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6 Unexpected Cities for the Food Lover

Get a taste for each corner of the world.

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A café scene in Budapest, Hungary


Move over, Milan. Get a taste for some surprising food destinations with this neighborhood guide to the best eats on (almost) every continent.

EUROPE
Budapest, Hungary

This European capital straddles the Danube River—Buda on one side and Pest on the other—and often flies under the radar, but its food scene is starting to cause a stir.

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

If you’ve got a short time in Budapest, spend it all in the Seventh District. There’s no reason to leave this hip neighborhood—also known as the Jewish Quarter—with its abundance of international eats and lively bars. Karaván is a foodie’s dream—a beer garden filled with street food stalls serving traditional fare along with new trends. Don’t leave without trying lángos, fried flatbread usually topped with grated cheese and sour cream. The 19th-century New York Café bills itself as the most beautiful coffeehouse in the world, and it’s hard to argue. The food holds its own against the ornate interior (think marble, gold leaf, and red velvet). For a complete change of atmosphere, head to Szimpla Kert for a drink or a late-night snack. This unique spot is one of Budapest’s “ruin pubs,” eateries housed in old and derelict buildings.

Budapest, Hungary

Dusk-to-nighttime time-lapse of the cityscape in Budapest, Hungary Video by Birdigol, Getty Images

Best Neighborhood to Get Fancy

The Castle District is Budapest’s oldest part of town, where Buda Castle stretches along the Danube. Sprinkled among the medieval sites, bustling streets, and charming homes are some of the city’s finest restaurants. Nearby, Alabárdos, open since 1964, has earned accolades for its fare. Recently renovated, the restaurant features Hungarian ingredients exclusively. Ask for the secret chef’s-choice menu. Caviar fans should head to Arany Kaviár, an opulent restaurant with garden views. There’s a wide selection of Hungarian and Russian caviar—and the eatery’s owners also produce their own.

Best Neighborhood to DIY

There’s no scarcity of markets in Budapest, but for the best of the best, head to the Ninth District. You can get everything you need to make a meal—and much more—at Great Market Hall on the Pest side of Liberty Bridge. This huge, three-story emporium was built at the turn of the 20th century, damaged during World War II, and restored in the 1990s. Make a pilgrimage here for local meats, cheeses, and produce, as well as spices (smoked paprika is a must), pastries, and souvenirs.

ASIA
Yerevan, Armenia

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Mount Ararat and Yerevan viewed at sunrise


Yerevan is blooming. The capital of Armenia—a tiny country whose natural beauty, culture, and burgeoning tourism industry landed it on our recent list of 10 places that deserve more travelers—has charm in spades and enough places to eat to keep your belly happily filled.

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

For a day of good eating, choose Charles Aznavour Square as your center point and fan out from there. Start off with a breakfast of waffles or French toast at the ArtBridge Bookstore Café. You can pick up a Yerevan guidebook or some postcards on your way in—the café is inside a popular bookshop. After a morning of sightseeing, hit Khinkali for a lunch of traditional Georgian khinkali, large dumplings usually stuffed with ground beef and cilantro. In the afternoon, recharge with an iced coffee or relax with a glass of wine at Martini Royale, an airy, modern Italian café right on the square. Snag a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows and people watch. Close the day out at Dolmama. Inside, this warm-toned Pushkin Street restaurant looks like an old master painting, and the traditional eastern Armenian food is just as appealing. The focus is dolmas, meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves.

Best Neighborhood for Armenian Barbecue

Armenia is known for khorovats, meat grilled on a skewer, and the place to get the best khorovats in Yerevan is Proshyan Street (which becomes Paronyan Street). Barbecue Street, as it’s known, is lined with khorovats restaurants (try Urartu) and roadside grills.

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Third level of the Yerevan Cascade in Yerevan, Armenia


Best Neighborhood to Café-Hop

Spend an afternoon—or more—in the neighborhood around the Cascade, a massive stairway that links the Yerevan city center to the Monument neighborhood. At Charles, serving both European and Armenian dishes, an outdoor area makes it perfect for nice nights. Try the lamb confit. A few blocks south, Malocco Café is a cozy spot ideal for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Save room for dessert and head over to Cascade Chocolateria, a café and chocolate shop. Tuck in for chocolate fondue or nibble on an assortment of truffles and other sweets.

