The Best Food Neighborhoods in the USA

A coast-to-coast look at the culinary oases that keep us coming back for more.

Forty years of fried perfection at Champy's Chicken in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Fried perfection at Champy’s Chicken in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Courtesy of Champy’s Chicken

You don’t need the internet to tell you that there’s good eating in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Miami’s Little Havana, New Orleans’s French Quarter, or Charleston’s everywhere. These neighborhoods are the stuff of legend—their reputations precede them. But what about lesser-known global food havens in places like St. Louis, Missouri; Boise, Idaho; and Dearborn, Michigan? What does their multicultural existence say about what it means to be American?

Admittedly, our interpretation of the word “neighborhood” is loose here. In some cases, it’s a tidy number of blocks nestled between clear cross streets. In others, the thoroughfare runs like a life-sustaining artery through multiple neighborhoods, feeding the divergent communities that flock to them. What all 12 districts and strips that follow have in common are the sheer number of immigrant-, BIPOC-, and women-owned businesses that thrive there; the intrepid foodies who support them in droves; and, of course, ridiculously delicious food.

And so, we introduce AFAR’s best food neighborhoods in the United States, in no particular order . . .


You could do a global food tour bouncing from vendor to vendor in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Photo by Dolly Faibyshev

Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York

It’s arguably the best food stretch in the best food borough in the best food city in the world—which sounds like an exaggeration until you step out of the Roosevelt Ave–Jackson Heights train station at 74th Street and, moving a few blocks in any direction, see the mind-boggling number of eateries at your disposal. Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Ecuadorian, Italian—Queens has it all. It’s why global food tour operator Culinary Backstreets has run daily walking tours here since 2017. “Roosevelt Avenue is a gritty, dirty, messy, crazy, busy, vibrant street,” says head tour guide Esneider Arevalo, who was born in Colombia but moved to Jackson Heights when he was 18. Arevalo knows food, too: His mom, octogenarian Maria Piedad Cano, is the original Arepa Lady—a lawyer turned street cart vendor who famously got her start selling arepas under the elevated 7 train.

For breakfast: Order a matcha latte and heart-shaped onigiri (rice balls stuffed with pickled plum, kimchi pork, or bacon and eggs) from 969 NYC Coffee, a homey café run by Japanese expat Oda Mitsumine.

For lunch: Phayul (37–59 74th St., second floor; 718-433-9682) is a no-frills favorite for steamed or fried Tibetan momos stuffed with juicy beef and comforting thenthuk, a soup with chewy, hand-pulled noodles and your choice of beef, chicken, or veg.

For dinner: A royal feast awaits at Argentinian restaurant La Fusta, technically in Elmhurst but under five minutes from the 82nd Street station on Roosevelt Ave. Here, grill platters are heaped high with morcilla (blood sausage), tira de asado (beef short rib), molleja (chicken gizzards), and chinchulines (beef intestines). Bring friends—and a shopping bag for leftovers.

For coffee and dessert: La Gran Uruguaya (85-02 37th Ave., 718-505-0400) presents a beautiful selection of cakes and pastries, some with Italian influence (e.g., cannolis stuffed with dulce de leche). The panaderia doubles as a sports bar, so settle in with a cup of coffee, a slice of chajá (peach meringue cake), and watch a fútbol match on TV with the locals.

It’s 5 o’clock, now what? Terraza 7 is a go-to spot for live Latin jazz and Afro Colombian music plus rummy cocktails like the Currulao, a blended ice drink made with mango and pineapple.

Tip from a local: “When you first walk into Aroma Brazil (75–13 Roosevelt Ave., 718-672-7662), you’re confronted with an insane array of salads, salsas, rice and beans, fried yucca, and plantains, all sold by the pound,” says Arevalo. “You could go crazy just on the buffet, but save space on your plate and go to the window with the master griller. He’ll tell you what he’s grilling that day—picanha [rump cap], sausages—and you tell him how well you want it done. Everyone goes for the skirt steak, but I love the beef rib. And don’t skip dessert: The passion fruit mousse is outstanding, the Brazilian flan divine.”

