13 Underrated Food Cities In The US You Need To Visit In 2023

From coast to coast, the U.S. is filled with foodie cities and regional delicacies, but beyond the well-trod confines of culinary epicenters like Chicago and San Francisco, the country is in the midst of an edible renaissance that's stewing in America's more underrated communities. While cities like New Orleans will always be hallowed turf for hungry foodies the world over, other on-the-rise destinations are developing flavors and styles distinctly their own.

A variety of factors contribute to an underrated food city. Part of it may be the flexibility and creativity afforded by a lower cost of doing business, compared to a place like New York City, while other elements may include an influx of population, a fertile growing region, or the proximity to cultural meccas like the Mexican border. As more and more people uproot from the major metropolises and travelers seek out comparatively undiscovered gems, underrated food cities are emerging stronger than ever, carving out their own culinary niches and proving that you needn't stick up urban hubs in order to eat well. For proof, just check out these underrated food cities across the U.S. in 2023.

Columbus, Ohio

Despite the fact that Ohio's largest city is one of the most populous in the entire Midwest and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, notes The Columbus Region, Columbus still feels surprisingly underrated. Low-key one of the most robust foodie destinations in the region, the Midwest metropolis is in the midst of an exciting cultural boom, with enough unique pizza places to merit a whole "Pizza Trail," and a patchwork of eclectic neighborhoods that lend an overall vibe akin to much larger established cities.

Columbus boasts a rapidly expanding food scene that's rich with ingenuity and fresh innovation. It's evident in its hifalutin dining destinations, including Chapman's Eat Market (which was named one of the nation's best new restaurants by The New York Times) and its sister bar, a swanky jazz parlor called Ginger Rabbit. Columbus is also home to some of the best hotel dining in the country, a bevy of breweries, an award-winning ice cream empire, some of the best bagels in the U.S., epic breakfast sandwiches, a slew of food halls, and a soaring rooftop bar scene to rival that other sky-scraping Midwest metropolis, Chicago. There's a lot happening in Ohio's capital city, and there's never been a better time to visit — and eat your way through it.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

In terms of dining destinations in New Mexico, Albuquerque — despite the fact that it's by far the biggest city in the state — is often overlooked by nearby Santa Fe. But don't sleep on this cultural and culinary gem whose food and beverage scene is truly second to none.

The New Mexican metropolis is home to some of the most exciting breweries in the country, including women- and Native-owned Bow & Arrow Brewing, and the sprawling, artful wonderland that is Ex Novo Brewing Company in the gallery-filled suburb of Corrales. Plus there's a dazzling blend of old and new, like Mary & Tito's, a family-run institution that received an America's Classic award from the James Beard Foundation, and timeworn fine dining at Antiquity Restaurant. This is also a city of bold innovation and invention, as seen at the real-deal Founders Speakeasy, Sawmill Market food hall, and groundbreaking concepts like Los Poblanos, a boutique inn and organic farm with a restaurant that serves some of the freshest food in town, raising the bar on farm-to-table dining.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City has come a long way from its dated days as a chicken-fried steak town. Sure, you can still find plenty of that in Oklahoma's capital city, along with steakhouses in general, but those chicken-fried tropes are a thing of the past. Nowadays, steak comes in both old-school and newfangled forms, from the oldest restaurant in the state at Cattlemen's Steakhouse to the glitzy confines of downtown's chic newcomer, Stock & Bond, a modern steakhouse that looks like something you'd expect to find in Manhattan. Coupled with crispy innovations, like the chicken-fried carrots at The Jones Assembly, it's clear that much has changed — and continues to change — in Oklahoma City.

Now the 20th most populous city in the nation, according to the World Population Review, Oklahoma City is quietly one of the fastest-growing metros in the U.S., with a rapidly expanding food scene to match. Case in point: After Bon Appétit named tasting menu sensation Nonesuch its best new restaurant in America, 2022 saw similar accolades doled upon Laotian-inspired Ma Der, from both Bon Appétit and The New York Times. Meanwhile, Ma Der's chef, Jeff Chanchaleune, joins Andrew Black (of local tasting menu restaurant, Grey Sweater) as finalists for this year's James Beard Foundation Awards. All the while, prolific restaurant groups like 84 Hospitality and HumanKind Hospitality Services reign as beloved community cornerstones in a city hungry for its renaissance.

