Like everyone else now that the holidays are over I’m starting to think about where I want to travel this year.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see so many amazing places in my lifetime so I wanted to share where to travel this year that isn’t on every list.
Instead I wanted to share all the little cities that don’t get a lot of press in travel lists.
The places that captured my heart where I was able to avoid the crowds and find local joints.
The Best Places to Eat This Year
In fact other than Osteria Francescana there are no real tourist restaurants – just regular restaurants with locals.
It’s mind blowing.
I’ve been to Modena twice and I know I’ll go again. I saved it for last when Dave and I spent 5 weeks in Italy on a Meatcation.
Our last night we had an incredible meal at Osteria Francescana but we know everyone can’t afford to splurge like that so I also shared Where to Eat in Modena When You Can’t Afford Osteria Francescana.
Leon captured my heart for many reasons. It’s a university town and is the home of the country’s revolution so there is a fiery spirit.
It’s also where I stopped for a month to live with the Balmacedas to learn Spanish.
I would eat dinner with them and then retire to rocking chairs to watch the telenovela Donde Esta Elisa?
Although I’m sad to hear that a McDonalds has opened there is so much great local, street food.
I have such fond memories of quesillos, nacatamles and hamburgers the size of my head.
I will definitely be back…with a good flight deal it could be this year.
Oh how many times have I been to Cuenca? Too many to count. Every time I go I say I’m going to stay a week and it turns into a month.
But some of the best pork I’ve ever had was in Cuenca and my favourite dish is hornado or roasted pig with crispy crackling and a side of cheesy fried potatoes with hot sauce.
When you go to the market there’s not just one vendor but an entire corner of the market with women offering you a taste.
Many North Americans retire in Cuenca and I can see why.
Canadians believe there are 3 big food cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – in that order.
But there’s fantastic food all over Canada and yet most travellers don’t see a reason to visit Calgary other than for the stampede or on the way to Banff.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Okay so this isn’t really a hidden secret per se. Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular destinations in the Maya Riviera.
However, many people believe PDC is just for resorts when that isn’t true at all. There are plenty of options for AirBNBs (here’s a $25 AirBNB coupon) and long term rentals.
MUST READ: Where to Eat in Playa del Carmen
It’s also my top recommendation for the first time to Mexico, especially if you are traveling with a group.
It’s not like Cancun where you’re segregated from the rest of town, if you want to walk you can find where the locals eat and hang out.
Here’s how the city works: along the beach are resorts, the first few streets are touristy souvenir junk.
Drinks in Mexico
A few streets farther away you start to find more affordable restaurants and then you find local taco joins and street food.
I love it because it’s up to your comfort level to decide how far you want to go.
And if you’re traveling with a group your Uncle Ed can stick to buying Mexican wrestling masks along the souvenir street while you hunt for the chile rellenos taco stand.
It’s a typical story of how a beautiful cruise ship city only sees travellers for a day and so no one has much to say.
But Marseille is a fascinating city with culinary influences from North Africa, Spain and Italy.
Food in Paris
It is not your typical Provençal city.
Sadly I only spent 24 hours there and didn’t even have bouillabaisse! I want to go back to try all the typical food in Marseille as it deserves more than one day.
However, I’m definitely going off season and renting an apartment so that I can go to the fish market and buy food to take home instead of only taking photos.
Just 45 minutes from Helsinki, Porvoo is a very popular city in the summer. Maybe too popular for my liking.
But in winter it’s only locals and if you’re going to eat it has one of my favourite restaurants – Bistro Sinne.
Chef Peter Elfing also gave me a heads up on one of the most special meals I’ve ever had – at Ask Restaurant in Helsinki.
Campeche is the greatest city in Mexico you’ve never heard about.
Many travellers in the Yucatan will make it as far as Merida but never visit the rival city Campeche.
A UNESCO heritage site, this is another port city (I love port cities) with a pirate history.
There’s not much of a beach but the boardwalk is beautiful and there are so many great seafood options. Here’s the best things to do in Campeche.
Also Read: Street Food in the Yucatan
Charleston, United States
Charleston seems to be the darling of every list but most of them offer Husk as the reason to go.
I had a less than amazing meal there and could not recommend it. H
owever, Charleston was not built on Husk, here are my picks for best downtown Charleston restaurants.
I had never planned to go to Cajamarca in Northern Peru.
I was on my way to Chiclayo and the woman sitting next to me on the bus insisted that I go.
Cajamarca is very popular with Peruvian tourists but foreigners rarely go.
It’s high up in the Andes but locals go because it’s known for its dairy which means amazing cheese and chocolate. And of course Peruvian desserts.
Aside from food there are natural hot springs and archaeological sites that pre-date Machu Picchu and for the bargain price of a $5 entry.
Peru is so much more than Lima and Cusco, here are 5 Reasons to Visit Northern Peru.
If you’re watching Narcos on Netflix you likely only associate Cali with Pablo Escobar, and that’s fair.
Yet Colombia has changed from the drug ridden days and locals are very insistent on making it safe for travellers.
Drinks in Colombia
My pick of Cali is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t spend my days in Cali for the food, instead it was to dance.
We did eat street cart hamburgers at night and they were amazing. Colombian food is incredible.
I’m sure you’ve never heard of Todi but it is the heart of Umbria – a region that is like Tuscany but without all the crowds.
A medieval city, it’s the centre point of so much good food and wine (check out Roccofiore).
If you’re into cured meat you should know that the Italian name for charcutier (person who makes charcuterie) is norcino – it’s because the birthplace of cured meats is Norcia in Umbria.
Because Umbria isn’t overrun with tourism like Tuscany it’s not as easy to travel and there isn’t much English.
I highly recommend Discovering Umbria as tour guides. Alessandra and Leonardo are siblings and sommeliers.
They custom built a tour that included activities we could have never done on our own like making sausages with a nonna and getting backstage access to a butcher shop.
San Antonio, United States
I only spent a few days in San Antonio but it is such a great place for exploring.
Relatively small, the River Walk will help you beat the heat and the new Pearl District has some great restaurants like Cured.
I’d love to go back and take my home because San Antonio is also home to amazing tacos.
Read about my quest to find the best restaurants in San Antonio.
Maui, United States
Much like Playa del Carmen, Maui is known for all inclusive beach holidays.
But much of the food in Maui isn’t really traditional Hawaiian food.
Instead it’s food influenced from Japanese, Filipino and Korean immigrants who arrived to work in the sugar plantations.
Fruit n Hawaii
Maui is more than sun and sand and food is the best way to explore it.
St.Petersburg, United States
Although Florida is a big destination for Canadian snowbirds and vacationing families I had never been.
St.Petersburg will challenge all your beliefs about Florida.
Some say it’s the new Portland with its craft beer scene and a generation of young people staying and opening new businesses.
Don’t miss these St.Petersburg restaurants.
My home! Toronto is a very multicultural city and I know many other people say the say about their hometowns but 50% of Toronto residents weren’t born in Canada.
We have 6 Chinatowns – so Chinese New Year is big here. But unlike in America there is no pressure to be Canadian.
Toronto’s identity seems to be a city of immigrants so there’s no expectation to conform to some unspoken definition or even to speak English.
So you have amazing traditional restaurants from around the world but you also have a new generation of people breaking the rules.
I did not grow up in Toronto but if I had to choose one city to spend the rest of my life in it would be Toronto.
It’s the perfect city for a traveler.
I left this list at 16 for you to add the last entry. What is your top pick for the best place to eat in this year?