* * * * *

East Amarillo Boulevard in Amarillo, Texas

At the husband-and-wife-run African Safari Restaurant (5945 E. Amarillo Blvd., 806-471-0490), on the far east end of the food corridor that is East Amarillo Boulevard (aka Route 66), immigrants from Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia eat crispy fried goat, chicken drumsticks, and tilapia with capellini pasta in tomato sauce (a Somali standard) and generous plates of surbiyaan (Somali-style basmati rice). There are prayer rugs in the corner and soccer on the TV, because this is more than just a place to fill your belly; it’s a community hub. It’s hardly the only one dotting this diverse stretch of highway. Other draws include South Asian grocers, Mexican paleterias selling ice pops and ice cream, Salvadoran pupuserias, and eateries specializing in Chinese, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.

For breakfast: At African Safari Restaurant, try a steaming cup of Somali chai with canjeero or sabaayad (flatbreads popular in Somalia), plus a filling order of fuul (fava beans stewed to creamy perfection in an herbaceous tomato sauce). If you’re feeling adventurous at 9 a.m., know that the goat liver with onions gets rave reviews.

For lunch: Go wild on a plate of pupusas from El Carbonero. The griddled corn cakes are stuffed with beans, cheese, pork rinds, jalapeño, loroco flower, and every combination therein.

For dinner: Start with plates of Lao beef jerky with sticky rice and lemongrass-y chicken larb at pan-Asian restaurant Golden Lotus. For your main, you can do no better than a hearty bowl of hu tieu, seafood noodle soup brimming with shrimp, squid, and crab meat.

For dessert: Grab a real-fruit ice pops from taqueria cum paleteria El Mexicano (4509 E. Amarillo Blvd., 806-372-5123), available in coconut, strawberries and cream, tamarind, and mango with chile.

For a spicy snack: You can’t beat the pickled Cheetos at Tropico: Hot Cheetos topped with chunks of pickle, lemon, chamoy, and chile. A watermelon rusa, garnished with pineapple and mango and served with a flechazo (a straw coated in chamoy and chile powder), will wash it all down.

What to bring home: A jar of fermented tea leaves from Aye San Bu Myanmar Market (5621 E. Amarillo Blvd., 806-331-5325), so you can make authentic laphet (pickled tea leaf salad) long after your trip.

* * * * *


The Grove in St. Louis has everything from Ivorian-Senegalese to Korean-Mexican—don’t miss Seoul Taco.

Photo by Adam Bertels

The Grove in St. Louis, Missouri

Once the beating heart of St. Louis’s gay and lesbian bar scene, and now ground zero for young foodies, the Grove has everything: craft beer, kombucha, barbecue, soul food, from-scratch doughnuts, and enough international fusion (Korean Mexican! Ivorian Senegalese!) that you could eat your way around the world in the span of a single square mile. Even more impressive: Many of the indie businesses in this district have committed to lowering their environmental impact by setting up sustainable operations, partnering with the 501c3 nonprofit Green Dining Alliance to keep them accountable.

For breakfast: Songbird’s egg sandwiches are king. Aged white cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, and a perfectly runny, farm-fresh egg are squished between two slices of toasted sourdough. Heaven.

For lunch: Get your grilled kebab fix at Sameem, the first—and only—Afghan restaurant in Missouri, pre-gamed with a velvety bowl of hummus from Sultan Mediterranean.

For dinner: At Chao Baan, the Prapaisilp family whips up dishes from Isaan, or northeastern Thailand, including khao soi (curry soup) and khao tod nam sod (crispy rice salad). At Creole with a Splash of Soul, passionate home cook Ronda Walker honors her roots with Cajun wings, ’gator bites, and po’boys.

For dessert: Try a King Cake cone, Gooey Butter ice cream sandwich, or waffle cone “nachos” with three scoops of your favorite flavors from Serendipity Homemade Ice Cream, a recent transplant to the Grove.

For a casual date night: Grace Meat + Three lives up to its name with epic choose-your-own-adventure platters. (For the record, we’d pick fried chicken with honey-glazed cornbread, mac and cheese, and collard greens.)

It’s 5 o’clock, now what? Explore the funky, forward-thinking beers at Rockwell Beer Co., a brewery housed in repurposed shipping containers, or alternate between boozy slushies and stiff cocktails (the West Grove Sour is made with Four Roses bourbon, bonded brandy, lemon, egg white, and a red wine reduction) at the divey-fun Platypus bar.


Pimento Jamaican Kitchen’s co-founder Tomme Beevas isn’t afraid to use a little spice on the One Love Special.

