US Culture and Geographic Restaurant Patterns
May 14, 2019 12:13 PM   Subscribe

... what is the taco capital of the US? What is the exact longitude where Chinese food eclipses tacos? What about regional preferences, such as the South‘s affinity for BBQ? We reached out to Google for answers, and they provided an anonymized dataset based on actual restaurant visits. A 2018 exploration from The Pudding, which includes a great interactive chart at the end that allows one to choose from a variety of foods (such as sandwiches vs. Japanese food) and view their relative geographic popularity across the US.
posted by Bella Donna (27 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
This is a hoot! They don't eat nothin but spite in Alabama, and them aliens ain't hungry out in Area 51, when it comes to Mexican or Pizza, anyways...This data is so much fun. They don't eat a lot out in Death Valley neither.
posted by Oyéah at 12:59 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the article: ps. someone please map the regional slang for sandwiches
Someone did
posted by k8bot at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Somebody is cooking pizza on the top of Alaska.
posted by clawsoon at 1:11 PM on May 14, 2019

There must be badass Indian restaurants in Lubbock (Texas), it beats out every other cuisine in that county.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 1:15 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

It would be really interesting to cross reference this with various census figures (ethnicity, income, etc) for each county.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:18 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re: sandwich slang

Based on the dialect exhibited by my neighbor from New Jersey, the correct term is not "hoagie" but "friggin' hoagie".
posted by glonous keming at 1:30 PM on May 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

There must be badass Indian restaurants in Lubbock (Texas), it beats out every other cuisine in that county.

Huh. I have eaten pretty much every other cuisine Lubbock offers, and I really like Indian food. Not sure why I haven't been to any of the three Indian restaurants listed in the "Visit Lubbock 2019" guide I got at the airport.

I'm going to assume it's either an error or the data's somehow skewed by the Tikka Shack location at Texas Tech University.
posted by asperity at 1:43 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the article: ps. someone please map the regional slang for sandwiches
Someone did
Homer: I’m sick of eating hoagies. I want a grinder, a sub, a foot-long hero! I want to live, Marge!
posted by Sangermaine at 2:07 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

k*tbot, that sandwich map likes nuance, to put it tactfully.

For example, in Philadelphia, the long sandwich is a hoagie, but if it's heated so it has melted cheese, it's a grinder. Unless it has thinly sliced beef, in which case it's a cheese steak.

I thought a po boy was a small, hollowed out loaf. No?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2019

I grew up in the midwest where pizza was a meat & cheese pie. I still have a nostalgic fondness for it but no real interest in eating it. Then I lived in New Jersey for almost 9 years and eventually came to like NY-style pizza and for me that is now pizza.

I can't say I've sampled the tacos everywhere on the map but there are inconspicuous places in San Jose that have tacos to die for. OTOH, Tucson taught me that there is no shame in wheat tortillas; that is totally valid.

Being a west-coaster now (SF), what I really want to know is where to get a proper gyro. I will accept shawarma or doner, but it must not be that meatloafy nonsense that people try to fool you with. Even a good al pastor would be close enough. (My suspicion is that you have to have enough volume to run a spit and if you can't then you just can't make it work.) Probably the best gyro I've had was from a literal hole-in-the wall in Paris, close seconds in London and NYC.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

NJ doesnt even rank for pizza???
posted by supermedusa at 3:13 PM on May 14, 2019

NJ is fine for pizza; I had my first properly-blistered wood-fired pizza there. And casual places make good NY-style thin-crust. Was just saying it took me a long while to get out of my midwestern (vaguely Chicago-style) mindset and embrace the the awesomeness that is NY-style.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:17 PM on May 14, 2019

