Food & Drink

The Best Food City in Every State

Best food city in every state of America
Food cart favorites in Portland, Oregon | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Food cart favorites in Portland, Oregon | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

There are 50 states. All of them nifty. And each with its own unique flavor. As a site dedicated to unabashed love of food cities, we know more than most that not all cities are cut from the same culinary cloth. We also know that some states are home to more great food towns than most countries thrice their size. But what's the best, most essential, go-to food city for each and every state?

Well, we'll tell you. Using our roster of nationwide editors and writers and probably a couple of hobos, we diced our weird-shaped melting pot 50 ways and identified the best overall food city in each state. Some choices are painfully obvious (Rochester, NY FTW!), while others are contentious as all hell (maybe Cali will finally split in two). Will this cause civil wars? As long as there are burgers, we're OK with that.

birmingham
Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham | Flickr/Ralph Daily

Alabama: Birmingham

Birmingham's culinary landscape reps the Deep South with the force of 1,000 crimson tides -- and it's not all fried green tomatoes these days. Rising in tandem with its music and art cred, the Magic City's restaurant scene truly has something for everyone, whether it's white tablecloth award-winners a la Hot and Hot Fish Club, Cafe Dupont, Roots & Revelry and Highlands Bar & Grill, date-worthy burger joints (ahem, Chez Fonfon), wood-fired pizza and craft beer at Post Office Pies, food trucks aplenty, or heaps and heaps of fall-off-the-bone barbecue (see: Miss Myra's, Saw's). Lately, old B’ham’s been venturing into international waters with globally-focused concepts like the effortlessly sleek Pizitz Food Hall, where diners can stock up on Ethiopian, Asian, and Middle Eastern fare, as well Central City’s markedly more low-key yet just as delicious fusion joint, EastWest. We hear the secret's still in the sauce, though.

Alaska: Juneau

Let's be honest: Juneau isn't just one of America's best small food cities -- it's Alaska’s all time best, period, and it could have been a contender based on seafood emporiums Tracy's King Crab Shack and the scenic Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill alone. That joints like The Rookery Cafe, the 100%-worth-the-hype In Bocca al Lupo, and fine-dining destination SALT make a killing in remote locale so often associated with smaller mom-and-pop shops like breakfast faves GonZo and Donna’s (“Where Friends Meet Friends”) just adds more proof that even a town of 32,000 can bring a world-class touch to its food game.

burger
Courtesy of Coronet

Arizona: Tucson


Step aside, Phoenix. Your little compadre Tucson has officially emerged as Arizona's top culinary whiz kid, and you better believe it took more than Sonoran hot dogs to earn the esteemed title (though, truth be told, they're game-changers). Located in the Southwest's deep south, the Old Pueblo has long been a crossroad for many different cultures, making the city of just under half a million an ideal place to stuff your face.

For starters, you’ve got James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder over at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, where multi-ethnic cuisine is prepared with locally grown -- as in, from a garden around the way -- ingredients. Offering over 25 creatively-stuffed and perfectly-steamed tamales at any given time, Tucson Tamale Company also tops the list, especially after a few Tecates. Meat-lovers can get their deliciously greasy fill and then some at Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House’s two-story, 3,880-square-foot complex and for the off days, don’t sleep on the surprisingly-satisfying vegan fare at Beaut Burger. Serial Grillers, a semi-terrifying food truck serving sandwiches, salads, and craft beer-friendly pizzas worth facing your fears for, is, of course, a cult favorite. For something a little more romantic, try the eclectic, family-owned Cafe à la C'Art inside the Tucson Museum of Art, pair your meal with sweeping desert views (and 800+ wines) at the historic Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, or head to the timeless Coronet for a Thursday evening prix-fixe to remember. Phoenix is great. But Tucson, well, that's how you rise.

Arkansas: Little Rock

Northwest Arkansas -- which includes the cities of Fayetteville (go Hogs!) and Bentonville (go... Walmart HQ?!) -- has been enjoying a bump in population growth over the last few years and, subsequently, the bounty of restaurant openings that naturally accompany said growth. Despite that, though, good old Little Rock remains the undeniable king of the state's food scene. And if you thought it was all Southern-fried pickles and possum pie down there, allow us to present a few counterpoints: A beloved yearly Jewish food extravaganza showcasing all the corned beef, cabbage rolls, blintzes, and kugel one can manage plus a legit replica of the Western Wall inside a football stadium. Instagram-savvy restauranteurs taking "Ark-Mex" cuisine to the next level at spots like Heights Taco & Tamale Co., The Fold: Botanas & Bar, and Local Lime. Locally-sourced comforts served with a side of knowledge via food sustainability workshops and other community events at Root Cafe. Riverfront date-night greatness in the form of cheffy seasonal cuisine at Brave New Restaurant. And a requisite food blog that covers it all. And congrats to us for making it through this entire write-up without mentioning Bill, Hillary, or Socks the Cat (RIP). Ah, crap.

California: San Francisco

With apologies to the fish tacos and Cali burritos of SD, and the Dodger Dogs, Apple Pan burgers, French dips, and, you know, gluten-free vegan matcha chia seed superfood bowls of LA, San Francisco still wears the twinkly tiara when it comes to Golden State grub. Is it a shock that chefs almost universally cite NYC and SF in the same sentence when talking American cities that shaped their culinary prowess? Is it strange that, despite its relatively middle-of-the-road population size (13th in the country behind Austin and Jacksonville), it is the most restaurant-dense city in America and routinely cleans up at national Beard Awards?

Should we start name-dropping now? Let’s. How about highly-decorated heavy hitters like Al's Place, State Bird Provisions, Atelier Crenn, The Progress, and Benu? Insanely good pizzas from Del Popolo, Tony's, Fiorella, and Flour + Water? The best burritos in the world at La Taqueria and El Farolito? Craft beer- and/or cocktail-fueled trendsetters like Bon Voyage, Social Kitchen & Brewery, Almanac Taproom, and the Proper Hotel’s swankiest VILLON? Crazy-delicious baked goods everywhere, including legendary croissants from Tartine’s OG Mission location and kouign amann at b. patisserie (which basically started a national kouign amann trend, despite the fact that no one can pronounce it)? Can we stop asking rhetorical questions now and move on to another state?

