Mamma mia! Choosing just 10 of the world's best cities for food was no picnic. In the process, we let our taste buds wander the globe in search of sustenance. Our definitive list finds cities chosen for their unique dishes – if you hanker for snake, head to Hanoi, or for cuy (guinea pig), make way for Lima – others for their celebrity chefs (witness Las Vegas and New York), and still others for creating dishes known the world over – thank you Tokyo for your superlative sushi and sashimi. Of course, France and Italy are renowned for their local cuisine, so you'll find two stellar cities worth visiting here to sate your appetites; Barcelona, however, gets a nod for its winning combination of design and dining; and Vancouver and San Francisco are recognized for their seafood and stellar Chinese cuisine. Bon appétit – wherever your foodie cravings take you!
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Barcelona, with its 10,000-plus restaurants and 17 Michelin stars, is undoubtedly one of the Mediterranean’s culinary capitals. Centered on a Mediterranean diet of olive oil and fresh seafood, the distinctive traditional Catalan cuisine is what truly sets this Spanish city apart, with hearty dishes showcasing an interesting mélange of locally produced, seasonal ingredients. Barcelonans consider dining as a main event: a heavy lunch is served between 2 and 4pm; a light dinner follows later at night after 9pm. Should you have a snack attack in between, head straight to one of the ubiquitous tapas bars where traditional and creative Spanish small plates are served in trendy settings. For some of the best bites in Barcelona you’ll need to sniff out some all-time local favorites; don’t miss Ca l'Isidre (www.calisidre.com) or Passadis del Pep (www.passadis.com). Still, no visit to Barcelona is complete without visiting the city’s flagship La Boqueria food market – just off Las Ramblas – where locals hustle and bustle in their quest for top-notch produce in one of the world's best cities for food.
If you like your noodles, you’ll fit right in with the noodle-crazed populace in Hanoi. Whether eaten wet or dry, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, noodles infused with the freshest herbs, spices, vegetables, fish, or meat, make up a large part of the Vietnamese diet. Despite this standard staple, you’ll also find more unusual delicacies like dog (repulsive by most Americans' standards) or snake (considered a male aphrodisiac), often paired with lots of alcohol. For an interesting night, you can head to Le Mat (known as “snake village”), to the east of Hanoi, for a seven-course snake meal, including fried snake skin, snake spring rolls, snake soup, and minced snake dumpling – all served with plenty of whiskey. French-inspired fare is also predominant in Hanoi and includes banh mi thit, a delicious baguette-filled sandwich of paté, shredded pickle, and cucumber slices, garnished with coriander and black pepper. Visitors don’t have to dine in a fancy or pricey restaurant to enjoy good eats in one of the best cities for food, either: You can pick up a whole roasted pigeon at a food stall in the Old Quarter for next to nothing. And don’t miss out on the array of decadent desserts also available at street shops; Try the tasty rice balls made with coconut and sesame seeds and served in a sweet, gingery soup.
While Mother Nature originally envisioned vultures circling for scraps in the desert wilds of Nevada, the fantasyland of Las Vegas introduced new feeding ground – and new appetites to boot. In Sin City, where visitors’ whims and wants seemingly have no limit, there is, fittingly, a dish for every wish – be it dining à la française under the Eiffel Tower (at Paris Las Vegas) or savoring alfresco Italian dishes near the waterways of Venice (at the Venetian). Long known for its cheap (if somewhat lacking in the flavor factor) buffets (think $9.99 all you can eat surf-and-turf), Sin City has evolved in recent years to become one of the world’s hottest restaurant cities. New eateries seem to pop up daily here; celebrity chefs are gravitating to luxury resorts; and outposts of popular U.S. restaurants from Bouchon (www.bouchonbistro.com) to Nobu (www.noburestaurants.com) flourish. Best bets to indulge in these days? Two upscale eateries enjoying rave reviews include Bellagio’s Picasso, (serving Spanish-inflected New French) and Aureole (with New American fare; www.aureolelv.com) at Mandalay Bay. Since buffets are still exceedingly popular, word on the street is that the Bellagio’s is tops in one of the world's best cities for food.
