One of the most incredible things about traveling in the United States is the sheer diversity of cuisine available from coast to coast. In many American cities—in just one neighborhood block!—mom-and-pop eateries nestle shoulder-to-shoulder with Michelin-starred restaurants, hole-in-the-wall dives, and buzzy new cafes.
And for many foodies, a city’s distinctive cuisine is the chief reason to travel to a new destination. Below, we’ve ranked our top four U.S. destinations for the gourmand to visit.
Charleston, South Carolina
With its well-preserved, colonial-era architecture, jaw-dropping waterfront mansions, and mild climate, Charleston is a sumptuous city—and that includes the food. Here, Lowcountry cuisine reigns supreme: think down-home family cooking (often with an upscale twist) including southern staples like hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, grits, and mac and cheese flecked with Andouille sausage.
The city’s coastal perch along the Atlantic Ocean and its many estuaries mean the city’s menus are teeming with freshly caught seafood—particularly crabs (don’t miss the she-crab soup), oysters, and shrimp. Several award-winning restaurants like Poogan’s Porch and Husk sit inside centuries-old historic homes that have been converted to eateries as of late, lending a distinctive Charlestonian backdrop to any meal.
San Francisco, California
The City by the Bay boasts an eclectic array of cuisines—you can try Cambodian one night, Persian the next, and Ethiopian after that. But no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Chinatown, the largest (and believed to be the oldest) in the U.S. Try dim sum, fish jook, barbecue rice rolls, and more at Sam Wo Restaurant, thought to be the oldest restaurant in Chinatown.
Besides Chinatown, San Francisco has more than a few culinary claims to fame. The city’s bakers have perfected the art of crusty sourdough bread, particularly at Boudin Sourdough, named after French baker Isidore Boudin, who began crafting his own sourdough using wild yeast back in 1868—the same recipe that’s still in use today. Request some sourdough bread to sop up the spicy tomato broth in cioppino, an iconic Italian stew first made in San Francisco’s North Beach that’s topped with Dungeness crab, Pacific shellfish, and penne pasta.
If you think all Chicago has to offer is hot dogs and deep-dish pizza, guess again. Over the last two decades, the Windy City has reinvented itself as a gourmand getaway. Sample Michelin-starred gastronomic fare at restaurants like Alinea and Smyth and The Loyalist, or sink your teeth into a soaked Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s and let the juice dribble down—you can be as elegant or unpretentious as you like in this midwestern berg.
And of course, you should try a fully loaded dog and a slice of a deep-dish while you’re here—try a no-frills hot dog stand like Wiener’s Circle for the former and make the pilgrimage to a local-favorite pizzeria like Pequod’s Pizza in Lincoln Park for the latter.
New Orleans, Louisiana
In New Orleans, every weekend is a party (and cause for a parade), and food is at the very center of the hoopla. The Big Easy’s staple dishes nod to its rich Cajun and Creole roots. Tuck into an unfussy bowl of gumbo, enjoy crawfish etouffee at a neighborhood bistro clad in white tablecloths, or snack on an oyster-filled po’boy as you roam the French Quarter. And then there’s dessert—from puffy beignets at Café du Monde to king cakes, sweet pralines, and bananas foster. You won’t leave NOLA hungry.
If you need something to wash down your food, you’re in luck—New Orleans is the hometown of many a classic cocktail, including the Sazerac, Hurricane, French 75, and Vieux Carré. Plus, the city’s lack of open-container laws means you can ask for your beverage to go and stroll the streets while you sip. (And if you’d really like to dive deep into the New Orleans food scene, join us for our spring New Orleans Cuisine & Culture 2022 experience—click here for more information!)