• America's Next Hot
    Food Cities

    What are the 10 hottest, up-and-coming food cities in the country right now? We polled chefs, avid diners and industry insiders across the country and the results are in. More about our approach and criteria.

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  • #1 Birmingham, AL

    Overshadowed for years by its neighbors Nashville and Atlanta, Birmingham has now come into its own as a premier culinary destination.

    What to know

    Birmingham? Yes, Birmingham. The breakout market from our survey ranked as the most-improved dining scene in the country over the past five years, hit high marks for a talented roster of chefs and is one that is expected to continue its stellar upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that its dining and drinking culture has never been more exciting.

    What to know

    Birmingham is having a moment thanks to the abundant Southern farmland and high­-profile chefs like Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar & Grill), Stephen Fressell (Chef in the Garden pop-up), Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club) and Clifton Holt (Little Savannah). They’re drawing on regional traditions and knowledge from farther afield, but also embracing local by advocating for their purveyors on menus, at special events and on social media, among other things. Butchers and delis like Bottle & Bone in Uptown source meat like Wagyu beef raised in northern Alabama or pork from the nearby Fudge Family Farms, and with new breweries like Avondale, Trim Tab and Cahaba recently established, even drinkers can stay local.

    Where to go

    To get a sense of what’s happening right now in Birmingham dining, the Five Points South district is your destination. From upscale, James Beard­-awarded eateries (Hot and Hot Fish Club) to casual spots serving international street fare (Tau Poco), the walkable, compact and centrally located Five Points brims with flavors and local personality. The bohemian area in B'ham's hilly Southside neighborhood butts up against Red Mountain, and strolling the leafy streets you'll find cafes, bars and restaurants among the boutiques, shops and Victorian homes. Walk around and watch for places like Highlands Bar & Grill, The J Clyde, Vittoria Macelleria, Chez Fonfon, The Garage Cafe, Carrigan's Public House, Ocean and more.

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  • #2 Oakland/Berkeley, CA

    The East Bay’s eclectic and excellent mix of ethnic cuisines has long been a draw — now, its array of hip New American restaurants and craft cocktail bars is too.

    What to know

    Locals know the East Bay has been "hot" for ages, whether the home of legends who have changed the way we eat, like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, or of countless food lovers and visionaries who were pursuing local, sustainable practices decades before the rest of the country. But Oakland/Berkeley’s ever-evolving, diverse restaurant offerings and strong culinary leadership help rank it No. 2 on our list, and make it a place to visit right now.

    What to know

    While you'll find dense Asian and Latino communities in San Francisco, the East Bay has long been home to concentrated African (Ethiopian food is top-notch), Caribbean and Korean communities plus more, creating a lively dining scene packed with affordable eateries. Fine-dining and cutting-edge restaurants are more dominant in SF, but these days a steady number of SF restaurateurs are moving to the more affordable East Bay and locals are opening a long line of new restaurants and bars, pushing the boundaries with casual-but-hip dining spots, often strong on cocktails, craft beer and wine.

    Where to go

    For a taste of what the ever-transforming East Bay scene has to offer, check out the walkable blocks of Downtown Oakland near the Paramount Theatre and neighboring Uptown Oakland, around the Fox Theater. There, one can dine and drink at any number of standout spots in categories from Mexican-Asian fusion to Spanish tapas in places like Hopscotch, The Trappist, Cosecha, alaMar, Belly Uptown and more. Similarly, Downtown Berkeley has a number of strollable blocks in Berkeley’s theater district, where you can check out restaurants like Gather, Ippuku, Pathos, Zatar, Perdition Smokehouse and many more.

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  • #3 Detroit, MI

    Detroit’s burgeoning culinary scene, fueled by a ballsy, DIY attitude, is ready to hold its own in the national arena.

