Everyone knows the big cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle have a plethora of amazing restaurant options for the gourmand, but there are a slew of smaller cities with world-class chefs producing some very creative cuisine. We have partnered with professional travel blogger Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip.com to share some of his favorite small city foodie destinations.
Dining out has evolved from something to sustain, to an experience. The restaurant food scene has exploded over the past decade, spawning ideas like the once diametric gourmet food truck. Cooking and restaurant shows dominate the cable air waves. And cities are becoming destinations thanks in large part to the creative chefs who live and breathe gastronomy.
I have always been a bit of a foodie and quite enjoy cooking. However, what I like more than anything, is being wowed and inspired by the amazingly creative chefs that pepper the culinary landscape today. While the French have always been known for their elegant dining experience, I think the industry as a whole has been elevated to such a point that our ancestors would have discovered their fifth sense: taste! Cooking has developed into an art form, not just in the blending of new flavors and ingredients, but the presentations have spawned a generation of social media crazed foodie fanatics that need to photograph every meal (I include myself in that group).
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to do a Travel Channel show called “Best of the Road.” There were five teams of two who traversed the U.S. in search of the best of small town America in five different categories—for example, Most Fun, Most Beautiful and Best Food, which was my category. My teammate and I crisscrossed the country from coast-to-coast in search of the best food in small town America. 4,700 miles, 97 restaurants, over 400 meals and at least 10 extra pounds later, I became a full-fledged professional foodie. Every year since, I have been dining at 75-100 restaurants, in a search of restaurants that will outdo the last.
With all of my food dining experience, I thought I would share some of my favorite foodie towns across the country. These are smaller cities whose local chefs exemplify food preparation and presentation.
Charlottesville is a community rich in history, dating back to the earliest years of our fine nation. Thanks in part to one of its most famous residents, Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville has a vibrant culinary scene today. President Jefferson was a voracious traveler and a botany enthusiast; he established relationships around the world that ultimately created a network for seed exchange, thus making the area a hub for farming and eventually one of the best small towns in the country for foodies. There are over 200 restaurants to choose from, but here are two you can’t miss:
- Clifton Inn – World-class fine dining at its best. The food, setting, and the service are impeccable. The accommodations are pretty fantastic, too.
- The Local – Each dish tastes as good as it looks and the outdoor seating options accentuate the fresh theme. Don’t miss the crispy shrimp tossed with a pickled ginger black sesame aioli.
STAY: The Boars Head is sensational, and their breakfast is one of the best I’ve ever had.
A culinary renaissance has been going on in Scottsdale over the past decade. It has one of the most creative and consistently outstanding array of eateries of any city in the country, big or small. As a matter of fact, Scottsdale is an incubator for restaurant concepts that often roll out across the country. One of the hottest right now is True Food Kitchen.
There are so many great restaurant choices in Scottsdale that you can hardly go wrong, but two you should not miss are:
- Citizen Public House – An evening at Citizen Public House cannot be contained within the word “dinner” or even in the phrase “dining out.” It’s a place where comfort meets class. The food and cocktail ingredients are as imaginative as they are delicious.
- The Mission – The Mission takes diners on an extraordinary culinary pilgrimage with Peruvian accented Latin fare that introduces the palate to a complex and bold piquancy.
Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla is so nice, they named it twice! Home to more than 120 wineries, this small city is quickly being recognized for its culinary scene due in part to the thriving wine industry. With an abundance of locally grown and hand-crafted ingredients, Walla Walla chefs are able to craft dishes that reflect the community which helps produce it. The nouveaux “farm-to-table” movement has never been more evident than in Walla Walla. In addition to the world-class food, the people are amazingly friendly.
Note: While staying in Walla Walla, take a drive to nearby Waitsburg and see their super charming downtown while having a glass of local vino at Jimermanbar.
Two restaurants not to miss:
- T. Maccarone’s – Tantalizing terroir cuisine in a modern, Italian-influenced American bistro greets you at T. Maccarone’s.
