A Foodie Guide to 11 Lesser-Known US Cities

You probably don't have these on your travel bucket list, but you should

Don't sleep on these cities, foodies

Don't sleep on these cities, foodies

By Brian Cicioni

New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago are well-established food meccas that attract top chefs and experienced diners from around the world. All four cities tend to be on every “Top 10 Food Cities in the Country” list and are likely to stay there. That said, while they might still exist under the radar as foodie destinations go, the 11 smaller cities below also have a lot to offer. Some have more famous neighbors (Newark, Queens and Wilmington), while others are just not as easy to get to via direct flight, but each is worth a trip in its own right.

Bear Creek Farms skirt steak with fries from Easy Bistro & Bar
Brian Cicioni

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Tennessee’s fourth-largest city is surrounded by nature and has a growing food scene. You’ll find the more high-end dining options south of the Tennessee River, which separates Downtown Chattanooga from Northshore. Bridgeman’s Chophouse specializes in wet-aged beef and dates back to 1872. The service here is impeccable, and the tables are so neatly set, it looks like a ruler is used to line up silverware. 

Easy Bistro is a less formal yet more sophisticated option, with seafood from all three coasts. There’s a four-course chef’s choice option that will allow your table to share a total of 11 dishes. All pasta is made in-house. Easy feels exclusive, as does Company, which is a 40-seat hidden speakeasy inside the Kinley Hotel. 

Across the Walnut Street Bridge from The Edwin Hotel, you’ll find newer, more casual options, like Julie Darling Donuts and Milk & Honey. The latter is a popular breakfast and lunch spot, especially on weekends. For more of a local food scene overview, try Chatt Taste Food Tour. Chatt Taste operates four different tours that visit a handful of locations from a running list of 30 Chattanooga food and drink spots. 

The Paleta Bar at COATI
Brian Cicioni

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs is a bikeable city, with a walkable downtown less than two hours from Denver. Tejon Street is the best thoroughfare for food, but it’s also worth crossing I-25 via Colorado Ave for Asian-inspired 503W and Sherpa Garden. The latter is the place in town for beef momo and other Tibetan dishes.

New Haven meets Detroit at White Pie, where you can try super thin-crust round pies of the Northeast or the square, thick, Sicilian-style pies more common in the Midwest. White Pie is located catty-corner from Kinship Landing, a boutique hotel serving breakfast and lunch worth trying, whether you are a guest or not. 

There are also a few food halls, with COATI being the most notable, especially if you are into live music. Next to COATI, Streetcar 520 gets its name from its location in a former maintenance garage for the city’s buses and trolleys. Also along Tejon, Four by Brother Luck opened the same year as Streetcar 520 and is a sophisticated four-course tasting menu spot where you can pick from a handful of items for each course. The Southwest-focused menu changes with the seasons.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at North Market Columbus
Brian Cicioni

Columbus, Ohio

Cincinnati and Cleveland may have the more famous sports teams, but Columbus is Ohio’s capital and the second-largest city in the Midwest. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams started at North Market, which has an impressive variety and is an ideal place to start your visit. Joya’s is a Bengali-inspired cafe by chef Avishar Barua, perfect for breakfast or an early lunch. Avishar also owns Agni, which is a high-end dinner-only tasting menu spot in the Brewery District. 

Also on the higher end, FYR is an open kitchen restaurant that reflects Chef Sebastian Larocca’s Italian heritage and Argentine upbringing. Stories on High is the highest rooftop bar in Columbus and is also located in the Hilton Columbus Downtown. A few blocks north, The Pearl is a dimly lit gastropub with a New American menu. Try the Thai Curry Mussels. 

To get a true sense of the variety on offer, you have to head out of the downtown area. Columbus Food Adventures does a tour where you can travel from the Middle East to South America to West Africa without leaving the city limits. 

Duck noodle soup from A Lot of Thai in Merrimack New Hampshire
Brian Cicioni

Manchester, New Hampshire

Without major traffic, Manchester is less than an hour from Boston. The airport is called Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Manchester has some great spots, like Kathmandu Spice and 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. The latter has an old pizza parlor vibe but is located in a high-ceiling former industrial space. Kathmandu has a two-sided menu, but the one thing you have to try is the momo. You can get them fried or steamed. One of each is a good idea. If you are not vegetarian, this is a good opportunity to try buffalo or goat momo, which are not always available at Nepalese restaurants. 

