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Destination meals are compelling.
They’re delicious, too, but there’s good food everywhere. Destination meals are different. They whisk travelers from their cooking routines and familiar takeout spots, drawing them out with flavors that can’t be replicated, service that can’t be matched, and most of all, a story that can’t be told elsewhere. The cities, islands, neighborhoods, and regions that top the list of places we want to eat in 2022 span the globe, from Guadalajara to Markham, Saint-Martin to Orange County — yes, that O.C. — and their cuisines range from nasi lemak to puffy tacos to conche Creole. But every single one offers a captivating narrative, a reason to visit right now. These stories are told by a diverse cast of chefs, home cooks, street hawkers, and restaurateurs, all people who make us excited to travel, cooking the foods that make us excited to eat.
There’s the Korean-born opera singer in Buenos Aires serving japchae con carne, the pizzaiolo baking wild-yeasted pies on a Berkshires farm, the self-proclaimed first Arab pitmaster smoking Texas-style brisket in Dubai, and the photographer plating omakase picnics on a golden Malaysian rice paddy. There’s the chatty couple splitting coconuts on a bustling Saint-Martin street corner, the refugees baking peanut butter curry cookies at a nonprofit outside Atlanta, the chef distributing katsu sandos around St. Louis from a tiny Japanese fire truck, and on and on.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, these stories also reveal cities that have emerged from the throes with their food traditions not just intact, but thriving — places where chefs gamely pivot to customers’ needs, restaurant workers lift each other up, and generous spirits endure. They’ve proven themselves resilient, if not immune, to the virus. We’re still anxious about the pandemic’s course and cautious about our impact on global health; we’re even more inspired by the myriad ways food communities everywhere have risen to meet the challenge head on — and come out serving food that’s unambiguously delicious. These are the 13 places we’re most excited to travel, and eat, as soon as we get the chance.
Note: There isn’t a corner of the globe untouched by COVID-19. This isn’t a list of Edens where you can escape the virus, nor an invitation to disregard the well-being of communities. It’s definitely not a guarantee these places will even welcome visitors throughout 2022. Check for updates from local health agencies before booking any trip. Travel responsibly. Eat well.
Mexico’s Silicon Valley and the proud home of tequila, birria, mariachis, and Mexican rodeo, the Jaliscan capital is driven by young, spirited entrepreneurs who link the city’s past and present.
Guadalajara is the new Mexico City. After years in the shadow of CDMX, Tapatíos are threatening to nab the title as the country’s gastronomic center. Financed by local tech and tequila industries, celebrated young chefs are drawing international diners and expanding on their parents’ success.
The buzz builds on the city’s famed taquerias, fondas, and street food, as well as Jalisco’s ancestral agave spirits. It’s also a destination for mariscos, spicy tortas ahogadas doused in incendiary Yahualica chile salsa, and antojitos (snacks) like red and green enchiladas and crispy tacos dorados. And then there’s birria, found at honored institutions and street stands. Strolling through the city, sizzling comales awaken the senses with aromas of chiles, tomatoes, and spices, while young locals can be heard toasting the enlivened dining scene. Grab a glass. — Bill Esparza
The 30 Essential Guadalajara Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Mexican Peso ($1 USD = 21 pesos)
- When to visit: January through May or November and December for the warm, semiarid weather that’s part of Guadalajara’s attraction.
- Must-try: Tortas ahogadas, carnitas sandwiches drowned in a fiery salsa of tomatoes and lots of chile de árbol.
Another city that never sleeps, the capital of Malaysia boasts an overwhelmingly diverse culinary scene.
Take a listen to Kuala Lumpur. Most days the streets reverberate with hawkers exchanging friendly banter, utensils ricocheting off woks, chendol trucks rumbling by, diners chatting excitedly at tables spilling out of open-air restaurants. Then, in 2020, an eerie silence took hold, interrupted only by scattered footsteps echoing through deserted alleys. Lockdowns caught the food and beverage industry off guard, and even as businesses pivoted to delivery, they faced shortages of containers and delivery riders, followed by more challenges. But then the noises of dining returned, along with brand-new sounds: Home bakers zipped by delivering bite-sized Nyonya kueh, private chefs warmly greeted guests for home-cooked meals, and proud locals paraded culinary tours through plates of nasi lemak and char kuey teow. The smells, sights, sensations, and of course tastes returned too, as locals and expats fill the streets again, not only in the city center but in lively suburbs and coastal enclaves. From the sound of it, Kuala Lumpur is hungry for visitors. — Ian Poh Jin Tze
The 38 Essential Kuala Lumpur Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Ringgit ($1 USD = 4.18 ringgit)
- When to visit: The skies are blue and the weather dry from May till July, but consider braving the weather in September for Malaysia Day or December for New Year’s Eve, when the city is lit by fireworks.
