Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway this fall or just like to add to your travel bucket list, these small towns deserve your full attention. While food lovers may be focused on cities like NYC and L.A.—and recently, Washington, D.C.—these tiny towns have a lot to offer, despite their size.
And, no, we’re not talking about “small” food cities like Portland, Maine; Asheville, North Carolina; or Austin, Texas. We’re talking about places with populations between 2,000 and 20,000, where one or two main streets might qualify as their “downtown.” Whether you’ve never heard of them or call one your hometown, you’re going to want to check out these under-the-radar gems before everyone else.
Here are nine small towns with great food scenes in no particular order.
? Vergennes, Vermont
The so-called smallest city in America, Vergennes is a low-key, quintessential Vermont town. Though its population doesn’t even break 3,000, Vergennes is home to world-class bakery Vergennes Laundry and the charming Black Sheep Bistro, which was sourcing locally long before it was a trend. Soon, Shacksbury Cider will be moving in, so you’ve got just about everything you need. It might be the best-kept secret on the East Coast. Now you know.
? Healdsburg, California
Condé Nast Traveler called Healdsburg’s dining scene “one of the best in California wine country” last year, and it’s easy to see why. With restaurants like Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen and Douglas Keane’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Cyrus (now closed), the town has a history of culinary innovation. As if the town could get any hotter, chef Kyle Connaughton and his wife, Katina, will open Single Thread later this year in what Eater calls “the biggest opening of 2016.”
? Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Labeled a “Gem on the Gulf,” this artsy, coastal enclave of the South boasts more than 100 restaurants. It also won the Great American Main Street Award in 2013, so you know it’s full of both charm and industry. Seafood and barbecue top the food pyramid here, with restaurants like Aunt Jenny’s Catfish, and what people call the best BBQ in all of Mississippi at The Shed.
? Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
A photo posted by Island Snow Hawaii (@islandsnowhawaii) on Dec 4, 2015 at 5:31pm PST
If white sand beaches aren’t enough to lure you to this little paradise on Hawaii’s Big Island, the food—and the coffee—will be. Kona coffee, grown on the southwest coast of the island, is world famous, and can be found every Wednesday and Sunday at the Kona Farmers’ Market in Kailua amid a range of other provisions.
? Staunton, Virginia
By the time the late Josh Ozersky stopped by and declared he had discovered “The Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere That Nobody Knows About,” the city of Staunton was already an unassuming culinary force. The restaurant in question is The Shack, and the chef behind it, Ian Boden, who had previously opened another short-lived restaurant in the town, which put him and Staunton on the foodie map. The Shack, serving Appalachian and Southern dishes, is alive and well, as are this little town’s farmers’ market, stone-ground mill and craft beer shops.
? New Paltz, New York
The Hudson Valley is full of excellent little food towns, but one that doesn’t get as much attention as, say, Hudson or Cold Spring is New Paltz. Home to a charming bistro, great bar food and more than one excellent Italian restaurant, this university town is an unsung hero of the area.
? Port Townsend, Washington
Seafood shacks, afternoon tea, craft cocktails and rye bread worth lining up for can all be found in this coastal Pacific Northwest gem. The beloved Sweet Laurette Cafe & Bistro is lovely for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and features cooking classes, which are perfect for when you fall in love with its lemon ricotta pancakes and French classics.
? Paducah, Kentucky
Louisville is worthy of all the culinary praise it receives, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path—about three hours by car to be exact—head to this UNESCO Creative City (yes, that’s a thing). The so-called “Quilt City,” famous for crafting and for the National Quilting Museum (yes, also a thing), Paducah boasts a good amount of places to eat and drink. Go to Freight House for farm-to-table fare, Dry Ground Brewing Co or Paducah Beer Werks for beer, and Cynthia’s for wood-fired cooking.
? Padanaram, Massachusetts
A tiny fishing village outside of New Bedford may not sound like a rising dining destination, but thanks to the addition of exceptional seaside restaurant Little Moss, burger joint Chumleys and Farm & Coast Market all on one street, it’s become a culinary town worth traveling to over the last year. Little Moss works with local farmers, fishermen and foragers, like the celebrated Eva’s Garden, on its regularly changing menu, which might include bluefish pâté and nori spaghetti one night and sea bream crudo and duck sausage the next.
Correction: This piece originally listed Island Snow as located in Kailua-Kona, when it is in fact located in Kailua.