Colorado: Denver

There are plenty of nationally lauded eateries in mountain towns like Aspen (Element 47 at The Little Nell) and Vail (the newly-reopened La Nonna Ristorante Vail is the stuff of fresh gnocchi-filled dreams), but the scene in Denver is simply unrivaled. I mean, come on, Padma would never let an entire season of Top Chef take place in a mediocre food town. Outposts helmed by heavily-decorated chefs like Fruition Restaurant and multi-faceted sister concept Mercantile Dining & Provision, The Wolf's Tailor, TAG, ​Tavernetta, and Ultreia continue to crush it on an international level. And while LoDo has been the flashpoint in recent years, there are now so many neighborhoods with top-notch restaurants that it's hard to keep track -- a pretty good problem to have if you ask us. The food scene has never looked brighter, with additions ranging from a proliferation of hipster food halls like Avanti Food & Beverage in LoHi and shiny newcomers Source Hotel and Zeppelin Station in RiNo to Southwestern fare with flare at Kachina and Urban Farmer’s sustainable steakhouse style. That last two are in LoDo, proof that even a stalwart Denver 'hood is improving its offerings.

sausage and pepperoni pizza
Frank Pepe Pizzeria | Tom McGovern

Connecticut: New Haven

Pizza is the star of the show here in the Elm City, with an entire street dedicated to Italy's finest. The longstanding rivalry between Wooster St. mainstays Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally's Apizza is widely documented, with generations of locals swearing by one of the two thin-crust destinations (but never, ever the other -- Pepe's ride or die, homey). Nearby Modern Apizza also has a dog in the fight, providing hungry Nutmeggers with perfectly crisp pies since 1934 (it was way more modern back then). Honestly, they’re all worth a visit.

Beyond the pizza wars, New Haven is also known for Louis' Lunch, an age-old haunt that claims to have straight-up invented the hamburger, cooking its proprietary, strictly ketchup-free patties on the same custom-made vertical cast-iron grills since 1878. Recent gentrification has led to a slew of fancy new gastropubs -- Prime 16, The Beer Collective and the cocktail-focused Elm City Social being clear standouts -- and every hungover college student reps The Pantry as the city’s No. 1 breakfast joint. And what’s a college town without a food truck scene? Lunch hour pros like La Patrona, The Meat Truck, and Mexicalli are not to be missed.

Delaware: Wilmington

So sayeth our resident Delaware native, Lee Breslouer: "I grew up in DE, and spent most of my time in Newark. Wilmington might as well have been another planet, and a boring one at that, which is the exact word Robin Williams used to describe the town when he stayed there to film Dead Poets Society. But now it's a planet I don't mind visiting, as the food scene has grown quite a bit since those days.” Among Mr. Breslouer’s go-tos are popular breakfast/lunch spots like De La Coeur Cafe, seafood-heavy riverfront joints like Harry's and Big Fish Grill, and, of course, Italian favorites, from the fresh, modern takes of Capers & Lemons to the old-school red sauce meccas like Mrs. Robino's. But don’t think this sleepy waterfront oasis is all family-friendly spaghetti dinners and clambakes. As of late, the highly-anticipated DE.CO Food Hall, with its eight stellar restaurants and sun-drenched atrium bar, is making quite the 21st-century splash.

Enriqueta's sandwich
Enriqueta's | Zeinab Kristen/Thrillist

Florida: Miami

Oh, we could have shouted out St. Petersburg, or Winter Park… or gone full-on contrarian with Tampa. But come on. Calling out anything but Miami -- where every celebrichef has a joint, the Cuban food is the best you can find anywhere outside of Cuba (and even arguably better than most of Havana), and ocean-fresh seafood is a way of life -- would be like claiming Skokie has better sushi than Tokyo.

The General Muir
The General Muir, Atlanta | Elyse Albert/Thrillist

Georgia: Atlanta

Atlanta's food scene is a big, heaping, delicious mess. Seriously, between the city's endless sprawl, enormous and increasingly diverse population, and deep, deep Southern-fried roots, figuring out where to eat in the Big Peach is about as easy as attempting to explain the Cloud to your 75-year-old father -- but 100% worth the effort. Start with what you know: TV. The city is home to an eye-raising number of talented Top Chef alums, including but not limited to Kevin Gillespie -- whose interactive Asian-fusion destination Gunshow is as hard to pin down as it is delicious -- Season 6 contender Hector Santiago of El Super Pan Latino Sandwiches & Bar fame, and beloved judge Hugh Acheson and his venerable Empire State South.

Beyond the Food Network crowd, there's James Beard Award-winning seasonal Southern at Miller Union, buttery biscuits at Home Grown, artisan bagels (yes, bagels) at The General Muir, upscale sushi at Sushi Hayakawa, late-night date-night eats at Octopus Bar, Krog Street Market gamechangers like the Ticonderoga Club, tacos galore at La Oaxaquena Taqueria, and, of course, enough BBQ joints to feed General Sherman's army. Even with a formidable contender in Savannah, ATL is the clear victor.

The Pig and the Lady
The Pig and the Lady | The Pig and the Lady

Hawaii: Honolulu

Hawaiian food's one of the most unsung American cuisines, probably because half the people from the mainland who visit are content to just eat poolside burgers instead of getting down on the incredible BBQ, poke, seafood, plate lunches, and clashing flavors of indigenous Polynesian food speckled with Japanese and Portuguese influences. And while you can get some killer loco moco at small stands all over the island, Honolulu is the place to go for a little taste of everything, from malasada donuts at Leonard's Bakery to a city-wide wealth of kalua pork, plus insanely fresh sushi at Kunio.

Chinatown's becoming its own animal, with holes-in-the-wall shelling out pho, sushi, dumplings, and dim sum, while hipper spots like The Pig & the Lady (Laotian fried chicken!), fancy gastropub Livestock, and pan-Asian-fusion expert Lucky Belly are becoming the norm. With contemporary classics continuing to rule the roost -- namely the ultra-buzzy Senia, chef-driven original Mud Hen Water, and sleek Japanese food hall Waikiki Yokocho -- plus old-school spots lurking in every nook and cranny, the beaches might have some competition. Kidding. Food and the beach can still be besties.

Idaho: Coeur d'Alene

Think the Gem State’s all tuber, no taste? The lakeside resort town of Coeur d'Alene is out to politely set you straight. Not only does the throwback burger scene rival any in the nation with standouts like Roger’s Ice Cream & Burgers, Hudson's Hamburgers, and Schmidty's Burgers holding court all year long, you can also feast on one of the best damn cheesesteaks outside of Philly at the Best Sandwich Shack. Classing things up isn’t a problem either, especially when you’ve got swanky, endlessly-scenic numbers like Tony’s on the Lake, Cedars Floating Restaurant (yes, it’s literally floating on the lake), and Beverly’s with its mind-blowing 14,000-bottle-strong wine cellar in your corner. Speaking of wine, Idaho sure makes a lot of it, and it’s good, too. In town, family-owned Coeur D'Alene Cellars is responsible for churning out some award-winning Syrahs and Viogniers and just a short (you know, for regional standards) drive south toward Lewiston lurks one of the country’s best kept secret wine trails. When they tell you to go West, you should probably listen, young man.