- Must-try: Hokkien mee, with thick noodles braised in a dark, sweet soy sauce, punctuated by juicy, slightly charred pieces of pork lard.
Saint-Martin, the northern French half of a small West Indian island, that many consider the premier culinary destination in all of the Caribbean.
The Saint-Martin tourism board declared 2022 as the year of gastronomy, a signal that the dining industry is bouncing back from both the devastating Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic. The optimism isn’t misplaced; the island’s restaurants, from haute tasting menus to beach bars, are thriving, pairing delicacies like accra salt cod fritters with Champagne in celebration of the Creole and French flavors that drive the culinary scene.
Unlike some nearby Caribbean destinations (including the touristy Dutch half of the island overrun with cruise ships and casinos), it can feel effortless to eat well in French Saint-Martin, even on a budget. Wake up with fragrant herbal bush tea and warm johnnycakes, guava turnovers, or pain au chocolat. For lunch, taste the oceanic bounty: a splurge meal of fresh spiny lobster with crisp frites, or affordable plates of coconut shrimp or conch Creole from a beachside lolo. Follow that with beef samosas at the bar paired with epic blended concoctions. And for dinner, goat curry or a nouveau tasting menu, followed by Cuban cigars and aged rhum agricole. — Maria C. Hunt
The 18 Essential Saint-Martin Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Euro ($1 USD = 89 euro cents), but most places take US dollars too
- When to visit: Saint-Martin is hot and sunny all year, but peak season is May to June and November to December.
- Must-try: Goat curry and bittersweet guavaberry rum, a local Christmas tradition.
A burgeoning metropolis with a strong culinary identity, fine dining fledglings, and hidden food gems that tell a story.
For a city named after the patron saint of lost things, San Antonio is great at holding onto its heritage. From the Alamo to the River Walk, the city is home to an assemblage of historic cultural landmarks, as well as institutions of tacos, barbecue, and other food traditions. Diners still rely on homegrown staples like the 65-year-old Ray’s Drive Inn (home of the puffy taco) and Schilo’s delicatessen (serving German-style deli meats since 1917), as well as decades-old local chains like Bill Miller Bar-B-Q and Burger Boy.
Over the last decade, San Antonio has embraced change without losing its grip on its roots. Just look at the Pearl; following the opening of the Culinary Institute of America in 2008, the mixed-use development became a hotbed for dining, including Southern coastal eats at Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery and new Asian American cuisine at Best Quality Daughter. Same with Southtown, where restaurants like Little Em’s Oyster Bar and Battalion are becoming must-visits for splurge meals. — Polly Anna Rocha
The 15 Essential San Antonio Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- When to visit: In April when Fiesta turns San Antonio into one big party, but if crowds aren’t your scene the city is gorgeous in early winter.
- Must-try: Chicken on a stick (with a jalapeno) from any Fiesta booth, breakfast tacos from any taqueria named for a Mexican state, and brisket from any place that has a line before it opens.
The most diverse city in Canada, Markham brings an amalgam of gastronomic riches from the Asian continent to its gleaming plazas and bustling streets.
For a decade, construction has sprawled across Markham, always augmenting the suburban Toronto enclave. These new buildings provided space for new immigrants, further diversifying a complex community, and for thriving local restaurants to expand. More often than not, those places spotlight Asian cuisines, from high-end Chinese restaurants to strip-mall Hakka noodles to Afghani kebab shops. It’s no wonder David Chang, who runs restaurants downtown, believes Markham has the best food in Toronto.
Canada wasn’t immune to the scourge of anti-Asian hate that rippled through the U.S. during the pandemic, and much of the xenophobic vitriol was aimed at workers in the service industry. At the same time, Toronto imposed a longer ban on indoor dining than other major cities. But when Ontario lifted most capacity limits in October, it roused restaurants, cafes, and bars from their slumber. Joints are jumping again, and the neighborhood has resumed its rocket growth. Don’t make a quick stop to Markham on your next trip to Toronto; plan your whole trip around Markham. — Faiyaz Kara
The 38 Essential Markham Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Canadian dollar ($1 USD = 1.25 Canadian dollars)
- When to visit: Late spring and summer is patio season in Ontario, but restaurant season is year-round.
