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Chefs Reveal The 9 Destinations You Need To Visit If You Love To Eat

Among chef's picks? Mexico City, Cape Town and New Orleans.
Among chef's picks? Mexico City, Cape Town and New Orleans. © Marco Bottigelli via Getty Images

For many people, bookmarking restaurants and bars is a beloved part of trip planning. And if you’re someone who considers dining and drinking an experience more than a necessity, then you may want to plan your entire vacation around destinations with unbelievable fare.

But while viral TikTok videos and skewed restaurant reviews can sometimes lead you astray, there’s one group of people who certainly know where to go: chefs. These experts aren’t just pros at their craft, but they know their way around a menu, whether it’s a fine dining meal, huge food market or a street food cart.

We asked chefs from across the country for their favorite places to travel to for good food (aside from the town where their restaurants are located) that they feel are attainable and affordable. Here’s what they said:

Thailand

Amanda Shulman, the chef and owner of Philadelphia’s Her Place Supper Club and co-owner of Philadelphia’s My Loup, recently returned from her honeymoon in Thailand where she said the food was incredible.

She recommended “any single street food cart that serves plump Thai pork sausages stuffed with vermicelli noodles — a sour fermented pork sausage, grilled over charcoal until it is swollen and glistening, nearly popping out of its casing.”

“Fatty and tangy and incredible, I grabbed them whenever I could,” Shulman said.

“In Chiang Mai, there’s a roadside restaurant called Neng’s Earthen Jar Roast Pork filled with clay barrels rendering fat pork bellies until the skins are shatteringly crisp,” Shulman continued.

In Northern Thailand, laarb, which is “finely minced pork dressed in fish sauce, chilis, herbs and rice powder,” and khao soi, a rich curry noodle soup, are mainstays on many menus. Shulman recommended Aroon Rai, a small restaurant in Chiang Mai for these items.

In Bangkok, Shulman said “Sorn was one of the best fine dining experiences I’ve ever had. Every bite was unabashedly delicious, the technique was evident and tight, and I’ll be dreaming of swiping warm roti into beef curry maybe forever.”

London, United Kingdom

“The modern London dining scene is, I think, the most exciting dining scene anywhere in the world,” said Ed Szymanski, the chef and owner of Dame and Lord’s in New York City.

London has restaurants that feature high-quality produce coming from France, Spain and Italy, as well as seafood from the northern parts of the U.K. “All of these things come together to create this very diverse dining scene,” Szymanski said.

Many restaurants serve modern British cuisine, including Planque, St. JOHN and Noble Rot, but the city’s food options don’t stop at British food. You can find great Pakistani, Indian, Spanish, Italian food, and more.

Or, for an all-in-one spot for local food and drinks, visit Borough Market where “you walk around and get some snacks, and you can have oysters shucked right in front of you, have a glass of champagne, and then go and have a sausage roll after that,” he said.

To find great food and drinks on your trip,
To find great food and drinks on your trip, "Read! Do research — read local publications of where you're heading to find out the scoop," said Amanda Shulman. FilippoBacci via Getty Images

Guatemala

An oft-overlooked cuisine is Guatemalan food, which is known for its stews, and all things corn and beans, like corn tortillas, tostadas, tamales, empanadas, and pupusas loaded with cheese and beans, said Sofia Deleon, the owner of El Merkury in Philadelphia and the Guatemalan rum brand Tenango Rum. She added that the cuisine naturally has lots of gluten-free and vegetarian options, too.

“One of my favorite places to go when I visit is Mercado Central, the central market, because it’s a one-stop shop for everything [in Guatemala City],” Deleon said. Here you can find produce stands, meat purveyors and vendors selling handwoven items, in addition to food stands selling fresh tostadas loaded with avocado, parsley and cheese, and traditional Guatemalan desserts like a condensed milk treat known as canillita de leche.