Tucson, Arizona

For proof that Tucson is much more than Sonoran hot dogs, look no further than the United Nations. In 2015, Tucson became the first U.S. city to be designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, an esteemed acknowledgment recognizing the Arizona city as one of the foremost dining destinations in the nation, for its culinary heritage, Native and Mexican influences, and bounty of fresh ingredients and restaurants.

Throughout Tucson, which skews quite under the radar compared to the much larger Arizona city of Phoenix, travelers will find chef-driven restaurants old and new, like the "Top Chef"-revered Boca Tacos y Tequila, where Maria Mazon cooks up a singular menu of curried cauliflower tacos and "banh mi" quesadillas, while veggie-centric BATA was named one of Bon Appétit's Best New Restaurants. Don't overlook the classics, though. Those Sonoran-style hot dogs are popular for good reason, and among the best hot dogs in America, while El Charro Café is one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in the country — worthy of top billing on any foodie bucket list.

Modesto, California

When you're in the same state as San Francisco and Los Angeles, a state renowned for its wine and its regional food, it can be easy to get overlooked. But you'd be remiss to overlook the foodie city Modesto, a mid-sized city in California's fertile central valley that's in the midst of a seismic cultural upswing all its own. While many folks may associate the city with its George Lucas roots, it's the food here that's catapulting it into another era entirely.

As evidenced by the fact that Modesto produces 80% of the world's almonds, per the Almond Board of California, (and 100% of the supply for the U.S.), it's clear that the region is quite bountiful. That lends itself to a smorgasbord of distinct dining destinations, including locally sourced cornerstones like Camp 4 wine bar, Fuzio Universal Bistro, and the Rodin Ranch Farmers Market, a downtown storefront teeming with almond butter and flavored lemonades. These are coupled with timeworn treasures like Galletto Ristorante, Oakdale Cheese & Specialties, and Roberts Ferry Gourmet, all of which thrive on all the local terroir and the affordable cost of doing business compared to California's other metros.

Pensacola, Florida

As evidenced by the fact that Michelin recently launched a Florida restaurant guide, it's clear that the Sunshine State has no shortage of foodie cities. But aside from the bigger towns included in the guide, like Miami and Tampa, Pensacola is a smaller city that can easily hold its own in the big leagues.

Nestled on the westernmost reaches of the panhandle, Pensacola boasts a distinct flavor influenced by the Caribbean, the deep South, and New Orleans, all of which meld together for a singular stew of culinary heritage and influence. It's emphasized in restaurants both historic and neoteric, like the decades-old Seville Quarter, a multi-tiered New Orleans-style bar and restaurant complex that's been slinging beignets and hurricanes since 1967, or the kitschy wonderland that is Flora-Bama, a 1964 beach dive known for its oysters and must-try frozen cocktails. On the newer side, Pensacola's prowess is on the rise thanks to places like George Bistro + Bar, known for its chef-driven seasonal offerings, and Brother Fox, a brand new wood-fired entry in a hip new boutique hotel.

El Paso, Texas

In Texas, cities like Austin and Houston get most of the culinary glory, but for Tex-Mex cuisine at its most authentic, you need to spend time in El Paso. Located across the Rio Grande from Juarez, there's a symbiotic relationship between these international sister cities that lends itself to something sincere — and something singular.

That relationship is a through line that weaves through the city's food scene, from revered institutions like L&J Cafe (which has been slinging queso and flautas for nearly a century), and Cattlemen's Steakhouse, to new-school hot spots like ELEMI, where hand-pressed tortillas helped earn chef Emiliano Marentes a nod from the James Beard Foundation. Then there are the restaurants at The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park, a vintage skyscraper that now boasts bold wood-fired fare at Ámbar, complete with the largest agave collection in Texas, and rooftop drinks in the former penthouse suite where Elizabeth Taylor once lived.

Richmond, Virginia

Watch out, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as there is a new food city on the rise in the mid-Atlantic. Richmond has become a "culinary powerhouse," flying just enough under the radar as a smaller-sized city while increasingly teeming with chef-driven concepts, hip breweries, and vibrant neighborhoods.

Spotlighting the region's fruitful bounty, restaurants like Longoven are coveted tables doling out seasonal tasting menus, while singular concepts like Brenner Pass combine local ingredients with Alpine inspiration. Alewife peddles mid-Atlantic seafood with dishes like Virginia oysters, skate wing with kimchi and rice cakes, and arctic char with squash risotto. To drink, Richmond's brewery scene has boomed so much that it has its very own Beer Trail, Lamplighter Coffee serves offbeat specials like cranberry espresso soda, and bars run the gamut from heavy metal-themed GWARBar to Tang & Biscuit, a mammoth shuffleboard bar that serves Tang cocktails and smash burgers to die for.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Barely an hour north of Boston, en route to the culinary wonderland of Maine, Portsmouth is a small city that's well worth a hungry stopover. The harbor-side New Hampshire town has the cobblestoned look and feel of a small Boston, minus the traffic, with a delightful smattering of high-caliber restaurants, cafes, and bars that go far above the call of duty for a city that's only the seventh largest in the state, per the World Population Review.

