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America’s Worst Cities for Food Lovers

If you consider yourself a die-hard foodie, these cities will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Randy Nelson

Content Manager

116 articles, 53 comments

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Some cities are so synonymous with food that they have dishes named after them: New York Cheesecake, Boston Cream Pie, Philly Cheesesteak, Los Angeles Linguini. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t real, but the fact that there are some great cities for foodies in the U.S. is totally indisputable. But for every perfectly made crepe, there’s a soggy pancake; a deflated souffle; a burnt grilled cheese sandwich. This post is about those cities where food is definitely an afterthought—the country’s dead zones of cuisine, where it’s tough to be a foodie.

Firing up our food processor, the Movoto Real Estate blog crew tossed in a bevy of dining-related criteria to create a ranking of the country’s least appetizing cities. That is, ones with a limited range of dining options, and thus ways to tantalize your tastebuds. Topping the list was San Bernardino, CA. As we’ll explain over the course of this post, there’s a good reason no one’s made a “Top Chef: San Bernardino”—or a food show about any of the other cities in our top 10, either. They include:

1. San Bernardino, CA
2. Garland, TX
3. North Las Vegas, NV
4. El Paso, TX
5. Laredo, TX
6. Fort Worth, TX
7. St. Petersburg, FL
8. Corpus Christi, TX
9. Detroit, MI
10. Chesapeake, VA

So, how did the center of the Inland Empire end up so unappetizing? And why are there so many cities in Texas on this list? Put on your chef’s apron and join us as we break down our recipe below.

How We Cooked This Up

You can look at our Big Deal Lists kind of like a menu at a restaurant. You’ve just had the appetizer, and next we’re going to serve up the main course. Like any gourmet meal, it’s made up of several dishes; in this case, these are our ranking criteria. In order to prepare this ranking for you, we looked at the 100 most populous cities in the U.S. based on these nine criteria:

  • Restaurants per capita
  • Bakeries per capita
  • Food Trucks per capita
  • Ice Cream Shops per capita
  • Candy Shops per capita
  • Food and Wine Festivals per capita
  • Caterers per capita
  • Gourmet Grocery Stores per capita

Each city was ranked from 1 to 100 based on these criteria individually, with 1 being the worst for foodies. Then, we put all the criteria in our blender and whipped up an average Big Deal Score for each city. The higher a city’s Big Deal Score, the worse it is for food lovers. For more on how we come up with our trademark Big Deal Lists, check out this page.

There are a couple of things we should point out, kind of like the fine print on the ingredients list. For starters, our data comes from crowdsourced reviews site Yelp, with the exception of our food and wine festival data which originates from a good, old-fashioned scouring of several online resources for the events. Secondly, we only factor in businesses and events that take place within city limits; nothing in this ranking is based on metropolitan area.

So, now that we’ve whet your appetite, let’s move onto the main course—a breakdown of why we picked each criterion and which cities ranked particularly low in it.

Restaurants: The Foodie’s Favorite Place Outside the Kitchen

Restaurants are where food lovers gather to enjoy their favorite dishes or, as is more often the case, experience new ones and develop their palates in the process. A city with fewer restaurants per capita is going to offer fewer of these experiences—less variety, which is, afterall, the spice of life.

North Las Vegas, NV, ranked last in this category with one restaurant for every 808 residents. St. Petersburg, FL placed second-to-last with one for every 806, while Indianapolis, IN has one restaurant for every 752 people who live there. For some context, the best city for restaurants, Orlando, FL, has one for every 90 residents.

Bakeries: Pastries are Just the Beginning

Bakeries serve up their own unique fare, from bread to cakes to cannolis and beyond. They’re not simply places for sweets, but are instead purveyors of myriad flavors. Here in our home base of San Francisco, sourness is one of the most popular.

St. Petersburg, FL has the fewest bakeries per capita—one for every 17,500 people. Indianapolis, IN ranked second-to-last with one for every 12,931 and Chesapeake, VA placed third-to-last with one bakery for every 12,503 residents.

Food Trucks: Serious Meals on Wheels

Source: Flickr user Gary Stevens

Source: Flickr user Gary Stevens

The food truck scene—and it’s definitely a scene—has absolutely exploded across the country over the last few years. All sorts of cuisine, some of it exceptional, are offered out of these rolling kitchens and people are flocking to them for the variety of new tastes and dining experiences they offer. A city that’s great for food lovers is going to have them lined up and ready to serve. To get on our least appetizing list, however, they practically have to be food truck wastelands.