Ceviche used to be a popular food throughout Guatemala but has since decreased in popularity. In Antigua, though, (which is about 1.5 hours from Guatemala City), she recommends you order ceviche at Hugo’s Ceviches. The restaurant “has been around forever, and it’s the one place that still maintains their standard and is really good,” she noted, adding Hugo’s Ceviches is also known for their micheladas made with Gallo, Guatemala’s local beer, along with the regular fixings like chilis and Worcestershire sauce.

Also in Antigua is La Cuevita de Los Urquizú, which comes highly recommended by Deleon as well. “What’s nice about this place is ... it’s almost like a buffet where you can buy things by the pound, and they have 50 to 75 varieties of very traditional foods that you would otherwise not get to try if you went anywhere else,” she said.

For traditional sweets, visit Doña María Gordillo in Antigua, which has been around since the 1800s. “Originally, based on Spanish-style sweets, but then it was adapted to Guatemalan flavors, so they have everything from the tamarind balls to chilacayote en dulce, which is like a type of Guatemalan pumpkin” in addition to tasty egg tarts.

New Orleans, Louisiana 

New Orleans has some of “the most diverse and delicious food experiences — there’s not enough stomach space to devour all the good the city has to offer,” Shulman said.

The city is beloved for its food culture, which comprises Southern, Creole, Cajun and French cooking — think jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, and more.

One affordable item on menus across the city are po’boys, a sandwich that’s traditionally made with fried shrimp, roast beef or fried oysters, and served on crusty bread. For a good po’boy, followed by lemon Hubig’s Pies (a sweet New Orleans hand pie), Shulman recommends Frady’s One Stop.

For the New Orleans’ classic muffuletta (an Italian sandwich made with an olive salad, cured meat, cheese on a round roll) visit Central Grocery, according to Shulman.

Additionally, she suggests Cane & Table, a seasonally-focused restaurant that specializes in Caribbean and Cuban food, and Dakar, which serves Senegalese food. Or for something more special, try Mosquito Supper Club, which is Shulman’s “crush of a restaurant — sitting at the bar and eating pickled shrimp and other small bites was a magical experience.”

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa, is a destination that’s full of complex local flavors along with fresh produce, and lots and lots of great wine, said Deleon. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive and totally beautiful, she noted.

Specifically, the region is known for its Chenin Blanc wines, a type of white wine that is light and crisp.One of Deleon’s favorite places to drink South African wine is Babylonstoren Wine Estate, a winery where everything is grown in-house, from the olives for the olive oil to the grapes for the wines.

In addition to wine, Deleon said Cape Town is known for its Cape Malay food, “which is a mix of Malaysian and Indian and South African flavors.” You’ll find curry on many menus throughout the city, she said, and you’d be remiss not to try it. One spot for curry she recommends is Curry Club, where you can choose from a menu of chicken curries, lamb curries and veggie curries, ranging from mild to spicy.

Austin, Texas, is the place to go for great barbecue, according to Andrew Taylor of Big Tree Hospitality in Maine.
Austin, Texas, is the place to go for great barbecue, according to Andrew Taylor of Big Tree Hospitality in Maine. Joel Villanueva via Getty Images

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City is another great place to eat, according to Szymanski. “There’s an unending list of places to go in Mexico City.”

“Mexico City is one of the largest and most eclectic cities in the world, and the rich tapestry of street vendors, markets, high-end restaurants and mezcal bars means there’s always a fun discovery around the corner,” said Szymanski.

Mexico City is known for a range of food, including its fresh tacos, making taquerias a must, according to Szymanski. Among his taqueria recommendations is El Torito, where they serve two kinds: suadero (which is like a beef brisket) and tripa (tripe) or a mix of both.

The area is also known for its barbacoa (slow-cooked lamb). And mezcal, a Mexican liquor made from agave, is worth being sought out, too.

Additionally, you should just “follow your nose and eat the street tacos that look good, eat the quesadilla, go to a market in Mexico and eat the thing that looks good. You have to trust your instincts and wait in line if there is a line because there’s a good chance someone else knows something that you don’t.”

