By TVR Staff
Posted January 2016
When it comes to seeking out great food, most people think of major cities such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. But as the “foodie craze” has proven itself less a trend and more a new part of American life, even the smallest cities have attracted accomplished chefs, innovative restauranteurs, and customers expecting better food for less.
The small towns on this list are some of the best in the country, and are sure to impress even the most sophisticated of foodies. Each town on this list has fewer than 100,000 residents (according to the 2010 census) and at least one notable attraction. The towns were chosen and ranked based upon the following:
– Notable Restaurants: Nationally acclaimed or highly ranked restaurants located within city limits. (1 point each)
– Variety: Types of notable restaurants available as an option (1 point each)
– Notable Names: Well-known or accomplished chefs or restauranteurs who work in the town (1 point each)
– Awards or Michelin Stars: (1 point each)
– Food-Related Festivals or Events: (1 point each)
– Other: 1 point per additional notable feature
30. Jonesville, Michigan
Hidden amongst southern Michigan’s Amish country, Jonesville is uniquely blessed with a number of affordable dining options that feel straight out of a bigger city. The two standouts, both managed by the same owner/chef, are located directly across the street from each other on Jonesville’s main drag. Saucy Dog’s, a pleasantly dog-themed BBQ joint, serves everything from barbecue chicken to brisket, all flavored with the restaurant’s selection of homemade sauces. Visitors are also sure to enjoy the long list of drinks offered at Saucy Dog’s, all of which have cleverly punny names. For those looking for a more formal atmosphere, Olivia’s Chop House is a restaurant that feels like it belongs in Vegas or L.A., and its food is just as impressive as what one might find there. For dessert, foodies will love The Udder Side, where customers are served gigantic ice cream creations from a window.
29. Woodinville, Washington
One of a number of Washington towns to make this list, Woodinville has a number of highly respected restaurants popular with both locals and visitors. The Barking Frog and Herbfarm Restaurant are two upscale choices offering unique dishes that are sure not to disappoint. Simpler options include Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, The Commons, and the Italian-style Italianissimo Ristorante. Woodinville also has a surprisingly thorough selection of cultural restaurants, the best of which include Sushi Connections for — you guessed it — sushi, and Clay Oven Cuisine of India.
28. Montpelier, Vermont
With a population of less than 8,000 people, Montpelier, Vermont is one of those sought-after communities in which everyone seems to know everyone else. Despite the quaintness of the town, Montpelier attracts major foodies from all parts of the country. Top-ranked restaurants such as Sarducci’s and Three Penny Taproom call Montpelier home, though you’ll have just as much luck taking a stroll down downtown’s Main and State streets and choosing from the variety of restaurants and craft beer bars. Montpelier is also worth a visit for the Hunger Mountain Coop, a marketplace that boasts a vast selection of hard-to-find cheese, beers, and local types of produce, dairy, and meats.
27. Ithaca, New York
College town Ithaca, New York is best known as the home of Ithaca College and Cornell University, but college students can be foodies, too, and Ithaca doesn’t disappoint. Restaurants like Mercato Bar and Kitchen, John Thomas, Just a Taste, and Souvlaki House are all well-respected restaurants known for their elevated cuisine. At only four hours from New York City, Ithaca is a worthy weekend trip for a stroll through Ithaca’s downtown, where most of its best restaurants, cafes, and bars are located.
26. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Beautiful Hilton Head Island, South Carolina is uniquely known as a great destination for both beaches and food. The best food at Hilton Head is undoubtedly the fresh seafood fare, most of which is cooked and served in traditional Southern style. Restaurant highlights include Roastfish and Cornbread, and Vine Bistro and Wine Bar, though take a wander into any upscale restaurant or beach shack and you’re sure to find delicious local Gullah cuisine.
25. Galesburg, Illinois
Residents of Galesburg, Illinois have long considered their town one of the best-kept secrets in the world of food. Indeed, the small town located just south of Illinois’ Quad Cities has an impressive number of family owned restaurants that have stood the test of time and mastered their individual menus. Foodies headed to Galesburg should make their first stop on Seminary Street, where two of Galesburg’s best known restaurants, Landmark Cafe and Creperie and Chez Willy’s, are located. Coney Island, a small mom-and-pop restaurant, has been serving Galesburg since 1921 and is the town’s oldest restaurant.
24. Edgartown, Massachusetts
Located only two hours from Boston, tiny Edgartown, Massachusetts sits on the Easternmost side of Martha’s Vineyard and is full of seaside charm. Alchemy is often considered one of the best restaurants in the entire region, while Chesca’s, Detente, and L’Etoile are just as well known for their elevated dishes. Between meals, visitors to Edgartown should also check out the South Beach State Park and Vincent House Museum.
