Ever feel like you’re wasting time in a world-class city by waiting in line at tourist traps or wandering streets you know nothing about? Sometimes the best way to get to know a city is through your stomach.
You’ll have to eat either way, and walking food tours, booming brewery scenes, and tasting events will keep you full and put you in touch with the local history and culture. Here are the quintessential foods that truly delivery the flavor of your destination, and where to try them.
You can’t visit Paris without spending lots of time in picturesque cafes, but that doesn’t mean the only thing you’ll eat is crepes. Try something even more French than those thin pancakes, like croque madame—a delectable baked ham and cheese sandwich on brioche, smothered in more cheese and topped with a fried egg. Buttery French cooking is best embodied by this dish, which is available almost everywhere and is especially praised at Le Petit Cler, a chic cafe just steps from the Eiffel Tower.
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Forget the deep dish at the original UNO’s—any local will tell you they only go when their out-of-town family or friends visit. Chicago has an even more impressive smorgasbord of mouthwatering sandwiches and Chicago ‘Dog offerings, including delectable Italian beef sandwiches and hefty hotdogs with all the toppings.
The local staple for all things Chicago on a bun is Portillos, which offers burgers, franks, iconic beef sandwiches, chili, and their infamous cake shakes, which are as delicious as they sound. Putting your healthy eating habits on hold for some of the indulgent menu options at one of their many locations is well worth it.
Rule number one: Don’t call it Beantown. Rule number two: No one orders Boston baked beans. For an authentic taste of Boston, tourists and locals alike go for creamy New England clam chowder at one of the area’s many seafood havens. There’s nothing like potato, clams, and bacon in hot chowder to warm you up when the snow is chilling you to the bone.
The Chart House on Boston’s waterfront has won the local Chowderfest three times—so often that it’s no longer allowed to compete in the annual competition. Legal Seafoods is also famous for its chowder, and has numerous locations with varying menus (all featuring their famous clam chowder, don’t worry) in many of Boston’s best neighborhoods.
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Mardi Gras revelers head to New Orleans in droves every Fat Tuesday, but visitors can be found lining up at the legendary Café du Monde for beignets and coffee year-round. The famous bakery began as a French Market coffee stand in 1862, and still attracts hoards with their sugary fried-dough confections. Enjoy them with a chicory coffee or café au lait in the morning, before strolling the Mississippi River or exploring Jackson Square.
All Spanish food is wildly delicious in its own right, but the decadent desserts in Madrid are on a whole different level. Hot chocolate here is far more literal than its American counterpart—a steaming cup of chocolaté is essentially a melted candy bar. As if that wasn’t enough, Spaniards combine the scalding chocolate with the deep-fried goodness of warm, sugary dough to make churros con chocolaté.
Spain is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, but none of them are worth the visit if you skip this dessert. Try Chocolatería San Gines, which is world famous for their cheap, heaping churro plates. For bonus points (and an added sugar rush), enjoy with a cool glass of horchata.
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It’s no secret that you’d be crazy not to grab a slice of New York-style pizza in Manhattan—and there are plenty of places to choose from. For a true local experience, skip the sit-down spots and grab a paper-thin slice for a few bucks. You can revel in delicious, cheesy simplicity for less than you’ll spend on any other meal in NYC.
Tourists may know Quebec for its French and British influences, but some of the best food in Montreal comes out of its Jewish Quarter—of which Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen is the crown jewel. Smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz’s have been in high-demand since the deli opened in 1928, and they’re piled high with flavorful, slow-smoked beef that needs no toppings. The line here is always out the doors, but it moves fast and is well worth the brief wait.
Portugal’s capital is home to many rich national dishes, but the one with the strongest local flavor is a popular breakfast treat—dark Portuguese coffee and egg tart pastries, or pastel de nata. These bite sized custard cups are sweet enough to aid you through the bitter local coffee, which is served in a tiny glass like a shot. You’ll want to drink it as the locals do—without milk—but if you need some help getting it down you certainly won’t be the first.
The capital of Greece is also the capital of Mediterranean cuisine, with simple yet flavorful recipes reigning supreme. A hole-in-the-wall spot near Syntagma Square called Souvlaki o Kostas has had a long time to perfect the Mediterranean method—it has been pumping out chicken- and pork-filled pita gyros for the better part of a century, and has always been operated by the same family. Kostas’ perfectly seasoned meats, fresh veggies, and tart yogurt make for a truly incredible taste of Greece. Ask any seasoned local where to go for souvlaki and they’ll point you here.
Nordic cuisine is having a moment, and there’s no better place to try it than Scandinavia. Copenhagen restaurants—including noma, named the world’s best for four years running—serve up unique North Atlantic dishes like sea urchin, cured herring and salmon, pickled vegetables, and root-based soups.
While you likely won’t get a table at (or be able to afford) noma, you can find similar smoked fish sandwiches, or smørrebrød, at Restaurant Shoennemann. Just be sure you’re open to smoked eel and pickled herring on rye bread.
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