Photos by TJ Turner

Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota

They don’t call it Eat Street for nothing. Just south of downtown, the global thoroughfare features myriad African, Asian, and Latin American grocery stores and halal meat markets, an all-night diner (the Nicollet Diner), Malaysian restaurant Peninsula, German biergarten Black Forest Inn, Greek gyro shop Christos, Trinidadian hole-in-the-wall Harry Singh’s Original Caribbean Restaurant, farmers’ market stalwart Rainbow Chinese, pho stars Pho 79 and Pho Tàu Bay, and beloved bánh mì purveyor Lu’s Sandwiches.

For breakfast: Tacos from the new Eat Street location of Centro, where owner Jami Olson, chef Jose Alarcon, and pastry director Ngia Xiong do supernatural things with eggs, house-made chorizo, and glittery guava rolls.

For lunch: Feel the burn of Pimento Jamaican Kitchen’s One Love Special: a combo plate with fire-grilled jerk chicken, slow-roasted jerk pork, coconut rice and beans, sweet fried plantains, island slaw, and a lip tingler of a sauce.

For dinner: At Quang, an always-bumping Vietnamese restaurant that’s been family-owned since 1989, broke U of M students bump elbows with Mayo Clinic physicians. They come for the enormous egg rolls, stay for the beefy noodle soups (bun bo hue is a fiery beef-and-pork hock stew with rice noodles), and lose their minds over surprise desserts like che dau, a sticky rice pudding made with black-eyed peas and coconut cream.

For dessert: Sample the finest fruits of Southeast Asia at long-running Malaysian restaurant Peninsula, where the options for satisfying a sweet tooth include mango sticky rice, roti canai stuffed with stinky-ripe durian, and the always impressive Snow White, house-made coconut milk dressed up with pineapple and lychee jellies and a sticky rice ball.

It’s 5 o’clock, now what?: Order a maple-infused Old Fashioned at Bûcheron, a new French American restaurant from Adam and Jeanie Ritter. Seats at the bar and counter are reserved for walk-ins, and you can’t go wrong with small bites such as smoked eel tartine and venison tartare with egg yolk and spruce tips.

Tip from a local: “There’s a small restaurant in the back of Colonial Market grocery store where we often grab lunch,” say Gabriella Grant-Spangler, co-owner of Bebe Zito Ice Cream, an anchor tenant in the bustling Eat Street Crossing food hall on Nicollet. “We love the cinnamon coffee, which is not fancy but feels special, and the consistently great birria tacos, which come with a wonderful dipping broth. It feels like a hug.”

We love the cinnamon coffee, which is not fancy but feels special, and the consistently great <i>birria</i> tacos, which come with a wonderful dipping broth. It feels like a hug.
Gabriella Grant-Spangler

* * * * *


Food Land Market in Boise is a bistro/bakery/coffee shop founded by Iraqi refugee Hana Mutlak, pictured.

Photo by Allison Corona

Bench in Boise, Idaho

Boise’s famous Basque Block, a stateside collection of Basque restaurants, pintxos bars, and cultural institutions, gets all the attention, but the Bench neighborhood is home to a broader swath of food—including Afghan pastries, Cuban paninis, and a Bosnian-owned café serving sour cabbage and goulash (BoEx). It’s a go-to for people who want to taste the world but don’t want to dig out their passport—even more so during Treasure Valley’s annual Refugee Restaurant Week.

For breakfast: Pair a Turkish coffee with mohamra (walnut dip) and lambajun (flatbread sprinkled with meat) at Food Land Market, a bistro/bakery/coffee shop founded by Iraqi refugee Hana Mutlak.

For lunch: For 16 years, Argentinian Mexican couple Monica and Luis Bremmer have lured locals to Tango’s Empanadas with their delectable meat pockets. The Gaucho (ground beef, eggs, onions, olives, bell peppers, and spices) is a classic, but the chocolate-spiked mole chicken sparks conversation.

For dinner: Carne con papas and pollo frito a la Cubana are just two of the crowd-pleasers at CasaBlanca Cuban Grill, a decade-old eatery that executes owner Karina Sotera’s grandmother’s recipes to a tee.

For dessert: The magical saffron pudding and pistachio baklava at Sunshine Spice Cafe, a bakery run by two Afghan sisters who’ve been nominated for a James Beard Award.

What to bring home: Seed packets from Snake River Seed Cooperative or Galloping Gertie’s goat milk caramels made with Idaho huckleberries from artisan marketplace Lark & Larder.

