Special Report

The 30 US Cities With the Most Underrated Food Scenes

Burlington, Vermont

Vermont is famous for its cheeses, its seasonal produce, its craft brewers and cider makers, and its dairy products (including ice cream, of course). Burlington showcases all of these, at its extensive indoor winter and outdoor summer farmers markets and elsewhere, but also it has a thriving restaurant community.

Choices range from the celebrated American Flatbread (“all natural pizza baked in a primitive wood-fired earthen oven”) to the casual neighborhood bistro Butch & Babe’s to the old-line French place Leunig’s. Foam Brewers and other craft breweries, the “coffee tasting bar” Onyx Tonics, and the 20-hour-a-day Kountry Kart Deli with its famous sandwiches and varied breakfast menu add to the food scene options. And from May through August annually, there’s a Truck Stop Block Party featuring food trucks and entertainment.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville can date its history as a food city back to Thomas Jefferson’s day. Once described as “our only epicurean President,” Jefferson oversaw a garden at his Monticello estate in the city growing some 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 of fruit. He is also said to have introduced Colonial era diners to French fries, gumbo, fried eggplant, mashed potatoes, and even possibly pumpkin pie.

Today, his garden thrives, and wine is made on land where he first planted European grapes. There are 35 wineries in the area, one of them the site of the elegant Italian restaurant Palladio. There are also French specialties at Fleurie, Asian-inspired tapas at Bang!, all-American sandwiches and other fare at The Virginian (the city’s oldest restaurant), fried chicken and bbq ribs at Ace Biscuit & Barbecue… and the list goes on.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati-style chili over spaghetti at one of the city’s numerous Skyline or Gold Star franchises; the fried pork-and-oatmeal mush called goetta (much better than it sounds) at Glier’s, Queen City Sausage, or Eckerlin Meats; super-rich Graeter’s ice cream at one of the company’s many local shops; addictive ribs at Montgomery Inn — these are just a few of the must-try foods in this almost-Southern city (Kentucky is just across the river).

For food shopping, the 167-year-old open-air Findlay Market is a must, as is one of two theme-park-like Jungle Jim’s International Market locations, with a combined area of more than 500,000 square feet full of hundreds of thousands of foodstuffs from the world around. Tortillerías, noodle parlors, steakhouses, and the luxurious Restaurant L are among the city’s other culinary attractions.

Cleveland, Ohio

There are two big names in the Cleveland restaurant world, both natives of the city. The first is TV personality (“Iron Chef,” “The Chew”) and chef Michael Symon, whose establishments include Lola, Mabel’s BBQ, Roast, Bar Symon, and B Spot Burgers. The other is Zack Bruell, proprietor of Table 45, L’Albatros, Parallax, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard, Dynomite Burgers, Exploration, and Alley Cat.

You could stop right there and have more than enough to cement Cleveland’s place in the food-town firmament. Add in recent entries — such as Good Company for pub food, Asiatown’s buzzy LJ Shanghai, a branch of star Florida chef Michael Schwartz’s Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, the wine bar Flight Cleveland, James Beard Best New Restaurant nominee Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, and food halls like Ohio City Gallery and Van Aken Market Hall — and the city could keep gastronomes busy for weeks.

Source: Courtesy of Buddy's Pizza

Detroit, Michigan

Whether or not Detroit is “America’s most underrated food city” as Food 52 proposed last year, the food website certainly has plenty of reasons to keep it in the running. Among the places Food 52 hails are Buddy’s for Detroit-style pizza, Cedar Garden for kibbeh nayyeh (Lebanese lamb tartare), Mexicantown’s Honey Bee La Colmena for tamales, and Lafayette Coney Island for coney dogs and chili fries.

There’s so much more, however, including Norma G.’s for Trinadadian fare, Capers for cocktails and steak-by-the-ounce, Voyager for oysters and other seafood, the meat-centric Marrow (one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants for 2019), Bangkok 96 Street Food for Thai specialties, imaginative New American place Selden Standard, and much more.

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