NORTH AMERICA
Detroit, United States

Wait, Detroit? Yes. The city better known as a center for automakers and manufacturing is revving its culinary motors.

Detroit, Michigan

Aerial view of downtown Detroit, Michigan
Video by Smithsonian, Getty Images

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

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Detroit's most coveted Coney Island restaurants, Lafayette and American, slather on chili sauce, mustard, and onions to create the city's iconic Coney Island hot dog.


The city’s oldest surviving neighborhood, Corktown (early immigrants were from County Cork, Ireland), is also one of its most vibrant. There are all types of eateries here, from breakfast joints to fine dining. Try the breakfast poutine on the patio at Brooklyn Street Local or the duck bop hash at Dime Store. For lunch, hit up Onassis Coney Island for Detroit’s classic Coney dog, a hot dog with chili sauce, onions, and mustard, or Slows Bar BQ for beef brisket and pulled pork. Once you’re hungry again, head to Katoi, a newish and trendy Southeast Asian spot. Try the khao soi kai curry noodle soup.

Best Neighborhoods for Ethnic Eats

Detroit has some of the best neighborhoods in the country when it comes to authentic ethnic eats. Greektown’s many tavernas serve up stuffed grape leaves, souvlaki, and moussaka with bracing pours of ouzo. New Parthenon is a staple, and has been in business for more than 40 years. Hamtramck, just north of the city center, is a Polish enclave. Try Polish Village Café or Krakus for classic dishes like golabki (stuffed cabbage) and pierogi. The suburb of Dearborn has one of the largest proportions of Arab-Americans in the country, reflected in its restaurants. Al Ameer is popular for its shawarma, falafel, and hummus. (Sheeba and Hamido are worth checking out as well.)

Best Neighborhood for a Night Out

Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood has many bars and restaurants perfect for a nice night out. Grey Ghost (named after a local Prohibition rumrunner) offers unusual bites, like fried bologna on a waffle, and more traditional items, like dry-aged rib eye. La Feria is a popular tapas bar (don’t miss the fried squid), and Selden Standard is a farm-to-table favorite (salt cod fritters with sweet peppers are the standout).

SOUTH AMERICA
Santiago, Chile

A mix of Spanish and indigenous cultures and flavors, Chile’s capital has barrios filled with restaurants, bars, and markets.

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Overview of Providencia and Las Condes districts and Bellavista neighborhood in Santiago, Chile


Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

For a day’s worth of good eats, visit Barrio Lastarria, a historic neighborhood that’s now home to hipsters and trendy shops and restaurants. Start off with coffee and breakfast at Colmado. Order a cappuccino and a pincho de tortilla (Spanish omelet) and have it upstairs or in the courtyard entrance. Fortified, head out for a stroll and window-shopping. For lunch, grab a smoked turkey, mozzarella, and basil cream sandwich at Café del Museo, which adjoins the Museo Arqueológico de Santiago. In the afternoon, work up an appetite for dinner. Prepare to wait for a table at Bocanáriz, one of the most popular spots in the city. This acclaimed wine bar features Chilean wines, boasting a list of nearly 400 at any given time. The waiters are also sommeliers and will help pair your bites with the best vino.

Best Neighborhoods to DIY

Tucked between the mountains and the sea, Santiago gets the best of both worlds when it comes to ingredients. Build your own meal from foodstuffs picked up near Cerro Santa Lucía and in Recoleta. For seafood, head to Mercado Central (named on our Top 10 Food Markets list), a bustling art nouveau marvel. Pick up some just caught merluza (hake) or grab a quick bite at one of the restaurants inside. A few blocks north is La Vega, a giant indoor market where you can get fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, meats, and much more.

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Seafood vendors sell their fish in Mercado Central.


