taco trio

Photo by Doug Merriam

Under-the-Radar Food Cities

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You may not think of these places as food destinations, but you should

Certain cities are known for their cuisine. When you visit New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans, you know that whatever hits your plate will likely be some of the best on the planet. But other cities are stepping up their food games, too. Here’s a look at some places where foodies will be pleasantly surprised.

Santa Fe, N.M.

With just over 82,000 people, Santa Fe may be a small town but it has a big appetite. Believe it or not, there are more than 400 restaurants — each one tastier than the last. Take, for example, Sazon. Its name was no accident. In Spanish, sazon means “just the right taste” and “the perfect moment,” which is spot on for both accounts. Chef Fernando Oleo’s contemporary twist on traditional Mexican cuisine works like magic. Try the xochimila — corn truffle over mini tortillas with exotic spices and asadero cheese or berejena — with stuffed eggplant, zucchini, corn, tomato, and Gruyère cheese. Not only is the food memorable, but so is the service and setting with awesome artwork from Mexico’s top talents. For breakfast, hit Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen. Locals love the breakfast burrito with its black beans, sweet potato, fried egg, and green chile wrapped in a wheat tortilla topped with Jack cheese.

Providence, R.I.

Providence, Rhode Island is such a nice place to live that big-name chefs are flocking there to set up shop and do their own thing in a city far more affordable than the likes of New York City. Come ready to feast. Nick’s on Broadway is big on locally sourced ingredients. Chef Derek Wagner will prepare a four-course meal for you. Starters include pumpkin and carrot soup, onion and olive oil with crème fraiche and chargrilled pesto bread, salads, and more. The challenge will be choosing a main course. Do you go for the chargrilled Hopkins Farm lamb with white bean cassoulet cauliflower and kale or the Rhode Island mushrooms, butternut squash, and wilted greens with squash, mushroom, pecorino herbs and ricotta? You’ll regret it if you don’t eat at Persimmon, which is known for its contemporary American cuisine.

Sacramento, Calif.

This capital city is no Los Angeles or San Francisco, and it doesn’t need to be. It has an identity of its own and a big part of it is food. Sacramento was into farm-to-table long before it was fashionable — it was just a way of life.  Sit down anywhere in town and expect to see buzz words like local, seasonal, sustainable, and artisan on the menus. At Mulvaney’s B&L, the menu changes daily based on what the farmers are offering. You know you’re in for a treat because the restaurant founder and lead chef is Patrick Mulvaney, a leader in the farm-to-table movement. Hand-crafted New American is the order of the day at his restaurant. You just know the eating is going to be good when you see a huge piece of salmon or a pig roasting on a giant grill alongside the restaurant. Ella's Dining Room and Bar is noted for their happy hour but definitely stay for dinner. Try the seared scallops with braised lentils, roasted delicata squash, crispy leeks and pomegranate molasses.

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