The 30 US Cities With the Most Underrated Food Scenes
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara County is an important commercial fishing area; it is full of family farms; and it is the site of some of California’s most acclaimed wineries — so you know you’re always going to have plenty of good things to eat and drink here.
Seafood, of course, is much honored here, at places like Blackbird, Santa Barbara Shellfish Co., and Brophy Bros. The Lark and Bouchon (no relation to the Thomas Keller restaurants of the same name) are modern American with a strong regional focus. Caruso’s and the Olio-plex (pizzeria, crudo bar, and restaurant all in one) are top-notch Italian. Other restaurants worth a visit: Joe’s Café (all-American), Metropulos Fine Foods Merchant (Greek), Bibi Ji (Indian), Sama Sama Kitchen (Indonesian), and of course a whole array of Mexican places — among them the late Julia Child’s favorite, La Super-Rica.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
This picturesque New Mexican city is ground zero for Southwestern cuisine, both traditional and contemporary. Essential stops on a local food tour include Santacafé, The Shed, Tia Sophia’s, Pink Adobe, and Coyote Café. Though still taking advantage of the great produce from farms in the area, other restaurants — for instance, Arroyo Vino, Geronimo, and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen — cook less regionally focused food, and Santa Fe Bite is a must for its famous green chili cheeseburger.
The city’s farmers market — open Saturdays all year long and Tuesdays and Wednesdays seasonally — was named as one of the country’s 10 best by Sunset Magazine. The market serves as many as 150 regional farmers and producers.
Chef Mashama Bailey’s Savannah restaurant, The Grey (in a repurposed Greyhound bus station), has been one of the most talked-about establishments in the country since it opened four years ago (Eater called it “stunning” and named in 2017 Restaurant of the Year). The Grey is just the start of what makes this genteel seaside Southern city a food capital. As Time Out put it, “Clearly no longer content to settle for culinary stereotypes, the Hostess City of the South has officially embraced fresh takes on local comforts.”
Leading the effort, in addition to Bailey’s place, are such restaurants at Atlantic, a casual but serious neighborhood eatery with a great wine list; Cotton & Rye, with its Southern fare and homemade breads and charcuterie; the seafood specialist The Wyld; award-winning Wiley’s Championship B-B-Q; and a Savannah outpost of the acclaimed Husk.
Abutting the Rhode Island border, Stonington — part of which is Stonington Borough, the oldest village in Connecticut — encompasses the tourist town of Mystic as well. Mystic is home to Oyster Club, which has been hailed as the state’s best restaurant, and to its spinoffs, Engine Room (a “beer, burgers & bourbon” pub) and the craft butcher shop and casual eatery Grass & Bone. There’s also the celebrated Mystic Pizza (perhaps a better movie than pizzeria), the friendly wine bar and bistro M/Bar, a branch of Rhode Island’s Sift Bake Shop (famed for its fresh-baked breads and breakfast pastries), and more.
In Stonington itself, the 40-year-old Noah’s elevates the neighborhood restaurant genre with its home-baked bread, craft beer selection, and extensive menus. Food shoppers buy famed Stonington scallops and other seafood on the honor system from Stonington Seafood Harvesters; there’s an extensive dockside farmers market in summer; and an essential stop is the 1765-vintage Stone Acres Farm, under the same ownership as Oyster Club, with a seasonal farmstand, cooking classes, and a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program.
Traverse City, Michigan
In naming it one of a dozen “underrated destinations for foodies,” BuzzFeed described this northern Michigan municipality as a place “For the food and wine enthusiast who loves a small-town feel.” This is cherry country par excellence and also a major center for the state’s thriving wine industry and for an ever-growing number of craft distilleries.
The dining choices are many and varied. Trattoria Stella is top-flight Italian and its more casual sibling, The Franklin, serves internationally inspired comfort food. Georgina’s is a taqueria with an Asian accent, while Gaijin offers a Midwestern take on a Japanese bar food. Apache Trout is known for its steaks and seafood but above all for its stunning views of Grand Traverse Bay. The Cooks’ House is considered one of the state’s best restaurants for its eclectic modern American fare. And Moomers and Bardon’s Wonder Freeze get high marks from ice cream-lovers.