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Jan 18, 2007 12:36 AM

Best food city in North America.

I know I am potentially starting a colossal debate but I am certainly interested to hear opinions and what's behind them.

My vote is for Vancouver, BC. Great ethnic, especially Chinese. Lots of really good regional as well with chefs getting many many ingredients from nearby islands, ocean, Fraser Valley and Okanagan. Wine region close too. They have it all going for them and it shows in the diversity and quality of restaurants and markets there.

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  1. I would think it would be Mexico City, hands down.

    37 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      That is mighty generous of you. Personally, I don't know that there is a single best city. I know Mexico City & Los Angeles the best... have been to Manhattan a dozen times and am well versed there. I live near SF, but haven't really explored it much... been to Vancouver a couple of times.

      I know this... NYC is not better than Mexico City.

      Each city has its + and -... and I think it balances out. Yes, Manhattan has lots of ethnicities represented but each ethnicity tends to be represented in very shallow terms. OTOH, Mexico City represents the 100 or so Mexican Culinary Regions fairly well plus its fair shair of Non-Mexican cuisine including very, very good French, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Lebanese, Turkish, Californian & others.

      In fact, I have to say Mexico City has a huge advantage on Spanish, Argentinian, Brazilian restaurants... and small advantage on French restaurants etc.,

      You can say Manhattan has more high end, high profile restaurants... but Mexico City has year round access to superior produce etc.,

      For all the quality places that S.F. & Vancouver have... I am not sure they have the depth or breadth that Manhattan & Mexico City have.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          I seriously doubt anybody who says "NYC" here means "Manhattan." Manhattan has the "scene," and that's about it. For those who don't care about the "scene," all the good eating (and affordable eating, and interesting eating, and ethnic eating...) is in the boros. Manhattan on its own would probably come in at like #7 on a list of best food cities.

          1. re: Luther

            Yeah that is very fair.... and I can't speak much about the other burroughs, my experience limited to Greenpoint & a few meals in The Bronx (the Nuyorican portion of it).

            I know that NYC has people from virtually every part of the world... but I also know that New Yorkers tolerate & support a lot of mediocre food.

            As an example, in Greenpoint alone I had decent Polish, Jamaican, Greek, Mexican & Italian food. However, co-workers of Polish, Jamaican & Italian decent pointed out to me all their complaints on why they weren't authentic.

            The Jamaican women said something about White people can't handle spice so the Jerk is very bland, the achee is low quality etc., The Polish girl complained that all they have are Pierogies, Dumplings & Stews that are prepared days ahead and just reheated. The Greek woman said she was bored that none of the places really go beyond Gyros, Salad & Baklava. The Italian loves the food, but admits it doesn't stand up to what he has in Italy. And of course, I thought the Mexican food was decent, but couldn't see them making a living in Mexico City.

            That is true of my experiences in Manhattan with Indian (even in Indian Hill), Turkish, Mexican & Chinese.

            I am not saying that there aren't great examples of those cuisines somewhere in NYC... but overall, the food that NYCers' eat on a regular basis is not executed as well good as what Chilangos (Mexico City residents) eat on a regular basis, IMHO.

            So all the variety in the world doesn't do you much, if that food isn't that good.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              That they complained to you about the authenticity of it has less to do with whether the food was any good and more to do with the fact that you were in New York, where you make friends by commiserating together.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                But you have my own analysis... the food was decent but not good. The average food in NYC is not as good as average food in Mexico City... including Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern etc.,

              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                First of all, NYers like to complain - it's a fact. Secondly, NYC is vast. We have a variety plus quantity, and thus quality. There are of course mediocre places (I would not go to Greenpoint for Greek or Jamaican for example), if you took all the good, say, Greek restaurants from all over NYC and we probably have more per capita than any other city in NA. You have to remember that time is a commodity here in NYC, and many people choose convenience over quality sometimes (like your example of a Greek woman or a Jamaican in Greenpoint). Where I live (in Queens), I'm a stone-throw-away from the best Thai in NYC, probably the only Burmese in Queens, good Indian, good Italian (not red sauce), awesome Salvadorian (which Salvadorians like), great Mexican, very good Turkish (forget what you had in Manhattan!), great Argentinian, yummy Brazilian - the list can just go on and on... So if I want to stay in my neighborhood I stick with these places, but if I say crave Greek, I get on a subway and go to Astoria or save my craving for the next time I'm in a vicinity of a good Greek place. I'd say on a regular basis, I eat very well, and since I also try to cook at home, I can't even cover half of my neighborhood great places not to mention other boros, so I pick the best.

