Predicting the USA’s 2026 World Cup host cities based on signature foods

Quick
Hits
  • The World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. And on Thursday, several cities in the United States will be selected as official hosts
  • Which cities will be selected? Let’s rank them from least to most likely, based on signature foods
waffle-house

The World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. And on Thursday, several cities in the United States will be selected as official hosts. There will also be cities selected in Canada and Mexico, but I am an American, and as such, I am not qualified to speak on the food of those other nations.

Food? Food. 

If there’s one thing I am qualified to speak on, it’s food. I’ve been eating it since the day I was born, and actually, I held the record at one point for being the youngest person in the world to taste food. It’s true.

There’s been much discussion on what cities will most likely be selected to host, what cities deserve to host, which stadiums are best and what climates and surfaces will be best suited to host, and on into infinity. I think that a much better way to predict which cities will receive hosting privileges for the World Cup is with food. Food brings us all together; the cooking of food is one of the things that separates the human race from the other living organisms on the planet. Cooking a good meal for someone is a point of connection, as intrinsically understood and viscerally felt within a person as it is mysterious and difficult to grasp conceptually.

And that’s supposed to be what the World Cup is about, too, right? When it’s not about corruption or expelling impoverished people from their homes or tanking the economies of entire countries?

So I picked a bunch of signature foods for each of the U.S. hosting candidates and ranked them. The top 10 (or 11?) are hosting World Cup matches. And they’ll be a delicious outpost for soccer travelers from around the world to come in, enjoy a game, and eat. If you don’t like my ranking or the food I selected for your city: it’s unfortunate that you didn’t write this, isn’t it?

16. Cincinnati - Cincinnati Chili

Do not come for me regarding my ranking of Cincinnati Chili and my love of Rochester’s garbage plates. Garbage plates are both delicious and have the decency to label themselves as garbage. You know you’re getting a huge hodgepodge of stuff. They’re customizable. They’re a delicacy. Cincinnati Chili is a weirdly sweet chili on top of spaghetti, which a haystack of unmelted cheese is poured on top of. It is a culinary car crash and the chief reason Americans can’t make too much fun of weird British food. Cincinnati will not host a World Cup match.

15. Seattle - Seattle Dog

As an explainer, Cincinnati Chili is the only food on this list that I actually think is “bad.” I would eat everything else here. That said, I’ve never had a Seattle Dog, which I picked for Seattle because you don’t eat coffee and saying “seafood” is far too broad. I’m not opposed to it, however. I’m just…unconvinced of the idea of cream cheese on a hot dog.

14. Denver - Denver Omelet

The Denver Omelet is a little dated at this point, but most people have been in a diner and seen some version of an omelet with cheese, ham, and green onion, right? It’s not stupendous, it’s not flashy, but it’s never bad, either. It’s a good benchmark dish.

13. Philadelphia - Cheesesteak

I know someone is going to come in and say something like “cheesesteaks are for tourists” – and I did have some wonderful Mexican and Vietnamese food the last time I was in Philadelphia. But like it or not, Philly is about Philly Cheesesteak. And guess what? They’re fine. I don’t think they’re particularly special. But they’re fine. I will gladly eat one, even given my distaste for cheese whiz (if it’s like, provolone? That’s an instant upgrade for me).

12. Orlando - Dole Whip

It’s only sold at Disney and the only name it really goes by is a brand. What could be more Orlando? The Dole Whip is originally a Disneyland creation, but California has plenty of other things that could be considered signature. Orlando has… pretty much this! I’m sure there are some other things that are Orlando, but no one outside of Orlando knows about ‘em. Dole Whip tastes good.

11. Boston - Clam Chowder

CHOWDAH. When I was a little kid, I loved clam chowder. It’s hearty, it’s warm, and it’s got shellfish in it, which I love. I have realized as I’ve grown older, however, that it’s a little bland. Maybe that’s the fault of the chowder I’ve been eating, but I’m just not in a clam chowder mood all the time, you know? A lobster roll would probably rank higher in this list, but that feels like a much broader New England thing, whereas the cream-based New England clam chowder is the one that will sometimes get Boston’s name attached to it, so I’m sticking to my clams here.

