Five Stars: The 10 Surprising Places That Are America’s Biggest New Food Destinations
No matter where you live, you gotta eat. But of course, not all meals are created equal. Wouldn’t it be sweet to eschew your local Cheesecake Factory or mall-borne Applebee’s (even with those $1 tropical drinks all summer long) for some hand-patted tortillas piled high with maple-glazed, barbecued short rib or meticulously plated Korean-Italian fusion?
Time was, such culinary adventures were relegated to a handful of renowned foodie cities. But today it isn’t just the big, Michelin star–laden urban meccas that are magnets for food lovers. In fact, it seems like just about every decent-size city is now making claims as “America’s next great food town.”
But which are truly the crème de la crème? The realtor.com® data team set out to find them—and then score reservations. After all, great restaurants are an essential component of city life: An abundance of culinary options not only boosts your quality of life but also your home’s value. And smaller cities usually have smaller mortgage bills, leaving you with more money to spend on food and fun.
“Incredibly creative chefs are finding it more and more difficult to make it in New York City,” says Jeff Gordinier, food and drinks editor for Esquire and author of “Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping and Risking It All With the Best Chef in the World.”
“Even Philadelphia has a much more exciting food scene than New York does because rents are so much more affordable,” he adds.
To come up with our list of the best emerging food towns, we first eliminated the old-school culinary powerhouses, including New York City; Chicago; Seattle; Washington, DC; Boston; and San Francisco. Then, of the 100 largest metropolitan areas (which include the main city and its surrounding suburbs), we looked at the criteria* as follows:
The number of new establishments in each metro included in top restaurant lists from the James Beard Foundation, Eater.com, GQ, and Bon Appétit
-Number of chefs per capita
-Number of full-service restaurants; sales per capita
-Number of coffee shops, bakeries, farmers markets, and breweries, as well as Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, vegan, and steakhouse restaurants per capita
-Share of fast-food restaurants (the lower the better)
-Percentage of homes listed on realtor.com with chef’s or gourmet kitchens
Getting hungry? Us too. Let’s dig in!
1. Portland, OR
Median list price: $475,000**
Portland has been a farm-to-table–obsessed culinary destination for well over a decade. In 2019 alone, more than a dozen chefs and dining establishments were recognized by the prestigious James Beard award semifinalists list (aka the Oscars of the culinary world).
Portland residents have no dearth of options when it comes to dining out—you’ll find fiery, vibrant northern Thai at Akkapong Nimson’s Langbaan, and subtly harmonious French at Gabriel Rucker’s Le Pigeon. There’s also a bustling food truck scene—you might catch one churning out cheeseburger bao or Iraqi-Israeli stuffed breakfast pitas.
But dining in isn’t a bad choice either. The city is known for its bustling farmers markets, teeming with locals scouting for seasonal ingredients .
“We don’t quite know the names of our chickens,” says real estate agent Deb Counts-Tabor of Welcome to PDX, referencing a classic skit on the TV show “Portlandia.” But it’s close. “Portland is a very DIY city.”
Many food-loving locals seek out $250,000 to $300,000 one-bedroom condos with nice kitchens on the east side of town. That’s within walking distance to dozens of dining spots, including Kachka’s Russian fare and vodka selections or Han Oak, a Korean spot that was the Eater PDX 2016 Restaurant of the Year.
2. Houston, TX
Median list price: $322,750
Despite clocking in as the fourth-largest city in the nation, Houston has never been nationally known as an essential food destination.
But that’s changing.
The city’s downtown restaurants are increasingly popping up on best new restaurant lists.
We’re talking about spots like chef Justin Yu’s modern bistro Theodore Rex, revered for its tomato toast and dish of pickled cantaloupe in cold broth, and chef Hugo Ortega’s slick Oaxacan hot spot Xochi. Vietnamese-Cajun fusion is a thing along the Gulf, and Crawfish & Noodles in Chinatown has been generating buzz since its 2008 opening.
Boiled mud bugs bathed in garlic butter and flavored with a chile spice mix? Yes, please!
These eateries are also making living in and around downtown more appealing. Buyers can find condos boasting kitchens with granite countertops starting in the $200,000 range. But unless they have some serious cash to burn, they’re going to have to move farther out into the sprawling suburbs to find the spacious kitchens that a true chef demands.
“The kitchen is certainly, without question, the No. 1 thing that is brought up by home buyers here,” says Greg Nino, a real estate agent with Re/Max Compass.
