The Best Travel Cities for Street Food and Restaurants in 2020 – Eater

Posted By on January 9, 2020

This is not the aspirational fluff of Instagram wall neon; its fact. Recent surveys have shown that a majority of travelers consider food first when planning a trip, even ahead of where they sleep. Add to this that people are also traveling more than ever before earthlings logged a record-breaking 1.4 billion international trips last year and its safe to say that the hunger for new culinary experiences is more ravenous than ever. While the endlessly alluring bistros of Paris, izakayas of Tokyo, shawarma stands of Tel Aviv, and tasting menus of Mexico City will always top many peoples lists of cravings, were continually on the lookout for something new to fill our bellies, our passports, and our feeds.

Which is why weve put together Eater Travels first-ever list of the most dynamic food cities in the world right this second. These 19 vital destinations are places where, for whatever reason, the food scenes today are resonating with appetites more than ever before. Whether its Pristina Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe where chefs are using food to establish a new national identity; or Lagos, where the buzz around the local art and music scenes are trickling onto the plate; or Marseilles, which has shattered its bouillabaisse-only rep to become Frances hottest food town; or and trust us here Milwaukee, where the forthcoming Democratic National Convention has put the cheese-curd city on its toes, these are the places you want to eat now.

To curate this list, we reached out to Eaters vast web of culinary experts across the globe, who revealed where in their respective regions theyre most excited to eat. Then Eater editors dove in deep with on-the-ground research, local input, and reference to our own travel journals to come up with a collection of cities that celebrate the many magnificently diverse ways there are to eat in 2020. Guiding your appetite once you land are 19 corresponding maps written by locals, made for travelers to the utterly essential restaurants, cafes, street stands, bars, coffee shops, and market stalls in each of these edible wonderlands. So, with this your wanderlust playbook for the next 12 months in hand, its time to cash in those miles and open wide. Your next trip, and your next meal, await.

Quite possibly the best place to eat in all of Southeast Asia, the capital of the Malaysian island state of Penang.

With influences that include Malay, regional Chinese, Indonesian, south Indian, British, and only-found-here fusions of all of the above (try Baba-Nyonya cuisine, a mix of indigenous and Chinese cooking styles), George Town is a hotbed of culinary diversity. A typical day of eating here might start with the Malay-style breakfast of nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk and served with sambal; lunch could mean a banana-leaf thali, an all-you-can-eat platter of south Indian deliciousness.

At dinner, go for a plate of Chinese-style fried noodles, or wander one of the hawker centers and graze your way through a lifetimes worth of specialties. The town was made for a food crawl much of the best stuff is served from small stalls or mobile carts, meaning that its easy to hit multiple spots and try several dishes (most under $3) in a single meal.

And with elder cooks following classic recipes and using centuries-old techniques, eating in George Town is a bit like traveling back in time. None of these charms are particularly new, but they are fleeting. Aging vendors and declining hawker centers, plus the increasing pressures of gentrification and tourism, mean that George Towns particular magic is something to experience now, while it lasts.

The historic and oft-romanticized North African hub, at the crossroads of cultures for millennia. The native Amazigh peoples, Arabian settlers, and European traders are largely responsible for whats here today: a bustling, architecturally magnificent city rapidly changing to keep up with modern life while preserving ancient ways, which include the countrys signature sweet-savory-spiced cuisine.

Ask any Moroccan and they will tell you the very best Moroccan food is in a Moroccan home. This has long made eating in Marrakech as a visitor a tall order. But as the profile of North African cooking has risen worldwide, more and more of the foreigners coming to Marrakech are coming as culinary tourists. In response, there are new and genuinely excellent restaurants popping up every month featuring high-quality Moroccan cuisine.

Its still hard to find many locals dining out for tagine and couscous, but the options for foreigners to taste the citys traditional foods are better than ever. For those who prefer their Moroccan classics at home, a wave of new pizza, burger, sandwich, and coffee places have opened as well, catering to a growing enthusiasm for international street food. With more investment in infrastructure, increased tourism, and the new official designation as Africas first-ever Capital of Culture, the time to see (and eat) Marrakech is now.

An industrial Swedish town less than an hour from Copenhagen, but which stands out as far more funky and eccentric than its Danish cousin.

Taking a 40-minute train ride over an impressive structure immortalized by the TV show The Bridge and crossing from Denmark to Sweden might seem paradoxical why, you may ask, would you do that when the capital of New Nordic cooking, Copenhagen, is right there? But proximity does not equal similarity.

