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Best. Foodie Vacation. Ever.


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I loved, loved Buenos Aires - get up late, have a media-luna and a cafe con leche, do some people-watching, stop off at a sidewalk cafe for lunch and a glass of wine, go to a museum, then sit down to an enormous dinner that rivals the food anywhere, with two bottles of wine, all at a small fraction of what it would cost in DC or NYC (I don't think we ever managed to spend more than $40 on dinner). Repeat the next day. The city is extremely cosmopolitan and friendly to tourists. Great sightseeing and shopping as well. Six months later, and we're trying to go back as soon as possible. (Of course the national specialty is steak, but as a pescatarian, I ate extremely well too.) We went last December, which was perfect, weather-wise.

I will be happy to rave incessantly to anyone who cares to listen about Buenos Aires. It is, perhaps, one of the finest cities on the planet that I have ever visited. It is a paradise for food lovers, particularly those on a budget and couldn't agree more that you'll dine in restaurants with all the panache of NY or DC for a mere pittance of a peso. Not to mention loads of mom and pop restaurants with delicious food that is not sourced from agribusiness. Pescaterians will do fine in Argentina. Vegetarians will have more trouble.

When the pound and euro started making Europe less affordable, I paid a visit to Buenos Aires as an alternative. Now, I keep going back and, except for urgent needs for English ale, I will be perfectly content on skipping Europe just to wine, dine and pass the time in beautiful Argentina. It is an amazing country.

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Some non-European options: Shanghai/Suzhou/Hangzhou is a great China itinerary; and I'm also partial to Tokyo/Kyoto/some great small towns along the way as well.

Completely agreed about Suzhou and Hangzhou. We did not have a single bad meal during our week in the Yangtze River Delta. Dongpo roh ("fatty pork belly") is one of the best dishes around. And in terms of bang for buck, China is virtually unparalleled. You can eat like a king or queen for $10-$15 quite easily.

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I'm not looking for a specific restaurant in one city (i.e. Per se in New York), but rather a destination that offers an array of choices, a place that would have something like Michelin three-stars as well as eclectic, quality street food. I'm looking for a better way to spend Thanksgiving this year than with Mom's variations on Butterball.

I've heard great things about Quebec City from a few friends. One of them goes there for our Thanksgiving annually. He says the food is wonderful, and the people are friendly.

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I've heard great things about Quebec City from a few friends. One of them goes there for our Thanksgiving annually. He says the food is wonderful, and the people are friendly.
and if you're going to Quebec City don't overlook Montreal. Rue de la Montaigne has a number of great small restaurants. Almost any place on Ste. Catherine St will also feed you quite well.
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I will be happy to rave incessantly to anyone who cares to listen about Buenos Aires. It is, perhaps, one of the finest cities on the planet that I have ever visited. It is a paradise for food lovers, particularly those on a budget and couldn't agree more that you'll dine in restaurants with all the panache of NY or DC for a mere pittance of a peso. Not to mention loads of mom and pop restaurants with delicious food that is not sourced from agribusiness. Pescaterians will do fine in Argentina. Vegetarians will have more trouble.

When the pound and euro started making Europe less affordable, I paid a visit to Buenos Aires as an alternative. Now, I keep going back and, except for urgent needs for English ale, I will be perfectly content on skipping Europe just to wine, dine and pass the time in beautiful Argentina. It is an amazing country.

Is knowing Spanish a prerequisite for enjoying a trip to Argentina? I unfortunately wasted 6 years of my life taking Latin.....

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and if you're going to Quebec City don't overlook Montreal. Rue de la Montaigne has a number of great small restaurants. Almost any place on Ste. Catherine St will also feed you quite well.

And try heading over to Rue St. Denis, which is a main drag for the Francophone part of the city. Also, especially in spring a summer, it's worth your time to visit Atwater Market.

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Is knowing Spanish a prerequisite for enjoying a trip to Argentina? I unfortunately wasted 6 years of my life taking Latin.....

