Between the farm-to-table and locavore movements, the staying power of celebrity chefs and the explosive popularity of food trucks, foodies have been having more than just a moment. There’s never been a better time to be a person who loves to eat high-quality, artfully prepared food. But if you’re not a member of “the one percent”, you’ll need to pick your culinary destinations wisely.
That’s where these six cities come in. In any of these locales, you’ll be able to enjoy a gourmet appetizer and an entree (and, in some cases, a cocktail) for less than $50. So go ahead: eat your heart out.
Baltimore’s gourmet food scene can best be summed up in one word: “eclectic.” Whether your preference is for traditional French fare or experimental fusions, pristine white tablecloths or seasonal food served at community tables, Baltimore has you covered. Not sure where to start? Head to b bistro for thoughtfully prepared (and often seasonal) dishes; hit up B&O American Brasserie for earthy New American fare; or visit Bookmakers Cocktail Club for amazing cocktails paired with unique dishes such as rye gnocchi with pastrami sugo.
Charlotte’s Southern gentility extends into its restaurants. You’ll want to dust off your nicest pair of pants before heading to any of the city’s upscale food establishments, but don’t worry—you’ll still be able to afford the food (provided you know where to look). Head to Barrington’s for simple, seasonal, and delicious dishes such as seared organic chicken or scallops with veal cheek ravioli; visit Kindred Restaurant for nationally-acclaimed fare from a husband-and-wife duo; or dine in The Asbury or Evoke, both of which feature menus that speak to the distinct perspectives of their respective head chefs.
3. Columbus, OH
It took Columbus some time to find its bearings in the food world, but now the city’s food scene is up and running—and making up for lost time. Restaurants in Columbus range from starched-tablecloth affairs to casual dining; the city is also developing a name for itself as a hub for stellar Indian, Pan-Asian, and Mediterranean fare, and Korean and Persian restaurants are currently on the rise. You can’t go wrong at Kihachi Japanese Restaurant, a nationally recognized establishment that’s held its own in Columbus for more than 20 years. If New American food is more your style, then don’t miss a meal at the trendy M.
Gourmet food might not be the first thing you think of when Indianapolis comes up in conversation, but it’s high time you adjusted your expectations. There’s something for everyone in this Midwestern city: From farm-to-table and organic fare to upscale, handcrafted pizza, gourmet burgers (think peppercorn-bourbon glaze with horseradish Havarti), ice cream made fresh from local cows, a classic (and exceptionally high quality) steakhouse, artisanal meats, and the nationally acclaimed Milktooth, which is redefining brunch—Indy’s got it all.
Steel City has certainly refined its palette. Bon Appetit designated Pittsburgh as the “next big food town” in 2013, and the city’s food scene has only continued to explode since then. Upscale elegance and trendy ambience define Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene, which is home to several James Beard Award-nominated chefs and a strong local aesthetic. Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll be able to enjoy all this good food for a relatively affordable price. Don’t forget to make reservations at local favorites Cure and Bar Marco, or head to up-and-coming establishments such as Gaucho Parrilla Argentina or Eighty Acres Kitchen & Bar.
When it comes to great-yet-low-budget restaurants per capita, St. Louis might just take the cake. Whether you’re looking for farm-to-table fare (bison sausage, anyone?), down-home ambience spearheaded by celebrity chefs, old-fashioned ice cream parlor desserts, outstanding sandwiches, Chinese-American fusion, or anything in between, you’ll find affordable upscale food in St. Louis by throwing a stone in any direction.
In addition to amazing food, each of these cities offers an exciting array of attractions, from arts, music, and nightlife, to sightseeing and outdoor adventures. So book your flight and eat up—you’ll need the energy to go exploring.