Today the most exciting cities to plan a food pilgrimage to are also among the most diverse, each providing their own unique culinary experience.
You will probably not find better spaghetti Bolognese than in Bologna, Italy, but is that the most exciting place in the world to eat right now? While we will never turn down a bowl of fresh pasta, the most exciting cities for true foodies to visit today are also among the most diverse. Here’s our top 10 list of the best places to eat around the world. Plan your food pilgrimages now.
Contested capitals make for exciting food cities. Former colonial powers in China and Taiwan—including the Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese—have all left their culinary marks. Visit any of the night markets, but especially the Shilin or Miaoku Night Markets—with their snaking neon-illuminated paths brimming with street food vendors—to try Taiwanese favorites like oyster omelets, fish balls, stinky tofu, and an endless variety of noodles, buns, and dumplings.
9. Portland, OR
The city of Portland revolutionized street food in America by legalizing food carts a few years ago, and thereby unleashing a mobile food trend across the country—and making it one of the best places to eat. Today, more than five hundred food carts clustered in "pods" throughout the city peddle everything from Ethiopian stews with injera bread to Viking soul food. Yes, that’s a thing.
8. Mexico City
From tacos al pastor to Italian-inspired tortas, Mexico City’s street food is legendary. But unlike most places famous for their foods on the go, Mexico City also boasts a growing high-end roster of chefs reinvigorating Mexican cuisine by using classic ingredients like squash blossoms, burnt chilies, and huitlacoche, a corn silk fungus that's considered the Mexican equivalent of truffles.
We could rhapsodize about the best croissants this side of the Seine, but Montreal is making headlines today for its innovations in traditional Quebecois cuisine—from nouvelle maple syrup "sugar shacks" that serve bountiful breakfasts come spring (including the classic sweet hot sap served on snow) to new takes on the humble meat pies and thick pea soups that warm a winter’s soul.
Add that to the Canadian immigrant mix of Greek souvlaki stands, Romanian Jewish smoked meat sandwiches and Portuguese chicken dispensaries, and you have the unique mix of old-meets-new, French-meets-English, settlers-meet-standbys. Oh, and did we mention poutine?
6. San Sebastian
San Sebastián may be the smallest city in the world with the greatest number of famed tapas bars and high-end restaurants of international acclaim.
With more than fifty tapas bars serving penny-priced, bite-sized Spanish snacks like fresh white anchovies or barely grilled baby octopus, you don’t even need to snag a highly-coveted reservation at one of the many molecular gastronomic meccas around the city.
But hey, once you've gone all that way, how can you resist the avant-garde experience of dishes like spherified olives, vaporized piña colada with baked pineapple, or caramel flavored “moonstones” bursting with liquid nitrogen-infused orange juice?
Besides its immigrant cuisines, the Curry Vindaloo capital of the world used to be a culinary wasteland. But in recent years, a renaissance in British cuisine has aroused excitement for overlooked foods like Yorkshire Pudding and Scotch Eggs, and it has become one of the best places to eat.
And thanks to innovators like Fergus Henderson, the city also recovered the nose-to-tail cooking tradition from medieval obscurity. With that and its post-colonial cuisines thriving, Indian-spiced fish head kebabs ‘n chips will surely be on the horizon.
4. Brooklyn, NY
While technically a borough and not a city, Brooklyn has a population—more than 2.5 million—that makes it larger than most cities in the United States. You’ll find Ukrainian, West Indian, Pakistani, Syrian, Puerto Rican, Turkish, Israeli, Italian, and Kosher restaurants, among others.
You'll also find yourself at the epicenter of the locavore, farm-to-table, sustainable, ostensibly unpretentious New American cuisine. This is ground zero for lacto-fermented radishes and artisanal mayonnaise. But besides the microbreweries and pupuserias, there’s also a famed steakhouse that’s been around for over a century, just beyond the Williamsburg Bridge.
Ramen. Sushi. Tempura. Tonkatsu. Wagyu. Soba. Miso. Mochi. Do we need to spell this out any further? From riotous izakaya bistros to somber sushi bars, Tokyo has it all—including a homegrown, food-obsessed population to feed the frenzy.
2. Los Angeles
Arguably the largest, sprawling melting pot in the United States, Los Angeles boasts some of the best Korean, regional Mexican, Central American, Thai, and Chinese cuisines in the world. It’s no wonder Los Angeles inspired the only food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize.
The city has brought us barbeque chicken pizza, California rolls, and the In-n-Out burger (order it animal style). And it continues to expand with endless bowls of bibimbap, twenty miles of Cantonese, Sichuan, and Hunan restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and more taco trucks than anyone can count. Take it all in because tomorrow you can wash it down with a wheatgrass shot and a juice cleanse.
It’s true: you can’t chew gum and you can’t spit on the streets of Singapore, but big government has also been a boon to the food landscape that defines this city-state.
Singapore’s vast hawker center system has translated into the wide availability of regional Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Thai street foods like chili crab, Peranakan coconut noodle curry laksa, kaya toast custard with soya sauce, and other fusion dishes like the red-hot Indian-Muslim wok-fried Chinese-style noodles with mutton.
The rapidly growing financial center also boasts some of the best high-end Eurasian restaurants in the world, as well as open-air casual restaurants on nearly every corner that offer Peking duck or roti prata served on banana leaves to patrons huddled on small plastic chairs. Just try to find a seat.
Original photo via (cc) Flickr user david_hwang