The Top U.S. Cities to Find Award-Worthy Food

Title graphic for “US Cities With the Most Award-Worthy Food"

Whether you’re looking for somewhere romantic for a first date or the perfect foodie heaven to pop the question, there’s no question that many intimate moments are had at the finest eateries in the United States. That’s why we at Shane Co. decided to find the U.S. states and cities with the most award-worthy food.

When we think of award-worthy food, the first thing that comes to mind is often the James Beard Award. Recipients of these awards are chefs and restaurants that meet the James Beard Foundation’s strict criteria, which take into account quality of food, atmosphere, and service.

Methodology

We analyzed over 800 James Beard Foundation award-winners over the past 20 years from across the country. We then categorized these award-winning restaurants by U.S. city and state to determine which areas of the country are ripe with award-winning cuisine and which areas are stale and dry. Read on to see what we found!

The U.S. States with the Most Award-Winning Chefs and Restaurants

A US map showing the number of James Beard Award winners by state

Through our research, we found an incredibly wide gamut between the states with the most James Beard Award-winning restaurants and those with the least. New York, unsurprisingly, took the lead with a full platter of 253 award-winning places to eat. From pizza to clam chowder, New York is well known for a variety of foods that are sure to give eaters the butterflies.

California is plentiful with award-winning restaurants too, with a total of 140 as of this writing. As such a strong contributor to U.S. agriculture, it’s no surprise that California sports myriad award-winning restaurants. Whether it’s a top-notch oyster bar or a pairing worthy of a Napa Valley wine, California has numerous options that will not disappoint even the pickiest among us.

While both of these states have famous food scenes that are no doubt dense with award-winning restaurants, they are outliers in our study. We found that 48 out of 51 territories had fewer than 30 James Beard Award winners each, which is far fewer than either New York or California. We recognize the possibility that the relatively large populations of these two states are inflating their counts of award winners.

On the other hand, six states were left without even table scraps, not having a single James Beard Award winner to their names. They include Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

The U.S. Cities with the Most Award-Winning Chefs and Restaurants

A US map showing James Beard Award winners by city

The Big Apple, of course, still appears first on the list of the cities with the most award-worthy food. In fact, with 238 James Beard Award winners there, it claims 94% of the winners in all of New York! Chicago, Illinois, offers a flavor-packed experience with 67 winners. What better date night than to share a deep-dish pie and watch the stars together on Navy Pier?

California dominates again with six cities peppered throughout our list! They include San Francisco (57), Los Angeles (17), St. Helena (14), Yountville (10), Healdsburg (7), and Beverly Hills (6). 

If you don’t live on the East or West Coast, however, you’re not out of luck. Grab a bite with your better half in Minneapolis, Minnesota (11); Las Vegas, Nevada (8); Portland, Oregon (8); Bessemer, Alabama (6); and more!

Small Cities with Award-Worthy Food

A US map plotting the 10 small cities with the most James Beard Award winners

Of course, we didn’t want to let small towns be overshadowed by imposing meccas of food culture. Sometimes that mom-and-pop donut shop has a cozy, intimate vibe that brings lovebirds closer together. So what are the most food-worthy small towns in America?

Charleston, South Carolina, has 10 award winners, making it a mouth-watering location for a date. Bessemer, Alabama, makes another appearance with six award winners locally. We also see Athens, Georgia; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on this list.

Interestingly, most of the cities we’ve mentioned thus far have been coastal, whether in the east or the west. Additionally, California makes its mark here too, taking five out of the 10 spots on this list. Clearly, the Golden State has come up with a new foodie trend: farm to table to award!

Final Thoughts

Overall, we found that New York and California are overwhelmingly more award-worthy than any other state when it comes to cuisine. Whether it’s food from big cultural hubs or local cuisine from small towns, California has it all. However, as fun as this study was to conduct, it still hasn’t changed our mind that regardless of how delicious the food or expensive the wine, any experience shared with your significant other, spouse, or partner is one worth cherishing forever. And if you’re thinking about popping the big question over a favorite dish, make it even more memorable with a dazzling engagement ring from Shane Co.

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