For adventurous foodies, these cities are the next best thing to an international plane ticket.
When you think of food destinations in the U.S., places like San Francisco, New York City, and New Orleans likely come to mind. However, there’s been a recent trend of James Beard award-winning chefs moving out of major cities and opening up shop in lesser-known locales. So step aside New York City; move over, New Orleans. From Japanese-style eateries in Kansas City to some of the best Greek in the country found in Detroit, here are the 19 U.S cities whose surprisingly good international food scene is definitely worth checking out this year. No passport necessary!
Eastern European & Polish
WHERE: Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh’s food scene has come a long way in recent years. While you can easily pick from a handful of interesting and innovative international cuisines, at its core, Polish food has remained a longtime staple in Steel town. Located in a former church the Lawrenceville neighborhood, Church Brew Works serves both traditional potato and cheese pierogis as well as and non-traditional rattlesnake and pumpkin pierogis. Also, in Lawrenceville, Cop Out Pierogis is run by a former police officer and serves a steady mix of savory and sweet pierogis. Another popular spot in the McKee’s Rocks suburb of Pittsburgh, Pierogis Plus is a take-out eatery only, however, their pierogis are served in restaurants around the city. S&D Polish Deli, in the Strip District neighborhood serves pierogis with sweet farmer cheese along with a mix of Eastern European staples like kielbasa, nalesniki, and potato pancakes.
WHERE: Houston, TX
Touted as the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S, Houston has a reputation for international dining. Les Ba’get in Montrose is considered “next generation Vietnamese cuisine”. Not to be missed at Les Ba’Get is anything that can be dipped into the signature fish sauce, especially the fresh selection of spring rolls, beef pho, and the award-winning Bahn mi sandwiches. Saigon Pagolac in Chinatown is a no-frills locale that’s renowned for their beef seven ways. Other traditional spots include Thien Than in Midtown and Huynh Restaurant in East Downtown.
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WHERE: San Diego, CA
When it comes to the food scene in San Diego, Mexican cuisine is probably the first thing that comes to mind. And that makes sense, given the city’s geographical proximity to the border. However, San Diego is a melting pot of cultures and culinary influences. Kearny Mesa is home of the Convoy District and the heart of San Diego’s Asian community. Convoy is unique in the number of diverse businesses owned and representative of different Asian cultures including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai. While you can take your pick of any one of these cuisines, Korean food at Convoy Tofu House is a must-try, particularly their selection of tofu stews. Also in Convoy, Manna Korean BBQ features an all-you-can-eat menu featuring all the Korean classics from bulgogi and beef tongue to pork jowl and Korean BBQ beef ribs.
WHERE: Richmond, Virginia
From traditional southern cooking and decadent soul food to elegant French fare, Richmond is a culinary force to be reckoned with. One of the most standout restaurants in town, Metzger Bar & Butchery cooks up some of the city’s best German-inspired dishes, from chicken schnitzel and potato rosti to Schweinshaxe—a traditional German pork knuckle dish. At the helm of the restaurant is chef Brittanny Anderson, a Richmond local whose culinary upbringing at Blue Hill Stone Barns and Northern Spy Food Co in New York City has played a major role in the restaurant’s success. Don’t miss a chance to grab a freshly baked loaf from nearby Sub Rosa Bakery or a slice of New Zealand-style pie from Proper Pie Company.
WHERE: Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara may be known as the American Riviera due to its idyllic coastline and Mediterranean-style architecture, but it’s also a place where Italian immigrants were amongst the most prominent families and early inhabitants of the city. So it’s no surprise that while the city is home to an eclectic mix of Mediterranean, Spanish, and Italian restaurants, the Hollywood crowd has long been flocking to this beautiful city by the sea for authentic Italian eats, including Oprah’s favorite Trattoria Mollie to the homemade gnocchi di ricotta and lasagna della casa at local favorite Via Maestra 42 on State Street.
WHERE: Boston, MA
When you think of food in Boston, the thing that likely comes to mind is lobster rolls and oysters. However, from casual Mexican fare to high-end cuisine, Mexican food is quickly becoming the darling of Boston’s culinary scene. Located in South Boston, Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar is a Baja-style Mexican spot with funky decor and gorgeous food. Burro Bar in Brookline is another popular spot for all things south of the border, including chorizo nachos, Baja style fish tacos, and of course, tequila. Speaking of tequila, Lolita, which just opened a second location in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, is serving up some of the best margaritas as well as pork belly carnitas and chicken chilaquiles in town in one of the city’s sexiest dining rooms.
