What makes a good food city? An abundance of good restaurants, of course, ideally offering an ample choice of both casual and serious options and representing a wide range of cuisines. (Food halls and food trucks count.) Sometimes having depth in just one kind of food can be a helpful, too, as El Paso does with its wealth of Mexican places or New Haven with its world-class pizzerias.
There’s more to it than just a roster of good eating places, though. A first-rate food city needs a support system, a dining and cooking public that appreciates not only the way foods taste but their authenticity, their personality, their local identity. A first-rate food city has a population of food-lovers who are proud of the choices available to them and who appreciate tradition — though they should also be open to innovation and to new taste experiences from traditions other than their own.
Farmers markets and good grocery stores and other food shops are important, too, as are providers of peripheral pleasures like coffee shops, wine and spirits stores, bakeries, and ice cream parlors. Craft breweries add a lot to the mix, too, and proximity to farmland, fishing ports, and/or wineries is always a plus.
Most publications and critics (amateur and professional) who rate America’s food cities include the same few regulars in their top ranks, though the order often changes: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, Portland (Oregon), Houston, and the likes. These are the stars, and not coincidentally, they are also the cities that are often home to many of the best restaurants in America.
Some cities with vibrant food scenes get forgotten for various reasons. Maybe they’re geographically out of the way, like Grand Traverse, Michigan, or Asheville, North Carolina. Sometimes they have gritty past reputations that don’t immediately suggest an appreciation of the culinary arts, like Pittsburgh or Detroit. Or it might be that they’re overshadowed by nearby cities with more established food reputations, like Phoenix by Scottsdale or Memphis by Nashville.
Sometimes, too, good food towns are just so small that people might not think of them as having any gastronomic depth — like Healdsburg, California, or Stonington, Connecticut. Small towns don’t always get the respect they deserve. Here, though, for reasons that may or may not have to do with food and drink, are 40 charming small towns to visit this fall.
24/7 Tempo referred to local, regional, and national online restaurant rankings, researched farmers markets and other food purveyors, and read menus and reviews to compile a list of cities that should be much better known than they are for their food scenes. Any one of them would make a worthwhile destination for food-lovers who want to expand their experience of America’s great culinary bounty.