The Most Under-the-Radar Food Towns in America Gallery
August 9, 2018
The best of the rest
The Most Under-the-Radar Food Towns in America
When one thinks of the best food cities in the United States, a few obvious places come to mind. There’s New York City, with its famous pizza and bagels. Los Angeles comes to mind, for its fresh produce and trendy, Instagram-worthy dishes. Calling Austin a destination for barbecue would be a bit of an understatement. And there’s San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and so on. You know their names and their reputations. But what about the culinary destinations you don’t think about at first.
Yes, those are the under-the-radar food cities. The smaller yet buzzing metropolises and quaint towns that consistently pump out stellar food and drink without the big-name reputation. There’s Dallas, which often gets overlooked for its flashier sister cities. There’s New Haven, Connecticut, which actually has better pizza than New York or Chicago. And there’s Scottsdale, Arizona; Traverse City, Michigan; and Sacramento, California. You know these cities’ names, but you don’t know their food. Until now. Who knows? You could find your next foodie vacation.
Asheville, North Carolina
Though it’s well established as one of the hippest cities in the South, Asheville, North Carolina, is often overlooked for its culinary scene. But it should not be! Not only does this town have more breweries per capita than any other place in the United States, it was on the forefront of the farm-to-table movement with restaurants like The Market Place. And no Southern city would be a culinary destination without solid barbecue, of which Asheville has plenty. There’s the Obama-approved 12 Bones and Buxton Hall, which roasts whole hogs over a wood fire.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
New Orleans dominates the culinary scene in Louisiana, leaving Baton Rouge underappreciated. But indeed, the Creole and Cajun food here is insanely good. Look no further than Baton Rouge staple Parrain’s Seafood, which has some of the best crawfish étouffée you’ll ever find. In addition to amazing seafood, Baton Rouge has a massively diverse food scene with sushi (UMAMI Japanese Bistro), Mediterranean (Zoroona Mediterranean Grill), and some of the best fried chicken ever at Delpit’s Chicken Shack. Seriously, this place is just as worthy of a culinary tour as its more famous sibling.
There are a lot of Southern culinary destinations, so it’s been easy for Birmingham to be overlooked while giants like Atlanta and New Orleans dominate the conversation. But no longer! This charming Alabama town has Southern staples down pat. Look no further than Café Dupont with their signature buttermilk-fried chicken with a lemon buerre blanc. Birmingham is also home to one of the best restaurants in Alabama: Highlands Bar & Grill. It has a daily rotating menu using seasonal ingredients for its French-inspired Southern menu. While you’re eating your way around Birmingham, be sure to stop by The Market at Pepper Place, a farmers market with 100 vendors selling fresh produce and homemade food goods.
While Denver gets all the hype for beer and food in Colorado, don’t sleep on Boulder. It’s home to the state’s very best restaurant, Frasca Food & Wine, which serves simple yet elegant Italian food in a warm and inviting space. They also have a surprisingly diverse food scene with Argentinian food (Rincon Argentino), Japanese cuisine (Izakaya Amu), and German sausages (Bohemian Biergarten). Plus, in a state full of some of the best breweries in the country, Avery Brewing holds its own, anchored by its fabulous Maharaja Double IPA.
If you find yourself in Vermont, the best food in the state is all in Burlington. Head to this historic town and not only will you find plenty of charm, you’ll find some seriously good eats. There’s Guild Tavern with its wood-fired steaks, traditional Neapolitan style pizzas at Pizzeria Verita, and fine dining at Trattoria Delia and Hen of the Wood. If you’re looking for cheap food, well, Burlington has that too with some fine doughnuts, soup, and one of the best dive bars in the country. Seriously, there’s something for everyone here.
Charleston, West Virginia
Another Charleston may get all the glory when it comes to its food scene (we’re looking at you, South Carolina), but Charleston, West Virginia, is truly where it’s at. Everyone loves pizza, and Lola’s has creative twists on that classic dish like a steak and cheese pie. Of course, this Southern town also has world-class barbecue at Dem 2 Brothers And A Grill with some of the most melt-in-your-mouth delicious brisket you could ever have. If you want to class it up, Charleston is also the home to the best steakhouse in West Virginia, The Chop House, which has a surprisingly great beef Wellington.
