The Best and Worst Cities for Foodies on a Budget


One important facet of health is eating healthy food, and eating healthy is a lot easier when the local food offerings are high-quality and when there are plenty of farmer’s markets and grocery stores around.

However, being a “foodie” can also be quite expensive. Americans spend about one-tenth of their income on food, but the value they get from that investment can vary widely depending on the city.

The personal finance website WalletHub recently endeavored to find the best and worst cities for budget-conscious foodies. The site examined 150 cities, looking at 18 metrics including the cost of groceries, the number of restaurants per capita, and the number of ice cream and yogurt shops per capita.

The results might surprise you. New Orleans made the Top 10, but not the Top 5. New York, known as a world culinary capital, was near the bottom, due in part to high prices. Los Angeles and Chicago also did relatively poorly on the list.

What follows are the Best 5 and Worst 5 Foodie Cities for Your Wallet, according to WalletHub:

THE BEST5th BEST: Cincinnati, OH

Affordability Rank: 12

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 38

Cincinnati may be the third-largest city in Ohio, but it beats out its in-state rivals when it comes to food. The city is perhaps best known for Skyline Chili, and sometimes is referred to as the “Chili Capital of the World.” But WalletHub found it also scores well in other food categories. For instance, Fodor’s called its Graeter’s ice cream shop the third-best ice cream parlor in America.

4th BEST: Boise, ID

Affordability Rank: 14

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 27

Idaho’s capital has a population of just 214,000, but the city’s foodie offerings are competitive with the biggest cities in the nation, WalletHub found. In fact, GQ Magazine recently listed 2 Boise restaurants as among the “best places to eat right now.”

3rd BEST: Madison, WI

Affordability Rank: 9

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 33

Perhaps best known as the consummate college town, Madison has fine-tuned the art of providing great food at prices college students can afford. WalletHub isn’t the only publication to notice this. Both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News have recognized the city’s food scene in recent months.

2nd BEST: Grand Rapids, MI

Affordability Rank: 10

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 26

Grand Rapids isn’t exactly known as a tourist destination. Perhaps that’s why the city has such affordable prices for its wide array of culinary offerings. Michigan’s Economic Development Corp. lists wineries, gastro pubs, and farmer’s markets as some of the best foodie offerings in the area.

THE BEST: Orlando, FL

Affordability Rank: 6

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 13

A favorite destination for family travel, Orlando also ranks as one of the most affordable places to find great food options. The Huffington Post notes the city has 6 different dining districts and a number of chefs who have been nominated for James Beard Awards. Just don’t expect to find cheap eats at the city’s top attraction — Disney World.

5th WORST: Scottsdale, AZ

Affordability Rank: 130

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 116

Scottsdale earned low marks for affordability, and WalletHub found the diversity of offerings in the city didn’t stack up well against other cities. However, Scottsdale residents might disagree. When the website made its list of the best “foodie cities” in America, Scottsdale came in second place.

4th WORST: Montgomery, AL

Affordability Rank: 120

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 135

Alabama had a number of cities with low rankings. Mobile was one of the worst cities for restaurants per capita and wineries and breweries per capita. Birmingham scored low in terms of full-service versus fast-food restaurants. Overall, however, Montgomery fell to the bottom of the list in Alabama, and nearly the bottom nationwide. Image via user Mark Brennan/Creative Commons license.

3rd WORST: Fayetteville, NC

Affordability Rank: 146

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 109

North Carolina might not seem like a high-cost state, but it is when it comes to food, according to WalletHub. Fayetteville is one of the least affordable places for food lovers, WalletHub found. The city also scored poorly in terms of number of restaurants per capita, and number of full-service restaurants versus fast-food joints. Image via user Selena N. B. H./Creative Commons license.

2nd WORST: Toledo, OH

Affordability Rank: 125

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 139

Toledo got its worst scores for diversity and quality. The city had particularly low ratings when it came to the number of craft breweries and wineries per capita, tying for last place in WalletHub’s calculations.

THE WORST: Henderson, NV

Affordability Rank: 126

Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality Rank: 150

If you’re a foodie traveling to Nevada, the WalletHub study suggests Henderson is one place to avoid. While Reno was sixth-best overall, and Las Vegas is well known for having a range of dining options, Henderson was found to be the worst city for budget-conscious foodies overall, and the worst in terms of diversity, accessibility and quality.

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