Birmingham’s culinary landscape reps the Deep South with the force of 1,000 crimson tides — and it’s not all fried green tomatoes these days. Rising in tandem with its music and art cred, the Magic City’s restaurant scene truly has something for everyone, whether it’s white tablecloth award-winners a la Hot and Hot Fish Club, Cafe Dupont, Roots & Revelry and Highlands Bar & Grill, date-worthy burger joints (ahem, Chez Fonfon), wood-fired pizza and craft beer at Post Office Pies, food trucks aplenty, or heaps and heaps of fall-off-the-bone barbecue (see: Miss Myra’s, Saw’s). Lately, old B’ham’s been venturing into international waters with globally-focused concepts like the effortlessly sleek Pizitz Food Hall, where diners can stock up on Ethiopian, Asian, and Middle Eastern fare, as well Central City’s markedly more low-key yet just as delicious fusion joint, EastWest. We hear the secret’s still in the sauce, though.
Let’s be honest: Juneau isn’t just one of America’s best small food cities — it’s Alaska’s all time best, period, and it could have been a contender based on seafood emporiums Tracy’s King Crab Shack and the scenic Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill alone. That joints like The Rookery Cafe, the 100%-worth-the-hype In Bocca al Lupo, and fine-dining destination SALT make a killing in remote locale so often associated with smaller mom-and-pop shops like breakfast faves GonZo and Donna’s (“Where Friends Meet Friends”) just adds more proof that even a town of 32,000 can bring a world-class touch to its food game.
Step aside, Phoenix. Your little compadre Tucson has officially emerged as Arizona’s top culinary whiz kid, and you better believe it took more than Sonoran hot dogs to earn the esteemed title (though, truth be told, they’re game-changers). Located in the Southwest’s deep south, the Old Pueblo has long been a crossroad for many different cultures, making the city of just under half a million an ideal place to stuff your face.
For starters, you’ve got James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder over at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, where multi-ethnic cuisine is prepared with locally grown — as in, from a garden around the way — ingredients. Offering over 25 creatively-stuffed and perfectly-steamed tamales at any given time, Tucson Tamale Company also tops the list, especially after a few Tecates. Meat-lovers can get their deliciously greasy fill and then some at Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House’s two-story, 3,880-square-foot complex and for the off days, don’t sleep on the surprisingly-satisfying vegan fare at Beaut Burger. Serial Grillers, a semi-terrifying food truck serving sandwiches, salads, and craft beer-friendly pizzas worth facing your fears for, is, of course, a cult favorite. For something a little more romantic, try the eclectic, family-owned Cafe à la C’Art inside the Tucson Museum of Art, pair your meal with sweeping desert views (and 800+ wines) at the historic Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, or head to the timeless Coronet for a Thursday evening prix-fixe to remember. Phoenix is great. But Tucson, well, that’s how you rise.
Arkansas: Little Rock
Northwest Arkansas — which includes the cities of Fayetteville (go Hogs!) and Bentonville (go… Walmart HQ?!) — has been enjoying a bump in population growth over the last few years and, subsequently, the bounty of restaurant openings that naturally accompany said growth. Despite that, though, good old Little Rock remains the undeniable king of the state’s food scene. And if you thought it was all Southern-fried pickles and possum pie down there, allow us to present a few counterpoints: A beloved yearly Jewish food extravaganza showcasing all the corned beef, cabbage rolls, blintzes, and kugel one can manage plus a legit replica of the Western Wall inside a football stadium. Instagram-savvy restauranteurs taking “Ark-Mex” cuisine to the next level at spots like Heights Taco & Tamale Co., The Fold: Botanas & Bar, and Local Lime. Locally-sourced comforts served with a side of knowledge via food sustainability workshops and other community events at Root Cafe. Riverfront date-night greatness in the form of cheffy seasonal cuisine at Brave New Restaurant. And a requisite food blog that covers it all. And congrats to us for making it through this entire write-up without mentioning Bill, Hillary, or Socks the Cat (RIP). Ah, crap.
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