Our new 2017 U.S. Tourism Quality Index benchmarked American tourism destination performance. Here’s how each city performed in the Culinary category—shorthand for America’s foodiest towns. Get the full report for free now.
By Chris Fair
Earlier this month, we released our 2017 U.S. Tourism Quality Index. We create this piece of research annually to better help cities understand the reality of destination performance, both in the eyes of visitors and locals, and a place’s product development.
This index has been lauded by DMOs and destination managers as a valuable tool for better understanding the competitive advantages—and weaknesses—of destinations across six metrics.
Today, we dive into one of the most important, the Culinary metric, examining the best food experiences in U.S. destinations based on social media channels from increasingly influential websites such as TripAdvisor.
We’ve identified how many quality experiences cities offer from one product and experience category to the next as rated by locals and visitors themselves.
To get a sense of the culinary experiences in a destination, we analyzed the number of Very Good and Excellent reviews in TripAdvisor’s Food & Drink and Restaurants categories.
While the Restaurants category measures pure popularity, TripAdvisor’s Food & Drink reviews demonstrate how many different ways there are to explore the culinary landscape of place: in #2 Los Angeles, for instance, we find suddenly spiking categories like Breweries, Distilleries, and Wine Bars.
CULINARY EXPERIENCES: TOURISM AT ITS MOST IMPACTFUL
That this is happening in a place like L.A., that for decades deferred the culinary crown to places like New York, Chicago, and even Portland just adds to the enlightened visitor’s itinerary. All of which likely leads to enthusiastic, pioneering reviews and highly Instagrammable moments.
The diversity of dining experiences that visitors have reviewed illustrates how food tourism has become paramount to a destination’s sense of place. Seeking and reveling in a place’s culinary bounty allows visitors to experience—and remember—a destination with more senses: they see the neighborhoods that are the source of the food, feel the ambiance of a historic distillery, taste a chef’s inspiration or try their hand at frying up the catch of the day themselves.
This multi-sensory experience—which demands that visitors come equipped with nothing more than curiosity—is tourism at its most impactful.
VEGAS WANTS IN
Other once-culinary outliers are forcing their way into the Top 10. Vegas, ranked #8 in our Culinary category, was once a wasteland of chains and questionable buffets. Today, food is reinventing its downtown. Chef Natalie Young’s EAT, on the street level of a nondescript apartment building, became legendary for Mexican-French breakfast and lunch magic. And other concepts followed—from hot vegan spot VegeNation to Cajun mastery at Zydeco Po-Boys. Chef Young has kept up, with the Chinese-and-chicken lure of Chow, her latest initiative, drawing crowds and training the next generation of local chefs since late 2015.
Seattle, one spot lower at #9, now rivals any city for craft breweries (although San Diegans and Chicagoans would dispute this vehemently) as well as innovative Pacific Northwest (they call it ‘Cascadian’) locavorism that imbues everything from fine dining hotel spots to Mariners home games.
BUT NYC STILL RULES
Of course the top culinary destination in the country is still New York City, indicated by the fact that 77 of its restaurants boast one, two or three Michelin stars. Earlier this year, Eleven Madison Park (pictured above) was named best restaurant in the world by the global authority on such matters, becoming the first U.S. room to grab the honor since 2004. The difference between culinary lineage of old and today? Starred restaurants are tucked relatively off the map, in Bushwick (Faro), Harlem (Sushi Inoue) and Williamsburg (Aska).
Find out how top American tourism destinations performed against each other in visitor perception and supply-side delivery. The complete ranking and analysis is in our free U.S. Tourism Quality Index, ready for you to download now.