The best part of travel is experiencing other cultures, and there’s no better way to get to know a culture than to get to know its cuisine. In a country as diverse as the United States, there are countless diverse cuisines, ranging from international fare brought over by immigrants to regional delicacies like barbecue in the Carolinas or Cajun cooking in Louisiana. While food lovers flock to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other famous culinary destinations, there are still some places that don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Restaurant scenes are emerging in growing cities across the country, with their own local flavor and food trends as well as borrowed inspiration from other cuisines throughout the country and the world. Many travel destinations more famous for other attractions have been overlooked in terms of their culinary excellence — but these towns are worth a trip for the restaurants alone. From sea to shining sea, consider a trip to these 35 towns that aren’t as known for their food as they should be.
Santa Fe is a bastion of Southwestern cuisine, and it has a special love for chiles, so much so that there’s a local slang term for when you want both red and green chiles in your food: Christmas. One of the best American casual restaurants, The Shed, serves up an amazing green chile stew — as well as all things wrapped in a tortilla, which you can also find at Tia Sophia’s or Pink Adobe. If you can’t get enough of tacos, there’s also food truck El Chile Toreado and Palacio Café. For a more upscale New Mexican dining experience, The Anasazi is a good choice or go for the chic vibe at Eloisa where modern twists on Southwestern cuisine fill the menu.
A popular weekend getaway destination, Asheville is more famous for its mountain scenery, architecture, and artistic scene than it is for its food. Find delicious Carolina barbecue at restaurants like 12 Bones (which has hosted the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama) and Buxton Hall. Asheville was one of the cities where the farm-to-table movement first gained ground at restaurants like The Market Place, and it’s also the city with the most breweries per capita in America. To indulge your sweet tooth, check out doughnut shop Hole or local chocolatiers at French Broad Chocolate Lounge, and for tapas and drinks, check out Cúrate, one of the best restaurants in America.
The South Central Pennsylvanian city of Lancaster isn’t on many people’s radar as a destination, but with so many local farms and some fascinating farmers markets, the food scene here is truly inspired. At the forefront of the slow-food movement, Maison has fewer than 10 tables and an open kitchen that serves seasonal dishes like mushroom gnocchi with truffle cream and bacon jam or handmade burrata with smoked prosciutto and green garlic almond pesto. Enjoy gourmet pizza and craft cocktails at The Pressroom Restaurant and Bar for a more low-key night.
Frasca Food and Wine/Yelp
The mountain city of Boulder tends to get overshadowed by nearby Denver’s beer and food scene, but its own restaurants are nothing to scoff at. Frasca Food & Wine is one of America’s top restaurants, serving simple and sophisticated Italian food, and you can explore more cuisines throughout the city such as Japanese food at Izakaya Amu, German sausages at Bohemian Biergarten and Argentinian fare at Rincon Argentino.
Home to the popular Panera Bread chain, the city of St. Louis is a great destination with a serious restaurant scene. St. Louis has a bustling food truck scene, with notable stops like Go Gyro Go, as well as any kind of cuisine you might desire, from the very crispy fried chicken at Sweetie Pie’s to the colorful and Instagram-worthy pasta at Trattoria Marcella. There are also plenty of trendy spots like Vicia, which serves “veggie-forward cuisine” such as turnip shell tacos and coal roasted potatoes, or Rooster, a perfect brunch place where you can enjoy goat cheese crepes or Finnish pancakes.
Providence is a small city, but the locals definitely have a big palette. Experience the best of small town New England but with all the cosmopolitan cuisine options you could want. Caserta Pizzeria is one of the best old-school pizzerias, and local favorite Eddie’s Diner serves some great eggs and home fries. For a more exclusive experience, try to get a table at the 18-seat Birch, which boasts contemporary American dishes prepared with classical techniques.
Popular for its scenery and weather perfect for a winter getaway, Honolulu doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for its equally beautiful culinary scene. Fresh seafood abounds here, and it’s particularly good at places like Ono Seafood, a small poke spot with fresh fish, and Fresh Ahi Off the Boat, which lives up to its name. You’ll also find more than just local specialties, however, such as delicious carne asada tacos at Alejandro’s and amazing dim sum at Fook Lam. Senia’s menu is a super contemporary and minimalistic take on Hawaiian food, and Michel’s at the Colony Surf has breathtaking ocean views alongside French-inspired cuisine, making it one of the nation’s best beach restaurants.