Malm has long bred young talent eager to work with the pristine produce made possible by the mild climate and organic farms of the Skne region. Nose-to-tail thinking, here originating from the trailblazing restaurant Bastard, seems to flow from the taps, and pairing that with the citys hippie-ish spirit and diverse population results in some truly compelling cooking.

A lover of natural wine will find the train ticket more than worth the price to explore the vast selections and long-forgotten treasures poured in most restaurants. For a city of 300,000, Malm has an impressive range of delightfully nonconformist bars and restaurants that share a spirit with but stand distinctly apart from its neighbors.

An island city suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Richmond is home to North Americas largest proportion of citizens of East Asian heritage, as well as whats reputed to be the continents largest Asian night market.

Its the best place to eat Chinese food in North America, hands down. While locals have been proud of Richmonds cuisine for decades, the rest of the world is now getting wise. Richmonds culinary landscape is a two-pronged exploration of the traditional and hyper-regional foods of its residents many of whom have roots in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China as well as an apex for Canadas young Asian-Canadian chefs building off the traditional toward something completely their own.

Diners can expect to find the staunchest of old-guard cooking happily alongside the unique Asian-Canadian style of Richmonds new-wave chefs, who have started to shift Richmonds culinary scene from classically Chinese to an anomalous taste of the past, present, and future of Asian cuisine in North America.

The Korean capital during the Silla dynasty (57 B.C. to A.D. 935) and current architectural haven, surrounded by miraculously well-preserved temples, palaces, burial mounds, and other structures of religious and political significance.

The southeastern city of Gyeongju is called the museum without walls for good reason. In a country where many historic structures have been lost to war or the ravages of time, Gyeongju is the exception. Its historical significance has made the midsize city a top destination among Korean tourists for decades, but the picturesque town remains relatively untread by foreigners.

Eating in Gyeongju is its own kind of time travel here, you can dine like a Silla royal, with recipes passed down over centuries, cooked by chefs specially trained in the formal styles, or eat like a monk, with the clean, vegetable-driven cooking of Korean temple food, prepared and served by Buddhist clergy beneath swooping tile roofs. The boom in domestic tourism has drawn young, boundary-pushing chefs as well, who use local ingredients and modern techniques to reach new depths of Korean flavors. With as many garlicky fried chicken stands and cold noodle shops as there are monuments, and with more and more international tourists flocking to South Korea, the time is now to get a taste of old Korea in Gyeongju.

The blue-collar Midwestern burg, cozy against the banks of Lake Michigan and long in the shadow of Chicago, which may finally be having its moment.

The Democratic National Convention invades Milwaukee in 2020, setting up shop in shiny new Fiserv Forum home of reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Eastern Conference favorite Bucks prompting city leaders to ponder a temporary extension of bar time (4 a.m.?) and wonder how many additional hotels are needed downtown (seven?). Theres a sense that Milwaukee may finally be worthy of its own Portland-ish converted warehouse district, Austin-esque food truck park, and a spell in the national spotlight.

Of course the city has always been long on cheese and beer and corner-bar drinking culture. But 2020 seems like a potential high watermark of buzz, an all-at-once realization of decades of Rust Belt renewal. Or maybe thats just the collective hazy optimism that comes from two dozen or so area breweries opening in the past three years. Either way, high or low, old or new, pierogies or Pisco sours, goulash or James Beard-level gastronomy, a bag o curds or goat cheese curds with chorizo cream sauce, theres a lot to eat, and even more to consider, in Milwaukee right now.

An ancient Israeli port city that goes by many names Akko (Hebrew), Acre (English), and Akka (Arabic) skirting the Mediterranean coast just over an hour northwest of Tel Aviv.

Streets of cobblestone weave through a majestic old city that earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2001 thanks to its millenia-old walls, fortresses, castles, mosques, and synagogues. The culture of Akko is a complex tapestry of Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Bah influences; unlike in much of the country, where divergent ethnic and religious groups exist alongside but largely separate from one another, the lives of those in Akko, with their varied backgrounds and faiths, are more peacefully intertwined.

One obvious beneficiary of all this convergence is the food scene, which erupts on seemingly every corner. Here, find coffee spiked with cardamom and Yemenite hawaij, endless international variations of hummus, and seafood dropped on your plate direct from the surrounding seas. Peerless eating takes place on every level, from walk-up bakeries selling sweet kanafeh pastries dripping with syrup to one of Israels most acclaimed restaurants, Uri Buri, whose famed bearded chef shows off his lifelong obsession with the ocean. Olives, dates, tahini, zaatar, fresh fish, and rare herbs all come together in this endlessly walkable city, where past meets present and sea meets earth.

