Some people eat to live; others live to eat. The latter is true in cities that have earned street cred in the food and beverage scene.
From multiethnic restaurants and food trucks to award-winning chefs and specialized food tours, these five cities offer a dash of spice, aroma, flavor and creativity for foodie groups looking for amazing gastronomic adventures.
Asheville, North Carolina
Situated an hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Asheville, North Carolina, proudly boasts the moniker “Foodtopia,” a nod to its more than 250 independent restaurants and 14 farmers markets in a city of only 87,000 people.
Peppering this wealth of culinary options is Asheville’s distinctive foothills cuisine — comfort food dishes like shrimp and grits, fried chicken and the like, with a local, Appalachian twist.
On many restaurant menus, you’ll find ingredients like wild mushrooms, rhubarb, apples, ramps — a type of wild onion that peaks for only about two weeks in April — and trout from area rivers.
“Asheville has a lot of incredible James Beard-nominated and award-winning chefs who see Asheville as a place to come and be creative,” said Landis Taylor, public relations specialist with the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Another thing that sets the food scene apart is the collaborative spirit here, where some of our best chefs work together on special themed dinners and projects that benefit the community.”
Epicurean activities that welcome groups include Wild Food Foraging Tours with Alan Muscat, known as Asheville’s “Mushroom Man” and as an “alum” of television’s “Bizarre Foods,” and Asheville Food Tours, with tasting pit stops at more than a half-dozen local eateries. For chocoholics, there’s the famous French Broad Chocolate Lounge with its own Willy Wonka-style factory tour where workers sort, crack, winnow, roast, grind and mold their own bean-to-bar chocolate.
Great Dining Spots for Groups: Isa’s Bistro celebrates western North Carolina’s seasonal harvest and fresh local produce; Posana serves contemporary American cuisine with local, seasonal farm-to-table ingredients; The Market Place Restaurant and Lounge has a menu it describes as “equally healthy, locally sourced, unique, and delicious”; and Buxton Hall Barbecue is a former roller-skating rink turned whole-hog wood-fired barbecue joint.
Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas
Although Kansas City’s signature dish is barbecue — there are more than 100 lip-smacking joints and counting — its eateries run the gamut from sustainable farm-to-table to seafood, Greek, Vietnamese, vegan/vegetarian, Caribbean, Lebanese, and a great deal more.
According to Toni Alexander, communications manager for VisitKC, “although barbecue is our foundation and we’re proud of it, every type of ethnic cuisine can be found here. We also have Bread and Butter Concepts Restaurant Group, that has opened several very successful, popular restaurants across the area with well-established food types to which they have added their own spin and expanded people’s way of thinking.”
These include Urban Table, a modern American bistro with fresh, distinctive entrees and small plates; BRGR Kitchen + Table, on both sides of the state line, a fresh adaption of the classic burger; Taco Republic and Taco Republic (Food) Truck, which use traditional Mexican meats and spices for their homemade “street-style” tacos and sides; Gram and Dun, which pairs culinary expertise with imaginative libations; and The Oliver, a refined version of the American tavern, which just opened.
Kansas City also has a new, permanent food truck hub called Little Piggy, where diners can sample a cornucopia of fare like homemade sausages, tapas, funnel cakes, sliders, crepes, burgers and other tasty delights every day of the week.
Historic City Market encourages grazing among the array of delicious Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, Indian, Southern and other restaurants bordering the produce stalls of the region’s largest farmers market.
For groups that still want a barbecue fix, try KC Barbecue Tours, which features wonderful, meaty Original, ’Cue and Brew, and Riblet bus tours.
Great Dining Spots for Groups: Garozzo’s Italian Restaurant serves sumptuous, authentic, Old World dishes; The Grille at Park Place, features prime rib, steaks and other traditional American favorites; and RC’s Restaurant and Lounge is an area favorite for its pan-fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and pork tenderloins.