Photo by Bill Addison
Photo by Bill Addison

California is now the most influential force in American dining. That’s right, it isn’t New York. Not any longer. Sure, the great city will always produce blockbusters and occasional, wonderful novelties; Queens is an undervalued wonderland of cuisines. But NYC, as an engine of influence, is stagnant. This is a time in Manhattan to fall back in love with neighborhood trattorias. And I’m not the only one who finds it sluggish.

Instead, this is California’s moment. Its brightest food minds are now the ones shepherding what shows up on plates nationwide; they advance the cuisines to which we gravitate. This West Coast cogency is a relatively new phenomenon. Of course, California has for decades been the paradise of plenty, the Left Coast frontier from which chefs, farmers, and dreamers espoused the seasonal, local, farm-to-table philosophy that is now rote. But it has long been New York’s culinary talent — and its relentless media machine — that disseminated the ideas that defined restaurant culture across the country.

Now, with a reach that spans the continent, California holds the space for both deep tradition and wild experimentation. It is the most powerful force in food today. I know this in my marrow. As Eater’s national critic for over four years, I wander some corner of this land nearly every week. But constantly I find myself wanting to return to California, not only to revel in the obvious (but still radical) freshness of its food, but also to witness the unbridled creativity coming out of its two major cities.

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