Best Neighborhood for a Unique Experience

A bit quiet during the day, the Bellavista comes alive at night with bars and restaurants. One not to be missed is Peumayén, which serves “ancestral food”—namely pre-Hispanic dishes. The menu changes frequently but always features authentic ingredients. Como Agua Para Chocolate takes its cues from the book by the same name (in English: Like Water for Chocolate) by Laura Esquivel. The look is a bit over-the-top romantic, with a fountain in the center and a bed turned table, but the Chilean fare lives up to the hype. Pablo Neruda, the beloved Chilean poet, so loved food that he wrote odes to it: salt, an onion, even a “large tuna in the market.” El Mesón Nerudiano returns the favor, honoring the artist with an atmosphere “inspired by the unmistakable magic and style” of his homes, one of which is just a few blocks away. The menu features ingredients and dishes Neruda wrote about.

AFRICA
Dakar, Senegal

Pinned to a spot of land that juts out into the Atlantic, Senegal’s capital and largest city is a colorful, loud city full of motion. It’s also home to a flavorful food scene that mixes French, Lebanese, and West African styles.

Best Neighborhood for Street Food

Go off the beaten (tourist) path in the Medina. This district is a warren of shops, homes, vendors, and the nearby Grande Mosquée de Dakar. The best food here is from the street stalls and open-air kitchens—follow your nose and fill up as you stroll. Don’t miss accara (black-eyed pea fritters) or dibi (spicy roasted mutton cooked with onions and served messily on brown paper).

Best Neighborhood for Fresh Seafood

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A woman sells fish in the afternoon fish market in Soumbédioune beach when the canoes arrive loaded.


Good seafood is everywhere in Dakar, perched as it is on a peninsula. But for caught-just-a-few-feet-away freshness, head to Ngor, a popular beachside neighborhood. Options range from sand-front shacks to full-service restaurants. Try airy Noflaye Beach, right on the water, for grilled fish and sweet crepes. For the most fun, scoot over to tiny Île de Ngor. Hop on the Chez Seck shuttle boat and for lunch at the colorful spot right on the water.

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

Dakar’s central district, Plateau, can keep a foodie busy at any hour of the day. There are patisseries, such as La Royaltine and Artisan Boulanger Eric Kayser, for bread and desserts. For fantastic views of Île de Gorée and a menu of French and Senegalese specialties, there’s Lagon I, perched on stilts. And for some of the city’s best Lebanese meze, shawarma, and falafel, there’s Restaurant Farid, an elegant space with courtyard tables. But the most popular place to eat may be Chez Loutcha, a no-frills and sometimes chaotic favorite for West African cuisine.

AUSTRALIA AND OCEANIA
Wellington, New Zealand

Often overshadowed by Auckland, New Zealand’s capital holds its own as a food destination.

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

Wellington’s Cuba Street is the city’s hippest stretch, home to trendy restaurants, cool bars, and hidden gems. A self-described “scene of assembly for Wellington’s creative cognoscenti,” Matterhorn is dark and moody, serving up a mix of contemporary dishes. Logan Brown, an eco-friendly fine-dining restaurant in a former National Bank of New Zealand building, has offerings based on local, seasonal ingredients. And gorgeous Olive is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate—sample Mediterranean fare in its tropical courtyard. Want weirder? Try Laundry, a bar and restaurant that retains the exterior appearance of its former life as a dry cleaner. Its soul food menu includes gumbo and jerk chicken.

Best Neighborhood for Beach Eats

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Customers at Maranui Café in Wellington, New Zealand


Colorful—very colorful—Maranui Café serves up some of the area’s best coffee, along with light dishes (many vegan) and milk shakes, right on the water. Aviation junkies can get their fix at Spruce Goose, a restaurant in a repurposed airport building with views of both the runway and Lyall Bay. And old-school Seaview Takeaways, a Lyall Bay institution, specializes in fish-and-chips.

Best Neighborhood to DIY

There’s one place to go in Wellington for the freshest produce, meats, and seafood: the waterfront. Harbourside Market, around since 1920, has dozens of stalls (selling everything from spice mixes to flowers) and eateries (burritos to barbecue.) The Underground Market is a showcase for bakers, designers, and artists; pick up some hot churros or pink cotton candy. And stop by nearby Wellington Sea Market on Lambton Quay (there’s also one on Cuba Street) for freshly caught fish.

Nancy Gupton is a freelance writer, editor, and lover of books, music, and, of course, food. You can follow her on Twitter.


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