- Must-try: The dazzling array of eats at Asian shopping centers like Pacific Mall, First Markham Place, Langham Square, and J-Town.
The mid-sized city, celebrated for its storied baseball, stately Forest Park (that dwarfs New York’s Central Park), esteemed museums, world-class zoo, and pork ribs.
“St. Louis has snuck its way into the top 15 restaurant destinations in America.” This is the kind of remark you might hear at cocktail parties in the last few years, as people “discovered” the Midwestern culinary capital. In this case I heard the line from prolific restaurateur Danny Meyer, a Lou native, who’s got some insight. “The reason is that the chef and restaurateur community is so tight and aligned on making their city shine,” he added.
It wasn’t the national media that made the scene blossom, but local chefs who share a unifying ethos: Through mutual support and mentorship, the community becomes stronger while everyone reaps individual success. This doctrine turns radical when adopted by an entire city. Competitors operate like one giant restaurant group. Established chefs like Qui Tran, veteran owner of the celebrated restaurants Nudo House and Mai Lee, regularly collab with up-and-comers, like Kurt Bellon’s mobile Japanese sando shop, Izumi, driving exposure and investment while keeping the dining scene fresh. And immigrant-owned businesses like Chiang Mai, Akar, and Diana’s Bakery thrive through the shared belief that respect and self-representation are the best ways to celebrate cuisines. — Holly Fann
The 26 Essential St. Louis Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- When to visit: Early autumn when the STL humidity dies down, catch a postseason baseball game or a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert in Forest Park.
- Must-try: St. Louis style cracker-crust pizza topped with Provel cheese and always cut in squares, with a side of toasted ravioli.
A sparkling jumble of skyscrapers on the Persian Gulf in the UAE, a city transformed from desert to metropolis, and a melting pot for the country’s 9 million foreign workers who make up one of the most diverse communities of diners on the planet.
Oil, industrial manufacturing, global trade, and real estate have all contributed to Dubai’s economic rise, but in the 2000s the city hit it big with luxury tourism. Since then affluent travelers have flocked to the glittering metropolis to drink bubbly and dine in glamorous high-end restaurants. But 2,700 feet below the spire of the world’s tallest building, a buzzing network of down-to-earth cafeterias, markets, and cafes feeds the city’s largely immigrant population with a blend of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cuisines.
During the COVID pandemic, the Emirates quickly achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and reopened to tourists for Expo 2020 Dubai, a huge world’s fair that acts as a cultural and technological showcase. The long-delayed Ain Dubai, the world’s largest Ferris wheel, finally opened as well. Visitors to these attractions kickstarted the recovery of the local restaurant industry too, especially combined with the Expo’s food court overflowing with innovative, sustainable dining concepts, and an explosion of home-based food businesses during the pandemic. This isn’t the Vegas of the Middle East; it’s better. — Rahma Khan
The 24 Essential Dubai Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Dirham ($1 USD = 3.67 Dirhams)
- When to visit: November to February, when the days are hot but the temperature drops close to 68 after sunset and humidity is low.
- Must-try: Persian kebabs cooked with Indian masala (spices), paired with a cup of karak chai.
A petite city just under 10 miles east of Atlanta, Clarkston is a rich, multicultural community, where half the 13,500 residents (including many asylum seekers) hail from over 50 countries on six continents.
While Georgia’s buzzy capital is home to a formidably diverse culinary scene, hyperconcentrated Clarkston is the self-proclaimed “Ellis Island of the South,” packing immigrant food businesses representing dozens of nations from around the world into just one square mile.
Beginning in the 1990s, Clarkston became a safe haven for refugees fleeing conflicts in countries like Somalia, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, Ukraine, and Nigeria. Its proximity to Atlanta, access to public transportation, and affordable housing continue to make it an ideal place for those seeking asylum in the metro area. As it has welcomed chefs, cooks, and bakers from around the world, Clarkston has become a gem on the Atlanta food scene. Nonprofits like Just Bakery and Refuge Coffee Co. offer paid job training with living wages, job opportunities, and chances to establish long-term economic security. In a single afternoon, diners can enjoy Ethiopian, Nepalese, Burmese, North Indian, Eritrean, and Vietnamese food — assuming they have the stomach capacity. — Beth McKibben
The 10 Essential Clarkston Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- When to visit: Any time of year. Atlanta’s coldest month is January (averaging 48 to 50 degrees), with its hottest and most humid month being July (averaging around 90 degrees).
