When you look at the most popular foodie destinations across the US, the usual city names come to mind — New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago. But if you’re traveling in search of great eats in 2022, you’ll be better off heading to other parts of the country to check out one of these 8 underrated foodie destinations instead.
From surprising places to find some of the country’s best food made by immigrants to the growing farm-to-table movement as it mixes with traditional cuisine, these cities have it all. Whether you’re munching on chocolate from celeb-fave DeBrand Fine Chocolates in quickly growing Fort Wayne, Indiana, or discovering why the Pueblo chile makes Pueblo, Colorado, you’re sure to get a taste of something new and unexpected. So pack up your suitcase, save this list and head out to discover the foodie destinations you never thought you’d love.
1. Birmingham, Alabama
The one thing not to miss: You can’t head down South without trying some barbecue, and you certainly can’t visit Alabama without trying their unique take on BBQ. Head to SAW’s Soul Kitchen — considered the best barbecue in America by some. The Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Sandwich is something to write home about. Try it or The Colonel (which also includes pimento cheese and red tomato), and you won’t be sorry.
This southern city not only has a classic ‘Bama take on BBQ but recent growth and an influx of diverse talent have led to Birmingham becoming one of the top foodie destinations below the Mason-Dixon line. Talented chefs have access to ingredients from fertile farmlands, the Appalachian foothills and the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Here you can find Highlands Bar & Grill — temporarily closed but reopening in 2022 — for a delectable seasonally-inspired menu that changes daily. Meanwhile, go to Hot & Hot Fish Club for tasty Gulf seafood and El Barrio for must-have Mexican tostadas. If you’re craving a fancy night out, then Chez Fonfon is the place to go for the best French fare outside of New Orleans.
Expert tip: Don’t miss out on ordering dessert at Highlands Bar & Grill. Dolester Miles, who has worked there for over 30 years, was named Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2018.
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2. Pueblo, Colorado
The one thing not to miss: Slovenian food! Yes, really. Although you’d never guess it, Pueblo is home to Bojon Town, a tight-knit neighborhood of Slovenian immigrants who came here in the early 20th century. The must-try dish is potica, which you can find at Janessa’s Gourmet and other eateries around town.
This former steel mill town seems like an unlikely candidate for a foodie destination but thanks to the famed Pueblo chile, it’s worth the trip. The Pueblo green chili, a Colorado staple, can be found at some of the best Mexican restaurants across town — Lobo’s Tacos and Tequila (try the Korean fire taco), Tacos Navarro (try anything with their specialty carnitas) and Mill Stop Cafe (don’t miss the stuffed sopapillas). But you can also find some of the famous green chili at Brues Alehouse, located on the Pueblo River Walk. They’re known for their brews and burgers, so don’t forget to order a drink with your lunch. Surprisingly, even vegans will be welcomed at Brues, so don’t shy away if you have veggie-loving friends.
Expert tip: Be prepared to wait for a table at Mill Stop Cafe, but it’s well worth the significant portions and great prices. For an extra special treat, head here for brunch and have the delectable huevos rancheros.
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3. Traverse City, Michigan
The one thing not to miss: You can’t head to this lakeside town without having some lakeside seafood. For the best views and best fish in the city, go to Boathouse Restaurant. This French-inspired seafood restaurant has locavores in love. The can’t-miss dish is definitely the Lake Michigan walleye entree. When in Rome, right?
Situated on Lake Michigan, you might not realize that this Northern Michigan city is known for both its year-round outdoor activities as well as its bustling and diverse dining scene. Head to The Cook’s House for sustainable, locally-sourced fare in an intimate setting. The oyster mushroom soup and braised rabbit are particular favorites. Meanwhile, Trattoria Stella serves up classic Italian fare while Sleder’s Family Tavern (open since 1882) has sandwiches and bar food with a Midwestern twist. The Sleder burger and Buffalo burger are particular favorites.
Expert tip: Don’t leave Traverse City before having something sweet. Specifically, a Michigan Montmorency cherry dessert from Grand Traverse Pie Company. But if cherries aren’t your thing, there are plenty of pies with local berries as well.
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4. Greenville, South Carolina
The one thing not to miss: Although the origin of the classic banana cream pie is hotly contested, there is no doubt that the white chocolate cream pie at Soby’s in downtown Greenville is an iconic dish if there ever was one.
This upstate city has a thriving cultural and entertainment scene, and now food is on the list too. Greenville has a wide variety of cuisines, starting with the Belgian-inspired haunt The Trappe Door. Try any one of the moules frites (mussels pots served with homemade fries) but don’t forget to ask your waiter for their best beer pairing recommendation. Meanwhile, The Lazy Goat has Mediterranean food with some of the best paellas around. Kitchen Sync (try the shrimp burger or one of the other shrimp dishes) and The Anchorage (go for the tasting menu but be ready to unbuckle your belt) have truly inspired New American cuisine mixing with local ingredients.