                As for variety of ethnic cuisines, DC and vicinity could probably beat NYC, but there, like you said, are not too many choices and the quality may suffer, but I could be wrong (I haven't eaten my way through DC yet - I know they have better ethiopean than in NY).

                1. re: welle

                  "You have to remember that time is a commodity here in NYC, and many people choose convenience over quality sometimes (like your example of a Greek woman or a Jamaican in Greenpoint)."

                  I am not willing to go out on a limb, and say Mexico City is hands down better than NYC... but I have found convenience & mediocracy to be very plentiful in NYC and that says alot about the foodiness of the city.

                  In Mexico City, there is a restaurant named Restaurante Arroyo which specializes in Central Mexican style Barbeque... particularly Lamb. The restaurant seats something like 2,000 and regularly Q's over 1,000 whole lambs in a weekend. The place - with its own bull ring & rodeo - is a real destination for locals & tourists alike.

                  A couple of American serious Bar-B-Q aficionados who've been there assure me it goes toe to toe with any of the great Q places this side of the border. In Mexico City, its not considered to even be Top 5.

                  Now, not only does Mexico City have at least 5 Barbacoa restaurants that can are very comparable to any great Q restaurant anywhere in the States, but every weekend 10s of thousands of Mexican families make the 2 hour trek to the nearby town of Texcoco to have what is considered a slightly superior Barbacoa, to that in the city.

                  That just gives you an idea of the Chowishness of the Chilangos. Examples like that abound.

                  Now its true, I don't know the boros very well. But then again I don't Mexico City's sub-urbs that well either. I know Lomas de Tlanepantla, and I know Ciudad Satelite pretty well... and have been impressed by what I have seen.

                  In Lomas de Tlane... I've had the best donut to date... simple sugar covered donut straight out of the oil at the local farmers market. At night, there are several street vendors that sell the best burger I've had... a bang up version with ground beef, chorizo & diced bacon in the patty... pan seared with a blend of worcestire sauce, soy sauce & red wine... on freshly baked buns.

                  In Satellite... I had thin crust pizza with crumbly goat cheese that would give NY a run for its money, as well as a Torta Gringa that surpasses the Cheesteaks I've had in Philly.

                  Now I know those are just little street food examples, I've given... all I am trying to say is there is a lot to D.F. beyond the famous districts as well.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    "Now its true, I don't know the boros very well. But then again I don't Mexico City's sub-urbs that well either."
                    Outer boroughs are not suburbs - they are New York City.

                    1. re: welle

                      Mexico City is a Federal District... much like Washington D.C. The city doesn't stop at its legal boundary it just flows over into what were once independent cities in Mexico State. That is what I refer to as the sub-urbs... there isn't anything really sub about this highly urbanized neighborhoods. When people refer to Mexico City as the biggest on the planet... they aren't strictly referring to the Federal District (aka D.F.)... they include all the flanking urban communities.

                      I liken them to the Burroughs because... D.F. houses the business districts & touristy districts... as well as some of the urban chic, artist communities etc., The other neiborhoods of Naucalpan, Tlaneplantla, Ciudad Nezahuacoyotl etc., are were the working class folks live... similar to the relationship between Manhattan & the Borroughs... no?

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        New York city does have distinct boundaries and it's Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. It does not overflow into neighboring communities of NJ, CT, Upstate NY and Long Island.

                        Artists have left Manhattan long time ago. There are business districts in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City of Queens. Except, maybe, for the Times Square, there is not definite 'tourist' district in NYC. There are different neighborhoods with distinct characters and visitors just come and see how we live. There are tons of tourist attractions in Outer Boroughs. Yankee Stadium and Coney Island - the two most recognizable landmarks around the World are not in Manhattan. As for urban chic, if your idea of urban chic is GAP and Banana Republic, then stay in Manhattan. Re: class thing, it's true that's increasingly harder and harder to find affordable places to live in Manhattan, but there are still middle class and poor people living there. There are also posh neighborhoods in every other boro. You need to pick up some celebrity gossip magazines to get you up to date, who lately bought a brownstone in Brooklyn.

                        1. re: welle

                          "Yankee Stadium and Coney Island - the two most recognizable landmarks around the World are not in Manhattan."

                          I like NYC... but that one had me laughing out loud. I really don't mean to be an ass... but that is pretty delusional. More recognizable then say the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower?

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Statue of LIberty's not in Manhattan, either :)

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              I made a mistake (my head is heavily clouded from cold I'm having) - I should've written 'two of the most' and maybe yes, the most recognizable - when Japanese tourists come to NY, they request a visit to the Yankees stadium before the Statue of Liberty. I suspect thanks to Chen Ming Wa, Taiwanese do so too.