Tip from a local: “I still find myself charmed and surprised by the range of cuisines and establishments peppering both busy thoroughfares and sleepy neighborhood corners,” says Laurie Pearman, founder of Common Ground Coffee & Market, opening in the Bench this spring. “Das Alpenhaus Deli is one of my favorites for their daily hot lunches, large market, and annual Oktoberfest. You can’t beat their schnitzel sandwich.”

* * * * *

Columbia City in Seattle, Washington

In this historically diverse enclave in southeast Seattle, you’ll find American standards like biscuits and gravy at all-day breakfast spot Geraldine’s Counter, wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza at Tutta Bella, build-your-own injera platters at Eritrean/Ethiopian haunt Kezira Cafe, chicken shawarma at Bananas Grill, vegan-friendly avocado curry at Bua 9 Thai Cuisine, and whole-fried tilapia or dry-fried goat with a side order of chapati or ugali at Kenyan staple Safari Njema Restaurant. When Korean Hawaiian bruncherie Super Six closed, it was a blow to the neighborhood, but co-owners Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison then turned a one-time auto repair shop into an outpost of Marination, complete with Korean Hawaiian–inspired lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch service, plus a full bar.

For breakfast: The colorful Tacos El Asadero bus (3513 Rainier Ave. S., 206-722-9977) serves desayuno seven days a week. Options include breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, and machaca, a shredded, dried, and rehydrated beef dish that is popular in northern Mexico.

For lunch: Lil Red Jamaican BBQ & Soul Cuisine is not for the indecisive. Erasto “Red” Jackson does meat—succulent brisket, lip-smacking barbecue chicken, jerk chicken, jerk pork, pulled pork, smoked sausage, even whole snapper—very, very well. Once you make up your mind, you’re then faced with a panoply of sides: greens, yams, plantains, mac and cheese, rice and peas . . . and wait, what’s that? Lumpia and coco bread, too? Mercy!

For dinner: The sustainability-first, nose-to-tail menu at Evan Leichtling and Meghna Prakash’s Off Alley changes with the whims of a hyper-local market, but there’s always something interesting on the pass: rabbit kidneys on toast, grilled oysters with horseradish ice,and so on. The wines are excellent, and the kitchen has mastered desserts (blackberry pastry, Dutch babies) that incorporate seared foie gras.

Must-try coffee shop: Cayenne mochas and cashew milk lattes come with a side of rare vinyl at Empire Roasters and Records. The hybrid café/record store also makes waffles if you’re feeling peckish.

What to bring home: Fine olive oil, dried beans, and local honey from Persephone Market, a sweet little wine shop and artisanal pantry located next to Sicilian jewel La Medusa.

* * * * *


The Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque hosts 150-plus vendors every Sunday from May through October.

Photo by Gabriella Marks

South Valley/Barelas in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Settled in the 1600s, this neighborhood is the oldest in Albuquerque. It hugs the Rio Grande and Camino Real, a colonial-era trail that once led all the way to Mexico City and is now home to the South Broadway Cultural Center and National Hispanic Cultural Center. The latter houses Torreón, the largest concave fresco in North America, and the destination restaurant La Fonda del Bosque, where you may be tempted by the Chinese barbecued duck quesadilla or Albuquerque French Dip, served with a green chile red wine au jus. The area has a wealth of old-school panaderias and Mexican and New Mexican restaurants. Some have even made their way into popular culture, appearing on shows both real (Man vs. Food) and fictionalized (Better Call Saul).

For breakfast: La Mexicana Tortilla Co., founded in 1932, is best known for its breakfast burrito stuffed with eggs, hash browns, and your choice of hot dogs, Spam, chorizo, bacon, sausage, or carne adovada: pork smothered in red or green chile sauce and blanketed in melted cheese.

For lunch: The nearly century-old El Modelo is popular with actors filming in the area. The stuffed sopapilla—bursting with chile chorizo, refried beans, cheese, and lettuce—is the thing to get, but you can’t go wrong with the chile relleno burrito or fresh tamales.

For dinner: Black-owned Nexus Brewery + Smokehouse made its bones with brisket and burnt ends, but the catfish tacos and Enterprise sandwich (pulled pork, brisket, and hot links topped with green chile and coleslaw) are nothing to sniff at.

For the ’gram:Grandma’s K&I Diner features the Travis, a 10-pound burrito with fries, smothered with red chili and cheese,” says Frank Sandoval, owner of the city’s Breaking Bad RV Tours. “It is out of the way but very popular among industry people in the area.”