10. San Francisco - Mission-style Burrito

The Mission-style burrito is quite good. It’s a burrito; it’s difficult for it not to be good. The meat, the rice, the beans, everything else you can stuff into that thing. The primary draw of the Mission-style burrito is that it’s huge. As a self-respecting American, I love copious amounts of food as much as the next person, and it’s difficult to go wrong with a huge burrito. It doesn’t really satisfy the craving for something unique, however.

9. Balti… uh, I mean, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, or whatever - Blue Crab, and/or anything with Old Bay on it

Crab is delicious. That’s certainly not the issue here in any sense. And I also like Old Bay, despite all of Maryland’s tendency to put it on everything they eat: crab, potato chips, hamburger, key lime pie. The only thing that really sets this back for me is how much work crab is. I am not a small animal, and the difficulty and time it takes to break into a crab and extract all the meat is not enjoyable for me. I am often left wanting more crab, but not wanting to go through the effort of actually getting more crab.

8. Atlanta - Waffle House

This is not a joke. I am aware that Atlanta has SO MUCH good food to offer. It’s actually incredibly difficult to choose what a signature dish for Atlanta might be, which is why I’ve selected the one place that defies all borders, distinctions, and barriers: Waffle House. Unironically, I think Waffle House’s breakfasts are delicious. The softness of the waffles. The extra butter running along the edges of your plate, mixing in with the runny yolk from the egg you just cracked open. Waffle House is not to be sniffed or laughed at. Waffle House is to be celebrated. 

7. Miami - Cuban Sandwich

The Cuban is pretty close to a perfect sandwich, in my estimation. It just combines so many flavor profiles so well: saltiness, acidity, sweetness. It also is a rarity among American sandwiches in its use of a pickle. The pickle is not simply thrown on haphazardly. The pickle is essential, and in a Cuban, it is delicious.

6. Nashville - Hot Chicken

What if chicken, but hotter? That’s the bold question that Tennessee’s hot chicken asks, and bravely answers. Made famous by Prince’s, good hot chicken will bring tears to your eyes, both metaphorical and literal. The spice is no joke. In terms of foods that are distinctly American in origin and bring all different types of people together, you can do far, far worse than hot chicken.

5. New York - NY-style Pizza

Listen, it’s NY pizza. Some people claim that they don’t like it, or that it’s not that good, but they’re still eating it, aren’t they? NY pizza is delicious, and it’s everywhere in New York and New Jersey. The World Cup will say it’s being held in New York, when they’re actually playing in New Jersey. That’s the most New York thing I can think of besides the pizza. Now I want pizza. If you’re complaining about it being wet or flimsy or whatever, find a better pizza place, fold the slice, and quit being such a baby. 

4. Houston - Viet-Cajun Crawfish

I couldn’t give Texas BBQ to both Texan cities, and on the “Best of Texas” list I found, there were way more entries from the Dallas area than there were from Houston (although Austin beat both of them). So I went with a different and distinctly Houston food: Viet-Cajun. If you don’t know, you should learn. Viet-Cajun Crawfish combines Cajun spices with more traditional Vietnamese flavorings, giving the traditional crawfish boil a brighter flavor. Then, they douse it in butter. Dousing in butter is always a path to culinary greatness, and this relatively-young fusion of a dish should right be celebrated for how it’s American in a very different way than food like BBQ is American.

3. Los Angeles - Tacos

A taco is one of the most perfectly self-contained food items there is in existence. And there are good tacos in plenty of places in the United States, but none can match Los Angeles for the sheer breadth of tacos on offer. There are plenty of average tacos in this city to weed out, to be sure, but finding a great taco spot is as exciting as it is attainable in LA. It feels like a legitimate discovery, and will become the source of much joy the longer you remain. And the best part? There’s always another taco around the corner.

2. Dallas - Texas-style BBQ

I will admit it. I do love a good brisket. Low and slow, until the meat is so tender you can press into it and it nearly becomes jelly. BBQ is an over-hyped genre of food as a rule, but good BBQ cannot be overhyped. The feats of magic performed upon this protein to render it thus must not be understated.

1. Kansas City - KC-style BBQ

Ultimately, it came down to the burnt ends. I like both Texas and Kansas City BBQ. But I love how wide the variety of KC BBQ is and I love burnt ends, a Kansas City creation. And for that, I must award them top honors here. They’re just too good, as much as I dislike giving a large group of people that are snobby about a thing the satisfaction of winning… whatever this list is. Just know that really, I like South Carolina BBQ the best anyway.