The 18 Best Food Neighborhoods in America, Ranked
If your 'hood is on this list, congratulations, you’re probably gaining weight, as we made sure every neighborhood is fantastic to eat and drink in. And once we’d narrowed it down to our top 18, we examined two major factors to determine placement: 1) culinary history, and 2) what’s happening now. The first factor is important because -- as much as we love knowing about the new, cool spots popping up in changing neighborhoods -- it’s just as important to us that these 'hoods maintain some semblance of a connection with their food history. And the second is obviously critical because that history is constantly being rewritten by new chefs and bartenders with crazy, innovative ideas, and lots and lots of mezcal.
As this does exist on the Internet, there will be disagreements, and we encourage you to express them using your inside voice in the comments. But until then, put on your most comfortable Skechers walking shoes and some loose pants, and get ready to enjoy the best food and drink ‘hoods in the land of the free:
Once upon a time, this was a neighborhood Denverites would go to if they wanted to have a nice night out... and then get mugged afterwards. Now? It's practically swarming with hot restaurants and breweries. Part of that is due to The Source, an enormous 20,000sqft "artisan food market" that houses one of Denver's best restaurants (Acorn), coffee roasters (Boxcar), breweries (Crooked Stave), and plenty more. Four other exemplary craft breweries have taprooms in the neighborhood as well, including the Utah-transplant Epic Brewing, which knows their way around a sour. For food, Work & Class serves up shared plates of delicious Latin/American food, Cart-Driver is the tiny, high-quality pizza joint every neighborhood deserves, and Los Chingones is the Mexican food outpost of one of Denver's finest restauranteurs. And for something you likely won't find in any other city, Infinite Monkey Theorem cans their own wine and has an expansive space to drink it in.
The legend here is that Charles Dickens named the area Fishtown when he visited in the 1800s, but, if you’ll excuse the pun, that story’s veracity kind of stinks. And now that most people have stopped reading, let’s get down to it: the old shad-fishing blue collar Irish neighborhood is in the midst of those changes you read about when a New York Times writer visits, and puts down the official stamp of gentrification (see: Bonnie Tsui, October 9th, 2013). And as much fun as it is to discuss the hilarity that ensues when the Times comes in and calls a place “scruffy”, you still want to go here and eat and drink, thanks to places like beer garden Frankford Hall (if you’ve never had a Kasekrainer, this is the time to do it), Johnny Brenda’s from the Standard Tap folk, Stephen Starr/Joe Carroll’s amazing BBQ spot Fette Sau, and the chorizo & potato tacos at Loco Pez. And yes, of course, there is a Barcade here too.
16. East Nashville
East Nashville’s role in the Nashville food renaissance might be captured best by POP Nashville: Chef Sarah Gavigan ladles up the city’s most-slurpable ramen four nights a week, but opens the 1,000sqft space as a pop-up for the rest of the week, letting whatever other creative spot take a turn to test their talents -- whether it’s another chef or a temporary art gallery. With nationally-acclaimed restaurants now dotting Music City, historic East Nashville acts more as an artsy small town fostering talent, rather than a ‘hood in the state capital. From Porter Road Butcher, a full-service butcher shop/one of the best sandwich shops in the city, the city’s first izakaya Two Ten Jack, cocktail haven Holland House, and Pharmacy Burger Parlor’s juicy, hulking burger, wandering the area is like eating a Nashville sampler platter, condensed for your convenience.
Detroit’s historic Corktown may be the city’s oldest neighborhood, but it’s also at the forefront of the D’s new food frontiers. The stretch alongside Michigan Ave, in particular, is exploding with flavor, courtesy of the newly legendary Slows Bar BQ, farm-fresh upscale Southern fare at Gold Cash Gold, and Italian at Ottavia, all of which pair perfectly with after-dinner cocktails at Sugar House. Want a burger? Three of Motown’s best -- Mercury Burger Bar, Nemo’s, and St. Cece’s -- are in Corktown. Deli sandwiches? Get one of the city’s best at Mudgie's, and pair it with one of the 100+ craft beers on offer. And if you need a coney -- and trust us, you always need a coney -- Onassis has your back.