octopus salad
HaiSous

Illinois: Chicago

Let's just say that Rockford isn't likely to get a Michelin guide anytime soon and Kankakee, despite its efforts, doesn't exactly boast any restaurants routinely ranked among the top handful in the world. But for serious, Chicago is truly in a league of its own thanks to a combination of rib-sticking populist creations (see: deep-dish pizza, Italian beef) and the aforementioned fine dining. But there's just as much excitement to be had in the robust middle ground between cheap eats and paycheck-erasing tasting menus -- the Portugal-meets-China, Macau-inspired magic of Fat Rice, the incomparable burger at Au Cheval, the trendsetting pork perfection of Publican, the finger-licking goodness that is Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the genius that goes into every perfect plate at Vietnamese gem HaiSous -- it never ends. Of late, a rash of Japanese-style izakayas lead by hits like Kizuki, Izakaya Mita, and the brand spankin’ new Kumiko have started taking over the landscape, enticing the masses with delectable bar bites, streamlined design, and painstakingly-creative cocktails -- oh, the cocktails. Let’s face it, certain Chicago streets boast more show-stopping restaurants than some entire major American cities… so it just isn't a fair fight.

oysters
Bluebeard Indy

Indiana: Indianapolis

It goes without saying that Indianapolis' food scene has truly exploded in recent years, gaining an exciting nationally-recognized edge to complement the enduring excellence of standbys like the landmark St. Elmo Steak House. Chef Jonathan Brooks put Naptown on the map with Milktooth’s innovative approach to Midwestern brunch classics, then followed it up with the head-turning Beholder. Over at Libertine, boundary-pushing small plates stand up to the equally (if not more) impressive cocktails, while Provision’s hearty menu puts a firm emphasis on agricultural sustainability, Ukiyo brings top-tier sushi to the Heartland, and Bluebeard keeps it going with locally-sourced shareables and yes, even more excellent cocktails. Pawnee might have waffles on lock, but Indianapolis' resume is simply too stacked for any competition, fictional or not.

Jethro's BBQ
Jethro's BBQ | Adam Emmenecker

Iowa: Des Moines

It could be tempting to give Iowa City the nod on the strength of its college-town charm and the undeniable gluttonous glory of the Hamburg Inn No. 2, or maybe tip it to Decorah solely on the strength of Toppling Goliath (beer counts as a food, right?!). But Des Moines isn't just the capital in a governmental sense. Smitty's can compete with anywhere in the state when it comes to turning out a quality pork tenderloin sandwich (in Iowa, that's some fierce competition). Any city would be lucky to have a burger joint as simultaneously excellent and, well, damn fun as Zombie Burger and Jethro’s BBQ’s growing empire is a meaty force to be reckoned with. And lest you think everything's fast and furious, you should check out the refined Southern-tinged sensibilities over at Bubba or Splash’s fully-loaded oyster bar.

Cobb Salad
Merchants Pub and Plate

Kansas: Lawrence


Yes, believe it or not, Lawrence residents DO occasionally take a break from either obsessing over the Jayhawks or obsessively re-reading William S. Burroughs’ drug-addled musings to sneak in a meal or two. And when they do, they're doing it well. Any city would be lucky to have The Burger Stand at the Casbah as its go-to dog-and-burger joint (in fact, Topeka DID get an offshoot, but we gotta respect the original). Far from resting on its beer-laden laurels, Free State Brewing Company's been hitting the spot with its eclectic menu for decades now while Merchants Pub and Plate blends modern perspectives with craft brew-friendly comforts. You'll also find house-made noodles and addictive SPAM musubi at the Hawaiian-influenced Ramen Bowls and elevated European flavors (along with a standout brunch) at 715. Rock Chalk, indeed.

Shirley Mae's in Louisville
Proof on Main, Louisville | Josh Johnson/Thrillist

Kentucky: Louisville 

These days, Louisville is so much more than bourbon and fried chicken (not that there's anything wrong with fried chicken... we suggest Shirley Mae's as a starting point). But that’s not to say it's all bonnets and cummerbunds, either. On the contrary, Louisville's culinary masterminds are a refreshing blend of low and highbrow, places where approachable, technically-sound cuisine blends seamlessly into smartly-designed, laid-back settings. Gastro and brewpubs are a go-to here, with Holy Grale (set in an historic church) and wise-guy haven Against the Grain leading the pack. Top Chef alum Ed Lee is steadily building his culinary army with hits Whiskey Dry, 610 Magnolia, and MilkWood, and The Silver Dollar and Garage Bar serve up in belly-warming Southern staples in hipster-ified throwback digs. Dressed up picks include Jack Fry's for genteel dining -- though don't even think about a reservation anywhere near Derby Day -- and the quirky, art-filled Proof on Main inside the boutique 21c Museum Hotel (don’t leave without dipping into the adjacent whiskey bar -- it’s one of the country’s best). And if all this change has your head a'spinning, don't worry -- you can still soak up some old Kentucky grit at Bambi Bar, a beloved roadhouse where local bourbon and juicy burgers reign supreme.

Guy's Po-Boys
Guy's Po-Boys | Martine Boyer/Thrillist

Louisiana: New Orleans

So there's Arnaud's, and Antoine's, and Cafe du Monde, and Commander's Palace, and Central Grocery, Cure, and Compere Lapin, and Bywater American Bistro, and Herbsaint, and the sandwich kings over at Turkey and the Wolf, and that whole mingling of French, Spanish, Creole, Italian, Native American, Cajun, and Chinese cuisines into their own thing, thing. Did we mention po’ boys yet? You know what? We already said that this is the best food city in America. So, um, sorry Baton Rouge. You can throw a mean fish fry, but, well... we kinda have to geaux with our gut here.

Maine: Portland

It’s no surprise that Portland has really good shellfish. Boiled, steamed, plopped into a creamy stew, slurped raw, or drenched in mayo, Portland's abundance of fresh aquatic life is just one of the reasons it's Vacationland's best. If your world is the oyster, check out Eventide Oyster Co., a seaside seafood palace with approx. 1 zillion different types of bivalves along with rich stews and life-changing lobster rolls, not to mention killer craft beer and cocktails. Hugo's, Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Little Giant, Drifters Wife, and Fore Street continue to school the state in fine(er) dining with inventive, highly-seasonal menus teeming with local ingredients and presented with the utmost precision. Recent chilled-out ventures like pho-masters Cong Tu Bot and bagel specialists Rose Foods only add to the fun. And only a true dummy would skip out on a visit to Duckfat, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop with

Loch Bar scallops
Loch Bar scallops | Atlas Restaurant Group

Maryland: Baltimore

It’s been a banner few years for the city that brought us Natty Bo’ and crab mac and cheese-topped hot dogs. Celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern and Loch Bar have joined the white-tablecloth ranks, the classed-up counterparts to mainstays like L.P. Steamers, Bo Brooks Restaurant, and Captain James Seafood Palace. Italian young-gun Tagliata and sister speakeasy The Elk Room along with Bluebird Cocktail Room and the sky-high Topside are all doing their part to charm Charm City cool kids and the long-anticipated Ida B’s Table might just rank among the country’s very best neo-soul food spots. All in all, we’re pretty sure B’more’s talented hometown chefs have racked up more trophies than all of the city’s professional sports teams… combined. There’s always next year, O’s fans!

