The competition to be one of the world’s top food cities is intense. Many cities are famed for a particular dish, or certain restaurant, or specific experience that delights foodie travelers.
But only 10 cities make the cut of the crème de la crème of the world’s food destinations. Here are those culinary metropolises, and why they’re the top food cities in the world.
If you’re thinking Tokyo is just about sushi, you’d be surprised. Yes, a morsel of beautifully cut raw fish is something all foodie visitors should experience. The more daring should opt for the chef’s choice (omakase).
But Tokyo is also a city of specialization. Ultra-niche restaurants may feature a single type of noodle or a specific part of an animal. Diners can find everything from a casual izakaya (where people share small plates) to an elegant establishment. Fun fact: Japan has more Michelin three-star restaurants than any other country in the world. And Tokyo has more than double Paris’ stars.
Lest you think it’s all about Japanese food in Tokyo, the city also boasts great Italian, Chinese and French, the latter of which is especially influential.
Need-to-have experience: Visit the famed Tsukiji fish market. Rise early – the market opens at 3 am and the fish auctions end around 7 am. Observe the process as five million pounds of fish is sold every day (worth about $28 million). After the action, find a stool at one of the market’s dozens of small sushi bars. Enjoy an extremely fresh sushi breakfast there.
French cuisine is rated as one of the world’s finest. So Paris is a foregone conclusion on any list of top food cities. French gastronomy is so revered that UNESCO has named it to the list of world intangible cultural heritage. Experience that heritage with classics such as coq au vin or boeuf bourgignon.
Elegant fare by any of the city’s celebrated chefs is a bucket-list experience. Those include Joël Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse. Ducasse’s eponymous restaurant at Virtuoso property Plaza Athénée is a three-star Michelin delight.
But the culinary joys of Paris aren’t sampled at restaurants alone. Shop for food as the locals do. Visit a market with stalls specializing in everything from cheese to spices. Visit individual specialty stores for baked goods, meat and more. Have an impromptu picnic with the wares you’ve gathered: maybe a baguette, cheese and pate. Or eat a croque monsieur from a street cart.
Up-and-coming trend: Young chefs who do it all at tiny bistros. They’re reinterpreting local ingredients with modern combinations. Expect dishes such as langoustines in artichoke broth or house-made ricotta cheese in olive oil with apricot marmalade.
With a reported 20,000 restaurants, hungry visitors looking to take a bite out of the Big Apple can find anything their hearts (and stomachs) desire.
New York is especially famed for ethnic cuisine. New Yorkers are convinced their pizza is superior, crediting their tap water. Some claim water also influences the taste and consistency of the city’s famed bagels. To explore ethnic cuisine further, options abound in neighborhoods like Chinatown or Little Italy.
New York is also a mecca for celebrity chefs. Try Mario Batali’s Babbo, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Jean-Georges, Per Se by Thomas Keller, Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, or Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National (in Virtuoso property The Benjamin).
In the mood for take-out? Roam the aisles at world-famous gourmet food shops such as Dean & DeLuca and Zabar’s. Or visit Lower East Side icons Russ & Daughters (since 1914) and Katz’s (established in 1888 and famed equally for its deli offerings and Meg Ryan’s memorable scene in When Harry Met Sally).
Need-to-have experience: Eat something from a street vendor. Two classic choices: hot dogs and soft pretzels. Two more modern offerings: gourmet grilled cheese and Korean tacos.
For years, visitors to Barcelona enjoyed classic Spanish dishes such as paella, ham croquettes, fried calamari, and garlic shrimp. While they still delight in those standbys, they’re also seeking out the city’s modern contributions to global cuisine.
Barcelona exploded onto the world culinary stage thanks to a native son: Ferran Adrià. His restaurant, elBulli, about 100 miles from Barcelona, gained fame for its very unusual approach to cooking. Adrià’s focus on molecular gastronomy produced creations such as white garlic and almond sorbet, parmesan marshmallows and a dissolving popcorn cloud.
