One question is contentiously debated throughout the world and yet remains seemingly impossible to answer: where is the best food in the world? Here we’ve done our best to narrow the search and find the world’s favorite cities for food. Whether they specialize in traditional recipes or experimental methods of cooking, these 15 cities stand out above the rest for their unique creations and beloved contributions to the culinary world.
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
New Orleans’ distinct cuisine is inspired by the city’s multifaceted heritage. The melting pot of flavors unique to the city takes notes from Native Americans, French settlers, Africans, Southern American culture, and Caribbean, Creole, and Cajun spices. Four distinct dishes are the Po-Boy, an overstuffed sandwich of fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, soft-shell crab, or roast beef smothered in gravy and served on French bread; gumbo, a stew of West African vegetables like okra all served over rice; jambalaya, a spicy Cajun or Creole mix of seafoods, meats, vegetables, and rice; and beignets, donut-like squares of deep-fried dough dusted with powdered sugar.
As of 2015, Tokyo has more than 220 Michelin-starred restaurants — the most of any city in the world. Mixing generations-old techniques with extremely modern styles, Tokyo chefs are experts at blending old and new to create world-class dishes. From soba dishes at humble noodle shops to high-end, pricy sushi, quality carries through to all price levels in Tokyo. Another reason Tokyo’s food is so great is the city’s dedication to using the freshest, most seasonal vegetables. To its favor, the city is situated in a land that produces fantastic, in-demand ingredients year round. New restaurants open in Tokyo so often that even the locals have trouble keeping up.
Paris stands out for drawing in tourists to sample fine French cuisine, but it is Lyon that has been internationally recognized as one of the best food cities. Lyonnais don’t care about drawing in more tourists; they care most of all about food. Fine regional cuisine and produce surround the city from nearby Charolais, Savoy, Dombes, and other locations, and high-quality wines come from neighboring Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley. The cuisine is defined by its simplicity and rich, heavy qualities. Historically, around the 16th century, chefs from Florence came to cook in Lyon’s courts, and they brought with them Florentine cooking methods, which mixed with French ingredients to create revolutionary, new recipes. Bouchons, family-run bistros that have become integral to the Lyon food scene, are known for their distinctive homemade cuisine, atmosphere, and décor.
San Sebastián, Spain
Pintxos, a style of eating similar to tapas, rules Northern Spain. Traditionally, pintxos are small snacks served on skewers that are eaten with drinks in a social atmosphere, but they are not shared like tapas. In San Sebastián chefs have started experimenting with pintxos, and instead of customers choosing from readily provided options at the bar, chefs are preparing the dishes to-order. This new way of eating pintxos means each dish is freshly and extravagantly made, like a small gourmet meal. Locals are known for moving from one bar to the next, having a pintxo and a drink in each. Of course, there is more to San Sebastián’s cuisine that just pintxos. The city is known for its high-quality everyday food, where every meal is turned into a treat for customers. The seaside town is one of the best spots to order fresh seafood.
The Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh is a typical city square by day, but in the evening the space transforms into a festival-like atmosphere. Storytellers, snake charmers, and tarot card readers flock to the square to perform, and a few hours later food stalls take their places, and the smell of fresh street-food fills the moonlit air. Dishes like shish kebabs, mechoui (slow-roasted lamb), fried eggplant, and couscous are popular and cheap from the food stalls. Large barrels filled with spices like saffron and turmeric and huge bowls of piled-up olives are colorful giants that are standard sights in Marrakesh’s markets. Outside the city walls, away from the rush of the markets, fine dining in extravagant restaurants can be found where visitors can try a traditional Moroccan tagine.
Louisville, KY, USA
Louisville is becoming a new epicenter for food lovers in the United States. The city is on the rise, and its culinary scene has rapidly evolved to include fine dining at casual and classy establishments alike. Going out for a burger has transformed into a gourmet experience, and Southern cooking has been molded into a culinary affair by blending traditional recipes with unique ingredients that emphasize fresh, seasonal, and local produce. These high-quality eateries are quirky and affordable, and they signal the start of a budding culinary capital that fully departs from Kentucky’s well-known fast food chain.
As the capital of the state of Penang in Malaysia, Georgetown is home to some of the finest street food in the world, or hawker food as the locals call it. Many vendors use the same recipes that have been used for generations with hints of Chinese and Indian fusion. The most famous dish is called car koay teow, and it is made of flat rice noodles stir fried with prawns, cockles, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, strips of fish cake, and chili paste. Graze your way along the stalls trying the diverse selection of authentic cuisine. Chefs in Georgetown don’t cut corners when it comes to the quality and traditions of their ingredients. Food is served from morning to night.
Florence is known worldwide for its art, history, architecture, fashion, and also its distinctive cuisine. The rustic food has been largely unchanged over the years, and it dates back to ancient civilizations. Specialties of thick-crusted, salt-less bread and saucy pastas grew out of the traditions of simple peasant eating. Today, the same dishes are made into fine-dining meals. Florence is rich with fantastic local produce like world-class olive oil, mellow cheeses, and grilled meats. Popular dishes are thick, hearty soups, Chianti wine, and roasted or wine-braised game like boar, deer, and rabbit.
