Certain cities, you visit for the food. Others, you visit despite the food. The old guard of Important Food Destinations, you know: the San Franciscos, the Chicagos, the New Orleanses. So who are the up-and-comers -- the places whose culinary reps should be rising fastest? We put the question to dozens of veteran travelers and found some surprising answers. Some of these spots are out-of-the-way, mid-sized towns; others are big cities where some combination of abundant talent, great farms and fishing, and respect for traditional food have made them bona-fide dining destinations.

We guarantee you’ve passed through at least one of these towns without thinking twice about the food. Next time you visit, though, take a moment to stop and smell the s’mores burger.

A mountain town hitting the culinary heights

Thrillist_Main Street MeatsWhen you’re a small city two hours from Nashville and Atlanta, it can be hard to get the attention you deserve. Chattanooga flies under the radar but keeps a lot up of aces up its sleeve -- its outdoorsy, affordable, and a dammed delicious place to spend a weekend. Start with back-to-back meals at restaurants by James Beard semifinalist Erik Niel. His charcuterie is aged in-house at Main Street Meats, and he sources cheeses and beef from Tennessee farms. Then, it’s on to Easy Bistro & Bar for a Southern style brunch -- order the bacon omelet, tomato pie, and buttermilk biscuits. Another James Beard contender is Daniel Lindley, who cooks up rustic wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas at Alleia.

If street food is more your speed, head to the Chattanooga Market, where you’ll find the Filipino pop-up bakery Calamansi Cafe, among food trucks serving Mexican, Salvadoran, Greek, Vietnamese and Korean, to name a few. No trip to Chattanooga is complete without a heaving plate of fried food of course -- go to Champy’s Fried Chicken or Uncle Larry’s for catfish and greens. Wash it all down with a pour-your-own craft beer at American Draft -- not only do they have two dozen on tap, but it’s inside a century-old train car at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. All aboard, beer nerds and model-railroad hobbyists!

If you have just one meal: Go to newcomer Whitebird, which has river and sunset views at the foot of the Walnut Street Bridge. Chef Kevin Korman oversees a menu sourced almost exclusively from the Tennessee River Valley. Must-try dishes include the signature “whitebird” roasted chicken with a honey and tea lacquer, and his take on Chattanooga’s famed moon pie, a gooey graham cracker and marshmallow confection. -- Tim Ebner


  • San Diego, California
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Olympia, Washington
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Sacramento, California
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Telluride, Colorado
  • Scottsdale, Arizona


Published online on October 19, 2018: Written by Thrillist Travel, Chattanooga piece by Tim Ebner