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The World’s Destination Dishes

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.

A diner squeezes hot sauce onto a three-way plate of chili-cheese-covered spaghetti. The plate sits next to a carney (hot dog) overloaded with cheese and a styrofoam cup branded for Camp Washington Chili.
A restaurant exterior seen from the street corner, with a huge spire reading ‘chili’ extending up from the roof. Above the door cursive writing reads Camp Washington Chili.
A worker stirs a huge vat of chili with a long wooden implement.
An old-fashioned clock set inside bright red neon tubing. Above the clock the wall reads Camp Washington Chili. Below it reads Since 1940.
A ladle dispenses chili onto two coney hot dogs already slicked with mustard.

The 10 Best Chili Parlors in

A map of the United States with a red dot indicating Cincinnati.

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.

A cook holds a large chunk of meat, ready to drop it into a fiery pit.
Hands assemble two tacos on a prep counter. The tacos include shredded meat, topped with cilantro.
A cook arranges meat with tongs on one of a series of tortillas arranged on a plancha. The tortillas are all already drizzled with sauce.
A four-person band, including bass, guitar, accordion, and drums, stand in a tall hallway area. They are dressed in decorative suit jackets and cowboy hats.
A hand uses a spatula to flip tortillas on a comal.

The 19 Best Taquerías in

A map of Mexico with a red dot indicating Mexico City.

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.

As seen through the glass of a deli case, a worker dispenses a scoop of poke into a plastic container.
Five different kinds of poke in plastic containers arranged on a blue picnic table, with chopsticks sticking out of several containers.
A customer waits for poke at a deli counter.
In a prep area behind a deli counter, two workers talk with a customer.
The interior of a grocery store, where shelves of products are displayed beneath a full-scale boat hull, decorated with lettering reading ‘Tama Maru’.

The 11 Best Places to Eat Poke in

A map of Hawai’i with a red dot indicating Honolulu.

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.

An employee uses tongs to add a hot coal from a pan to a furnace.
Hands use tongs and scissors to snip a cut of meat over a grill. Other pieces of meat roast on the grill, while diners all around enjoy a table spread with banchan.
A spoon dips into an eggy souffle-like dish topped with scallions.
Chopsticks hold up a piece of grilled meat topped with kimchi, over a plate of other banchan.
A bubbling pot of stew on a gas flame.

The 14 Best Barbecue Restaurants in

A map of South Korea with a red dot indicating Seoul.

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.

A pastry chef uses a pastry bag to swirl decorative cream around a center of cooked strawberries.
Layered tartlets topped with apricot slices on display with a small lettered sign in French indicating the price, 3,40.
Hands use an offset spatula to layer a jelly-like topping onto a small layered cake.
A sunny pastry counter, with a basket of croissants, rows of pastries, bottles of sweet drinks, and a bouquet of flowers.
Jars of jam labeled in French.

The 14 Best Patisseries in

A map of France with a red dot indicating Paris.

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.

A diner lifts a bunch of ramen noodles with chopsticks.
A chef works at a wok engulfed in a large plume of fire.
A chef crosses his arms to dispense noodles into two bowls of ramen.
Workers dispense noodles and toppings into bowls of noodles in a busy prep area.
A bowl of bright red spice powder with a metal spoon sticking out.

The 16 Best Ramen Shops in

A map of Japan with a red dot indicating Tokyo.

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.

A busy street scene in New Delhi.
Cooks prep aloo tikki on a large tawa at a street stall with customers standing nearby.
Steam comes off a small tin plate of aloo chaat, as seen from the side.
Gloved hands stuff an aloo tikki patty.
A row of vendors behind their cook stations, on a busy street.

The 12 Best Chaat Vendors in

A map of India with a red dot indicating New Delhi.

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.

Pizza on a metal paddle going into an oven lit by large flames.
A worker scoops saucy chicken filling from a pot.
From above, a margherita pizza.
A pizza pocket stuffed with stewed chicken filling. The pizza sits in a special metal holder, with a cardboard sleeve around it reading Trapizzino.
A baker kneads dough on a well floured surface.

The 20 Best Pizzerias in

A map of Italy with a red dot indicating Rome.

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.

From above, a bowl of ceviche under construction, with slices of avocado and capers topping a pile of fish, a hunk of cooked sweet potato, and bowls of corn nuts nearby.
From above, a bowl of finished ceviche in bright yellow broth, beside a huge oyster on ice in another bowl.
A gloved hand reaches for a bowl of limes on a tablecloth lined surface, where other ingredients are displayed.
A chef puts the finishing touch on a plate with tweezers.
A server shakes out a tablecloth before spreading it over a table. The room is decorated with old images and objects.

The 12 Best Cebicherias in

A map of Peru with a red dot indicating Lima.

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.

A cook looks at the camera in between peeling green plantains.
A diner digs into a pork chop on the far side of a table that also includes mofongo stuffed with shrimp and whole fried fish served with plain mofongo.
A cook uses a large mortar to smash plantains in a well set into a kitchen counter.
A chef peels a green plantain with a long knife.
A restaurant exterior. The name reads El Platanal, with a palm tree image replacing the first L.

The 15 Best Spots for Mofongo in

A map of Puerto Rico with a red dot indicating San Juan.

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.

From above, a tray of barbecued meat, including a full rack of ribs, burnt ends, and pulled pork, along with slices of white bread toast.
A cook uses tongs to remove a rack of ribs from a smoker.
A restaurant exterior set into a Shamrock gas station. The restaurant name reads Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Diners wait in a line outside.
A brisket sandwich topped with cheese, barbecue sauce, and onion rings on a thick bun. A bag of fries spills out onto a metal serving tray alongside.
A cook slices brisket on a cutting board.

The 14 Best Barbecue Joints in

A map of the US with a red dot indicating Kansas City.

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.

More Iconic Foods


Editorial lead: Nicholas Mancall-Bitel

Creative director: Nat Belkov

Editors: Erin DeJesus, Stephanie Wu

Contributors: Andy Brownfield, Martha Cheng, Liz Cook, Mario A. Cortez, Beth D'Addono, Natalia de la Rosa, Sharanya Deepak, Terrence Doyle, Becky Duffett, Dayna Evans, Brittany Britto Garley, Gabe Guarente, Kristie Hang, Melanie Haup, Megan Hill, Brenna Houck, Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Justine Jones, Janna Karel, Matty Yangwoo Kim, Aimee Levitt, Liliana Lopez, Brian MacDuckston, Sarah Maiellano, Amy McCarthy, Beth McKibben, Megha McSwain, Stacy A. Moya, Katie Parla, Erin Perkins, Tierney Plumb, Lauren Saria, Robert Sietsema, Valerie Silva, Courtney E. Smith, Susan Stapleton, Jade Yamazaki Stewart, Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme, Joy Summers, Gabriela Torres

Photographers, in order of appearance: Hailey Bollinger, Andrew Reiner, Ryan Siphers, Robert Evans, Joann Pai, Ken Shimizu, Ajmal Jami, Andrea Di Lorenzo, Jimena Agois, Zuania Muñiz Meléndez, Steve Puppe

Video editor: Michael Corcoran

Copy editors: Nadia Q. Ahmad, Rachel P. Kreiter

Engagement editors: Frances Dumlao, Mira Milla

Special thanks to: Nicole Adlman, Missy Frederick, Damla Heard, Brenna Houck, Will Joel, Amanda Kludt, Ellie Krupnick, Lesley Suter

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