Most Underrated Foodie Destinations in the World (2/2 City Rankings)
So of course you’ll get a fantastic food experience if you travel to Paris, Tokyo or Bologna.
Think top foodie destination and its likely Paris, Barcelona, Tokyo, and Rome will also be up there somewhere at the top.
These most popular top spots attract foodie travelers from across the globe. But there are plenty of incredible foodie destinations that just don’t get the exposure they truly deserve.
There are plenty of incredible foodie destinations that just don’t get the exposure they truly deserve.
This might not be the best time to travel, but it’s certainly the best time to be thinking about your next foodie travel adventure.
So at Chef’s Pencil we’ve asked 250 chefs and foodies to tell us which place they thought was the most underrated foodie destination. They were allowed to name countries, cities or regions – no restrictions whatsoever.
We’ve put together a list of the most underrated foodie destinations based on their responses (see our country list) – the ones just off the beaten foodie traveler track – where you’ll find exquisite food, delicacies to savor or avoid, depending on just how gastronomically adventurous you are, and mouthwatering delights.
Some of the places might already be well-known and appreciated for their gastronomic excellence, but people felt they still lack the international recognition they truly deserve.
If you like to think beyond the obvious, want a foodie adventure and perhaps discover the next foodie fad, here’s a list of the most underrated foodie destinations there are (country rankings here).
1. Cape Town
It is the premier South African city for food, catering for every taste and style – haute cuisine, street food to die for, eclectic pop-ups. There’s the crowded and bustling Waterfront for everything from quick to chic, the V & A Food Court for everything food and drink, and a whole city sprinkled with great food experiences to explore.
Being a port city and sitting on the Dutch East India’s Spice Route, its food has been flavored by spices and cuisines from around the world – the true Mother City of the Rainbow Nation.
Fine dining is vibrant and busy and needs booking in advance – especially the more popular spots like The Potluck Club, The Test Kitchen and La Colombe, these last two regularly making the world’s top restaurant list.
Located in the heart of the city and run by Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, The Test Kitchen is the city’s most highly respected restaurant. Opening in 2010, it kick-started an artistic boom, serving global dishes with South African twists.
La Colombe sits on a hillside in Constantia overlooking a vineyard-covered landscape. Seasonal, locally produced ingredients feature here, which together with the service make it top rated.
With its fabulous climate, Cape Town dining often spills onto the sidewalks, meaning it has weathered the pandemic storm. A whole host of new restaurants opened this year, making this an underrated destination deserving of rediscovery.
Budapest is one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in Europe. Michelin has had an eye on the place for a while – 2020 saw six Michelin-starred restaurants, one with 2 stars. But the rest of us have been slow to notice the culinary revolution going on.
Hungarian cuisine has a long history that goes back to King Matthias in the 15th century and is known for paprika and goulash. What is not new and what Hungarians pride themselves on most is home-style cooking. Plenty of casual family-style eateries will serve you goulash, of course, fisherman’s soup, lángos – a deep fried flat bread, mushroom stew with paprika, and főzelék – a vegetable soup-come-stew simmered with sour cream; dishes with the taste of momma’s kitchen.
But Budapest has much more to offer than goulash and paprika.
Fine dining is a relative new comer to the city, but has been developing over the last 10 years. Costes offers modern takes on traditional Hungarian cuisine, or Stand, where chef Tamas Szell won the prestigious ‘Bocuse D’or Europe’ gold medal back in 2016, and Babel that serves up dishes inspired by Hungarian traditions and Transylvania.
But there’s also Salt, a restaurant whose chef is taking the trend for foraging to heart. He regularly reaps the edible harvest of the Hungarian countryside, producing amazing flavor pairings not found anywhere else.
There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan establishments too, and we can’t miss out the famous and beautiful Budapest coffee houses for coffee and cake – try somlói galuska, ‘Hungary’s favorite cake’, a sponge cake, layered with chocolate cream, walnut kernel, rum and whipped cream on the top.
Underrated? Not for long.