    What to know

    Detroit’s dining scene, much like the city itself, is undergoing a period of rapid transformation. The food-obsessed from the suburbs and beyond are returning to the long-beleaguered downtown areas, with a new-found curiosity for exotic cuisines, flavors and ideas. Innovative pop-ups, homegrown distilleries, urban farms and a growing number of celebrity chefs (Michael Symon, Wolfgang Puck and soon, Roy Choi) have all helped to land the city at No. 3 on our ranking.

    What to know

    While New Yorkers or Angelenos might roll their eyes at the phrase “pop-up,” here it’s an incubator for some of the hottest chef talent. Revolver, a perma pop-up space of sorts in the Hamtramck neighborhood, is a training ground, having hosted chefs like Kate Williams and Andy Hollyday who use the space to test new menus. One of Detroit’s most famous pop-ups, Guns and Butter, plans on opening a permanent location in the future, bringing high-end, forward-thinking cuisine to Detroit. Motor City Wine, a newish wine bar located in Corktown has also been hosting pop-ups featuring some of the most innovative talent in town.

    Where to go

    Much of Detroit’s newest action is currently in its oldest neighborhood, Corktown, which has undergone a massive revitalization in the last 10-15 years. Venues like Slow’s Bar BQ, Mercury Burger Bar, the craft cocktail hub Sugar House, Motor City Wine, Two James Spirits and Gold Cash Gold (set in a former pawn shop) are flourishing. In nearby Cass Corridor, check out farm-to-table hot spot Selden Standard. Down near the riverfront on the neighborhood’s fringes, look for Green Dot Stables, one of Detroit’s hottest gastropubs, and just around the corner, Johnny Noodle King, which brought authentic ramen to Detroit for the first time.

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  • #4 Asheville, NC

    This mountain city has been slowly rising to national attention, striking a chord now due to chefs who are elevating and perfecting Appalachian cuisine.

    What to know

    Surrounded by picturesque farms, wooded hills and mountain streams, Asheville provides culinary inspiration aplenty. Farmers and foragers, many of whom are passionate home cooks, sell their pasture-raised meats and wild produce to chefs who moonlight as gardeners. Their overlapping interests result in local flavor and world-class cuisine, and have helped score it the fourth spot on our list.

    What to know

    Asheville proves there's more to Appalachian cookery than fatback and collard greens. Chef John Fleer, one of the pioneers of mountain cuisine, introduced diners from all over the country to heritage ingredients, such as Cruze Buttermilk, Benton's Bacon and Sunburst Trout. At his restaurant, Rhubarb, the menu showcases these specialties in addition to a trove of fresh produce, and he’s proving that a wild mushroom makes a satisfying main course. At The Market Place, William Dissen enlists dozens of foragers to stock his restaurant with these prized wild mushrooms, and chef Mike Moore grows many of the ingredients on his Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder menu; he maintains a small farm just north of the city. Asheville has embraced upscale interpretations of its staples, but locals also love the basics. For a more down-home Appalachian experience check out 12 Bones Smokehouse (a favorite of President Obama) and Early Girl Eatery.

    Where to go

    For invention, head to the River Arts District. In the past decade, artists have set up studios in the former factories and warehouses, and chefs have followed. As you explore look for All Souls Pizza, Taqueria Con Cuida, The Junction, White Duck Taco Shop, The Bull & Beggar, 12 Bones Smokehouse, Blue Kudzu Sake, The Wedge Brewery, Yuzu Patisserie and more. To reach these restaurants, you'll traverse narrow roads and gravel lots, but the edible rewards are worth the extra navigational efforts.

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  • #5 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

    The Twin Cities ranked fifth thanks to an evolving dining scene with a deep well of ethnic traditions, an exploding number of options and an influx of talent.

    What to know

    Dining in the Twin Cities is all about a come-as-you-are experience with a focus on food. The hottest chefs here aren’t limiting themselves to any particular cuisine, and they’re as fluent in Asian herbs and spices (familiar thanks to three generations of Vietnamese and Hmong immigrants) as they are in Eastern European earthiness and Scandinavian simplicity.