We did fine with little-to-no Spanish (I had previously spent a month attempting to learn Spanish in Guatemala, but have such a bad ear for languages that it didn't make much difference). In most places we visited, we found that there was at least one staff member who spoke some English, and people were fairly patient with sign language, pointing, etc. Also, the bilingual staff at our bed-and-breakfast was always happy to help out by calling taxis, making reservations, and the like. Otherwise, we could usually manage to puzzle out signs and menus based solely on English cognates and guesswork (though there was one occasion where we guessed incorrectly at the meaning of a word on a menu that turned out to mean "covered in a blanket of ham.").

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My wife and I are headed back to Spain for about a month in May (the first trip was four years ago, after we decided on there from this thread). We'll be hitting the usual suspects -- San Sebastian/Basque Country, Madrid, Barcelona, as well as spending some time in Lisbon and Galicia. I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations for great food towns or restaurants (or wine regions), especially anything that's a little off the beaten path. We have a fair amount of time on our hands, though I'm sure it will go fast.

ETA: Any recommendations for those "usual suspects" are appreciated as well, of course (and I'll be checking those threads). By the way, is there a web page somewhere with the latest Michelin reviews of Spain? I can't seem to find it at first look.

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We spend a lot of time in Lisbon and have posted about restaurants there on eGullet. Do not fail to go to Belem for the Monastery and the cafe down the street with the justifiably famous and delectable Pasteis de Belem (little custardy pastries in puff pastry cups). Will you have a car? Our most recent favorite restaurants are seafood places out of town worth seeking out if possible. Of course there are plenty of good places to eat in the city, and then there are the incredible cheeses. We usually bring home a suitcase full!

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We'll have a car, yes, so any out-of-the-way spots are especially good.

And we'll also be in Northern Italy a bit, so Bologna could be an option. (Lyon won't be on this trip, but we do have time to go over to Bordeaux while we're in Basque Country.)

I'm thinking 3-4 nights in San Sebastian -- too little, too much, or about right?

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ETA: Any recommendations for those "usual suspects" are appreciated as well, of course (and I'll be checking those threads). By the way, is there a web page somewhere with the latest Michelin reviews of Spain? I can't seem to find it at first look.

As I'm sure you know, the average Michelin review consists of a few initially bewildering symbols and a two-sentence summary description.

But, Mrs. B and I have had excellent success in France with "Bib Gourmand" restaurants, which offer good to damn good meals at rather less expensive prices than the starred places.

You can go to www.viamichelin.com, click on the "hotels, restaurants and tourism" tab at the top center of the home page and then click restaurants in the little box that appears on the left of the next screen. Type in the location you're searching, IGNORE the cooking type and price preference dropdowns (I played with this before posting and all they do is cut one larger search for, say, all the Bib Gourmands in Barcelona into a series of smaller, confusing searches -- and besides, there's no preference for "Spanish" food offered). Click on "Red Guide Selections" and you can hunt for "Best value" "Best" or "Places with charm." Couple of clicks later -- hint: "more info" -- and you get the full Red Guide experience, complete with hioeroglyphs (look for the umbrella that means terrace and either the bunch of grapes or the wine glass, which are self explanatory), map, credit card info and descriptions like:

Meal prices - Menu: 27€/35

Cuisine - inventive

Remarks -Typical bistro decoration with 1920s style cafeteria chairs and tables. Modern menu, focusing on three set menus at lunchtime. [No Tom Sietsema, they]

You can also use the site to find nearby tourists sites, hotels and driving directions. It's actually pretty helpful.

Damn. Now I want to go to Europe. :rolleyes:

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We'll have a car, yes, so any out-of-the-way spots are especially good.

And we'll also be in Northern Italy a bit, so Bologna could be an option. (Lyon won't be on this trip, but we do have time to go over to Bordeaux while we're in Basque Country.)

I'm thinking 3-4 nights in San Sebastian -- too little, too much, or about right?