Also, FWIW, even in SF it's hard to find Chinese food that isn't dumbed-down to where it's practically inedible. You have to go to Daly City or East San Jose to find the real deal. And for Vietnamese, definitely SJ.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:23 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is not covered in TFA, sjswitzer, but I will note that in my Stockholm burb there is a tiny, award-winning kebab place (that naturally also sells burgers and hot dogs as such places do). Kebab may not be gyro exactly but it is damned delicious. It's a hunk of lamb cooked on a vertical spit that is sliced into thin strips piled on a plate (or in a bun) with tasty sauce, a little salad, and seasoned fries that are optional.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:32 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine on a cross country drive from LA to Florida once mentioned that he had crossed into this liminal space between taco country and BBQ country where such things as BBQ tacos existed and it prompted us to sketch out a map of the US defined by the distinctive to-go foods of choice (ie. hot dogs, BBQ, pizza, tacos, teriyaki, donuts) and how that mapped to different significant minorities in those communities. it did make us wonder if we were a decade or so away from, say, shawarma or falafel being a dominant takeout item in the Midwest
posted by bl1nk at 3:41 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

As I'm sure that bun is a genuine Turkish ekmek, Bella Donna, I am insanely envious.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:49 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maryland seems to be heavy with seafood, coffee, and sandwiches. Anecdotally, I think that's accurate.
posted by numaner at 4:05 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

NJ doesnt even rank for pizza???

Why would you need to do a web search for pizza in NJ? You just go to whatever the nearest pizza place is and expect a good pie.
posted by asperity at 4:14 PM on May 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

The cuisine that's referred to as 'pizza' on the first map should actually be labeled 'cheese'.

Pizza is simply an efficient cheese delivery system for large swaths of the country.
posted by theory at 4:22 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

The X vs Y maps are interesting, especially when you look at the outlier counties that are little islands in a sea of other foods.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:40 PM on May 14, 2019

Cleveland ranks fourth for pizza but I have the hardest time finding pizza when I’m there. Even then, the local style of pizza is just godawful.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:53 PM on May 14, 2019

There's some weirdness in the X vs Y comparisons resulting from insufficient data for certain states.

For example, there's no data at all in California for Chinese, sandwich, Indian, steak, seafood, and Japanese cuisines. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Colorado have similar patterns of missing data.

But this isn't reflected in the "Proportion of restaurant visits that are ______ restaurants" maps. I wonder what's going on?
posted by theory at 5:02 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Using Google data, visualized by Google News Lab with design studio Polygraph, we can begin to quantify how these food trends vary across the country. Based on aggregated, anonymized, and differentially private data from users who have opted in to Google Location History, we ranked cities and counties by their most popular cuisine."
So, most popular cuisine among people who own a smartphone, bring it with them to dinner*, and haven't locked down their privacy settings? That's gotta skew the data in interesting ways.

Pew Research Center data on mobile phone usage:
  • 23% of American adults don't have a smart phone.
  • 54% of Americans aged 65+ don't have a smart phone, compared to 6% of those aged 18-29.
  • 43% of people without a high school diploma, and 31% of people with only a high school diploma don't have a smart phone, compared to 9% of people with a college degree.
  • Racial balance between is pretty even, but they only show data for Black/White/Hispanic.
I didn't find data for Americans, but in 2016 a government survey found that 76% of Canadians had adjusted settings on their mobile device to limit the personal information shared.

* Yes, there are people who don't bring their cellphones everywhere they go.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 5:05 PM on May 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

As one of my mentors used to say, garbage in, garbage out.
posted by basalganglia at 6:16 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks, Secret Sparrow; that probably explains the weird blankness of Alabama. In the northern part of the state where I live, at least, every town big enough for a Walmart has at least one well-attended Mexican restaurant, so I was wondering if there were some structural funkiness going on.
posted by mattwan at 6:37 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Definitely a biased sample, but as long as old people with landlines get to skew the political polls I say let us have this.

Anyway, in Salt Lake City, all sandwiches are regrettably pronounced “samwich,” even though the chains that called them “grinders” and “hoagies” have lost market share to the chains that call them “subs.”
posted by armeowda at 6:50 PM on May 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

You have to go to Daly City or East San Jose to find the real deal.

Not Cupertino? The place seems to have the right demographics for it, for some (probably tragic and historical) reason.
posted by pwnguin at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2019

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