What makes a city truly great in the eyes of a foodie?
For me, it is a number of different food options that you can find in a certain city.
If I am coming to your city, I do not want to eat at the fanciest or most trendy restaurants. Or even eat the food you are famous for more than a couple of times.
I want to go somewhere that has a large selection of great food options.
If I can have great eggs benedict for breakfast, insane buffalo wings for lunch and then the best burrito I have ever eaten, all in one city, then I am stoked.
And I think many food lovers will agree with me.
So a few weeks ago I began my quest to find the best city for foodies to visit.
But because traveling is expensive these days and I was looking for the number one place to pig out.
Cities where you can get the best pizza you have ever had but also enjoy some soul food or oysters next door. Or pick up a key lime pie and jambalaya on the same street.
And using cold data we could crown that city the best foodie city once and for all!
Before we get into all of that, let’s go over how I collected all of the data and what that data means.
Instead of relying on a panel of experts we are using 429,702 reviews across 3164 restaurants to make our claims. We are relying on what true Americans think about traditional American food.
We pulled 3164 restaurants from the Trip Advisor site using a simple data scraping tool. Using their nationwide search, I looked for 109 different types of American food on a page just like this.
These types of food ranged from simple dishes, like Mac & Cheese, to regional dishes like collard greens. By the end, I read 50+ lists and articles to find out what the country really thought the top American foods were.
For every food that was used in this analysis, about 30 top restaurants were pulled into the data set. This gave us the 3164 data points.
Each data point had things like total restaurant reviews, total review matches, location, a review ratio and the restaurant’s name.
Now that you know how we collected the data, we can jump into what we found!
Top Cities By Diversity Of Food
I know this list is going to ruffle some feathers. But I really believe this is one of the best ways to crown the most diverse food city.
These 429,702 reviews across 3164 restaurants will help us make the right decision based on cold data.
And I believe that is the best way to approach such a subjective study. So let’s jump into it!
1. New York City
The city that never sleeps has 50 top restaurants serving different varieties of classic American foods, or 46% of all types of food we looked at.
That means that NYC tops the list with the most diverse food choices. If we throw in the 17 food choices that Brooklyn offers, that number jumps up even higher!
NYC hosts 135 (or about 5%) of all the restaurants that were included in this sample, which was the highest concentration of any city.
Clocking in more with more than 181k or 1344 per restaurant, these NYC eateries received 10% of all reviews.
This made it the most reviewed city in the whole study!
That being said, the downright massive number of reviews drove down NYC’s match score to 1.16, or a bit under the average of 1.37.
The match score is found by taking the ratio of total review matches for a certain food, divided by the total reviews for the restaurant. That ratio is then multiplied by the restaurant’s rating to get the match score you see above.
For example, one top restaurant had 2,463 reviews but only 290 reviews talked about the great eggs benedicts or an 11% match ratio. That restaurant also got a 4 out of 5-star rating. So if we take the match ratio of 11% and multiply it by the 4 stars we get the match score of 0.44.
If a match score is low a restaurant is known for food other than what was in the study, and if it is high they make they are almost world famous for that one dish.
You can find some of the best doughnuts, lobster rolls, mac & cheese, street tacos and more. Also, unsurprisingly, you can find New York Cheesecake, bagels and pizza almost anywhere in the city.
Here is a delicious looking example from the legendary John’s of Times Square:
The most interesting thing that I did find was that only 6 out of the 30 top pizza places were found in NYC.
But the top two pizza places are located in the city limits.
So eat your heart out Chicago.
2. Las Vegas
Las Vegas coming in at number two for the most diverse foods may seem like an odd choice to some. But after you remember that it is a city literally built to eat, drink and gamble, all in excess, it makes a little more sense.
With 47 distinct food choices across 74 top restaurants, Las Vegas was not far behind New York City.
And with almost 43 million people visiting your city each year there has to be a ton of distinct and exciting places to feed them.
Their massive tourism industry led to almost 100k reviews across those 74 restaurants. And those tourists helped leave 1349 reviews per place, which was about double the average.
But unlike New York City, there was not one food that Las Vegas was king of.
Instead, it was spread across a lot of the very traditional American bar foods like nachos, chicken tenders, sandwiches, french fries and the like.