Are you planning on staying only in San Sebastian for those three-four days or does that include your foray into France? If it is just for SS, 3-4 days is probably good. I don't know what your hotel budget is, but if you don't want to spend outrageous amounts, the Hotel Niza on the Concha Beach is perfectly suitable. Splurge at Arzak. Otherwise just wander the old town and eat and drink at the pintxos bars. Try the txakoli, a crisp lightly effervescent low alcohol white wine.

While in France you must go to Espelette and eat at Hotel Euskadi. Try the Axoa d'Espelette--a local Basque veal stew which was one of my top meals ever. The hotel isn't anything special, but the food is. Also, St. Jean Pied de Port is worth a visit.

In Bologna, stay at the Orologio Hotel. Right off the main square and really nice yet affordable. Eat all the mortadella you can get your hands on.

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We did Cape Town and the winelands a while back which was a rather amazing foodie vacation - great wine, amazing food (and lots of interesting new foods that an American typically would not eat), great local food products, etc. Plus it is cheap - a week and a healthy budget in ZA would be a wonderful foodie vacation.

This year is the Spain trip including San Sebastian and a swoop down to rioja for some good wine and then Can Roca and El Bulli to finish it off. I'm pretty excited for this trip.

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We did Cape Town and the winelands a while back which was a rather amazing foodie vacation - great wine, amazing food (and lots of interesting new foods that an American typically would not eat), great local food products, etc. Plus it is cheap - a week and a healthy budget in ZA would be a wonderful foodie vacation.

This year is the Spain trip including San Sebastian and a swoop down to rioja for some good wine and then Can Roca and El Bulli to finish it off. I'm pretty excited for this trip.

If you are looking for a stopping place in Rioja, Laguardia is charming. Here's the link for a great little hotel. http://www.travelinginspain.com/basque/laguardia_hotel.htm
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Splurge at Arzak.

A small warning about Arzak. We made reservations online about a month before our trip to Spain. The day before our reservation, they sent me a matter-of-fact email stating that they had no space and our reservation was canceled. I would make and confirm anything over the phone if you plan on going there.

San Sebastian is a beautiful little town, and I loved it, but 3-4 days might be pushing it if you're just staying there. But we never had a bad meal just wandering through the pinxtos bars.

Also, not food related, but a quick drive over to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim museum is definitely worth it.

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Eat all the mortadella you can get your hands on.
Second that! Go to Tamburini for same and any other local food delicacy. Besides the deli counter they have a sort of cafeteria-style lunch area in the back with a great selection of prepared foods. Consider spending a night in Savigno in the hills south of Bologna and eating at a wonderful trattoria: da Amerigo (they also rent rooms). http://www.amerigo1934.it/index.php/conten...ction/trattoria. Check it out.

Portugal - A nice lunch outing.

On our most recent trip, we chose to visit the fabulous palace in Mafra and sought out a place for lunch nearby. We drove over to the coast to Ericeira where we had reserved a table at Restaurante Esplanda Furnas (not the Marisqueira of the same name) which sits overlooking the beach and amazing surf rolling in. As you enter the restaurant you pass a display of their varieties of fresh fish and the grill chef will help you choose what you'd like them to cook for you. We had a linguado large enough to serve 4 which was the most perfectly cooked, succulent sole I've ever tasted. My husband had to try their version of Cataplana (Portuguese mixed seafood dish cooked in a covered copper pan) which he decreed the best ever. And of course we devoured their wonderful starters - really excellent chewy bread, a perfect Azeitao cheese, and octopus salad. Spectacular food and setting and a great waitstaff!

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A small warning about Arzak. We made reservations online about a month before our trip to Spain. The day before our reservation, they sent me a matter-of-fact email stating that they had no space and our reservation was canceled. I would make and confirm anything over the phone if you plan on going there.

San Sebastian is a beautiful little town, and I loved it, but 3-4 days might be pushing it if you're just staying there. But we never had a bad meal just wandering through the pinxtos bars.