It’s 5 o’clock, now what?: Sidetrack Brewing Company offers six-pour flights, cask-conditioned beers, and a maize-lightened German pilsner for anyone watching their gluten intake.

What to bring home: The Rail Yards Market hosts 150-plus vendors every Sunday from May through October. It’s a great place to pick up locally made nonperishables, such as as mango-habanero spread from Spice Jams NM, green chile “Christmas” jam from Sandia Spice, green chile beef jerky from DurDe Jerky, and jars of Tio Frank’s New Mexican–style red and green chile sauce.

Tip from a local: Barelas Coffee House, owned and operated by the Gonzales family for more than 50 years, is the most historic family-owned restaurant in Albuquerque,” says Dr. Margie Huerta, executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. “From U.S. presidents to state governors, it’s a ‘must’ when visiting. Their carne adovada, pork cooked to perfection and smothered in homemade red chile, is truly unforgettable and the energy and vibe of the restaurant only adds to its popularity.”

* * * * *


Courtesy of Uncle Larry’s

MLK in Chattanooga, Tennessee

This historic neighborhood, formerly known as Ninth Street, covers five blocks between Houston and University streets. It’s listed on the National Register as an area of historical significance because it is the birthplace of jazz greats Bessie Smith, Lovie Austin, and Yusef Lateef. In addition to the must-see Bessie Smith Cultural Museum, it’s a hub for Black-owned businesses. Briana Garza, owner of Chatt Taste Food Tours, launched her MLK Southern Cuisine Food Tour on Juneteenth 2020; it makes four stops in the neighborhood—all minority-owned businesses disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “I chose MLK because of its history,” she says, referencing long-shuttered music clubs, buzzing barber shops, community murals, and restaurants that are still kicking half a century later.

For Sunday brunch: Start with a very Southern hair of the dog (local Velo coffee with a shot of whiskey) at the Bitter Alibi before exploring the three-story restaurant and bar’s globally inspired menu. Heavy hitters include cheddar drop biscuits with chorizo gravy, ramen noodles with crispy pork belly, and a Korean rice bowl.

For lunch: Chopped plates are popular around these parts: Try a chopped wiener with hot mustard at the 56-year-old Memo’s Grill (430 E. Martin Luther King Blvd.; 423-267-7283) or the chopped chicken at James Massengill’s Chatt Smokehouse. (His smoked ribs are no slouch either.) For a picnic with all the fixings, order a family meal from Champy’s Chicken, available in four sizes. The biggest bucket comes with 20 pieces of crispy chicken and five large sides.

For dinner: “Fish so good it will smack ya!” reads the sign outside Uncle Larry’s Restaurant, named after proprietor Larry Torrence. The uncle in charge knows his way around a fryer, delicately breading and cooking whiting, catfish, perch, and tilapia. If you want to leave room for dessert, trust that the banana pudding and red velvet cake are pure Southern goodness.

For a vegan option: Black-owned pizza chain Slim & Husky’s looks out for its animal friends with its Nothin’ But a V Thang pie, made with vegan cheese, pepperoni, and sausage crumble, plus spinach, red onion, and mushrooms.

For dessert: Poppytons Patisserie, the current restaurant-in-residence at Proof Bar & Incubator, churns out fruity hand tarts and a mean carrot cake.

What to bring home: A plastic bottle of Uncle Larry’s Smack ‘Em sauce—like tartar sauce on steroids. “It’s a game changer,” says Garza. “The best condiment I’ve ever had.”

* * * * *


Courtesy of Bettola Bistro

Havana Street in Aurora, Colorado

Less than 10 miles east of Denver, Aurora is the third most populous city in Colorado: home to 386,261 residents and more than 250 global restaurants. The Havana Street corridor is particularly dense—the kind of thoroughfare where Indian (Chutney Indian Cuisine), Italian (Bettola Bistro), Korean (Tofu Story), and Sudanese (Sudan Cafe & Khairat Bakery) restaurants rub shoulders with century-old diners (Sam’s No. 3) and Korean karaoke bars, hot pot restaurants, fried chicken joints, boba tea shops, and bingsu (shaved ice) vendors. From dawn till dusk, you never run out of tasty things to put in your mouth.

For breakfast: Hit up French Asian bakery Tous les Jours for pain au chocolat and walnut caramel scones, plus trickier-to-find treats such as taro cream bread, red bean doughnuts, and honeydew melon buns. The purple ube latte, available hot or iced, is a hit with the Instagram set.

