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Best Food City In The World.... Using Standardized Criteria.... Bring It On!

Several months back the “Best Food City in North America” obviously drew a lot of posts, and passionate heated debate. Yes, the regional rivalries that ensued were very entertaining and enlightening… yet predictable. Also, several people voiced the need for criteria on to make a choice. So I went through the very entertaining thread, and gleamed with I believe are all the categories used to highlight or put down each city.

My intention was to start a thread with some structured criteria so that we really get to know each city’s culinary merits… and avoid some of the simplistic assessments like X is the best city because it has everything… or Y restaurant is just so great. However, I never really got to start the thread, so now that we are having these Best Food City in the World type threads, I see it as the perfect opportunity to try it again.

My hope is that those who feel sufficiently knowledgeable and passionate about the subject, nominate a city of their choice and state its case according to the criteria outlined below. Please feel free to provide many verifiable examples, and contrast with other cities you know well.

Native Cuisine

Does the city of have a truly Unique Culinary Identity? Describe it. What makes it unique? How deep rooted is this identity? Provide examples of dishes, concepts, restaurants etc.,

How do Local Ingredients support the city’s unique culinary identity?

Describe the city’s Culinary Culture & Attitudes. What is the typical resident’s relative Chowishness? Is quality eating widespread, restricted to a small enlightened group, or the rich?

Infrastructure

Describe the city’s Culinary Know How. How good are the mainstream cooks? How about the top regarded Chefs? Does the city produce high numbers of quality Chefs?

What is the typical quality of ingredients widely available?

Describe the city’s offering of artisan & specialty products?

Describe the city’s wine culture. Describe the typical wine offering. How well is food paired to wines?

Overall Variety

What is the city’s general restaurant infrastructure?

Describe the city’s breadth of choices… how many distinct categories, what are some examples? How is the city’s offering of ethnic and foreign cuisine? (Note, I define ethnic cuisine as that which belongs to the city’s minorities & immigrants. Foreign cuisine is the cuisine of another country, but without the immigrants. For example, many cosmopolitan cities around the world have lots of French restaurants… without having very many French immigrants.)

Describe the depth of each of the city’s culinary categories. In other words; does it have 100s of Ethiopian restaurants or just one?

Describe the general quality level of the city’s culinary categories. Are those 100s of Ethiopian restaurants fabulous because of competition, or do they instead compete on price and only deliver mediocrity?

Establishments by Price Point

Describe the city’s low end dining situation? Numbers, Variety, Quality etc.,

What is a typical, everyday meal like? How affordable & physically accessible are restaurants in the city?

What is the typical splurge / special occasion meal? (Note, by typical I mean to exclude the $400 tasting menu at the restaurant that only seats 20 per night, and has no other comparison in the city)

What is the city’s fine dining offering like? Numbers, Variety, Quality etc.,

Does the city have any “World Class” restaurants? (Think of World Class as the restaurants that offer the cutting edge dining & ambiance… think foams, herbs grown in a gold toilet, big name chefs… ya-da, ya-da, ya-da).

I am sure it will take several days to prepare something this comprehensive... I intend to nominate Mexico City but will be busy with work for the next week so I think I should be able to post my nomination in about a week & a half. I really hope some of you are up to the challenge... because this could potentially be a CH goldmine for all of us who hope to travel to the world's top culinary destinations.

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  1. To be honest I don't think that your survey won't be much different than the discussions before because many of the questions you are asking are very subjective and can't be measured in any way. And I don't see why it is so important for some people to show that some cities might be better in terms of the restaurants than other cities.

    1. Good fun. I assume you will try to derive conclusions from this exercise. If so, you have some 20 overlapping, not mutually exclusive nor necessarily independent variables. Some have continuous and others have presence vs absence values. Please supply instructions on how to score each and let us know how you're going to run what I assume will be a regression or similar anaylsis.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        No, I actually have absolutely no interest in declaring a winner. Its more about really getting to know other city's culinary assets in great depth, and weeding out the wannabes. The criteria I call out... is a pretty comprehensive listing of what various CH think is good about their favorite cities' offering... I don't think anyone city will excel at all of them... but hopefully the criteria prevents someone from nominating cities on a whim with no real requirement to back it up... as has happened in the other threads.

        So if someone really thinks Bakersfield, Barstow & Death Valley are the cornerstones of culinary civilization they have a structured way to make the case... maybe they blow us away and we find a new city to devour... or maybe the criteria makes them realize their cities / towns have no reason being nominated.

        I am sure you would agree that peer review is an effective mechanism to regulate something as subjective and complex as this... I personally feel I need to bring a solid case for Mexico City so I don't make an arse of myself... etc., etc., etc.,

      2. I think you are starting to put your finger on a great dichotomy between having a gread cuisine and being a great restaurant City. Great cuisines are very complex, and it's hard for restaurants meant to be highly visible to travellers (even gastronomical travellers) to get their arms around the complexity. My mention in the other thread of Peru, for example, was based on the fact that a number of thoughtful bodies of expertise have acknowledged it to be a highly successful amalgamation of indigenous cuisine, the cuisine of its Spanish conquerors, and successive waves of African slaves, Chinese laborers and Italian and Japanese immigrants. Restaurants seeking a high recognition from the national and international über-foodie communities are likely to focus on "marker" dishes which a) they may not do well, b) may not appeal to some groups of "haute" cuisine chasers even if done well or c) may not represent the true daily fare cherished by locals. These "great" restaurants are also likely to exploit a certain aqmmount of fusion, which sometimes denigrates the most appealing elements of the dishes they are trying to elevate.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          Yeah, I think the criteria above.... which was skimmed from 200+ posts strikes a balance between street foods, home cooking, great restaurants etc.,

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            I'd agree on Mexico City as I did with the original post. But in thinking it over, even after living in the D.F. for a year, I'd be hard pressed to justify that as a "normal" experience as my work in the country gave me access to many experiences that are out of reach for most residents and visitors.