                              1. re: welle

                                that's because Hideki Matsui is the equivalent of Babe Ruth in Japan, second only to Oh as being revered. Honestly, the Yankee games are broadcast in Japan live so they can watch "Godzilla."

                                1. re: Leonardo

                                  It's in NY state, but the land is Federal. Check out the NPS site: and scroll down to "Did You Know?" blurb at the bottom of the page.

                                  1. re: welle

                                    I'm gonna go with NYC over Mexico city.

                                    First, I've rarely had food poisoning in NYC. For all my avoidance of tap water there, Mexico City got me badly when I had fresh fruit and veggies.

                                    Secondly, there is not as much food variety as one would hope. Here, in all of our boroughs, you name it, you got it: everything from French, regional italian, Greek, Chinese, Thai, to Japanese and Mexican (of course, LA beats us on these last two/three).
                                    True there are more sophisticated globally inspired fare in some of the more ritzier neighborhoods like condesa, in general, the food is of the heavier meat and starch variety. As much as I love tinga de pollo, tacos, chilaquilles, batidas, chorizo and nopales as much as any other person, I can't have these everyday. After two weeks, my stomach was craving lighter food, different flavors, and less grease.

                                    I think I'll skip the NYC landmarks comment, but vote NYC!

                                    1. re: kayonyc

                                      I think your point about variety of food is good here, kayonyc. I was thinking the same thing. What is the variety of food in Mexico City like?

                                      That's why my vote is for Los Angeles. :)

                                      1. re: katkoupai

                                        As a former Angeleno, LA is very much a part of me, but I pick NYC because aside from Thai, Japanese, Mexican and maybe Chinese, which LA does excellently, it does not do other cuisines quite so well - French, Italian, Spanish, Afghan, Turkish, Indian, Greek, Argentine, Dominican, and eastern european (I'm sure I could add more). Also, it's been my experience that there's a bigger ratio of really bad restaurants in LA. I've rarely walked into a random NYC restaurant and been so dissatisfied that I was unable to eat the food.

                                        Also, I hate driving, and proximity is an important thing for me. Most of the good eating neighborhoods are within a half hour from the middle of Manhattan. You can't beat that!

                                        1. re: katkoupai

                                          Regarding Mexico City.... variety is outstanding & astounding... of course it depends on what you mean by variety...

                                          Mexican Cuisine.... no city in the U.S. has any variety of Mexican cuisine to even begin to compare with what is available in Mexico City. For example, there are a max of 40 different Mexican concepts in L.A.... by these I mean types of eateries that vary based on what they offer (Taqueria vs Home Style vs Haute Mexican), Regional (Oaxacan vs Yucatecan etc.) & Specialty (Barbacoa Pit vs Rotisserie vs Stews) whereas in Mexico City there are 400.

                                          So when thinking about whether Mexico City has ethnic variety... you have to remember that people in Mexico aren't Mexicans they are Oaxacan Mestizos, Oaxacan Mixtecos, Oaxacan Zapotecs etc., there are hundreds of ethnicities with their own languages & cooking philosophies. Granted... Pueblan cuisine is not going to be as distinct from Oaxacan cuisine is it is relative to Mandarin cuisine.... but there are still many distinct cuisines.

                                          Mexico City is also a very cosmpolitan place with many foreign restaurants most notably Spanish, Italian, French, Argentinian, Brazilian, American, Japanese, Chinese etc.,

                                          How much depth is there amongst foreign cuisines? Maybe not as much as NYC.... but while Mexico City has 50 to 100 Chinese restaurants... I bet it has almost as many high end, top notch, innovative Chinese places as NYC or even San Gabriel Valley. Further, when it comes to Spanish, Argentine & Brazilian cuisine there isn't a single city in the U.S. that compares to Mexico City... not in numbers or quality.

                                          Finally when you stick to restaurants that only locals eat at.... you almost rarely get a mediocre meal.... that is definitely not true in L.A. or NYC.

                                          In the end.... while Mexico City may not be represented with every Asian or African cusine... it has more variety (based on the sheer quanitity of restaurants, eateries, ingredient availability etc., than any other city in North America).

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            This is very interesting info about Mexico City, Eat Nopal. It makes me want to go back and check it out, again. I'm especially interested in the diversity of cuisine there.

                                        2. re: kayonyc

                                          On the food poisoning: when I worked in Mexico City for 17 months, the only time I ever got food poisoning was visiting NYC for a weekend! (I ate a hot dog from a cart at 2am -- bad idea)

                                          Food in Mexico City is phenomenal. Especially all of the varieties of food from all over Mexico. I wish we could get a quarter of that variety of "Mexican" here in the Bay Area.