We had a great meal at Arzak about two years ago but thought that Mugaritz (which is about 20 mins away) was clearly better. You can't go wrong at either place. I think I did confirm my reservations over the phone the week before we left. I also had some good meals in pintxos bars, including one that was on the other side of the river from the oldest part of the town that specialized in foie.
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Are you planning on staying only in San Sebastian for those three-four days or does that include your foray into France? If it is just for SS, 3-4 days is probably good. I don't know what your hotel budget is, but if you don't want to spend outrageous amounts, the Hotel Niza on the Concha Beach is perfectly suitable. Splurge at Arzak. Otherwise just wander the old town and eat and drink at the pintxos bars. Try the txakoli, a crisp lightly effervescent low alcohol white wine.

While in France you must go to Espelette and eat at Hotel Euskadi. Try the Axoa d'Espelette--a local Basque veal stew which was one of my top meals ever. The hotel isn't anything special, but the food is. Also, St. Jean Pied de Port is worth a visit.

In Bologna, stay at the Orologio Hotel. Right off the main square and really nice yet affordable. Eat all the mortadella you can get your hands on.

We'll have a lot of flexibility, right now I'm thinking a night in Bilbao, 3 nights in San Sebastian, then dip into France to eat at Euskadi (looks very promising) and maybe hit a few other spots. Then I think we'll back-track a little along the Northern Coast, and see Asturias and Galicia (with a side-trip down to Rioja). I don't know if the budget will allow for Mugaritz or Arzak, but I'm looking at those as well as Extchebarri. Primarily we're hoping to do the pinchos thing, both the upscale and the more traditional places.

I'm having a hard time telling if Portugal is worth it on this trip from a culinary perspective. The eG boards don't make it sound too promising, especially considering what's on offer next door in Spain. Any advice/thoughts on this are appreciated. We have the option of coming into Portugal from Galicia and working our way down the coast from Porto to Lisbon.

It also looks like we'll be in Barcelona for a week, I'm looking forward to checking out the nascent "bistronomia" scene.

Many thanks to all for the help and advice thus far.

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1.San Sebastian, Barcelona and Tarragona.

2.Rubano (Le Calandre), Venice (Alle Testiere, da Fiore), Senigallia (Uliassi, La Madonnina del Pescatore); alternatively Florence (Sostanza, Cibreo) and down along the coast (Gambero Rosso) into Rome (La Pergola).

3.Schwarzwald region of Germany (Schwarzwaldstube ((three Michelin stars and the best restaurant in Germany easily as good as Paris' best)), Bareiss); this is one of the most beautiful places on earth virtually undiscovered by Americans. You cannot believe how good Black Forest cake-really alcoholic Black Forest cake, made in house-tastes when eaten in a thousand year old mountain cafe, five thousand feet above sea level. With wood beamed ceilings and an open fire nearby. And no one that speaks English!!!

For all of the discussion on this board about the difficulty of reservations at the French Laundry and El Bulli, the most difficult of all are at Schwarzwaldstube where they accept reservations one year to the minute to the day. They book up within several hours of beginning to accept them and rarely, if ever, have a cancellation. I would argue that this is the most beautiful dining room on earth with absolutely ethereal cuisine. This is their website:

http://www.traube-tonbach.de/traube_1024/t...l/home/home.htm

I want to amend and update my post from four years ago with this note: Michelin now gives the "village" of Baiersbronn in Germany (yes, GERMANY!!!) the recognition of having more Michelin stars per population that anywhere else in the world. Hyperbolic? Yes. But it's also truthful. In a "village" of about 3,000 there are two THREE Michelin star restaurants, one two and a single star. I must note here that I am using Parisian Michelin standards in applying the stars. (I would favorably compare Schwarzwaldstube to Gagnaire, Ducasse even Robuchon in the '90's!) I continue to believe that Schwarzwaldstube (which, arguably, is the most difficult reservation in the world for dinner-more so than El Bulli, the French Laundry, etc.), Bareiss and several others are literally worth a trip across the Atlantic.