Expert tip: You may have gone to Soby’s for the can’t-miss dessert, but you’ll want to start with some of their New Southern cuisine, coupled with their award-winning wine list. Wine lovers will delight in the many options available on their 5000 bottle list.
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5. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The one thing not to miss: Why should you travel to Wyoming for pizza? Because the steak tartare pizza at Snake River Grill is a shockingly exquisite dish. This memorable pizza will have you telling all of your friends and family to come try it ASAP.
You would probably never imagine that a small town situated just below Grand Teton National Park would be one of the top foodie destinations in the West, but “Jackson” (as locals call it) certainly lives up to the title. Start with a visit to Persephone Bakery for some of the best French-style pastries on this side of the Mississippi. Although any one of their breakfast treats is fantastic, try the egg sandwich on a croissant or the bread pudding French toast (also made with croissants) for an extra special treat. Other must-visit restaurants include Old Yellowstone Garage for homemade Italian eats (the Rocky Mountain pappardelle made with elk bolognese is a classic) and Bin22 for premier wine coupled with some of the best tapas you’ll find.
Expert tip: Don’t leave cowboy country without making a stop at Cowboy Coffee Co. Order the black eye coffee (a mix of cold brew and espresso shots) if you’re heading out for a day outdoors or simply need an extra-strong pick-me-up.
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6. Waco, Texas
The one thing not to miss: You simply must head to Clay Pot Restaurant for delectable Vietnamese food that was started by the Le family in the 1980s. It’s hard to pick just one or two favorites but of course, you have to try their Clay Pot dish — a dish served in (duh!) a traditional clay pot.
This college town was recently put on the foodie map by Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. The couple now owns Magnolia Market—a shopping complex that houses restaurants such as the Asian-American Club Sandwich and their own Magnolia Table. But Waco’s growth in the culinary scene isn’t just tied to the Gaines’ success. George’s Restaurant is a local favorite serving the Big O (an 18oz beer) and a chicken fried steak you won’t want to miss. Jake’s Texas Tea House, which features car shop decor since “Texas tea” refers to oil, has homemade dishes and desserts such as the buttermilk pie (get it!). And you can’t visit Texas without eating Mexican food, so head to Taqueria El Crucero and get the oso burrito smothered in their extraordinary oso sauce.
Expert tip: To taste classic Texas barbecue, head to Jasper’s BBQ. Initially opened in 1915, this restaurant has all the brisket, pork ribs and sausage you can eat. Just be sure to go early as they sell out of everything daily — even their surprisingly good coleslaw.
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7. Fort Wayne, Indiana
The one thing not to miss: Fort Wayne is known for its mix of American and European history, which is why JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House is a can’t-miss eatery. The classic pub fare you must order includes the fish ‘n chips and the JK chips, which you can get with garlic aioli, whiskey wing or curry sauce.
Fort Wayne — and nearby Northeast Indiana — has been growing faster than any other state in the US, thanks to the city’s high quality of life and low cost of living. With more young people moving to the region thanks to new job opportunities, the restaurant scene is booming too. Check out Club Soda for delicious steaks, strong cocktails and some jazz. Baker Street Steakhouse is another carnivore favorite in an elegant dining room, with the ribeye being a favorite. When you want something else, try Paula’s on Main for seafood that could not be any fresher. The almond walleye and Maryland crab cakes are some of the better go-to’s but you really can’t go wrong with any of their entrees.
Expert tip: You’ll find some of the best chocolate in the US at Fort Wayne’s DeBrand Fine Chocolates. Loved by celebrities like Demi Lovato and Jessica Simpson, their chocolate art boxes are the perfect treat to take home — or eat on the way back cause who wants to share good chocolate, amirite?
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8. Tupelo, Mississippi
The one thing not to miss: Who says you can’t have drool-worthy farm-to-table dishes that focus on all of the meats? This is where Kermit’s Soul Kitchen — formerly known as Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen — comes in. Although the menu changes depending on livestock and game availability from local farmers, you can’t go wrong with whatever stew or chili they’re serving up.
This northeast Mississippi town may be best known for being the birthplace of Elvis Presley, but these days the food scene is yet another reason to visit. Tupelo is a surprising foodie destination you can’t miss, serving up traditional and modern southern food. Here to combine your love of The King and food? Then head to Johnnie’s Drive-In to sit in Elvis’ original booth and try their dough burger. Sweet Tea & Biscuits Cafe has the Southern staples you love, including an excellent fried green tomato BLT. Just don’t forget the famous sweet tea, too. And if you’re looking for more carnivorous dishes after Kermit’s, visit their sister restaurant Neon Pig Cafe (a butcher shop, restaurant and market) for their smash burger — named one of the best burgers in America.
Expert tip: For brews and live music fans, head to Blue Canoe. This funky joint declares itself “Tupelo’s home of original live music” and features some of the best pub grub in the state.
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