You’ll want to take your knives and go to these foodie-friendly cities.
What makes a city a great food city? Well, just like with any dish, it takes the right ingredients, which can vary. Perhaps the city is located in an agriculturally-rich area. Or the city is a diverse melting pot, creating a place for expression and creativity where chefs can share recipes from around the world or experiment with fusion cuisines. It also needs to have well-stocked grocers that carry specialty items.
No matter what, a great food city should be a place where chefs are supported by a population that loves dining out and supporting local restaurants. Whether you’re a chef looking for where to launch your next venture, or a food lover looking for the next big thing, here are the best cities for chefs to practice their craft.
Finding the best cities for chefs
So then, where do chefs thrive? There are different factors to consider, like grocery cost, population size and specialty stores where chefs can source high-quality ingredients. Taking all those into account, here are the ten best cities for chefs.
10. Grand Rapids, MI
While Grand Rapids may not immediately jump off the page as a great dining destination, you’d be surprised. There’s a robust craft brewing scene, top-notch cafes and a range of beloved, non-chain dining options.
Sourcing fish and seafood from the nearby Great Lakes and using area farms for fresh produce, seasonality is key. Chefs can even dine where they shop. They can tuck into fish and chips at fishmonger and restaurant Fish Lads, or grab a bite at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market while also shopping for produce, olive oil or spices.
Groceries are also the most affordable of all the cities in the top ten. Not only do chefs get to experiment with fresh, regional ingredients, but it’s extremely affordable to do so.
9. Santa Fe, NM
With its blend of cultural influences, the food scene in Santa Fe is unparalleled in the Southwest. With Native and Hispanic cuisines leading the playbill, an excellent supporting cast of other global offerings like Indian and Italian rounds it out. And lovers of spicy food find themselves falling under the spell of New Mexico’s famed Hatch green chiles, which feature heavily in local cuisine.
Against such a gastronomically diverse background, chefs also have a wide range of markets and grocers to choose from. There are 0.23 specialty grocers and 0.5 markets per 10,000 residents. So with a population of over 85,000, there are options aplenty. And that population, plus Santa Fe’s robust summer tourism crowds, are only too happy to support local chefs.
8. Napa, CA
As the seat of California wine country, this town of just over 78,000 would naturally be a great place for chefs to create exceptional meals. With a strong focus on high-end fares like Italian, French and New American, there’s an incredible variety of tastes to try. And experimenting with pairing with local wines is another plus.
The area’s agricultural history and current reputation for viticulture give Napa chefs easy access to locally-grown, fresh foodstuffs at local markets and grocers. With 0.89 markets per 10,000 residents, chefs can find everything from fresh produce to meats at spots like the Oxbow Public Market. There are also 23 non-chain establishments per capita, making it incredibly easy to support the local restaurant community.
7. Conroe, TX
Sitting on edge of Lake Conroe, the 91,000-population town of Conroe is a lakeside slice of country living within driving distance of Houston. As with many smaller towns, community and hospitality are important. So the local dining is heavily focused on family-run, feel-good food and service. Obviously, barbecue is huge here, as well as Mexican.
Chefs have their pick of the litter when it comes to specialty markets and grocers, with 0.54 grocers and 0.21 markets per 10,000 residents. And the cost of groceries is one of the lowest on the top ten list, so chefs can prepare excellent food on a reasonable budget.
6. Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati chili. Reuben sandwiches. Ice cream. Gooey pizza. Tender ribs. If you love big food with big, bombastic flavor, Cincinnati is the place. From regional treasures like Cincinnati-style chili, which is piled on top of spaghetti or hot dogs, to creative riffs on classics like burgers, chefs here love going big.
As a larger city, grocery costs are elevated, but there’s an abundance of markets and grocers. With 0.42 markets per capita and 0.16 grocers, in a city of over 300,000, there’s always something fresh and delicious close by for chefs to work with. From getting meats and produce at Country Farm Fresh Market to finding global flavors and fun at the famed Jungle Jim’s International Market, accessing the best ingredients is never an issue.
Cincinnati also ranks among the top cities with the most non-chain dining establishments in the top 10. So if you’re a chef looking for a place that welcomes bold flavor and never-say-die energy, head to the Queen City.
