Chipotle versus Starbucks
Credit: Mike Kane / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Denver: "Denver as a whole is coming into its own as a restaurant scene," says chef Paul Reilly, owner of Beast + Bottle. The city's restaurants have moved away from the stereotypical Rocky Mountain game cuisine such as elk, bison, and trout, into more diverse directions, with many going the farm-to-table route. As if that wasn't enough, the city's organic retailers like Grower's Organic take advantage of its location on major interstates to ship their locally grown goods farther west, making this a critical hub in the fresh food movement. The birthplace of Chipotle, Denver also has a large Mexican population and the foodie offerings to go with it. Green chili is a citywide staple. "It's rare that you go to any type of place before noon and it's not on the menu," Reilly says.

Seattle: The city's chefs are lucky to have a variety of marine life, local game, and mushrooms – much of it available at the iconic Pike Place Market (pictured), a bountiful vintage farmers' market and one-stop source for all things fresh in the region. "Oysters, clams, mussels, crab, gooey ducks – Puget Sound is basically a big shellfish farm," says Chef Ethan Stowell, who owns eight restaurants in the city. "The trend among restaurants is to focus on a neighborhood and build a loyal customer base, while most chefs take their cues from Europe and "make the ingredients shine." Seattle is also a city of food innovators (think molecular gastronomy) and the place where the multi-tomed bible of science-based cooking, Modernist Cuisine, was written. Then there's Starbucks. The mega-corp uses its hometown to test new ventures, including Roy Street Coffee & Tea, which is like an unbranded version of the Starbucks stores designed to blend in with its community. "It's packed all the time," says Stowell. "It feels like it's part of the neighborhood, not the Starbucks line."