Start your day at Elephantine Bakery, a European-chic cafe that serves some of the best breakfast sandwiches in the country, followed later by locally sourced dishes and gin drinks at Botanica Restaurant and Gin Bar (try the steak frites with one of the numerous classic gin drinks) or requisite seafood at surf and turf temple The Library. The town has also long been a hub for breweries, with current heavy-hitters like long-running Portsmouth Brewery and Earth Eagle Brewings.

Durango, Colorado

In Colorado, Durango is a small city in the remote southwestern portion of the state that flies well under the radar compared to the likes of Denver and Aspen. Despite the fact that its relatively small population makes it the 33rd largest city in Colorado, notes the World Population Review, and that most folks visit to ride the historic steam train, travelers are pleased to discover a wealth of flavors and dining experiences that are distinctly Durango.

Visit the vintage Strater Hotel for true-blue saloons and live jazzy music with a side of stiff drinks at The Office Spiritorium, or go upscale at a seasoned steakhouse, The Mahogany Grille. Saloon culture thrives throughout town, too, from Wild Horse Saloon with its Western dancing, to modern mixology at El Moro Spirits and Tavern. Beyond booze, there's also contemporary Mexican food at Nini's Taqueria, inventive Americana at The Roost, and global-meets-mountain cuisine at Eolus Bar & Dining.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

When you're located barely an hour from Chicago, it's easy to fall into the shadow of the Midwestern behemoth. But Milwaukee plays second fiddle to no city, with a vibe and flavor entirely its own, and a characteristic combination of hallowed institutions and envelope-pushing newcomers.

Throughout its multifaceted neighborhoods, restaurants and bars abound. Like Italian-influenced Tre Rivali, and The Outsider rooftop bar, in the historic Third Ward, or downtown's BLU on the 23rd floor of the decadent Pfister Hotel. Other enduring classics include the Five O'Clock Steakhouse, an old-school supper club known for live music and hulking chops, and Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, the oldest bar in town. On the flip side, the much newer Lost Whale is a cozy and eclectic watering hole serving some of the most inventive drinks in the city, while Ardent is a buzzy-tasting menu marvel. All the while, Milwaukee's brewing scene is so revered that it's earned the nickname Brew City.

Boise, Idaho

The largest city in Idaho, per the World Population Review, is just full of surprises. Not only is Boise home to one of the largest Basque populations outside of Spain, with the Basque food scene to prove it, but this underrated hub is far more metropolitan than non-Idahoans would assume. Not only is it a low-key beautiful city surrounded by gorgeous terrain and mountains, but it boasts a world of restaurants, breweries, and bars that demand a deep dive to really appreciate.

Rise and shine with locally sourced brunch and kombucha at Wild Root Cafe, or splurge at Guru Donuts, where playful flavors include Alice in Wonderland and Hipsterberry. Later, Alavita dazzles as a glam Italian joint downtown, and Bardenay distinguishes itself as the first restaurant/distillery combination in the U.S. There's also a whole slew of breweries in and around the city, and, of course, you can't come to Boise without a visit to the Boise Fry Company.

Rapid City, South Dakota

It may be small, but it's a matter of quality over quantity in Rapid City, the urban hub of western South Dakota. And at the rapid rate at which Rapid City is growing, triple the national average, per the city, it may not remain small for very long. The gateway city to the iconic Black Hills region, a culinary mecca in its own right, this pint-sized city is filled with enough quality eats and sips to make it a worthwhile destination for the Dakotas.

Here, you'll find one of the best hotel restaurants in the country (with sky-high views to match), quirky and inventive cafes and coffee shops, and innovation and fusion where you'd least expect it — like the Japan-meets-South Dakota flavors being served at Bokujo Ramen. Other pleasant surprises include Tally's Silver Spoon, a downtown keystone that serves diner fare by day and tasting menus by night, eccentric flavors and sandwiches at Black Hills Bagels, and brewpubs like Firehouse Brewing Co., a former fire station that now pairs brown ales with killer barbecue and Rancher's Pie.