That wasteland can be found in Toledo, OH, which is home to one food truck for every 286,038 residents. Laredo, TX pulled in second-to-last with one for every 241,935 people and Lubbock, TX was third-to-last with one for every 233,740.

Ice Cream Shops: Licensed to Chill

For foodies in search of some truly unique flavor combinations, it can be hard to beat those offered at a good ice cream shop. In places where they’re few and far between, the summer months can be especially long.

Newark, NJ is the most disappointing of cone zones, with one shop for every 39,649 residents. Detroit, MI was second-worst with one for every 32,118 people and San Bernardino, CA was third-worst with one for every 23,668.

Candy Shops: The Sweet Life

Speaking of sweets, they aren’t made anywhere better than at an actual candy shop. These places don’t just sell simple chocolates—foodies can find all sorts of unique flavors, from chili pepper peanut brittle to candied bacon. Their presence can definitely make a city sweeter, just as their absence can leave a sour taste in residents’ mouths.

There was nothing sweet about how St. Petersburg, FL fared in this category, with one candy store for every 81,666 residents. Irving, TX placed second-worst for those who like confections with one shop for every 73,567 people who live there, while St. Paul, MN ranked third with one for every 72,112 people.

Food and Wine Festivals: Sampling Local Flavor

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Where do foodies congregate to sample the finest local cuisine and vine-grown beverages? At food and wine festivals. These gatherings are just as much about the food as they are the community, and can often be where foodies are introduced to a new restaurant they’ve never heard of before—or at least thought of reserving a table at. When there are fewer festivals, there are fewer opportunities to try new things.

Detroit, MI has the fewest food and wine festivals per capita, with one for every 655,568 residents. Second-worst is El Paso, TX with one for every 665,568 people there and Mesa, Az, in third-to-last place, has one for every 446,518.

Caterers: Deliciousness Delivered

For this criterion, we went a little unexpected and picked catering companies. Our thought behind this choice is that while serious foodies will certainly cook for smaller gatherings, those who either can’t cook or are faced with especially large groups—like at weddings—are going to want great food without doing any of the work. This is harder to do when there are fewer of these chefs for hire in your town.

St. Petersburg, FL has the smallest concentration of caterers per capita, with one for every 48,999 residents. St. Paul, MN was second-worst with one caterer for every 36,056 people, while Garland, TX was third-worst with one for every 123,152.

Gourmet Grocery Stores: Fancy Cookin’

What if you want to eat food prepared with the finest ingredients at home? That’s where gourmet grocery stores come in. They’re where you can get fancy food items to make dishes that rival what you’ll find at the highest-end restaurants. That can be a great thing if you live somewhere without a lot of great restaurants—but what if you also don’t have access to good groceries?

El Paso, TX came in last in this category with one gourmet grocer for every 665,568 residents. Forth Worth, TX was second-worst with one for every 379,369 residents while Arlington, TX was third-worst with one for every 373,698.

Food For Thought

Now we come to the final course, where we leave you with some parting thoughts about our ranking. Basically, if you’re a serious foodie looking for a place to set up your spice rack, San Bernardino might not be it—unless you like ordering food from other cities. As for the plethora of Texas towns on the ranking, we can only imagine that the fine folks of the Lone Star state are simply into home cookin’ of some more simple fare, and like barbecuing their own meat, thank you very much.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the cities on our ranking, foodies might find themselves right at home in Orlando, FL. Perhaps it’s part of being a major tourist destination that this Sunshine State city ended up being the best place for restaurants, but it’s no slouch in other other criteria, either.

Our best advice, though, is to follow your stomach—except if it’s telling you it needs a double chili cheeseburger with jalapenos and nacho cheese. Trust us, that way madness lies.

(click to enlarge)

Worst Cities For Food Lovers Ranking

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posted on: September 4, 2013
22,564 views, 27 comments

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27 Comments

  1. Charles

    This is a silly, artificial and arbitrary set of criteria for a ranking. I will admit that I am biased because I love St Petersburg which fares very poorly in your ranking methodology. However, I have lived in New Orleans and Atlanta and traveled extensively and I find that true food lovers enjoy unique tastes prepared by people who care. Orlando may have the most restaurants per capita, but I don’t believe that a hundred McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Pizza Huts packed into a small city should weigh more than the large number of locally owned, unique eateries that are found throughout St Petersburg (and New Orleans, Chicago and New York by the way). Apparently, quality counts for nothing in this survey and fast food chains have as much weight as Brennan’s in New Orleans, Bones in Tampa or Red Mesa in St Petersburg.