As Texas is famed for its barbecue, Dallas is no exception, and the burnt ends and brisket at Pecan Lodge are particularly noteworthy. Eat the perfect steak at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, and have some sushi and Japanese soba noodles at Tei-An. Flora Street Café serves up creative dishes inspired by traditional Texan fare. For some classic Tex-Mex, check out Avila’s or try the pho at modern Vietnamese restaurant Một Hai Ba.
The Black Sheep/Yelp
There’s a lot more to restaurant scene in Buffalo than just their famous wings. Top pizza parlors in New York’s second largest city include Bocce Club Pizza, Jay’s Artisan Pizza and La Nova. For a farm-to-table experience, The Black Sheep utilizes local produce to make simple dishes, while Toutant is the place you want to go for Southern food. For a bit more spice, check out West Side Bazaar, where you can try all sorts of foods from around the world — the market endorses small businesses owned by refugees, immigrants and low-income families.
Roka Akor - Scottsdale/Yelp
Scottsdale’s year-round great weather means that you get a variety of fresh produce any time of the year, as well as impressive vegetarian options throughout. James Beard-nominated Charleen Badman’s FnB brings simple dishes like Brussels sprouts up to the next level with exciting ingredients. Meat lovers will appreciate Japanese steakhouse Roka Akor, which serves perfectly cooked steaks and premium fresh sushi, and Gertrude’s serves dishes with Native American ingredients and ancient grains.
Indianapolis has the best of both worlds in terms of Midwestern cuisine and restaurants for a more cosmopolitan palette. You don’t need a reservation for Milktooth, the best brunch spot in the state, where you can enjoy Dutch baby pancakes filled with manchego and grapefruit or a lamb burger topped with shiitake and Asiago. For farm-to-table food and interesting cocktails, Bluebeard is another great option in the city.
Quite possibly the coolest city in New Jersey, Jersey City’s diversity offers tons of food options, many with a fantastic view of the New York skyline. Battello is an elegant waterfront restaurant with delicious Italian cuisine, and Talde dishes up the best of Asian fusion dishes. The 27 wonderful varities of pancakes at Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory are alone worth a trip to the city, and Razza was once declared by famed New York Times food critic Pete Wells to have the best New York-style pizza.
Easy Bistro & Bar/Yelp
Located about two hours from Nashville, Chattanooga is an affordable destination with plenty to do outdoors — and plenty to eat indoors. Have a Southern brunch at Easy Bistro & Bar before a lunch at Alleia, where handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas are sure to fill you up. Chattanooga Market is a bastion of amazing street food from around the world, and Champy’s Fried Chicken is perfect for when you’re craving fried food.
Located in proximity to not just one, but three wine regions, Healdsburg is a small town perfect for aspiring sommeliers, but there’s also a fantastic food scene to accompany those wines. You’ll find the absolute best chili in the country at Jimtown Store, and local winemakers and farmers provide for a lot of the fantastic menu at Valette. Reservations are highly recommended for a seat at Barndiva, a modern barn setting where you can dine on dishes that showcase the best of local farming, and you should definitely get a patio seat at Campo Fina for some crisp wood-fired pizza.
This half of the Twin Cities has a ton of hidden gems for food lovers. Minneapolis’ Scandinavian heritage can be seen in the New Nordic cuisine that’s popular with restaurants like HauteDish, a brunch favorite, and Fika. The largest immigrant community here comes from Somalia, which has led to quite a bit of East African eateries popping up, most notable Safari Restaurant, a casual Somali spot. The cheese-stuffed Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar is one of the best burgers you’ll ever eat, and Unideli is one of the best ramen shops in America.
A charming New England city, Burlington is perhaps the best food town in Vermont. Enjoy brunch with Vermont maple syrup on buckwheat or gingerbread pancakes at Penny Cluse Café, and experience the epitome of Vermont food culture with a visit to the Farmers and Foragers food truck, where you can pair a Vermont cheesesteak with a local craft beer. You’ll find the best Italian food at fine dining restaurant Trattoria Delia, and some deliciously traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas at Pizzeria Verita or wood-fired steaks at Guild Tavern. For dessert, discover some of New England’s best chocolate with a trip to Lake Champlain Chocolates, where outrageous flavors are presented in gourmet style.