3. Charlotte, NC
Median list price: $329,000
Like Houston, Charlotte doesn’t get much foodie cred on a national level. But new residents have been flocking here from the Northeast and Midwest for its plentiful gigs in banking, affordable home prices, and warmer weather—and they’re bringing with them a hankering for some world-class dining options beyond the city’s traditional country-fried Southern fare.
The Queen City’s culinary prowess has also been helped along by its Johnson & Wales University campus, which opened in 2004. The school is known for its culinary arts program, and its graduates often stick around to work in local restaurants.
“It totally changed the food scene,” says real estate broker Sandy Kindbom of Allen Tate Realtors.
And Charlotte boasts some standout dining destinations. This year, The Stanley, with its rotating menu of small plates that reflect modern trends and Southern traditions, was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as best new restaurant semifinalist. Meanwhile, chef Gregory Collier of the three-story Loft & Cellar, a globally inspired restaurant and bar, was recognized as Outstanding Chef: Southeast.
Because there are so many great places to eat in Charlotte’s walkable downtown, many young professionals and empty nesters don’t need to cook. But they still want their kitchens to look good. So they’re snapping up condos with granite countertops “even in the smallest studios,” which start around $150,000, says Kindbom.
4. Detroit, MI
Median list price: $259,900
Yes, you read that right. Over the past few years, national food writers have been rhapsodizing about the Motor City’s unique perspective on food. And its growing culinary scene has helped along the revival of the former manufacturing powerhouse, giving young professionals another reason to stay. The city even has an increasingly ubiquitous edible export: distinct Detroit-style pizzerias—rectangular pies with thick, crispy crusts—have been popping up in big cities across the country.
Eight Detroit chefs and restaurants made it onto the James Beard 2019 semifinalists list. Esquire’s Gordinier put two area eateries on his Best New Restaurants list last year.
“Detroit is fantastic,” says Gordinier. “Flowers of Vietnam, Lady of the House, Voyager in Ferndale—those are all excellent restaurants, each with a unique vision.”
Those sorts of world-class restaurants are driving real estate values—particularly in neighborhoods to the west and north of downtown. One of the oldest, the historic Corktown community, has been transformed from row homes and modest Victorian townhouses to a mix of single-family homes, apartments, and even shipping container homes. Today, homes in the area start at $200,000.
Food and home prices are “pretty directly correlated,” says Tyson Gersh, co-founder and president of Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, who founded a 3-acre farm in the city’s Lower North End. “Bougie restaurants are adjacent to higher real estate values and, in a lot of ways, precede the real estate bump.”
5. Denver, CO
Median list price: $510,000
Denver has long been one of the leaders of America’s craft brew scene. The metro area boasts more than 100 brewpubs, breweries, and taprooms. Though its restaurants have been getting national attention for quite some time, the city’s growing economy has an explosion in more experimental fare to meet the growing demand.
The epicenter of gastronomic innovation radiates from the River North Art District, or RiNo, where onetime factories and warehouses are now gourmet food halls. Housing ranges from loft-style condos and townhouses to a newly opened micro-apartment building.
The Ride at RiNo offers 84 rentals ranging in size from just 369 square feet to 849 square feet for spaces where inhabitants can live and work. Noteworthy eateries in the neighborhood include Bon Appétit “Hot Ten” boozy lunch spot Call, along with James Beard award-winning new Israeli restaurant Safta.
The area is so desirable that homes often go under contract in fewer than 30 days, says Mike Christensen, owner and manager of Aspen Gold Realty. “The closer you are to breweries, restaurants, and shops, the better,” he says.
On the low end, RiNo’s 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot Victorians and brick bungalows start around $300,000 to $450,000, while newly constructed or renovated homes often go for more than $500,000.
6. New Orleans, LA
Median list price: $293,000
OK, it’s hard to argue that New Orleans’ culinary scene is up-and-coming. It’s been there forever: NOLA has contributed greatly to the American culinary canon with its jambalaya, gumbo, po’boy sandwiches, and beignets. But the city went through an excruciating ordeal after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it’s been rebuilding ever since. As a result, the dining scene has been morphing in recent years—in a good way.
This year, a dozen chefs, restaurateurs, and establishments were highlighted on the Beard semifinalists list. Many of those places—including French restaurant Herbsaint and Willa Jean, a bakery and cafe serving rabbit pot pie and oyster chowder—are located in the popular Warehouse/Central Business District. But the list also includes hot places in neighborhoods such as Irish Channel that have been on younger buyers’ radar.