This is why I think that their match score was very similar to NYC’s, at 1.19. Vegas is not a food destination for one specific thing but you can find almost anything you want there.
Like insanely good breakfast food, for example from Bruxie:
If you are into breakfast food as much as I am, you can find some of the top french toast, biscuits & gravy, breakfast sandwiches and chicken & waffles in Las Vegas.
But I think these delicious foods are to help the hungover masses that frequent the city every night.
Next on the list, we have the home of Walt Disney World and many other tourist traps: Orlando, Florida. They welcome nearly 70 million people to their city each year, which is way more than NYC or Las Vegas.
This Florida gem hosts 34 distinct food choices across their top restaurants, which means most of those restaurants excel in multiple things.
Orlando’s eateries averaged about 1334 reviews, which puts it right in line with NYC and Las Vegas.
And its match score puts it above both of those cities at 1.23 but still below average.
What surprised me the most was how tightly they clung to the I-4 Highway, but after a quick Google Maps search I found out why:
And just like Vegas, there was not one food, or even type of food, that shone brighter than the rest.
Instead, there was a hodgepodge of different cultures and influences throughout the city. As you can see below:
But out of all the foods that Orlando has to offer, 8 of those options like funnel cake, chicken & waffles, and corn dogs, can only be found by visiting one of the parks.
If you are looking for a massive hot dog like the one below, hit up Casey’s Corner:
And, weirdly, some of the best mashed potatoes and pot roast can be found in the Magic Kingdom at the Liberty Tree Tavern.
The windy city of Chicago comes in at number four with 30 diverse food choices across 41 top restaurants. Like most of the cities we looked at, the best foods are centralized around key tourist spots in the downtown core.
Chicago welcomes about 50 million people each but it’s restaurants received a dismal 20k reviews. That was the lowest total for any city until Austin at #14.
The lack of reviews did not hurt Chicago’s match score, though, it actually was one of the highest in the top 20 cities at 1.81.
If any city was going to dominate a certain type of food, I thought it would be Chicago with hot dogs, sausages or pizza.
But Chicago only had one of the best pizza joints, according to the data, and only one Hot Dog place. What!
The one food that they actually seem to make exceptionally well is doughnuts. My mouth is watering after just looking at the picture below from Do-Rite in Chicago:
In fact, 7 of the 41 top restaurants in Chicago are a great place to find doughnuts, doughnuts holes or cinnamon rolls.
And the final entry on this list is a little unexpected with Charleston, South Carolina.
I honestly expected Austin, Portland or one of the other hipster food centers to rank a lot higher.
This is an even bigger feat when you realize how few tourists Charleston gets.
Of the top 5 cities, Charleston welcomes the least amount of visitors, with only 5 million tourists.
This is around 10% of all of the other diverse food cities!
But that does not stop them from garnering 58k reviews across their 36 restaurants, averaging around 1615 reviews per spot. That’s nearly 3 times as many as Chicago, which also receives 10x more visitors.
I really think that the lack of influx of tourists to Charleston says a lot about the food.
If your staple restaurants are able to receive so much praise from a fraction of a number of people, then it must be wonderful food.
You are probably asking, what does Charleston do better than most other cities? And the answer is they kill it with Southern comfort food.
They have some of the best collard greens, fried green tomatoes, fried shrimp, grits, shrimp & grits and biscuits & gravy restaurants for your enjoyment.
Look no further than the Hominy Grill if you want to find a delicious example of southern cooking:
Honestly, I am getting hungry and a little sleepy just thinking about all that.
And out of all the places on this list, I think Charleston is where I would want to visit the most.
BONUS: Los Angeles & San Francisco
After looking through the big map with all 3k+ restaurants plotted across the country, I thought I should make a note:
Some large places like Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco are made up of a ton of different smaller cities, so that is why they are not higher on the list.
I thought that it would be against the spirit of the study to combine all smaller cities.
We are trying to find the best food city, not the best general area.
Los Angeles is an incredibly large with sprawl, especially when compared to another city like New York City. Just take a look at this map of the greater Los Angeles area. There are, like, fifty smaller cities that are contained in that area:
The same can be said for the Bay Area, which would have been much higher on the list if we would have combined San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
But just like with the other cities that make up Los Angeles, I thought that smashing them into one city goes against the true goal of the article.