Though best known as the home of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is much more than an historic town with a state school. It’s also an exciting and burgeoning culinary destination. They have every kind of food you could ever want, like world-class Neapolitan pizzas at Lampo, soul food like perfectly-fried chicken at Mel’s Café, and French cuisine at Fleurie Restaurant for a special night out on the town. No trip to Charlottesville would be complete without a stop at Citizen Burger Bar, which is serving up creative burgers cooked just right. Their special, the Citizen Burger, features 100 percent grass-fed beef, Swiss cheese, a black onion garlic aïoli, and a fried pickle. We’ll take two.
Melt Bar and Grill/Yelp
Once dubbed “the mistake on the lake,” Cleveland has emerged as a cultural and culinary powerhouse in recent years, regularly serving up the best food in Ohio. Yes, the town has an incredible theatre scene (making it the perfect weekend getaway), but its food is also a show-stopper. Barrio is the design-your-own taco joint that has all the locals buzzing and hours-long waits on the weekend. Be sure to stop by Melt for some outrageous grilled cheese sandwiches, like The Dude Abides, which comes with meatballs, fried mozzarella, and roasted garlic in addition to its cheeses. Cleveland also has some classy eats, like Pier W, which offers up some stunning seafood and Red, The Steakhouse, which has an amazing (and expensive) menu.
Texas is the home of barbecue, and Dallas is no exception. Pecan Lodge is a barbecue joint worth waiting in line for just for the burnt ends and brisket alone. Because Dallas-Fort Worth is a sprawling metropolis (to say the least), its best restaurants are wide-spanning. There’s Flora Street Café, with inventive dishes inspired by old-school Texas; Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, which serves a perfect steak; and Tei-An, which has beautiful sushi and Japanese soba noodles. Austin may get all the hype, but Dallas is coming right up on it.
Honolulu, Hawaii, is known as a prime vacation and beach destination, but it’s a haven of fresh seafood without any sort of pretension. Indeed, Honolulu has some of the best food in Hawaii, including great dim sum at Fook Lam, solid carne asada tacos at Alejandro’s, and beautiful pasta like the spaghetti alla pescatora at Arancino di Mare. Yes, of course, the best food in Honolulu is seafood. Ono Seafood is a hole-in-the-wall poke place the locals flock to in droves for the fresh fish, and Fresh Ahi Off the Boat serves just that (once again in a very casual setting).
Kansas City, Missouri
Let’s get it out of the way: Kansas City has some killer barbecue. Anchored by its ribs, Arthur Bryant’s is arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America, and Q39 Midtown takes their barbecue to the next level with the Burnt End Burger — that’s right, it’s a hamburger topped with even more meat. Beyond the barbecue, Kansas City has upscale dining such as Le Fou Frog with elegant entrées such as a Chilean sea bass and an insanely good lobster bisque. Bluestem is also the go-to spot for a night out on the town for locals, with its 10-course dinner defining fine Kansas City dining. Cheap eats, expensive eats — you can find whatever you want here.
Often overshadowed by that other L-city in Kentucky (cough cough, Louisville), people from Lexington know this is where the real good food in the state is. While this city is home of the best steakhouse in the state, Malone’s, with its infrared broiler-cooked beef, that’s not all. It just has some restaurants that do food really, really well. Look no further than Honeywood for fresh takes on Southern cuisine, like a sautéed Gulf white shrimp and grouper over Weisenberger Mill cheese grits and greens. Farm Market promises the "best tamales in town,” and delivers well on that promise. Of course, no Kentucky city would be complete without a great bourbon trail, so be sure to hit up Barrel House Distilling, Bluegrass Distillers, James E Pepper Distillery, and more for some proper bourbon.
New Haven, Connecticut
Do you want the very best pizza in America? Go to New Haven, Connecticut. In addition to being the home of Yale, New Haven is a Neapolitan-style pizza wonderland, led by the clam pie at Frank Pepe. It sounds weird, but stay with us. The combination of littleneck clams with garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust is truly magical. But that’s not all! Sally's Apizza, Modern Apizza, and Bar all serve similarly world-class pies. It’s all a matter of personal preference which you choose (or which has the shortest line on any given day). Beyond the pizza, New Haven is home to Louis’ Lunch, where the hamburger reportedly originated, and one of the best breweries in the state, New England Brewing Co., isn’t too far away. Eating and drinking your way through this town is a true delight that is not to be overlooked.