Nasi Goreng being cut up
Meyers + Change's Nasi Goreng | Kristen Teig

Massachusetts: Boston

Despite the fact that Western Mass has some serious farm-to-table chops, Worcester has a boatload of adorable lunch cars, and Hyannis has this one place with pretty good chowder, there was not huge competition in the Bay State -- at least not when Beantown’s involved. Boston, with (or despite?) its gloriously distorted accent and highly irrational sports fandom, is a culinary powerhouse rife with internationally-lauded chefs like Barbara Lynch (No. 9 Park, Menton, Drink, B & G Oysters, literally so many), Ken Oringer & Jamie Bissonnette (Uni, Toro, Coppa), Tiffani Faison (Fool’s Errand, Sweet Cheeks Q, Tiger Mama), and Tim and Nancy Cushman (O Ya, Hojoko), to name a mere few.

Besides rubbing elbows with celebrity chefs, you can slurp the greatest oysters in the world at Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34, North Square Oyster, and Neptune Oyster; have ridiculously delicious chowder at Summer Shack, Barking Crab, and yes, Legal Sea Foods. Get involved in the North End cannoli wars at Mike's and Modern (the correct answer is Mike's, dammit); eat shockingly good pizza at Santarpio's, Picco, Locale, or Galleria Umberto; and bear witness to Asian-inspired genius at Pagu and Myers + Chang. Point is, if there is a national food dance, Boston is the only gal from Mass getting an invite.

Michigan: Grand Rapids

Detroit is great, but its overall food scene is more the sum of its metro area (Ferndale, Hamtramck, Dearborn… not Taylor), so that seems a bit of a stretch when naming the best proper food city. And while we've been singing the praises of Traverse City for some time now, that seems a bit disingenuous, considering its size. Grand Rapids, though, has been making a huge mark on the Mitten, standing tall as both the state's best beer city and it's finest place to dine. That’s all thanks to pan-Polish/German/Latin cuisine at the farm-fresh UN of eating that is Grove, the Euro-flecked beer-obsessed offerings at Green Well, Stella’s Lounge’s chart-topping burger (washed down by a massive whiskey list), duck-confit nachos at the gorgeous Brewery Vivant, nostalgia-inducing hot dogs at Yesterdog, the hearty, hangover-busting bills at brunch kings Noco Provisions and Butcher’s Union, and so, so much more. The whole "being a beautiful city" thing is icing on the cake. Oh shit, that reminds us: get a cake at Cakabakery.

Butcher & the Boar, Minneapolis
Butcher and Boar, Minneapolis | Kean Amdahl/Thrillist

Minnesota: Minneapolis

It's so upsetting when siblings fight! And to be sure, you could go back and forth on whether Minneapolis or St. Paul takes the crown when it comes to Minnesota's best eating, and while St. Paul is certainly not without its standouts (The Happy Gnome is a world-class beer bar with food that rivals the suds), in the end, Minneapolis prevails as the dominant twin. Take a trip to Surly's massive BBQ-slinging taproom and you may never want to leave. Butcher & the Boar is as carnivorously glorious as the name suggests, and superstar chef Gavin Kaysen, whose Spoon and Stable still holds strong as one of the Midwest’s very best, has since graced the Prince faithful with bistro-style darling Bellecour. Reflecting the city’s rich multi-ethnic makeup, Young Joni has somehow managed to make Korean-inflected wood-fired pizza a real thing, Southeast Asian wonderland Hai Hai is one of America's best new restaurants, The Bachelor Farmer gives ample props to its state’s Scandinavian roots, and you’d be hard-pressed to find better Somali food stateside than at Midtown Global Market’s Safari Express. Plus, it's rare to have the opportunity to visit the birthplace of an American classic, but you can seize it in Minneapolis when you amble into Matt's Bar and put away a cheese-oozing Juicy Lucy at the place that claims to have invented it. There's a debate around that, but not one around how ridiculously fantastic it tastes.

Mississippi: Oxford

Oxford, Mississippi: home to Ole Miss, ole Faulkner's Rowan Oak estate, buckets of ole antebellum charm, and a grand ole food scene that moves from down-home country classics to refined farm-to-table cuisine with typical college-town ease. Townies, tourists, and students converge at Ajax Diner for soulful late-night eats then bend elbows the next morning over giant, flaky biscuits at Big Bad Breakfast or pit-smoked BBQ from Handy Andy Grocery. Upscale Southern cuisine makes City Grocery, Snackbar, and McEwen's musts for parents and profs, wood-fired Italian fare makes an appearance at the refined Saint Leo, and everybody gets their world-famous catfish with a side of local lore at the 100+ year-old Taylor Grocery & Restaurant. Mississippi's a state with great restaurants scattered in the most unlikely of places. Oxford, well, that's just good ole one-stop shopping.

LC's BBQ
LC's BBQ | Shanley Cox/Thrillist

Missouri: Kansas City

All apologies to Jefferson city, but this is pretty much a two-horse race between Kansas City and St. Louis. While St. Louis definitely has its charms -- from its unyielding love of frozen custard to just about everything brainiac chef Gerard Craft touches -- Kansas City gets the nod, not only on the strength of its status as one of the country’s true pilgrimage-worthy barbecue cities -- here’s looking at you, LC's -- but also because of everything else it brings to the table. First up, steak! Get yourself a bone-in filet butchered on-site at Anton's, dig into herb-basted filets at the Parker, or sink your teeth into a plate of charcoal-grilled short rib crowned with crab butter at Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room to achieve meaty euphoria. New American cooking gets the James Beard-quality treatment at Bluestem and The Rieger, both worthy stop-offs after chasing pregaming with cheffy shareables and craft cocktails at Monarch Cocktail Bar, Julep, Tom’s Town Distilling Company, and funky Crossroads hub SoT. As far as we’re concerned, the ‘Lou can keep their concretes -- our big boy pants are fitting just fine over here in KC.

