America’s Best Foodie Cities, According to 12 Top Chefs
Don’t get us wrong: We love discovering our next neighborhood dining haunt on Yelp as much as the next eager eater does. But what’s even better than those five-star reviews? A restaurant touted by a top chef, that’s for sure! We spoke to some of the buzziest and most lauded chefs helming top restaurants in the country to get the scoop on where they love to eat. From Los Angeles to Madison, Wisconsin, to New Orleans and everywhere in between, it’s a list you’ll want to reference the next time that taste for discovery strikes again. Read on!
For L.A.-based Kris Yenbamroong, the chef and owner of cult-favorite Thai restaurant Night + Market and Night + Market Song, it’s all about Santa Barbara: “La Super-Rica Taqueria [pictured] is the place that really takes me away. This little shack is hands down one of my favorite spots in the world. I make trips up to Santa Barbara just to eat here.” What makes the trip up the coast worth it? Yenbamroong cites the taqueria’s “creamy, oozy, cheesy dishes” and made-to-order tortillas. Another fave? “I love their Super Rica Especial, which is sort of like an alambre—grilled pork, charred pasillas, and lots of gooey cheese on tortillas,” he says.
The chef describes La Super-Rica Taqueria is “a very polarizing spot,” but naysayers, begone: “I can’t help but feel they are missing out on the fun.” His advice? “Close your eyes, forget what you read about it online, drown out the hype, and just eat the food. I dare you to tell me that it doesn’t make you happy!”
When Los Angeles–based superstar chef Jon Shook (Animal, Son of Gun, Jon & Vinny’s) is due for a foodie “getaway,” he opts for a staycation: “My domestic pick is going to be Los Angeles. Of course, I might sound biased from my own city, but I do feel like L.A. has the best ethnic food in the country, bar none. Our Korean, Japanese, and Chinese food is amazing.”
Shook has a field day bobbing between the delicious eateries of his contemporaries. “We have a growing scene of young, super-talented chefs,” Michael Voltaggio's Ink, Travis Lett’s Gjelina, Ori Menashe’s Bestia (pictured), and Michael Cimarusti’s Providence are some of his favorite places to dine.
In addition the killer restaurant scene, Shook loves L.A. for its access to farm-fresh goodness: “Last but not least, we have the best produce in the whole world!” We won’t argue with that!
Two Dudes, One Pan: Maximum Flavor From a Minimalist Kitchen by Jon Shook ($19)
Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre of celebrated restaurants like Trois Mec and Petit Trois also loves the food in his home base: “Los Angeles! Pine and Crane [pictured] for Asian and California food. It's a very zen place: simple, good, and not expensive—and I love the location.” He also loves the dishes aforementioned chef Yenbamroong is serving at Night + Market: “Kris is cooking very authentic and traditional Thai food,” he says. “There really is no place like this in L.A. Plus, they have French wine, which makes it even better.”
San Francisco–based Charles Bililies, the chief cook and owner of Greek eatery Souvla, looks to the Midwest when he’s hungry: "I recently visited Minneapolis for the first time and was truly blown away by what Gavin and his team were doing at Spoon & Stable. It was a dining experience on par with some of the best restaurants in the best food cities in the U.S."
Chicago-based Paul Kahan of perennial hot spot The Publican is inspired by more than just the cuisine of his foodie town pick, NOLA. “There is so much deep-rooted culture and soul, real soul in New Orleans,” he says. “I like Shaya—chef Alon works for John Besh and always dreamed of opening a restaurant, and cooking the Israeli food he grew up with. Take that guttural New Orleans soulful cooking, a style he learned from John, and apply it to amazing Mediterranean fare. The results are incredible.”
Amelia Levin Chicago Chef's Table ($16)
Chicago Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes From the Windy City by Amelia Levin ($16 and up)
Food Network star and chef Giorgio Rapicavoli behind Eating House and Taperia Raca in Miami loves Austin, Texas. “It’s an amazing food town! On one hand, you get everything you'd expect from Texas such as good Mexican, incredible BBQ, and down-home cooking. But, you can also find modern cooking techniques influencing young chefs to tap into their roots and create a food style all their own.” Some of Rapicavoli’s favorite restaurants in town are Foreign & Domestic, Gardner (pictured), Contigo, Franklin BBQ, Uchi, and St. Philip.
"Oenotri in Napa has been my go-to ever since it opened,” says Napa native and chef Tony Cervone of San Francisco Greek restaurant Souvla. He may be biased, but we tend to believe him: “It’s a well-executed, casual Italian spot with exceptional pizzas and pastas and stellar cocktails. A true local spot that I visit every time I'm up visiting friends and family!"
“Del Posto [pictured] in New York is one of my favorite restaurants to visit,” says chef Matt Danko of Chicago’s new elevated seafood shack Sink/Swim. “They really know how to make you feel special yet comfortable—and they'll make you easily forget your cares as you work your way through the tasting menu. I'd be happy to eat there every time I'm in the city!”
Brooks Headley Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts ($18)
Playa del Rey, California–based Brookie Williamson of neighborhood favorite The Tripel was pleasantly surprised to learn that Louisville, Kentucky, was killing it on the foodie scene: “It was so unexpected! The incredible bourbon I knew about, of course, but there was so much good food and variety. Gralehaus [pictured] was one of my faves for brunch, and the chicken wings at MilkWood is a dish I could actually live on.”
Chef Jesse Barber formally of The Tasting Kitchen and Dudley Market, which opens this month, is repping his roots with his pick: “I spent much of culinary career in Portland (it’s also where I met my wife) and fell in love with the ethical farming practices, dive bars with their beer-backs, and of course… my wife.” One of his Portland faves is the Domaine Serene winery (pictured) just outside Portland: “Their ’13 Coeur Blanc is one of my favorites,” he says. Smallwares is a must for somen noodles, and the Commons Brewery for the barrel-aged sour beer.”
It’s an unusual choice, but husband-and-wife duo Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of San Francisco’s insanely popular Bar Tartine have their reasons for naming the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, as their favorite foodie city. “There are a number of small brewers and market-driven restaurants that could compete with any in the country,” they tell us. The best part is that “all of this is in a small, relaxed town with parking and friendly locals.”
They recommend filling a basket with artisan meats and cheeses, and amazing wines, from Underground Butcher and heading to one of the city’s lovely arboretums for a picnic. “For dinner, Forequarter [pictured]. For a super-casual but delicious lunch, head to Himal Chuli, the best Nepali food outside of Nepal,” they say. “Grab classic cocktails and steaks at the Tornado Room, and don’t miss the scones at Lazy Jane’s.”
“In the good ol’ U.S. of A., I love the food in Nashville, Tennessee,” says Tomas Prado of The Golden Fig in Miami. “Places like Hattie B's Hot Chicken turn out the best interpretation of a Nashville classic. The hot chicken, served simply with a piece of white bread and pickles, is delicious, and house-made sides and sweet tea are also amazing.” For a trendier spot, he recommends Rolf and Daughters (pictured), which is doing a “take on Mediterranean with Southern ingredients.”
Have you been to any of these chef-approved restaurants? Tell us in the comments!