Peru proudly lays claim to such diverse colorful cuisine (the coast alone boasts over 2,000 different types of soups) that its oceanfront capital, Lima, has been heralded on more than one occasion as the “gastronomic capital of the Americas.” The city’s seaside locale means fish dishes figure prominently (ceviche is the country’s national plate), and a past peppered by waves of immigrants from Spain, France, Japan, and Africa (to name a few) has fostered fearless fusions. Street vendors and huariques (inexpensive, family-run restaurants) serving traditional Peruvian dishes (known as criollo) like anticuchos (shish kebab-style BBQ) and picarones (potato donuts dipped in cane sugar) mingle with Chinese (for a blend known as chifa), Italian, and Creole cookery. Swing by Miraflores, a bustling district in Lima Centro housing hundreds of restaurants (most cheap by American standards), where the famed Astrid y Gaston is a must-splurge, as is Costanera 700 (indigenous fruit sorbet, anyone?; www.restaurantcostanera700.com). To really get a taste for authenticity in one of the world's best cities for food, visit La Huaca Pucllana, a popular Novo-Andino (highland recipes with a modern twist) spot overlooking a pre-Inca temple for fried cuy (guinea pig).
France and great food inherently go hand and hand, but nowhere is this country’s rich cuisine manifested more profoundly than in the country’s second-largest city of Lyon. Situated at the crossroads of the Rhône and Saône rivers in the southeast, Lyonnais palate-pleasers – think succulent Lyon sausage, Bresse poultry, and tripe – leave even the most hard-to-please gourmands with their mouths watering. While there is no shortage of fine museums, theaters, or historical attractions to pique your interest in Lyon, it is certain that nobody misses a meal here – the Lyonnais’ love of good food and wine and the region’s rich culinary resources have spilled over into a seemingly unending stream of bouchons (bistros) and restaurants (nearly 2,000 total), with even the priciest of eateries normally offering a reasonable prix-fixe menu so as not to deprive anyone of the rich culinary culture. Should you choose to be your own chef, strolling one of the city’s 40-plus daily markets will also allow you to pick up the region’s freshest produce and make your own repast in one of the world's best cities for food.
New York City
The view from street-level New York – where food stands sell giant pretzels and sauerkraut-smothered hot dogs – does little to promote the gastronomical paradise that lies behind city facades. Indeed, New York is a 24/7 foodie paradise: a city that has served as a melting pot for every culture under the sun, showcases every cuisine imaginable, and adds some unexpected fusions that could only be dreamt up here. From haute-French establishments like award-winning Le Bernardin (www.le-bernardin.com), to overstuffed smoked-meat sandwiches at Katz’s Deli, dining out in New York is a joy, whether you’re indulging in the simple or the sublime. In one of the best cities for food, there’s a cook for every pocketbook, too – you can get a slice of pizza pie for under $3 at Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village (www.joespizza.com) or pay $1,000 for a sushi platter for two (at Masa in the Time Warner Center; www.masanyc.com). And, any foodie visiting NYC simply must partake in two rites of passage – a stroll through one of the popular greenmarkets (selling local and organic produce) and a Sunday brunch, mimosa in hand.
When in Rome – mangia, mangia, mangia! Dining in this Italian capital is an experience that’s arguably just as pleasurable as seeing the awe-inspiring ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time, and, thankfully, eating and drinking well in the Eternal City is a piece of cake (or should we say pie – pizza pie, that is). Just follow the locals to the nearest caffè or pick up your own fresh produce every morning at the bustling, picturesque Campo de' Fiori market and sit down for a bite by the nearby Bernini fountain. While Northern Italy is famous for its pesto and truffles, Tuscany for its olive oil and beans, Sicily for its sweets, and the south for its seafood and spice, Roman cuisine boasts all of this and more. The most common items on local menus are bucatini all’amatriciana (pasta with a tomato, chilli, and pancetta sauce), gnocchi al sugo (potato dumplings in tomato sauce), polpette (meatballs), and vitello con patate (veal with fried potatoes). For a slice of Italy’s finest, try Pizzeria Remo, where you can sample delicious, thin-crusted margherita, capricciosa, or marinara pizza. From home-style Italian cooking in charming trattorias to innovative fare in designer restaurants, the old streets of Rome will have you savoring la dolce vita in what is simply one of the best cities for food.
