You can learn a lot about a place from its food. From thin crust to deep dish pizza to breakfasts of shrimp and grits to avocado toast, food helps define small towns, big cities and everywhere in between. It’s the soul of a place.
Whether you’re planning a winter getaway, a summer road trip or simply looking to daydream for a few hours there’s a food destination for you. Here are 9 U.S. destinations food lovers shouldn’t miss. Happy eating.
Asheville, North Carolina
Warning. You may never want to leave Ashville after visiting. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small city is surrounded by farms, craft brewer, and all types of artisans. For brews, head straight to Wicked Weed Brewing for their selection of sour beers. After quenching your thirst, choose from a plethora of restaurants offering a range of cuisines. For classic barbecue, dine where former President Obama did at 12 Bones Smokehouse, or to really take advantage all of the local ingredients around the city, go to Rhubarb, a restaurant run by former Blackberry Farm chef John Flour.
The Windy City has been inventing and perfecting classic American dishes for decades. Yes, there’s deep dish pizza, and you should get it at Pequod’s Pizza, but this is the city where fat rice came from and jibaritos: created by Puerto Rican immigrants, the sandwiches feature fried plantains replacing bread. And, while not invented in Chicago, the churros and chocolate at Rick Bayless’s XOCO are among the best anywhere in the world. In between meals take a selfie with the Bean or do some shopping along the Magnificent Mile, the city’s answer to Rodeo Drive.
Wine lovers already know Healdsburg as a must-visit destination. One of the smaller towns in Sonoma’s wine country, Healdsburg is utterly charming. Vineyards tucked into hills surround the historic town and quaint shops make for a perfect weekend of window shopping. In the past few years more and more chefs have opened places in Healdsburg, expertly pairing dishes with local wines and putting Healdsburg on the food map. Try newly opened Single Thread Farms for a classic Northern California experience, or head to Dry Creek Kitchen for everything from diver scallops to mouthwatering steak.
Los Angeles, California
Sorry, Chicago and New York, but glitzy LA is the current center of the U.S. food universe. Chefs come to LA to experiment, hoping to create the type of dishes the rest of the country will soon be standing in line for, and trendy eaters know to visit the city so they can say they ate it first. After all, LA’s Sqirl was basically the inventor of avocado toast. Currently on trend are vegetables as mains at P.Y.T., Taiwanese soul food at Little Fatty, and you can never go wrong with seasonally-inspired Manuela in the arts district. No matter the meal or restaurant of choice, dining in LA has a slow-paced feel. Savoring your meal while people watching is expected.
Tucked off Interstate 95, between New York City and Boston this old whaling village’s claim to food fame is pizza, but Mystic is about so much more than pizza. In the past few years chefs, bakers and farmers have opened every imaginable type of eatery from award-winning farm-to-sea restaurants like the Oyster Club, to tiny French bakeries such as SIFT, to classic burger joints like the Engine Room. You could spend an entire weekend just eating here and none of it would be pizza.
New Orleans, Louisiana
You go to New Orleans for the music, the art, the history, and the party of the French Quarter. But above all you go to New Orleans to eat. Chargrilled oysters, beignets, Po’Boys, and cocktails. It would be easy to schedule your trip around meal times, but keep your New Orleans to-do list short. This is an in-the-moment type of place. Have gumbo at Commander’s Palace, lunch at Antonine’s, the country’s oldest continuously operating restaurant which created many of the dishes we call American classics today, including Oysters Rockefeller, and of course beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. But then walk the streets, take it all in, and, as corny as it may sound, let the city move you.
New York, New York
No list of destinations for food lovers would be complete without New York. The city that never sleeps is the ultimate food getaway. New York’s diverse population means that within a few city blocks there are more types of cuisine than anywhere else in the world. You can have a fancy French meal at Jean Georges then take a walking tour of the city’s food carts. Whether you want Italian, classic American, or Northern Thailand there are endless options in New York and, thanks to urban farms, more and more dishes served are being made from local ingredients.
Port Townsend, Washington
Roughly two-hours from Seattle, this coastal seaside village is high on charm and low on crowds. It’s an ideal day-trip or weekend getaway. Historic Victorian mansions dot the town, many of which have been converted into B&Bs, restaurants, and shops. Nearby farms and vineyards mean much of the of food and drink are local. You’ll find a focus on seafood; try Doc’s Marina Cafe and don’t miss the lemon ricotta pancakes at Sweet Laurette Cafe.
*Featured image: Braised Pork Belly at Little Fatty in Los Angeles, CA