14. The North End
It has the history, seeing how people have lived there continuously since the 1630s, and it’s been predominately Italian for well over 100 years. Until the Dig was completed, the Central Artery blocked it off from the rest of Boston, isolating the North End but also creating an even more tightly knit Italian-American community where food really, really mattered. When I was little, it was the only neighborhood I really knew about, because we’d always go eat next to Paul Revere’s house at Florence’s before Celtics games. It’s closed now, but plenty of the red sauce legends live on, like Giacomo’s, Pomodoro, and Mama Maria, next to the essential pizza spots (Galleria Umberto, Regina, Ernesto’s), and the infamous cannoli rivals (Mike’s and Modern). Not into Italian food? No problem (well, sort of a problem, but whatever), oyster bars like Neptune Oyster Bar and coffee houses like the Thinking Cup can keep you occupied. And all of this within basically five blocks. Che è impressionante, indeed.
Known to squares as the East Market District, historic NuLu (that’s “New Louisville” and not an offshoot of “nu metal”) is quickly becoming downtown’s Southern answer to the bohemian, sustainably-minded food scenes popping up in other, bigger cities. Does that mean organic, farm-fresh Hot Browns? You bet it does -- this is Kentucky! But it also means some of the best food in the city, including incredible and innovative brunches at Please & Thank You (egg sliders!), modernized Southern staples like fried chicken confit at Toast, gourmet food with a side of bourbon at Proof on Main, and one of the state’s best pizzas at Garage Bar. Naturally, you can’t be in Kentucky without bourbon... luckily, the 'hood has just as many great drinking options, among them Meta and Against the Grain.
12. Pioneer Square
There is a lot of history here -- it was originally where many of Seattle’s founders settled in the mid-1800s when Henry Yesler was like, “I’m going to build a lumber mill right damn here, and then, 160 years later or so, I predict this area will see a wave of new restaurants and bars, AND I WILL STILL BE ALIVE TO ENJOY THEM.” And he was so right, about most of that stuff. P-Square -- the place where Seattle-style hot dogs (with cream cheese & caramelized onions) were INVENTED -- has everything you could ask for in a tight eight-block radius -- Il Corvo’s pasta, Bar Sajor’s everything, Salumi, Delicatus, Rain Shadow Meats Squared, and Tinello for sandwiches, cocktails at Damn the Weather, and beers and free popcorn at the P Square Saloon. You can even hit noted Thai spot Little Uncle on Yesler Way, because, though Henry may not still be alive, he’d be pretty happy knowing everyone can eat wild boar soup on his namesake road.
Los Angeles, CA
Wait, you guys mean Downtown LA right? Well, no. While Downtown's revitalization is well underway, and tons of fancy-ish places (and casual places, let's be fair) are opening there constantly, Koreatown's been the little engine always chugging along: hit any block in the 'hood, and you'll see what seem like hundreds of restaurants, including the amazingness you'd expect (KBBQ! Pho!) and plenty you wouldn't, including the hidden-in-a-strip mall bistro Saint Martha (home of a brisket dish that's one of the best things we ate all year) and the gastropub Beer Belly, which is churning out next-level wings, burgers, and more. The recently-opened EMC Seafood finally means you don't need to drive for a raw-bar fix, Whiz has got your sandwich-jones covered, and we even crowned the local steakhouse, Taylor's, the best in the city. In other words, Downtown may be glitzier -- but if you want the real deal, K-town's your best bet.
10. Logan Circle/14th Street
New condos -- that have seemingly been being built for the last decade -- keep going up. The Whole Foods on P is very crowded. Debates rage about what to make of the changing face of this area along 14th NW, a few blocks from Logan Circle, but everyone can agree that the food has gotten pretty damn fantastic. Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate (Michelle Obama eats there!) sits across from one of our favorite pizza places in the country, Etto. Walk up four blocks, and you’ll hit one of our favorite bars ever, 2 Birds 1 Stone. Continue and you’re at Michael Schlow’s Latin spot Tico, and, along the way and in between, you’ve got 68 other spots to eat in. What once was a staid food city is quickly turning into a chubby person’s paradise. Now, if you’d like, insert political kicker joke about “getting our vote” here.
9. Ohio City
The Ohio City neighborhood is at the center of Cleveland’s culinary resurgence, and at its center is West Side Market, one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the country. The butchers, bakers, and farmers serve as the pantry to Ohio City’s booming restaurant scene. In one short walk, you can get everything from fresh charcuterie and fried-egg pizza at Bar Cento, one of the nation’s best burgers at Nano Brew, a steak at the converted bank Crop, otherworldly pork belly at Black Pig, farm-to-table plates at Flying Fig, and Southern fare with whiskey at SOHO Kitchen. And that’s to say nothing about the beer: the OC is among the most densely populated and fastest-growing brewery areas in the US, something that kicked off with Great Lakes and shows no sign of stopping. Think of it as the Midwest’s Williamsburg, minus the hipsters and inflated price tag, but still boasting the self-contained neighborhood spirit paired with Cleveland pride.
