It’s a good time to eat in America: a generation raised on Lunchables and Capri-Sun has reclaimed all things local; creative chefs are reinvigorating longstanding restaurant scenes; and an entire category of cooking known as New American cuisine has been born. JS contributor--and serious food-lover-- Emily Saladino profiles 8 cities in the culinary spotlight.
New York City
It's no surprise that New York City tops our list. Michelin-starred temples of fine dining like Eleven Madison Park, Masa and Le Bernadin, are sardined among heritage delicatessens, swinging speakeasies and seriously good halal carts. Ground-breaking Brooklyn establishments like Roberta’s, the Meat Hook and white-hot newcomer Olmsted have brought artisanal butchery, neo-Neapolitan pizzas, plant-centric cooking, and now ubiquitous Edison lightbulbs to the global stage. Queens’ ethnic enclaves include superlative Thai, Chinese, Greek, Colombian and Nepalese eateries; and in Harlem, soul food institutions are joined by chic spots like Red Rooster Harlem, The Cecil and new watering hole Uptown Bourbon.
Providence, Rhode Island
Diverse immigrant communities, academics (including creative types graduating from art and culinary schools), and young professionals thirsty for fair trade coffee bring dynamic epicurean energy to Rhode Island’s quirky capital. Supposedly the birthplace of the American diner, Providence also lays claim to cult dishes such as grilled pizza, stuffies (stuffed and baked local quahogs) and hot wieners (chili dogs topped with chopped onions and celery salt). The latter are the specialty of Olneyville New York System, a superlative greasy spoon and 2014 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award. Little Italy is flanked by north, an impossibly hip boite opened by a Momofuku expat, and nationally lauded chef Benjamin Sukle helms two restaurants, Birch and Oberlin, in once-scruffy DownCity.
Beyond Houston’s serpentine freeways, Goliath-sized megachurches and mammoth downtown Hilton (room count: 1,200), lies a hotbed of culinary creativity. Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly and Justin Yu of Oxheart bring the city’s restaurant scene national acclaim, as do Coltivare, a contemporary Italian spot in the Heights, Common Bond Cafe and Bakery, and The Pastry War, a modern mezcaleria . Meanwhile, barbecue joints serve heart-breakingly tender brisket, highway storefronts proffer handmade tortillas stuffed with eggs and refried beans, and rest areas stock kolaches, a sweet or savory Czech-Tex pastry. The city’s sizable Mexican, Vietnamese and Jewish populations demonstrate the delicious side of diversity at Tex-Mex institutions The Original Ninfa's on Navigation and Pappasito’s, the beloved noodle shop Pho Binh, and New York-style delicatessen Kenny & Ziggy’s.
Like many Midwestern cities, Indianapolis is in the middle of a gastronomic renaissance that combines world-class skills with homegrown Heartland bounty. Taste the revolution at Milktooth, Jonathan Brooks’ daytime-only joint serving Dutch baby pancakes with local pears, slow-poached egg and grilled ribeye from a nearby farm, and fig-infused cold brew cocktails in a former garage. A short walk away is Abbi Merriss’ buzzy spot Bluebeard for cocktails and New Americans dishes, as is Hotel Tango, Indiana’s first small-batch distillery. Here, you'll be served craft spirits and cocktails in a 19th century carriage house. Conscientious diners can also swing over to Public Greens, a year-old, farm-to-table cafe that donates 100% of its profits to a foundation for food-insecure children.
The Rose City. Portlandia. Where young people go to retire. Oregon’s culinary capital has no shortage of epithets, but few are as apt as “Beervana,” a nickname celebrating award-winning breweries like Deschutes, Hopworks and Culmintation. Portland is also home to urban winery Southeast Wine Collective, cult distiller Aviation, and killer cocktail bars like Pepe Le Moko and Teardrop Lounge. (Still thirsty? Just beyond city limits lies Hood River’s Full Sail and Pfriem Family Brewers, and white-hot newcomer Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg, Ore.) Those concerned about liver health have ample options for sustenance, including plant-centric pastas at Ava Genes, an industrial-chic Italian spot from Chef Joshua McFadden; inventive ice cream at Salt & Straw; the best pelmeni this side of the Moskva at neo-Russian hot spot Kachka; and fiery wings at Andy Ricker’s groundbreaking Pok Pok.
Lobster rolls are the tip of the iceberg in this breezy New England port town, where an outsized food scene belies the city’s modest population and low-key vibe. (With fewer than 70,000 year-round inhabitants, Portland is one-tenth the size of Boston, MA). Local favorites like Eventide Oyster Co., Pai Men Miyake, Blue Rooster and aptly monikered cult bakery The Holy Donut have raised the culinary bar for years. Stellar new additions include Drifters Wife, a chic wine bar located within a retail shop and specializing in natural bottles, and Rhum, an underground tiki bar.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We (really) love po’boys, but the food scene in the Big Easy is currently evolving beyond its vaulted classics. Landmark restaurants Brennan’s and the Caribbean Room have refreshed their menus and renovated their interiors, and scores of neo-Cajun, New American and international eateries are debuting citywide. At Willa Jean, preppy co-eds and longstanding locals tuck into modern southern fare in an airy space with exposed brick walls and a commissioned biscuit mural. James Beard Award-winner Alon Shaya serves elegant Israeli menus at his eponymous restaurant in the Garden District. Local Gulf ingredients get Caribbean, French and Italian accents at Compere Lapin, Nina Compton‘s buzzy spot in the chic new Old No.77 Hotel & Chandlery.
If the 1969 Miracle Mets and continued success of Martha Stewart Omnimedia are any indication, Americans love a good comeback story. Detroit, beleaguered by economic turbulence and political scandal, has incited widespread compassion as it rebounds. The ascendant culinary scene is highlighted by creative supper clubs and pop-ups like Flowers of Vietnam and Katoi, which recently launched a brick and mortar operation in Corktown. Rock-bottom rents have enticed a young community of food professionals to set up shop in vacant spaces and create incubators like Revolver, a Hamtramck destination that hosts weekend dinners by a rotating cast of guest chefs. Gastropub Central Kitchen + Bar, near downtown’s Cadillac Square, and Kickstarter-funded Rose’s Fine Foods on the east side revive neighborhoods previously served only by chain restaurants. The future never tasted so good.