Detroit has been making a comeback in a lot of ways, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the restaurant scene of Motown. Corktown, the Brooklyn of the state, is the perfect neighborhood for food lovers, with plenty of things to try such as the Detroit-style coney dogs at Onassis Coney Island or the Thai-inspired dishes at Takoi. Throughout the rest of the city, you’ll find spots like New Parthenon, an institution of Greek food, and Polish Village Café, where you can enjoy classics like pierogi and kielbasa. Of course, you can’t leave the city without grabbing a slice of Detroit-style pizza from its birthplace, Buddy’s Pizza.
Lying right in the heart of the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, Lexington is popular with bourbon lovers, but it offers plenty of food to pair with the local whiskey. One of the city’s best restaurants is Malone’s, a standout steakhouse with infrared broiler-cooked beef. Farm Market, a small and colorfully decorated Mexican joint, claims to have the best tamales in town, and not many beg to differ. For some solid Southern cuisine, Honeywood has creative twists on Southern classics, such as their sautéed Gulf white shrimp and grouper over Weisenberger Mill cheese grits and greens.
Known for its Mormon heritage and fantastic mountain scenery, Salt Lake City is highly underrated as a food destination. Utah’s best casual restaurant is The Park Café, which has a perfect brunch menu after perfecting the classics. Enjoy authentic Mexican family recipes at Red Iguana and top-tier Tuscan cuisine at Valter’s Osteria. Sports bar Lucky 13 has the best burger in Utah, their house-smoked bacon cheeseburger, and Settebello’s pizza uses ingredients imported from Italy to make their wood-fired Neapolitan pizza.
Charlottesville has a lot of history, but also a lot of food. Try different and creative burger combinations at Citizen Burger Bar or go for some fried chicken and soul food at Mel’s Café. Taste delicious French cuisine at Fleurie Restaurant or go for Neapolitan pizza at Lampo. Virginian ingredients go into North Italian cuisine at Palladio, a fine dining hotspot that also offers culinary classes with their executive chef, and Littlejohn’s puts a Southern spin on a New York-style deli.
Another hidden New England gem for food lovers, Portsmouth is chock-full of options. The bacon double cheeseburger at Gilley's is among the best in the country, as are its hot dogs. Dine on the best Italian food at Tuscan Kitchen or Ristorante Massimo, one of the most romantic restaurants in America. You can find creative Latin American cuisine at Black Trumpet or fresh local seafood at Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café.
UMAMI Japanese Bistro/Yelp
Cajun and Creole flavors serve to spice up the Southern hospitality of Baton Rouge’s culinary scene. Because the city is located not too far from the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is an absolute must in Baton Rouge, and you’d be remiss to skip a meal at Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant, where étouffée is particularly noteworthy. You won’t be limited to just Southern and regional cuisine either; enjoy sushi at UMAMI Japanese bistro, delicious fried chicken at Delpit’s Chicken Shack, and Mediterranean food at Zoroona Mediterranean Grill.
California’s capital is often overshadowed by other California destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, especially when it comes to food. However, Sacramento has a noteworthy farm-to-table scene, as displayed during the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival. The ever-changing menus at The Kitchen and Canon provide seasonal dining, while Italian fine dining restaurant Allora serves fresh seafood.
There’s a burgeoning and impressive culinary scene in the small Southern city of Greensville. GB&D’s fried chicken and burgers are the best kind of comfort food, but if you’re looking for a place that has more of a focus on sustainability and locally sourcing their ingredients, Anchorage is a casual spot that’s worth checking out. Try some modern takes on Mediterranean cuisine like the delicious Greek food at Jī-rōz or the creative Italian dishes at Jianna.
Possibly the best destination in the state, Cleveland is a cultural and culinary hub of Ohio. Design your own taco at Barrio, and go for an outrageous grilled cheese sandwich at Melt. For something a bit more upscale, try the seafood at Pier W or spring for a pricey meal at Red, The Steakhouse. Try the local favorite pizzeria Citizen Pie, or check out the impressive bourbon list that accompanies the menu at Mabel’s BBQ.
Telluride is one of the most romantic cities in the world, surrounded by the scenery of San Juan Mountains, and home to Colorado’s best date spot, the snowbound Alpino Vino restaurant which is only accessible via ski lift or snow coach. Eat authentic Italian cuisine at La Piazza Del Villaggio, contemporary Asian fusion at Siam’s Talay Grille and a seasonal menu at Floradora Saloon, which serves creative entrees such as coconut curry mussels and duck gumbo.