8. Upper King Street
Charleston has long been a great food town, but it wasn’t until recently that it became a NATIONALLY KNOWN great food town, partially thanks to Sean Brock and what he did first at McCrady’s, and, then, when he opened Husk in 2010, which sits right off King Street, on Queen. But now, four years later, walk just 10 minutes up King from Brock’s spot and you’ll find a once-college-bar-focused area now teeming with amazing restaurants and bars, from the incredible oysters and razor clams at The Ordinary to the Track Burger (get cheese) and Aviation cocktail at The Rarebit to freaking grouper bologna at The Macintosh, plus all the cocktails at Proof, and that is just starting to scratch the fried green tomato-covered surface.
Fun fact: I was born in Houston in 1981 in a hospital, I think. But our house was a couple of blocks off Westheimer, down from Montrose Boulevard. Funner fact: my Mom has informed me that the Montrose area of 1981 was not exactly “jumping off”. But it certainly is now: older places like Chef Hugo Ortega’s eponymous Mexican restaurant mix in nicely with the new folks, like craft cocktail bar Anvil, which opened in 2009 and paved the way for a murderer’s row of hits like Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly, James Beard-winning chef Tyson Cole’s Uchi (get the damn bacon tataki!), and Hay Merchant, where you can eat sweet & spicy pig ears and the famed Cease and Desist Burger 'til your heart’s stopped/content. And though some longtime legendary places have closed (RIP late-night cha gio at Hollywood Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant), there are few better areas in the country to eat so much good food so close. Maybe it’s time I move back.
6. East Sixth
Ten years ago only the most adventurous eaters crossed IH-35 into East Austin. But nowadays, the area has been swept up in a wave of gentrification, meaning many of the Tejano bars were replaced with clusters of food trailers, pre-Prohibition cocktails, and tasting menus. Via 313 slings the finest pizza in the state of Texas (Detroit-style!), East Side Showroom shakes some of the city's best drinks (with vaudeville musical accompaniment), and Paul Qui, the patron saint of the Austin food scene, has stamped his recipes all over the block, from the cheap Thai and fusion eats at his two East Side King trailers to his envelope-pushing eponymous brick-and-mortar. And new game-changing restaurants are popping up every day, from satellite locations of Counter Cafe (best breakfast in America!) and Cuvée Coffee to French newcomer laV and fried chicken-experts Red Star Southern. But, despite the gentrification and gringos, you can still find plenty of Mexican fare from trailer tacos (Pueblo Viejo) to traditional interior eats (Takoba and Licha's Cantina).
5. The West Loop
The West Loop isn't as much of a historical neighborhood in the same way some other prime Chicago 'hoods are (Logan Square, Wicker Park), but in terms of a microcosm of what makes Chi's food scene so compelling, this former (and current, to an extent) warehouse district has it all. Next and Moto are some of the more innovative restaurants in the country. Paul Kahan's The Publican went all in on beer, pork, and oysters before an endless lineup of trend chasers did the same. But it's not all about big-name chefs: neighborhood joint J.P. Graziano's still serves some of the best Italian subs you'll find in Chicago. Or anywhere. And even beloved Mexican sandwich joint Cemitas Puebla chose the West Loop for its expansion. Basically, if you want a snapshot of what's exciting about Chicago in a compact area, the West Loop is where you're headed.
4. SE Division
Portland’s a city whose neighborhoods feel like small towns, and each of them has its own food scene. But none since Alberta a decade ago have exploded quite like the SE Division corridor in the past three years. The quiet neighborhood birthed two national phenomena in the form of Thai legend Pok Pok and Stumptown Roasters back in the day, but it’s since become PDX’s food capital. In the course of 20 blocks, you can hit a sea of food carts -- hell, there are 19 in one lot at the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden, one of which serves beer -- wait in line for Salt & Straw’s world-famous ice cream, score new-wave Indian food at Bollywood Theater, and get a slice of pizza -- ranging from wood-fired to New York to Bianca -- on virtually every block. That’s to say nothing of Italian hot spot Ava Gene's, the comfort food of New American Local, upscale Mexican fare at Xico and Nuestra Cocina, or Thai street noodles at Sen Yai. And this is just the CliffsNotes version. Walking those 20 blocks hungry could result in a three-day odyssey.