San Sebastian and Barcelona, too. But Baiersbronn is an idyllic Black Forest mountain village unknown in North America but legendary in all of Europe. To the best of my knowledge nobody here has taken the time to write about it. Or to go there.... I would also passionately argue (long into the night) one of the most beautiful places on earth. On Earth! Perhaps a reference point might be this: at Schwarzwaldstube (three Michelin stars) we were told that they have, "maybe two Americans a month" who come to the restaurant. Yet everyone on the staff speak fluent English. I must also add that I asked the chef at Schwarzwaldstube how he sourced what he served. His answer included local for vegetables, meat, etc. But then he added that every single day they are open someone drives four hours round trip to pick up much of what is plated. The same would be true for at least three other restaurants in Baiersbronn. Why? Pride. And, because it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Today, I might have Barcelona first but for second, I am sorry but not Paris. Baiersbronn. In Germany!!!!!

Last: a simplistic analogy. If The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia is a true foodie destination in America I am arguing that there are at least FOUR restaurants as good or better in Baiersbronn. Ok, I am saying all four ARE BETTER. Stay at Bareiss or Traube Tonbach. The countryside is far more beautiful, the food is-honestly-better (perhaps, much better!) at Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube. This part of Germany has received little recognition in America but it is considered by many to be the absolute best in all of Europe.

Now the negative: if after reading this you have made the decision, "what the hell, let's go to Germany and give it a try!" Fine. But you better make this decision at least one year in advance to the day or you won't get into Schwarzwaldstube or Bareiss. They really are THAT popular and THAT known. In Europe. They are also THAT good. Think I am kidding? For some my post will only be given "traction" when a call is made and people find that they can't get in. One year in advance.

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Shameless commerce warning!

A shout-out to my friend Daniela Anderson, who has spent the past couple of years chasing her dream of building her own adventure travel agency, drawing on her family's roots in the hospitality business in the Italian Alps.

Newly added, ten-day cooking school extravaganzas: a series late this summer on the cuisine of Trentino-Alto Adige/Sud Tirol, and coming in fall of 2011, a culinary tour of the Amalfi coast.

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Spain would definitely be number one for me- El Bulli, Arzak, El Celler de Can Roca, Martin Berasategui, and Mugaritz in a week would be amazing.

However, the wife and I are in the process of planning a close second in Chicago this summer- Alinea, L20, Schwa, and one (or two, if possible) of Moto, Tru, or Blackbird this August. And Hot Doug's as well.

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Spain would definitely be number one for me- El Bulli, Arzak, El Celler de Can Roca, Martin Berasategui, and Mugaritz in a week would be amazing.

However, the wife and I are in the process of planning a close second in Chicago this summer- Alinea, L20, Schwa, and one (or two, if possible) of Moto, Tru, or Blackbird this August. And Hot Doug's as well.

I was lucky enough to hit El Bulli, Arzak and Mugaritz over three days a few years ago, and did Alinea, Moto and Avenues (Bowles) in three days around the same time period. Schwa was closed at the time, I would love to go. I would skip Moto.

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I was lucky enough to hit El Bulli, Arzak and Mugaritz over three days a few years ago, and did Alinea, Moto and Avenues (Bowles) in three days around the same time period. Schwa was closed at the time, I would love to go. I would skip Moto.

Interesting. The former is quite a Trio (pun intended!). That must've been amazing.

Why the recommendation to skip Moto?

I'm constantly amazed at the depth of food in Chicago- it seems one would need a month to hit the top places there, and still might not be done.

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I didn't like anything about Moto - I didn't find anything to be that interesting, and our meal wasn't well executed. There were a lot of unusual techniques of course, but all of the flavor combinations were either simple or unsuccessful. It's really great they give you an edible menu, but it didn't taste good. Far too many of the dishes relied on familiar flavor patterns, but in a really straight forward way. If you are going to make soup taste like pizza it shouldn't just taste like Papa Johns in a blender. WD-50 does a much better job of doing the same thing with traditional american food. Alinea made everything about it seem amateur.

