Your precious vacation time doesn’t have to be spent dragging yourself between points of interest while snacking on stale granola bars. Those are the vacation days of old, when sightseeing was the only thing to do in many cities. Nowadays, you won’t get as many weird looks when you say you’re headed to Pittsburgh – to eat! That’s because foodcations are revamped getaways for the 21st century.
When you’re on a foodcation, your days revolve around the city’s best eats. Monuments and museums are distractions that help pass time, like when you’re absolutely full and need to take a detour en route to the next bakery, food truck, or restaurant. So, you see, it’s possible to get some sightseeing in on a foodcation, but the focus remains on what you’ll consume next.
America offers many options for a satiating foodcation. New York City, Los Angeles, Charleston, and Philadelphia are all required stops, of course, as they’re often ranked among the top international foodie destinations. However, we’re going to look past the obvious and explore a few others that definitely also deserve recognition as some of America’s best cities for foodies.
The Steel City’s industrial past is nothing like it’s cool, cultured present. In fact, it has quickly risen in rank from being featured in ‘Bizarre Foods America’ in 2013 to topping Zagat’s list of food cities in 2015.
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Morcilla This Spanish-themed restaurant in Lawrenceville (one of Pittsburgh’s largest neighborhoods) is a James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2015. Morcilla’s chef-owner Justin Severino adds an inventive twist to classic Spanish food, with menu offerings like a crab butter and tarragon churro and pigs feet and cheeks croquetas with saffron aioli, smoked maple, and pickled bitter greens. The pictures alone will make you want to hop on a plane ASAP.
You’ll find this American tavern inside Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, which is certainly an easily accessible treat for anyone staying at the hotel. First and foremost, they have a Bloody Mary bar. A Bloody Mary bar! You can mix and match ingredients from their list of sauces, spices, salted rims, infused vodkas (like bacon, grilled celery, or lemongrass), and drop-in additions (such as salami, roasted garlic, and hard-boiled eggs). The brunch menu features cider-steamed mussels, buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, and bacon beni (benedict).
To be a foodie is to try new eats, right? You’re in luck with this vegan restaurant. The food looks and tastes so good that you’ll forget it’s lacking meat, milk, and bacon grease. Try the smoked beet and walnut pâté and the nut cheese sampler – because it’s not every day you get an opportunity to eat cashew brie, smoked pecan asiago, and walnut cheddar “cheeses.”
Serving up overstuffed sandwiches 24 hours a day, this ‘Burgh institution started as a food cart in the Strip District in the early 1930s. All their sandwiches are topped with fries and coleslaw, because who wants those on the side? Some say this joint has become a tourist trap, but that’s just more reason to try it yourself and make your own opinion. After all, there’s a reason it’s made its mark on the Pittsburgh food scene.
What a local has to say “Pittsburgh has always been a great destination for old school European food,” says Daniel Berlin, 36. “There are tons of little Italian groceries that make their own sausages and sell Italian roast beef sandwiches and pepperoni rolls, and little Polish stores where you can get amazing fresh pierogies and homemade kielbasa.”
Daniel’s lunch recommendation for foodie visitors is Gaucho Parrilla Argentina in the Strip District. “Their rib-eye sandwich blows my mind,” he raves. Order the carne con pan with the bife de gaucho and prepare yourself for deliciousness.
Distractions between eats Andy Warhol Museum Carnegie Museum of Natural History Carnegie Museum of Art Canton Avenue River kayaking (seasonal)
To many people, Houston is known as a city for flight layovers, business trips, and insane traffic. Pigeonholing it in these ways completely ignores how ethnically diverse it is, and therefore how vibrant its food scene is. Houston is home to large Latino, Asian, and African-American populations, and has one of America’s biggest Vietnamese communities. Thanks to the nearby Gulf of Mexico, you can also enjoy fantastic seafood in the Bayou City. This cultural mash-up gives foodcationers many great noshing options, from barbecue to Asian to Tex-Mex to fusion and more.
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“Bernadine’s is a love letter to the Gulf Coast,” their website boasts. We won’t argue with that. Come for the raw bar and stay for a variety of Gulf fish entrees. If you don’t want an all-fish meal, opt for one of their unique mains like cochon de lait au presse or Dr. Pepper-glazed duck. Pair your food with an Oyster Shell Martini, Horse’s Neck Cocktail, or local draft beer.
