Say what you want about the evils of big city living -- Lord knows I have -- but when it comes to finding the most delicious, innovative food in the nation, small-town favorites simply can't stack up against the myriad restaurants that feed America's major metropolitan hubs each day.
Between the financial pull of the restaurant industry's biggest backers, the dense populaces hungry for new trends, and the irresistible opportunity for chefs to prove themselves on a big stage, US cities drive our national culinary narrative forward. They're where every significant food trend either begins or hits critical mass. Big cities are eating what the rest of the country soon will be.
With this mostly-true hypothesis in mind, I tapped Thrillist editors from across the country (New York, Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Texas, California, Oregon, and Washington), and together we examined the food scene in every American city with a population close to or greater than 500,000 people. There are about 40*. Then, we ranked 'em based on their finest establishments, their signature contributions & traditions vis-a-vis national cuisine, and the strength of their dining cultures. Sure, there's no way to completely strike personal bias from such a process, but everyone came in with the good-faith intention of showcasing the best food regardless of geographical politics (then, when attacked, fell back on their personal biases).