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These food-first destinations remain relatively undiscovered – except by the locals who eat there that is.
Whether you’re after upscale seafood (we recommend Eventide) or phenomenal Japanese food (try the popular Izakaya Minato), Portland’s food offering runs the gamut. Much of Maine’s culinary bounty is focused seaward, and Portland’s waterfront draws a steady (hungry) crowd. While seafood-heaven menus are a given, it’s not all lobster rolls and crab claws. Find the best bagels in town at Rose Foods and prepare to “ooh” and “ahh” at Drifters Wife, a modern farmhouse conversion conceived by ex-Brooklynites Peter and Orenda Hale. It’s time to forget Portland’s West Coast counterpart and redirect your forks toward New England’s offering.
2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Nearby Chicago – a mere 90 miles away – may steal much of the limelight from this patch of the US, but that only lends to Milwaukee’s under-the-radar status. Here, restaurants are helmed by chefs who take full advantage of the surrounding farmland, which over the last number of years has led to an organic farm-to-table movement. Come for family-style dining and beer (a regional specialty) and don’t skip the bacon-garnished bloody mary at breakfast – as is customary in Wisconsin, they are served with a tiny bottle of beer on the side.
3. Detroit, Michigan
A city accustomed to change and reinvention, Detroit has firmly shaken off its Motor City reputation. Undergoing a major identity revamp – and a culinary renaissance to boot – Downtown and hipster hub Corktown are two districts that have seen the greatest waves of change. New chefs and restaurants have come onto the scene, offering diners experimental dishes alongside some fool-proof standards – bakery Sister Pie being one such example.
4. Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama is having a moment and, smack in the middle of the state, Birmingham is leading the way. Plating up southern style cuisine with French flair, the Highlands Bar & Grill caused the first major clang, and caught our attention when it won most outstanding restaurant in America at the James Beard Awards in 2018. At Ovenbird, chef-owner and James Beard Award-winner Chris Hastings focuses on small plates and distills Southern comfort in a unique way – you’ll read your menu over burning beef-fat candle. There’s much more than the smell of smoky barbecue in the air, and young chefs are taking note of these local successes gaining county-wide interest.
5. Asheville, North Carolina
A regional-food powerhouse, Asheville has a USP that hinges on its location – that being surrounded by both the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. While paying respect to the city’s generations-old family farms, a new wave of young chefs have recently set up shop and are expanding Asheville’s version of the new South. North Carolina native chef John Fleer helms Rhubarb, a restaurant famous for its Sunday suppers with a weekly changing menu and a focus on comfort food. Chef Katie Button, an oft-repeated name on the Asheville dining scene, heads up two restaurants, Cúrate and Nightbell, both of which are best booked in advance.
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