Top 10 Under-the-Radar Towns Slideshow
June 7, 2013
These cities will surprise your taste buds and your travel itinerary
10. Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii
Say aloha to good food and beautiful scenery in Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." The journey to visit the canyon, which was created by a massive earthquake, is well worth the effort, with stunning lookout points along the way. Kokee State Park is a rainforest consisting of more than 4,400 acres and offers hikes along the rim of Waimea Canyon. The restaurant at Kokee Lodge may be a simple lunch café, but the pulled pork sandwiches with homemade barbecue sauce contain some of the best slow-roasted pork you’ve ever tasted. The Greek salad, made from locally grown lettuce and tomatoes, balances out the meal, but if you finish with the coconut pie you might need to head out on another hike through the canyon.
9. Vail, Colo.
Vail’s reputation for fine dining continues to evolve with the opening of new, internationally popular offerings such as Matsuhisa, regional favorite Elway’s, and the growing national spotlight that continues to shine on Restaurant Kelly Liken. Kelly Liken offers an experience unlike any other with their "Meet Your Farmers" dinners: during an unforgettable four-course meal paired with Colorado wine, diners get the chance to meet and greet with notable Rocky Mountain farmers such as Carol Morales, who supplies fresh herbs and vegetables, and Kevin Story, who raises the delectable poultry the restaurant serves. You also get the chance to meet local Colorado winemakers, such as Lance Hanson of Peak Spirits. When dining, make sure to order the potato-crusted trout fillet with shallot-studded haricot verts, cherry tomatoes, and a lemon beurre blanc.
To burn off all of that wonderful food and wine, do not miss taking a beautiful hike in the Vail Valley.
8. Des Moines, Iowa
Are you in the mood for some of the best barbecue in the Midwest? You might be thinking St. Louis, but head on over to the Flying Mango (don’t let the name deceive you) in Des Moines. This spot is firmly rooted in traditional barbecue, and they serve their barbecue with a side of culture. Enjoy your meal while gazing at Mississippi artist H.C. Porter’s vibrant work. The staff is everything you’d expect in the Midwest — sweet and hospitable. You might even be lucky enough to be in town for one of the Flying Mango’s Redneck Dinners, special music events featuring national blues roots music acts and special menus; check their website to see what’s coming up. Make sure not to miss the house specialty of smoked brisket and coleslaw. Before you head out of Des Moines, make sure you stop by the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which features 21 different sculptures from artists across the world.
7. Biloxi, Miss.
It’s no secret that Southerners know how to cook. Just a quick jaunt from New Orleans, Biloxi's food scene will not disappoint. Check out Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, a small hole-in-the-wall that boasts incredible local fair heavily influenced by French and Cajun cuisines. Don’t miss out on their self-proclaimed superb steaks and succulent seafood. Try the shrimp and crab au gratin, a house specialty. Before you leave Biloxi, make sure to visit Beauvoir, the plantation home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. Completed in 1852, the home is the site of Davis’ retirement and is now a memorial and the new home of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.
6. Pasadena, Calif.
When people think of Pasadena, they most often think of the Rose Bowl, and while the sweet smell of roses and the prospect of victory draw crowds to this classic Southern California town, taste is the sense visitors should be most concerned with. Pasadena has a blossoming food scene; eateries around town combine good food with great architecture. One special spot in particular is The Raymond Restaurant, a caretaker’s cottage in the 1800s that now boasts an innovative, contemporary American menu. Start with their cured maple bourbon pork belly and follow that up with the equally meaty, melt-in-your-mouth Angus beef short ribs while sitting out on the patio. When you’re finished with your meal, take a trip to The Gamble House, designed in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company. This National Historic Landmark is a prime example of Pasadena’s arts-and-crafts style architecture.
5. Gualala, Calif.
You’ve probably never heard of the small town of Gualala, but it is truly one of California’s best-kept secrets. Gualala is located in Northern California’s Mendocino County, north of The Sea Ranch on the Pacific coast at the mouth of the Gualala River. While the whales linger for lunch during their yearly migrations, food lovers should visit Surf Market, where owner Steve May‘s passion for sustainable fish is only matched by his enthusiasm for sailing. Buy the cedar planked verlasso salmon; chef Rich Fesler seasons it with lemon and rosemary and grills it to pure perfection.
