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Food Writers and Experts on the Best and Most Overrated Dining Cities of 2013

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Illustration: Eric Lebofsky

Eater's ongoing series of year-end survey questions continues today with a look at the state of dining across the globe in 2013. Here now, food writers, experts, and friends of the site weigh in on the world's best — and the most overrated — dining cities. Much like last year, Tokyo seems to be an undisputed bastion of delicious dining, with a lot of love for the likes of Mexico City, London, San Francisco, San Sebastian, and Los Angeles as well. These experts were also seriously divided on how to categorize both New York City and Copenhagen. Finally, still others make a strong argument for the growing obsolescence of this question itself. Here's the full list:


Marie-Claude Lortie, Columnist at La Presse:

Copenhagen is a truly excellent dining city, but the Noma influence is so omnipresent and strong that it can feel a bit redundant at times. Lima is getting a lot of attention, and it deserves it because good food can be found everywhere [there], not only at the famous tables. As a matter of fact, the table that is most famous, Astrid y Gaston, is not the best in my opinion. And Central is really good, but my favorite restaurant? It's La Mar. Many other lesser cevicherias are excellent, too.

James Casey, Founder of Swallow Magazine:

Best dining city, as per usual, is Tokyo. Mexico City is a ton of fun, too. New York continues to be overrated. Don't get me wrong, there are amazing meals to be had here. But a lot of rubbish around the edges.

Kyle Nabilcy, Isthmus food writer:

I traveled to Denver this year for the Great American Beer Festival, and came away very impressed with the restaurant scene as well as the pints. After a brief meal at Comida (and a few beers at Crooked Stave), I'm convinced I could live happily in the rafters at The Source. And what a great city for a biscuit fan like me — Denver Biscuit Company was truly stupendous. But I haven't traveled enough to speak to overrated.

What I'm tired of is people bashing cities for not being other cities. Can't get the San Francisco burrito you want in Madison, or the Lockhart barbecue you're looking for in Salt Lake City? Quit your bellyaching and go out there and discover what your city does right. Don't blame it for being itself. Cities: you do you.

Alyssa Shelasky, Writer and Author of Apron Anxiety:

Tel Aviv has some of the best food I've had all year. I wasn't expecting it. Even the hummus on El Al Airlines was ridiculously delicious (and I never eat hummus...nor on planes). Tzfon Abraxas is the first place to go....

Elizabeth Auerbach, food writer and blogger behind ElizabethOnFood:

I'm a huge fan of German cuisine in general, but the "Berlin is the new food capital of Germany" campaign is lost on me. Sorry Berlin. London has become the gastro capital of Europe and perhaps even of the world. If you want to know what's going on in the world of food and gastronomy, go to London.

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London. [Photo: balounm/Shutterstock.com]

Robbie Swinnerton, Japan Times restaurant reviewer and Tokyo Food File blogger:

Outside of Tokyo — perennially at the top of my list — San Sebastian remains a tried and true favorite. And I've been very pleased to find that London is really starting to deliver on the hype, with a new groundswell of great little restaurants, most of them well removed from the West End.

Kerry Diamond, Editor of Cherry Bombe:

Brooklyn and Brooklyn! It's hard to deny that the borough has become the food capital of the world — unless you want fine dining and expense account meals. For that, you're better off in Manhattan. Everything else? Brooklyn has it. We have farms, we have the Mast Brothers, we have Four & Twenty Blackbirds, we have artisanal everything. Soon we'll have oysters growing in the Gowanus Canal, believe it or not.

But we officially have too much of a good thing. The borough has reached maximum restaurant density. Ten eateries within 10 minutes of my Carroll Gardens apartment went out of business this year. Restaurant rents have tripled. Thinking of opening a restaurant here? Please don't. How about the Bronx? Or Queens? Or Tribeca?

Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach:

I inspected very few cities in 2013. I ate some good food in Hakodate, though I don't know that it was getting a lot of attention. It was hard to eat cheap and early in Copenhagen (as a Dad, this is something I need to do a lot) but Noma is as good as it supposed to be.

Helen Rosner, Executive Digital Editor of Saveur:

I've never had a bad meal in Charleston or New Orleans — even the not-so-good restaurants are good, thanks to gorgeous local ingredients and a strong, place-driven culinary vernacular — and this year was no exception. I also continue to kick myself about how much I love eating in Las Vegas. I just love it. I finally went to San Sebastian, the global culinary mecca that I figured has been so overhyped that it can't possibly be as important or as amazing as everyone says, and it turns out that no, the food culture there actually is that good.

Alexandra Forbes, Food Writer and Columnist of Folha de São Paulo:

Copenhagen continues to get a lot of attention and for many good reasons. I simply have not had a bad meal in that city, which I have visited in the last two years, whether at a simple smorrebrod joint or Noma.