The 1849 Gold Rush may have given San Francisco its start, but what keeps people coming back to this hilly West Coast city is a different kind of treasure: a trove of top-notch menus showcasing multicultural cuisines, fresh California produce, and world-renowned chefs. The combination has created a feeding frenzy among the dining elite and dining options as diverse as the people who come to visit. Splurge on a plate of pan-seared artisan foie gras with a corn fondue and truffle sauce at the upscale Fleur de Lys (www.fleurdelyssf.com), or sample some homemade tortillas at Mijita (www.mijitasf.com), where celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins serves authentic dishes her Mexican grandmother used to make. A trip to North Beach (San Francisco's Little Italy) and Chinatown may sound somewhat cliché, but for traditional pasta delights and the chance to experience one of the country's largest Chinatowns, there's no better place to let those taste buds wander. Fresh seafood can also be enjoyed at the ever-popular Fisherman's Wharf; you can browse the stalls at the Ferry Building Marketplace or even take a break between meals at the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Café (www.tsarnicoulai.com), a 15-seat Parisian caviar bar (look for a new, yet-to-be-announced location coming in January 2011). The unparalleled wine regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley are also just a stone's throw away – producing the perfect libations to complement your local fare.
Grab your chopsticks and go to town on the freshest sushi around – accompanied by the finest sake, of course. From beautifully displayed sashimi, sushi, and tempura, to succulent skewers of yakitori (barbeque-dipped grilled chicken) – best washed down with ji-biru (Japanese beer) – to hefty bowls of delicious yaki-udon (stir-fried noodles), and French-influenced meals of caviar and foie gras, Tokyo’s cuisine provides a Zen-like eating experience indeed. Case in point: The Kaiseki Feast, a traditional 5- to 14-course tasting menu of fresh fish, tofu, handmade noodles, and local produce, is offered at various restaurants, like Kitcho (at the Hotel Seiyo Ginza; www.seiyo-ginza.com). And, thanks to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market (one of the world’s largest fish markets), some 3,000 tons of fresh catch is doled out daily which, fortunately, can be sampled at any of the city’s countless restaurants. Daring foodies can also opt to taste Japan’s special-but-deadly fugu (blowfish) – a bite of this delicious delicacy can kill you instantly if prepared wrong (whence the old Japanese expression, “I want to eat fugu but I don’t want to die”). Though at $100 to $200 a pop, this daring taste test also doesn’t come cheap in one of the best cities for food.
While you might assume that you need to head to Asia to sample the ultimate in Chinese cuisine, you needn’t leave North America at all to dabble in some of China’s finest – just head northwest, to Vancouver! With its variety of international cuisines and unique Pacific Northwest cooking, this Canadian city has become one of the world’s top dining cities. But it’s the Chinese fare that really gets foodies excited: An influx of Chinese immigration in the late 19th century sparked the development of the city’s Chinatown (now one of the largest such neighborhoods in North America) and nowadays, whether you’re hankering for dim sum or a guy may bow (coconut bun), you’ll find these and more in its muddled streets. For a one-stop Chinese food fest, head to Floata Seafood Restaurant (www.floata.com), the largest Chinese restaurant in Canada; with its savory entrees of Peking duck or lobster and crab glazed in ginger and garlic sauce, impeccable service, and traditional Chinese air, this spot in one of the world's best cities for food is a favorite with tourists and locals alike.