Regarded by some as the most American of the American cities, Chicago is a culinary powerhouse that offers everything from quintessential American food, ethnic cuisines to exquisite fine dining. With 24 Michelin-starred restaurants, 52 Bib Gourmands, and 103 awarded the Michelin Plate in 2020, how is Chicago underrated?
Two years ago, some were lamenting the death of the food scene here, complaining it was stuck in the past.
But the Chicago food scene has remained resilient even this year with new restaurant openings and has adjusted to takeaway, some investing in garage doors, air filtration systems and smaller menus, all to make it less complex and safer for everyone.
Not only that, but fine dining in the Windy City continues to serve the best. Chicago is home to Alinea, one of only 14 restaurants in the entire United States good enough to be awarded 3 Michelin stars.
Chicago? Not so underrated. And certainly worth a visit.
The culinary capital of Australia – Sydney may have something to say about that, but Melbourne really is a top Australian destination for foodies.
It’s all because it’s such a multicultural melting pot, and because Melbournians are up for trying anything, that the city has become such a culinary delight. From Chinese dumplings to Russian borscht and strong Italian coffee, the city embraces its diverse cultures.
For top dining try Attica, where Chef Ben Shewry, one of the most highly rated in the country, serves up cutting edge trends – local crayfish, salted kangaroo, native saltbush.
Or Vue du Monde, where Executive Chef Hugh Allen presents high-quality home-grown produce in a wondrous, dynamic experience.
But Melbourne has another vibe that makes it so worth a visit – Laneway dining. Wandering off the main drag, tucked away behind unmarked doors or at the end of bustling queues, you’ll find hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, terrace restaurants, late night bites, and hip bars.
For starters there’s Flinders Lane with its high-end Indian, pan-Asian flavours, Peruvian dishes and famous tapas. Or from Bourke Street, where there’s Meyers Place, Crossley Street, Corrs Lane and Russell Place, a labyrinth of dining delights.
5. Mexico City
Mexico City has been enjoying a boom in tourism over the last couple of years, being a hop, skip, and a jump from the US backyard. And not just for the museums, galleries, and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
This is a great eating city with exquisite haute cuisine, famed street food, and tastes from around the country and the world, particularly Japan, Korea, and Lebanon.
You’ll find restaurants run by some of the country’s top chefs. Try Enrique Olvare’s Pujol. In a great tribute to Mexico’s rich culinary history, at Pujol you’ll find rustic indigenous dishes given haute cuisine treatment. It won the award for Best Restaurant in north America in 2019.
Or try Quintonil with Chef Jorge Vallejo’s menu showcasing the best of Mexico’s fresh local produce.
Its street food is so good it is UNESCO recognized as cultural heritage. From tacos to tortas and tamales, chilangos, machetes, dorilocos – a combination of Doritos, sweets and pork rind, there’s so much flavor on every corner. And you can even find a few chapulines (grasshoppers) sprinkled on your guacamole or in your quesilladas.
And so many food markets you probably won’t get round them all in one visit.
6. San Sebastian
Remember we said Chicago has one 3 Michelin-starred restaurant? Well that’s in a city with a population of 2.7 million people. San Sebastian is home to just 186,665 people, and between them they have the choice of not one but three 3 Michelin-starred restaurants.
Food is just something San Sebastian is famous for – along with its beaches and quaint Old Town. So what’s it doing on an underrated foodie destination list?
Probably because of the fame and popularity of its compatriot competition – Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. Yes, it’s these cities foodies travel to most in Spain.
Which is a shame as San Sebastian has excellent food, both fine dining – like the avant garde, highly innovative Mugaritz, and cheap eats – like the Basque-style tapas at pintxo bars and exquisitely fine seafood, all to be devoured in a city that sees food as reason to be social.
Norway is fast becoming a major foodie destination, and Bergen is building itself an impressive foodie reputation.
It might be the nation’s second city, but it’s the capital of gastronomy. So highly regarded is its food scene, it is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. And that’s because it thrives on organic, sustainable food production, with 3,000 farmers and 200 artisans supplying a city of little over 270 thousand people.
The sea is the source of the city’s food culture, making its biodiversity one of the most sustainable in Europe. The quality of the seafood is legendary, and there are plenty of good seafront eateries at which to sample it.