ElBulli closed in 2011, but its influence remains strong in Barcelona. Adrià opened a tapas bar in the city, Tickets, and a fine-dining successor to elBulli, 41 Degrees. ElBulli alumni have opened their own restaurants to critical acclaim. The impact: Barcelona is now home to two dozen Michelin starred restaurants.
Up-and-coming trend: modern cuisine that’s still breaking new ground. Maybe it’s nose-to-tail eating with new twists. Or MediterrAsian food, where Eastern techniques meet Western products including Barcelona’s fresh fish and seafood. Or unconventional combinations, like oysters in gin and tonic. Or novel approaches to local ingredients, such as caviar with smoked sturgeon and poached quail’s egg.
If your image of London’s finest cuisine revolves around shepherd’s pie or chicken tikka masala, it’s time to explore all its foodie wonders.
One of the city’s hottest trends is the arrival of international cuisines you wouldn’t typically associate with England. Latin American and Korean are two examples of the new wave of culinary traditions Londoners are welcoming with open arms. Virtually every cuisine on earth can be found somewhere in the city. And international traditions are fusing with British ingredients, as evidenced by venison kofte and chicken and chorizo pâté.
The other trend: modern revamps of traditional favorites. One example: the humble pub’s transformation into a gastropub. Out are ordinary fish and chips; in is scallop with pink grapefruit gel. Out is traditional roast meat; in is pig’s cheek with watermelon pickle, basil and sesame.
Don’t-miss dining: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, in Virtuoso property Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, is one of the world’s finest restaurants. Its strangely named Meat Fruit is the dish to savor. You’re served what appears to be a shiny piece of fruit. Then you discover it’s actually an outer layer of mandarin jelly hiding chicken liver parfait inside.
Like Barcelona, San Francisco’s cuisine scene has been dramatically influenced by one restaurant. In 1971, Chez Panisse opened in Berkeley, on the other side of San Francisco Bay. It kicked off a food revolution by using local organic foods acquired directly from producers. It’s credited as the birthplace of California cuisine, with dishes such as local halibut and salmon tartare with ginger, cilantro, cucumbers, and nasturtiums.
San Francisco also shines when it comes to the culinary traditions its immigrants brought to their new home. Savor some of these flavors in areas like North Beach, with its signature Italian restaurants; Chinatown; Japantown; Little Saigon; and the Mission District, with its large Latino population.
Need-to-have experience: spend a few hours discovering the Ferry Building. It’s an 1898 building repurposed as a modern gourmet marketplace. It’s home to a year-round farmers’ market and stores specializing in everything a foodie’s heart desires. That includes everything from mushrooms to artisan cheese to salami to olive oil.
Enjoy lunch at the mega-popular and mega-acclaimed Slanted Door, with its Vietnamese specialties. Or take a break at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, where a wide selection of wines by the glass are offered at the bar.
With its proximity to Asia, Sydney has earned renown as a gastronomic center of flavors from that continent. The offerings of Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan are all well represented in the city’s restaurant scene – even Laos and Cambodia. Niche restaurants like Japanese yakitori bars and Taiwanese dumpling spots are flourishing.
As a hub of modern fusion cuisine, Sydneysiders are seeing Asian and European flavors combined with native ingredients such as wallaby. One example: Tetsuya’s, a Japanese-inspired restaurant employing French cooking techniques and regional ingredients. Expect anything from tea smoked quail with parsnip and calamari to trout confit with a celery and apple salad.
British food, long a favorite, will always be popular. For many Australians, there’s nothing like a good Sunday roast or meat pie, and opportunities to savor them are plentiful. But cuisines from farther-flung regions are also arriving in Sydney. If you’re craving Peruvian or Lebanese, you’ll find it there, too.
