Some foods are simply iconic.
They become so associated with a specific place — listed on every chalkboard menu in town, recommended by every bartender, raved about in every travel guide — that no visitor can leave without a taste. Travelers can’t miss the gooey cheese pull from a square of pizza alla pala in Rome; the satisfying slurp of perfectly chewy noodles from unctuous shoyu ramen in Tokyo; the shot of adrenaline exploding from a tangy, spicy golgappa in New Delhi; or the sweet zing of a taco al pastor in Mexico City. These foods are interwoven into a city’s fabric, and while the word “destination” has been overused (applied unthinkingly to Michelin-starred tasting menus and neighborhood brunch spots), it’s a fitting term for meals that draw visitors as much as landmark architecture or museum exhibits.
When tourists plan a trip around a cebicheria in Lima, a barbecue joint in Kansas City, or a patisserie in Paris, they’re entering an ongoing conversation among local chefs, bakers, and diners about enduring culinary practices. In these cities, a piece of lime-tinged fish, a burnt end, or a delicate choux pastry is a totem used to establish, reinforce, and challenge a shared identity — it’s also an invitation.
For our summer travels, we looked to cities with foods that are destinations in all senses of the word, from Cincinnati chili to Puerto Rican mofongo, highlighting the restaurants that serve the best versions of these iconic dishes. These places might be known for a signature item, but the expressions are endless — these are destinations worth returning to, over and over again.
The 10 Best Chili Parlors in
Since the Kiradjieff brothers started ladling meat sauce over spaghetti a century ago, Cincinnati has gotten creative in serving its famous spiced chili. Parlors pile it on spaghetti with increasingly wild toppings in three-ways, four-ways, five-ways. They slather it on coneys and fries and chili cheese sandwiches. They layer it with lasagna, throw it on goetta, and pour it over corn chips. One thing that never changes: It’s always delicious.
The 19 Best Taquerías in
Tacos are an all-day activity in bustling Mexico City. Wake up to live Norteño music and barbacoa fire-roasted overnight in brick ovens. Then track down a bicycling tacos de canasta vendor for a steamy taco of chicharron with salsa verde, or squeeze into a standing counter for suadero or tripe from a bubbling cauldron. End the day with the late-night set crowding around trompos for al pastor tacos, heaped with fiery salsas from overflowing molcajetes.
The 11 Best Places to Eat Poke in
Of all the misconceptions about poke (how to spell it, that it should ever include kale), the biggest mistake is thinking the dish needs to be a flashy production. “That liquor store serves great poke” is not a sentence you hear on the Mainland, but it’s par for the course in Honolulu, where excellent poke emerges from the humblest settings: supermarkets, strip malls, piers. Pick out the freshest-looking option from the deli case and enjoy your prized takeout at the beach.
The 14 Best Barbecue Restaurants in
Be prepared to wait at Seoul’s best barbecue spots, where wait times are calculated in hours, not minutes — just remember patience pays off. The city’s prized meat palaces fire up grills to perfectly sear hanwoo beef or thin-sliced frozen pork belly, among other signature, high-grade cuts. End with a classic siksa like cold buckwheat noodles or kimchi jjigae, or more inventive options like omurice or instant rice stir-fried tableside with leftover banchan.
The 14 Best Patisseries in
There’s a complex taxonomy of French sweets on display at Parisian patisseries: laminated viennoiserie like croissants and pain au chocolat, choux-based sweets like eclairs and religieuses, buttery sablés sandwiching ganache or supporting creamy cheesecake, glistening fruit tartes, and all sorts of cakes, cookies, brioches. You may need help keeping track of it all — but you won’t need any help finishing your sweet feast.
The 16 Best Ramen Shops in
Diners usually eat ramen quickly and move on, but a 15-minute meal belies the number of years top ramen chefs spend developing their recipes. Dig into the broth, which might gain flavor from pork bones, shellfish, duck, miso, Parma ham, or sardines. Or notice the kodawari, speciality ingredients like craft soy sauce, rare chicken breeds, and noodles from complex flour blends. If you can’t get all that from a single bowl, you’ll just have to go back again and again.
The 12 Best Chaat Vendors in
India takes its chaat very seriously. In the capital — where chaat was introduced hundreds of years ago as medicine — Dilliwalas have favorite vendors for golgappas or aloo tikkis, fervent loyalties over chaat masalas and chutneys, and strong opinions about the spicy, tangy, crunchy snacks that fuel the city’s millions of residents.
The 20 Best Pizzerias in
Rome tends to get overshadowed in the pizza world by Naples, but the Italian capital has unbelievable world-class pizza. The city is home to native styles like pizza in teglia, pizza alla pala, and pizza tonda; hybrid Roman-Neapolitan pizzas that are crispy yet chewy; oddball creations turned worldwide sensations like trapizzino; high-concept pizza finished with tweezers; and pies that celebrate the regional bounty of Lazio.
The 12 Best Cebicherias
Cebiche had its star turn in the aughts, when it invaded nearly every haute restaurant around the globe. But it’s hard to reproduce the experience of eating cebiche in Lima. Limeños don’t demand embellishment or luxurious splurges — they just want cebiche to hit the perfect balance of acid, temperature, and spice on top of fresh, delicious fish. It’s not a lot to ask, but it is a lot of flavor.
The 15 Best Spots for Mofongo in
In San Juan, mofongo is prepared in every imaginable way. You can get it stuffed with fixings or on the side with a standout entree. You can get ripe plantains, yucca, or breadfruit mashed into the standard green fried plantains. You can get it with camarones in salsa criolla, chuleta kan kan, chillo frito, or churrasco encebollado. Whatever you do, don’t forget the mayo-ketchup.
The 14 Best Barbecue Joints in
Kansas City knows its meat. Burnt ends, brisket, beef and pork ribs, sausages, pit ham — the city’s pitmasters can do it all, and omnivorous residents devour everything without prejudice. Chefs also feel free to get creative, showing off their know-how by stuffing brisket and beans into locally made tortillas or infusing Thai flavors of lemongrass and makrut lime into pork sausages.