5. Asheville, NC
Over the past decade, the Blue Ridge Mountains-based Asheville has emerged as North Carolina’s preeminent food city. This scenic mountain hideaway has it all, from excellent craft brews and comforting Southern fare to elevated fine dining. This dedication to authentic food in all its forms has created a restaurant scene with 35 non-chain restaurants per 10,000 residents.
As a food scene that revels in experimentation and pushing the envelope, chefs here have an environment in which they can creatively grow and thrive. And the local supply options support that as well, with 0.21 grocers and markets per capita. And don’t forget to try that famous North Carolina barbecue!
4. Pensacola, FL
For seafood chefs seeking new stomping grounds, Pensacola, on the far western end of Florida’s panhandle, has enough attributes to crack the top five best cities for chefs. Sitting right on the edge of Pensacola Bay, fresh seafood is always within reach. The local food scene is rich with delicious seafood spots, as well as Southern and global fare.
With 0.94 markets per capita, chefs can head to specialty stores like Joe Patti’s Seafood and Four Winds International Market for both local and far-flung ingredients. And at 54 non-chain restaurants per 10,000 people, there are plenty of options for Pensacola’s nearly 53,000 residents.
3. West Des Moines, IA
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Betcha didn’t know just how vital Iowa is to U.S. agriculture. The Hawkeye State is the nation’s biggest producer of eggs, corn and pork. It also produces 14 percent of cattle in the United States, giving us tender flavorful steaks and beef. With such high-quality produce and meat, it’s no wonder chefs and meat lovers can have a field day here.
In West Des Moines, which forms the western edge of greater Des Moines, chefs will find a particularly hospitable environment for their craft. There’s an abundance of specialty grocers to choose from, like Fresh Thyme Market, providing quality meats, produce and other ingredients. Dining-wise, chefs can express themselves at classic steakhouses and casual brewpubs or branch out into other meat-heavy cuisines like Brazilian. There’s also great Mexican and Asian dining to be found.
2. Marietta, GA
Snagging second-place for best cities for chefs is the 60,867-strong city of Marietta. Sitting northwest of Atlanta, Marietta is home to a hidden gem food scene. There’s something for everyone, from home-style Southern and farm-to-table to traditional Latin American cuisines.
This gives chefs a large playing field, allowing them to carry on the treasured culinary traditions to American diners, craft dishes from around the world or create exciting combos. Shopping is done at established specialty grocers like Cajun Meat Company, and with 1.15 markets per 10,000 residents, there’s plenty to go around.
One caveat: The cost of groceries is the highest of all the cities on the top 10 list.
1. Greenville, SC
The surrounding states must look on South Carolina with envy, as it’s home to two of the South’s best food cities. First, there’s Charleston (one of our best cities for brunch), and then, No. 1 on the list of the best cities for chefs, is Greenville.
This up-and-coming foodie haven has everything from top-tier Southern comfort food to sophisticated fine dining. Chefs can have fun with flavor at casual neighborhood spots, or get creative with elegant plating at high-end restaurants. And while grocery cost is second only to Marietta on this list, the local population is extremely supportive of their dining scene. There are 59 non-chain restaurants per 10,000 residents, so it’s plain to see that the inhabitants of Greenville love dining out and eating well. Here, chefs are sure to find a supportive and loving audience for whatever they want to cook.
The top 50 cities for chefs
Want to expand your cooking and culinary horizons beyond the top ten? There are many other options for chefs to choose from, as you’ll see from the top 50.
To determine the best cities for chefs, we looked at all cities with at least 50,000 residents according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimates that had at least one specialty grocer, market and non-chain (local) restaurant. That final list included 386 cities spread all across the country. We then ranked each city by the following factors:
- The average cost of groceries: The cost of an average grocery bill in the metro area of each city according to cost of living estimates from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
- Specialty markets: Per capita and business density calculations in each city from a list of commercially licensed business data. Specialty markets include ethnic, organic and health food.
- Food markets: Per capita and business density calculations in each city from a list of commercially licensed business data. Food markets include butchers and farmers markets.
- Local restaurants: Per capita and business density calculations in each city from a list of commercially licensed business data. Local restaurants include all dining establishments that are labeled as non-chain.
Each of these factors was weighted equally, and the cities with the best overall score were determined to be the best cities for chefs.