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14 top food cities around the world

Pizza and pasta at a restaurant in Rome, Italy. Photo by natalia_maroz/

Some people visit Paris to see the Mona Lisa and to enjoy the 360-degree views from the Eiffel Tower. Foodies fly across the ocean to wait in line for a fresh, buttery croissant at a boulangerie. For many travelers, the highlight of a trip might be discovering a hidden trattoria where an Italian nonna handmakes ravioli or indulging in a 12-course tasting menu at an award-winning restaurant.

While destinations like New Orleans or Hong Kong may already be on your culinary bucket list, lesser-known spots, such as Asheville, North Carolina; Bologna, and Macau, are worthy of tacking on a few extra days—and calories—for a delicious detour.

Here’s a list of some popular food cities and their underrated counterparts. Come hungry, pack loose clothing, and bon appétit!

Los Angeles + San Diego

Grand Central Market food court

Grand Central Market in Los Angeles is a foodie hot spot with a variety of food and retail shops. Photo by Jakob N. Layman/Dine LA

In sprawling Los Angeles, the culinary landscape is as diverse as its residents. Throughout the city, you’ll find some of the most authentic ethnic foods in the U.S. Without whipping out a passport, you can slurp up bubbling hot tofu stew in Koreatown or sop up spiced lentil stew with injera at a mom-and-pop joint in Little Ethiopia.

And the Golden State’s year-round mild weather means farmers markets brimming with fresh produce, festive night markets, alfresco dining under twinkling lights, and food trucks serving everything from tacos to Nashville hot chicken.

Crowds during an event inside North Park Beer Company restaurant

Beer enthusiasts enjoy craft brews at North Park Beer Company in San Diego. Photo courtesy San Diego Tourism Authority/James Tran

Around 120 miles south lies San Diego, Los Angeles’ laid-back equivalent with a flair for fun. In the past decade, hot spots like glamping-themed One Door North, the flower-filled Pink Rose Café, and Barbie Dream House-esque Morning Glory, with their highly Instagrammable decor and food, have put this coastal city on the culinary map, especially among the younger crowd.

Beer enthusiasts often hang out at North Park’s 30th Street, dubbed by locals as the city’s best street for craft beer. And the East Village and Gaslamp Quarter boast creative cocktail scenes in tucked-away speakeasies and kitschy tiki bars.

Crave a good ambience and comfort food? Head to Little Italy for house-made Italian food enjoyed on a quaint patio, or hit the Barrio Logan neighborhood to tear into fresh, handmade tortillas and dip them into tongue-tingling salsa.

You may also like: Best cheap eats in Southern California

New Orleans + Asheville

Beignets and coffee

Beignets and coffee from Café Du Monde. Photo by Paul Broussard/

A vibrant city steeped in rich Creole, Cajun, Black, French, and Spanish cultural heritage, New Orleans is a feast for the senses. With spirited jazz as the backdrop, landmark establishments and innovative eateries offer their spin on favorites like gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, and po’boy.

A quintessential Big Easy experience? Eating beignets dusted with powdered sugar and washing them down with chicory coffee at Café Du Monde. For a special night, make a reservation at the AAA Four Diamond Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans institution. Order the famous turtle soup au sherry.

In the summer and fall, the city becomes even livelier with food festivals like the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, Black Restaurant Week New Orleans, the National Fried Chicken Festival, the French Market Creole Tomato Festival, and Beignet Fest.

Hot dogs and pretzel knots

Farm Dogs grassfed beef hot dogs, brats and Blunt Pretzel at S&W Market. Photo by Tim Robison

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, is an up-and-coming foodie destination with a focus on Southern comfort food and farm-to-table cuisine. Here, you’ll find tasty fried green tomato sandwiches, hefty buttermilk biscuits, juicy chicken and waffles, and tangy, saucy North Carolina–style barbecue. The charming downtown is lined with boutiques, taprooms, wine bars, and eclectic restaurants.

Sample Asheville’s diverse culinary offerings at S&W Market, a 1920s cafeteria designed by noted American architect Douglas Ellington. Inside the 2-story art deco building, indulge in a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich at Buxton Chicken Palace or a grass-fed beef hot dog with beef cheek chili and house-made coleslaw at Farm Dogs. Then, cap your visit with inventive ice cream flavors like lavender-vanilla or sweet beet from The Hop Ice Cream.

You may also like: Culinary routes in the Southern U.S.

Rome + Bologna

A plate of pesto pasta and a glass of red wine served al fresco

Dine al fresco and enjoy hearty Italian dishes in Rome. Photo by Pawel Pajor/

Rome promises a cinematic holiday, whether you’re channeling your inner Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and enjoying gelato on the Spanish Steps or delightfully devouring a plate of spaghetti à la Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love.