WHERE: Saint Paul, MN
The Twin Cities have seen an emergence in culinary offerings in recent years. Without question, one of the city’s most standout cuisines, Vietnamese food, which is largely attributed to the influx of Hmong refugees who fled to the U.S and Minnesota after the Vietnam War. Today, the Hmong population in Saint Paul is among the highest urban Hmong population in the world. Hmongtown Marketplace is, as the name suggests, an indoor-outdoor grocery store and cultural hub for the Hmong community that features hundreds of food stalls serving up Vietnamese treats from Bahn mi and pho to Vietnamese coffee. Other popular spots include Ngon Bistro on University Ave, which has been serving up some of the city’s best modern Vietnamese cuisine, and iPho by Saigon, who specializes in pho and bun dishes.
WHERE: Washington DC
Washington D.C.is a hodgepodge of cultures and ambitious ethnic restaurants. Most notably, it’s home to some of the best Ethiopian restaurants in the country, many of which are named after cities in Ethiopia as a means for people to reconnect with family and friends by using these place-named cafes and restaurants as a meeting place. Two standout spots, Chercher in Shaw and Das in Georgetown, both made Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list in 2018. While the restaurants are quite different, their menus read similarly. Chercher is a low-key locale compared to Das’ white tablecloth and brightly lit décor, but both places serve up the traditional Ethiopian-American fare that includes everything from kitfo to beef tips. Dukem in Shaw is one of the original Ethiopian restaurants in D.C. and even features a free “cultural show” every Wednesday from 7-10pm as well as Ethiopian pop music other nights of the week. Etete is a self-described elevated Ethiopian experience with an ambitious menu that includes teriyaki tips and lentil hummus, injera tacos, mumbo glazed duck (mumbo is the DC sweet-spicy take-out sauce), and “Ethiopian mules” made from tej—a traditional Ethiopian sweet wine.
WHERE: Baltimore, MD
Beyond crab cakes and lobster, Baltimore is home to some excellent Latin American restaurants. Bar Vasquez is one of the top-rated restaurants in town, offering authentic Argentinian cuisine. Chef Mario Cano Catalán embraces meat, fire, and seasonal ingredients with a wide variety of whiskeys for the perfect pairing. Alma Cocina Latina brings the soul of Caracas to Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood. The 90-seat Venezuelan restaurant is home to an arepa bar, along with a menu inspired by Venezuelan culinary roots using contemporary techniques. Points South Latin Kitchen serves Latin American cuisine and handcrafted cocktails with fresh herbs and has earned top ratings and local loyalty in the trendy Fell’s Point neighborhood.
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WHERE: Detroit, MI
Detroit’s food scene has taken on a life of its own in recent years. From modern Mexican and an array of authentic Polish and Middle Eastern restaurants, there’s no shortage of international fare to choose from in the motor city. However, with a bustling Greektown just northeast of downtown Detroit, one of the most convivial spots, Pegasus, has been serving up some of the city’s best tableside saganaki—a pan-seared cheese that’s served flaming. Santorini Estiatorio is another popular locale and the self-proclaimed “best happy hour in town.” Other notable restaurants include The Golden Fleece and New Parthenon, two Greektown favorites. Don’t miss the homemade yogurt found at Athens Souvlaki in the heart of downtown.
WHERE: Portland, OR
Home to the original Pok Pok PDX whose no-frills northern Thai cuisine continues to draw long lines, Portland’s wide variety of excellent Thai cuisine is one of the top reasons to visit the city. Langbaan, Thai for “back of house,” is a restaurant within a restaurant. Tucked within PaaDee restaurant, Langbaan specializes in authentic, regional Thai cuisine featuring seasonal dishes with ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. In 2015, Langbaan was the James Beard Award Semi-Finalist nominee for the “Best New Restaurant in America.” Located on North Killingsworth’s growing restaurant row, Hat Yai features flavors from South Thailand including roti, fried chicken, turmeric curry, and coconut rice. With seven food carts and one brick-and-mortar shop in Woodside, E-San Thai Cuisine has been churning out some of the best Thai dishes in town since 1999. The family-run spot draws on local produce from Oregon’s farmers’ markets whenever possible. With an expansive menu, favorites here include a Northwest take on Thai, like salmon panang and duck pad thai.
WHERE: Reno, NV
When it comes to cuisine in the biggest little city in the world, Reno is study of contrasts. While steakhouses and new American cuisine will always be popular, Japanese cuisine has taken hold here. Reno’s first Japanese-style tavern, Kauboi Izakaya offers an amazing array of Japanese favorites from dumplings and tempura to ramen and tuna poke. With minimalist décor, Kauboi provides guests with an authentic taste of Japan in Reno. Ijji 2 Reno, the younger sister of the original Ijji in the nearby city of Sparks, opened its doors in 2011 and offers hibachi and a selection of sushi and nigiri. Finally, with several sushi spots to choose from, a consistent favorite is Sushi Pier, a Reno staple since 2000. Family-owned and operated, the restaurant serves over 17 types of Japanese sake, as well as locally brewed beers.