            That said, the D.F. offers breadth and depth and variety unavailable anywhere on the continent other than NYC & Chicago for sure. Wine culture not so much. But still, enough "critical mass" on all levels to have a defensible claim to the title.

            I had made the argument in the original posting that Washington DC should be a candidate. Under your revised criteria DC wouldn't work, but that's also why the D.F. does - they're both significant capital cities with large populations of well-off foreign workers, who are catered to by a seemingly infinite number of restaurants offering just about anything you can think of. But in the D.F.'s case, there's also a regional food culture and a great deal more depth of selection.

            1. re: Panini Guy

              Could you please eleborate on why you wouldn't nominate DC according to this criteria?

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                DC restaurants are not on the same level as NYC restaurants at all, even the very best would not be in the top 20 in NYC. The quality of the produce that is available in NY is so much better that high end DC restaurants do not have a chance. There are also very few decent mid range places in DC, which is something NY has a lot of.

              2. re: Panini Guy

                I would submit that the most worthy cuisines are more accessible to residents and long-term or frequent and savvy visitors than residents of gold-plated expat compounds. Dining experiences that are created solely for high-on-the-hog expense account diners exist in a different universe, IMHO, and have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  That was part of my point. DC has almost nothing in the middle, there is OK /good ethnic in the suburbs, little Ethiopia, and with a few exceptions the only other places worth eating are extremely expensive, and all but a handful of those suck. There are maybe 5-8 restaurants that are accessible to regular people that are decent in the whole area.

                  1. re: brooklyndude

                    Well I dont thik I will be writing a thesis here, I think that the questions you ask can be commented on fairly quickly.

                    I lived in the Southwest for a while, travelled to Mexico fairly often. I can not see how Mexico City, especially based on the criteria you set up can be considered the Best in N. America. I would say that SF and NY are way ahead based on whats being asked...and beyond that forgetting the amounts of ethic choices and great chefs and total amounts of dining options, New Orleans, Portland and Chicago rate above Mexico City as well.

                    I find that Mexican cuisine is the most over-rated in the world. I know there are 4 million different regions and styles and cultures. I dont find any of them to rise above The great cuisines of the world. I know people think otherwise. Again just an opinion. And I did eat in a few places in Mexico City that were not "Mexican" Italian, French etc..and to state that the restuarants that fall into categories outside of "mexican" in Mexico City are better than in NY or SF is crazy. and in addition to all that, the fact that the potential for illness lurks around every corner in Mexico City is a consideration and can not be dismissed. Mexico City is about as polluted a major city as there is in the world.

                    My choice would have to be NY (not just Manhattan all of NY) I will try to defend my choice by answering your various question that we should answer regarding the city of our choosing.

                    1. - Well NY pretty much Invented the concept of fine dining to North America. It does not have one signature style or dish because it has always embraced so many various styles from so many different areas.

                    2 - I find this to be an over rated concept. You use what you can produced locally while in season. The restaurants of N. America that can sustain a viable menu from only items grown locally are few and far between and are a pipe dream of people that want to buy into the idyllic dream of only "locally produced products" Use as much as you can, change your menu seasonally and you will keep your standards up.

                    3.-Everyone in NY loves to eat, the restaurant is a defining part of the culture of the city and everyone has an opinion.

                    4.- The quality and variety of food products available is un rivaled anywhere in N. America, nowhere else are there the amounts of markets that carry food stuffs from every corner of the globe..if you want something you can find it in NY. If there is something you cant find andyou can in say LA for example there will be 20 things you cant find in LA you can find in NY

                    5.- In North America only in the SF / Wine Country area is there more of an emphasis on wines and wines being an intregal part of the food culture

                    6. - You cant possibly think that there is another city in N. America that has a more diverse ethic population leading to a more diverse amount of ethic eateries than in NY.

                    7.- There is more of every kind of restaurant in NY, you could list 100's of different cusines, some are obviously better than others. but for sheer variety no other city has as many.

                    8. - Price points go from as cheap as possible to wallet busting expensive

                    9. - Is there any city where it is easier to find and get to good places to eat and in more different varieties?

                    10. Again in North America, there is not a city with more world class restaurants, there is not a city where restaurants are such an everyday part of life, that produce more chefs, that has more choices...

                    Maybe someday I will have time to get into more detail...but for my money there is no better city in North America to eat in than NY.

                    There are great restaurants in the Portlands and Vancouvers and Mexico Cities of the world....but when you really break it down and look at it...especially using the criteria you laid out its NY hands down

                    1. re: jvish

                      I know Mexico City very well.... I have been to NYC half a dozen times. NYC has an impressive high end restaurant infrastructure.... and yes Mexico City does have alot of tourist & business traveler traps (that is what you sure experienced)... but in my experiences... the average meals in Mexico City are simply much better than in NYC and at lower prices. New Yorkers put up with alot of very mediocre food.

                      Yeah in a place like Mexico City where you have 100,000 + dining options... you are going to get many thousands of mediocre & unimpressive places... but I challenge you to point out those that were packed with locals. NYC doesn't seem to have quality produce year round... Mexico City does.

                      Sure among the top notch restaurants.... Mexico City has probably 25 to 50... NYC has 100 to 200.... but reality is that doesn't cover the experiences of most people.... and even at that Mexico City is closing the gap quickly now that there are finally a number of culinary schools pumping out talented, well prepared chefs with bachelor's degrees.... and I bet Mexico City will surpass NYC at the ultra high end in the next decade.