Friday, August 29, 2008

What are the Best Cities for Foodies?

Having now spent some time in various cities: Boston, Hartford, Phili, San Francisco, and to a lesser extent New York and Los Angeles, I found this old Chowhound thread on which cities (both US and international) were the best Chowhound cities to be pretty interesting. While there is some disconnect between posters who have lived in and travelled to different sets of cities and conversely accompanying ignorance of cities that aren't well-represented, there were several salient clarifications of what makes for a good chowhound city:
One of our main criteria is the ability to find numerous well-cooked global cuisines in one place--with a potential for fusion and innovation.

1. New York
2. Chicago
3. San Francisco
4. Montreal
5. Paris
6. Toronto
7. New Orleans
8. Miami
9. Vancouver
10. Hong Kong

Posted by: gmarinic

While I don't agree, I think this is generally the widely-held opinion of those who are from and who currently live in a major city, essentially that generally it's a subset of the major international cities that matter food-wise.
I think there's a difference between towns where it's hard to eat badly, and towns where there's immensely good food, but it's hard to find (difficult to get around, too much confusing choice, outer burroughs, etc.). The former often make for better Chow holidays, and the latter for permanent homes.

Places I have lived, and eaten marvellous food (in no particular order):
San Francisco
Cape Town
Italy (I've had wonderful meals all over; hard to list one city)

Holidays I've adored for the food:
New York

Posted by: Gooseberry
The running assumption here seems to be that the best chowhound cities are ones with a great variety and breadth of restaurants. The two places I've lived the longest, Los Angeles and New York, are arguably the two in the U.S. that fit this bill the best.

But to me, a Chowhoundish city can be one with a more limited palette. I love going to any places where the both the folks who work at restaurants (from head chefs to waiters) and, at least as important, the average person in those towns are obsessed with food.

That's why I think of New Orleans and Kansas City as the two most Chowhoundish cities. The passion in N.O. is obscured a little because of the high concentration of tourists in the city. I find New Orleans particularly fascinating because, like Venezia, a heavy tourist influence is ingrained in the restaurant culture, and doesn't seem to harm the great places on the low or high end.

The other city that jumps to my mind is Kansas City. You can get into debates about sandwiches in Philadelphia, or Mexican joints in Chicago, but I've never heard more people talk about food and restaurants anywhere than in Kansas City. KC might not have the range of some other cities, but I'm always happy eating there, because of how much enjoyment is shown by the purveyors and consumers of food there.

Posted by: Dave Feldman
This sort of reflects what I was thinking - or at least, goes hand in hand. Regardless of all the modern gains in cuisine - from great cooking schools to the wide distribution of all foodstuffs - there is still something to be said for being part of a culture, whether ethnic or geographical, that provides real meaning to the food, other than just the ingredients and even the recipe and process. It still is, and ought to be, that Philly cheese steaks are best in Philly, tex-mex is best in Texas, pho is best in a Vietnamese restaurant in a Vietnamese enclave, and sushi is best where there are the most demanding clientele - Japanese businessmen, probably NYC or LA. Perhaps that's what makes the people happy and proud - obsessed, even, to be a successful part of that culture.

...You can get Maine Lobster in LA, I'm sure, but what dock will you be sitting on that has the traps and boats tied up to it?

Posted by: Applehome
It's an interesting point, that the presence of chowhounds makes a city more chowhoundish.

Posted by: The Dairy Queen

And a few interesting notes on specific areas:
...Here's the thing, L.A. suffers immensely from its sprawl and the restaurants are just too focused on trendiness. It's just so hard to hear about a place, drive an hour to get there, park, dine, and get back home... it takes the whole night. Aside from the driving and the time, L.A. would be right on SF's heels in my books...

Posted by Galanos
Boston- Sorry, but your street food is non- existant, uninspired, and lacking, your ethnic eats are yuppified, and your Seafood is overpriced, but I lived there so long that give me some of your broiled scallops, fried Ipswich clams, and Indian pudding and I'm a happy chowhound!

Posted by Fooder than you
I totally agree with this guy's assessment of Boston.

Personally, I tend not to care so much about the high-end restaurant scene that much and generally like cities where I can get a variety of good ethnic and local food. So far Philadelphia, New York, LA, Paris, and Hong Kong would top my list, but I find it hard to be exclusive. I'm guessing a number of other cities internationally would be up there if I stayed for a while, like Toronto, Lima, Mexico City, Seoul, or any major city of China, Italy and India, etc. In addition, while cities like Boston and Hartford don't have the full ecosystem of places I would like, it's hard to argue against their local strengths, such as accessibility to Maine Lobsters, terrific New England clam chowda, and Ipswich clams in Boston and the 10-minute drives to Central/South American food and proximity to New Haven pizza, hot dogs, etc. in Hartford.

So what are your favorite cities for chowing and what is your criteria for picking them?

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