The 30 US Cities With the Most Underrated Food Scenes

Source: Courtesy of Razza Pizza Artigianale

Jersey City, New Jersey

Reviewing the Jersey City pizzeria Razza in The New York Times, critic Pete Wells said that this Garden State establishment served “the best pizza in New York.” Italian is big in general in this community just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Local favorites include Renato’s, Pasta Dal Cuore, Buon Appetito, and Roman Nose.

Many other cuisines are well-represented here too, though. Consider Chef Tan or Grand Sichuan for Chinese; Órale! Mexican Kitchen or Taquería Viva Mexico Kitchen Café for Mexican; Broa for Portuguese; Madame Claude Bis for French bistro food; the Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory (celebrated by Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”) for more than 25 pancake variations and a full diner menu; and Battello for Italian fare with an emphasis on seafood — and a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline.

Source: vxla / Flickr

Louisville, Kentucky

Nationally known chefs like Kathy Cary of Lilly’s Bistro and Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia, MilkWood, and Whiskey Dry set the culinary tone in the Kentucky Derby city — and the Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown (an open-face concoction of sliced turkey, bacon, and mornay sauce) is one of the most famous sandwiches in America.

Wood-fired pizzas, country ham, and smoked salmon are among the specialties at Garage Bar. Sandwiches, wings, a gigantic pretzel, and about 20 craft beers on tap are on the menu at River City Drafthouse. It’s modern American and jazz (both live and recorded) at Decca. More casual choices include Bluegrass Burgers, Bánh Mí, and Danny Mac’s Pizza — and of course Louisville has no shortage of bars and restaurants specializing in the local spirit, Kentucky bourbon — Down One Bourbon Bar, Doc Crow’s, and Bourbons Bistro among them.

Source: southernfoodwaysalliance / Flickr

Memphis, Tennessee

Barbecue is the big draw here, from the famous dry-rub ribs at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous to the Elvis Presley favorite Leonard’s Barbecue (founded in 1922) to the barbecue/sandwich/taco restaurant Elwood’s Shack (not to mention Coletta’s, where you can get barbecued pork on both pizza and spaghetti).

There’s plenty more for food-lovers in this Mississippi Delta city, though. The April-to-October Memphis Farmers Market offers the region’s best produce and artisanal foods from more than 40 vendors, including a generous side helping of food trucks. McEwen’s offers upscale Southern-accented dishes; Restaurant Iris has a New Orleans flavor; Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen was the first of six acclaimed Memphis places opened by chef-restaurateurs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman.

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New Haven, Connecticut

One food alone would win this Connecticut college town (the college is Yale University) a place on this list: pizza. The charred-and-chewy-crust brick-oven pizzas turned out by Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s Apizza, Modern Apizza, and other practitioners in and around the city are virtually the platonic ideals of the genre (Pepe’s version has been named the best pizza in America).

But there’s plenty more here, too. Miya’s bills itself “the first sustainable sushi restaurant on earth” and specializes in using foraged vegetables and invasive species of both plants and fish; it even serves sushi made with cheese. Then there’s homemade pasta at L’Orcio, farm-to-table modern American at Heirloom, Middle Eastern at Mamoun’s Falafel, casual Chinese at Junzi’s, Ethiopian at Lalibela, Indian at Zaroka Bar & Restaurant, and all kinds of good things when the purveyors line up daily on Long Wharf’s Food Truck Paradise.

Source: Courtesy of Pizzeria Bianco

Phoenix, Arizona

“When did Phoenix become a great American food city?” asked Eater rhetorically earlier this year. Neighboring Scottsdale seems to get most of the attention, but there’s an authenticity and variety to the Phoenix food scene that makes it worth any food-lover’s visit. The big name here has long been Chris Bianco, whose Pizzeria Bianco has often been singled out as America’s best.

Mexican food is big here, of course, at places like Gallo Blanco, Tacos Chiwas, Machete Azteca, Tacos Chiwas, Hola Cabrito, Barrio Café, and many more — not to mention Lupita’s for Sonora-style hot dogs, wrapped in bacon and topped with beans, mayo, and melted cheese. Tribute is paid to Native American culinary traditions at Fry Bread House and the upscale Kai; FnB turns out international dishes using seasonal local ingredients; Alzohour Market is a tiny Moroccan restaurant; Binkley’s serves a long, leisurely tasting menu (at $200 per person — $350 with beverage pairings) — and that’s just the beginning.