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America’s Best Cities for Foodies

The term “foodie” emerged on the Internet to refer to people with gourmet sensibilities. A foodie is a person whose hobby is food—not just eating it, but also learning about its origins and preparation. Snobbery is not inherent to foodies: being a foodie is about appreciating culinary technique, including mother’s home-cooking.

View the slide show on CNBC – Americas Top Foodie Cities

What are the best cities for foodies? Sperling’s BestPlaces (www.bestplaces.net) decided to answer the question by researching what foodies enjoy and treasure most. Bert Sperling and his team worked to make sure smaller cities would stay in the running for best foodie cities. Great food can be found in any large city, but these ten also offer foodie-friendly amenities such as microbreweries and farmers markets. An essential part of foodie culture is a do-it-yourself attitude towards food and admiration for diverse culinary traditions. Sperling’s analysis considered the nuances of being a foodie to discover the best foodie cities in America.

“In this study, we looked at the food culture of each place, not just restaurant ratings,” says Bert Sperling, lead researcher for the project. “By measuring the ratio number of local restaurants to chain outlets, we can highlight the cities where residents support regional dining. The number of community farms and markets indicate a preference by residents for fresh and healthy groceries. We analyzed the number of wine bars and shops, but acknowledging that wine isn’t everyone’s beverage preference, we also included 3,000 brewpubs and microbreweries nationwide.”

“By considering these criteria and more, it gives an excellent insight into the areas of the United States where locals care about the food they eat, prepare, and share with their friends and family.”

Methodology

To determine the best cities for foodies, Sperling’s BestPlaces began by analyzing several measures that align with foodie interests. First, we looked at the ratio of local restaurants to chain restaurants. Local eateries tend to showcase the best a city has to offer in terms of food. A community with a larger amount of independent restaurants will tend to have more variety in its cuisine, which is important for the adventurous foodie palate.

Secondly, Sperling found out the number of local and accessible CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers markets per capita in a city. Part of being a foodie is building a community with fellow gastronomes and the farmers who make it possible. Farmers markets are an ideal place to socialize and sample some of the freshest fare in a city. CSAs are like subscriptions to local farms—after paying a certain amount, you receive a regular delivery of fresh produce from the farm. People who love to cook and be surprised would be delighted to be CSA members.

As another measure, we looked at the per-capita number of Whole Foods stores. Whole Foods is famous for its broad produce section and extensive meat, artisan cheese, and seafood selections. In addition, most Whole Foods stores offer local options and emphasize in-season produce. Fruits and vegetables are often more flavorful when in season. A store that values produce that is in-season is definitely a pick for foodies.

In addition to Whole Foods, we also compared the per capita number of cookware stores, like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. These stores not only sell the latest gadgets for food preparation, but also advertise cooking classes for customers. Because foodie communities also enjoy learning about good culinary technique and the chemistry of cooking, these stores can enrich a city’s foodie population.

While the tools for foodies are necessary, so are the right places for foodie hangouts. We found the per capita number of craft breweries, brew pubs, wine shops, and wine bars. The foodie community embraces microbreweries and fine wines that complement their dishes. Having a large selection of artisan beers and wines are essential for a foodie city.

Using these criteria, Sperling’s Best Place concluded that the ten best cities for foodies are:

  1. Santa Rosa/Napa, CA
  2. Portland, OR
  3. Burlington, VT
  4. Portland, ME
  5. San Francisco, CA
  6. Providence, RI
  7. Boston, MA
  8. Seattle, WA
  9. Santa Fe, NM
  10. Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Rosa/Napa, California

The Santa Rosa and Napa Valley regions are famous for their wineries. Some of the best wines in the world come from the area. Naturally, the food must measure up to the drink. Local artisan cheese shops flourish in Santa Rosa, as do other cafes and bistros.

Stats: 80.9% of restaurants are local, 330 wine shops and wine bars per million

Portland, Oregon

Portland has gained increasing recognition for its innovative food scene. With diverse restaurants that range from novo-Peruvian to the famously quirky doughnut shops, Portland is not lacking for unique cuisine. Portland’s green-friendly city also has the largest number of vegetarian and vegan options for diners.

Stats: 79.6% of restaurants are local, 46.6 breweries per million, 44.7 CSAs per million.

Burlington, Vermont

The Burlington food scene prioritizes local foods. With a huge number of CSAs and farmers markets, foodies have access to the freshest produce and locally raised livestock. The emphasis on localism means that Burlington’s inhabitants get the freshest foods to take home.

Stats: 84.5% restaurants are local, 116.9 farms per million

Portland, Maine

Though Maine is home of New England clam chowder and exceptional seafood, Portland doesn’t pigeonhole its cuisine. The city is bursting with farmers markets and CSAs that sell locally raised lamb, potatoes, and honey, among other delicacies.

Stats: 81.9% restaurants are local, 37 breweries per million, 29.2 farmers markets per million.

San Francisco, California

The Bay Area is home to many established and rising chefs, but also has many resources for foodies to create their own masterpieces. Farmers markets and Whole Foods markets give amateurs plenty to have fun with. For touring foodies, the city has walking culinary tours and a variety of ethnic cuisine in each neighborhood.

Stats: 88.6% of restaurants are local, 77.6 wine shops per million.

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence has a serious relationship with its cuisine. It affectionately nicknames its native dishes, like “stuffies,” which are hard shell quahog clams. Much of Providence’s fare can only be found in the city. The Culinary Arts Museum displays Providence’s devotion to great, one-of-a-kind food.

Stats: 83.7% of restaurants are local, 16.5 CSAs per million.

Boston-Cambridge, Massachusetts

With access to fresh seafood and famous baked beans, Boston attracts world- class chefs and gourmets. Fish markets give Boston’s inhabitants the chance to bring fantastic, high quality seafood back home. Some of the highest rated restaurants are in Cambridge, which highlight the city’s creativity and diverse culinary tastes.

Stats: 84.4% of restaurants are local, 29.6 farmers markets per million.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle is another hub for seafood, farmers markets, wine shops, and breweries. Famous for Starbucks and the Pike Place fish market, Seattle foodies can’t ask for much more. Artisan eateries and ethnic cuisine are on the rise as the community seeks more unique eats.

Stats: 79.8% of restaurants are local, 26.6 breweries per million.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe has a distinct culinary style that incorporates Mexican traditions. Blue corn tortillas and locally grown produce are some of the major ingredients in the Santa Fe food scene. Native American and Spanish influences also contribute to Santa Fe’s characteristic local fare.

Stats: 84.2% of restaurants are local, 14.3 Whole Food per million.

Santa Barbara, California

This coastal city has a hybridized culinary scene. With fresh seafood from the shore and California wines, it makes sense that Santa Barbara makes the list of best foodie cities. Mexican dishes combine with the city’s local produce and fish to generate a flavorful and unique cuisine that reflects California’s history.

Stats: 83.2% of restaurants are local, 166.5 wine shops per million.

About Sperling’s BestPlaces

For over 25 years, Sperling’s BestPlaces has been helping people find their own best places to live, work, retire, play, or relocate. The Portland, Oregon research firm produces city rankings and studies which appear regularly in the national media, and principal Bert Sperling is the author of several best-selling books on the best places to live.