Stay at the Sea Ranch Lodge or the rustic cabins at St. Orres, where you can dine on California cuisine like garlic flan with locally foraged black chanterelles or rack of venison with wild huckleberries.
4. Savannah, Ga.
Savannah, Ga. has a charm that extends from the plates into the streets, and anyone who has seen the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil won't be disappointed when visiting the real setting. Take a walk through the four open squares laid out in 1769 and originally intended to provide colonists with space for military exercises, then make your way over to The Lady and Sons. Food Network star Paula Deen's landmark restaurant, The Lady & Sons, began back in June 1989, when Deen started The Bag Lady out of her home, and since then it has grown into a world-renowned restaurant and full-service catering venue. No one does fried green tomatoes like the South, and Deen's cornmeal-crusted and fried version is unbelievable.
3. Santa Fe, N.M.
If you’re an art lover, you won’t want to miss a trip to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, N.M. Now owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, her Abiquiu home is open for tours to the public daily. Try to take a tour on a Thursday; you’ll get the chance to be guided by the Historic Properties manager, who spent more than 10 years working with O’Keeffe. You’ll get insights into her daily life unlike any other.
Before you embark on the journey to Abiquiu, though, make a food fueling stop at the famous Coyote Café. The restaurant was founded by Mark Miller; the chef and iconic restaurateur who brought Southwestern cuisine to the forefront. You cannot go wrong ordering on this menu, with a house margarita in hand, but don’t miss the chance to order the tamales. Whether you order a smoked duck, mushroom, or a more conventional chicken green chile, you will think you are in heaven.
2. Hyde Park, N.Y.
Just a short train ride from New York City, Hyde Park is a beautiful, quaint town dotted with interesting sites like the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the CIA — no, not that CIA, the main campus of the Culinary Institute of America. If you love food, you cannot miss American Bounty Restaurant. This restaurant, run by CIA students, features mouthwatering, traditional American foods made with only the best local ingredients. Make sure to try the Hudson Valley Moulard duck breast with creamy sweet potatoes; it will leave you craving more. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, make sure you stop at another CIA favorite, the Apple Pie Bakery Café, to try the apple pie; it is, after all, the reason the bakery exists.
1. Reno, Nevada
Tucked away near the Truckee River is an unexpected culinary hot spot. Yes, believe it or not, a renowned, award-winning chef calls "The Biggest Little City in the World" home. Mark Estee and his neighborhood restaurant Campo have taken the town by storm. Campo is a place where locals mix and mingle while feasting on dishes, like house-made Napoletana pizzas, pastas, and salumi. For some of the best bites in the city, try their kale salad or caramel budino for dessert. And we're not the only ones singing this local spot's praises; Campo was named one of the Best New Restaurants of 2012 by Esquire magazine. Before Campo, Estee started a casual burger joint, Burger Me, in nearby Truckee, Calif., which then expanded to Reno, and recently launched a food truck. Burger Me turns the American staple into an art form without pretension or complication, simply by working with fresh, natural ingredients. The burgers start with local, all-natural ground chuck, and are finished however the customer likes it (if you're feeling ambitious, try the Train Wreck, a burger topped with an onion ring, chili, Cheddar, and a fried egg). For another delicious food truck bite, stop by GourMelt, from grilled cheese goddesses Jessie Watnes and Haley Wood. We like The Bumble Brie (sliced green apples, ham, honey, and melted Brie on cinnamon-apple bread).
And of course, no trip to Reno would be complete without popping into one of the city's many casinos for a shot of tequila. Hussong’s Cantina-Taqueria recently opened in the Silver Legacy and boasts authentic, fresh Baja street fare. Quench your thirst by trying the original margarita or spice things up with the El Pepino variation (made with muddled jalapeños).
To round out your trip to Reno, be sure to snap a picture under the famous arch and cruise by the National Automobile Museum, featuring more than 220 antique, vintage, classic, and special interest cars. And don’t miss the 45-minute drive to Lake Tahoe to hit the slopes or take a dip in the lake. Reno as a food lover's destination — who knew?