A good friend of mine, and world-renowned chef, recently spent 10 days visiting my home state of North Carolina. He currently runs a cooking school in the Loire Valley, France and always snubs his nose at the lack of quality and care that goes into both home cooking and restaurant kitchens in the United States. North Carolina changed his mind though.
A week after his trip, he called to tell me how impressed he was with not only the restaurants he visited but also the freshness and authenticity of ingredients found in corporate run grocery stores. It’s a revolution, I explained, that’s not just happening in North Carolina but throughout the U.S.
In fact, the food movement is so prevalent from large towns to small, that it was hard to cull this list of five favorite food destinations in the U.S. Check out who made the cut.
Perhaps Drew Carey was a little before his time when he belted out, “Cleveland rocks!” Or was he? While the city has recently seen a resurgence in its culinary scene with celebrity chefs like Michael Symon of Lola Bistro, Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern and Doug Katz of Fire Food and Drink at the helm, it has long been rooted in culinary traditions.
The West Side Market—a collection of butchers, bakers and farmers—has been providing Cleveland restaurants with fresh ingredients for over 175 years. The city is also known for its rich, ethnic neighborhoods with restaurants pumping out classic comfort food like hearty Polish dishes of stuffed cabbage from Sokolowski’s University Inn (James Beard award winner) or pizza from Mama Santa’s.
What impresses me most about Miami is that it’s one of the few cities in the United States that still maintains a strong ethnic flavor in both its culture and food. I love visiting the Magic City, hearing Spanish spoken everywhere, moving to the Latin music beats, and most importantly, indulging in authentic Cuban food. For the latter, I don’t necessarily head to Calle Ocho like everyone recommends. Instead, I prefer Havana Harry’s in Coral Gables.
Besides Cuban cuisine, Miami also delivers on so many other gastronomical fronts from raw bars like Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill to authentic Florida seafood at Joe’s Stone Crab to fine dining at Prime 112. Even the hotels are starting to deliver with options like Alex Guarnaschelli’s Driftwood Room at Nautilus and Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft at One Hotel.
Charleston, South Carolina
The Holy City continues to remain the darling of the Southern food movement combing both regional favorites with ocean-fresh seafood. Perennial favorites include Hominy Grill for their classic shrimp and grits and Jestine’s Kitchen for their okra gumbo and fried green tomatoes.
Yet, the city isn’t solely rooted in its past. In recent years, Charleston has welcomed restaurant concepts with more of a modern take on food. New favorites of both locals and tourists alike include Mercantile and Mash in the renovated Cigar Factory, Xiao Bao Biscuit (Asian fusion), and The Ordinary (eat fresh shucked oysters in a bank vault).
Let’s start with liquid libations. Not only is the City of Roses home to a plethora of craft breweries (over 80 in the metro area), but some of the best Pinot Noir in the world is grown just an hour drive from the city in the Willamette Valley. But let’s get back to the food.
James Beard’s hometown is home to plenty of chefs who have won his coveted award like Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Naomi Pomeroy of Beast. Of course, the hottest trend right now are food trucks. At over 700 strong, they alone are a reason to visit the city as they deliver a unique Portland street culture.
New York City, New York
No top food city list is worth its fork without naming New York City. The City that Never Sleeps has it all from Michelin Stars and James Beard winners to some of the most authentic ethnic food you’re going to find to an army of celebrity chefs. With all its world famous attractions, many are starting to visit New York City just for the food.
Beyond the restaurants, NYC also boast gourmet mecca markets like Eataly, Chelsea Market and the yet to open but eagerly anticipated Bourdain Market. Yes, New York City is a foodie’s paradise.
Bryan M. Richards is a beer, food, and travel writer based in Charlotte. His work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Beer Advocate, and just about anything with the word Charlotte in it. In a previous life, he was a corporate road warrior staying in two to three different hotels a week and often forgetting his room number.