                                          But if you stray from the various Latin American nationalities mentioned, it can really suck. Most memorable example was the most vile Polish restaurant in the world, which is found in DF. Other cuisines -- e.g., Japanese, Chinese -- can be good, but don't compare to the best of SF, LA or NY.

                                          BTW, I think the comparison of Estato de Mexico to Outer Borroughs is a good one.

                            2. re: Eat_Nopal

                              I'd also choose Mexico City over NYC, because in general, it is much more affordable.

                          2. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Greenport does have some great places. Skippers, Claudios The inside bar off season, O'Malleys, Fishermans Rest or a little further out Orient By the Sea

                          3. re: Luther

                            I'm glad someone beat me to the punch with this one; Manhattan is but one piece of the NYC picture.

                            To view Manhattan as being completely a "scene", however, is to discount some of the excellent African restaurants in Harlem, and some of the excellent Dominican joints in East Harlem and Washington Heights. And, although a great many hounds argue that Flushing, Elmhurst and Sunset Park have the more authentic Chinatowns, Manhattan's is certainly a growing, expanding hood with its' share of excellent choices.

                            How NYC stacks up against other cities is not something I can attest to with authority. But I sometimes suspect that it is held up to an almost impossible standard of expectations.

                          4. re: Eat_Nopal

                            In fact, I have to say Mexico City has a huge advantage on Spanish, Argentinian, Brazilian restaurants... and small advantage on French restaurants etc.,

                            Your opinion only buddy.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Eat, as others have noted, you have to distinguish between Manhattan and NYC. Certainly the best ethnic food is in the outer boroughs...

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                If you are limiting New York to Manhattan, you are missing much of the best food available there. In addition to Manhattan, one could and can eat like a king in any of the other five boroughs. If you want to eat Brazilian, Argentinian, or any other Latin-American cuisine in New York, then you are normally best off finding your way to Queens. I won't claim to be able to compare the two cities. I've not been to Mexico City. But if all you are comparing New York based solely on what is available in Manhattan, you are really selling New York short. I have referred to Queens itself as ethnic food heaven. IMO, it is the cloest I've seen.

                              2. re: Karl S

                                When did they move Mexico City to North America?

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  Mexico is a part of North America. Farther south are Central and South America.

                                  1. re: PeterL

                                    North America is comprised of Canada, the US, and Mexico. Central America starts where Mexico ends.

                                    1. re: amyvc

                                      Actually, North American ends with Panama and South America starts with Colombia, in geographical mapping terms. Central or Meso-America is a vaguer term.

                                      There are folks who might view Canada, the USA, the Bahamas and Greenland (yes, Greenland is part of North America) as politically distinct from the Iberian-settled parts of North American, but unmodified, North America definitely includes Mexico.

                                      1. re: PeterL

                                        It's been happening over a period of time...I believe they call it "Florida" now...

                                      2. re: Karl S

                                        moto, charlie trotters, tru, alinea, trio, etc. chicago!

                                      3. If you care about the variety of ethnic food, nowhere comes close to NYC.

                                        1. San Francisco and NYC. NYC has the most famous, most expensive places, but S.F. has many very interesting places, proximity to wine country, more Pacific Rim influence, and arguably better ingredients close at hand.

                                          15 Replies
                                          1. re: sbp

                                            I think I agree with sbp, NYC has the money (arguably...) but SF has the goods.

                                            I'd also push for Vancouver BC.

                                            I'd say that LA, Seattle, Toronto, and Boston, are also strong.

                                            I'd be very happy in DC, Montreal, and Chicago also.

                                            1. re: steinpilz

                                              Thanks for including Chicago. We have Mexican and Thai markedly superior to that found in NYC - and that was reiterated to me by the MAnhattan board Chowhounds. Great Polish here, too. Good Swedish, good Vietnamese, all the really avant-garde joints, etc. Good place to live. Plus the produce in summer (from here, Wisconsin, and Michigan, primarily) is just outstanding.

                                              We want for nothing here, other than Sonoran Mexican and a decent lobster roll. :o)

                                              1. re: sundevilpeg

                                                I have visited Chicago twice... you know, I never considered that produce is great in the midwest! I feel so clueless. Are they developing the speciality produce farmers like in the SF area? I have heard that Chicago has great restaurants, like Trotter's, and plenty of money (and that it is either the largest or second largest Polish city on earth).

                                                1. re: steinpilz

                                                  Have you ever heard the term "breadbasket of America"? Midwest produce is far superior to that of California. Bets berries? Michigan. Best Tomatoes? Tennesee and Indiana. Best sweet corn? Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.. Michigan is second only to Washington for apples. Indiana is second only to China for Ginseng. And on and on......