Manchester is the largest city in a very rural state. With that in mind, it’s definitely worth taking Route 101 West to nearby Bedford and Milford, which both have that small-town New England charm. Milford has a Haitian cafe by James Beard-nominated chef Chris Viaud. The Top Chef 18 contestant and Johnson & Wales graduate also heads up Greenleaf, which is right around the corner. 

While you’re in town, it’s worth checking to see if local chef (and author) Keith Sarasin is having one of his Indian-inspired Aatma pop-up dinners in the area.

Portugese dishes at No Pao 100 Reservas in the Ironbound District in Newark
Brian Cicioni

Newark, New Jersey

In 2022, more than 20 million passengers landed at Newark Liberty International Airport. But most either never leave the airport or head directly to NYC or other parts of New Jersey. Anyone who has taken the Ferry Street exit from Newark Penn Station should be aware that the Ironbound District is more densely packed with Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants than the official Little Portugal in Toronto

What’s great about the Ironbound District is that you can eat well for $12 or $100. Perfect examples of this are Ferry Street Barbeque and Adega Grill. At Ferry Street, you can get a half chicken with rice and fries for $9. You’ll be able to see smoke coming off the grill from the corner of Ferry and Congress. Meanwhile, Adega is a subterranean wine cellar with well-dressed servers who bring flaming Portuguese sausage to your table as you sit below grape-shaped light fixtures. The clams in garlic and cilantro have enough flavor that you’ll want to eat it like a soup. 

If live entertainment is more your thing, head over to Barretos Bar e Churrascaria. They recently took over the space a few blocks south of Ferry that was occupied by Estrela Ponderosa for decades. Barretos gets its name from the Brazilian city where South America’s largest rodeo takes place every year. And with the exception of large food portions, it feels nothing like other Brazilian restaurants in the area. 

Cowboy ribeye from Committee Chophouse in the Kimpton Cottonwood in Omaha Blackstone District
Brian Cicioni

Omaha, Nebraska

The fastest-growing city in the Midwest claims two American culinary classics. Both the Reuben sandwich and butterbrickle ice cream came out of what is now the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel in the walkable Blackstone District. The room where the Reuben was invented is part of the dimly-lit fine-dining Committee Chophouse. It’s on the menu in the hotel’s Orleans Room. Another popular Omaha steakhouse is Gorat’s, famous for the lifesize Warren Buffet cutout. He sometimes appears there in real life. 

Coneflower Creamery, also in the Blackstone District, is an ideal place to try butterbrickle ice cream. Other notable places along Farnam Street include Kathmandu Momo Station and Get Real Sandwiches. The latter is a perfect place for people-watching as some seats face Farnam, where there’s a streetcar in the works that will connect the Blackstone District to Downtown. Try the lost lox, which is a bagel with salmon smoked in-house. 

Gaby et Jules East Liberty in Pittsburgh
Brian Cicioni

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh has 90 neighborhoods, the best of which have their own restaurant rows. Downtown, you’ll find several higher-end options like Gaucho Parrilla Argentina and gi-jin, where sushi and hand rolls are the main attractions. In the nearby Strip District, former warehouses have been converted into family-owned Mediterranean import stores and restaurants, conjuring up images of old industrial Pittsburgh. 

Butler Street is the restaurant row of Lawrenceville, which begins four miles northeast of Downtown. From TRYP by Wyndham and the 40th Street Bridge to the Allegheny Cemetery at 47th Street, there are dozens of small cafes like Banh Mi & Ti and ice cream parlors, including FRIO Creamery and NatuRoll. There are unique dining options spread throughout the other 87 neighborhoods, like Bloomfield. Apteka is a plant-based Central and Eastern European restaurant with an extensive cocktail, wine and mocktail menu. 

If you really want to experience the culinary world in one neighborhood, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill each deserve their own food guides. In the latter, people line up along a residential block for fresh bagels that made the 2021 Food & Wine Top 50 list. Burnt Almond Tortes are a local favorite, and you can try them at Prantl’s, next to Mercurio, which is next to Pamela’s, where former President Obama stopped for the crepe-like pancakes.

Fish & chips, tacos and salad from Nowadays in Ridgewood, Queens
Brian Cicioni

Queens, New York

NYC may top most of the best food cities in America lists. But the reasons given tend to be very Brooklyn- and Manhattan-centric. In Queens, you could experience different countries, even continents, in a single day along a single subway line. In fact, at the 2018 New York Times Travel Show, Andrew Zimmern confidently professed that if Queens were a separate city, it would be the world’s greatest. Many Manhattan chefs enjoy eating in the largest of the five boroughs. For example, Greek-born Kellari Taverna head chef Vasiliki Vourliotaki enjoys Astoria’s Greek restaurants like Amylos and Nisi Estiatorio.