23. Burlington, Vermont
Though small by national standards, tiny Burlington, Vermont is actually one of the largest towns in the entire state. Located two-and-a-half hours from Montreal and four hours from Boston, Burlington makes a great weekend getaway for foodies both American and Canadian. The pride of Burlington is undoubtedly Magic Hat Brewing Company, which brews the beer it serves on tap. Just down the road is Union Jack’s, famous for its sandwiches. Bluebird Tavern’s regional fare and beer is another popular choice, as is L’Amante’s Italian dishes.
22. Spruce Pine, North Carolina
Located just 30 miles northeast of Asheville, Spruce Pine is a former mining town in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. In recent years, it’s become better known as a destination for foodies — thanks in part to Nate Allen, an internationally renowned chef who spent decades cooking in hip L.A. restaurants like A.O.C. Allen now owns two highly respected eateries in Spruce Pines. Knife and Fork is a farm-to-table restaurant popular for its modern fare, while Spoon is an upmarket cocktail bar.
21. Tarrytown, New York
20. Ojai, California
Located only an hour-and-a-half from Los Angeles, coastal Ojai is best known as a haven for hippies and the wealthy. In recent years, it has established itself as a great option for coastal travelers looking for quality dining. Oak Grill and The Ojai Valley Inn both serve great food with the added benefit of a gorgeous setting, while Ruben’s Burritos offers the best carne asado burrito in the region. Those looking for something a little more laid back will love Boccali’s Pizza, which serves a delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert. Ojai also hosts one of the best farmers’ markets in all of California.
19. Monroe, Wisconsin
Who would have thought that a Wisconsin town of only 11,000 people would be known as the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the World?” Indeed, tiny Monroe boasts picturesque rolling hills, herds of grazing cattle, and lots and lots of famed cheese shops. Visitors will definitely want to make a stop at Baumgartner’s, the oldest cheese store in the state. Nearby is Alp and Dell, which has a viewing hall for those interested in watching the cheese making process. Monroe is also one of the few places on earth where those brave enough can take a whiff, or bite, of Limburger, the stinkiest cheese in the world. Make a trip to Monroe in September, and you might be lucky enough to experience the Cheese Days Festival. Held every other year, the Cheese Days Festival has cheese tastings, cow milking contests, and cheese sculpting demonstrations.
18. Danville, California
Located within an hour of food and wine meccas like San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma, little Danville, California has its own fair share of noteworthy cuisine options. Patrick David’s is one of those noteworthy options, as is the nationally acclaimed The Peasant and the Pear. Those with dietary restrictions will enjoy Miglet’s gluten-free cupcakes, while Japanese food connoisseurs should seek out Sakura, a sophisticated sushi restaurant in nearby San Ramon.
17. McMinnville, Oregon
Tiny McMinnville, Oregon is located in the midst of Willamette Valley wine country, and is the home of renowned local wineries like R. Stuart & Company, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Terra Vina, Remy Wines, Woodard Wines, and Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, to name but a few. Downtown McMinnville is a great place for the foodie to spend an evening, as a number of the turn-of-the-century buildings have been restored into wine bars, tasting rooms, and top-ranked restaurants. Stop in at any one of McMinnville’s farm-to-table restaurants and you’ll understand why Bon Appetit magazine recently named McMinnville as one of America’s foodiest towns.
16. Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia mostly attracts visitors as the home of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, but even history buffs are sure to admit that Charlottesville’s food scene is right on point. Located in the midst of the Virginia Wine Trail, many of Charlottesville’s restaurants serve a rotating selection of Virginia-produced wines. One such eatery is Brookville, where acclaimed chef Harrison Keevil changes his menu nightly to reflect the best of what’s available. Glass Haus Kitchen is another favorite where diners can try unique dishes such as goat-milk panna cotta and local Rappahannock oysters. For some Virginia-style Southern cuisine, check out Pasture, which also offers an impressive list of Virginia beers.
15. Driftwood, Texas
Twenty-five miles southwest of Austin sits little Driftwood, Texas, the heart of the thriving Texas winery scene (who knew?!). Duchman Family Winery, Driftwood Vineyards, and Fall Creek Vineyards all offer tastings and tours. Wine aficionados will especially enjoy tasting unique blends like aglianicos, viogniers, and vermentinos, all of which are made with Texas-grown grapes. After a day of wine tasting, foodies will love Salt Lick, one of the most famous BBQ joints in all of Texas that serves an unforgettable brisket.
14. Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Equidistant from both New York City and Boston, Great Barrington, Massachusetts is an especially romantic part of the Berkshires known for its hiking trails and ski runs. It’s also a great destination for foodies looking for something outside the major cities! Indeed, Great Barrington has a whopping one restaurant per 150 residents. One such restaurant is Prairie Whale, which serves delicious dishes made with pork, chicken, eggs, and free range produce straight from restaurant owner/chef Mark Firth’s farm. Meat lovers visiting Great Barrington shouldn’t miss a trip to Meat Market, which deals in whole animal butchery, house-cured meats, and grass-fed beef. Popular opinion suggests the half-pound burger with Vermont Cheddar, pickles, and house-made mayo is not to be missed.
13. Yountville, California
Yountville, California is home to only 3,000 people, but it has an amazing — and record-breaking — six Michelin stars amongst its restaurants. One of these is The French Laundry (pictured above), famous for its delicious food and years-long reservation list. Those unable to get into The French Laundry will have to settle for one of the many other top-notch restaurants in the area. Yountville also boasts highly respected wineries, golf clubs, and cottage-style bed and breakfasts. Finally, Yountville is less than an hour from San Francisco, which is the only U.S. city to make it into the top 20 most Michelin-starred cities in the world.
12. Guerneville, California
Like Yountville, Guerneville, California is another Sonoma County wine and food hub. Chef Crista Luedtke has stamped Guerneville as her own. Boon, Luedtke’s top-ranked restaurant, offers a simple menu meant to show off the produce grown in her own backyard garden. But don’t let simplicity fool you. Her crispy pork belly with black-eyed peas and garlicky rainbow chard is a Fall favorite of locals and tourists alike, while the extensive wine list includes only those bottles made in the Russian River Valley. Another Luedtke-owned must-try is Big Bottom Market, an epicurean market and wine bar. Head to Big Bottom on a Wednesday evening from October thru May and enjoy one of Luedtke’s three-course prix fixe comfort dishes.
11. Round Top, Texas
Called the “Hamptons of Texas,” Round Top is perhaps best known for its antique furniture fair. But for those looking for true Texas Southern cuisine, Round Top doesn’t disappoint. A must-eat is Royer’s Round Top Cafe, where diners can expect giant portions of pork chops, grilled steak, and seafood (a specialty is the snapper with tomatoes and basil). If you’re still up for desert, Royer’s Pie Haven, owned by the same family as the aforementioned Cafe, is the easy choice. The Pie Haven is well known for its deep dish white chocolate macadamia nut pie — they’ll even charge you if decline the side of ice cream! An added bonus is the existence of Brazos Belle Cafe in nearby Burton, where former Four Seasons Paris chef Andre Delacroix serves an amazing steak au poivre.
10. Cooperstown, New York
Cooperstown, New York may be best known as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it has become a major draw for dedicated foodies in recent years. No trip to Cooperstown is complete without sipping on a gin and tonic while sitting on the porch of lakefront resort Otesaga, but dinner should be taken at one of Cooperstown’s highly ranked restaurants. Ommegang Brewery is nationally known for its food and varied selection of local and national beers, while Cantina de Salsa serves delicious Latina and Caribbean dishes. Bocca Osteria is a family-run Italian joint that serves fresh gnocci and fettuccine made each day by the owner’s mother (though the Neapolitan pizza is a Bocca highlight). For something lighter, check out Alex & Ike, whose head chef is a former manager at New York City’s Dean & DeLuca Market.
9. Lafayette, Louisiana
Want to truly experience Cajun food? Then there is no other option but to head to Lafayette, Louisiana — the self-declared “capital of Cajun cuisine.” The French Press is a Lafayette staple, and offers foodies a variety of traditional Southern dishes. At The Accidental Chef Cooking School, whose own Carlos Russo is pictured above, wannabe Southern chefs can learn the secrets to making great traditional gumbo. But Lafayette is no one-trick pony. Pamplona is a Spanish tapas bar that offers a delicious alternative to the Southern Cajun.
8. Logan, Utah
Foodies headed to Logan, Utah have the added benefit of visiting one of the most picturesque valleys in the Rocky Mountain region. Logan’s best known as a spot for dairy farms, but a blooming culinary scene has begun to establish itself in recent years. At The Elements Restaurant, diners can experience “contemporary American” food in a wide variety of elevated dishes. For something a little less formal, head to Jack’s Wood Fired Oven and try their “Pig and the Peach” pizza with fresh mozz, prosciutto, huckleberries, thyme, and a unique chipotle syrup. Logan also caters to fans of ethnic foods, the best examples of which include Cafe Sabor and El Sol Mexican Restaurant.
7. Marfa, Texas
Known as a hub for contemporary art, Marfa, Texas is home to a series of gourmet food trucks that have taken the local food industry by storm. The food trucks range from classic Southern BBQ to vegan delicacies. Food Shark, a Mediterranean truck, travels with a schoolbus-turned-dining room in which customers can enjoy their fattoush salads and Marfalafels. For those who prefer a brick-and-mortar shop, Buns ‘n’ Roses is a family-run cafe known for their quesadillas, vegetable salads, baked muffins, and lemon meringue pies. Cochineal, another local favorite, is a restaurant managed by two former NYC chefs, Tom Rapp and Toshifumi Sakihara, and former Gourmet beverage editor Jimmy Rodewald.