Frances second-largest city, built around one of the great natural harbors of the Mediterranean, whose gastronomic reputation was long summed up for the French by bouillabaisse. Thats changing fast.

During the 19th century, immigrants from Italy, Spain, Greece, and other countries came to Marseilles to work its docks, mills, and factories. This early influx of cultures helps explain whats evolved into a spectacularly cosmopolitan food scene, which became even richer with the arrival of repatriated North Africans from Frances North African colonies following independence in the 1950s and 60s.

When Marseille was named one of Europes two official Capitals of Culture in 2013, the city undertook a series of urban-renewal projects, including the construction of a sleek tramway and Sir Norman Fosters beautiful renovation of Le Vieux Port (the old port), and tourism has boomed as a result. With all the new mouths to feed, talented young chefs from all over France suddenly saw Marseille through fresh eyes, and they started opening small restaurants serving a cuisine that never existed here before: moderately priced contemporary southern French bistro cooking, spinning on an axis of global flavors, freshness, and creativity. Marseilles restaurant scene has never been so good.

A globally recognized technology hub and the entertainment heartbeat of West Africa, with a boundless creative energy wired into the fabric of the city.

The biggest names in Afrobeat are, more often than not, Lagosians, and the food scene here pulsates with equal force. First-time visitors encounter a barrage of sights, sounds, street food, and restaurant options representing the foods of immigrant populations from across West Africa, much of it lush with spice and oil. Rice dishes anchor Nigerian cooking: specialties like jollof, white rice with a tomato-y sauce, and locally grown ofada rice with a stew of peppers and palm oil.

Fish pepper soup dispensaries double as art galleries, and international tech-industry transplants have brought with them the flavors of Ethiopia, Lebanon, and south India. By day, vendors selling crispy puff puffs and other small chops snacks line the sidewalks, while flickering streetside grills illuminate the city at night. The forthcoming Eko Atlantic City project a 4-square-mile patch of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean that will house 250,000 new residents is expected to bring an influx of chef-driven and fine dining restaurants, but amplified flavors and a boisterous spirit infuse all levels of eating in Nigerias buzziest metropolis.

One of the major breadbaskets of Japan, once described by writer Haruki Murakami as being similar to Arthur Conan Doyles Lost World, a city untouched by time, the kind of place where prehistoric animals might still roam. Which is to say, despite being the headquarters of industrial heavy hitters like Toyota, its more of an overgrown country hamlet than a proper cosmopolitan center.

As visitors pour into Japan for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Nagoya a neat two-hour ride from Tokyo Station and on the way to major destinations like Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima is perfectly positioned for food-focused side trips. While admittedly theres not a ton to do here, there is more than enough to eat as Michelin formally noted in 2018 when it added Nagoya to its roster of cities.

Nagoya-meshi, the Japanese term used to describe the cuisine of the region, includes kishimen (chewy, flat noodles), hitsumabushi (crispy charred eel in a savory-sweet sauce), miso katsu (deep-fried pork in a rich miso gravy), and much more of the citys hearty, robust cooking. From an abiding love of rich red miso to a flourishing coffee culture centered around the Morning the benevolent tradition upheld by some restaurants and coffee shops of serving a small meal free of charge with your morning coffee Nagoya is a place where the food is as generous and cheerful as its inhabitants.

The most influential city in northeastern Mexico a major financial, commercial, and industrial center surrounded by the stunning mountains of Sierra Madre Oriental and the saddle-shaped landmark of Cerro de la Silla where beef is king and grilling is elevated to the point of fine art.

This is the birthplace of Topo Chico mineral water, arrachera (the skirt steak that often anchors carne asada), and the biggest barbecue competition in Latin America. Beef barbacoa, grilled cabrito (baby goat) and ribeye, and pillowy flour tortillas are reason enough to visit this prosperous city, but theres a bevy of lesser-known regional gems obscure even in other parts of Mexico that are just waiting to become international obsessions.

Dishes like empalmes, two corn tortillas spread with pork fat and filled with cumin-spiked refried beans along with cheese, salsa, and the endemic piquin chiles, warmed over a charcoal grill. Or machacado, a heavenly morning staple where dried beef meets scrambled eggs. For those same food-minded travelers whove become Mexico City regulars and are now falling in love with Oaxaca, Monterrey is very likely the next big thing.

