When Helen Lee plans her vacations, she is often more focused on what she'll be eating than what she's likely to see.
"I love to eat, and the first thing I do when I'm away is to check out the food," says the 31-year-old marketing manager from New York City. "And, I'm more motivated to go somewhere if there will be great food."
Her passion for good grub explains why she has visited Paris, a city that she considers the ultimate destination for foodies, three times in the last five years. ("I literally eat my way through the city," she says.) Each trip has consisted of indulging in baguettes and pastries from boulangeries, sampling cheeses and local honeys from open-air markets like Beauvau, and checking out nonassuming bistros for steak frites and grilled fish.
There's more where that came from. The City of Light is just one of the 10 spots on our list that are the best bets for foodies.
What defines "best"?
"A foodie city has a good mix of restaurants—some with an international reputation and that are true classics, others that are excellent but that people may not have heard of," says Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure at Altour International, a New York and Los Angeles luxury travel consultancy. "It has food markets that sell produce as well as local products, such as oil and cheeses. It also has good artisanal bakeries."
It's these offerings experts say increasingly draw true food lovers. Such travelers aren't content with simply dining at famous or pricey restaurants; they are looking for a more authentic experience because of the increasing limelight the media, particularly the Food Network with shows like "Food Finds and Giada's Weekend Getaways", has placed on discovering local foods.
"Some people collect the big name restaurants that they've been to like notches on a belt," says Richard Bruce Turen, who plans food-focused trips through Churchill & Turen, a Naperville, Ill., luxury travel consultancy. "Foodies thrive in discovering obscure restaurants and like to impress others with their discoveries."
Appetizing Big Apple
In New York City, Bubby's is such a place. The Tribeca eatery is popular among local brunch lovers and offers dishes such as sour cream pancakes with bananas and sour cherries that are large enough to share. Besides the food, this restaurant is worth a visit for the people-watching that includes celebrity regulars like Robert De Niro.
For a bazaar-like experience, visitors might explore Chelsea Market, which is a gold mine of several dozen gourmet food stores including Ronnybrook Dairy, an upstate farm that makes ice cream, shakes and creamy yogurt, and Amy's Bread for olive picholine loaf and chocolate-stuffed rolls.
Then there are the ritzy restaurants. For a three-Michelin-star meal in New York City, book a table at Per Se and sample Thomas Keller's $250 nine-course tasting menu that changes daily, based on the market availability of ingredients. Balthazar, a Keith McNally-owned casual French bistro in SoHo, has classic choices like duck confit and steak frites.
Licking plates in London
There are just as many munchies found in Europe. While there, check out London.
"[It] is a major global food destination right now," says Erica Duecy, editor of restaurants and hotels at Fodor's Travel Publications. Of the city's rising status as a global finance center, she says, "the resulting infusion of cash has helped spark a tremendous restaurant boom."
The Fat Duck is one of the restaurants helping to create this reputation. The three-Michelin-star spot is run by chef Heston Blumenthal who is famous for molecular gastronomy techniques like cooking in a vacuum jar or using a blow torch for searing. The $210, 12-course menu has unusual offerings like nitro-scrambled eggs with bacon ice cream.
Looking for a hearty way to start your days here? For a full English breakfast of eggs, sausage, black pudding and toast head to Thames Foyer, which has views of the river. Located in the grand Savoy Hotel, this restaurant is usually dismissed as a tourist spot by visitors but foodies swear by its morning meals.
Tamarind, a trendy Indian spot that is frequented by celebrities like Madonna, is a great option for a casual meal. The menu has more than 50 dishes like Malabar seafood stew and Dhingri saag (shitakes mushrooms in creamed spinach). Local foodies frequent Borough Market, held daily, for stalls selling Indian pickles, cured meats, cheeses, olives and spices.
In Asia, head to Singapore. There you'll find One Rochester, which is located in a plush bungalow, a unique concept for the country. It's near Rochester Park, an area full of colonial homes, and serves French dishes like cream of wild mushroom soup with white truffle oil and pan-seared salmon with mango sauce. For breakfast try the overlooked Ah Teng's Bakery at the Raffles Hotel, and sample the pork, seafood and vegetarian dim sum or one of the Western-style pastries.
In a city packed with Asian restaurants, it's easy to get lured into any with an appealing-sounding menu. Locals love Lei Garden for the scallops in black bean sauce and the large selection of grilled meats and seafood like grilled shark. For an overwhelming choice of local foods like chili crab, spicy noodles and fried carrot cake, visit the downtown market Lau Pa Sat.
One final tip: You might want to include some Tums in your toiletry kit. With fine fare such as this, overeating is as distinct a possibility as a four-figure check.