You would have to spend an hour or more in the car or on a bus just to see all of those restaurants. So that is why they did not make the list.
Here are the other cities that make up the top 20 most diverse food destinations in the study:
I was a bit disappointed to see that my hometown of Kansas City did not make it higher on the list.
But I was extra surprised that Denver and Austin were the only cities that were not coastal cities. Alas, the coasts do have the best food.
And if you are looking for the top cities based on the number of restaurants they have, here they are. NYC takes the crown once again with nearly 3x more restaurants than the other cities:
The Top States By Diversity Of Food
Now that we have made it through some of the most diverse food cities, it’s time to take a look at the states. We used the same grading and ranking criteria as before.
Let’s get it started!
First up on our list of most diverse food states is Florida, with 94 different foods calling it home.
This means that a delicious example of 86% of all the foods can be found in the Sunshine State.
And as you can see from the map above, these examples are not centralized in a certain area.
Instead, they go up both sides of the coast and are even in the center of the state, which is mostly because of Disney World and other resorts.
Here is the unique food breakdown for each Floridan city:
Florida received 338k reviews across its 378 restaurants. With 900 reviews per site, Florida restaurants were well over the sample average of 625. This was the most reviews and food joints for any state!
Honestly, it’s a testament to how much good food you can find there.
But Florida didn’t win everything.
The state’s match score was almost in tune with its most popular city, Orlando, at 1.33 (a bit under average).
Since there were so many types of good food that call Florida home, it was a bit difficult to find a trend.
But the one thing that Florida makes better than anyone in the country is Key Lime Pie, with 27 top restaurants serving it. Which is honestly not surprising because it was invented there.
Next on our best food state tour, we have a state from the best coast, California.
I am guessing many people thought that this would top the list based solely on how large California is. It is the third largest state and has an economy larger than most countries.
That means they have to feed A LOT of people with many diverse backgrounds. And those different cultures come together to create some unique food!
In California, you can find 78 distinct types of amazing food across 269 different restaurants.
That means it hits about 72% of all foods that were included in this study, which is not too shabby.
Also, California had a match score of 1.52, the highest of the top states and putting it well above the sample average.
Unlike Florida, the food joints that dot California are not hugging the coast but instead are centralized to the major cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Here is the data broken down for each city:
California was responsible for around 120k reviews in the sample, which is about 6% of all reviews.
But that was almost a third of what Florida received, so the average review per eatery was driven down to 442 (or WELL under the study average).
In a million years, you would never guess what California is most popular for, according to our data.
With about half of all the mentions, I think it is safe to say California is a spaghetti paradise.
Here are some of the other foods that California makes better than the rest:
Something you may have guessed is that California has some of the best fish tacos. They grab nearly half of all mentions.
Fish tacos were invented directly south of the California border so that is not a mind shattering conclusion.
Also, you can get great clam chowder in California! Who would have known? I honestly thought that was a strictly East Coast food.
3. New York
The state that holds our most diverse food city is up next on the list, with 65 unique food choices.
With it being the fourth most populous state, there is bound to be good food all over the state. In fact, 219 restaurants from our study are spread all over the Empire State.
Although New York City usually gets all the attention for being a food holy land, as you can see on the map, there are dots all over the state. Like Buffalo, which grabbed a handful or two of top food claims.
Here are some other cities you can visit to get your feast on:
While New York City dominates the chart, you can still get some delicious food in the Finger Lakes or on Long Island.
Those restaurants received about 206k reviews, or about 10% of the entire study, with an average of 944. This puts New York well above the average and higher than most of the other top states.
But their winning streak did not continue, with the match score being the lowest of the top 10 states at 1.26.
This means that although they make great foods from our study, they also serve other foods just as well or better. And the reviews were more focused on those foods.
There are three foods that New York state seems to make better than any other state in the country, and they all are New York City staples.
First, we have the bagel, with 17 of the top places in New York.
Then we have the Potato Knish, with 14 distinct restaurants.
And finally, New York Cheesecake, which literally has the state in the name, with 21 (or 70%) of the top restaurants.