Montana: Bozeman

Missoula's bigger. Billings is too… but who wants to go to Billings? (We kid, it's very nice/industrial.) But our hearts, and our stomachs, remain in Bozeman. Maybe it's that delicious buffalo burger at converted freight house Montana Ale Works, or the state's best pizza at the hippie/cowboy/tourist spot Cosmic (though some have argued we're wrong and Tarantino's is the best… but hey, that just means more fantastic pies -- it’s a win-win). Maybe it's the hangover-demolishing omelets loaded with locally-sourced veggies at Nova Cafe, or the melt-in-your-mouth biscuits at Roost Fried Chicken, or the farm-fresh and rustic finery at Plonk, or the high-end Italian at Emerson Grill. Or the surprising wealth of global cuisine (see: spicy bibimbap with bulgogi beef at Whistle Pig Korean). Or maybe it's just all those steaks. Mmmm, Copper Whiskey Bar

Dinker's Bar and Grill
Dinker's Bar and Grill | Joshua Foo/Thrillist

Nebraska: Omaha

We'll let you make your own jokes about mail-order frozen steaks. Instead, we'll just say that Omaha is packed with fantastic steakhouses (all fresh, never frozen) like 801 Chophouse, Kobe, Farmer Browns, Mahogany Prime… hell, we could do this all day. This is also the birthplace of the Reuben (sorry, New York, but we'll send you a postcard from Crescent Moon), and the home of the landmark Dinker's Bar (the best burgers!), and so, so much more. And yeah, there's seafood, too, like the top-notch sushi from Yoshitomo. And Au Courant Regional Kitchen’s seasonal six-course chef’s tasting menus. Also locally-sourced “farm-to-cone” ice cream from Coneflower Creamery (they even make their own sprinkles). And buttery scratch-made croissants at Farine + Four. Your move, Lincoln.

Carnevino Steak House Nevada
Carnevino Steak House Las Vegas | Rob Kachelriess /Thrillist

Nevada: Las Vegas

We were originally going to say Tahoe. Then we thought about Reno. And then we decided we're not idiots before considering making this all about all-you-can-eat buffets... but come on. We're better than that. So is Vegas... and if you need us to tell you it's more than shrimp cocktail and getting side-eyed by a guy named Lefty, well, maybe Reno is all you deserve -- we hear the buffets are mighty fine out there.

New Hampshire: Portsmouth

If New England were a family, New Hampshire would be the quiet cousin who always shows up to family functions, keeps to himself, and occasionally makes your girlfriend feel uncomfortable for no real reason. And of New Hampshire's few cities, Portsmouth's basically a quiet baby brother to Manchester and Concord. But sometimes it's the quiet ones hiding the biggest -- and tastiest -- secrets (just go with us here). It's not the quantity here that matters, it’s the sheer diversity of it all, with options ranging from comfort classics to what-the-hell-is-that and back again. We’re talking four-time James Beard semi-finalist-helmed bistro Black Trumpet and Americanized tapas at Moxy, backed by a two-time Beard semi-finalist. Korean fried chicken is king at STREET, brunch is immaculate at The Friendly Toast, Cornerstone has pizza and craft beer down pat, and Portsmouth Brewery has mussels soaking in a broth made from its fine blonde ale. Oh, yes, seafood. There's a lot of that, and some of the best can be found at Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe. Or at The Franklin, washed down by the state’s best Bloody Mary. "Someday you'll be working for your little brother," we imagine Old Mama New Hampshire saying to Manchester when it's being a dick. Luckily, there's always a dishwashing position open in Portsmouth.

New Jersey: Jersey City

Sitting in the long and daunting shadows of Manhattan's weirdly phallic skyscrapers, Jersey City is easy to overlook. And for native Jerseyites, JC was always a punchline, a place where your sweaty uncle might live with his second wife, a destination reserved for catching trains and maybe scoring some illegal substances when your hometown guy is down the shore for the weekend. But, wouldn’t you know it, over the last decade the little guy sneakily blossomed into the Garden State's premier dining destination. New American specialists Maritime Parc can hold its own against any bougie-ass NYC eatery. Roman Nose has piping-hot pizza even Brooklynites can't snub their potentially Roman noses at and Second Street Bakery takes care of the overstuffed Italian sandwiches department. Oh, you want views? Waterside eatery Battello has a better view than anything in the big bad city… because you can actually see said big bad city from your table. It's no surprise chefs are ditching the high rents and crazy pressure of New York and hopping on a PATH to open new restaurants in Jersey City, namely Pig & Khao’s Leah Cohen’s massive new Piggyback Bar and an outpost of Dale Talde’s eponymous pan-Asian stunner, among others. Like Jersey's own Frank Sinatra said, "... the best is yet to come."

New Mexico: Santa Fe

It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor. We sung its praises in a story on food cities for Thrillist previously. We also shouted, "It's misunderstood!" from the internet rooftops. While its food scene is certainly noteworthy (Los Poblanos is a game-changer), Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with the almighty green chile. So it bears mentioning the uber-local green chile cheeseburger at the most charming Atrisco Cafe & Bar, the green chile enchiladas at Horseman's Haven, spicy green chile cheddar fries at Cowgirl BBQ, on some of the best all-around Mexican dishes in America at La Choza. If Southwestern food isn't your thing, you're wrong, but there's still standout American cuisine at Restaurant Martin and Joseph's, jerk chicken and goat stew like you wouldn’t believe at Afro-Caribbean go-to Jambo Cafe, and a restaurant with food so fresh, nourishing, and delicious that senior staff writer Lee Breslouer once visited three times in 48 hours: Sweetwater.

Le Turtle in New York City
Le Turtle New York | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

New York: New York City

We thought, debated, and argued about choosing another New York city, over New York City and its unparalleled, otherworldly, expansive, inventive, and ever-evolving food scene. Oh wait, no we didn't. We aren't going to apologize about the most obvious choice on this list.

Picnic | Courtesy of Picnic

North Carolina: Durham

Look, Asheville, we see you. We see you, we know you, and we love you still, in all your beer-soaked glory. But while you were sipping wild ales and riding high on never-ending food world praise, a little former tobacco town out east was steadily staging a culinary takeover. So step aside, our sweet mountain town, and make way for Cackalacky’s newest darling: Durham. Let’s kick off our victory tour with a stop into Monuts for a biscuit breakfast sandwich/a dozen maple-bacon-bourbon doughnuts. Next, in no particular order: local Southern bites and excellent house brews at Fullsteam Brewery, spice-grilled shrimp with a side of crab grits from Saltbox Seafood Joint, whole-hog BBQ done old-school at the Pit or new-school at Picnic, literally anything from any one of eight-time James Beard semi-finalist Scott Howell's flavor-packed mini-empire (NanaTaco, NanaSteak, Bar Virgile, DeeLuxe Chicken), carefully-composed seafood dishes at Counting House inside the new 21c Museum Hotel, celebrated tapas from Mateo, wood-fired pies at Pizzeria Toro… Sorry, Ashe -- that’s game, set, match right there.