A neighborhood in lower Manhattan with petite spaces, accessible prices, and possibly a wider diversity of cuisines and innovative restaurants than any other single neighborhood in the city and likely the country.

Even in a town with so many great restaurants, the East Village stands out as New Yorks most dynamic dining neighborhood. Its got cuisines galore Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Ukrainian, Jewish, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and more but more than that, these restaurants arent painting with broad culinary strokes. More recently, theyve highlighted regional east and southeast Asian cuisines and even hyper-specific dishes, a result of both increased competition and a growing local customer base of discerning international students.

Theres a location of Suki, a six-seat restaurant that specializes in Japanese curry made from scratch, and Dian Kitchen, a spot dedicated to making rice noodles just as theyre found in the Yunnan province of China. Theres masala chai from Kolkata Chai, a bid from two brothers for South Asians to reclaim the drink, and theres the only New York location of the Alley, a cult-followed Taiwanese bubble-tea chain that levels up New Yorks boba game. Plus, the East Village is a neighborhood where creativity is prized and pretension isnt allowed; prices are generally reasonable here. Its a dizzying array of food, drink, and stylish downtown restaurants that cant be found anywhere else in New York, let alone the world.

The lively capital of Kosovo Europes youngest nation, which declared independence just 11 years ago and has since been finding its voice through the arts, nightlife, and, of course, food.

Kosovo separated from Serbia to become its own nation in 2008, just over a decade ago; experiencing those inspired early days of a newly independent food culture is a rare opportunity. Pristinas cooking has historically been influenced by the flavors of the Ottoman Empire, former Yugoslavia, and its Mediterranean neighbors, with a focus on grilled meats, peppers, cheeses, pastries, and pickles.

But with a new identity has come the freedom to look inward and explore how those classic flavors and hyper-local ingredients can be futzed with, mashed together, and made new. Pristina has remained mostly off the radar of mainstream tourists until now (the fallout of the Balkan wars of the 90s has been long lasting), the benefit of which is the sense of genuine innovation everywhere you look. Even the most jaded traveler can relish that kind of energy, which emanates through the people and the plates of Pristina.

Lisbons oft-overlooked (by tourists, anyway) and equally charming northern sibling cosmopolitan by definition, friendly by heritage, and in the midst of its finest gastronomic moment.

With Portuguese food on the rise worldwide, Portugal has never received so many travelers (especially Americans) willing to devour everything this small country has to offer. But most begin and end their Portuguese adventure with Lisbon, flying back home without ever tasting the coveted northern cuisine of Porto. Here, local chefs are cooking traditional food with newfound refinement, giving a fresh shape to hearty recipes that for decades have been considered too heavy. Now, restaurateurs from all over the world have settled in the city attracted by its nostalgic atmosphere and breathtaking beauty to open new third-wave coffee shops, pastry venues, pizza places, and other concepts that are betting on quality. But in this small town, its the traditional tascas putting out 10 euro meals that surprise at every turn.

The gem of Colombias Caribbean coast a beach-y melding of indigenous cultures with the flavorful influences of the African, Arab, and Spanish populations whove each left their marks throughout history.

Cartagena today is composed of distinct, character-rich neighborhoods like arty Getseman and peaceful Manga, with its leafy, restaurant-rich promenades. Colombias international culinary cred has jumped in recent decades, thanks to the collision of native ingredients from the Amazon and a traditional repertoire that includes hearty stews, cheesy empanadas, stuffed arepas, grilled meats, and mind-boggling tropical fruits. Chefs from across the country have been lured to Cartagena by the abundant fresh seafood and tropical biodiversity, elevating the citys already-rich food scene to Andean-level heights.

The capital city of Tasmania, the enchanting island-state off Australia, is best known for its rugged wilderness, stunning coastlines, seaside chip shops, and cartoon anti-hero inspired by one of its indigenous species.

Hobart has long had the reputation of being a snoozy waterfront city, but the opening of the quirky Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in 2011 has proven to be a catalyst for a general spirit of creative risk-taking. The art and music scenes here have exploded (as evidenced by the fantastical, gothic, pagan-inspired Dark Mofo festival each winter), and the restaurant scene has grown right along with it. Tourism too, has boomed, and chefs have begun moving from the mainland, attracted by the slower pace of life, tight-knit community, and impeccable farmland. A growing group of new restaurants are leading the way in showing that Hobart is more than just fish and chips.