WHERE: Naples, FL
Much like its Italian namesake city, Naples is truly hidden gem when it comes to all things cuisine in Southwest Florida. While there’s no shortage of standouts to choose from here, it’s Italian restaurants that tend to reign supreme, starting with local favorite Campiello, whose homemade pasta and wood-fired pizza are some of the best in town. D’ Amico & Sons is another local favorite for their chicken parmigiana, Tuscan pot roast, and veal scallopine. Finally, Alberto’s on Fifth is another popular spot right in the heart of downtown Naples.
WHERE: Atlanta, GA
From authentic Southern barbecue to high-end Asian fusion, you can pretty much find it all in this city. Chinese cuisine, particularly Szechuan, which tends to have bolder, spicier flavor profiles, has remained very much in demand over the years. Located downtown, Gu’s Dumplings is perpetually ranked as one of Atlanta’s best spots for all things spicy and Szechuan-inspired. There’s a variety of dumplings on offer, including their award-winning Zhong-style dumplings that come with your choice of vegetables or pork, as well as Chongqing Chicken, stir fried string beans, and Szechuan po’ boys. Just outside of Atlanta and located in an unassuming strip mall on Buford Highway, Masterpiece is considered to be one of the best traditional Szechuan restaurants in the city.
WHERE: Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis may best be known for its surplus of amazing fried chicken and comfort food spots, but as the city’s culinary offerings continue to expand, one of the best spots in town to find French-inspired Creole is Chef Kelly English’s Restaurant Iris. While the menu here changes seasonally, standout dishes have been known to include everything from a lobster knuckle sandwich and grilled lamb loin to pan-seared Tennessee foie gras. If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional in the way of elevated French fare, Chez Phillipe in The Peabody Hotel serves up a mix of classic and inventive dishes available on their set tasting menus. Finally, Owen Brennan’s New Orleans’s style restaurant has been serving up some of the city’s best Creole food for years, including Cajun calamari and crawfish etouffee.
WHERE: Louisville, KY
Louisville may be known for the calorie fest otherwise known as the ‘hot brown,’ but the days of greasy sandwiches are long gone. Located in the heart of old Louisville, 610 Magnolia is a play on traditional southern flavors and ingredients infused with an Asian twist. One of the most popular food trucks rolling around town, The Traveling Kitchen features a mix of Asian Fusion and Korean-style bites like bulgogi beef tacos, spicy pork, and teriyaki chicken. Finally, Milk Wood’s Southern-inspired Asian fare has been serving up some of the best Bulgogi braised beef cheeks, smoked soy shoyu, and Bourbon broiled bibimbap in town.
WHERE: Healdsburg, CA
About an hour and a half drive north of San Francisco, Healdsburg in Northern California is quietly climbing the ranks of as one of the county’s best new foodie destinations. With an array of excellent restaurants to choose from, one of area’s most popular locales, Cafe Lucia, offers Cozinha Nova Portuguesa or new Portuguese cuisine. Using freshly-sourced ingredients from Sonoma county, the dishes here are complimented by the intimate atmosphere with wooden tables fashioned from old wine boxes.
WHERE: Scottsdale, AZ
Located in the Wild Horse Pass Resort, Kai is the place to go for high-end Native American cuisine. Locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community are used to create dishes with the traditional flavors of the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Menu items not to be missed include msickquatash, which is a braised lamb shoulder and seared loin served with steamed corn succotash and coriander, or the wild boar mangalitsa belly with fractured pima wheat berries, acorn ash, and sassafras caramel. On the flip side, The Stand is as the name suggests, a casual outpost on reservation-owned land in Scottsdale that serves up a mix of sweet and savory Indian fry bread and tacos.
WHERE: Indianapolis, IN
One of Indianapolis’s top spots for all things contemporary Asian cuisine, Rook serves up pork belly steamed buns and banh mi tacos to perfection. Located along restaurant row in the Fletcher Place neighborhood (other notable nearby restaurants include Milktooth and Bluebeard), Ukiyo is one of the city’s most highly anticipated omakase-style restaurants. International Marketplace is a hub of restaurants in downtown Indy that is beloved by locals and visitors alike. One of the most popular spots, Lucky Lou’s Seafood, is a great place to grab some dim sum. Saigon is another local favorite serving up everything from congee to pho.