For one of the best ways to explore the city, stroll its cobblestone streets, peppered with stops: Sip water from a Nasoni big nose fountain. Savor a traditional espresso at a bar (yes, that’s where coffee is served); and dine alfresco on hefty meatballs, creamy rigatoni carbonara, and tiramisu at a ristorante.

Of the more than 100 food markets in Rome, Mercato Trionfale is the largest. More than 270 stands sell butchered meats, handmade pastas, pungent cheeses, fresh fruit, plump tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and just-caught seafood.

Cured meats hanging from the ceiling inside a butcher shop

Italy's oldest market in Bologna is packed with butcher shops, delis, and more. Photo by ecstk22/

Bologna, capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, is considered the country’s food capital. It is affectionately known as La Grassa—the fat one. Food guides joke that famous Fountain of Neptune in Piazza del Nettuno, which features chubby cherubs and curvy Nereids (sea nymphs), reflect the city’s love for food, especially local specialties like prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stuffed pastas like tortellini.

At Bologna’s historic center, Quadrilatero is Italy’s oldest market. It’s packed with butcher shops, delis, fruit and vegetable stands, and fishmongers, as well as wine bars, bakeries, and boutiques.

Also known as La Dotta (the learned), Bologna is home to the oldest university in Western world: the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. That means you’ll find affordable eats without breaking the budget.

Paris + Lyon

Freshly baked breads at a French bakery

Paris has plenty of bakeries selling baguettes and French pastries. Photo by Maria Sbytova/

The City of Light is awash with bakeries selling baguettes and flaky croissants, bistros packed with diners feasting on crêpes or steak frites, and locals sipping wine and smearing bone marrow on toast.

Paris has nearly 120 restaurants with at least one Michelin star. The city’s culinary experiences range from the intimate Frenchie with its artful menu to the opulent Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, where the dining room is inspired by a room in the Palace of Versailles.

For a classic Parisian afternoon, wander along the boho-chic, pedestrian-only Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest streets in Paris, and shop at the open-air street market with stalls piled high with cheeses or fresh produce. Or people-watch while enjoying a café au lait and a pastry.

Pink praline tart

Pink praline tart is a Lyonnaise specialty. Photo by iuliia_n/

Known to foodies as France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon is more laid-back than Paris. But its residents take food very seriously. Legendary French chef Paul Bocuse hailed from Lyon. He's credited as a founding father of nouvelle cuisine, the modern, lighter approach to French cooking.

In Lyon, charcuterie is an artform, and chefs create some of the best saucisson (thick, cured sausage), pâté, and terrines in the world.

All over Lyon, you’ll notice small, family-run eateries known as bouchons. These special, certified restaurants serve traditional Lyonnaise specialties such as coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine), pink-hued praline tart, and salade Lyonnaise with crispy pork belly, fresh croutons, and a poached egg.

Barcelona + San Sebastian

Fruit stall at La Boqueria market

Find fresh fruit at La Boqueria, a famous indoor market in Barcelona. Photo by Paul/

Boasting a warm Mediterranean climate, fantastical Modernisme architecture, and an unparalleled Catalan food culture, Barcelona, Spain, is a must-visit for gourmands who seek adventure.

It’s a walkable city, which is essential when you’re going to cram in as many tapas bars as you can in a single evening. Most folks order 2 to 3 tapas—maybe tiny fried fish or patatas bravas (fried potatoes with tomato-style sauce)—at each stop. Then they move on to the next tapas joint for a few more bites, before ending up in a restaurant for a proper dinner, often at 9 or 10 p.m.

When in Barcelona, be sure to try the prized jamón serrano and the rarer jamón Ibérico, thin slices of marbled Spanish-style, slow-aged ham.

Short on time? Shop and eat at the same time by sampling the best of Barcelona at La Boqueria, one of Spain’s most famous indoor food markets. It’s packed with people perusing fresh juices, fruit cups, freshly caught seafood, nuts, cheeses, sandwiches, and olive oil. And since you’re on vacation, follow the lead of the locals and have churros dipped in hot chocolate for breakfast.

A spread of tapas

Enjoy a selection of pintxos and tapas at San Sebastian bars. Photo by Nedrofly/

In the heart of Basque Country in northern Spain, San Sebastián is a food-obsessed town with dozens of gastronomic societies, several Michelin-starred restaurants, and culinary schools where you can learn the secrets of Basque and Spanish cuisine. From haute cuisine to affordable eats, there’s something for everyone.

