It’s important to remember that subjectivity is always involved when it comes to writing “best of” lists. With that said, regardless of what someone thinks about a particular city’s dining scene or not, there are certain truisms that exist in the realm of restaurants. For instance, it’s widely understood that New York City has the best restaurant scene in the world. And the dining popularity of other cities, like Miami and Seattle, goes in and out of fashion like hairstyles. Take a look at the five best restaurant cities in America for 2009.
1) The Big Apple Reigns Supreme
New York City has more than 23,000 restaurants scattered throughout its boroughs, making it the center of the restaurant universe. The Big Apple definitely has high-cuisine covered, led by the likes of Eric Ripert and Alain Ducasse–two French chefs that have helped to define NYC-style contemporary French cuisine. New York City also is known for its inventive new American cuisine and contemporary Italian fare; the latter of which is thanks to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, who own and operate Babbo, Bar Jamon, and Del Posto, to name a few locations in their restaurant empire. Let’s not forget venerable places such as the Four Seasons and the Russian Tea Room, where power-deals are still being brokered over three-martini lunches. But what really makes New York City shine is the gamut of restaurants located in the city’s ethnic enclaves: Dim sum in Chinatown, Polish delis in Brooklyn, kosher delis uptown. It would take a lot to knock The Big Apple out of first place with delish food like this representing.
2) Chicago State of Mind
There’s no doubt that Charlie Trotter and Rick Bayless are two of Chicago’s most famous chefs. Charlie Trotter’s namesake restaurant has garnered him high accolades for his impeccable contemporary cuisine, put out of a kitchen that is said to be as clean as an operating room. Rick Bayless has become a household name due to the incessant branding of his television shows and cookbooks. Aside from this media bombardment, Bayless definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Latin cooking, especially regional Mexican. His two restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, are must-tries in the Windy City. Yet Chicago’s contemporary dining scene is incredibly diverse, with hotshot young chefs such as Grant Achatz of Alinea (in Lincoln Park) leading the way with zany molecular gastronomy. And some of the best high-end vegetarian fare served in the country comes out of Green Zebra’s kitchen. But many say that the best eats in Chicago can be found tucked away in the quaint neighborhoods, where you can find barbecue joints, Greek restaurants, and Polish hot dog stands.
3) I Left My Heart…
The dining scene in downtown San Francisco sometimes gets overshadowed by what’s going on in Berkeley and out in wine country–namely at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse and at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. And let’s not overlook Bradley Ogden’s Tavern at Lark Creek in nearby Larkspur. (Ogden also owns upscale restaurants in downtown San Francisco.) It’s hard to compete with those culinary superstars, yet there’s just as much talent within the city limits as there is on the peripheral. Longtime Bay Area chef Hubert Keller (no relation to Thomas) has been turning out incredible contemporary French fare at Fleur de Lys for a long time; he even branched out into the Las Vegas market, quickly elevating his celebrity status. Fans of Vietnamese fusion cuisine (probably the best in the nation) must try The Slanted Door in the newly renovated Ferry Building. Those not looking to break the bank can find plenty of mission-style burritos, pizza by the slice, and clam chowder served in a famous sourdough bread bowl.
4) Crescent City Comeback
No city’s restaurant scene has proven to be as resilient as New Orleans’s–not even the gargantuan Hurricane Katrina could stop the reservations from coming in. It did take a while for some of the venerable restaurants to reopen after the storm, though. But now the Crescent City’s scene is booming like never before. The city has always been known for its excellent Cajun/Creole fare, as well as classic French and Italian cuisines–served in opulent settings. The French Quarter is the epicenter of culinary activity, with everything from Broussard’s to Arnaud’s to the always-busy Acme Oyster House. Take the St. Charles trolley to the Garden District and eat at the Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans mainstay. The Crescent City’s most famous chef (besides Paul Prudhomme) is definitely Emeril Lagasse, whose namesake restaurant on Tchoupitoulas Street (say that five times) gave way to a small restaurant empire–Nola and Emeril’s Delmonico–and several television shows.
5) Organic Seattle
New Orleans may be the “Emeril City” but the true Emerald City is still Seattle. This Northwest city had a good restaurant run during the ’90s, thanks to Tom Douglas’ Etta’s, Dahlia Lounge, and Palace Kitchen–places that are still ultra-hip. But a new breed of restaurants once again makes Seattle one of the top restaurant cities in the nation. Lark and Tilth are two great places to find locally grown and raised organic food, served in a contemporary manner. The venerable Herbfarm (in nearby Woodinville) is still the leader of the farm-to-table scene. Jerry Traunfield, a former Herbfarm chef, recently debuted Poppy on Capitol Hill to rave reviews. Another rising star in the Seattle scene is Ethan Stowell, a young chef who owns Union, Tavolata, and How To Cook a Wolf. For a true taste of Seattle head to the Pike Place Market, where there’s no shortage of barbecued pork humbows, oysters on the half-shell, and applewood-smoked salmon. And let’s not forget fish and chips at Ivar’s on Alaskan Way.
We always want to be transparent and honest about our article content. From time to time, we may link to products and services that compensate us for the referral. This does not affect your cost, but it does help us fund future content for this site.