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10 Unexpected U.S. Cities With a Surprisingly Good Food Scene

Foodie or not, these small towns will have you licking your lips and patting your belly.

From Michelin-starred restaurants and James Beard-nominated chefs to small-town moonshine distilleries and neighborhood diners that have been serving since 1914, these small towns are quickly emerging as unique foodie destinations to visit in the United States. With a diverse and vibrant food scene, the following ten cities will excite and delight even the pickiest of eaters with a wide variety of offerings that are sure to please all the senses.

1 OF 10


WHERE: Florida

Tallahassee is not only the state capital, but it is also a lively college town with a great mix of cool, eclectic areas and swanky upscale dining options. College Town, at the edge of FSU, is a pedestrian-only area with bars, cafes, and restaurants for casual fare. Bar 1903, located in the historic Walker Library, and Eve on Adams on the 17th floor of the DoubleTree by Hilton are perfect for a fancier meal. Bonus, Eve on Adams offers some of the best views of the Tallahassee skyline.

For a casual meal, check out Madison Social located at the edge of FSU’s campus. It delivers classic pub food with a twist. If you want to go for a night out on the town, Il Lusso is a great five-star option for an upscale dining experience.

INSIDER TIPIl Lusso has been recognized as one of the best restaurants in Florida, so make a reservation in advance.



2 OF 10

South Walton

WHERE: Florida

South Walton is a Gulf Coast Florida gem that is known for its sugar-white sand, turquoise waters, and unique beach neighborhoods. But that’s not all. It is also becoming a foodie hot spot with an interesting mix of old classics and new eclectic cuisines. Local chefs are putting delicious spins on coastal casuals—be it comfort foods or fine dining. Places to check out are Scratch Biscuit Kitchen where made-from-scratch biscuits take center stage for breakfast, lunch, and even dessert. Also worth a visit is Ovide, where classic Gulf Coast flavors come together with impeccable French techniques to create masterful dishes for a fancier dining option.

Take advantage of South Walton’s luxury seaside communities like Alys Beach for the perfect combination of sun, sand, laid-back atmosphere, and great food. The Citizen is a coastal tavern serving some of the best seafood around as well as creative cocktails.

INSIDER TIPThe Citizen’s ice confection is a perfect late-night snack—don’t miss it!


3 OF 10


WHERE: South Carolina

From moonshine distilleries like Sugar Tit, speakeasy bars with drag queen nights, and grocery stores that champion the farm-to-table movement—Greenville is quickly becoming America’s hippest food city. Once a world-renowned textile boomtown in the 1900s, Greenville struggled when all the mills shut down. Now the city and its many turn-of-the-century neighborhoods are on the mend. Today the city has more than 100 restaurants, many of which are James Beard-nominated establishments that cater to every pallet.

A perfect date night restaurant is Juniper located eight floors above Main Street offering epic views, intoxicating drinks, and stellar food. Some nights they have live entertainment for a true one-of-a-kind experience. Another favorite is Camp which is touted as a gathering place capturing the essence of Greenville with food that is delicious and flavorful using fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced locally. For breakfast head to Swamp Rabbit Café along the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

INSIDER TIPSwamp Rabbit Trail is a well-loved grocery store that moonlights as a dance club most Thursday nights.


4 OF 10


WHERE: South Carolina

Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Spartanburg is known for its Revolutionary War battles, as well as its rich textile and agricultural history. It was originally called the Hub City for its railroad crossroads making it extremely accessible from all over the surrounding states. Spartanburg has another claim to fame in that you can eat out every meal for weeks and never eat at the same place or have the same meal twice. From upscale dining at the Kennedy (set to an old-new hip art decor feel) to epic burgers at Nu-Way Lounge (the oldest bar circa 1937), this town seems to prove its claim many times over.

Check out FR8yard in downtown Spartanburg, which is South Carolina’s first fully outdoor Biergarten built entirely from re-purposed shipping containers. For breakfast, don’t miss Blue Moon (home of the famous Yep Shake seasoning) which is also a great family-owned business that has a community garden and sources ingredients locally.

5 OF 10

Eau Claire

WHERE: Wisconsin

Set in the heart of Wisconsin’s fertile Chippewa Valley, Eau Claire’s food scene includes a little bit of everything—fine dining, first-generation Mexican and Hmong fare, food trucks, and a thriving field-to-table movement led by Farm Table Foundation that incorporates farms scattered around the area. It also has many indie coffee shops that are the perfect place for people-watching. The diverse food fare in Eau Claire goes to show that Wisconsin is so much more than cheese curds.

The Lakely, which is attached to the Oxbow Hotel in the heart of downtown, serves a locally-sourced seasonal menu full of Midwestern classics with an artist twist. Stop by the Brewing Projekt, one of eight craft breweries in town for a flight of their funky flavors. For an after-dinner treat head to Ramone’s, which is a vintage ice cream parlor with sodas, malts, and ice cream.

INSIDER TIPAt the Lakely, a must-try beverage is their Wisconsin Old Fashioned, which is considered the unofficial state cocktail.


6 OF 10


WHERE: Illinois

Bloomington, along with its sister city of Normal, has always been known as a university town with both Illinois State University and Wesleyan located inside the city limits. But as the town grows and expands, so does the culinary scene with many different cuisines taking root thanks to the university’s large international student population. With Korean, Indian, Mexican, Thai, and everything in between, it is the place to go for a laid-back culinary adventure.

