I'm told there are people whose dream vacations don't involve either thinking about food nor having to move to get it. But for food people — me and my people — the dream vacation means having the time to hunt down not just a good oyster, sandwich, or taco, but the best version of said specialty.
Maybe you must be a bit Type-A (hi, I have lists) for this to be fun for you, but seeking out a city's best version of a food gives you something to chat with people about at bars, a reason to walk around neighborhoods you might not otherwise get to, and a good story to tell when you get back.
Convinced? Here are five of my favorite cities for food-stalking to get you started.
1. Boston, MA: Lobster Rolls
The first time I was in Boston as an adult, halfway through dinner, my brother added a lobster to an order. Coming from the West Coast, this was like stopping mid-meal and tacking on gobs of caviar. But in bean town, the crustacean is cheap, plentiful, and comes on unique split-top buns.
Everybody in New England has an opinion on the best lobster roll and the best advice may be to "drive to Maine." In Boston, however, Neptune Oyster Bar and chef Barbara Lynch's B & G Oysters lead the pack.
2. Austin, TX: Breakfast Tacos
Maybe it's in the air or seeping up from the sidewalks, but breakfast tacos just can't compare outside Austin. The simple flour tortilla wrapped around some combination of egg, potato, cheese, beans, and your choice of meat somehow melds together creating a whole so much more than just the sum of its parts. The same ingredients put together elsewhere just don't get the chorizo juice melting down into the egg in quite the same incredible fashion.
3. New Orleans, LA: Po'boys
Like the tacos in Austin, the po'boys in New Orleans taste better there, but the reason is more easily defined: the local bread. The soft white bread, delivered fresh, makes a lot of difference, even once it's been loaded up with fried shrimp or poured over with debris and gravy.
So, too, does where you eat them: on the patio outside Parkway Tavern, in your hotel room bed after a 3 a.m. run to Verti Marte, or in the Erin Rose bar from the window of Killer Po'boys hidden in back.
4. Nashville, TN: Hot Chicken
Come prepared to cry cayenne-stained tears on this trip: Nashville's famous hot chicken brings pleasure in the form of pain. But for heat-seeking eaters, the opportunity to form your own opinion in the Prince's vs. Hattie B's rivalry is a must-do.
Prince's Hot Chicken, the originator of the local signature dish, brings old-school vibe and the inventor's cred, but Hattie B's is the shiny new upstart that seems to be perfecting the art of spicy fried chicken. Everyone's got their own opinion and I've been nearly disowned for mine. Then, on the way out of town, a local tipped me off to their own favorite: Bolton's Spicy Chicken and Fish.
5. Seattle, WA: Oysters
An old Louisiana oysterman once told me that everybody likes the oysters of their home region best, but as a Seattleite, I know that ours are actually better than everyone else's. And there's no better way to learn about them than by tasting your way through the regional selection at Seattle's oyster bars.
Start at one of Taylor Shellfish's oyster bars, whose farms supply many of the other restaurants around town. Then check out what an award-winning chef does with her oysters at Renee Erickson's Bar Melusine, or slurp in the sun on Westward's lakefront patio.
What foods do you stalk? Maybe you travel for donuts?