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:
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 WheelsThe 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 FlavorWhere 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.