Paris is overrated, mostly because locals continue to resist giving decent service, which undermines any chef's attempt at sweeping diners off their feet. Aside from lousy waitstaff, Paris loses points for the high prices, and the predominance of hyped-up restaurants that are as jammed with people as possible, and unbearably loud. Not to mention the exhausting battle to score reservations.

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New York City. [Photo: Songquan Deng/Shutterstock]

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker:

Isn't New York City perennially both the best dining city and the most overrated?

Adam Goldberg, blogger behind A Life Worth Eating:

Mexico City and Tokyo are still my favorite dining destinations. Both cities are endless urban sprawls of street food interspersed with great restaurants. The bar is set very high in these cities, as food is fundamental to both Japanese and Mexican cultures. There is an emphasis on simplicity and depth of flavor rather than novelty or style. Competition is fierce, so restaurants and vendors that don't serve great food are quickly replaced. Both of these cultures truly respect food as a lifelong craft. The taquero shaving pork off the rotating spit in Mexico City has probably been doing it for decades, as has the ramen chef in the streets of Tokyo.

New York is an overrated dining destination, or at least the attention is on the wrong places. So far, none of the New Nordic restaurants, which get a lot of attention, have gotten it right here. I wish this weren't the case. We have a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants, but the fine dining here is generally less interesting than in Chicago or San Francisco. The real magic of New York is in the ethnic pockets in the outer-boroughs. Murray Hill and Flushing, Queens, have some of the best Korean and Sichuanese food in the country. We also have excellent Indian food in Jackson Heights. Those are the places that get me excited about New York.

And, of course, the Japanese food. Frankly, I can't think of a city outside of Japan with better sushi. Thankfully, many of these restaurants are starting to get the attention they deserve. Between Masa, Ushiwakamaru, Sushi Dojo, Sasabune, Kyo Ya, and the all-vegan Kajitsu, New York has an all-star lineup.

Ben Leventhal, Eater Co-Founder:

Charleston and LA are my votes for best. I had a few meals in Chicago that didn't wow me, but maybe I just went to the wrong places.

Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods:

Best… Gotta plug the hometown here… I never thought after the last few years that Minneapolis could get any cooler, or better, but our population seems to have an unquenchable thirst for new chef-driven neighborhood eateries. With Erik Anderson, Todd Macdonald and a few other nationally renowned talents returning home to open new restaurants, 2014 will be even bigger.

Most Overrated… I don't see any. Too much quality in too many cities.

Mike Thelin, Feast Portland Co-Organizer:

I think this debate ignores what's happening in food right now — City vs. City is what's over. April Bloomfield has a restaurant in San Francisco, there's a Husk in Nashville, Portland's Pok Pok is one of the most popular restaurants in Brooklyn, and in Manhattan, San Francisco's Danny Bowien and Tokyo's Ivan Ramen are the toast of the town. There is more collaboration between cities than ever, and it's not just the television celebrity chefs opening up fried chicken stands or burger joints in Bahamian casinos — it's some of the most interesting chefs and restauranteurs in America trading ZIP codes. Plus, every city in North America has significantly more good food options than five years ago as neighborhood restaurants are changing our cities to their very core. This is something to celebrate. Not bad for country where most kids grew up eating Olive Garden.

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San Francisco. [Photo: Arevik / Shutterstock.com]

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg News Restaurant Critic:

I hit San Francisco for the first time in about six years this summer. What they're doing with vegetables over at Manresa, Atelier Crenn, The Restaurant at Meadowood, and Saison blows a lot of New York's vegetable cookery out of the water.

Per-Anders and Lotta Jorgensen, Editors of Fool Magazine:

Best:
Charleston: Truly great cuisine with a different palate than the rest of the US from soul food and oyster roasts to McCrady's and everything in-between.
San Francisco goes from strength to strength: coffee culture, bars, hot dogs, pizza, street food, Bar Tartine, State Bird Provisions, and high-end places like Saison and Manresa (a short drive away!)
Montreal is more French than France and deliciously fun.

Overrated: We pass this one — but we do think that PR around food and dining have blown out of proportion.

The Gurgling Cod:

I didn't get out much this year, but in terms of media, starting to experience Charleston fatigue. And the best dining city is obviously the one with the most food trucks.

Ali Kurshat Altinsoy, MAD Symposium Director:

Paris remains an amazing city to eat around, as does NYC - one never has enough time at either. As I mentioned before, Copenhagen is really flourishing right now. I had a great time in Barcelona, too, where you can spend days just eating around Albert's awesome collection of restaurants. Two other cities left their mark too. Sao Paulo — alongside Alex's terrific restaurants — also features some really accomplished and exciting places including Mocoto, Vito, Epice, and Mani. Mexico City is the other. With Pujol, there is now Merotoro, Quintonil and Sud777.

