And The Best Restaurant City In The World Is …

If you’re an avid restaurant observer, a voracious diner, a food aficionado, someone whose travel itinerary is determined by what food is being served out of street carts or what ingredient may be in season in a certain part of the planet, then read on.

I recently attended the James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars or Grammys of the restaurant world, where every top toque in the United States congresses to (hopefully) receive awards, shake hands, talk food, have a good time and, of course, eat.

As per usual, the awards were held at New York City’s Lincoln Center. And as chefs and food personalities were walking in on the red carpet, I accosted them and asked one simple question:

What is the best restaurant city in the world right now?RICK BAYLESS
Chef at Frontera Grill, XOCO, among others, Chicago
Chicago. But really, when I think about it, you could go to a place like Des Moines and find something great to eat. There are amazing restaurants everywhere these days.

Chef at Daniel and many other restaurants, New York
London. There’s a lot happening there right now. Many great chefs are cooking there and you can see a lot of diversity, one that’s different from New York or Tokyo.

Sommelier and director of food and beverage, Blackberry Farms, Walland, Tenn.
New Yorkers and other eaters of big cities forget about the great food cities of the world. I was in Budapest last year and I ate really well. Paris is still great, too. I think the great food cities remain the great food cities.

Former chef and owner of Mandarin, San Francisco
Los Angeles. Specifically for Chinese food. Why? Because there are a lot of wealthy Chinese who live there and who visit there and they demand really great food. You find a rich variety of Chinese food in Los Angeles now.

Chef at Incanto, San Francisco
I was recently in Japan and it was one of the most eye-opening game-changers I’ve ever had. The intensity of the technique was amazing and the fact that some people there have been doing the same thing for generations.

Chef at Olives, and a gazillion other restaurants, Boston and New York
I used to think it was San Sebastian. But New York really takes the cake. It moves so fast. There’s always an edge here that don’t see anywhere else in the world.

Chef at Girl and the Goat, Chicago
I think in the U.S. some of the smaller cities like Portland. They have such great ingredients and produce. Of course, I have to say Chicago, too.

Chef at Primo, Rockland, Maine
New York. It has such a broad range of types of food and cuisines. And not just the top-end sort of restaurants. Casual too.

Celebrity Chef, New Orleans
New York, for sure. Paris has got it going on but New York – Jeez – if you can’t eat well here than you can’t eat well anywhere. Sinatra should have sung that one.

Actress, host of “Under the Tuscan Gun” and “Extra Virgin,” Brooklyn and Tuscany
New York. You have everything here. You can go to any place between Hunter’s Point and Battery Park and always find a great place to eat.

Food God
New York. Because there are 20,000 restaurants here and the open mindedness of the people who live here. In France or Italy, for example, you have a lot of people just eating their own national cuisines. But here the people are eating Albanian one night, Thai another night, Mexican the next night.

Beast, Portland, Ore.
I’ve had the chance to travel a lot lately and I’m going to go with Yangon. The street food was great and the cool thing about it was that it’s really authentic. They’re making street food for themselves; not for tourists or anyone else.

Chef at Underbelly, Houston
Houston. It has such a diversity of cuisines. You can pretty much get whatever you want. And all in one little area.

Chef at Barbuto, New York
London. It’s a complete surprise. It’s totally amazing and it has really hit its stride. It reminds me a lot of New York in the ’80s.

Chef at Nostrana, Portland, Ore.
Portland. We have the most amazing accessibility to ingredients there. We also have the support of great, generous people who keep the dining scene fresh and vibrant.

Host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods and Bizarre Worlds.”
Chengdu. There’s such a great amount of flavors there. Everyone associates it with only things like hot pot but people forget it’s the breadbasket of China. Just as here where we’re finally appreciating where our food comes from, in Chengdu they’ve been doing that for a long time.

[Photo of Andrew Zimmern by David Farley]