6. Traverse City, Michigan
Located on the coast of Michigan, Traverse City has long been considered a top destination for those looking to eat well. This is due partly to the agriculture- and vineyard-friendly climate, and partly to The Great Lakes Culinary Institute, the latter of which attracts a number of young, ambitious chefs. As impressive as Traverse City’s wine selections are, the town’s true star is the cherry. Tourists can enjoy a cherry-flavored anything at Cherry Republic, or visit during the summer during the world renowned Cherry Festival. Some restaurant highlights include Patisserie Amie, Trattoria Stella, The Cooks‘ House, Chateau Chantal, and Eurostop, the latter of which offers some of the best tiramisu you’re bound to experience.
5. Healdsburg, California
Stand anywhere in Healdsburg and you’re bound to be a stone’s throw from a great restaurant. Located in the midst of wine country, Healdsburg is a popular destination for those looking for a delicious lunch or early dinner. Not surprisingly, the wineries of the area are almost all nationally acclaimed and offer tastings and tours of their wine varieties. For seafood lovers, Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar is not to be missed. Healdsburg Bar & Grill serves some of the best burgers and seasoned garlic fries in the entire Bay Area, while Bistro Ralph and its elevated dishes, such as moules frites, are long-time Healdsburg favorites.
4. Sonoma, California
Wineries aside — and there are plenty of great ones to put aside — Sonoma, California is a gem of a destination for true foodies. Head toward the main downtown plaza, and choose from any number of restaurants serving a variety of styles. Highlights include nationally recognized The Girl & The Fig, El Dorado Kitchen, and Harvest Moon Cafe, all of which serve modern American cuisine. For a taste of Sonoma’s cultural past, check out LaSalette, a Portuguese restaurant that cooks many of its main dishes in a traditional wood-fire oven.
3. Water Valley, Mississippi
Located just outside of Oxford, Water Valley, Mississippi is an artist haven turned foodie town. Amusingly, one of the best restaurants in the entire region is little more than a roadside shack. Crawdad Hole Jr. is run by Justin Showah, who has been cooking seafood in his father’s renowned restaurant, the original Crawdad Hole, since age 15. The Jr. seafood shack has a number of specialties, but the boiled crawfish and shrimp, both of which are served by the pound, are especially popular. For those with a sweeter tooth, Little Red Hen Bakery offers such delicious options as “Grammaw’s five-layer chocolate cake 5.0,” pistachio cake, and oatmeal-chocolate-cranberry cookies. The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery, located in a 140-year old building has ice cream made from lemon pound cake and freshly baked buttermilk chess pies. If you find yourself in Water Valley on a Thursday night, grab some dinner at Fiddler’s Loft and enjoy the live acoustic performances.
2. Waitsburg, Washington
For a town that consists of a whopping three blocks, Waitsburg, Washington has earned itself a cool reputation for good art and even better food. Waitsburg truly has something for everyone. Foodies should start out at Jimgerman Bar, a homey bar that serves classic and creative cocktails, Manhattans, and even rum-spiked chai. If you think that sounds cool, nearby Anchor Bar was named Food & Wine’s Winemakers of the Year 2009, a reputation that has propelled Charles Smith’s restaurant into one of the best in the region. At Anchor Bar, the jukebox and four kinds of hot dogs contribute to the friendly atmosphere. For those who prefer coffee to wine, Coppei Coffee Co. offers a unique taste and coffee made exclusively with El Salvador beans. A lunchtime meal can’t be better spent anywhere other than La Monarca, a taco truck turned Walla Walla institution that serves tacos, burritos, and carne asada with Walla Walla sweet onions. Finally, grab desert at Bubbles & Chocolate, a champagne and chocolate store at which Seattle Time wine advisor Paul Gregutt chooses enticing pairs of sparkling wines and artisan chocolate.
1. Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla, Washington is that town that just seems to be good at everything. Called “America’s Friendliest Town” and “Washington’s Most Beautiful Town,” Walla Walla has also become well-known for its unmatched selection of downright great food. Located in the midst of Washington’s wine region, Walla Walla’s Valley Wine Alliance works closely with local restaurants and the Community College Culinary Program to pair local wines with top-quality dishes. Favorite restaurants include Maple Counter Cafe, Saffron, Brasserie Four, The Marc, and T. Maccarone’s. For those looking to experience some wine tasting, the best of the best include Blue Mountain Vineyards, Walla Walla Vintners, Waterbrook Winery, Spring Valley Vineyard, and Lullaby Winery.