The World’s Eleven Best Street Food Cities
You haven't experienced New York City 'til you've wolfed down a curbside hot dog doused in ketchup, mustard, and relish. Similarly, a trip to Bangkok isn't complete without slurping a bowl of spicy boat noodles, dished out by a hawker on Boat Noodle Alley. Street food isn't just a fast, cheap, and delicious way to fill your stomach—it's a way of truly experiencing and immersing yourself in a destination.
Though almost every city in the world offers its own unique kind of street food, a handful of cities simply take it to the next level. We're talking about the kind of deliciousness you feel at your core with each bite—the feeling you get when tucking into a soulful Moroccan tagine, for example, or a freshly made banh mi—and with so many available options that you could go an entire trip without ever setting foot inside a restaurant.
Classic street food cities like New York and Singapore immediately come to mind, with their established street food culture and centralized hawker and food truck areas. But then there are those under-the-radar foodie cities that are slowly becoming the world's next street food capitals: Rio with its Nutella-filled tapioca crêpes, Sydney with its beachfront burgers, and Cartagena with its chicharron-topped bollos. Who needs Michelin stars when you have street eats this good?
Here, we've put together a list of where to find the world's most delicious street food, with insider tips on where to eat, what to order, and what to avoid.
The Scene: Singapore is one of the safest street food cities in the world thanks to strictly enforced regulations and centralized hawker areas—so don’t be afraid to experiment. Added bonus: stalls are required to display cleanliness grades (“A”-“D”), so you know exactly which ones to avoid.
Where to Go: Maxwell Food Center, a stone’s throw away from Chinatown, is one of Singapore’s most popular hawker centers—here you’ll find long queues for Hainanese chicken rice and congee. The nearby Hong Lim Food Centre is great for spicy, delicious laksa and seafood-based noodle dishes. For something a little different, head over to Lagoon Food Village, which sits right by the beach and boasts an entire row of satay stalls.
What to Order: Hainanese chicken rice; bak chor mee (pork noodles); sup tulang (bone marrow soup); min chiang kueh (peanut pancake).
The Scene: Whether it’s Vietnamese banh mi or Wagyu beef burgers you’re after, Sydney’s diverse food scene has you covered. Variety aside, the city’s street stalls and food trucks are some the world’s cleanest thanks to the city’s strict food safety guidelines and regular cleanliness inspections, so the biggest danger here is that you’ll eat too much.
Where to Go: Unlike Singapore’s hawker centers, Sydney’s food trucks are scattered all across the city and are constantly moving. The best way to keep track of them? Download the city’s Sydney Food Trucks app, which tells you exactly which trucks are where.
Insider tip: if you’re looking for ramen or pho, Hyde Park’s Night Noodle Markets every October are worth the trek; any other time of year, you’ll find the best Asian street food at Cabramatta or Marrickville, in Sydney’s Western suburbs.
What to Order: Fatboy burger and truffle fries at Mister Gee Burger Truck; gnocchi with lamb ragu at Urban Pasta food truck; banh mi at Marrickville Pork Roll.
The Scene: Street food in Istanbul is a way of life—you can barely turn a corner without coming across a street vendor or büfe (a deli-like shop where you can grab a sandwich, hot dog, and a cold beer on-the-go). The city’s streets are a goldmine of culinary variety; you’ll find everything from bagels (simit) to Turkish pizza (lahmacun). Though eating on the streets is generally very safe, err on the safe side and try to stick with cooked foods and away from raw meats and seafood.
Where to Go: Street vendors can be found on almost every block in Istanbul, but you can’t go wrong perusing the stalls around the Spice Market in Eminönü and Küçük Pazar. The Istanbul Eats blog offers updated commentary on where to find the city’s best street eats.
What to Order: Lahmacun (Turkish-style pizza covered in ground meat, onions and spices), mısır (grilled corn on the cob); kokoreç (lamb intestines wrapped around skewered sweetbreads and grilled over charcoal); börek (flaky pastry often with vegetable or cheese filling).
The Scene: Street food is so integral to the Bangkok way of life that you can eat well in the city without ever setting foot inside a restaurant—vendors offer everything from breakfast to dessert. Though there are an estimated 12,000 vendors in the Thai capital, proceed with caution: not all vendors are licensed. Stick to stalls that display a sticker of a smiling plate: a stamp of approval from health officials.
Where to Go: Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, and the Soi 38 night market off Sukhumvit Road are packed full of delectable street food options from pad see ew (stir-fried rice noodles with Chinese broccoli) to mango sticky rice. For the city’s best boat noodles (rice noodles served in a pork broth with vegetables, meat, and chilies), visit the famous boat noodle alley at Victory Monument.
What to Order: Som tum gai yang (green papaya salad with chicken); moo ping (grilled pork skewers served with sticky rice); boat noodles; moo dad diew (deep-fried pork jerky).
The Scene: Street food in Marrakesh is some of the most exciting and flavorsome in the world, with all its spices, colors, textures, and influences. Though food safety is not a major concern at the Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s iconic central square—there are frequent inspections, and leftover food is disposed of nightly—it’s still wise to play it safe, particularly when it comes to stalls beyond the medina. Opt for tagines, sandwiches, and cooked foods when possible.
Where to Go: Every night, Djemaa el-Fna turns into the city’s greatest outdoor dining hall, overflowing with sizzling grilled meats, fragrant tagines and fluffy, spicy couscous.