North Dakota: Fargo

Contrary to what you might believe, it's not all lutefisk and Midwestern niceties in North Dakota. And Fargo's not just an offbeat FX dramedy series based on a cult 1996 Coen Brothers hit of the same name, but also North Dakota’s seasoned hub for great food. From the game-changing bison burger at upscale HoDo and divier patties at Sickies Garage (get the grilled-cheese burger), to the next-level, high-end steaks and BBQ at Spitfire, eclectic menus that change on the daily from the super-seasonal Luna, and fine dining at Mezzaluna. Vinyl Taco has the fancy taco trend on lock. Würst Bier Hall and BernBaum’s are your new favorite sausage shop and Jewish/Scandinavian deli, respectively (what, you didn’t already have a favorite?). Stellar food-focused taphouses like Wild Terra Cider and Brewing are popping up everywhere. There are underground hipster dining clubs, too. Have we been wrong about this lutefisk thing all along? Our world has just come completely undone.

Courtesy of Greenhouse Tavern
Courtesy of Greenhouse Tavern

Ohio: Cleveland

We know people in Ohio -- home to the most US presidents, Big 10 powerhouse THE Ohio State Buckeyes, as well as a shocking number of bonafide cities -- like to argue about which city is the best. But with all respect to Cincinnati, Cleveland never dumped a bunch of chili on a plate of spaghetti and called it a signature dish (only kidding… kind of) and while we love us some Columbus, we can’t live on square hamburgers and chocolate-covered peanut butter candies alone. Thus, Cleveland's food scene is plainly unparalleled in Ohio, and has been since West Side Market opened its doors in 1840, unleashing its meats (and gyros) unto worthy Clevelanders the city over.

But while classics like Seti's and Polish café-style classic Sokolowski's and deli Slyman's remain institutions, Cleveland's also got some of the most exciting new ventures, with food very much playing a role in the city's revival (beer is helping too!). Greenhouse Tavern helped kick off a Cleveland renaissance with on point with next-level, butcher-centric cooking (seriously, the pig head's amazing), Michael Symon's redefining burger and BBQ culture, Crop has set up a sprawling and fancy mainstay in an old bank, and Il Rione Pizzeria is firing up some of the best NY-style pies this side of the Allegheny. Every week seems to bring more formidable newcomers to the scene, from the next-level fried fare at Boss ChickNBeer and spaghetti-and-meatballs thinktank Polpetta to Serenite's fine French dining.  Comfort food has mutated thanks to Melt and Happy Dog. Alley Cat has NOLA-caliber oysters. Brewnuts satisfies all human needs by infusing fresh doughnuts with craft beer and Metropolitan Coffee makes mornings worth the trauma of waking up. The best restaurant in Cleveland is a different place every day. And with newcomers cropping up on the regular, Cleveland's making a move toward an actual dining destination rather than a town that happens to have great grub.

burger
Tucker's Onion Burgers | Quit Nguyen/Thrillist

Oklahoma: Oklahoma City

There's a common misconception that Oklahoma is all about fast food (it does come in at number 10 for us in that dept.), but the state's actually rich with signature dishes ranging from fried catfish to BBQ to the crowd-pleasing onion burger, a thing of simple beauty that Oklahoma gifted the world. OKC brings the Thunder on all fronts. Those onion burgers are at their best at Tucker's, Johnnie's, and Bunny's. BBQ? We're partial to Swadley's and Iron Star. Pho's long been big (try Pho Lien Hoa), but delectable soup dumplings are on the rise too, with Tsubaki Szechuan being the current champ. You can get your oyster fix at The Drake -- landlocked-ness be damned -- and eight-course, locally-sourced and often foraged tasting menus at the buzzy Nonesuch, but don't leave without getting down with some beef… the most common move is the legendary Cattlemen's, one of the most beloved steakhouses in a region where saying that about the wrong spot might get you shot, but St. Mark’s Chop Room & Bar fares just as well. Holey Rollers delivers the vegan doughnuts and swanky cocktails and refined Southern-esque creations are set to a live music score at The Jones Assembly. If it was good enough for the Duke, it's good enough for us.

Kargi Gogo bowl and dumplings
Kargi Gogo | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Oregon: Portland

Oh, we could have picked Bend or Ashland or something, but contrarianism is soooooo last week. Plus -- as anyone who's lived there, thought about visiting, or watched a single Portlandia sketch will tell you -- this is one of America's best food cities. Olympia Provisions, John Gorham's Tasty/Toro empire, Lardo, Han Oak, Beast, Matt's BBQ, Hat Yai, Kachka, Nong's... the City of Roses is a veritable fantasyland for well-regarded restaurants, with new, outstanding options popping up all the time, including this year's standoutsCanard -- a more casual offshoot of Gabriel Rucker's famed French bistro Le Pigeon --  and Georgian dumpling behemoth Kargi Gogo. But when half of a city's food carts (there are around 700) could trounce 95% of the state's other cities' best restaurants and the pizza scene's suddenly being spoken of in the same breath as NY, well, there's not a ton to elaborate on.

Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh

Da 'Burgh. Steel Town. City of Champions. City of Yinzers. The three rivers of Pittsburgh -- Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio -- converge to create a fertile culinary landscape of down-home (or dahntahn) meals, and when combined with the rising tide of high-end restaurants seeping into the scene, you're looking at a food city of the utmost caliber. If you think the ‘Burgh is just a Rust Belt dinosaur with nothing to offer but soggy pierogies, you've clearly never heard of spots like Sonja Finn's game-changing Dinette in East Liberty; comfort-chic Meat & Potatoes; almost-famous breakfast mini-chain Pamela's (try the crepe-like flapjacks); Superior Motors, where exquisite fine dining happens in a converted Chevy dealership; or Federal Galley, a 5,000-square-foot food hall bursting with everything from Detroit-style pizza to banh mi. Oh, you want Italian? Chef Joseph Tambellini serves one of the best meatballs in the entire country in his cozy, under-the-radar resto, the menu at James Beard-nominee Justin Severino's Cure is as gorgeous as it is delicious, and Driftwood Oven’s freshly-minted brick-and-mortar spot is scoring huge with their mortadella and spicy pickled peppers-topped white pie. This city puts heaping mounds of French fries on its sandwiches. Its main competition in the Keystone State has cheesesteaks and a statue of Stallone... that's a tough call. But hey, Rocky's thing was coming in second place, so no hard feelings.

