11 Underrated US Food Cities You Need To Visit At Least Once

Forget the usual suspects. Places like New York and Los Angeles have always boasted Michelin-starred marvels, but America's foodie scene goes much deeper. From the soul-warming comforts of the South to the vibrant and unexpected flavors of the Midwest, a surge of up-and-coming gastronomic destinations is tantalizing taste buds and captivating adventurous eaters. And some are a much easier, quicker, and more affordable trip.

A treasure trove of hidden delicious delights that embrace innovation and a strong sense of community among chefs and restaurateurs, these cities are where passionate food lovers are actively redefining regional cuisine. Brimming with unique flavors and fresh, local ingredients, each city has faced its share of challenges (shout out to Detroit) and made efforts to put themselves on the map as major food spots worth the journey. While "underrated" might be a tad on the subjective side, we've selected 11 cities that we feel don't get nearly the hype they deserve based on how infrequently they are featured as foodie go-to spots. These are places with plenty to try (and some boast their share of culinary awards!), but it's rare to see them top many recommended lists. Let's fix that. 

Ditch the tourist traps and culinary clichés — delicious adventures await you all across the United States in some of the most unexpected and underrated food cities. 

Houston, Texas

Houston's reputation can often revolve around space exploration and energy giants, but beneath the city's industrial hum lies a thriving, multicultural food scene. This metropolis is a tapestry of ethnicities, reflected in its lively restaurant landscape. Noted for its Tex-Mex, Asian, and Southern influences, Houston offers far more interesting fusion flavors than one might expect. Vietnamese refugees brought their love of pho and bánh mì, flavor-bombing Tex-Mex coexists with authentic Colombian fare, and West African chefs bring dishes steeped in dozens of flavors and made with hours of preparation. Ever heard of a Portuguese-Indian restaurant? I hadn't either, but it's right there in Houston, and it's called Da Gama. 

Houston isn't just about international influences, though. Texas classics like perfectly smoked brisket and breakfast tacos find their home here alongside innovative takes on traditional Southern cuisine. This culinary melting pot fosters a world of creativity, with chefs combining different flavors and techniques to create dishes that are distinctly Houstonian. Whether you crave a steaming bowl of gumbo or a perfectly cooked steak, Houston is a culinary adventure that seamlessly suits every palate. 

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is often overshadowed by its flashier coastal counterparts, but scratch beneath the surface, and you'll discover a city brimming with tasty delights. Forget about generic chain restaurants — Columbus boasts a thriving independent restaurant scene where chefs champion local farms and showcase personalized and innovative takes on classic Midwestern fare. As it gains a reputation for more sustainable practices and locally-sourced food, Ohio's biggest city is making a name for itself as a place where passionate chefs experiment and diners relish the unexpected.

Explore the historic North Market, a foodie haven overflowing with fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and international specialties. Sample melt-in-your-mouth donuts from legendary Schmidt's Bakery, or savor a perfectly cooked steak at one of the many cozy chop houses. Diverse neighborhoods like Short North offer Ethiopian delights and authentic Korean BBQ, while trendy spots in Italian Village treat you to their contemporary takes on pasta and wood-fired pizzas. From award-winning ice cream joints to a booming craft brewery scene, Columbus offers a delightful surprise for every eater. 

Tucson, Arizona

Sun-baked Tucson might surprise you. Forget stereotypical Southwestern fare — this city is home to a culinary scene unlike any other. Here, ancestral recipes meet maverick chefs, and the unique desert landscape flavors every dish. Tucson's crown jewel is Sonoran cuisine, a fusion of Mexican and Native American traditions with Spanish influences. Savor carne asada sizzling on mesquite grills, or indulge in a bacon-wrapped burrito bursting with local goodness. Fresh tortillas are made daily from heritage grains, and fiery salsas with regionally grown chiles add a kick.

But Tucson's culinary canvas is vast. Historic barrios overflowing with family-run restaurants serve generations-old recipes while trendy spots showcase local farms with seasonal menus and reimagine classic dishes with a Southwestern twist. An absolute must-try is the world-renowned Sonoran hot dog, a masterpiece wrapped in a pillowy bun and adorned with unique toppings like pinto beans and jalapeño relish. And if you can get a table, Tumerico was ranked the #1 restaurant by Yelp in 2024 for vegan Mexican cuisine, which is sure to send dining interest in Tucson skyrocketing. 

