For foodies, travel isn’t just about seeing the world. Yes, it obviously involves a lot of that, too. But when it comes to planning a culinary-focused trip, there’s a whole other layer involved. Past the museum-hunting and activity-planning, there are also hours of restaurant-scouting and review-reading. And while that’s fun for anyone who loves to eat, it can also be time-consuming and even a little stressful — especially if you start to feel like you’re heading to an area that’s lacking in varied and delicious dining options. Which is why, if you’re someone who wants a trip to be all about the meals, you should probably look to the best foodie destinations in the U.S. first.
Yes, these cities offer plenty to do outside of eating. But if breakfast, lunch, and dinner are your real focus, they’ll be the ones to provide *everything* you’re looking for in terms of a foodie vacation. That said, each of the expert-recommended places in the list ahead provides a very different selection of cuisine, so where you choose should depend on what you want to eat.
Fortunately, though, the city suggestions ahead include something for pretty much everyone. In the mood for seafood and Southern classics? You can’t go wrong with a tour of Charleston, South Carolina’s happening scene. Looking for a taste of, well, everything? Both Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas provide an eating experience that’s incredibly diverse.
There are plenty more places to eat your way through than that, too. Discover them all in the roundup, ahead.
New Orleans, LA
Why It’s Great: “There's no other place in the United States like New Orleans thanks to the character of the city, the people, and the live music,” Andy Long, Culinary Director of Maven Restaurant Group, tells TZR. “And of course, it's one of the best food scenes in the country.”
Must-Visit Restaurants: “This town is so much more than Bourbon Street,” says Long. “No need to even go near it.” As for his favorite establishments? He has a few. For a unique experience, visit Bacchanal — “a funky old wine shop-slash-watering hole in the Bywater.” If you’re on the hunt for po’ boys, Parkway Bakery & Tavern is his spot (“Get the Surf & Turf!” he says).
Though it’s a little out of the way, Saba is also a must-visit. It’s owned James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya, and the food pays homage to Israel, where Shaya was born. “I can't say enough delicious things about this restaurant,” says Long. And, don’t miss Jacques-Imo's on Oak Street for quintessential Creole food before you leave. “Do yourself a favor and go here,” says Long. “And then stumble next door to the Maple Leaf Bar for a show. You're welcome.”
Why It’s Great: Well Traveled co-founder and CEO Samantha Patil says Charleston is a place “where you immediately feel the Southern charm and hospitality” that makes it beloved by foodies. “[Its] food scene is a delicious layering of cultures, indigenous ingredients, and traditional low-country cooking.”
Kate and Ben Towill, owners of Basic Projects, a design house and hospitality group based in Charleston, agree that it’s the perfect foodie destination. “With its access to fresh seafood and produce, rich culinary history, and vast restaurant community, Charleston is a fantastic place for food lovers to visit,” they say. “We moved here six years ago from New York City and have been blown away ever since by Charleston's growing food scene.”
Must-Visit Restaurants: Since Patil says a trip to Charleston isn’t complete without oysters, she loves visiting Leon's Oyster Shop on historic King Street, “which has incredible oysters and local seafood with frozen gin and tonics and rosé on tap to boot!” (The Towills recommend this place as well.) Patil is also a fan of the “adorable quaint coastal tavern called Post House” —which the Towills actually own and designed — where you can dine and then stay at the inn. And don’t sleep on Babas on Cannon: The Towills say it is “a euro-inspired café that’s just as good for coffee and breakfast as it is for a pre-dinner cocktail later in the day.”
Why It’s Great: Being from New York, Ellen Curtis, COO of restaurant group GB Provisions, says she didn’t expect Tulsa to be such an easy place to branch out and discover food. “What’s fun about Tulsa is the incredible food diversity you find in a small space,” she tells TZR. “This city has developed dense neighborhood food destinations, so you can be in Downtown, Utica Square, or Brookside, and everything you’d imagine you’d want to eat is in walking distance.”
Chef Bobby Benjamin of Lowood Restaurant in Tulsa says the city’s food scene is unlike anything he’s seen in the country thanks to its many small farms. “Chefs have access to ingredients that you can’t get this fresh in other cities, and because the soil is so rich here, ingredients like oyster mushrooms, okra, pecans, local honey, and even the best protein are all common fare.”
Must-Visit Restaurants: Benjamin says that the Mother Road Market has more than a dozen food stalls “from Tulsa’s most inventive new chefs” and is great for finding “some of the best bites for any palette.” Curtis recommends Lowood, Hodges Bend, and La Tertulia to travelers passing through. And, of course, you can’t skip the chili cheese dog from Coney I-Lander. “It’s been around since 1926 and it’s been my favorite snack find in the city,” she says.
Why It’s Great: Brian Malarkey, celebrity chef, restaurateur, and founder of the newly launched Chefs Life, a product line of cooking oil blends, says Portland, Oregon is the best food city in the U.S. hands down. “There's been lots of hardship from Covid, but with that much talent surrounding wine, beer, spirits, farming, ranching, and fishing in its proximity, the talent runneth over,” he shares. “They have the best boutique heartfelt restaurants that deliver time and time again.”
Must-Visit Restaurants: According to Malarkey, the Birrieria La Plaza food truck is like Tijuana in Oregon; expect long lines, but know that it’s worth the wait. Erica’s Soul Food is a food truck deemed a must-try for its Southern comfort food — especially its wings. Rather sit down? Magna Kusina is a restaurant serving modern Filipino food that Malarkey loves, and Le Pigeon is a fine-dining establishment with what he calls “next-level French-inspired food.” To end your evening, head over to Scotch Lodge, which Malarkey says is “whisky bar that is cocktail-focused — perfect for my fellow whisky lovers!”
San Antonio, TX
Why It’s Great: "Over the past 15 years, San Antonio has grown its culinary prowess so much so that it is now recognized as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and is beginning to draw chefs from all over the country,” John Brand, Culinary Director and Executive Chef at Hotel Emma in San Antonio, tells TZR. In fact, he describes the city as a “culinary destination for foodie aficionados.” That’s especially thanks to its historic district, called Pearl, which features more than 20 independently-owned restaurants. Chef Anne Ng of Bakery Lorraine also believes it’s a great foodie destination, largely because it is such a cultural melting pot.
Must-Visit Restaurants: If you happen to stay at Hotel Emma (or even if you don’t), the on-site Supper restaurant offers a chance to indulge in American cuisine. “For an off-site experience,” says Brand, “Pearl offers an array of chef-driven restaurants including French concept Brasserie Mon Chou Chou and new Asian-American restaurant Best Quality Daughter.
For new American food, Ng recommends Clementine. Lala’s Gorditas is another favorite of hers (“the star of the show is the house-made gordita,” she says), as well as Carnitas Lonja. She also loves the wine bar Little Death for its interesting wines and unpretentious, casual vibe.