Traveling the world is one of the best experiences in life. Some of us travel for fun, others for culture… and then there are those for whom it’s all about the food (and the wines of the world). So, for all the foodies out there, this one’s for you!
One of the most fun ways to experience vastly diverse cultures is through the restaurant and food scene. There are countless incredible world-class restaurants and we could easily write a whole book on the subject. Instead, we have narrowed it down to a list of our top ten culinary capitals of the world.
But first, what makes a ‘culinary capital’?
The Best Restaurant Cultures
In this list, we are going not by country, but by individual cities that give the most impressive representation of their nation’s unique cuisine. We have based our list on several factors, including:
- Quality local cuisine
- Different influences and originality
- The best restaurants and chefs
- Exceptional service, atmosphere and overall experience
With a lineup like this, by the time you finish reading, you may find yourself hunting for a snack…or maybe even your passport!
Paris - France
First things first; Paris (of course)! Besides being known as the world's romance capital, it is also famous for its thriving restaurant culture. After all, the word “restaurant” is French. France initially introduced the concept of restaurant dining as part of its culinary revolution in 18th-century Paris, and the world has never looked back
Today, fine French haute cuisine thrives in its endlessly varied forms. Some especially beloved French culinary inventions include chicken confit (slow-cooked chicken bursting with flavor) croque monsieur (a ham and cheese toastie, French style), and quiche Lorraine (a tart made primarily from egg and bacon). While the ingredients in all these dishes sound simple, the French execution turns them into a gourmet affair. For dessert, there is the notoriously hard-to-make, yet incredibly delicious, soufflé.
Paris Restaurant Recommendations:
- L'Astrance: Prepare for a culinary journey like no other while experiencing hospitality as an art - exactly how it should be.
- Jòia by Hélène Darroze: A unique and as French as you can get restaurant that 6x Michelin star-chef Hélène Darroze describes as “inviting you to her home, a house of taste.”
- Hugo & Co: Move from one world to another as you snack, share and indulge in a beautiful French fusion of cosmopolitan influences blended together.
- Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse: This is elegance at its best, with simple produce used to create delicious dishes while taking service to another level.
- Epicure: Some come to Paris purely for a chance to taste the four-star head chef Éric Fréchon’s cuisine. Stuffed macaroni, black truffle and duck foie gras are some of the specialties of this genius chef.
Tokyo - Japan
Now we move on to the ‘Paris of the East’ when it comes to culinary capitals of the world: Tokyo. Tokyo has long been synonymous with amazing rustic cuisine and fine dining alike and lays claim to having the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. As such, Japan has had a massive culinary influence around the globe, evidenced by the number of sushi restaurants available in any given country. Tokyo definitely takes the cake for being the culinary capital of Japan (some say the world) with an astonishing 160,000+ traditional restaurants.
Tokyo also boasts the world-famous Tsukiji fish market, offering some of the freshest and best seafood available anywhere.
When you visit Tokyo, you will find their traditional dishes differ from the Japanese restaurants in other parts of the world. In Tokyo, there is good sushi, and then there is great sushi. For Japanese chefs, sushi is an art form they spend their entire lives perfecting, and their sushi seems to melt in your mouth.
Tokyo Restaurant Recommendations:
- Manten Sushi Marunouchi: Don’t let the (comparatively) low menu prices here fool you; this sushi is among the best in the country. We recommend ordering omakase, which means “trust in the chef”.
- Ginza Kojyu: Delicious Japanese cuisine featuring seasonal ingredients, served in a unique setting with unmatched hospitality.
- L'Effervescence: Escape the bustling metropolis of Tokyo to this enchanting space designed to make you feel like you are deep in the forest. The food, which the chef describes as being “cooked with French cuisine methods and some traditional Japanese twists” is as fantastic as the setting.
- Narisawa: Take in the rich culinary culture of Satoyama, a place where people and nature coexist in harmony with forests and the sea.
- Quintessence: Come here for a menu carte blanche (chef's selected menu), based on fresh seasonal products available at the Tsukiji market. As such, the menu changes from day-to-day.