- Must-try: Mohinga, a fish soup with rice noodles typically sold by street vendors in Myanmar, or bak kut teh, a fragrant pork rib soup often found in Singapore. Both are available at PS-Asian.
The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, where mass tourism dominates the sprawling sandy beaches, while those in the know explore the tiny aquamarine coves, limestone mountains, and agricultural heartland in search of a slower pace.
There’s more to Mallorca than sunscreen and cheap sangria. For years, chefs have pursued sustainable approaches to food and tourism, pushing away from the island’s shallow reputation for bargain beach vacations. But it was COVID-19 that cemented Mallorca’s locavore credentials. The pandemic slowed the inflow of visitors and foreign ingredients, and residents populated restaurants, challenging chefs to cater to local tastes with local ingredients. Rather than diminishing the restaurant scene, isolation strengthened it, with many old tourist traps replaced by modern establishments that put seasonal produce front and center.
More developed than Menorca and less glitzy than Ibiza, Mallorca offers a range of vibes, with chic rural retreats, medieval villages, ancient olive groves, and secret beaches, not to mention the seaside capital, Palma de Mallorca. And even as Mallorca turns somewhat inward, decades of global visitors, including international chefs working on the island today, have left indelible marks on local gastronomy. It’s even the Spanish royal family’s summer destination of choice, should you need another endorsement. — Isabelle Kliger
The 17 Essential Mallorca Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Euro ($1 USD = 89 euro cents)
- When to visit: May to June and September to November to escape the high-season crush.
- Must-try: Ensaïmada Mallorquina, a powdered coil-shaped sweet bread, available from most bakeries and on any breakfast buffet worth its salt.
The less-discussed Southern California area known for palm trees and glitzy malls begins to surf its own culinary wave thanks to incredible Vietnamese, Mexican, and Korean communities.
Summer sun, salty breeze, board shorts, burritos — this is the picture of Orange County painted by shows like The O.C. and Real Housewives of Orange County. That version of the O.C. does exist along the county’s 40 miles of coastline, but pop culture obscures the area’s 3.2 million real residents. They’re a diverse bunch, culturally and politically, and together they’re cooking some of the most interesting food in Southern California.
The region’s robust Vietnamese population (one of America’s largest) is growing to include second- and third-generation restaurant owners intent on pushing boundaries. Modern Mexican chefs are redefining relationships between ingredients and heritage, while taking political stands for equity and equality in a region that has, until recently, leaned red. In Anaheim’s Little Arabia District, sun-bleached strip malls swell with falafel, shawarma, and untold delights from across the Middle East. Now more than ever, Orange County’s culinary fortunes are on the rise. — Farley Elliott
The 38 Essential Orange County Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- When to visit: Basically year-round (this is Southern California, after all), but July to October for that perfect summer sun.
- Must-try: The tasting menu at the Michelin-starred Taco María, a perfect expression of the region’s beautifully complex relationship to Mexican cuisine.
The historic capital of Brittany on the banks of the Loire river is among France’s best-in-class examples of urban renewal and sustainable living, only a few hours by train from Paris.
Nantes is among France’s fastest-growing small cities, quickly becoming a thriving nerve center for neo-bistros, bakeries, and wine bars. The city underwent a remarkable evolution in a decade, from post-industrial wasteland to cultural hub. It’s considerably more affordable than Paris, both to live in and to launch businesses from, and ranks high in quality of life. The “ville du futur” (city of the future) has attracted young, eco-minded transplants (two-thirds of residents are under 40) interested in supporting regional agriculture and contributing to a community of creatives and entrepreneurs.
Even before COVID-19, the steady stream of new arrivals included chefs, bakers, and sommeliers. Some were returning home, while others felt priced out of other dining industries. The pandemic turned that stream into a river, powering an exciting boom of modern, locavore bistros mixed with affordable fine dining, Japanese canteens, sourdough bakeries, pastry shops, coffee roasters, and natural wine bars, all centered on turning Nantes into France’s next great food capital. — Lindsey Tramuta
The 15 Essential Nantes Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Euro ($1 USD = 89 euro cents)
- When to visit: Between early spring and mid-autumn for the best of seasonal dining.