New York, NY
The other neighborhoods in this article share that signature mingling of history and new spots -- usually at least one beer hall and a ramen shop are on the newbie list -- that feed a food frenzy. But this Queens neighborhood tucked at the end of the 7 train is wonderfully, blissfully free of that gentrification stamp. It’s the epitome of New York’s culinary melting pot, with a choose-your-own adventure trip through Asia that never has a bad ending, unlike that time the voodoo priest locked your Dad in the attic of a haunted antique store. Go Cantonese at giant, banquet-style Lake Pavilion and order clams that you’ll fish out of a spicy, rich XO sauce or grab Taiwanese garlic links at Xiao Yuan Huang or opt for spicy Korean pork ssambap at Myung San.
The specialties get so specific that there are three stalls serving Uighur cuisine inside New World Mall. You’ve probably never heard of food from this tiny Turkish-speaking minority group in China, but take a bite of hand-pulled noodles swimming in spicy, garlicky, gingery chicken stew, and you’ll want to know more, and will absolutely start taking the 7 train more, while training your taste buds to handle all the fiery foods in Flushing.
2. The French Quarter
New Orleans, LA
From the Freret St corridor Uptown, with its invitation to go from the best burger in the country to the best cocktail spot a block away, down to the Bywater, whose myriad of new spots has earned it the official hipster branding, NOLA is one of the few cities in America that, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, can make entire cities blush in jealousy over the food girth tucked into tiny enclaves here.
And at the crown of it all is the French Quarter -- not the Lucky Dog-strewn Quarter, but the one that houses legends like Antoine’s and Tujague’s and Arnaud's, three of the oldest restaurants in the country, and has newer legends, like Bayona, Susan Spicer’s ode to Creole food that earned her a James Beard, tucked away in a 200-year-old cottage since the ‘90s and witnessed the birth of the po’boy. If you’re worried creativity is dead here and good eats are limited to the old guys, just try Killer Poboys’ spins on the iconic sandwich, like their spiced lamb sausage and tzatziki po'boy or taste Meauxbar’s crispy pork belly & scallops that come with kimchi vinaigrette or the lamb hearts served with a corn chow chow at SoBou.
Oh, and you can drink, too, at spots like Tiki Tolteca, one of 2014's best new bars, and Cane & Table, one of 2013's best new bars. And all that makes a great deal of sense when you remember that the cocktail was invented here and -- besides that pesky Prohibition period -- the best damn gin fizzes and Sazeracs and grasshoppers in the country have never stopped filling glasses on nearly every corner.
But let’s not forget that there are those yellow-and-red Lucky Dog stands and neon Hand Grenade lights.
1. The Mission
San Francisco, CA
As I mentioned earlier, one of the central factors Liz and I discussed when coming up with this list dealt with a mix of old and new. Well, the Mission has that in spades. And though I don’t quite understand the history of that cliche, I do get the Mission’s: founded around the Mission San Francisco de Asis by Spanish missionaries in 1776, it expanded when the Spanish government gave permanent land-owning grants (ranchos) to prominent Spanish-Mexicans with names you may recognize, like Dolores, Guerrero, and Valenciano.
Fast-forward to the 1940s and '50s, when many more Latinos moved into the area after being moved off Rincon Hill while the Bay Bridge was being built, and from Central America during times of civil war. After this, Latin food culture in the Mission became prominent, most clearly defined today by the national dominance of the Mission-style burrito (I like La Taqueria the most, and apparently so does Nate Silver AND THE WORLD). But on top of the fact that you can get high-level, low-price Mexican food at any number of places along Mission and Valencia, the Mission continues to be the arbiter of cool and new food/drink trends in the city, from earlier entrants like Delfina, Bar Tartine, Beretta, and Bi-Rite, to Trick Dog, Flour + Water, Mission Chinese, Lazy Bear, and literally so many more. Nowadays the balance between the old and new has gotten more precarious with soaring prices, and a tense relationship with tech, but it doesn’t change the fact that -- for eating and drinking in America -- no other ‘hood can hold a candela to the Mission.
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Kevin Alexander is the Executive Editor at Thrillist, and he's REALLY PROUD TO BE PROVEN RIGHT BY NATE SILVER. Follow him: @KAlexander03.
Liz Childers is the Cities Strategy Director at Thrillist, and would take a Trick Dog from Trick Dog right now, please. Please? Follow her: @lizchilders1.