What to Order: Tagine; ghoulal (snail soup—tastes better than it sounds); b’stilla (Moroccan pigeon pie); ma’qooda (deep-fried potato balls); chebakia (sesame cookies).
The Scene: With a whopping 250,000 hawkers, the streets of Mumbai are ripe for culinary exploration, whether you’re gastronomically adventurous or prefer to play it safe. Much of Mumbai’s street food is hearty, filling and (surprisingly) vegetarian-friendly. But be warned: food safety is a concern in Mumbai—there are only around 17,000 legally licensed hawkers—so stick with cooked food and stay far away from dairy.
Where to Go: You’ll find a wallah doling out deliciousness on every street corner, but for the best vada pav (Mumbai’s ultimate street food, essentially a deep-fried potato patty between bread) you’ll need to visit Shivaji on Rajwadkar Street, Colaba, who makes vada pav fresh daily. Similarly, you’ll find the best pav bhaji (spicy vegetable curry served with a butter-soaked bun) at the stalls fronting Juhu Beach, and unbeatable bhelpuris (a crunchy puffed rice and vegetable salad) at any chaat-wallah on Chowpatty Beach.
What to Order: Vada pav; pav bhaji (ask for extra bread to mop up all the curry); bhelpuri; pani puri (a crisp pastry puff filled with chutney, vegetables, and spices); sugar cane juice.
The Scene: Street food in Mexico City dates back to pre-Hispanic times—the Spaniards were reportedly amazed to find an array of ready-to-eat food for sale on the streets when they arrived in 1516. Not much has changed since then: the streets still teem with carts and makeshift taquerias slinging fast, cheap, delicious eats. Food safety regulations do exist here, but are rarely enforced, so stick to well-maintained carts with long lines.
Where to Go: The Centro Histórico’s Zócalo abounds with street food, but some of the city’s best lies outside the main square. A five-minute walk south of the Zócalo, you’ll find the city’s finest tortas at Tortas Been at República del Salvador, while five minutes north of the Zócalo, you’ll find the city’s best pozole (a meat and hominy stew) on Calle San Ildefonso.
What to Order: Tortas de pierna (roast pork leg sandwich); pozole; rajas (charred poblano peppers and onions); tacos al pastor (small corn tortillas filled with spit-roasted pork).
The Scene: Sure, pizza and pasta are great, but some of the country’s best food is made (and served) curbside. In the Sicilian capital of Palermo, you’ll find everything from chickpea fritters to liver sandwiches doled out at food stalls and closet-sized kiosks all over the city. Food safety is not a huge concern here as most everything is deep-fried—good for the taste buds, not so much for the waistline.
Where to Go: Food stalls are everywhere in Palermo, but for a classic pane cà meusa (spleen sandwich—it’s tastier than it sounds), you can’t beat Pani cà Meusa di Porta Carbone on Via Cala. For the best street fish, caught fresh daily and grilled in front of you, head to Borgo Vecchio.
What to Order: Arancini (stuffed rice balls); pane con panelle (chickpea fritter sandwich); pane cà meusa (spleen sandwich—ask for a wedge of lemon to squeeze on your sandwich).
Rio de Janeiro
The Scene: Cariocans (Rio de Janeiro natives) take their street food seriously. It’s a way of life: locals will start the day off with an acai bowl, have an esfiha (beef and cheese-topped flatbread) for lunch, then a food truck burger or acarajé (fried, stuffed bean patties) for dinner. Food safety regulations do exist, but it’s unclear whether they’re properly enforced, so stay away from uncooked foods, with the exception of acai bowls.
Where to Go: The boho, historic neighborhood of Santa Teresa is the place to be for authentic Bahian acarajé; for everything else, hit the beach. Both Ipanema and Copacabana boast scores of kiosks selling everything from burgers to Nutella-filled tapioca crepes.
What to Order: Acai bowl; esfihas; acarajé; tapioca crepes filled with Nutella and bananas; pão de queijo (cheese puffs); pastéis (pastries stuffed with vegetables, shrimp or beef).
New York City
The Scene: From the ubiquitous “dirty water dogs” to Salvadoran pupusas, there’s literally no food you can’t find on the streets of New York City. The Health Department strictly regulates and monitors the sanitary practices of mobile food vendors in the city—offenders are forced to pay steep fines—so you can chow down without fear.
Where to Go: In the summer, Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg festival is the place to be, with around 100 vendors slinging street eats from around the world. Any other time of year, head to Prince Street in Soho, where you’ll find food trucks parked at any given time of day.
What to Order: Grilled cheese sandwich from Milk Truck; Lamb shawarma from King of Falafel; chipotle pork burrito from Calexico; dirty water dog.
The Scene: Thanks to its Spanish and African influences, Cartagena boasts some of South America’s most exciting and unique street food. The scene here is not as established as other cities on this list—there are no apparent food safety regulations for mobile vendors, and consistency is a major issue—but you’re bound to come across some sensational eats, if you know where to look.
Where to Go: Plaza de La Trinidad abounds with street food vendors and is a great place to start—but it can be very hit or miss, so it’s best to book a street food tour. Cartagena Connections offer excellent daily street food tours starting at $30, and will save you a lot of grief by taking you straight to the yummiest carts.
What to Order: Arepas; mazorca desgranada (a corn, meat and cheese medley topped with crunchy potatoes); bocadillo con queso (guava and cheese-filled pastry; bollos (boiled yucca buns).