hub Miami and sin city Las Vegas, three of the top five most visited cities in the U.S.
Orlando, home to Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and more, offers an astounding 93 restaurants per 10,000 people. Of those, 2,600 restaurants in Orlando (good for 12th-most in the U.S.) are nearly 900 chain establishments, the nation's eighth-most. Kids want familiar Big Macs, not an unknown local bistro.
As far as Vegas, it's simply a numbers game. Having a slew of dining destination options is one of the key factors in its tourist popularity. In a city with a population of just 650,000, there are nearly 4,000 restaurants, good for sixth-most in the nation.
Basic math keeps the largest cities from ranking high on a per capita list, as the population simply overwhelms the number of restaurants. But the metro areas near the top of the list of most eateries per person are generally America's second-tier population cities, major league cities but not the largest, like Miami, St. Louis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. When you're not New York or Chicago, one of the best ways to show that you're a world-class city is through your food scene.
|Rank||City||State||2019 Population||Restaurants Per Capita (10k People)|
|6||West Palm Beach||FL||111,955||55.38|
In which cities can you not trip over one restaurant without falling on another? These diverse foodie cities have the highest restaurant density, meaning the most restaurants per square mile.
Several of these best foodie cities are smaller locations with an affluent and trendy population, like Alexandria, VA; Waterbury, CT and Rochester, MN, quaint satellite cities with thriving downtowns. Conversely, there are surprisingly big metropolises towards the top, as well, high population and small footprint East Coast cities like Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. At the top is Charlotte, a nice mix of both.
|Rank||City||State||2019 Population||Restaurant Density (Per Sq Mile)|
Eat local. Half of the overall best foodie cities list also appear among cities with the highest percentage of local (non-chain) restaurants. To no surprise, this includes those same iconic university cities of Berkeley, Cambridge and New Haven as college towns are incubators for new local restaurants.
The other half of the list bucks the trend simply by being big. As mentioned, large populations force per capita and density rates to plummet. As well, the more people (and tourists) you have, the more chains will thrive.
But the exceptions here are two cities you'd expect: New York and San Francisco. They foster possibly the two most vibrant food scenes in the nation, and local restaurants have thrived despite the mega-populations. In the Bay Area, that vibe extends across the Bay to Oakland, and in Greater New York City, a suburb each in Connecticut (Bridgeport) and New Jersey (Paterson) have shown to be following in the Big Apple's footsteps.
Conversely, the city with the highest percent of chain restaurants is the Kansas City suburb of Independence, MO, where fewer than two in every five restaurants is local. Chain-store haven North Las Vegas, NV, comes in at No. 2. For sheer numbers, Houston has the most chain restaurants overall, the only city in the nation with more than 2,000 chains.
|Rank||City||State||2019 Population||Percentage of Local Restaurants|
To determine the best foodie cities, we looked at all cities in the country with more than 100,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 estimates and then used a database of 8 million commercially licensed business listings to find the total number of restaurants in each area. These listings may not reflect recent business closures.
We ranked each city by its number of restaurants per capita, restaurant density per square mile of land area and the percentage of non-chain restaurants (local establishments). Each factor was weighted equally, and the locations with the best overall score were determined to be the best cities for foodies.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com's multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in August 2020 and goes back for one year. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.