Is the main drag in your hometown a strip mall? Does going out to eat mean choosing between fast food and a chain restaurant? Are you longing for filet mignon but forced to settle for ground beef?
If you consider yourself a foodie, you know that eating is about more than having a meal; it’s about having an experience. You want to know the origins of what’s on your plate. You want to be dazzled by the chef’s artistry. You want dinner to be an occasion you’ll remember. For foodies, savoring a dish is an experience often associated with travel. But why wait until vacation to have that moment? Make every meal a celebration of taste by moving to one of the following seven places.
Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is practically synonymous with the word “foodie,” so of course it makes an appearance on this list. The region is comprised of small towns, sun drenched vineyards and cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. Expect luxurious restaurants, wineries that serve picnic lunches and the occasional voyage on the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, an antique train that serves elegant meals on board while meandering across 25 miles of track and stopping at vineyards along the way.
From downtown Napa, which features fresh infusions of culinary talent, to Yountville, home to Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry and its pricey but oh so worth it prix fixe tasting menu, there’s no shortage of incredible dining experiences in Napa Valley. With seven Michelin starred restaurants in the area, 391 wineries, an annual truffle festival and a monthly culinary crawl, it’s easy to see why Napa Valley is foodie heaven.
When most foodies think of Colorado, they think of slope-side fine dining in Aspen or farm to table kitchens in Boulder. That’s why Pueblo is such a delightful find. The town of 108,249 residents doubles in size each year for one of the most unique celebrations of food in the country: the Pueblo Chile Festival. The event pays homage to Pueblo’s native chile pepper, which grows hot and sweet thanks to the region’s long, warm days, ample sunshine and cool nights.
The foodie spirit of the annual festival inspires great dining year round. Expect restaurants with a signature Colorado focus on sustainability paired with the heat of local chiles. Experience the flavor for yourself at Mexican restaurants like Cactus Flower, which offers housemade tamales and Bingo Burger, which features made to order burgers with Pueblo’s local chiles mixed right in.
You already know that everything is bigger in Texas. For foodies in Dallas, that logic is best applied to your appetite. The city’s culinary scene focuses on southern classics and Tex Mex. If you prefer southern food, you can easily find a Texas-sized chicken fried steak (there’s a whole day devoted to celebrating chicken fried steak in Dallas) paired with white gravy, biscuits and black-eyed peas. If you like a little south of the border influence, look for street tacos with generous portions of queso.
From celebrity chef fixtures, like Wolfgang Puck’s Five Sixty, which serves Asian classics and sake with views from the 50th floor of the Reunion Tower to Rudy’s Chicken, a no-frills joint so good it was awarded a grant from the city, every meal in Dallas feels like a warm Lone Star greeting.
Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is an artist’s hamlet with a creative restaurant scene to match. Locals are known for their love of the outdoors, but they won’t settle for just any old post-hike beer and meal.
Besides having more breweries per capita than any US city, Asheville has a robust farm to table dining community. You can experience the freshness and the flavor at restaurants like Tupelo Honey, which grows its own tomatoes, lettuce, herbs and berries and incorporates local ingredients into every dish, or at Table Asheville, a seasonal spot with a menu that changes every day to suit the whims of the harvest. You can even take a farm to table tour, where you’ll see Asheville’s farms, meet the people who grow the crops and sample local meals along the way.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Located in the high desert of New Mexico, Santa Fe is the nation’s oldest state capital, but there’s always something new happening with food.
You might assume that the Santa Fe culinary scene is defined by southwestern cuisine, but it’s so much more nuanced than that. When the sun sets in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the culinary offerings come to life. While the region’s signature spice makes an appearance in many dishes, foodies aren’t compelled to dine on enchiladas alone. Try Santa Fe Bite for the perfect green chile cheeseburger or downtown’s Georgia, an award-winning gastropub where you can pair agave pequin wings with a mescal margarita. And don’t miss the Santa Fe farmer’s market, featuring local produce and products from New Mexican ranchers, bakers, shepherds and beekeepers.
Chicago may be famous for deep dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs and dive bars, but make no mistake, the restaurant industry is serious business. In 2016, Chicago dining establishments took home two top honors in the annual James Beard awards. Best Chef in the Great Lakes region went to chef Curtis Duffy of Grace, which features an 8-12 course tasting menu with wine pairings. The Outstanding Restaurant award went to Alinea, a sophisticated space which focuses on sensory dining experiences, like the notable Kitchen Table experience which allows you and your party to be privately served by the staff and chef.
While modern day Chicago foodies might flock to restaurants that focus on molecular gastronomy, you can still find down-to-earth options in spades. Hot dogs and Italian sandwiches paired with unassuming pints of beer are endless and deserve a place in your heart just as much as fine dining options do.
While foodies were eyeing New York and San Francisco, one unexpected culinary superstar was quietly gaining momentum. That’s right: Pittsburgh.
The Steel City took the top spot on Zagat’s Top 17 Food Cities in 2015 for a reason. The burgeoning culinary scene may feel scrappy due to the fact that the city has long been an underdog, but dive in and your taste buds will be surprised. Try for example, the Whitfield at Pittsburgh’s Ace Hotel. The renovated 100 year old YMCA turned hotel features clean, artsy minimalism and a signature restaurant to match. Expect oysters, cider braised pork shank and roasted rabbit. For another distinctly Pittsburgh experience, head to James Beard nominated Butcher and Rye, where you can settle in beside an oil lantern and select the perfect bourbon from a list of more than 350. Pair it with elegant charcuterie and a hearty meat-forward main course and soak in the atmosphere.
If you want to feel like you’re on the ground floor of a foodie scene that’s on the cusp of something brilliant, Pittsburgh is the place to be. Factor in the reasonable cost of living, and Pittsburgh just might be the most delicious option on this list—but that’s no reason not to sample all seven.