San Sebastian is a town of fishermen. Fresh seafood from the Bay of Biscay is transformed into bacalao al pil pil (dried, salted cod served fried with garlic, olive oil, and chile); paella dotted with shrimp, mussels, and clams; and massive grilled scarlet prawns.

In San Sebastian, tapas are known as pintxos. As in Barcelona, the best way to savor them is to hop from bar to bar, tasting the most popular bites and downing glasses of cider, txakoli (a dry white semi-sparkling wine), or sparkling cava.

You may also like: 8 European cities for food lovers

Osaka + Fukuoka

Chefs cooking takoyaki

Find popular Osaka snacks such as takoyaki in Dotonbori. Photo by martinhosmat083/

Osaka, Japan, earned the nickname “The Nation’s Kitchen” because of its well-located trading port and warehouses that stored food and other goods during the Edo Period (1603–1868). However, today’s visitors will no doubt credit Osaka’s gourmet moniker to its thriving hub of restaurants, food stalls, cafés, and markets.

Food is truly larger than life in the Dotonbori area, where restaurants indicate their specialties with giant crab, sushi, fugu (puffer fish), or octopus mascots. One of the most popular Osaka snack foods is takoyaki (pancake balls filled with octopus) and many of the locals’ favorite spots for it can be found at Dotonbori.

For a more nostalgic experience, travel about a mile south to Shinsekai, a district developed in 1912 that drew inspiration from Paris and New York’s Coney Island. When the sun sets and the district glows with neon lights, hungry diners head to one of the 24-hour kushikatsu restaurants, selling skewers of deep-fried foods including asparagus, pumpkin, beef, chicken, banana, and even ice cream.

Pork tonkotsu ramen

Fukuoka is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen. Photo by Brent Hofacker/

Located on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu island, Fukuoka is a 2½-hour bullet train ride from Osaka. This harbor city is known for tranquil beaches, ancient temples, a 17th-century castle, and religious landmarks like the 134-foot-long reclining Buddha of Nanzoin Temple and the 35-foot-tall wooden Great Buddha of Fukuoka.

Within walking distance to these historic attractions are trendy shopping districts, breweries, and lively street food stalls known as yatai. They sell an array of food, including ramen, yakitori (grilled chicken), mentaiko (cod roe), and oden (a simmered dish with daikon, tofu, and fish cake).

Fukuoka is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, and here you’ll find the chewy noodles and creamy pork bone broth topped with green onions, wood ear mushrooms, melt-in-your-mouth char siu, and eggs.

Hong Kong + Macau

Vendor preparing dumplings at a food stall

Open-air food stalls are popular in Hong Kong. Photo by David Parker/

Hong Kong is a dazzling, energetic metropolis at the intersection of old and new, and East and West. In a city that never sleeps, you’re guaranteed a memorable meal, whether you’re chomping on chicken feet and dumplings at a hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurant or savoring a Michelin-starred tasting menu at the top of a skyscraper.

A classic Hong Kong dining experience is visiting a dai pai dong, open-air food stalls along narrow alleys. These peddle everything from wonton noodles to beef brisket noodles to grilled pork chops and black sesame soup.

At this former British colony, afternoon tea is an indulgent affair, especially those served at hotels like The Peninsula Hong Kong, Rosewood Hong Kong, and Regent Hong Kong, which overlooks Victoria Harbour. Pinkies up!

Macau nighttime skyline

Macau, known as Las Vegas of the East, offers cuisine that blends Chinese and Portuguese influences. Photo by Richie Chan/

Traverse 34 miles across the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge and tunnel, and you’ll arrive at Macau, also known as Las Vegas of the East.

A former Portuguese colony, this historic city is a popular gambling destination. The Cotai Strip has 14 casinos, including the Venetian Macao, the Parisian Macao, and the Londoner Macao. But you don’t have to roll the dice when it comes to its cuisine, an amalgamation of Chinese and Portuguese influences.

Everywhere you turn in Macau, you’ll see lines of people patiently waiting for sweet-savory Portuguese egg tarts, steaming pork buns, or spicy beef offals in curry sauce.

Within a stone’s throw from the Ruins of St. Paul’s, part of the Historic Centre of Macao—which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy—you’ll find street vendors competing for customers by offering free samples of barbecue pork jerky.

Rachel Ng is an award-winning food and travel writer based in Volcano, Hawai'i. She recently contributed to the book, Great Outdoors U.S.A.: 1,000 Adventures Across All 50 States by National Geographic, which will be released in August 2023.

View of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

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