For rustic, old-school vibes try The Lucca Grill, which is perfect for Italian favorites with its antique bar and tin ceiling. Desithl Restaurant & Brew Works is a chic eatery with farm-to-table cooking and around 48 creative taps. Another generational favorite is the Ropp Jersey Cheese farm just outside town that focuses on cheddars ranging from Cajun to dill, green olive, and others. They also have fresh cheese curds, queso, farm-raised meat, ice cream, and other farm-to-fork products.

7 OF 10

Fort Wayne

WHERE: Indiana

While the Midwest has always been known as a traditional meat and potatoes kind of place, Fort Wayne has started to break that mold. The food scene here is best described as rich in flavor, uniqueness, purpose, produce, and tradition. Rooted in the bountiful produce of the Midwest, Fort Wayne is a place where you can dine around the world without the cost of traveling.

Some hot favorites are Coney Island Wiener Stand (an over 100-year-old hot dog stand) and Hop River Brewing Company, where you can join around the community table for beer and conversation. For drinks, check out Copper Spoon (whose bartender was voted one of the top five bartenders in the country) and Junk Ditch Brewing Company, which is leading the way in culinary creativity.

INSIDER TIPIn 2022, Fort Wayne will open the region’s first food hall and public market, Union Street Market, featuring 20-plus merchants and a weekly Farmers Market.

8 OF 10

Jackson Hole

WHERE: Wyoming

Jackson Hole is a city that epitomizes America’s Wild West. Known as a playground of the rich and famous, the culinary scene in Jackson is diverse. Although it only has about 20,000 residents year-round, the tourist population passing through warrants some classic and modern eats to satisfy any pallet and any wallet. From fine dining at Amangani to Pinky G’s (featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives), from tacos to a bakery open since 1974, there is no shortage of cuisines to try in Jackson.

Breakfast is a big deal in Jackson, especially as people wake up early for a hearty meal before hitting the slopes, and Persephone Bakery is the place to go for artisanal rustic bread and pastries. For a more iconic western cuisine, try Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse, which serves a selection of local and regional meats including dry-aged beef and bison meat.

9 OF 10


WHERE: Montana

Another college town in the heart of cowboy country, Bozeman’s culinary scene caters to its vibrant community of students, professionals, and outdoor enthusiasts. The food here keeps up with the demands of a global palate with classic French, smoked BBQ, sushi, coffee roasters, and food trucks. It also has a thriving farm-to-table and grain-to-glass movement, a food co-op that works with local ranches and farms, and restaurants like Montana Ale Works located in an old historic rail depot. 

Downtown Bozeman is full of quaint boutiques, coffee shops, and classic favorites like Bacchu’s Historic Pub (opened in 1929) as well as newer ones like La Petite Chatelaine Chocolate Co. For a wholesome breakfast or brunch, The Farmers’ Daughters Café & Eatery is a must-visit where everything is sourced from local farms. After dinner, head to Sweet Peaks for handcrafted ice cream. 

10 OF 10


WHERE: Alabama

From sophisticated seafood to exotic cocktails and decadent desserts, many of Birmingham’s restaurants are out to change the perception that the south is only known for grits and gravy. Not only will you find soul food and new twists to Southern classics, but the city also boasts a vibrant international food scene. Of course, don’t miss the typical shrimp and grits, which is practically Alabama’s official dish. If a more international menu is what you’re aft4er, Birmingham delivers everything from Indian cuisine, Asian fusion, Latin fare, Italian classics, and Moroccan dishes.

Birmingham’s cocktail scene is buzzing with creative mixologists who are shaking up modern takes on classic drinks. Go underground to visit the clandestine Pilcrow Cocktail Cellar for a menu highlighting agave-based spirits. Another unique spot is The Lumbar, a science-themed bar that also features collaborative workspaces. Don’t miss Helen for some biscuits with whipped cane syrup butter and Ovenbird for unique South American tapas. For fresh gulf seafood, look no further than Automatic Seafood and Oysters and The Fish Market.

smbt1250 February 28, 2022

Thank you for including Farm Table Foundation in this coverage. Our nonprofit organization and restaurant are located in downtown Amery, Wisconsin, a bit north of Eau Claire. We're committed to partnership with sustainable farms -- growers dedicated to growing outstanding foods while using practices that rebuild soil, protect groundwater and manage livestock humanely. In fact, during the growing season we source 80% of our foods from within 50 miles of our state-of-the-art kitchen. In the winter months we extend our reach to farmer cooperatives with aligned values. We truly appreciate being in a broadening community building local food culture to the benefit of our local neighbors and the hundreds of visitors that come into our area for amazing recreation, downtown shopping and great eating. It's the great flavors and creative seasonal menus that keep guests coming back year round. We hope to see you here.

janetandken February 14, 2022

Thanks for putting Greenville SC on your "Good Food Scenes" list; it has an impressive dining array for a medium-size city.  However, I'd like to take exception to your including the Sugar Tit moonshine spot, which is rather far from downtown -- it's 15 miles off in the small community of Reidville, which is actually closer to Spartanburg (also on your Scenes list).  In its place I would offer the Six&Twenty distillery in West Greenville, a hip cultural and historic district just a few miles down South Main Street.  Cheers!