Mamma mia! Choosing just ten of the world's best was no picnic. In the process, we let our tastebuds wander the globe in search of sustenance. Our definitive list finds cities chosen for their unique dishes – if you hanker for snake, head to Hanoi – others for their celebrity chefs – witness Las Vegas and New York – and still others for creating dishes known the world over – we have Brussels to thank for mussels and fries and Tokyo for superlative sushi and sashimi. Of course, France and Italy are renowned for their local cuisine, so you'll find two stellar cities worth visiting here to sate your appetites; Barcelona, however, gets a nod for its winning combination of design and dining; and Vancouver and San Francisco are recognized for their seafood and stellar Chinese cuisine. Bon appetit – wherever your foodie cravings take you!
As the only city outside of France to have been awarded the prestigious Gourmande award, Barcelona, with its 10,000+ restaurants and nine Michelin stars, is undoubtedly the Mediterranean’s culinary capital. Centered on a Mediterranean diet of olive oil and fresh seafood, the distinctive traditional Catalan cuisine is what truly sets this Spanish city apart, with hearty dishes showcasing an interesting mélange of locally produced, seasonal ingredients.
You can’t go wrong with a frosty mug of Belgian beer and a large plate of frites (or fries, as we call them). But Brussels’ cuisine, influenced by French fare and thought by many to surpass it, offers a gastronomic potpourri for your taste buds, boasting such traditional staples as moules frites (mussels and fries), stoemp (a dish combining rabbit or veal with mashed potatoes and root vegetables), waterzooi (a fish or meat stew), and, lest we not forget, sweet-tooth favorites like fluffy Belgium waffles and exquisite chocolates (Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier wins best in show for its rich and creamy decadence).
If you like your noodles, you’ll fit right in with the noodle-crazed populace in Hanoi. Whether eaten wet or dry, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, noodles infused with the freshest herbs, spices, vegetables, fish, or meat, make up a large part of the Vietnamese diet. Despite this standard staple, you’ll also find more unusual delicacies like dog or snake (considered a male aphrodisiac) paired with lots of alcohol. For an interesting night, you can head to Le Mat (known as “snake village”), to the East of Hanoi, for a seven-course snake meal, including fried snake skin, snake spring rolls, snake soup, and minced snake dumpling – all served with plenty of whiskey.
While Mother Nature originally envisioned vultures circling for scraps in the desert wilds of Nevada, the fantasyland of Las Vegas introduced new feeding ground – and new appetites to boot. In Sin City, where visitors’ whims and wants seemingly have no limit, there is, fittingly, a dish for every wish – be it dining à la française under the Eiffel Tower (at Paris Las Vegas) or savoring alfresco Italian dishes near the waterways of Venice (at The Venetian). Long known for its cheap (if somewhat lacking in the flavor factor) buffets (think $9.99 all you can eat surf-and-turf), Sin City has evolved in recent years to become one of the world’s hottest restaurant cities.
France and great food inherently go hand and hand, but nowhere is the country’s rich cuisine manifested more profoundly than in Lyon, its third-largest city. Situated in the southeast, at the crossroads of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyonnais palate-pleasers – think succulent Lyon sausage, Bresse poultry, and tripe – leave even the most hard-to-please gourmands satisfied. It is certain that nobody misses a meal here – the Lyonnais’ love of good food and wine and the region’s rich culinary resources have spilled over into a seemingly unending stream of bouchons (bistros) and restaurants decorated with Michelin stars. Should you choose to be your own chef, strolling one of the city’s 40+ daily markets will also allow you to pick up the region’s freshest produce and make your own repast.
The view from street-level New York – where food stands sell giant pretzels and sauerkraut-smothered hot dogs – does little to promote the gastronomical paradise that lies behind city facades. Indeed, New York is a 24/7 foodie paradise, a city that has served as a melting pot for every culture under the sun, showcases every cuisine imaginable, and adds some unexpected fusions that could only be dreamt up here. From haute-French establishments like award-winning Le Bernardin, to overstuffed smoked-meat sandwiches at Katz’s Deli, dining out in New York is a joy, whether you’re indulging in the simple or the sublime.
The 1849 Gold Rush may have given San Francisco its start, but what keeps people coming back to this hilly West Coast city is a different kind of treasure: a trove of top-notch menus showcasing multicultural cuisines, fresh California produce, and world-renowned chefs. The combination has created a feeding frenzy among the dining elite and dining options as diverse as the people who come to visit. Splurge on a plate of pistachio-crusted foie gras at the upscale Fleur de Lys, or sample some homemade tortillas at Mijita, where Iron Chef Traci Des Jardins serves authentic dishes her Mexican grandmother used to make. A trip to North Beach (San Fran’s Little Italy) and Chinatown may sound somewhat cliché, but for traditional pasta delights and the chance to experience the world’s second-largest Chinatown outside of Asia, there's no better place to let those taste buds wander.
When in Rome – mangia mangia mangia! Dining in this Italian capital is an experience that’s arguably just as pleasurable as seeing the awe-inspiring ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time, and, thankfully, eating and drinking well in the Eternal City is a piece of cake (or should we say pie – pizza pie, that is). Just follow the locals to the nearest caffè or pick up your own fresh produce every morning at the bustling, picturesque Campo de Fiori market and sit down for a bite by the nearby Bernini Fountain. While Northern Italy is famous for its pesto and truffles, Tuscany for its olive oil and beans, Sicily for its sweets, and the south for its seafood and spice, Roman cuisine boasts all of this and more. From home-style Italian cooking in charming trattorias to innovative fare in designer restaurants, the old streets of Rome will have you savoring la dolce vita.
Grab your chopsticks and go to town on the freshest sushi around – accompanied by the finest sake, of course. From beautifully displayed sashimi, sushi, and tempura, to succulent skewers of yakitori (barbeque-dipped grilled chicken) – best washed down with ji-biru (Japanese beer) – to hefty bowls of delicious yaki-udon (stir-fried noodles), and French-influenced meals of caviar and foie gras, Tokyo’s cuisine provides a Zen-like eating experience indeed. Case in point: The Kaiseki Feast, a traditional 14-course tasting menu of fresh fish, tofu, hand-made noodles, and local produce, is offered at various restaurants. And, thanks to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market (one of the world’s largest fish markets), some 3000 tons of fresh catch is doled out daily which, fortunately, can be sampled at any of the city’s countless restaurants.
While you might assume that you need to head to Asia to sample the ultimate in Chinese cuisine, you needn’t leave North America at all to dabble in some of China’s finest – just head northwest, to Vancouver! With its variety of international cuisines and unique Pacific Northwest cooking, this Canadian city has become one of the world’s top dining cities. But it’s the Chinese fare that really gets gastronauts excited: An influx of Chinese immigration in the mid-19th century sparked the development of the city’s Chinatown (now the second-largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco’s) and nowadays, whether you’re hankering for dim sum or a pork bun, you’ll find them – and much more – in the neighborhood’s muddled streets.
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