Greg Morabito, Editor of Eater NY:

I only dined in restaurants in New York, San Francisco, and Seattle this year, and they are all A+ dining cities.

Can't speak about most overrated.

Adam Roberts, Amateur Gourmet blogger and cookbook author:

Truly excellent: Let me guess. Someone taking this survey is going to say that L.A. is blown out of proportion, that it's getting too much undue praise. That person is wrong. Living in Los Angeles as a food person has been an absolute treat; in fact, for my budget, I eat way better in L.A. than I do in New York. Oh yeah, I said it. But, seriously, here we pay $7 for a taco plate (like the one at Tacos Delta); in New York, what do you pay, $16 for fancy tacos? Plus, places like Forage and Gjelina-To-Go have salads and sandwiches that rival anything you'll find at $25 lunch places in New York for half the price. And, if you do want to spend more money, Pizzeria Mozza always delivers a knockout punch and Alma deserves its title as Bon Appetit's Restaurant of the Year. Though I do miss bagels, New York. I'll give you that.

Blown out of proportion: I may get in big trouble for saying this, but I'm kind of over the whole Copenhagen thing. Well, specifically Noma. Does anyone really get excited when they see plates of tweezered, foraged grass? Or dehydrated ants? It's brainy food for food braniacs; I much prefer the soulful food of Italy or France or Spain or anywhere else, really. (There goes my chance for a reservation!)

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Copenhagen. [Photo: kropic1/Shutterstock.com]

Janice Leung Hayes, blogger behind e_ting in Hong Kong:

Overrated: Copenhagen. Not that it's not good, but does it have as many interesting restaurants as say, New York? I don't think so, people are talking about it and going because everyone's making the pilgrimage to Noma.

Best: Tokyo is still hard to beat, and Brisbane is actually becoming quite interesting, despite its "bogan" (Australian for redneck) reputation. High rents in other major cities, eg. Sydney and Melbourne, have forced talented people north.

Kate Krader, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor:

The best food cities I went to in 2013: NYC. London. Stockholm. Jarpen (home of Faviken). Los Angeles. Philadelphia. Chicago.

For me, Copenhagen is overrated. There are notable exceptions, namely Noma, which is even better than whatever you've heard about it. And Amass, and Relae. But a lot of it isn't great and even the cheap food is not cheap.

Bonjwing Lee, photographer and blogger behind the Ulterior Epicure:

I don't know that Austin has gotten a lot of attention in 2013, but it has gotten a great deal of attention in the food media in the past few years. From a brief, five-day eating trip there earlier this year, I was mostly disappointed. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for food, and the dining culture there is incredibly active. But, ultimately, I found the quality of ingredients and attention to detail lacking.

Douglas Trattner, Cleveland Scene Dining Editor:

While Cleveland's dining scene has been steadily on the rise for the last decade, it was only very recently that the rest of the country began to take serious note. Recent visits by the likes of Andrew Zimmern, USA Today, Men's Journal, Food & Wine, and Restaurant Hospitality, to name but a few, have merely broadcast to a larger audience what Clevelanders have known for a good, long while: that the local dining scene is one of the most underrated in the nation.

Kat Kinsman, Managing Editor of CNN Eatocracy:

The Las Vegas and New Orleans restaurant scenes continue to attract exceptional talent both in the kitchen and front of house. I'll always go back to my favorites, but tack on a few impressive newcomers with each visit. I continue to be knocked out by Atlanta (made first-time visits to The Optimist, Cardamom Hill, Watershed, The General Muir and Wrecking Bar this year and was duly dazzled), and had a couple of standout meals at Husk and Capitol Grille on a brief visit to Nashville.

And NYC — oh, I love you, but you just can't rest on your laurels. I'm sure it's because I live here, so the chances of flubs are naturally more frequent, but I kept running into careless mistakes that ended up marring my impression of the whole meal. At one place it was gritty scallops, another a spoiled tomato. One super-spendy NYC stalwart served up hair atop my pike quenelles, and dropped both courses while a member of the party was off in the bathroom. A hostess at a West Village semi-hotspot laughed in my Marine colonel nephew's face when he asked if there might be a table open and our server at a Midtown bistro totally disappeared between bringing the entrees and asking if we wanted dessert (no, but we *would* have ordered a second round of drinks). There are certainly far worse problems in the world. There are also a heck of a lot of restaurants just down the block.

Amanda Kludt, Eater Editorial Director:

I adored the London and Mexico City and Vancouver dining scenes this year. And Houston was everything it was hyped up to be. Even as a Williamsburg booster, I can admit that the dining scene in Brooklyn in general is not as wonderful as many make it out to be. Toronto didn't do it for me, but no one promised it would.

· All Year in Eater 2013 Coverage [-E-]

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