Up-and-coming trend: Local aquatic life such as barramundi and the King George whiting show up regularly on menus. But what about snout-to-fin dining? A new trend is emerging, with fish heads, tails and livers showing up on avant-garde menus.
A Danish open-faced smorrebrod sandwich is a must when venturing to Copenhagen. Interesting combinations tempt visitors: maybe shrimp with dill, lemon and crème fraiche? Or roast beef with horseradish and crispy fried onions?
Those looking for smorrebrod variety can find it at a Copenhagen institution: Ida Davidsen. Davidsen is the fifth generation of her family to sell the sandwiches. They’ve been going strong since 1888. The restaurant offers 250 varieties of smorrebrod, some named after celebrities.
The other beloved national food can be found at food wagons around the city: Danish-style hot dogs. They’re long and red, and topped with a choice of sauces, raw onion, thinly sliced pickles and crunchy fried onions. Danes consume an estimated 100 million each year of them (or 18 per person).
Don’t-miss dining: Copenhagen has 15 Michelin-starred restaurants. But one is outstanding in that field and has been named the world’s top restaurant multiple times. If you can hit the jackpot, book a meal at Noma (it gets more than 100,000 reservation requests a year). Its use of local ingredients, including those foraged from ocean or forest, has sparked a tidal wave of new Nordic cuisine. Expect dishes like asparagus, berries and seaweed, and lobster and nasturtium.
Bologna’s contributions to world cuisine are many. There, you’ll enjoy familiar (and delicious!) signature ingredients such as prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar.
Of course, Bologna is also about pasta. Tagliatelle, similar to fettuccine, is characteristic of the city. What better to go on top of it but that slow-cooked meat, vegetable, tomato and red-wine sauce: bolognese? The meat sauce is also used in lasagna, which some locals claim was created in the city.
Another local pasta favorite is tortellini, particularly the cheese variety in broth. For those craving more unusual dishes, tortelli de zucca is filled with pumpkin and crumbled almond cookies. Capellettacci also has a sweet element: it’s filled with chocolate-flavored chestnuts and served with olive oil and pepper.
Bolognese sauce isn’t the city’s only well-known namesake food. In Bologna, they call a spiced pork cold cut mortadella. Elsewhere in the world it’s better known as bologna.
Must-eat specialty: Bologna’s shining star of desserts is gelato. It’s so popular there’s even a museum and university there dedicated to it. You’ll find typical flavors such as pistachio, coffee and hazelnut. Or try something out of the ordinary, such as pine nut, ginger or ricotta.
Hong Kong’s contribution to world gastronomy is its Cantonese cuisine. Staples such as sweet and sour pork and spareribs in black bean sauce are famous the world over.
The crown jewel of Cantonese cuisine is dim sum. It’s abundant in Hong Kong, with some restaurants featuring modern takes on the familiar dumplings and small plates.
Another favorite place for snacking in Hong Kong is markets. Shoppers will take a break at a food cart or stall for favorites such as deep fried squid and curry fish balls.
Other styles of Chinese cooking have influenced Hong Kong cuisine, as well as traditions from Japan, Southeast Asia and India. Its status as a former British colony and international city of commerce have infused Western culinary influences as well. Foods such as sushi, pizza and even buffalo wings are popular with locals.
Don’t-miss dining: Lung King Heen at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. It was the world’s first Chinese restaurant to receive three Michelin stars. It’s known for its seafood and dim sum. Two dishes to order are the steamed lobster and scallop dumplings, and the chef’s signature selection with an assortment of appetizers including barbecued pork.
Exploring The World’s 10 Top Food Cities
Planning your trip to any of these top food cities will be easier with the help of a travel advisor. They have the expertise and connections to make these experiences (and more) become a reality. A Virtuoso travel advisor can do everything from score you hard-to-secure reservations, book a visit to a market with a local chef, sign you up for cooking lessons or create a custom foodie tour of a city.
What’s your favorite of these top food cities? Or do you have another pick for best culinary metropolis?