Rhode Island: Providence

If Providence's notoriously corrupt, mob-tied local government tells us anything, it's that this town has some kick-ass Italian food. Not to be crass, but sometimes good pizza is well worth the occasional political scandal, and boy oh boy, is this pizza good. Rhode Island's signature pies come grilled on both sides before the addition of sauce and toppings, producing a smoky, perfectly-crisped thin crust. Since a pizza tour is the best way to explore any city, start with Al Forno, a cozy red-sauce joint that claims to have invented the city’s distinctive style, then to Bob & Timmy's for its famous four-cheese option before finishing up with LaSalle Bakery’s cheese-less pizza strips (another PVD original). And don’t forget to fill out your meal with some homemade pasta and slow-simmered meatballs at Enoteca Umberto -- Nonna told us you were looking too skinny. Outside the Boot, roving, sunglass-sporting art-school kids can be found sucking down cocktails at North, waxing poetic over tapas at Bacaro or seasonal seafood at Birch, or gorging on sauce-smothered dogs at Olneyville New York System, then later recovering over a short stack of buttermilk hotcakes at Nick's on Broadway or a heaping plate of chicken and waffles at Bucktown. Odds are they're probably already cooler than you, so just follow their lead.

South Carolina: Charleston

As anyone who's set foot below the Mason-Dixon knows, Charleston is a Grade A food town that seamlessly merges Southern hospitality with innovative modern cuisine. Many top restaurants err on the side of jacket-and-tie -- McCrady's is 100% worth the cost of a new blazer, by the way -- but that doesn't mean the South’s dining capital is devoid of casual eats. If you don’t believe us, make a beeline for the airy, country-meets-contemporary Butcher & Bee, hit the line at Bertha's Restaurant for your soul-quenching fried chicken with all the fixins, or scarf down a few wallet-friendly platters of slow-smoked pork at legendary pitmaster Rodney Scott’s BBQ joint. Of course, it's really the seafood that shines in Chucktown, from fried whiting and Gullah-Geechee standards at Nana's Seafood & Soul to briny oysters at The Ordinary, Husk's cornmeal-dusted catfish a la Lowcountry titan Sean Brock and FIG's tender take on locally caught porgy. The brewing greats at Edmund’s Oast recently opened a 20,000-square-foot brewpub complete with a full wood-fired New American menu and a chef’s table for getting up-close and personal. And when it comes to breakfast, even a 2011 visit from Guy Fieri can't keep us from Early Bird Diner, where biscuits & gravy, honey-drenched chicken & waffles, and the requisite shrimp & grits send me right into a bleary-eyed, calorie-induced state of bliss.

South Dakota: Sioux Falls

There's great food in Spearfish, Rapid, Deadwood, and probably in some one-horse town you've never heard of where they cut amazing steaks off a still-breathing cow, but Sioux Falls is the only city that has, you know, a certifiable dining scene. Minervas, with its award-winning salad bar (yes, that’s a thing) and succulent New York Strips, has been a date night/graduation party/Father’s Day/average Thursday fixture since 1977. Parker's Bistro has fine dining (and, yep, more meat), delis like Myers' Deli & More and M.B. Haskett could definitely hold their own on any New York street corner, and CH Patisserie, spearheaded by Chris Hamner of Top Chef and World Pastry Championship fame, is quite literally one of the country’s best bakeries. If South Dakota is the most underrated state in the union, Sioux Falls might just be the most overlooked food destination, especially if you just see it on the highway en route to finding out what the hell Wall Drug is.

bowls
Husk

Tennessee: Nashville

It’s not that we don’t love Memphis -- in fact, we will throw down for Memphis’ BBQ nachos faster than we’d throw down for most of our family members -- and there’s no objecting to the fun, down-to-earth culinary scenes currently pervading both Knoxville and Chattanooga. Hell, even Pigeon Forge has a quality eatery or two, despite its booze-free predilections. But this year, the honor belongs to Music City. Notorious for palate-scorching hot chicken and other Southern-fried delicacies (hello, Arnold's Country Kitchen), this hot-to-trot honkytonk of a town has recently been attracting legions of talented chefs to its glitzy shores, diversifying the culinary landscape with ambitious, sophisticated seafood projects like Julia Sullivan and Allie Poindexter’s Henrietta Red, the seemingly effortless Italian musings of award-winning Philip Krajeck at Folk and Rolf & Daughters, yet another successful Husk location from Sean Brock, and New York transplant Rob Newton’s elevated bill at Gray & Dudley (three words: duck fried rice). What else? The Nash is also home to a sizable Kurdish population -- the biggest in the country, in fact -- and thus kabobs, gyros, kofta, and other regional delights reign supreme at must-stops like House of Kabob. Sorry Elvis, we’re boarding an eastbound Mystery Train to flavortown.

Smokey Denmark's | Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Texas: Austin

What do award-winning barbecue, pillowy donuts, and 24-hour tacos have in common? A) They all rule, and B) each is at its very best deep in the heart of Texas -- or, you know, at least in Austin's liberal, college-town heart. It's not all about BBQ here, but let's be honest, the strength of the BBQ alone -- from the world-famous Franklin to local faves like Valentina's, Smokey Denmark's, and a million other pits -- would put Austin at the top. I recently had a friend fly down for SXSW and I'm pretty sure he spent 99% of his time indulging his inner fat kid and maybe 1% of it actually seeing shows, so I'm going to trust his authority when he recommends Gourdough's as Austin's top donut joint and Torchy's for the most extensive (and best-tasting) taco menu in town. Despite the unbearable heat, ramen joint Ramen Tatsu-ya and "Texas izakaya" Kemuri Tatsu-ya have firmly lodged themselves deep down in the heart of Texas and Dai Due’s proclivity for keeping things close to home means everything is locally-sourced, from the tender wild boar confit down to the wine. And with the recent re-opening of Austin’s beloved Tamale House in a new Eastside location, we now know that anything is possible if you just want it hard enough. Texas Forever, alright.

High West Saloon | Courtesy of High West Saloon

Utah: Salt Lake City

For a city so teased for its temperance, Salt Lake City certainly is an indulgent town (it's also, you know, one of the only real-deal cities in the entire state of Utah, so there's that), and we're not just talking about its world-class beer scene. These folks can eat. They've been doing it since 1930 in Ruth's Diner, getting down on gigantic biscuits and pulled pork Benedict. They do it at R&R BBQ -- where burgers come topped with pulled pork, smoked sausage, fried jalapeños, Jack cheese, and sauce -- over a spread of homemade onion rings and a mug of root beer at the charmingly old-timey Hires Big H, and at high-end farm-to-table favorites like HSL and Pago. They even do it while knocking back local whiskey at High West Saloon in neighboring Park City. Thai and tapas? Waffles & Frites? Red Iguana's legendary Mexican? Temperance, it seems, done left SLC and got replaced with elastic waistbands.