With a seasonal selection of food festivals, farm-to-table dining, and a tight-knit community among local chefs and producers, Tucson is only just beginning to take off. Upscale fine dining and hidden-gem street vendors are equally welcome in a place like Tucson that promises to be an unforgettably delicious adventure. 

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico simmers with a unique culinary identity often overshadowed by its breathtaking desert landscapes. This city has a food scene as fiery as its famous Hatch green chiles, and New Mexican cuisine thrives alongside unique and inspiring takes on regional favorites. Green chile, roasted to perfection and blended into sauces, salsas, and stews, forms the heart and soul of Albuquerque's food scene. Whether it's a steaming bowl of carne adovada steeped in red chile or a smothered breakfast burrito bursting with fluffy eggs and green chile goodness, this fiery pepper adds a distinctive kick to every dish.

But Albuquerque has plenty more to recommend itself beyond one little vegetable. Native American influences are woven throughout dishes like blue corn enchiladas and prickly pear margaritas. Food trucks put gourmet twists on classic street food while fine dining chefs reimagine New Mexican cuisine with inspiration from all over the world. Historic Old Town, a haven for traditional New Mexican restaurants and lively cantinas, is not to be skipped. Want to really treat yourself while you're in town? You have to check out Campo at Los Poblanos, a historic inn and organic farm that's gaining fame for its lavender, its distillery, and its Rio Grande Valley cuisine. 

Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland throws off its industrial past to reveal a surprisingly sophisticated and diverse culinary scene. Greasy spoons are great and all (we love a good diner), but Cleveland offers so much more. A vibrant mix of comfort food classics with a twist alongside hidden gems bursting with ethnic delights and fearless chefs pushing boundaries is what makes this city so special. 

The beating heart of Cleveland's food scene is the historic West Side Market. Rows upon rows of local vendors tempt with fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and international specialties. Here, you can sample a perfectly steamed pierogi, a Cleveland staple with Eastern European roots, or grab a juicy kielbasa from a local sausage maker. 

But Cleveland isn't just about heritage. Upscale eateries like jaja (totally worth the splurge) lean into global flavors, and homey picks like Forage Public House champion local farms, crafting seasonal menus full of flavor. Craft breweries and trendy gastropubs bring masterful takes on classic dishes while trendy neighborhoods like Ohio City brim with restaurants that showcase more global flavors. Steaming plates of melt-in-your-mouth BBQ are in the historic Flats, and authentic Chinese and Korean cuisine can be found in (you guessed it) Asiatown. Cleveland is very much a city on the rise, and its food scene reflects that energy. 

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine often gets overlooked, but beneath its charming harbor lies a food scene as dynamic as the tides. Forget the stereotype of just lobster rolls (though those are not to be skipped!). Fresh, local ingredients take center stage, inspiring inventive takes on classic dishes and a celebration of global flavors. The star of the show is undoubtedly the Maine bounty. Walking through the historic Old Port, you'll find overflowing seafood markets. Michelin-starred restaurants like Eventide serve up creative takes on lobster, while waterfront shacks offer steaming bowls of clam chowder. 

But Portland's culinary canvas extends far beyond the ocean. Explore trendy spots in the West End that showcase farm-to-table cuisine. Cozy cafes like Tandem bake delicious pastries using local grains, and craft breweries like Shipyard and Rising Tide boast flavors inspired by the Maine coastline. Don't miss the chance to savor more finds in Little Italy or delve into the international street food scene.

Portland is a city where passionate chefs transform local ingredients into culinary art. From Michelin-starred marvels to hidden gem eateries, every bite is an adventure. 

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit's story is one of resilience, and its food scene is no exception. Often overshadowed by flashier cities, Detroit possesses a foodie community fueled by determination and a deep love for fresh, local ingredients. Forget generic chain fare — Detroit offers a unique blend of cultures and cuisines, simmering in a pot of creativity.

The heart of Detroit's culinary revival lies in its historic neighborhoods. Eastern Market bustles with vendors hawking locally-sourced produce, meats, and spices, inspiring chefs to craft seasonal menus that burst with flavor. Corktown, once a center for the auto industry, is now home to trendy gastropubs and Michelin-rated restaurants, where repurposed industrial spaces house innovative culinary experiences. 

