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Someone named Terrence Henry, a journalist who took an early “retirement” to eat his way through Buenos Aires, has just named the District as one of the great food cities in an essay published today on the Atlantic Food Channel. Henry does qualify his list by saying it’s “personal,” which probably explains why New York City and Paris aren’t on it.
Henry has developed some criteria on what constitutes a great food city, and this is it:
For me, a great food city is a place that caters to all manner of the food-obsessed: vibrant street food, affordable ethnic and traditional dining, and highly-acclaimed (and more importantly, highly-respected by their peers) destination restaurants. It should have a connection to its seasons and soil (or sea, as the case may be). It should be a place that can alternately surprise and comfort, at any budget level.
Henry goes on to declare his personal list of great food cities, which, aside from D.C., include San Francisco and the Bay Area, Madrid, and Barcelona. I should note that he does have a caveat on his D.C. choice: It requires “a fair amount of effort” to seek out its pleasures.
So who is Terrence Henry and why should we care what he thinks?
I don’t really know. According to the bio on his blog, Henry’s a D.C. native, which may explain his favoritism. He’s also been a regular contributor to a local food board, and his own blog is loaded with smart commentary on food and drink, with a heavy emphasis on Argentine fare, naturally. He clearly seems like a dedicated food man to me; he has as much right to publish his opinions as anyone.
He also has the honor of getting criticized.
Using Henry’s own formula, D.C. doesn’t measure up, at least not in the street food category. Yes, there have been some vibrant new additions to the scene, but the best street food still resides in the ‘burbs, particularly in Ballston and Montgomery County, and even those require some serious determination to seek out. But I also think a great food city has one other feature that Henry didn’t mention: Tourists come to town just to eat.
I have no data to back up my opinion, but I don’t think D.C. has approached that watermark yet. We unquestionably have first-class restaurants and first-class chefs; people actively seek them out once they arrive here. But I suspect that the vast, vast majority of tourists come to D.C. for reasons other than food.
I, however, would fly to San Fran, Chicago, New York, Seattle, and a number of other American cities just to eat.
Maybe I’m wrong here. Chime in, folks.
Photo by the National Guard