    What to know

    Craft breweries — many of which started in actual garages — have become hometown heroes in Minneapolis (and St. Paul). You’ll find bold, adventurous Surly and the quieter, more refined Fulton and Indeed beers on tap just about everywhere, even the modernist cuisine mecca Travail. Nothing goes better with a beer than the housemade sausage and charcuterie that just about every chef in town is making or the Twin Cities’ unique high-low cuisine mash-ups: foie gras meatballs, housemade tater tots and even a bologna sandwich at one of the top tables in town.

    Where to go

    Minneapolis’ North Loop has gone from a nearly deserted warren of warehouses to the hottest neighborhood in town — for lofts, cocktails and dining. Just ask Gavin Kaysen, until recently Daniel Boulud's right-hand man, who opened his much-anticipated Spoon and Stable at the end of last year and was promptly nominated for a James Beard award. Places to try include: Bar LaGrassa, Be’Wiched Deli, Black Sheep Pizza, Borough, Parlor, Freehouse, Haute Dish, Monte Carlo, Smack Shack, Spoon and Stable, Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar.

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  • #6 Nashville, TN

    A city ablaze with energy, Nashville is garnering national attention right now for a reinvigorated culinary scene with its best years to come.

    What to know

    With the Americana Music Festival, the CMA Music Festival and more than 120 music venues that draw fans year-round, Music City lives up to its nickname more than ever. But in recent years the locus of its greatest creative growth has arguably been its dining scene, which placed the city at No. 6 on our list, with all signs pointing to an even brighter future to come.

    What to know

    Among the most revered chefs is Sean Brock, who rose to national prominence for his work at McCrady’s and his first restaurant, Husk, both in Charleston, South Carolina, and was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2010. In 2013, Brock opened the Nashville location of Husk, which upholds his vision for new Southern cuisine: local farms and purveyors clearly listed on a chalkboard in the foyer, interior spaces that marry modernity with the building’s 19th-century architecture and a menu that changes daily according to local and seasonal availability. Everything about Husk speaks of a deep appreciation for Southern tradition and products, preservation and craft.

    Where to go

    Husk occupies a part of town now known as SoBro, or South of Broadway, which is anchored by the new Music City Convention Center. With a riverside park expansion in the works, it’s safe to predict that in the next few years SoBro will see a steady stream of new residents, businesses, visitors — and lots of good food. Here’s where to go now: Husk Nashville, Adele’s, The Southern, Etch, Watermark, Whiskey Kitchen, St. Anejo, Moto, 404 Kitchen, Party Fowl, City Winery, Biscuit Love and more.

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  • #7 Louisville, KY

    The “Gateway to the South” is shining in the culinary world thanks to a rapidly evolving restaurant culture on an upward trajectory.

    What to know

    This midsize city is a melting pot of the South and the Midwest, with a healthy splash of people who used to live in Brooklyn before they decided to relocate somewhere more affordable. That blend translates into a culinary scene that is constantly evolving and surprisingly diverse for a city more commonly associated with a colonel’s fried chicken than with artisanal bread, and helped push it to No. 7 on our ranking.

    What to know

    While Louisville’s dining culture is evolving, it’s also a place that still embraces casual fare. At Cristina Martinez’s Mussel & Burger Bar you can order a Black Angus burger ground in-house and topped with caramelized onion, aged white cheddar, maple syrup aïoli, maple syrup glazed pork belly and a fried farm egg, all for the cost of an Applebee’s entree. Martinez owns five Louisville restaurants with her husband, Fernando, and his cousin, Yaniel. “They want to eat a fancy burger while sitting at a table with a paper tablecloth.” Their local taqueria, El Taco Luchador, and their sit-down casual joint, Guaca Mole, take the same approach — quality meals that won’t break the bank. “Louisville is putting itself on the map with this,” Martinez said.