But Detroit's soul lies in its soul food. Family-owned restaurants such as Detroit Soul dish up heaping plates of turkey wings, mac and cheese, ham hocks, and collard greens, infused with generations-old recipes and love. Meanwhile, vibrant pockets like Mexicantown and Chaldean Village offer authentic ethnic flavors, transporting you to different corners of the globe with every bite. They even have a localized variation on deep dish pizza

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City throws off its flyover-state label with a food scene as surprising as it is tasty. Forget endless steaks and fried food — OKC is a tapestry of flavors, with chefs redefining regional cuisine with their own takes on classic dishes and hidden gems serving up global delights.

Dive into the heart of Bricktown, a revitalized warehouse district brimming with trendy gastropubs and upscale eateries. Sample perfectly cooked, locally-sourced steaks alongside creative takes on Oklahoma classics. Don't miss the chance to savor juicy, wood-fired pizzas or sip locally brewed craft beers. Next, head to the Plaza District, a haven for international flavors. Savor steaming bowls of pho in Vietnamese noodle houses, or embark on a culinary journey through Latin America with Oklahoma City's incredible selection of taco trucks and authentic Mexican restaurants.

We would be kidding ourselves to add OKC and forget to talk up the barbecue. Renowned pit masters slow-smoke meats to perfection, dishing up melt-in-your-mouth brisket and tangy pulled pork doused in house-made sauces at hotspots like Clark Crew BBQ. Yum!

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia, has a unique culinary identity that transcends stereotypical Southern fare. Forget fried chicken and pecan pie (though those definitely have their place). This city hides a thriving hub of restaurants where history meets ingenuity, and global flavors mingle with regional specialties.

The heart of Richmond's culinary scene lies in Carytown, a walkable neighborhood brimming with independent restaurants. Here, chefs champion local farms, crafting seasonal menus with a focus on freshness. Sample melt-in-your-mouth Virginia ham cured in traditional methods that have stood the test of time, or savor updated takes on Chesapeake Bay delicacies. And don't miss the chance to explore the city's burgeoning craft brewery scene. Venture into Shockoe Bottom to explore hidden gems serving up authentic soul food (shout out to Mama J's), a testament to the city's rich African American heritage. Explore pockets like the Fan District, where it's easy to stumble upon even more international flavors.

Richmond's food scene is a delightful rebellion against culinary stereotypes. Fueled by passionate chefs and a deep appreciation for local ingredients, it's a delicious adventure for every palate. 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee often gets overshadowed by Chicago's culinary clout, but beneath its Midwestern charm is a thriving food scene bursting with flavor. In addition to regional favorites like beer and cheese curds, Milwaukee's tasty treats include a focus on the German and Polish heritage of its population.

The Historic Third Ward is a necessary stop for adventurous eaters. Gastropubs reimagine classic dishes with global influences, upscale restaurants showcase seasonal menus featuring local Wisconsin bounty, and family-owned cafes dish up hearty breakfasts of fluffy pancakes and sausages, fueling the city's energy. Sample perfectly seared Great Lakes walleye or savor juicy cuts from local farms, all paired with the perfect craft beer from Milwaukee's booming brewing scene. 

Neighborhoods like Walker's Point are where you can pop in and grab fancier fare from Bodegon or more casual eats from Camino. Don't miss the chance to explore the Historic Mitchell Street offering authentic Mexican fare with steaming plates of mole and fresh tortillas. 

Asheville, North Carolina

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, is more than just a scenic escape. Asheville offers a unique culinary experience where farm-to-table freshness meets adventurous yet comforting Appalachian cuisine ready to surprise you. 

The beating heart of Asheville's food scene is the historic Asheville City Market. Rows upon rows of local farmers are ready to greet you with eye-catching seasonal produce, artisanal cheeses, and Appalachian specialties. Sample melt-in-your-mouth pimento cheese or savory ramp (wild leek) dishes, a seasonal delicacy. Here, chefs are inspired by the mountains, crafting menus that celebrate North Carolina's native herbs and produce.

Meanwhile, trendy restaurants in the South Slope district like Storm Rhum Bar showcase new takes on classic Southern comfort food with dishes like gochujang marinated gator with waffles. Explore hidden breweries nestled in historic buildings, and sip on craft beers brewed with local mountain water (so tasty). Don't miss the chance to try more global flavors in the eclectic River Arts District, where international restaurants transport you around the world with every bite. Asheville is a delightful fusion of mountain tradition and culinary creativity.