San Francisco may be the food capital of the United States (at least in
1. Barcelona, Spain
From tapas and vast food markets to flowing cava and even a burgeoning gastronomical deconstructionist movement
(you know, at that restaurant outside the city
you'll never, ever get a reservation at), Barcelona has it all. Make sure to pick up a bottle of Spanish olive oil, stop by the famous Pastas Alimenticias bakery, and check out the rambling Mercat de la Boqueria during your stay in S.F.'s spiritual sister city.
2. Bologna, Italy
Forget the tourist trifecta of Florence, Rome, and Venice -- Bologna is the all-too-often-dissed food capital of Italy. This Northern Italian city is one of the birthplaces of the Slow Food movement, and it's not hard to see why. Massive markets dot the city, there's a history of political activism here, and even the lowliest pizza joint rocks better food than a lot of upscale restaurants elsewhere.
3. Marrakech, Morocco
Drug references aside, this Moroccan city will get you totally high on foods as unlikely as snails and sheep heads, along with more familiar fare like kebabs, seriously sweet mint tea, and almost infinite permutations of couscous. It's cheap, too -- a meal at the souk (market) can cost as little as $6 for two.
4. New Orleans
When it comes to traditional American fare, Cajun cuisine is completely unique. Yeah, we've all had lesser versions of gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, and bread pudding, but encountering them in their birthplace can be a revelation. Spend some time cruising the French Quarter, but make sure to venture outside of it for a pilgrimage to at least one of the Big Easy's traditional culinary temples: Antoine's, Arnaud's, and Brennan's.
5. Chengdu, China
We all know the shiny glop in your average strip mall is nothing like Chinese food in China, so why not take a trip to the motherland to experience the real thing? Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, replete with tea-smoked duck, chicken with chillies, and
6. Avignon, France
A perfect if little known foodie vacation spot at the heart of the olive and fig orchards, the farm fields, wineries, and goat dairies of Provence. With a headquarters in Avignon, it's easy to check out the weekly food markets and bistros of the surrounding towns. In winter, make sure to check out the fresh truffle markets.
Food carts are king in this city, but restaurants offer an almost overwhelming array of Thai dishes, prepared with levels of herbs and aromatics like garlic, chili, and sweet basil that make you realize you've only ever tasted weak versions of the cuisine stateside. Obviously, there's no shortage of exotic dishes here -- be prepared to encounter pork intestines, even deep-fried roaches. Pack TUMS.
8. New York City
Forgive us, San Francisco: For sheer scale and variety, the Big Apple is arguably the world's food capital. quantity of food, if nothing else. The list of noteworthy restaurants is nearly endless, as is the amount of cash (or credit charges) you'll drop. Our must-graze roster includes Convivio, Union Square Cafe, Dumont, Scarpetta, Marea, Shake Shack, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, and Sushi Seki. We'd list more, but we're already a bit numb just thinking about the possibilities.