Bergen has produced a new wave of dedicated chefs, creating traditional, neo-Nordic, fine dining and a host of quality places to eat.
8. Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s street food is world famous. Less well known is that the city boasts a full seven 3 Michelin-starred restaurants. Yep, that’s seven eateries awarded the highest culinary prize. Certainly not underrated by Michelin, but perhaps not the top destination for foodies. But there’s much that makes it worth traveling many miles for a visit.
For top end dining there’s inventive French dishes at the Four Season’s Caprice, or sushi at a beautiful, centuries-old hinoki counter at Sushi Shikon in the Landmark Madarin Oriental, or dim sum while admiring spectacular views from the 102nd floor of the Ritz Carlton at Tin Lung Heen.
Being the must-try Hong Kong experience, there are plenty of local neighborhood places to try dim sum. There are so many, and with a range of quality, that it’s worth checking out which ones to visit before you go.
What you can do on a whim of course is sample whatever street food takes your fancy – curry fish balls skewered on a stick, soy sauce doused siu mai, soft and creamy stinky tofu, smooth cheung fun dipped in sauce, soy-braised cuttlefish, crisp eggettes…
Hong Kong is highly rated for its food, perhaps foodie travelers haven’t noticed?
This city has long been famed for its food scene. But there’s new things happening here. Take Beba, for example, that opened up a couple of summers ago. It brings to Montreal the Spanish Italian émigré cooking of Buenos Aires and douses it in Montreal twists. Or Tiers Pasage, that bring the new-generation wine bars, cave à manger, to the city, great wine and deli-style dishes.
The high-end dining scene is also experiencing renewal. Marcus at the Four Season’s Hotel is run by Marcus Sameulsson, Ethiopian-Swedish celebrity chef, and serves incredible shellfish. Then there’s Bar George that opened a little while back, serving contemporary takes on classic UK fare with Québécuois twists, celebrating the city’s bilingual history.
Yes, alongside the bagels, poutine, and famed meat sandwich, Montreal is embracing an eat-less-feel-more-satisfied approach to its menus. And there’s plenty of open-air markets offering artisanal products. This city is wildly creativity, hopelessly innovative, and full of swanky, chic, casual, and pop-up places for foodie travelers
Anyone who dismisses Napoli as a top foodie destination because it’s simply a place for good pizza is missing out. Naples has one of the most vibrant food cultures in all of Italy. From fine dining to mouth-watering street food and, of course, it is the best place to taste pizza; it’s probably something in the water and the dedication to natural leavening – 24 hours in some places.
And perhaps it’s the abundant produce from the fertile volcanic soil – Mount Vesuvius is just next door – including San Marzano tomatoes, the best in the world. Or that they have the creamiest buffalo mozzarella. Not forgetting the quality seafood – check out Porto Nolana Market.
Yes, some of the best pizza in the world – and while we’re here, you have to try the famous deep fried pizza – just trust me; but there is so much more to this gritty Italian city.
For top-end dining there are four Michelin-starred restaurants. Try Veritas for traditional Napolitan dishes with imaginative twists, or the sophisticated simplicity and elegant presentation of Il Commandante, where you can enjoy magnificent views of the Bay of Naples.
There’s also stunning fried street food. Look out for couppos, a paper cone filled with tasty fried morsels – pastacresciute, small pieces of fried pizza dough, panzerotti, a potato croquette filled with salami and mozzarella, or arancini, golden and crispy rice balls, and that oh so special treat alici fritte, fresh, deep fried anchovies.
A more recent arrival on the Naples street food scene is polpette, fried meatballs with tomato sauce and cheese – cheap and easy to eat as you walk.
There’s a café scene that includes one of the 10 best cafes in Italy, and the famous Neapolitan coffee – the best in Italy. And there are copious bakeries for some of the most delicious sweet treats: The Babà, a small yeast cake soaked in a syrup of liquor, or sfogliatella, a delicate pastry filled with custard or almond paste.
Naples is a genuine underrated foodie destination, a hidden jewel, a place awaiting discovery.
We have published country rankings in a separate report.
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