The 30 US Cities With the Most Underrated Food Scenes

Source: edsel_ / Flickr

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Steel City’s Smallman Galley is a unique sort-of food hall with a rotating cast of local chefs working out of four distinct micro-kitchens. The related Federal Galley, which also has four kitchens, functions as both an eating place and an incubator for chefs who want to run their own restaurants. Add the new two-story Pennsylvania Market food hall and you have an idea of why this one-time industrial capital is such an exciting place to eat — even without considering its many good restaurants.

Those, however, include the not-to-be-missed Butcher and the Rye, with its creative versions of American country fare and its extensive stock of whiskey; Poulet Bleu, serving traditional French food; the convincingly Spanish tapas bar Morcilla; and the all-American gastropub and biergarten The Commoner.

Source: Courtesy of Fore Street Restaurant

Portland, Maine

Though Portland, Oregon, gets most of the attention from food-lovers, its East Coast counterpart offers plenty to attract hungry travelers. Local celebrity chef Sam Hayward has been serving farm-, forest-, and sea-to-table cuisine for at least 30 years at his Fore Street Restaurant, and his Scales Restaurant and Street & Company are well-loved parts of the local dining community. Eventide Oyster Co. serves impeccable shellfish (and redefines the lobster roll), while Browne Trading Company is a top retail (and mail-order) source for caviar and fresh seafood from near and far. And what gourmand could resist an eatery called Duckfat?

Source: Courtesy of The Roosevelt

Richmond, Virginia

The Virginia capital has been called “America’s next great restaurant-obsessed town” for several reasons: the regionally and seasonally focused bistro The Roosevelt; the upscale Lemaire in the city’s landmark Jefferson Hotel; and the Virginia-focused farm- and sea-to-table restaurant Shagbark, run by Lemaire’s former longtime chef, for starters. Then there’s the lively bar-and-grill-like Heritage; two branches of the superlative Sichuan restaurant chain Peter Chang’s; the avant-garde Longoven; and Sub Rosa, which Bon Appétit called “one of the best bakeries in America.” And no local restaurant has more personality than the love-it-or-hate-it Mamma Zu, known for its excellent old-school Italian food and its brusque service.

Source: Jeff A. / Yelp

Sacramento, California

Thrillist called the Golden State’s capital “the overlooked California city that’s about to blow up as a food destination.” Why? According to Thrillist’s Matt Meltzer, it’s because “It’s the hub of America’s most abundant agricultural region, has access to more ingredients than any other city, and for a number of reasons, is finally attracting talent and investment to match its gardens.” Food-lovers all over America know Corti Bros. market, famed for one of the most eclectic selections of food and wine (and one of the most knowledgeable food and wine experts) in America.

Whether the local restaurants are Italian (Biba, Obo’), Mexican (Centro, El Novillero), Chinese (Frank Fat’s, Yue Huang), or, well, local (Localis, Magpie Café) — or anything else — the food they serve is likely to be same-day fresh. As Meltzer added, “While the big joke about ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants in bigger destinations is that they all have a Sysco truck parked out front, in Sacramento, they mean it quite literally.”

Source: mhowry / Flickr

San Diego, California

The iconic dish in San Diego is the fish taco, invented just across the border in Baja California but popularized here, beginning in the early 1980s. Found all over America today, the tacos are almost impossible to avoid in their adopted home. Among the purveyors approved by locals are Wonderland Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach Fish Shop, Mariscos el Pulpo, Puesto, Casa Guadalajara, The Taco Stand, and any of the three area locations of Rubio’s, now a nationwide chain but the place that first introduced fish tacos to the U.S.

Of course, the San Diego food world encompasses much more than tacos. The accents are Italian at Il Dandy and Biga, Japanese at Sushi Ota and Menya Ultra, Korean at H Mart Market Eatery. Addison Restaurant and Juniper & Ivy are cutting-edge contemporary. Born and Raised and Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop are the spots for steak, while The Fishery and Ironside Fish & Oyster serve impeccable seafood. There are almost 40 farmers markets in the greater San Diego area — and the Temecula wine country is only an hour’s drive north.