For lunch: Just off Havana, Mariscos El Rey Dos is a seafood restaurant with a biblically long menu. Tuck into the ceviche Campechano (lime-cooked shrimp, fish, octopus, squid, crab, and abalone piled atop a tostada), chased with a Michelada.

For dinner: Get ready for the meat sweats. Whether you choose Korean barbecue (Dae Gee and Shin Myung Gwan are both popular) or Brazilian churrasco (Aroma do Brazil), the decadence is real.

For dessert: Embrace a mountainous “snow bowl” at Snowl Cafe, where the shaved ice flavors include sweet potato cheesecake, black sesame, and green tea.

For a carb fix: Head to Sara’s Market & Bakery for oven-fresh lavash, simit (seeded Turkish bagels), shirmal (saffron-flavored sweet bread), and barbari (yeast-leavened Iranian flatbread).

It’s 5 o’clock, now what?: Round up your happy hour crew for $8 soju and $7 beer at K-pub ThankSool Pocha, every Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Late-night haunt: The soju-fueled fun continues at Muse Noraebang & Cafe, a karaoke bar that stays open until 2 a.m. and helpfully serves honghap tang, a hangover soup made with mussels. With eight private rooms and Singapore Slings priced to move, you’ll need it.

Tip from a local: “Pick up takeout and go paddleboarding at Cherry Creek State Park,” says Chance Horiuchi, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District. The park surrounding the 880-acre reservoir has a sandy swimming beach; hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails; and an airfield for flying radio-controlled model aircraft.

* * * * *

Arts District in Los Angeles, California

The late French bistro Church & State (R.I.P.) may have paved the way, but DTLA’s Arts District has really come into its own these past few years. The former industrial zone boasts some of the hardest reservations to score (looking at you, Bestia) and biggest restaurant openings (Enrique Olvera’s Damian, Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat, etc.) For critics, the skyrocketing trendiness hurts its credibility, while others see the neighborhood as deftly towing the line between destination restaurants packed with out-of-towners and the kind of down-to-earth street grub that keeps locals coming back.

For lunch: East L.A. native Wes Avila started Guerrilla Tacos as a modest little food truck; now it’s a full-blown, pilgrimage-worthy taqueria. Order his Taco de Papa, a corn tortilla stacked with crispy Jack cheese, potato-and-mushroom guisado, rajas, and avocado salsa, or the Puffy Pocho, an as-fun-to-say-as-it-is-to-eat, deep-fried flour tortilla packed with ground beef and topped with aged cheddar, pico de gallo, avocado salsa, and chipotle cream.

For brunch: Manuela, tucked inside the sprawling Hauser & Wirth gallery, is a knockout on a Saturday morning: Tour the art, and then settle in for Kris Tominaga’s lauded cream biscuits and barbecued oysters with green chile butter.

For dinner: Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis are doing tantalizing things in the name of the Levant at Bavel, just 15 minutes from forever-booked Bestia. While you could feast on nothing but spreads and apps (hummus duck ‘nduja, ocean trout crudo with blueberry and urfa chile oil), you’d be remiss not to order the slow-roasted lamb neck shawarma with pickled vegetables. Even the desserts—think Persian mulberry ice cream or rose-clove chocolate doughnuts—punch above their weight.

It’s 5 o’clock, now what?: Throw back a creative cocktail (or three) amid greenery and glowing string lights at Alé Guzman’s always packed rooftop eatery LA Cha Cha Chá. The red bell pepper–mezcal Negroni is made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal and mole bitters, while the blue corn tortilla Old Fashioned seduces with Abasolo corn whiskey, nixta elote liqueur, and buttered blue corn masa.

Late-night haunt: From pro skateboarder turned pizzaiolo Salman Agah comes Pizzanista!, a slice joint open till midnight on weekends. His Sundays-only, macaroni-and-cheese pizza is L.A.-famous, but the North Shore pie—La Quercia speck and fresh-cut pineapple on a hand-stretched sourdough crust—is an instant classic.

What to bring home: Raid the shelves at Yangban Society’s Super, a mini mart selling canned and bottled cocktails, Korean fruit milks, face masks, incense, and other goods from Asian American–owned businesses. The makgeolli, or sparkling rice wine, is made exclusively for Yangban by L.A.-based sake company Sawtelle.