Oaxaca, Mexico

“Mexican cuisine is such a huge part of American cuisine that I am always drawn to Mexico,” Gregory Gourdet, chef and founder of Kann and Sousòl in Portland, Oregon, told HuffPost via email. “I was blown away by my first trip to Oaxaca in 2021. The history and culture is so rich.”

In Oaxaca, you’ll find foods such as moles, which is a traditional Mexican sauce, barbacoa, tlayudas (a traditional Oaxacan dish made of a crunchy tortilla topped with things like beans, meat, veggies and cheese), and tamales, in addition to the local fruits and vegetables that are grown there, said Gourdet.

As far as where specifically to go in the city, Gourdet said, “Criollo and Alfonsina are both incredible restaurants.” You can also visit the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle to take part in traditional cooking classes at El Sabor Zapoteco, he noted.

Additionally, the city is home to sprawling food markets that are must-visits during any trip. And beyond this, it’s a good destination for those with certain allergies, too.

“My dietary distinctions include being gluten and dairy-free, and corn-based Oaxacan cuisine is extremely accommodating. I was often told I was missing out by not indulging in the legendary local cheese, however,” Gourdet said.

Corsica, France

“I can almost guarantee you that nobody will have chosen the place that I was going to propose speaking about which is Corsica. Specifically, the northern half of Corsica, which is referred to as Haute Corse,” said Tyler Akin, the chef-partner of Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware, and Bastia, a coming soon coastal Mediterranean restaurant in Philadelphia.

Corsica is an island, so it’s natural to think that seafood is the focal point. And while you can find great options (Akin suggests stopping in the town of Centuri for spiny lobster and sea urchin), the food here centers on cooking traditions from the mountainous region.

“Unlike Sardinia to the south, you see these alpine cheese traditions and more land-animal-driven cuisine than seafood-driven cuisine,” Akin said. This includes high-quality charcuterie products, chestnuts and mushrooms.

Akin said it’s best to go to Corsica during the offseason. “It’s really cool to be one of very few people there anytime but [specifically] May through October because you have an opportunity to really connect with the people.”

“One of the highlights there for me was the charcuterie that was produced,” said Akin, who added that a favorite producer of his was Les Delices de Castellu, which has “these incredibly natural products, wild boar salamis, and the signature sausage of Corsica which is figatellu.” Additionally, he said you should try migliacciu, which are pancakes stuffed with a ricotta-like cheese known as brocciu.

Another must-visit? Patrimonio, which is Corsica’s wine region where natural, organic wines are the focal point.

In the university town of Corte, seek out baked goods from Casanova Patisserie, which makes a little cheesecake called falculelle and fresh fruit ice cream, and Fritelle Curtinese for the best beignets on the island and a herb pie made with lard, maquis herbs and maquis herbs.

Austin, Texas

When you think of Austin, you likely think of tacos and barbecue — and that’s for good reason. These foods are woven into the history of the area and can be found all throughout the neighborhoods of the city.

Andrew Taylor, the chef/owner of Big Tree Hospitality in Portland, Maine, which operates Eventide Oyster Co., the Honey Paw and Hugo’s, along with some artisan food markets, said Austin is the place that’s stood out to him most when it comes to food destinations.

”[I’m] just really impressed with the food ... it actually reminded me a little bit of Portland in that it’s not a huge town but it felt like the quality of restaurants, the breadth of the restaurant scene was exceptional and punched way above its weight,” Taylor stated.

There are barbecue institutions like Franklin Barbecue and la Barbecue in Austin itself, in addition to options outside of town, too.

He added that it’s hard to find a bad meal in Austin, but if you are looking for places to dine, he has a few tips. “We took a little trip out like 45 minutes from Austin [to] Lockhart, Texas  ... and the barbecue there was just the best I’ve ever had in my life. We went to Kreuz Market, which was just outrageous, Smitty’s and Terry Blacks, were just all incredible,” he said.

For tacos, he recommends Nixta where everything, from the tortillas to the braises, are handmade, and Veracruz, which is a food truck vibe.

And there is much more than tacos and barbecue in Austin. Taylor noted that he tried great Japanese food, Mexican food, Caribbean fare, and more.

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