31st St and Ditmars Blvd are both lined with Greek restaurants and bakeries. You can find most other types of cuisine in Astoria as well. On Ditmars, Taverna Kyclades is where you’ll see the longest line. But you should also give Tootles & French a try. It’s a wine bar where the food menu is just as enticing as the drinks. If you’re into game meats, the rabbit meatballs and quail lollipops are a must-try. 

Neighborhoods like Elmhurst, Howard Beach, Jackson Heights and Flushing have long been recognized as the places to go for the best Thai, Italian, Indian/Latian American and Chinese food. But areas like Ridgewood and Long Island City feel more like anything goes. For example, Nowadays in Ridgewood is a mixed indoor and outdoor space with a bar and a Pueblan (Mexican) restaurant run by a husband-wife team. Knock Knock in Long Island City is a coffee shop by day and dim sum restaurant in the evening. And LIC is also where you can get French macarons shaped like cartoon characters at Macaron Craft Oizumi. 

Peter Chu’s Redding Regional Airport Teriyaki beef
Brian Cicioni

Redding, California

Many of us forget that there are another 350 miles of California between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oregon border. Redding is a growing city of less than 100,000 with a wide open food scene that has room to grow. Three of the city’s most iconic dining spots are in peculiar locations like a former brothel (Jack’s Grill and Post Office) and the second floor of the area’s only commercial airport. Peter Chu’s (the latter) attracts just as many non-airline passengers as people taking short flights to Seattle, San Francisco or LAX.

Ask lifelong residents, and they will likely tell you that the local food scene has improved over the past decade. Signs of this include California cuisine spots like Moonstone Bistro, Mosaic and Cafe Paradisio, which is small and has the most sought-after tables in town. More established dining spots include the no-frills, one-person show Thai Cafe, and Nello’s, which is Redding’s main old-school Italian red sauce joint. 

Redding is still small enough that everyone seems to know each other. For a sense of this, stop at one of the local coffee shops, like Evergreen or the award-winning Theory, which has three locations and is working on a fourth. 

Jerk chicken tacos & Masala fries from Jerk Shack in San Antonio
Brian Cicioni

San Antonio, Texas

There’s so much more to San Antonio’s food scene than the Tex-Mex that people still associate with the Alamo City. Range is a Tuscan-inspired steakhouse by Nebraska native chef Jason Dady, where you can get a ribeye for two prepared at your table with olive oil, fresh herbs and torch. The steaks are a mix of Midwestern and Texas. Located in the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, Dorregos is an Argentine-inspired restaurant where you can try stews and meat pastries from South America’s most carnivorous country. The flaming provolone cheese gets the nod for best presentation. 

Down the block from Hotel Valencia, you’ll find La Panadería’s downtown location. There’s often a line around the block. And it’s one of those places where the selection begins to diminish within a few hours of when they open. There are multiple La Panadería locations as there are for Bakery Lorraine. For Lorraine, try the Pearl location before exploring the nearby food hall, where you can try The Jerk Shack spinoff, Mi Roti. There’s an outdoor market on weekends. 

For a taste of South Texas, check out Carriqui, which is named after a South Texas green jay and heavy on BBQ. If that’s your thing, try the smokehouse platter, which includes Achiote Chicken, BBQ Goat and Texas Brisket. Smoked meats can be added to any salad, including their namesake Carriqui.

Little Italy in Wilmington Delaware
Brian Cicioni

Wilmington, Delaware

Wilmington is a small, manageable city that has the misfortune of being close enough to Philly that it’s often overlooked. It’s similar to how people pass on nearby Baltimore in favor of DC. But Wilmington has its own food scene, from upscale downtown dining spots like James Beard semifinalist Bardea Food & Drink to Little Italy strongholds like fourth-generation Mrs. Robino’s. Both attract a mix of local diners and those from outside the second smallest (but first) state. 

Bardea also has a steakhouse downtown. For what could be the most tender prime rib you’ve ever had, try Walter’s, which is Wilmington’s oldest steakhouse. 

Closer to the Pennsylvania border, Buckley’s Tavern has an eclectic menu where soups are the main feature. You wouldn’t necessarily expect an old tavern on the PA/Delaware border to have delicious Spicy Thai Noodle Soup, but the mix of crispy and soba noodles works here. Yet, mushroom soup is the main attraction, as Buckley’s is less than 10 miles from Kennett Square. That’s where more than half the domestic mushrooms come from.

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