When it comes to vacation time, some people like to plan their trips around a famous city, a well-known sight or even a world-class museum. But if you’re anything like us, you’ve been known to plan trips around all the ways you can eat (and drink!) your way through entire cities.
If you’re looking for the next best undiscovered eats across America, take a look at our list of up-and-coming cities that are making their mark on America’s culinary scene.
8 of the Best Food Cities in America
Maryland’s largest city is starting to establish itself as a culinary gem. Moving out of the shadow of crab boils and Old Bay seasoning, hot new restaurants are popping up all over town, from the trendy Fells Point neighborhood to the historic Mt. Vernon area. With a James Beard award to his name, Spike Gjerde is reimagining the local food scene with his take on farm-to-table dining. Having had great success with the urban, rustic-chic Woodberry Kitchen, Gjerde has gone on to open Parts & Labor — a meat-focused homage to the skills of butchery. Standout dishes at this Charles Village spot include cured meats from the salthouse, wood-fired squash with a lick of honey and brown sugar beef ribs.
Providence, Rhode Island
When it comes to eating and drinking, Providence has a little something for everyone. You can eat beautifully appointed modern American cuisine at Birch — perfectly located in the heart of Providence’s hip downtown. The menu represents excellent value for money —4 courses are just $49. Or drink fancy cocktails and stay the night at The Dean Hotel just around the corner — a thoroughly modish, Manhattan-esque boutique hotel. Grab a coffee the next morning at Bolt coffee, situated by the hotel’s lobby, before heading out to explore a city that’s as walkable as it is exciting. Providence has all the conveniences and variety of a large urban space wrapped up in a neat, manageable package.
Whether it’s the city’s classic lobster rolls or its burgeoning craft beer scene you’re after, this coastal New England getaway has something for every palette. For great coffee (and pie!), head to Tandem Coffee + Bakery in the city’s West End. Devotees of this artsy coffee shop-meets-artisan bakery start lining up very early in the morning for a slice of the cafe’s legendary coconut-almond cream pie. With perfect access to the daily catch, Portland is certainly not lacking in raw bars and seafood joints. For a smorgasbord of local oysters, head to Eventide Oyster Co. where you can grab a buttery Connecticut-style lobster roll to go with crudo and other maritime treats.
This charming Alabama city might not be the first place you’d think of as an up-and-coming culinary destination. Thanks to homegrown culinary spirit and an inundation of talent from across the country, Birmingham is currently giving other southern hotspots like Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans a run for their money. Drawing from the enviable surrounding farmland and the Gulf for produce, restaurants such as Hot and Hot Fish Club are garnering awards by offering modern twists on regional cuisine. For a touch of old-school charm, a visit to Highlands Bar and Grill is a must. Chef Frank Stitt couples French flair with an easygoing sense of Southern comfort — that’s hospitality, not the liquor.
The Rust Belt city has plenty to offer diners willing to make the journey to northern Ohio. With roots dating back to 1912, gourmet food hall West Side Market dishes up a slice of culinary history. Take a leisurely tour around the market to sample a true taste of Cleveland’s cuisine — Polish pierogies and paprika chicken alongside artisanal cheese vendors and stands like local favorite Theresa’s Bakery. When you’re not touring the hall, check out world-class breweries such as Great Lakes Brewing Company and Fat Head’s Brewery out by Cleveland’s airport. Naturally, no visit to Cleveland would be complete without a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the lakefront.
Phoenix & Scottsdale, Arizona
The Phoenix-Scottsdale metro area — the two cities are just over a dozen miles apart — might harbor an emerging tech and corporate scene, but it also provides the backdrop to an up-and-coming culinary ethos. At Ocotillo, chefs Sacha Levine and Walter Sterling serve elevated American fare tinged with the flavor of regional Arizona produce — think shishito peppers, toasted chilies and wood-fired short ribs. There’s even a coffee bar on site for an early morning pick-me-up. Staying on the local theme, Craft 64 Pizza in Scottsdale combines local craft brews with traditional and contemporary pies. Once you’ve had your fill of food and drink, burn off the calories with a hike up Camelback Mountain for superb views of Phoenix.
As a city built on barbecue and bourbon, Louisville knows how to have a good time. Yet its culinary claim to fame is an open-faced sandwich (the “hot brown”) that’s neither barbecued nor served with a slug of bourbon but rather a gooey, hearty mix of cheese, turkey, bacon and tomato. For an extended taste of the city’s bourbon history, make time for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Louisville’s modern dining scene is vibrant and well represented, too. Butchertown Grocery might just be the most intriguing — a collaboration between a rock band drummer, an attorney and an adoptive local chef. Louisville is a town full of forward-thinking culinary pleasures, anchored by rich (and delicious) traditions.
Asheville, North Carolina
Beer City, USA — a.k.a. Asheville, North Carolina — has a rich and lengthy tradition of great brewing, as the nickname suggests. Hop on a shuttle tour to get a flavor of the local beer scene, taking in well-known haunts such as Green Man Brewery as well as the recently established East Coast outpost of America’s third largest craft brewer, Sierra Nevada. Good food usually follows good beer, and Asheville is no exception. Drawing influence from its local food culture, Buxton Hall Barbecue was recently named one of Bon Appetit’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants. From a smoky riff on the classic fried chicken sandwich to mashed potatoes topped with pork gravy, Buxton Hall is food-lover’s destination that’s not-to-be-missed .
Contributed by Andrew Burt