Mr. B’s - A Bartolotta Steakhouse/Yelp
There’s more to the food of Wisconsin than cheese and beer, and Milwaukee’s culinary scene is one of the best in the Midwest. Among the best Italian restaurants in America is Ristorante Bartoletta, and Mr. B’s award-winning steaks are flown in fresh from Nebraska and Colorado and then aged for up to 35 days. Enjoy regional-styled hot dogs at Vanguard, and some of America’s best fried chicken at Tomken’s Bar & Grill.
Ji Young L./Yelp
Portland is an underappreciated culinary destination, and a great first stop would be to Fore Street where local cuisine and wood-fired specialties have earned the restaurant much praise. BRGR Bar sources the finest ingredients for its burgers, and Hot Suppa for traditional Southern cuisine. Fresh pasta and sauces are made daily at Paciarino, and locally-sourced beef makes the steak at Timber Steakhouse & Restaurant stand out, as does its slow-roasted rotisserie chicken. For a more interesting meal, try the lobster rolls served on Chinese steamed buns at Eventide Oyster Co. or head to Honey Paw, where the menu has dishes inspired by the cuisines of China, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand such as their wok-fried noodles and mushroom tom kha.
Birmingham is more than just a destination for Southern cuisine. While you will find some of the best fried chicken in the country at Café Dupont, the city is also home to Café Bottega, one of the best Italian American restaurants. For a more romantic atmosphere, try Highlands Bar & Grill, where a daily rotating menu features seasonal ingredients and French-inspired Southern dishes. Hot and Hot Fish Club gives its own Southern flair to seasonal fare, and the critically-acclaimed SAW’s BBQ serves up Carolina-style smoked pulled pork, chicken and ribs.
Kansas City has a solid restaurant scene that’s worth traveling for. The city has particularly fantastic barbecue; Arthur Bryant’s is one of the most famous barbecue restaurants in the country, and Q39 Midtown takes it up a notch. Jess & Jim’s is one of the top steakhouses in America, and both Town Topic and Winstead’s serve up amazing burgers. If you’re looking for something more upscale, go for a 10-course dinner at Bluestem or the Chilean sea bass and lobster bisque at Le Fou Frog.
Ga Young L./Yelp
New Haven-style pizza, referred to locally as “apizza,”, is critically acclaimed and worth a trip to the city by itself. Five New Haven pizzerias made our list of America’s best pizzas: Sally’s Apizza, Modern Apizza, Ernie’s Pizzeria, Brü Room at Bar and Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which topped the list with their white clam pizza. Another must-stop is the legendary Louis’ Lunch, recognized by the Library of Congress as being the birthplace of the hamburger. Try the Northern Chinese food at Junzi Kitchen or some Ethiopian cuisine at Lalibela.
Ga Young L./Yelp
Idaho’s potatoes are great, but so is a lot of the rest of its food. Home to the country’s largest Basque community, a visit to Basque Block will give you access to plenty of restaurants with traditional cuisine from the northern Spanish region. Northwestern comfort food at Fork makes for a great brunch, while Chandler’s steaks and seafood make for an elegant fine dining experience.
An underrated small town with an underrated culinary scene, Traverse City is a great city for beer lovers as well as aspiring sommeliers. Have a five-course dinner at The Cooks’ House before getting dessert with Grand Traverse Pie Company — or visit during the first week of July, when the city hosts the National Cherry Festival. During the warmer months, The Little Fleet has multiple food trucks serving everything from tacos to barbecue to poke bowls, and The Cooks’ House celebrates farm-to-table with a minimalist style.
North Carolina’s capital isn’t seen as a bastion of culinary experiences, but Raleigh has been emerging as a serious foodie spot. Try some Loatian cuisine at the critically acclaimed Bida Manda or go for the Indian and Pan-Asian cuisine served in a modern setting at Herons. Poole’s Downtown Diner serves American classics and creative cocktails, while Cortez Seafood and Cocktail serves fresh seafood with a Mexican flair and accompanied by craft cocktails. Chuck’s Dirty South Burger is the best burger in North Carolina, with impressively heavy toppings, and The Pit serves some of the best ribs in America.
The West Virginia capital of Charleston is home to many of the state’s best culinary options. Try creative takes on pizza at Lola’s, such as their steak and cheese pie, or go for a delicious beef Wellington at The Chophouse. Delicious brisket can be had at Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill, and the veg-focused Bluegrass Kitchen is perfect for brunch. Family-run Fazio’s is also worth a visit, specializing in the red-sauce basics of their Italian fare and a definite must-stop for anyone looking to try the best food and drink in every state.
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