The longstanding caricature of Oakland was of a city that a privileged core of San Franciscans reserved for a punchline: too poor, too black, and almost comically liberal, they said, devoid of culture, cappuccinos, and a decent Caesar. Today, few would deny that Oakland is the regions cultural and artistic center; the capital of small entrepreneurs, of food that gives voice to identity.

Oakland is currently one of Americas most dynamic food cities not because of the polish of its restaurants, the number of their James Beard medals, or any galaxy of Michelin stars, but because of its loyalty to cooks telling complicated stories through food: where they came from, their struggle for equity, or how we, as citizens, believe we ought to treat one another.

Weve known injustice and tragedy here the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant and the Ghost Ship fire, gentrification and the spiraling crisis of the unhoused, and especially the black exodus to affordable places, a sapping of Oaklands spirit. But the energy that persists with us, the resistance and struggle, our striving to be better, the beauty and community of this place: All of it shades the way we shop, cook, and gather to eat. All of it makes Oakland an essential city for food and drink.

Irelands ancient port town, which has managed to escape the worst aesthetics of mass-produced modernity and fridge-magnet chic that blight chunks of Dublin and Galway.

The easily walkable city center may still have the look of a sleepy Irish postcard, but Cork is far from snoozy, with frequent music and arts festivals and locals and students from its university campus filling the pubs, restaurants, and venues in between. In the last 18 months, three restaurants along this dramatic coastline have received Michelin stars, but while rural Cork County has long been on the international set of culinary coordinates from Ballymaloe and its world-class cookery school in the east to the wilds of West Cork and the origin stories of the Irish farmhouse cheese movement Cork city has long played second fiddle.

That has changed. With the beloved and ancient English Market as the towns traditional heart, what has grown up around it is a delicious and diverse counterpoint, ranging from a tiny south Indian ayurvedic cafe to sourdough pizza, from Japanese food both casual and starry to Middle Eastern cafes, and from impeccable fish and chips to an almost religious craft-beer obsession. Cork has always had the ingredients to be the most exciting food city on the island (before the 2008 economic slump, it was). Now its back and more vital than ever.

The stunning Chilean capital and colonial Spanish city nestled among the Andes mountains a favorite South American travel destination for summer ski bums and wine lovers.

While Santiago may bring to mind comfort-food favorites like overstuffed completos or heaping plates of pernil, the city is in a state of culinary flux. Santiago chefs, inspired by the inward-looking approach of Noma and simultaneous culinary revolutions occurring throughout South America, are reversing the old trope that traditional Chilean food was not suited for fine dining.

Theres increased access to and appreciation of indigenous ingredients used traditionally by the Mapuche people, and a new integration of modern techniques to Chilean classics. Whether one is experiencing Santiagos own bistronomy movement, the modernization and re-imagining of Chiles beloved barbecue, or its sangucheras, outposts of Chiles vibrant sandwich culture, Santiagos way of eating and cooking is evolving in ways weve never seen before.

Editor: Nicholas Mancall-Bitel

Creative director: Brittany Holloway-Brown

Contributors: Austin Bush, Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki, Alisa Larsen, Hillary Eaton, Jay Friedman, Summer Sun-Min Lee, Todd Lazarski, Keren Brown, Alexander Lobrano, Kay Ugwuede, Nina Li Coomes, Liliana Lpez Sorzano, Serena Dai, Stefanie Tuder, Kaltrina Bylykbashi, Rafael Tonon, Juliana Duque, Audrey Bourget, John Birdsall, Tim Magee, Joe McNamee

Copy editors: Emma Alpern, Rachel P. Kreiter

Fact checker: Lisa Wong Macabasco

Engagement editors: Adam Moussa, Milly McGuinness, James Park

Project manager: Ellie Krupnick

Special thanks to: Amanda Kludt, Matt Buchanan, Meghan McCarron, Sonia Chopra

Photos, in order: Gary He, Inti St. Clair for Getty Images, Gary He, Henryk Sadura for Getty Images, Gary He, Denis Tangney Jr. for Getty Images, Corinna Kern, Meghan McCarron, Adetona Omokanye, Ozan Aktas / EyeEm, fbdesigncenter / Shutterstock, Aldo Felipe Orozco Hernndez / EyeEm, Louise Palmberg (Noodles at Ho Foods), Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock, Apexphotos for Getty Images, Gary He, John White for Getty Images, eddie-hernandez.com / Shutterstock.com, Darren McLoughlin, Angela Lourenco for Getty Images

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The Best Travel Cities for Street Food and Restaurants in 2020 - Eater

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