                                                  1. re: likeithot

                                                    I think you should reconsider your posture.... California is the leading farming state in the country. In addition, if you analyze California's harvest it includes a wide variety of fine produce, not just commodities like in certain Midwest states.


                                                    Another thing to consider is that every non-Midwesterner that goes to the Midwest tends to comment on how bad fruits & vegetables are there... so do you just export everything? If you do... where do you export to? Because it seems that in California... the Tomatoes & Berries are almost always from Mexico when they aren't local.

                                                    Finally... I don't know about Tennesee... but if the tomatos I've had in nice Chicago restaurants are anything to go by.... I don't really think Indian has much to brag about. (Now, if you can't get your tomatoes into Chicago's finest... then that is another indication).

                                                    1. re: likeithot

                                                      Boy, I sure disagree with this -- now, California doesn't have the best of everything, but they have the best of a lot of things.

                                                      Best sweet corn and tomatoes? New Jersey. No, stop, there's nothing you can say, because it's definitely, definitely New Jersey. (If you've never had sweet corn or tomatoes in New Jersey in August, it is well worth your while.) Tennessee and Indiana aren't even close.

                                                      And I like New York apples quite a lot.

                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                        Have to say that my grandma's tomatoes grown in Virginia clay were earthier and denser than NJ summers (which are the only thing that come close). But I do like NJ corn more than VA silverqueen.

                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                          What a coincidence.... the very first thing I ever ate in NYC was a Caprese Salad featuring NJ tomatoes.... and it happened to be in August.... my company's preffered time for me to visit the subsidiary (dirt cheap hotels).

                                                          That begin a string of successive, disappointing NJ tomato eats.

                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                            Well, of COURSE we send the worse tomatoes to New York... who wants to reward a place that has decided we're the red-headed stepchild?

                                                            I've actually never bought a Jersey tomato. We always -- ALWAYS -- grew them, as did all of our neighbours. As a Northerner in a Southern Italian neighbourhood, we had much fewer tomato plants than most people -- but oh, God, the taste.

                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              That is not fair.... in many places people grow their own tomatoes and of course they are wonderful... but we have to keep our analysis to real, tangible, products available commercially.

                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                I'll agree that Jersey tomatoes and corn are really great. Maybe it's just because I grew up in NJ and still visit there in the summer, but oh they're good. I've also had great corn in MA and great strawberries in Ohio, these could also be partly sentimental opinions.

                                                            2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              The corn and tomatoes in Pennsylvania around that time of year are pretty darn good too. Last time I was there in August the tomatoes were *much* better than anything I've ever gotten in California.

                                                              Hubby grew up in PA, and while his mother was pretty much a disaster as a cook, he still fondly remembers summer meals that consisted of just fresh-picked corn, from a little plot next to his father's workplace, and butter...

                                                            3. re: likeithot

                                                              Not too long ago, the radio (NPR, I think) had an interesting program about how states like Iowa are now importing 80% of their food. The reason is that it is much more profitable to farm corn (for all the demand now for ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup) It appears the Midwest is no longer the breadbasket of America.

                                                              1. re: HungWeiLo

                                                                While the corn/ethanol issue is... well, an issue here in Iowa, I have to tell you I just had zucchini fritters that were made ENTIRELY from not only indigenous foods but foods whose location I could pinpoint on a map. The zucch: my backyard. The eggs and cheese: farmers' market. Herbs: friends' yards. Yogurt: the Maharishi's dairy an hour away. In the summer, there are restaurants here that know where every single piece of food comes from, and most of it is super-local, if not at least from surrounding states. And Iowans have been doing this way longer than Stone Barns and all the other fancy shmancy NY restos (although not quite as long as Alice Waters). In the winter, perhaps we must go elsewhere for our food, but in the summer, man, there's nowhere I'd rather eat a BLT than on my deck in Iowa City.

                                                          2. re: sundevilpeg

                                                            We don't have good fish tacos either. At elast none that I have found.

                                                      2. New York. The greatest variety of anywhere in NA (or the world that I've been) and if you look hard enough it's authentic. Disagree about it being the most expensive, lots of fine culinary experiences if you look beyond the name brands.

                                                        1. Tough to identify the "best." I've been to many north american cities, and like sbp, I'd identify both sf and nyc as "the best," both in terms of variety and in terms of respect for food and foodways. I've lived in nyc for over 20 years, and I haven't covered the extent of the city's offerings by any means...too vast, changes so often. We're so fortunate to be a place where so many come to live and share the wealth of their knowledge and skill at food preparation.

                                                          This is a wonderful provocation, though.....