That quaint neighborhood boasts brightly painted, classic New Orleans–style shotgun homes on smaller lots, built in the early part of the 20th century. They range from $300,000 for a basic two-bedroom house with a decent kitchen to $750,000 or $800,000 for a four-bedroom abode with a Viking range stove and top-of-the-line amenities.
It’s also home to the Turkey & the Wolf, which offers fried bologna and collard green melt sandwiches, and the Southern-inspired restaurant Coquette.
“People are starting to flock to neighborhoods, and chefs see an opening,” says real estate broker Brett Richman of Nola Homes Co.
7. Austin, TX
Median list price: $367,500
The popular music, film, and tech festival South by Southwest really helped the state capital burst onto the national cultural scene. The opening of sushi-centric Uchi in 2003, meanwhile, is credited with helping this funky city register on the culinary scene.
Uchi’s chef, Tyson Cole, is still considered one of the best in town. But there are so many acclaimed chefs in Austin, it’s hard to count. Eight were nominated for Beard awards this year, representing cuisines from classic Southern to Oaxacan and Peruvian.
There’s good food all over town, but the hottest culinary district right now is East Austin. New homes have been going up left and right in this area, where famed Franklin Barbecue is located along with Japanese- and Texas-influenced Kemuri Tatsu-ya, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Restaurant picks.
Young professionals who want to walk to East Austin’s destination dining are forking over $400,000 for smaller, two-bedroom condos, says real estate agent Nicki Baird of Austin Girls Realty. With the open kitchens with countertop gas range that many Austinites desire, home prices go up into the $500,000 or $600,000 range.
8. Oklahoma City, OK
Median list price: $255,500
Like Detroit, Oklahoma City’s inclusion on this list will probably come as a surprise. But the state capital has been undergoing a cultural renaissance since the NBA’s Thunder arrived about a decade ago. In fact, the city’s high-end, 20-seat tasting menu spot Nonesuch took home the No. 1 spot on Bon Appétit’s “Hot Ten” last year.
“Ten years ago, we might have had two or three [well-known] four- and five-star restaurants,” says eXp Realty real estate agent Teresa Ballenger. Now, there are way more.
Millennials are buying up recently renovated historic Tudors within walking distance to Nonesuch in Midtown, says Ballenger. The area’s also seen a lot of new townhouses going up as well as old warehouses being turned into flats and condos. The latter are going for between $300,000 and $500,000 for one- or two-bedroom units.
The neighborhood is beloved for its density of cool coffee shops, music venues, and dining establishments like Revolución, a former auto shop turned taco and tequila spot.
9. Spokane, WA
Median list price: $330,000
Spokane’s restaurant and real estate industries are benefiting from an influx of new residents fleeing high-priced Seattle, more than four hours to the west. (Median home prices there are nearly double, at $615,050.)
“We are the best-kept secret that is getting out,” says Marianne Bornhoff, broker at Windermere Real Estate. One of her recent out-of-town clients purchased a 1,700-square-foot home for under $200,000 and then gutted the interior to create a giant chef’s kitchen. With prices so low, buyers can afford the renovations.
The city has its own wine neighborhood, the Cork District downtown, which boasts 15 wineries within walking distance to one another. It’s also home to the Kendall Yards Night Market, which offers a mix of farmers markets, street food vendors, and performances on the Spokane River Gorge.
And the restaurants run the gamut from Clover, which serves Northwestern cuisine, to Italia Trattoria, run by chef Anna Vogel, a James Beard Best Chef semifinalist in the Northwest.
10. Minneapolis, MN
Median List Price: $355,000
Northeast Minneapolis virtually exudes culinary heat. It’s home to lauded Vietnamese street food spot Hai Hai as well as wood-fired Korean grill and pizzeria Young Joni; patrons of Betty’s Danger Country Club can even sip margaritas and Moscow Mules at the restaurant-bar while riding the club’s towering Ferris wheel.
“It’s really becoming a cool place to live,” says local real estate agent Michael Sharp of Re/Max Results. “Anything under $200,000 is hot. … I just saw a two-story, two-bed, one-bath home listed at $170,000 get two offers in just five days on the market.”
The culinary scene in Minneapolis got a boost when chef Daniel Boulud alum Gavin Kaysen opened the doors to French-inspired Spoon & Stable in 2014 in the city’s North Loop neighborhood, which is filled with converted warehouses. The New York Times published an ode to his pot roast, calling the beef “spoon-tender” and the gravy “silken and redolent of rosemary.” Mmm, spoon-tender.
By Sara Ventiera | Jul 8, 2019 | Realtor.com