- Must-try: Gâteau nantais, a moist regional cake made from almond flour, butter, sugar, and rum.
South America’s lively metropolis, where there’s always something fun going down, especially for those who live to eat, drink, and socialize until the early hours of the morning.
Buenos Aires was under one of the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns, but that couldn’t quell Porteños’ culinary energy. These days the terraces are again buzzing with 20-somethings — glasses of vermouth, wine, and beer in hand — enjoying the rejuvenated dining scene.
The renewed vitality is clearest in Chacarita, which has quickly become the city’s epicenter of art, music, and dining. In the past few years, the former working class barrio has welcomed young creatives and entrepreneurs without losing its sense of community. This is especially true among chefs, who routinely pop up at each other’s restaurants, often leading to impromptu block parties. Meanwhile, red meat still reigns at traditional parrillas, but new restaurants are developing vegetable-centric menus as diners abandon their famously carnivorous habits. Plus the city’s tight-knit Koreatown has begun welcoming more culinary interest from outside the community. — Allie Lazar
The 38 Essential Buenos Aires Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- Currency: Argentine peso ($1 USD = 100.57 pesos; check unofficial “blue rate” before traveling)
- When to visit: Many find the weather to be ideal from March to May (fall) and October to December (spring). In November, the purple jacarandá trees are in full bloom.
- Must-try: Vermouth, steak, wine, helado, repeat.
Located just a few hours from Boston and New York City, western Massachusetts’s Berkshire County is nestled between the Hoosac and Taconic mountain ranges, creating a natural sanctuary for arts, nightlife, agriculture, and dining.
During the pandemic, the Berkshires received a wave of transplants trading urban lockdowns for the serene woods, hills, and farmland of western Massachusetts. According to the Postal Service, the region saw the sixth greatest population growth among hundreds of similar areas in the U.S. The new arrivals were looking for a slower pace of life; they found a community with a proud agricultural history, chefs churning out locavore menus, and restaurateurs breathing new life into centuries-old architecture.
People have sought refuge in the Berkshires for generations, including artists like Herman Melville, Norman Rockwell, and Arlo Guthrie, and towns still orbit around cultural hubs like the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and MASS MoCA in North Adams. Arts institutions and enclaves consistently drive money, diners, and inspiration to local food businesses, where chefs — much like artists — are always finding renewed inspiration in the land. — Stephanie Gravalese
The 31 Essential Berkshires Restaurants
- Need to Know:
- When to visit: The Berkshires are in full swing in summer, when the weather is warm, farms host outdoor dinners, and farmers markets overflow with fresh ingredients.
- Must-try: Pizza at Hilltown Hot Pies, where Rafi Bildner tells the story of local farms through fresh toppings, paired with some Berkshires cider.
Editorial lead: Nicholas Mancall-Bitel
Editors: Lesley Suter, Erin DeJesus
Creative director: Alyssa Nassner
Contributors: Farley Elliott, Bill Esparza, Holly Fann, Stephanie Gravalese, Maria C. Hunt, Faiyaz Kara, Rahma Khan, Isabelle Kliger, Allie Lazar, Beth McKibben, Polly Anna Rocha, Jenn Tanaka, Lindsey Tramuta, Ian Poh Jin Tze
Photographer: Liliana Espinosa
Copy editors: Diana D’Abruzzo, Rachel P. Kreiter, Nadia Ahmad
Fact checker: Kelsey Lannin
Engagement editors: James Park, Carla Vianna, Milly McGuinness
Project manager: Ellie Krupnick
Special thanks to: Amanda Kludt, Matt Buchanan, Stephanie Wu
Photos, in order: traveler1116 / Getty Images, Ian Poh Jin Tze, Ian Poh Jin Tze, Walter Bibikow / Getty Images, Bill Addison, Creative Touch Imaging Ltd / Getty Images, NurPhoto / Getty Images, Louie, Greg Rannells, Daryl Caluen / EyeEm, Andrew Hetherington, Andrew Hetherington, Artur Debat / Getty Images, A Restaurant, Farley Elliott, RossHelen / Getty Images, Laura Macías, Laura Macías, DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images