Lima - Peru
A little less famous than the aforementioned food capitals, the Peruvian capital city of Lima has staked its claim as the ultimate culinary destination of South America. Peru is known for its fusion cuisine influenced by the surrounding mountains, coast and Amazonian cultures, creating a rich diversity of flavors. With its new generation of creative chefs, Lima's restaurant scene uses international styles such as Japanese and Chinese cooking blended with Peru's own Spanish influence and native practices. The result is a culinary experience as rich and mysterious as the Andes and the surrounding jungle.
You may notice that Peruvian restaurants are growing in popularity around the world, yet none come close to the authentic experience of visiting the multi-ethnic restaurants of Lima. If you’re a fan of seafood, you’re in for a treat. Peru's coast brims with some of the most delicious fish species in the world, and Lima's restaurants take advantage of that natural resource, serving up quality dishes of extraordinary culinary diversity. One of our favorite stops here is Maido (led by head chef Mitsuharu Tsumura), which has been featured among the restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four years running.
Lima Restaurant Recommendations:
- Maido: Upmarket restaurant serving Peruvian Nikkei cuisine, a Japanese fusion of seafood with Peruvian influences.
- La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla: Come here for the architecture, atmosphere, and friendliness alone, then stay for the extraordinary food!
- Central: Central also offers Peru food tours, taking you to some of their most iconic restaurants en route to Machu Picchu, led by Inca travel expert and winner of the Chef's Choice Award, Virgilio Martinez.
- El Cordano: A classic little hole-in-the-wall cantina serving authentic (and amazing!) Peruvian dishes.
- La Rosa Nautica: Besides the excellent cuisine, this restaurant takes the top spot for location and architecture, a characteristic Victorian structure perched on railway pylons above the ocean (pictured).
This list wouldn’t be complete without featuring an Italian city, and while there are several incredible options to choose from, in our opinion it’s Bologna that takes the crown for Italy’s culinary capital. After all, just about everyone has their own version of spaghetti bolognese (and just about everyone claims their version is the best)!
Partially due to the fact that Bologna hasn’t experienced the same mass tourism as some of the more high-profile cities in Italy, you can get high-quality cuisine at reasonable prices. Tip: follow the when in Rome mentality and go where the locals go… many of the best restaurants are family-run establishments serving up the best tortelloni, panna cotta, and, of course, bolognese!
Bologna Restaurant Recommendations:
- Ristorante Da Cesari: Located in the historic center of Bologna, this family run restaurant is full of history, charm and character serving excellent regional cuisine.
- Osteria dell’Orsa: Loved by locals and tourists alike, this restaurant serves up Bologna cuisine as authentically Italian as the live musical events it hosts.
- Forno Brisa: If carbs aren’t too much of a concern, you must experience the bakery Forno Brisa, home to some of the top bread and pastry artists in Bologna. (We dare you to look up their motto).
New York City - USA
New York has long been synonymous with a thriving fine-dining restaurant scene with highly diverse and innovative culinary styles. One of the most multicultural cities in the world (and with the affluence and influence of Manhattan as its center), New York attracts some of the most ambitious, talented and skilled chefs from around the globe. It is also one of the premier destinations for aspiring chefs to learn their trade at renowned schools such as the International Culinary Center, Institute of Culinary Education, and the Culinary Tech Center.
While pizza can be traced back to Naples in Italy, the distinctly American version was created in New York City, where you can indulge your craving for a warm slice on almost any street corner. Other local staples include the bagel, cronut and the much-loved New York-style deli sandwich. Whether you’re in the mood for haute cuisine or a hot dog, New York is the destination for you.
New York Restaurant Recommendations:
- Katz's Delicatessen: The place to go for the best New York deli sandwich and hot dog experience.
- Lombardi's: This pizzeria and New York institution in Soho was the first of its kind in the U.S. when it opened in 1905.
- Eleven Madison Park: Acquired by Chef Daniel Humm in 2011, their tasting menu exclusively features plant-based courses. You can also come in to enjoy light snacks, a cocktail, or glass of wine.
- Keens Steakhouse: Besides what is arguably the best porterhouse steak in the city, the atmosphere of dark wood, beveled-glass doors and roaring fireplaces makes it well worth a visit.
- Tavern on the Green: Escape the concrete jungle to this Central Park hallmark. Renovated in 2014 into an urban farmhouse overlooking the park, this landmark establishment and its fire-driven modern cuisine are not to be missed.