* * * * *

NuLu in Louisville, Kentucky

NuLu stands for “New Louisville,” the East Market District of downtown known for its art galleries, antique shops, and robust food scene. Settle in for slow-roasted lechon asado and classic cancháncharas at Cuban rum bar and restaurant La Bodeguita de Mima, pork belly marinated in doenjang at Korean steakhouse (Nami) from celebrity chef Edward Lee, or a jaw-dropping salatim platter from Levantine restaurant Meesh Meesh. The siren calls don’t stop there, either: Other NuLu temptations include hot chicken, barbecue, and bourbon-infused bonbons (this is the South, after all).

For breakfast or brunch: The mile-high biscuit sandwiches and pancake corn dogs at Biscuit Belly will fill you for hours. For something lighter, consider the beet-cured salmon tartine from Rosettes, a Parisian-style café inside the newly opened Hotel Genevieve.

For lunch: Explore Cajun and Creole flavors at LouLou on Market, where the midday offerings include jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish étoufée, and oysters on the half shell with a dash of Crystal hot sauce.

For dinner: Chef Bruce Ucán, owner of the Mayan Café, has been entrenched in the NuLu neighborhood for more than a quarter of a century. His tok-sel lima beans—seared the traditional Mayan way with sesame oil, pumpkin seeds, green onions, parsley, and lime—are lionized locally, but don’t miss his confited duck in a smokey-rich, 30-plus-ingredient black mole sauce.

For coffee and dessert: Grab a butterscotch latte and an ooey-gooey chocolate-chip cookie from Please & Thank You, a coffee shop-slash-bakery whose cookies are so coveted they ship them by the dozen nationwide.

For a nightcap: Ucán recommends moseying over to Nouvelle Bar & Bottle, a French-inspired wine bar with reds, whites, and what it dubs “a completely irresponsible champagne list.” Also Taj, a “sexy bourbon bar” with the occasional live music night and costumed karaoke party.

What to bring home: A tray of Modjeskas from the 103-year-old Muth’s Candies. The creamy, buttery, marshmallow-stuffed caramels were named after Helena Modjeska, a Polish actress who fell in love with Louisville after emigrating to the United States in the 1840s.

* * * * *

Dearborn, Michigan

This suburb, less than 15 minutes west of downtown Detroit, is home to one of the country’s largest Muslim populations, with scores of treasured restaurants founded by immigrants from Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. Long-running favorites include Al Ameer and the halal drive-thru at Cedarland, but the area offers a delight a minute: microbreweries, pudding trucks, late-night sub hubs, Turkish “pizza” and ice cream, and hookah bars with fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies.

For brunch: Good luck selecting just one dish from the vast menu of Yemeni-American classics at Dellah Coffee & Brunch House. The lahm sighar, made with minced beef, onions, and Hawai‘j spices, is a signature. Or you could try the bubbling shakshuka, its eggs poached to perfection in a rich tomato sauce. Or maybe the pistachio-studded pancakes layered with creamy-sweet ashta, the Middle Eastern answer to clotted cream? Impossible to decide.

For dinner: Pants with an elastic waistband are in order after a meal at Malek Al-Kabob, a Lebanese haunt whose specialties include a “loaded” shawarma (beef or chicken shaved straight from the vertical broiler and piled over fries, then drizzled with a spicy sajji sauce and showered in fresh herbs) and lamb liver sautéed with onion and tomato. Plenty of vegetarian options, too, including a mixed platter that’ll be the envy of your Instagram fans.

For coffee and dessert: The Yemeni-owned Qahwah House imports premium organic beans. They’re best consumed alongside freshly baked sabaya, a traditional pastry layered with Yemeni butter. The Dearborn-founded microchain stays open late and has an outdoor patio at its Michigan Avenue outpost.

What to bring home: A beautifully arranged box of assorted baklava from Shatila, where the walnut- and pistachio-stuffed phyllo pastries are shaped into miniature roses, bird nests, and other sweet indulgences.

While you’re there: Drop by the Arab American National Museum, the only museum dedicated to Arab American culture in the USA. The calendar is packed with exhibitions, art performances, movie nights, food tours, crafting circles, even seed swaps.

This story was originally published in August 2022 and was updated in March 2024 with new information.

Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. She’s on the road four to six months a year (sometimes with her toddler in tow) and contributes to Afar, New York Magazine, Time, the Wall Street Journal, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Bon Appétit, Oprah, Midwest Living, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR