Despite the incessant but extremely proud overuse of the term "jawn," Philadelphia boasts an incredibly rich eating scene, from the fancier realms of Vernick Food & Drink and Vetri Cucina and Zahav and Serpico, to the cheesesteak and roast pork (John’s! Always John’s!), to the middle ground, which we’d imagine hovers somewhere over Federal Donuts (Philly also has arguably the best BYOB restaurant culture in the world).
Not to be undone, the Pittsburgh of the last few years has became a national food darling thanks to the likes of Justin Severino, Sonja Finn, Richard DeShantz, and Becca Hegarty (the whole shoving fries in sandwiches thing coupled with bountiful pierogis also doesn’t hurt), and the farmlands of southeastern PA -- Lancaster and Berks County in particular -- are increasingly impressive, especially if you want dairy products. And we haven’t even gotten into Amish foods, which should be noted if only because on AmishAmerica.com, they list the number one favorite Amish food as pie. Legend.
Do you like apples? They were probably grown in Washington. For real though, this state’s a produce powerhouse and farmer’s market wet dream come to life. That sounded gross. You get the idea, though. Their oysters are delicious, even if they won’t actually get you laid, and the state manages to overtake the entire western seaboard when it comes to seafood. And, um, riverfood: You've never had salmon until you've had it smoked on a cedar plank while listening to a tourist gab on about Nirvana near Pike Place, or experienced coffee culture in a cafe that requires you to take a ferry. Seattle's basically Portland's more-refined older brother, long on legacy and finer dining, and this is indeed a place where you can always get a damn fine slice of cherry pie… either in the actual diner from Twin Peaks or from the hundreds of cheaper and more charming places nearby, including Leavenworth, which might just have the best German food in the west. But seriously, you should get that salmon.
Any top-five list of American cities to eat in that doesn't include Chicago is a bad and wrong list, and if the person arguing against its inclusion starts in on some rant against deep dish pizza they might as well just wear a sandwich board that says "I know nothing about Chicago." The rest of the state lags behind a bit, but isn't without its charms, such as a frighteningly caloric regional indulgence known as the horseshoe and a better-than-you-realized barbecue culture in the southern portion of the state.
Portland, with its farm-to-table movement and food carts and donuts and endless brunch lines. Central and western Oregon , with its prized beef. The coast, with its bounty of dungeness crab and famous tuna and Goonies. Hood River with all its fruit. Southern Oregon, with its mountainous landscape and legendary off-highway restaurants. The fancy-pants fine-dining and casual cheese-munching of the Willamette Valley wine country. And all that damn Tillamook cheese. We could go on and on, but we're not going to, because people who live in Oregon already have an issue of going on and on and on and on about how great the food is. They're right, but Jesus, dial it back, Oregon.
There's an obligatory remark to be made about Nashville's food scene being so hot right now, much like a certain of-the-moment spicy chicken dish popularized there. But now that THAT'S out of the way, we should make sure that the state's other ample culinary delights get their due -- like, it's worth mentioning that if fried chicken is your thing, Memphis is arguably the pound-for-pound better city for poultry (commence the arguments!).
On the flip side, Memphis had better watch its back when it comes to barbecue, as joints like Martin's are elevating Nashville's profile as a worthy destination strictly on barbecue terms (as if they needed any more visitors). But the point of all this isn't to get into some kind of inter-city food shouting match, but just to celebrate a singular American state anchored with two vibrant-yet-connected food cultures. Now let's all be friends, drink a few Yazoo's and Wiseacres, and then put in an ill-advisedly large order at Krystal when it's all done.
If New Orleans was its own state, it would probably still end up in the top 10, because of not only the foods that’ve come out of there -- muffulettas at Central Grocery, po-boys, oyster Rockefeller, beignets, King Cakes, pralines, sno-balls, turtle soup, bananas Foster, BLACKENED REDFISH (RIP Paul Prudhomme)— and the legendary restaurants (Antoine’s, Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Dooky Chase) but also a modern food scene that can go toe to toe with any other city in the country, thanks to the likes of Nina Compton, Alon Shaya, Donald Link, Sue Zemanick, Isaac Toups, Kristen Essig, Tory McPhail, Justin Devillier, Adam Biderman, the whole Turkey & the Wolf crew, and you could honestly keep on going forever. And we haven’t even gotten into the incredible Vietnamese food at places like Magasin Kitchen and Tan Dinh. It’s also featured in the only Disney princess movie where said princess is an incredibly skilled chef who dreams of opening her own restaurant and befriends an alligator who plays a mean trumpet.
But beyond that, there is a uniqueness to Louisiana’s food culture that separates it out from other states, the whispers of history are all around the food, and -- not to get philosophical here as we arbitrarily rank states -- maybe that’s true with literally every food, which had to come from SOMEWHERE, but in Louisiana the mishmash of those historical footnotes is so damn interesting and delicious. Do you want to go to Gonzalez for the Jambalaya festival? Or LaPlace for an Andouille festival? Or Avery Island to see where Tabasco is made? Or go to Scott, Louisiana, which is the BOUDIN CAPITAL OF THE WORLD?!?! The answer, of course, is yes. Yes you do.