San Sebastián - Spain
The whole of Spain could be defined as a culinary capital. However, we have gone with the city of San Sebastián for its international reputation as one of the world's top gastronomic destinations. It’s a small city with a charming 'old town' on the northern coast of Spain, and foodies flock here from all around the world.
San Sebastian is also the birthplace of the famous Spanish traditional tapas, where food is prepared and delivered in small bite-size chunks throughout a full meal or paired with drinks. Over the years, tapas have become an integral aspect of Spanish culture and are often associated with warm, relaxed social interactions and spending time with friends and family.
San Sebastian definitely earns its (literally) stellar reputation: in one 25-km radius of the town, there are a combined 19 Michelin-starred restaurants, 11 of which are located in San Sebastian itself, and three of which (Arzak, Akelarre and Martin Berasategui) boast the exceptionally rare 3-star rating.
Here, the process of food preparation and presentation is a proper art form. Their most typical meals are made with ingredients from the sea with culinary delights such as baby squid, baked spider crab, clams marinière and sea bream. These are typically delivered in small servings to stretch out your dining experience over time while enjoying delicious Spanish wine, company and conversation.
San Sebastián Restaurant Recommendations:
- Arzak: This 3 Michelin-starred restaurant has it all. Serving traditional Basque and Donostian dishes with impeccable service, Arzak features an incredible atmosphere inside a 100-year-old house originally built by the chef's grandparents as a wine cellar and tavern.
- Akelarre: Another 3 Michelin-starred restaurant on Mount Igueldo overlooking the Bay of Biscay, Akelarre also has a fantastic hotel and spa if you want the ultimate experience.
- Martin Berasategui: The third 3 Michelin-starred restaurant specializes in French-inspired dishes served in a tranquil setting with wrap-around views of the surrounding countryside. Chef Berasategui has won countless awards and is the most Michelin-starred chef in Spain and third worldwide.
- Amelia: This 2 Michelin-starred restaurant is located in the beautiful La Concha Bay and offers an exclusive dining experience with a seasonal tasting menu.
- Mugaritz: This restaurant has held 2 Michelin stars since 2006, an incredible achievement. Expect innovative, avant-garde dishes that have earned Mugaritz its place as one of the ten best restaurants featured in Restaurant Magazine every year since 2006.
Delhi - India
Indian food has become a favorite with cultures worldwide (sometimes you just can’t beat a good curry!), and our top pick as the culinary capital for this much-loved fare is Delhi. Delhi has a long and storied history as the historical capital of the first major Muslim empire founded in northern India in 1206, and over the centuries has been the country’s foremost hub for commerce, transport, politics, and culture. Rich in tradition and eclectic cultural influences, Delhi offers a range of delicious Indian dishes that you may have never tried before, including chole bhature, golgappa, poori aloo, loo chat, and ram ladoo, to name a few.
Delhi Restaurant and Street Food Recommendations:
- Bukhara: Located inside the famed ITC Maurya, Bukhara serves up tandoor-cooked Indian dishes prepared in an open kitchen with rustic, earthy surroundings for dining. Go for the signature dish, hot naans and malai kebabs.
- Baoshuan: Headed by London Michelin-starred Andrew Wong, the menu is inspired by China and its 14 neighboring countries, resulting in next-level Asian cuisine.
- Dum-Pukht: Another ITC Maurya gem, Dum-Pukht uses the traditional “dum” slow cooking method in dough-sealed vats to create truly “melt-in-your-mouth” dishes.
- Chawri Bazar: For a taste of the Delhi street food scene, which can easily rival (if not outdo) what you find in a restaurant, head to the Chawri Bazar, which dates all the way back to 1840– an excellent cultural experience in itself.
London - England
Like New York, London is one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world. As a result, it has developed a world-class culinary scene influenced by cuisines and cooking styles from around the globe, attracting top-tier chefs along the way.
London is also home to arguably two of the most famous celebrity chefs: Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey (the latter’s eponymous restaurant boasting the elusive 3-star Michelin rating). Expect the most sophisticated English dishes and unparalleled service led by an expert Maître d' and head sommelier. (You may even hear Gordon yelling and swearing at his chefs from the kitchen!)
London Restaurant Recommendations:
- Restaurant Gordon Ramsay: Dine Gordon Ramsay style, contemporary English cuisine, including a carte blanche menu that focuses on the best artisanal purveyors worldwide.