Orlando may be best known as the home of Walt Disney World, but move away from the theme parks and head out into the town to experience some amazing food. Like all proper Florida cities, there’s no shortage of amazing seafood in Orlando; their outpost of Eddie V's is a local favorite, according to the Orlando Sentinel. You can get any meal of the day here, and it will be mind-blowing. Locals love First Watch and Keke’s for breakfast, and Mission BBQ is great for a hearty lunch. And OK, if you must stick with the Mouse, Epcot is full of culinary delights from around the world.
Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island is a small state, but the culinary scene in its capital Providence is huge. You can have any kind of experience you want here. Led by Chef Ben Sukle and his ambitious 18-seat restaurant Birch, you can enjoy some serious fine dining here. If you’re looking for a quicker bite, you’ll find some of the finest eggs and home fries anywhere at local favorite Eddie’s Diner and “mobile bistro” Plouf Plouf Gastronomie, one of America’s best food trucks. Providence is also home to one of America’s best culinary schools at Johnson and Wales University. The best thing about eating your way through Providence is that this city is very, very pedestrian-friendly, so you can have a bite to eat and walk it off on your way to your next meal.
The Kitchen Restaurant/Yelp
The food and drink scene in California is dominated by Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, but Sacramento is coming on hot. Beyond its amazing farm-to-table scene, California’s capital has exciting seasonal dining like The Kitchen, with a menu that changes monthly. And Sacramento’s food scene is only growing. New arrivals like the fresh seafood Italian fine dining spot Allora, the hip tiki bar with a deviled Scotch egg to die for Ten Ten Room, and German beer hall Oakhaus show this city’s food is diverse and delicious.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Southwestern food may be easily found all across the United States, but no one does it quite like Santa Fe. This New Mexico city even has its own slang term for their chiles: Christmas, which means you want both the red and green guys in your dinner. It logically follows the best food in this under-the-radar food town is spicy and surprising. The green chile stew at The Shed is made with made with roasted chiles, potatoes, and chunks of lean pork for a hearty yet healthy lunch. As one could expect, the tacos in Santa Fe are also killer; food truck El Chile Toreado and casual spot Palacio Café lead the way for this favorite street food. If you want a nice night out on the town, we suggest heading to The Anasazi for an expensive yet quintessential New Mexican dining experience.
Scottsdale may be best known for its resorts and spas, but venture outside your hotel for a day of eating out on the town. The gorgeous weather in this Arizona city means that it has diverse and fresh produce available year-round and a vibrant vegetarian restaurant scene. Led by James Beard-nominated chef Charleen Badman, FnB makes even a simple dish like Brussels sprouts, curry, mint, and cashews incredibly exciting. Those looking for a little bit of meat will be best served at Japanese steakhouse Roka Akor for premium fresh sushi and beautifully cooked steaks.
St. Louis, Missouri
Come for the Gateway Arch, stay for the food. Like its fellow Missouri under-the-radar town Kansas City, St. Louis is often overlooked in favor of bigger cities with flashier reputations. But it shouldn’t be. Beyond the bustling food truck scene (led by our personal favorite Go Gyro Go), St. Louis has some of the best food in its state, from the insanely crispy fried chicken at Sweetie Pie's to beautiful and colorful plates of pasta at Trattoria Marcella.
Traverse City, Michigan
Grand Traverse Pie Company/Yelp
This buzzing summer getaway town is one of our favorite towns for beer and wine. The trio of breweries, Right Brain, North Peak, and Short’s, make some of the most inventive beers in the country. Vineyards here, like Chateau Grand Traverse, are among some of America’s best wineries as well. You could plan an entire trip around the scrumptious pies at Grand Traverse Pie Company and the five-course dinner menu at The Cooks' House, but you’d be remiss to forego the National Cherry Festival during the first week of July. It’s a tart cherry lover’s idea of heaven. For more heavenly food towns in America, check out the best cities overall for eating and drinking in the country.
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