The UK picked up a bad reputation for its food decades ago, but today the city is exploding with new restaurants with each seeming to be more chic and nuanced than the last. No set style of cuisine has claimed the limelight, but rather a changing mentality has Londoners looking for the most unique experience and high-quality, unusual ingredients. The newest hotspot is constantly changing, and pop-up restaurants make it even more difficult to track the best dining. From molecular gastronomy to posh fast food and rooftop bars to labyrinthine speakeasies, London’s cuisine culture is keeping foodies on their toes.
Santiago was dubbed ‘The Next Great Food City’ in 2015 by Saveur Magazine, and the city’s new culinary scene has chefs creating new recipes like science experiments. Leaving a dark history behind them, chefs in Santiago have gained worldwide attention for their purely Chilean cuisine. Menus feature hyper-seasonal and rare, local ingredients that take advantage of all Chile has to offer. Some fine examples of Chilean dishes are scallops stewed in a traditional sauce of chickpeas and tomatoes, tomato and pepper pebre (Chilean salsa), and a braised beef stew. Leche asada, a dessert of baked custard with caramel sauce is a tasty end to any meal.
Food is a serious venture in the Scandinavian culinary capital, a city with one of the best-ranked restaurants in the world, Noma. Many of the city’s restaurants fill their reservations months in advance, but eating well doesn’t have to take weeks of planning. Budget eaters can take advantage of great food like Copenhagen’s smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich piled with fish, meat, or vegetables or Danish-style hot dogs from Harry’s Place, a humble hot dog shop that has been voted the best eatery in the city by locals. Copenhagen is known for fearless experimentation with food, unconventional ingredients, and artful displays.
San Diego, CA, USA
In the typical Southern Californian style, San Diego has an exciting but relaxed vibe that runs through to its cuisine. Although L.A. and San Francisco are the better-known food destinations in California, San Diego is gaining traction as one of the best in the nation with more and more local restaurants serving fine Mexican and seafood dishes. The city has large numbers of farms that make farm-to-table an obvious choice. Baja cuisine—vibrant and flavorful dishes featuring fresh seafood, chiles, tomatoes, and citrus from the region of Mexico just south of California—is the food of the moment, and restaurants take a rustic approach to freshen up typical Americanized Mexican cuisine. San Diego is poised to become a heavy hitter for American foodies.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
This lively city is known for excellent street food, atmospheric fine dining establishments, and everything in between. When France colonized Ho Chi Minh City, a combination of French styles and Vietnamese flavor led to a delicious creation—the bánh mì. The word only means ‘bread’ in Vietnamese, but foreigners know it as the sandwich served on French bread and made with meat—steamed or roasted pork belly, grilled chicken, or Vietnamese sausage—pate, sliced cucumber, coriander, pickled carrots, and other vegetables. Other traditional dishes include pho, a noodle soup with meat and vegetables; op la, eggs prepared with slices of meat and onion; and bún riêu, a tomato and crab-based broth with noodles and meat or tofu. Smell your way to the food stalls and you’ll be set for the day.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires used to be known for serving only cheap steaks, pizza, and pasta, but recently it has grown into a top eating and drinking destination. You’ll still find the quintessential grass-fed beef and wines from Salta and Patagonia, but a new food-loving generation has taken over to reinvent those traditional dishes. Porteños, people who live in Buenos Aires, know their street food. A dish commonly found from street food vendors is choripan: a split chorizo sausage on a sandwich topped with chimichurri sauce. Empanadas stuffed with meat or vegetables are another beloved food-stall find.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
While Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec were busy vying to be the top food city in Canada, Vancouver quietly jumped in the lead. Vancouver is located on Canada’s west coast and the region has some of the best agricultural land with the longest growing climate. Farm-to-table dining was perfected in Vancouver before the craze took over the food industry. The city has become a huge force in the food truck industry with popular trucks selling tacos, Indian cuisine, and even egg-centric dishes. Vancouver is also a huge destination for authentic Asian dining and sustainably-caught seafood. With such a large focus on sustainability and local eating, Vancouver has effortlessly attracted great chefs to its shores.
Spaghetti with meat sauce may not seem like a radical dish these days, but Bologna is where the traditional Bolognese got its start. The authentic dish is actually served with the flat tagliatelle pasta, not spaghetti. The city is also famous for its tortellini served in warm, rich broth, and mortadella, the city’s well-known wide sausage that spawned the creation (or abomination) of the Bologna-brand meat in America. (Don’t worry, mortadella tastes nothing like its American cousin.) The city has had many years to perfect its classic foods so go taste the traditional dishes—you will quickly find the rich, delicious cuisine that the world expects from Italy.
By Courtney Stanley