  2. Deb

    This is a ranking system based on quantity not quality. San Bernardino is home to some FABULOUS restaurants like Mitla’s, The Mexico Cafe, DJ’s, and the Lamplighter to name a few. Baked good? Hands down Noyes.

  3. Lraffel

    Clearly, a real-estate blog isn’t a first choice site for food expertise. What foodie looks for candy store rankings? Yikes!

    • John in response to Lraffel

      Indeed. Bakeries, ice cream shops and candy stores? Really? I would think a dearth of these outlets would make these America’s healthiest cities.

      Oh, and San Bernardino doesn’t have a Whole Foods. Boo hoo. I’m quite happy not paying $8 for a 12-ounce bottle of extra virgin olive oil.

  4. Mary RC

    El Paso has the best Mexican food in the country! I live in central Texas now, and I often yearn for my hometown food! There are many restaurants that serve delicious food. Gussie’s is an awesome bakery that has outstanding tamales and sweet bread. I’m sorry; I totally disagree with you.

    • jonathan m. in response to Mary RC

      Absolutely right Mary rc! Also, you have all new mom and pop shops opening all o er the east side. Ernie’s off Zaragoza has awesome menudo and roscos in the north east has burgers to die for. This survey is mainly based off sites like yelp that are played off to sway their votes. You have to drop some money to get either a good or bad review on these sites. Shame…….

  5. bob

    you cannot include food trucks(rat trucks) for san bernardino. there is a county wide ban on the the rat trucks, the same thing for riverside county.

    • John in response to bob

      Actually, Bob, the ban was lifted a while back for San Bernardino County. However, that only applies to unincorporated areas, and only two cities (neither of which are the city of San Bernardino itself) have ordinances allowing the trucks to operate. Plus, there’s an additional land use permit necessary that make it more difficult to operate the trucks on a daily basis compared to other Southern California counties.

      Riverside County is looking into lifting the ban…hooray!

      And it sounds like you haven’t yet experienced eating from the food trucks. Some of them are quite good. You should give it a try.

  6. Jimmy

    Full disclosure, I do not live in any of these cities, and I have only been to a portion. That being said, this article is foolish. I feel as if I have wasted my time reading it, and I feel as if the writer should refund every reader for their wasted time and energy, and then be fired from this stupid blog.

  7. Mark

    BS! El Paso has some of the best Mexican food anywhere, with great panaderias. Chain restaurants don’t necessarily translate to great food, many homegrown mom and pop places are excellent! This dude is a goofy moron!!! Everyone who has visited EP, has gone away pleasantly satisfied with the food out here; to include family and friends from California to Illinois!!! Bogus blog at its finest!!

    • Sammie Jo in response to Mark

      I didn’t bother reading past the 2nd paragraph, someone basing a town’s food on stats is absurd. Go there and eat, then tell me about it. I want to know about the quality and the taste, not how many restaurants there are in town.
      From what I’ve seen on the food channels, Ft Worth has a lot of interesting mom and pop places.

  8. Blake

    What? Fort Worth is on there? Give me a break.

    This list should be re-titled: lowest quantities of food-related outlets per capita, because that’s what it actually is. Admittedly, the actual title is more sensational, however it is a ridiculous misrepresentation of where actual quality food is found.

    Fort Worth has no business being on the list of worst food cities. The food scene in Fort Worth has been growing by leaps and bounds. Yes, until the early 1990s the food in FW was largely limited to good Tex-Mex, BBQ, and comfort food. That has changed.

    I’d encourage anyone to test my claim by visiting the city. Don’t go to the suburban districts. The good food is in Fort Worth’s urban areas. The particular central city districts that have fantastic local, independent food are, in particular, West 7th Street in the Cultural District (near the museums), and Magnolia Avenue on the Near South Side. Quick list of some must-eat restaurants in Fort Worth: Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana (7th St), Ellerbe Fine Foods (Magnolia), St. Emillion (7th St), Woodshed Smokehouse (on Trinity River near TCU), Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (N. Main, Stockyards), Waters (Crockett St, near 7th St)….

    Tell me if I’m wrong….

  9. Brian

    Who says foodie anyways?

  10. Pat

    Get serious. San Bernadino is just minutes from La. North Las Vegas is just minutes from the strip. Both are mecca’s of great food. This might be the most unfounded list I have ever seen on Eater.

  11. Craig

    Some of your list makes sense, for example El Paso….just awful for food choices. As for mexican food restaurants, average at best unless you are a local of course!