Vermont: Burlington

Believe it or not, there's a lot more to Vermont's most populous city than Ben & Jerry's (though, let's be honest, that's a hard one to beat). In fact, this outdoorsy college town has been touting the locavore lifestyle long before your kombucha-hoarding roommate got in on it, with eco-friendly cuisine topping menus everywhere from New American bistros to upscale Chinese joints. Speaking of refined Chinese, Burlington's A Single Pebble has been melting minds and filling bellies with innovative, relentlessly authentic Asian fare since 2002. Hen of the Wood is the pick for creative, responsibly-sourced eats in a ridiculously well-designed space (seriously, check out the geometric wood-paneled ceiling), American Flatbread is just loaded with quality ‘za and excellent beer thanks to resident IPA-masters Zero Gravity, Bluebird Barbecue caters to the carnivorous crowd (somebody has to), Citizen Cider’s burgers are (almost) as good as their juicy brews, and Penny Cluse Café has all your post-craft-beer-binge breakfast needs covered. For the full Vermont experience, check out City Market, every crunchy, Teva-clad Vermonter's one-stop shop for farm-fresh produce, exotic cheeses, cream-top yogurt, grain-fed meats, and yeah, bins and bins of bulk granola.

Virginia: Richmond

Richmond might be the most criminally overlooked American city according to a certain website staffed entirely by geniuses, but we’re going to do our best to make sure it's not overlooked within the confines of this paragraph. L'opossum's website has an unavoidable James Beard Award logo slapped on its page, which makes sense considering it also lists “an autumnal arrangement of freshly procured Manakintowne mesclun tossed in a louche yet luscious embrace of duck confit, pear, pistachio  and Gewürtztramine.” Damn! Speaking of expertly-prepared (though perhaps less luxuriously-annotated) cuisine, tiny Saison serves up farm-fresh plates plenty, Spoonbread Bistro does things with applewood-smoked bacon we can only dream about, and The Jasper’s hen liver mousse-smeared bánh mì provides formidable padding for their incredible cocktails. Rappahannock plays double duty by operating both a full-scale restaurant and an oyster farm, you can feast on local rabbit and other dainty throwbacks at the century-old Jefferson Hotel's lavish Lemaire, and there are two locations in which to indulge in Peter Chang's Szechuan delights. Other must-visits for Virginians and tourists alike are The Roosevelt, which we lauded as one of the best restaurants in the South in 2015; Boulevard Burger & Brew, a forward-thinking burger joint slinging patties out of a landmark ‘50s-era burger stand; and the savory + sweet pie experts at Proper Pie. Remember GWAR, the roving heavy metal band that dressed  up as perverted monsters and gleefully scared the bejeezus out of every God-fearing American during the ‘80s and ‘90s? Yeah, they own a bar and restaurant here. It’s pretty awesome.

Tsukushinbo Seattle
Tsukushinbo Seattle | Chona Kasinger/Thrillist

Washington: Seattle

What, did you think we were going to say Bellevue when Seattle is arguably one of America’s best restaurant cities, period? And after all it did for tossed salad and scrambled eggs? There are probably more great restaurants within two blocks of Pike Place than most cities have on their entire grids… and the locals don't even set foot near there. Greatness here gets greater the further you go above sea level, but no matter your stomping ground of choice, the city’s scene only keeps getting greater with age. A brief primer, for evidentiary value: the Southern stylings of JuneBaby; fresh pasta and foraged veggies at Salare; enough local bivalves to pickle yourself at Taylor Shellfish Farms, Elliotts Oyster House, and The Walrus and the Carpenter; and a paragon of the Japanese-style sando craze at Katsu Burger. There’s also the Seattle Dog, a weiner smothered in cream cheese and sauteed onions, but we suggest proceeding with caution there.

West Virginia: Morgantown

Before you snobby city-dwellers write off the whole of West Virginia as dirt-road hollers, dusty coal mines, and Mountain Dew, get yer ass down to Morgantown for some lip-smacking local fare and a damn good time. Morgantown is a sneaker hit among the South's more discerning food destinations, a place where flaky, golden-brown biscuits come with every meal, locally harvested ramps are a springtime staple, doughy pepperoni rolls are a late-night Godsend (Chico Bakery!), and chili-topped slaw dogs rule every cookout. The tried-and-true university town is home to a shocking number of quality Italian joints, and local spots Oliverio's, Stefano's, and Puglioni's are each worth their weight in baked ziti. If you're itching for burgers, BBQ, and/or beer, hit up Atomic Grill, Table9, Mountain State Brewing Company, or Tailpipes for your gut-busting fix; overstuffed burritos hail from Black Bear Burritos; and Dirty Bird is your ticket to a Southern fried chicken dinner waaaay better than my grandma used to make (though, to be fair, she was from the Caribbean, but I digress).

 Eno Vino Downtown inside the AC Hotel Madison
Eno Vino Downtown inside the AC Hotel Madison

Wisconsin: Madison

You could certainly make an argument for Milwaukee here and in no way be off-base -- indeed, the state's biggest metropolis has, without a doubt, a noteworthy food scene. But Madison has a certain artsy, college-town energy that seems to produce good eating at every turn, pretty much without fail. You'll find everything from a decades-old fine-dining institution in L'Etoile and contemporary tapas with a killer view at Eno Vino Downtown inside the AC Hotel Madison to binge-worthy Taipei night market-style street food from Taiwan Little Eats and hearty pasties at Teddywedgers that'll make any Upper Midwesterner's heart sing/clog. The pizza at Ale Asylum lives up to the beer, which is no easy feat; grad students suck down cocktails and canapes inside the Robin Room’s handsome, untreated wood-laden interior; and State Street’s iconic brats and cheese curds are always there to hug your insides with meat and dairy fat, even when Bucky Badger is having a rough day on the gridiron.

Thai Me Up

Wyoming: Jackson

It might seem weird that Jackson, a town of barely over 10,000, has been hosting not one but two internationally-celebrated festivals for super-lauded chefs to show off their wares every year since 2016, but this is indeed the country's most sparsely populated state, and Jackson’s one diamond in the rough that just keeps getting shinier. That means you’ll find insane New American fare at Trio, prime cuts at beefy icons like the White Buffalo Club, Snake River Grill, and the Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse (located beneath the equally iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar), fine dining at the futuristic The Kitchen, unique pan-Asian amazingness from Teton Tiger… the list is staggering, and we haven’t even gotten into ski bum-magnet dives or the Thai Me Up/Melvin Brewery, which combines Thai food and excellent craft beer into pure magic. Maybe it's the mountain views. Wait, no… it's probably because people who love mountain views also love skiing and eating excellent food. You better get on that, Gillette!

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Meredith Heil is a freelance food, drink, and travel writer. Her city too turnt up, she'll take the fine for that. Bill to @mereditto.
Thrillist's Kevin Alexander, Lee Breslouer, Carrie Dennis, Wil Fulton, Andy Kryza, and Matt Lynch contributed to this story.