- Hélène Darroze's Connaught Dining Room: This artfully designed dining room restaurant offers personalized menus in the most elegant atmosphere.
- A. Wong: Andrew Wong demonstrates the richness of China's 3000-year-old culinary history with a menu influenced by the 14 international borders the country shares.
- The Fat Duck: The famed restaurant by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal serves up modern English cuisine known for experimentation, innovation and originality.
- Rules Restaurant: The oldest restaurant in London, Rules has been serving traditional British cuisine since 1798. While not as posh as the rest on this list, it's about as English a dining experience as you can get.
Oaxaca - México
While Mexico City holds its own when it comes to gastronomy, Oaxaca is emerging as the country’s favored food capital. The centuries-old flavors of Mexico's mountainous central state attract top chefs from around the world keen to learn the cooking techniques and recipes that blend Indigenous and Spanish influences.
Traditional Mexican cuisine is beloved in the western world, with such favorites as burritos, tacos, quesadillas, guacamole and nachos. But Oaxaca rustic cuisine (especially when washed down with mezcal) is another experience entirely. Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, led by rockstar chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo, is largely credited with making Oaxaca the food capital that it is. While the atmosphere inside the charming old colonial building is worth a visit all on its own, the expertly-prepared food makes it a truly unforgettable experience.
Oaxaca Restaurant Recommendations:
- Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante: Expect authentic and unique dishes such as vegetarian lasagna with layers of yucca and huitlacoche, squash flowers stuffed with king crab and dried, seasoned grasshoppers (yes, grasshoppers).
- Criollo: On the outskirts of Oaxaca City is the other key figure of Oaxaca gastronomy, Criollo, headed by local legendary chefs Enrique Olvera and Luis Arellano. Inside an old colonial mansion, it has a courtyard with aromatic smoke wafting from the outdoor grill creating an incredibly authentic atmosphere.
- Mezcaloteca: One of the few places you can try mezcal; a small-batch, smoky agave spirit distilled in Oaxaca, which can give a slightly euphoric feeling due to its mild hallucinogenic properties. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can pair it with salt, chili pepper and dried agave worm.
- Catedral Restaurant: This sophisticated turn-of-the-century restaurant has arguably the best (and longest) breakfast menu in Oaxaca. Located only a block from the main square in the city, it’s the perfect way to start your day.
- Mi Tierra Linda: Want to go a step further and learn the secrets of Oaxaca cuisine? Then dine at Mi Tierra Linda where Juana Amaya Hernández teaches cooking to her restaurant guests.
Bangkok - Thailand
Who doesn't like good Thai food? The home of another cuisine that has been embraced worldwide, Thailand has become a foodie's paradise. And it's not just about the fine dining experience; the street food markets can match just about any restaurant for flavor and originality.
The most famous Thai dish is pad thai (a rice noodle, egg, tofu and peanut meal), yet there is so much more, including excellent soups and curries. The best of it comes from the culinary capital of Bangkok.
The Blue Elephant, located over two floors of a colonial-style mansion full of character, is a must. The restaurant is also a world-renowned cooking school with branches around the globe. On the market side, our top pick (out of many wonderful options) is the Maeklong Railway Market. This is not only one of Bangkok's best landmarks and a photographer's delight but also sells the Thai delicacy of frog legs.
Bangkok Restaurant Recommendations:
- Blue Elephant: We highly recommend the chef's signature dish, the Massaman lamb curry and sweet potatoes.
- The Namsaah Bottling Trust: This place is full of atmosphere in a pink colonial-style building. Local celebrity chef Ian Kittichai serves up Thai fusion dishes as eclectic as the architecture (and himself).
- Le Normandie: Bangkok's first French restaurant opened in 1958 and offers dining at its finest with a pianist, grand chandeliers, and exquisite views over the Chao Praya.
- Maeklong Railway Market: This is the famous market on a railway where you can shop and eat frog legs from the train.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market: Head here for excellent Thai street food with great dessert stalls, including banana and Nutella pancakes. Mmm…
We hope you’re salivating by now. The above destinations are just a small sampling of the amazing kinds of culinary centers our community will experience while living and traveling onboard MV Narrative - a luxury residential ship exploring the world. To learn more about the Storylines travel lifestyle and floating homes, visit our website here.