Here are the other top foods you can find in New York:
Oh, and they have about a third of all Buffalo wing restaurants, which makes perfect sense. After all, they are named for the city of Buffalo, not the animal, as some people are just learning now.
4. North Carolina
Our penultimate entry in this list of the best food states is none other than North Carolina.
We have already had South Carolina represent with Charleston but this is the first of we have seen of the Tarheel state.
North Carolina has 63 examples of top American food, which is around 60% of all the foods on our list.
These top notch dishes can be found at 123 different restaurants, starting in the east with the Outer Banks and culminating across the state with the town of Murphy in the west.
Here are some of the top food cities that are found in North Carolina:
With the lowest amount of total reviews on this list, North Carolina only clocks in at around 48k across the 123 restaurants. This obviously means that their average number of reviews is much lower than average, at 394 per restaurant.
It seems that the low number of reviews did not drive down the match score, with North Carolina’s score hitting the exact study average of 1.37. This was due to a great average rating for all the restaurants.
The top foods that you can find in North Carolina are the exact southern classics that you expect. Just take a look at the breakdown:
Things like collard greens, grits, biscuits & gravy, and others are things that will put meat on your bones.
And they also will leave you wanting another helping or two. Trust me.
The fifth top state is Texas, which I am a little surprised it was not higher!
This is one of the states I have been to more than a few times and every time I am impressed with the food.
Texas has only one less American food choice than North Carolina but about triple the amount of people.
You can find about 60% of the foods we looked at in this study in Texas as well.
The most diverse food cities were also some of the largest with Houston, Austin, and Dallas taking the top three spots.
Here is how some of the other Texas cities stacked up:
A quick note: I know the Dallas metro is made up of a ton of smaller cities like Los Angeles. So it could have been higher on the cities list as well.
Just like in North Carolina, the total number of reviews was pretty low at 78k across the 211 restaurants.
This caused the average number of reviews to be the lowest in the top 10 most diverse states at 371.
Missouri even had a higher number of average reviews!
Also, this low average reviews did not bode well for Texas’s match score, which came to 1.33. This placed it even with New York and well below average.
But unlike some of the other states we looked at in this study, Texas sure knows how to create one type of food like no other.
If you look at the breakdown below, the Texas restaurants dominated the Mexican food scene.
They had half or more of the best enchiladas, steak fajitas and fajitas places inside their borders! And they also have some of the best tacos, chips & queso and salsa in the county.
With a border to Mexico and a strong Hispanic community, this should come as no surprise to anyone.
Conclusion: The Most Popular American Foods
I am guessing you would like to see what the most popular or most reviewed American foods are. So I am going to conclude on that!
I took a look at the total review matches for each food to find the winners. Here are the top 15:
First, we have pizza, with around 28,590 reviews. Pizza can be found almost all over the country. The most popular places to find it are New York City, Brooklyn, and Orlando.
Next on the list is a big surprise to me: oysters!
This raw favorite garnered exactly 25,896 reviews across the 30 top restaurants. Plus, you can find great oysters across the map, with New Orleans being the most popular spot.
Third in the list of most popular American foods is ice cream.
Although there was not one city that owned ice cream it still was able to pull in 22,188 reviews.
It was also the food that received the highest match score of 3.88, which makes a lot of sense. I mean, who really does not like ice cream?
The humble donut is next on the list, with 17,364 reviews across the top restaurants. As you can see below, some of the best donut places are in NYC, Chicago, and the Outer Banks.
To round out the list, we have pancakes with 15,042 reviews from across the country.
And if you want to find some of the best pancakes in the country I would recommend Gatlinburg, TN as a great starting spot.
They have 4 of the top restaurants there for you to pick from!
There you have it! After taking a somewhat robotic approach to something so emotional I feel confident that we found the true food meccas across the United States.
There were a few cities that were expected like New York City or Chicago. With their storied food culture and massive tourism industry.
But one city, in particular, threw me for a loop: Charleston.
It was completely unexpected but in a good way. And I never would have known about this gem of a city without taking a deep dive into a large data set.
Now I can not wait to visit a city that I know nothing about, other than it has great food.
And if this study can drive me to do that, I am confident it will have the same impact on others.
So use this cold hard data to find a city that can warm your heart with their food.