Everybody knows the pizza is amazing in New York and likewise in Naples, Italy. Similarly, when asked what to eat in coastal Maine, most folks will tell you to have the lobster – and rightly so! Baltimore’s a great place if you love to eat crab. In Austin? You’ve gotta go with the brisket smoked low and slow. And of course, we’re all aware that cities such as New Orleans, Paris, and Mexico City are worth visiting for a taste of the cuisine alone.
But, besides all these world-famous dining destinations there is a multitude of other delectable hot spots. Every region of the world excels at something tasty and any town of size is going to have at least a couple of quality places to eat and drink.
To whet your appetite for something different and spice up your travel agenda for the months ahead, here’s our look at 8 off-the-radar and unexpected foodie travel destinations that are far more delicious than their lack of reputation might suggest.
With some of the best BBQ in Tennessee (try Old Plantation if hankering for the real deal), down-home fried catfish dinners (go to Uncle Larry’s Hot Fish for the best), and a surprisingly prominent number of fine dining establishments (usually with a southern comfort food angle), Chattanooga punches well above its midsize city status to deliver knockout food at reasonable prices. If not so well known for its food scene, Chattanooga is popular for the range of outdoor activities and access to the scenic beauty. So when it comes time to burn calories, don’t worry. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to get outside and play.
Cleveland has one of America’s most inspired dining scene. From locally sourced – and often foraged – deli ingredients (Chef Jeremy Umansky’s Larder) to a donut bar where all the donuts are made with beer (Brewnuts), there’s a big fun flavor for all who visit. Those in the know are fully aware that Cleveland is one of the world’s best cities for pizza (Il Rione, Saucy Brew Works, and Edison’s are but three Cleveland pizzerias to keep in mind). For fancier fare, check out Greenhouse Tavern or one of the other fine dining establishments in the downtown area. Beer here is wonderful too with one of the most vibrant brewery communities in America.
Monmouth County, New Jersey
All that stuff you like to eat up in New York? You can get all of it and much more with some cheap flights to the good ol’ Garden State. Head to the Jersey shore, and you’ll get some sea breezes to add to it all too! About an hour or so south of Manhattan, Monmouth County boasts a disproportionate number of excellent places to eat. The pizza and bagels are just as good here as in the Big Apple (some say even better) and you can’t beat a chargrilled hot dog with cheese fries or onion rings from the Windmill on your day to the beach. Love seafood? Check out Moby’s Lobster Deck in Highlands (open in spring and summer), for Atlantic lobster, local clams, a raw bar and more including a gorgeous ocean view across Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreational Area. For more upscale options, the compact and concentrated dining scenes in towns like Red Bank, Asbury Park and Long Branch offer big city satisfaction with a pinch of small-town charm.
The food in Ireland’s youthful and friendly second city is fantastic. Fans of regionally and seasonally sourced food will fall in love with the city’s English Market, an 18th century covered market where the emphasis is on organic, fresh and mostly local food. Have a taste of long-standing traditions at Tom Durcan Meats where the specialty is spiced beef. For an expertly prepared take on what’s best at the market during your visit, go to Farmgate. Located at the upper floor of the market with a commanding view of the bustle and commerce below, it’s a smart place for classic Cork cooking made from scratch. The locally brewed beer is tasty too and poured properly at historic and welcoming pubs, where there’s always a good chance traditional Celtic music is played live. In the morning you’ll find the cafe and breakfast options almost overwhelming with an abundance of specialty, barista-led coffee shops and independent bakeries to choose from.
If you’ve ever been to Spain and found yourself oohing and ahhing at how yummy something was? There’s a good chance the ingredients came from Galicia, a region in the northwest corner of the country. Jutting out with the Atlantic to its west and the Bay of Biscay to the north with lots of fresh water flowing into the sea, the seafood here is a dream. Percebes (goose barnacles) are the most covetously sought. And if you love a taste of the sea, you’ll die with joy when you try these. The region is also known for reared some of Europe’s most flavorsome beef (though you’re more likely to find it in high-end restaurants in Madrid, Barcelona or London). Galicia’s two main cities, Santiago de Compostela and A Coruna, feature Michelin starred restaurants alongside collections of cozy bars and taverns serving tapas and regional dishes similar to what you might expect in cities like San Sebastian, Madrid or Sevilla. The wines from this region are exceptional too, especially the Albarinos which pair perfectly with local fish and seafood.
New Haven, Connecticut
Connecticut is a small state and kind of like New Jersey is often overlooked due to its proximity to NYC. But make no mistake the food here is exceptional, especially if you love classic Italian American cooking. Home of Yale, New Haven has a wealth of noteworthy places to receive an edible education second to none. In particular, the city’s own unique style of pizza or “apizza” as it’s called there is definitely worth a slice of your time. If you only have time for one pizza, head to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana for its famed white clam pie. New Haven is also where the hamburger was invented. The Original Burger at Louis’ Lunch is recognized by the Library of Congress as the Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich. Beyond this distinction, Louis’ Original Burger is also extremely juicy and delicious.
Pitt County, North Carolina
Pitt County in eastern North Carolina is renowned for its whole hog BBQ. But that’s just the beginning. The area has a craft beer scene to rival that in Asheville across the state. Close to the coast, it’s a great place for fish and seafood as well. Back to the BBQ though, for the moistest, most memorable and satisfying meat dishes you’ll ever eat, make your way to Skylight Inn in Ayden for third-generation wood-smoked greatness or owner Sam Jones’ eponymous restaurant in Winterville. For an impressive variety of restaurants, bars and breweries within easy walking distance of each other, station yourself in the friendly college town Greenville.
From odd traditional Victorian treats such as pickled walnuts to excellent produce grown throughout the year, Kent in southeastern England is the place to be. This is doubly the case if you crave fruits of the sea. Eclectic raw bars, pubs with Michelin stars, and all sorts of welcoming independent restaurants serve locally sourced oysters and other seafood. As for what to drink when you visit, Kent and neighboring regions of England are racking up awards for sparkling wine from local vineyards and wineries, including Hush Heath, Chapel Down and Biddenden Vineyards. Most destinations in Kent are about an hour away from London and can be reached by direct train.
Got a go-to foodie destination that’s still off the radar (and you don’t mind sharing with the wider world)? We would love to hear about where you love to go to eat!