Americans enjoy eating food more than they do making it: According to recent research, merely 15 percent of consumers love to cook, while 50 percent say they hate it. As a result, the average household spends more than $3,000 a year on dining out, accepting the high costs of convenient cuisine. Throw in the rise of digital delivery across the country, and home cooking starts to seem positively quaint in comparison.
If eating has become decidedly restaurant-centric in recent years, which cities can claim the most diverse and delicious dining options? Can different regions still boast about specific dishes, or can you get good gumbo just about anywhere these days?
To learn more, we turned to a source familiar to most diners: Yelp. Analyzing thousands of restaurant reviews from the 50 largest American cities, we discovered the most thriving culinary locations across the nation—concerning quantity, quality, and specific cuisine. To find out which cities offer the best dining options and overall gastronomic excellence, keep reading.
Urban eating across America
Using the interactive tool above, explore the culinary stats we've uncovered for multiple major cities in America. Below, we'll take a deep dive into the top-ranked places for each category. For now, take a look at the metrics we've collected for the city you might call home or locations you may visit. How do our data compare to each place's culinary reputation?
You'll notice we've included information pertaining to the volume of options available to residents but also metrics related to Yelp review activity. If the volume of reviews per restaurant is high, it's a safe bet that the city's residents are opinionated about what they eat—a central tenet of foodie culture. We've also studied the prevalence of difference restaurants relative to the rest of the country. These comparisons give us valuable insights into the distinctive nature of each place's culinary environment.
Once you've had a chance to explore a few cities individually, keep reading to see how they stack up against one another.
In terms of restaurant concentration per capita, no city holds a candle to Miami. The Magic City's dining culture enjoys international acclaim, particularly for Cuban delicacies on display in Little Havana. Las Vegas, known for food as dazzling as its neon displays, claimed the second spot. Atlanta made an unexpected appearance in third, although its vast number of dining options will likely surprise few locals (the city's food scene has been blooming in recent years). San Francisco's food scene, home to some of the nation's most luxurious dining, also proved it had a hefty quantity of restaurants to match its fabled quality.
It's hard to miss the distinctly coastal distribution of restaurant-intensive locations: Minneapolis was the lone Midwestern city to crack the top 15. But some of the country's largest cities were also notably absent from the top of this ranking. Despite its high-powered food reputation, Los Angeles ranked behind places such as Omaha, Nebraska, and Columbus, Ohio, in terms of restaurants per capita. Given these fascinating findings, which restaurants are most common across the country?
From sea to shining sea, fast food prevails as America's most common cuisine. Nearly 14 percent of restaurants in our data were fast-food joints, which represent a distinctly American invention in the annals of culinary history. Sandwich shops ranked second, and Mexican food came in third. Although Mexican cuisine is now widely available nationwide, our data indicate its uniquely common in El Paso, Texas, a town situated directly on the Southern border. Despite the ongoing New York-Chicago feud for pizza supremacy, Philadelphia actually had the most intense concentration of pizzerias, America's fourth-most common restaurant variety.
Other common cuisines attest to dramatic changes in taste through the decades. Although American sushi restaurants first appeared relatively recently, our data indicate they are now more common than delis and bakeries. Likewise, French restaurants were integral to the origins of the dining culture in America but did not rank among the 25 most common restaurant types today. But if these figures show the prevalence of various cuisines on a national scale, where might local food scenes be bucking the trend?
When we consider which restaurants are unusually common, we find some mouthwatering clues to the culinary delights of each city. In Portland, Oregon, for example, food stands are nearly five times more common than in other cities nationwide—although "food cart" is the preferred term among locals. In some cases, we find confirmation of a city's worldwide food prestige: Cuban truly does dominate in Miami, just as New Orleans has an abundance of Cajun options and Los Angeles is unmatched for Korean.
Top-rated restaurant types
When it comes to earning the love of diners, which restaurants fair best? Vegan establishments, which have proliferated in recent years, were most likely to enjoy a Yelp rating of four stars or higher. Vegetarian restaurants also tended to enjoy favorable ratings, suggesting diners reward restaurants that align with their dietary needs and preferences. Mobile cuisine also earned rave reviews: Over 70 percent of food stands had four stars or better.
Tacos and tapas were also among the top-rated cuisines, suggesting food need not always be fancy to attract a loyal following. But we did find four-star ratings were relatively uncommon for several casual restaurant types, such as burger joints and those specializing in chicken. Additionally, cost savings don't seem to equate to strong ratings: Buffets and fast-food places were among the least likely to average four stars or better. Do reviewers reserve top ratings for more expensive spots?
When we studied the 10 most common restaurants nationwide, we did find correlations between higher prices and higher ratings. There are two possible interpretations of these phenomena: Either you get what you pay for, or reviewers are less likely to admit they didn't enjoy their meals after spending serious cash. Along with this cost-quality continuum, however, Mexican places seemed to possess particularly good ratings relative to their prices.
Keen to critique
Yelpers were most active in San Francisco, where the platform is headquartered. But the Golden Gate City was not the only California location to embrace online reviews: San Diego, Long Beach, and San Jose were also among the top five cities for Yelp activity. East Coast population centers were slightly less enthusiastic, although New York and Boston ranked eighth and ninth respectively. In each of the top 15 cities, restaurants received more than 150 reviews on average.
Elsewhere, however, Yelp feedback was relatively sparse. In El Paso and Wichita, for example, restaurants received fewer than 30 reviews on average. In places without strong Yelp cultures, it can be difficult to stir up greater engagement organically. Yelp recently reaffirmed its policy against providing customers with incentives to leave reviews, threatening to penalize establishments who employ the tactic.
Even if you're grateful for the food available in your area, our findings suggest it may be worthwhile to eat more adventurously. By attempting to expand your palate, you could discover a new local favorite or briefly share in another culture. If you're not planning to eat anything exotic, however, you might also consider cooking at home. Why settle for one of the many mediocre takeout options when you can create a full meal with the help of your family? Even with thousands of restaurants at your disposal, there's no substitute for home cooking.
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To assemble the data shown above, we used 2016 U.S. census estimates to determine the 50 largest cities by population. Using ZIP codes found in those cities, we used Yelp's Fusion API to compile more than 120,000 restaurants with their ratings, pricing, and restaurant categories designated by Yelp.
We did not exclude any restaurants due to multiple tags but omitted restaurants that only had designations as bars in our analysis. While we made every effort to get all restaurants we could, omissions may have been possible, may have included restaurants that recently closed, or otherwise have active Yelp profiles.
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