When you’re en route to your next main meal, stop into this bakery to indulge your sweet tooth and get your coffee fix. They offer all the delights you’d expect at a high-quality bakery, like tarts, bread, croissants, scones, macarons, brownies, cheesecake, and more. You can’t go wrong with breakfast, lunch, or brunch here either. Their savory options include chicken torta, duck poutine, and even Korean BBQ.
Two words: Texas barbecue. You can’t stop in this state without getting some (well, unless you don’t eat meat – in which case, skip it). Pappa Charlies’ pitmaster Wesley Jurena started off in competitive barbecuing and then began a catering business before opening this brick and mortar BBQ joint in September 2015. Here you can enjoy Texas-sized portions of tender and juicy brisket, pork ribs, sausage, boudin, and turkey. Their $3 sides include the usual suspects: greens, slaw, mac ‘n’ cheese, pinto beans, and potato salad.
What a local has to say “I think that Houston is, obviously, a really good example of where ‘Tex-Mex’ originates from,” says Jon-Carlo Canezo, 28. “A heavy influence of Mexican fare, but with an American twist.”
For those wanting to try some of Houston’s best Tex-Mex, he recommends El Tiempo Cantina. “Steak fajitas are always good, but I love their enchiladas (of the tomatillo variety),” Canezo says. "Chile con queso with meat as a great app, plenty of big and generous margarita options, and their tres leches cake dessert is something I truly enjoyed.”
Distractions between eats “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace at Rice University Jog or stroll through Buffalo Bayou Park Browse Old Blue House Antiques Houston Museum of Natural Science Space Center Houston
New Orleans, or NOLA as the locals call it, is most notably known for its Jazz & Heritage Festival, Hurricane cocktails, and wild, vice-filled Mardi Gras celebration. NOLA does make an appearance on many foodie destination lists (American and international), but the local chefs are cooking up eats that are so wildly different than most other U.S. cities that it’s worth a review of their mouthwatering offerings.
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Café Du Monde Start your day at this coffee shop with an order of café au lait and French-style beignets (one order comes with three). The original coffee stand started in 1862, so this French Quarter fixture is a must, especially because you can’t leave NOLA without eating powdery beignets.
If you want the quintessential New Orleans experience, head to Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. This restaurant, in business since 1880, is #2 right now on Zagat’s top 50 NOLA restaurants list (but #1 under creole cuisine). Order the shrimp & tasso henican, turtle soup, and crawfish risotto. And because you’re in NOLA, get a side order of the crawfish tails, because you can never have too many.
This isn’t a weekend joint. They serve up home-style Creole eats during lunch Tuesdays through Fridays and dinner on Fridays. Extend your stay if you must, because it’s not to be missed. Chef Leah Chase is known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” and just earned the 2016 James Beard Lifetime Achievement award – so you know her food is finger-lickin’ good. Indulge in NOLA staples like po’ boys, gumbo, fried oysters, red beans and rice, fried chicken, and shrimp clemenceau.
What a local has to say “Cooter Brown’s is one of NOLA’s best dive bars and has some great food as well,” says Jonathan Nierman, 35. “Their biggest draw is the raw oysters, which are fresh, delicious, and affordable. You’ve got to get at least a half dozen. But they also have great po’ boys, fried seafood, and muffalettas. I suggest the shrimp po’ boy, which is huge and fantastic.”
Distractions between eats Walking tour of the French Quarter and Garden District Enjoy live music on Bourbon Street Take a swamp tour via airboat New Orleans Museum of Art National World War II Museum
America is full of delicious food options, making it difficult to decide where to go first. When planning your own food-centric getaway, start by considering what type of cuisine you’d like to indulge in. Then maximize your trip by combining nearby cities that are a short bus, train, or plane ride away, like Houston with New Orleans or Pittsburgh with Philadelphia. Plan to travel during low season, as restaurants will be less crowded and cooking classes and food tours won’t fill up as quickly. Take your time with each bite, and enjoy all the culinary delights that your destination of choice has to offer.