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I didn't like anything about Moto - I didn't find anything to be that interesting, and our meal wasn't well executed. There were a lot of unusual techniques of course, but all of the flavor combinations were either simple or unsuccessful. It's really great they give you an edible menu, but it didn't taste good. Far too many of the dishes relied on familiar flavor patterns, but in a really straight forward way. If you are going to make soup taste like pizza it shouldn't just taste like Papa Johns in a blender. WD-50 does a much better job of doing the same thing with traditional american food. Alinea made everything about it seem amateur.

Very interesting. Thanks a ton for the elaboration- it looks like we'll make Blackbird and Tru the first choices for the fourth dinner. It's just a matter of getting reservations...

What were some of the differences between the Spanish restaurants? I'd love to see/read a comparison of the three...

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If I were going to Chicago, Topolobampo would be on my list. Rick Bayless is serving up the best Mexican food in the USA right now, as far as I can tell.

My Husband has never been to Chicago and one reason I want to take him is to go here... I dream about this food.

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Shameless commerce warning!

A shout-out to my friend Daniela Anderson, who has spent the past couple of years chasing her dream of building her own adventure travel agency, drawing on her family's roots in the hospitality business in the Italian Alps.

Newly added, ten-day cooking school extravaganzas: a series late this summer on the cuisine of Trentino-Alto Adige/Sud Tirol, and coming in fall of 2011, a culinary tour of the Amalfi coast.

Really interesting link especially since our vacation this year (May) is based in Bolzano and Berchtesgaden. Very informative. Thank you.

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If I were going to Chicago, Topolobampo would be on my list. Rick Bayless is serving up the best Mexican food in the USA right now, as far as I can tell.

I respect him as a chef and admire his success, but his food doesn't wow me in the same way that the others on my list do. Mexican food in a fine dining setting, while it may taste good, isn't my style.

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Call me old school. I think the best foodie vacation ever has to start in France. The art of dining well as opposed to the American version of "fine dining" is something every "foodie" needs as a reference point. The magic of a great meal at a great 3 star restaurant can't be duplicated in the US for many reasons, food aside. This is, of course, just my opinion.

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Call me old school. I think the best foodie vacation ever has to start in France. The art of dining well as opposed to the American version of "fine dining" is something every "foodie" needs as a reference point. The magic of a great meal at a great 3 star restaurant can't be duplicated in the US for many reasons, food aside. This is, of course, just my opinion.

1995. Lucas-Carton, (which Alain Senderens has since closed and reopened without stars (renamed 'Senderens')), and Léon de Lyon (which may not be extant now either, and has/had maybe only two stars).

Oh, but if it's not already clear, I'd have to agree. ;)

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We've done most of these trips and highly recommend it:

Domestically

1) Portland, ME and the surrounding area - incredible food scene in Portland, ME!

2) Drive from San Francisco, through Napa, stopping by the Yountville mecca of course, up the coast to Portland, OR. Portland OR has an incredible food scene - serious people making incredible eats!

3) Houston - yes, you heard it here first - Houston's food scene is diverse, with tons of ethnic eats as well as fine New American dining

4) NYC, of course....but why not also drive to Flushing for amazing Chinese food and since you're already in the vicinity, pls drive to Connecticut for the Pepe's vs. Sally's pizza taste-off

Internationally

1) Spain & Morocco - this trip will guarantee a diversity of flavors - European into Middle Eastern/North African

2) Japan - go with someone who speaks the language - it will help greatly, as we learned on our second triip there!

3) Eating tour of South East Asia - start in Singapore, work your way up to Malaysia and/or Thailand, followed Vietnam and/or Cambodia - on these trips, I like to do the fine dining (you still get a lot for your USD) and street food - fantastic contrast!

4) Sri Lanka & India - I'm planning this trip for next year

5) Italy, of course!

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