    Where to go

    The Crescent Hill and Clifton shared main drag — Frankfort Avenue — has the highest number of drool-worthy restaurants in walking distance of one another and is a must to check out. Be sure to visit The Silver Dollar, Volare, El Mundo, Crescent Hill Craft House and Blue Dog Bakery and Café. If possible, visit on the final Friday of the month to take advantage of the Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop event. You’ll find free trolley rides to participating restaurants and other businesses, and it’s known to bring out a bustling crowd, and food and drink specials. You won’t be disappointed.

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  • #8 Durham, NC

    World-class barbecue grabs your attention, but a closer look reveals a blossoming restaurant community in this North Carolina town.

    What to know

    A close community of chefs, purveyors, bakers, butchers, restaurateurs and others have steadily evolved the dining culture in Durham in recent years, helping to land it at No. 8 on our list. The increasingly revitalized old tobacco town offers more than the whole-hog barbecue it’s famous for, with a cache of restaurants that is evolving the present culinary scene while preserving the past.

    What to know

    Perched on top of a shedlike building, Taqueria la Vaquita’s fiberglass cow provides a beacon for great tacos and a symbol for a little known fact: Some of Durham’s best foods are served from unassuming windows. At la Vaquita, fresh tortillas are filled with barbacoa and cochinita pibil, then topped with chopped cilantro and onions. Across town, King’s Sandwich Shop, opened in 1942, has the classics: hamburgers and hot dogs smothered Carolina-style in slaw, chili and onions. Newer to the scene, and part of Durham’s strong local and sustainable ethos, is Ricky Moore’s Saltbox Seafood Joint on the edge of Downtown. There, fish from the North Carolina coast — black drum, striped mullet and bluefish, to name a few — is brought in daily and served until it runs out, at which time the window, not the door, is then closed.

    Where to go

    What began as a trickle has become a rush of new businesses opening Downtown. At the Five Points Intersection look for Mateo, Pizzeria Toro, Criterion and Bull McCabe’s Irish Pub, and nearby spots like Scratch Baking, Toast, Bull City Burger and Brewery, Rose’s Meat Market, Parker & Otis and more.

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  • #9 Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ

    Though its Sonoran roots and agricultural history have long defined it as a town that favors steak and hearty Mexican fare, recent years have brought Phoenix explosive development in food culture.

    What to know

    Today’s Phoenix/Scottsdale’s restaurant culture bears little resemblance to the one 10 years ago, and its up-and-coming status landed it solidly at No. 9 on our ranking. Here, creative chefs are drawing inspiration from a rapidly diversifying local palette and ambitious growers are taking desert farming far beyond the citrus and cotton upon which the city was founded.

    What to know

    Though the nation's fever-pitched obsession with Neapolitan pizza and its spiritual descendants is a relatively recent phenomenon, it has long been business as usual here, where an unusually well-developed culture of artfully crafted wood-fired pizza traces back decades. Phoenix boasts as many Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified pizzerias as NYC (really). Chris Bianco first started selling pizza in 1987 at Pizzeria Bianco and quickly raised the bar, setting an example of care and quality that has shaped the Phoenix pizza scene ever since. Inspired by tradition but not constrained by it, he paved the way for a generation of pizzaioli who are finding their own voices, developing their own styles, drawing from local resources like the heritage grains of Hayden Flour Mills and the groves of Queen Creek Olive Mill, and doing such great work that the hardest thing has become standing out in a city that's now crowded with truly excellent pizzerias.

    Where to go

    While Old Town Scottsdale is still the ace of the Phoenix metro food scene (visit FnB, Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles, The Mission, Posh, Virtù and more), Downtown Phoenix is one of the neighborhoods making noise in recent years. Watch for Bitter & Twisted, The Breadfruit, Matt's Big Breakfast, Nobuo at Teeter House, Welcome Diner and more.

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  • #10 San Antonio, TX

    The growing restaurant scene in Texas’ second most populous city is one to watch in the coming years.

