Best Small Towns for Food

Small towns that pack a punch when it come to foodGood food is not exclusive to metropolitan areas, this we know. A dense population and international airports are not necessarily the first ingredients in creating a thriving food scene. Across the country, there are small towns (for our purposes, they have less than 300,000 residents) where fresh ingredients are readily available and a passion for cooking and eating local foods never wanes. Where once we stumbled on these towns haphazardly, now travelers are arriving at them on purpose. As we are traveling more and more often for food (and local, fresh, seasonal food at that), it makes sense that we'd head toward the deeper cuts - why get a lobster roll in New York City when you can get one direct from the source in Maine?

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That three of these towns are adjacent to wine regions should come as no surprise - they serve the best local foods to pair with the best local wines. And what could be more inviting to winemakers and wine drinkers alike than a small, walkable town serving high-end cuisine with rolling vineyards just a few miles away? Walla Walla, Healdsburg, and McMinnville all have that kind of laid-back, hidden charm in spades. But then there are unexpected towns, like Lafayette, La., and Traverse City, Mich., that are hidden dining treasures simply because of their seasonal bounty and the local food culture that's grown from it.

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Where some of these towns have specific foods to love (and host festivals around them), like lobsters in Rockland, Maine, others have a surprising number of dining options that run the gamut from fine dining to holes in the wall. So in putting together this year's list, we not only took stock of population and density of dining options, but looked at food-focused buzz in the media and accessibility of local ingredients. These are not just our favorite towns to stop along your next road trip; these are towns we'd want to spend some time in.

Flickr/LensBurlington, Vt.
In Vermont, along Lake Champlain, you'd be hard-pressed to find a town that's not charming, vibrant, and intimate. But the leader of the pack is undoubtedly Burlington. The Penny Cluse Café and Red Onion are perfect examples of the Burlington brand of laid-back, local food you'll find throughout town. American Flatbread might be the best-known eatery, but Union Jacks, Bluebird Tavern, and the Magic Hat Brewing Company all make up the town's mouthwatering landscape.

Flickr/growingwildfarmMcMinnville, Ore.
McMinnville sits just next to Oregon's gorgeous and ever-growing Willamette Valley, meaning it has unbridled access to the valley's fantastic wines. It also is home to award-winning restaurants that are focused on showcasing the bounty of the region (beyond just wine) - like La Rambla, Thistle, The Joel Palmer House, and Bistro Maison.

Flickr/wallygBoulder, Colo.
More often associated with college parties and happy, healthy hippies, Boulder has become a venerated food town. With offerings like The Kitchen Café, Chez Thuy, Dish Gourmet, and Breadworks Café, it is easy to see why. It was also named America's "foodiest town" in 2010 by Bon Appétit magazine.

Flickr/frank3.0Lafayette, La.
Lafayette is one of Louisiana's tastiest towns, and has long been considered the "capital" of Cajun Country. But locals aren't about to rest on those flavors; there is a thriving food scene in Lafayette with all sorts of options, from elevated Louisiana cuisine at Cochon and The French Press to sushi and sake at Tsunami and indulgent burgers at Judice Inn (pictured). Find an afternoon sweet at Meche's Donut King.

Flickr/puilinglooTraverse City, Mich.
Traverse City, Mich., was once known more for its proximity to nature - Lake Michigan, forests - than its food. But that has shifted, with food lovers now aware of it as a dining destination all its own. (That Mario Batali owns a vacation home nearby is surely some validation.) The town hosts the annual National Cherry Festival, but there are artisanal foods to try at Bay Bread, Morsels, and the Grand Traverse Pie Company, as well as dinners to be had at Trattoria Stella and The Cooks' House.

Flickr/InspirationDCRockland, Maine
Rockland is that quaint New England seaside town that is the stuff of summer getaway dreams. The salty air and fresh-caught lobster are just the start; locals crowd into cozy Café Miranda, they find the town's best sticky buns at Home Kitchen Café, go for sushi at Suzuki's, and indulge in fresh, classic Italian at Primo. But declaring a favorite lobster roll is a must for visitors, so start at Linda's Beans, Waterman's Beach, or Miller's Lobster Company.

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- Nicole Campoy-Leffler, The Daily Meal

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