Skip to main content

These U.S. cities are the best places for foodies to visit

Interested in foodie travel? Visit these U.S. cities

It’s a great time to do some foodie travel. There are more culinary travel destinations than ever thanks to a combination of technology, expertise, and regionality. Even the United States, a relatively young nation by global standards, is flexing its gastronomical might nowadays.

Back in 2004, the UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation was born. It continues today, honoring cities all over the planet with unique qualifications. There are 49 cities and counting, including two American cities. The first city to receive the honor was Popayán, Colombia in 2005. Several more will join the list before the end of 2022.

Clearly, it takes more than several dozen food carts and amazing pizza to achieve such an honor. Otherwise, just about every major metro area in the U.S. would be on the list, or would at least be a candidate. Here’s what the designation really means.

Enchiladas with rice and beans.

What it takes to be a UNESCO City of Gastronomy

Cities all over the planet can apply for the UNESCO City of Gastronomy title. The organization reviews submissions every four years, paying close attention to the following attributes:

  • Robust gastronomy that reflects the urban center and/or region
  • Dynamic gastronomy community with many traditional restaurants and/or chefs
  • Traditional cooking methods that involve indigenous foods
  • Culinary practices that have carried on despite modernization
  • Food markets and a culinary industry that stress traditionalism
  • History of hosting gastronomic festivals, awards, contests and other important means of recognition
  • Promoting sustainability and biodiversity
  • Promoting public appreciation and culinary education

As you can see, there are some driving themes at play, namely in the form of traditional cuisine, local ingredients, and community. So far, just Tucson and San Antonio make up the American portion of the list, but there’s a good chance more will join in the future.

The Tucson effect

Don Guerra owns Barrio Bread in Tucson. He took home the Best Outstanding Baker award from James Beard this year. He says the UNESCO designation awarded back in 2015, the first of its kind for an American city, came through a combination of important factors. “It speaks to Tucson’s commitment to using local and heritage ingredients in creative, striking ways that tell Tucson’s culinary story, past and present,” he says. “This movement is multi-layered and comprised of restauranteurs, purveyors, gardeners, ranchers, farmers, brewers and vintners — all of whom are working toward the common goal of showcasing Tucson’s distinct flavors and heritage in a way that can’t be replicated elsewhere.”

Guerra credits the community for the city’s many personalities, from brewers and winemakers to farmers and purveyors. “Since the UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation, I’ve seen an uptick in the number of collaborations that chefs and purveyors are forming in the community,” Guerra continues. “It’s a really beautiful thing that’s led to even more notable restaurants, farmers, and makers who are catapulting Tucson’s food scene into the national and international spotlight.”

A Phoenix Arizona sunset.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s a distinctive intersection of history and regionality with Tucson as well. “Our rich culinary heritage spans nearly 5,000 years and a border that encompasses distinct Mexican and Native traditions in both food and drink,” Guerra adds. “For that reason, the flavors and ingredients that are present in Tucson’s culinary scene are unlike anywhere else. Ever tried chiltepin peppers or nopales? You can do just that during a stop at one of the many restaurants in Tucson’s Best 23 Miles of Mexican food while attending more than a dozen large-scale food festivals throughout the year, and by exploring the gardens and farms that are steadfast supporters of Tucson’s heritage food movement.”

It’s a town simply teeming with culinary life, from the agricultural heritage of Mission Garden to restaurants like the century-old El Charro Cafe, rumored to be the birthplace of the chimichanga.

Other American candidates

Which American cities should join the likes of Yangzhou, China; Ensenada, Mexico; and Bergen, Norway, as UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy? Well, it’s highly debatable, but we have a few ideas not just for that but for all of you into the food travel scene.

San Antonio joined the ranks in 2017. The city has so much filling the plate, with its Tex-Mex and Latin-inspired cuisine, along with barbecue, decent proximity to seafood, honor for authenticity, and a full-on embracing of food markets and education. Three other cities jump to mind in the U.S. that seem to take care of all the criteria for this lauded title.

Cajun food in a pan.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

New Orleans

First, New Orleans. The Bayou is unlike any other place on the planet, with its one-of-a-kind Cajun grub, Franco-American fusion, and deep history. This is an easy choice that will almost surely make the grade in years to come.

Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina, jumps to mind as well. While it seems like foodies have only been dropping the name over the last couple of decades, the culinary scene there is rich and much deeper-rooted. A mix of seafood and down home goodness, Charleston is plating up a real chance at making the list.

Honolulu

Another tempting inclusion is Honolulu, Hawaii. There’s something very singular about Hawaiian cuisine, and the city has really embraced it over the years. Locals are taking advantage of local ingredients, from tropical fish and fruit to sugarcane for local rum production and using techniques that are uniquely Hawaiian.

What other cities? Well, we’d probably throw an honorable mention at Chicago and Juneau, Alaska.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The best beaches in Florida for a quick weekend trip
Planning a trip to the Sunshine State?
Fort Lauderdale

Are you looking for a quick escape filled with sun, sand, and serenity? Florida’s coastline boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, making it the ideal destination for a quick weekend getaway. Whether you are on the hunt for crystal-clear waters, powdery white sands, or busy beachfront communities, the Sunshine State offers a diverse range of options. These are just a few of the best beaches in Florida for you to consider checking out. 
Siesta Beach

Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida, is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in the entire country. The beach is known for its soft, powdery white sand that is made up of 99% quartz. Because the sand is mostly made of quartz, it is cool to walk on, even in the scorching Florida sun. 

Read more
This is now the best airport in the world, according to travelers
Have you been to this stunning airport?
Doha Airport

In a resounding victory for aviation excellence, Doha’s Hamad International Airport has emerged triumphant as the World’s Best Airport of 2024, knocking 12-time winner Singapore Changi Airport down to second place. The accolade was bestowed upon Hamad International Airport at the World Airport Awards, a pinnacle event held during the recent Passenger Terminal EXPO in Frankfurt. The awards are determined by responses from customers to Skytrax's annual global airport customer satisfaction survey.

Hamad International also clinched the title of the World’s Best Airport Shopping and the Best Airport in the Middle East. Let’s take a look at what makes Hamad International Airport so special, as well as the rankings for the other best airports in the world.
About Hamad International Airport

Read more
The best things to do in Sedona: 8 can’t-miss experiences
Don't miss these activities in Sedona
Sedona

Located in the heart of Arizona’s high desert, Sedona is a place of breathtaking beauty, spiritual energy, and outdoor adventure. Complete with towering red rock formations, a vibrant arts scene, and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, Sedona offers a wide range of experiences for visitors to explore. No matter what you are looking for, Sedona has something in store for you. Here are a few of the best things to do in Sedona during your trip to the Verde Valley region.
1. Hike in Red Rock Country

Embark on a journey through Sedona’s iconic red rock landscapes by hitting the trails. With over 400 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy walks to challenging treks, there’s something for every skill level in Sedona. The most popular hike in Sedona is Devil’s Bridge, which is the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area. This 1.8-mile roundtrip journey is great for both casual and experienced hikers and is one of the most whimsical sights you’ll see during your trip to Sedona.
2. Float down the Verde River

Read more