    What to know

    San Antonio’s restaurant culture has long been passed over for hipper places like Austin and even tiny Marfa, but its growing restaurant culture is now getting its proper due. The city ranked No. 10 on our list and scored high marks for culinary leadership, thanks to acclaimed chefs like Michael Sohocki (Restaurant Gwendolyn), David Gilbert (Tuk Tuk Taproom) and Andrew Weissman (Osteria Il Sogno), as well as upstart events like the San Antonio Cocktail Conference that demonstrate there’s more to this town than Tex-Mex puffy tacos (delicious as they are).

    What to know

    In 2009, when chef Andrew Weissman (who worked at Manhattan’s Le Cirque) opened Italian-Mediterranean Osteria Il Sogno, the first restaurant in the historic, newly revamped Pearl brewery complex, he had no idea what he was in for. Within five minutes, fans of his upscale restaurant La Reve filled the dining room, and the Tobin Hill neighborhood changed forever. Fast forward five years and the Pearl now boasts some of the best restaurants in the city. The chef has also influenced the next generation of San Antonio chefs: Pieter Sypesteyn at the Cookhouse, Luca Della Casa at Silo Elevated Cuisine and Tim Rattray at the Granary ‘Cue and Brew.

    Where to go

    For a spot synonymous with San Antonio’s restaurant boom, head to the Tobin Hill neighborhood. It started with Osteria Il Sogno, Granary ‘Cue and Brew, Cured and Austin import Lick Honest Ice Creams, but now the wealth spills into the surrounding neighborhood, with restaurants like Tuk Tuk Taproom (Asian street food and craft beer), the Luxury (an upscale, outdoor New American eatery) and more.

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  • What Makes a City Up-and-Coming?

    Survey approach and criteria

    When our editorial team first began discussing this project, the impetus was to answer a simple question: What are the ten up-and-coming restaurant cities right now in the U.S.? We knew that passionate (and often subjective) arguments would be made for many markets, but ultimately we wanted our analysis to be based on real data from avid diners and people in the know. Not the opinion of a few, but data collected from many informed sources, carefully considered.

    We wanted a broad sample base and reached out to a mix of industry influencers, Zagat readers and foodies across the country who were new to Zagat. We asked them questions about 89 cities to determine a number of things: each one’s trajectory over the past five years; its rank right now against all other cities (a metric we called “culinary leadership”); and projection for success in the coming five years. We also asked people the gut-check, straightforward question: “Is this an up-and-coming market?” and asked them to assign tiers to each city. For example, New York City ranked No. 1 overall of the 89, obviously a tier one.

    To determine a market’s “culinary leadership,” we set nine criteria that we feel are inherent to any restaurant city that wants to call itself great, and asked respondents to indicate which criteria fit each market. The nine: it’s home to exceptional chefs; people dine out often there; it attracts young chefs starting their careers; there are diverse cultures inspiring varied cuisines; fresh local ingredients are highly accessible;

    it’s recognized by national media or industry groups; it’s a source for dining and cuisine innovation; there’s frequent industry coverage by local media; and local restaurant trends have a national influence.

    Once the data was in and the numbers crunched, we ended up with an index that ranked all 89 cities -- from that, a group of ten up-and-comers clearly emerged (take a bow, Birmingham!). A few cities were surprising, a few not, but all were compelling.

    If you study the list you’ll notice a few themes that reveal how the national landscape is evolving. External factors like economic resurgence play a role in some areas, of course — like Detroit and Nashville — but every city that made the cut was noted for having some mix of ambitious/innovative chefs, supportive diners and a baseline local foodie ethos. Trends that, until recently, were the norm in only heavyweight markets like New York, San Francisco and Chicago have permeated and taken hold in many parts of the country. That’s great for all of us.

    Hopefully our list gets you excited about what’s happening right now in our ten up-and-comers, but as many of our respondents pointed out, the real pleasure will be in watching these cities solidify themselves as dining capitals to reckon with in the coming years.