#2 Underbelly, Houston, TX
Because never before have a city's flavors come through so clearly
Without a doubt, Houston is the most interesting, far-ranging, delightful food city in the South—strike that, in America—right now. There's a confluence of a post-Katrina Creole population, traditional Southern staples (biscuits, barbecue, pimiento cheese), multinationals (Vietnamese, Korean, Pakistani, Mexican), fertile farmland, easy access to the Gulf, and a general yearning to make a culinary mark. And chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly might as well be the town's pied piper, leading diners deeper into the flavors of the city. He so strongly supports the evolving nature of food in Houston that he sends out the dinner bill wrapped in a trifold of recommendations of other restaurants and producers in town (50 to be exact) with the request to "visit at least one of these folks first" before returning for another meal.