- The Marc – Vibrant, innovative and simply delicious, these culinary works of art will make you want to snap a few photos.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is located about an hour north of Albuquerque and offers a southwestern experience that is distinctly unique. The dining options are as plentiful as they are impressive, rivaling that of larger cities with its innovative creations and overall selection. Two places not to miss are:
- Coyote Café is a very popular restaurant in Santa Fe … and, for good reason — they live up to, and dare I say … exceed their stellar reputation. Coyote Café is a collection of talented and passionate individuals who are seasoned in the art of Southwestern hospitality.
- The Compound Restaurant dates back to the 1960s when formal attire was required and notable socialites were common. Today, the Compound Restaurant is a bit less formal with a modern menu that emphasizes bold flavors with historic culinary traditions. The Compound typifies fine dining — from the cuisine to the service and the atmosphere, a superlative experience awaits.
Camden is such a charming and quaint coastal village, where the mountains meet the sea and the stunning harbor provides artists with inspiration for their next masterpiece. While the dining options are not as plentiful as some of the other cities listed, these two will send you to culinary heaven.
- Natalie’s – A simply extraordinary dining experience. The décor is as bold and refreshing as the gastronomic concoctions that exit the kitchen. Natalie’s is in my top-20 best dining experiences ever!
- Hartstone Inn offers epicurean excellence, fusing international and New England fares. Also a great place to stay while in Camden.
STAY: Camden Harbour Inn is perched atop a bluff overlooking the harbor and offers uncompromising quality and service.
Lewiston, New York
The idyllic village of Lewiston is full of culture with a thriving art, music and culinary scene. The quality of restaurants for such a small town is quite impressive. Two places not to miss:
- Casa Antica – This family-run Italian restaurant prides themselves on a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and their authentic homemade dishes originating from various regions of Italy will make your palate think you’ve escaped to an Italian village in the hills of Tuscany.
- Carmelo’s is where western New York chefs and foodies alike go to eat … partly for its “farm-to-table” philosophy — harvesting fresh local foods and presenting them to patrons in the most creative and delicious ways possible.
Bloomington is well known for its college sports supremacy, but they are also becoming known for their outstanding selection of dining options.Two places not to miss:
- Finch’s – The menu at Finch’s is a blend of Mediterranean/American and the seasonal menu is designed to showcase unique flavor combinations which can be enjoyed with a choice of more than sixty wines and over eighty artisan beers.
- Scholars Inn Cafe & Wine Bar is the perfect blend of creative food, atmosphere and service. The various nooks and crannies throughout the space make each sojourn a memorable dining experience.
Plattsburgh, New York
Even though Plattsburgh is a relatively small community, it serves a significant tourism population that descends on the area for its rich history and Lake Champlain recreation. The number of high quality eateries continues to increase and is becoming a destination for gastronomic enthusiasts. Two places not to miss:
- Anthony’s Restaurant & Bistro started the fine-dining movement in Plattsburgh more than 30 years ago. After all these years they still dazzle diners with their European-American cuisine enjoyed in the unique and intimate atmosphere of a historic nineteenth-century farmhouse.
- Irises Cafe and Wine Bar – Irises is a tapestry of locally-inspired New American cuisine served within a historic building in the heart of downtown Plattsburgh.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
One of the most trendy and coveted coastal communities in the state of Oregon is Cannon Beach. The scenic beauty of the rock outcropping monoliths on-and-offshore, including the famed “Haystack” rock, will make your beach strolls and photographs like none other. Two places not to miss:
EVOO is a unique, intimate, engaging and memorable dining experience … it’s like being on the set of a cooking show. Each dish and its ingredients are explained and prepared right in front of guests. They masterfully combine flavors and local ingredients into a whirlwind of palate-exciting delight.
Sweet Basil’s Cafe produces natural, organic and wild fresh cuisine with a Cajun/Creole flair. Sweet Basil is inspired by traditional cooking, but with a culinary signature that makes it one of the best restaurants in Cannon Beach.
STAY: Stephanie Inn is an extraordinary property right on the beach.
If you’ve ever been to any of the small foodie cities listed above and have a favorite restaurant, please leave a comment below and share.
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Mike Shubic is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads visit TravelocityGnomads.com.
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