  12. Robert

    Lazy reporting is all this is. No wonder bloggers get a bad name. Go back to writing about inflated real-estate prices in whatever City you deem to be the most “Hip” right now.

  13. Mark Lansing

    Your ignorance about Detroit’s many great restaurants, from luxurious fine dining down to the best hot dogs on Earth (not to mention the fact Sloppy Joes really aren’t a thing here), would be offensive if it wasn’t so pathetic. Try visiting the Motor City before passing judgement … oh wait, that wouldn’t be as much fun, wouldn’t it? That would mean you’d actually have to do REPORTING.

  14. Steve B.

    F you and your list.. you have never visited here in Detroit! We are the capital of Middle eastern food… Plus we have some of the best Mexican food in the country. (Not Tex-Mex! The Mexican population here in Motown hails from Jalisco!! We also have great South Asian food because of the Bengladesh community!! As least come visit when you are rating cities. We like our food basic, not a little bite on a plate that runs $50!!

  15. William Nicks

    My first impression is that this article does NOT account for the local culture of St. Petersburg. Saint Petersburg residents cook and grow fresh foods. We have a low cost of living and supplement that with gorgeous fresh vegetables from local sources. Why go to an expensive restaurant when you can make a gorgeous, healthy, meal at home for much less? We have a very diverse, robust, and flavorful menu all across the city. We may not have strips of Michelin star restaurants, hundreds of food trucks supplementing our hungry, or world destination restaurants but to say we are not a town for food lovers is dead wrong. I am a native of Saint Petersburg and can say that we have flavors from all over the world here. Not only do we have local farms, gardens, and restauranteers but also a wide variety. Whether you seek Vietnamese, Cuban, American, Indian, middle eastern, Greek, or another wonderful food; we have it! Want sushi? Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse, Rollboto, Tsunami, and Hooks are some of the quality restaurants which serve our area. How about some delicious Asian specialities? We have specialty stores all over! We have everything we need; you need only look.

  16. Emmanuel

    North Las Vegas DOES have horrible food. Too many Taco joints and the Thai food is dreadful. It’s very easy to say “drive to the strip”, but does anyone want to drive 10-15 miles 2 or 3 times a week for good food?

  17. Jg

    I’ve lived in St. Pete most of my 50 years, but I think Wiliam Nicks and others defending St Pete’s food scene just have not travelled much to see how good other cities have it compared to us. That being said, there are a few exceptional restaurants here, however. Nothing wrong with civic pride, guys, but you have to get out a little more!

  18. Fidel

    I live nearby to San Bernardino and I would have to concur that it is a virtual wasteland when it comes to “foodie” eats. A few comments have been made that its nearby to LA and that should count for something. It counts for at least an hour on the freeway to get a good dog at Pinks, a 1/2 hour to Chino for a chiliburger at Tommy’s or even a drive into Riverside to eat at the Mission Inn for a formal affair. Sure San Bernardino has its share of fast food joints, its Chili’s and Applebee’s but the city is still devoid of a good food trucks, that can be found to the west in the LA county city of Claremont. Yes the city has more than its fair share of Mexican food places, yet it does not offer a wide variety of ethnic foods. As to say its the worst, it is arbitrary, however a deserved ranking.

  19. Lisa

    I live in El Paso. I could not agree more. Unless you moved it to the top of the list. This place is hell.

  20. Thom Morales

    Obviously, these Movoto “people” have dead tastebuds. Someone peed in their cornflakes and so they’re striking back. Kickbacks and bonuses for real estate development or the like. I “DARE” anyone from Movoto to actually go to a restaurant in San Bernardino and say it is bad. I bet these people don’t like authentic Mexican food. They probably like it Americanized.I’d love to prove my point. But, they’re wimps!

  21. Jennifer

    I am shocked to see San bernardino as the number one worst. Wow! I love San bernardino’s hole in wall joints. Each place has their specialties and I love it!!! I don’t live in sb anymore but I will drive there to get food on some occasions because I have to satisfy my food cravings lol! San Bernardino has some of the best food around

  22. Katey

    Clearly I’m not the only one who thinks this article is flawed. Arlington/Fort Worth, TX have some seriously awesome food places; and I didn’t even start going to gourmet grocery stores until I moved here.

  23. omar

    el paso food is the worst mexican food i ever ate in my life it has no flavor !! and adding salsa valentina to every thing you eat ???? really not to mention the driving out here cant wait for the army to get me the hell out of here . and back home to brownsville TX where the real mexican food is

 

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