There’s something in the air. Can you feel it? No, not the joyous plumes of charcoal smoke from a lost summer’s worth of backyard barbecues. Not the sea air, either, mingling with the sticky scents of salt and hot fryer oil. It’s not the jasmine or the jacarandas or the warm beer or fresh waffle cones, or the collective sweat of a billion or so bodies released back into the wild of summertime in the city. The feeling in the air is travel — and it’s happening.
Or if it hasn’t happened for you yet, you’re likely, hopefully, planning it. With vaccination rates up, infection rates at an all-time low, and long, distractingly gorgeous days teasing us through the windows of our played-out quarantine abodes, a vacation feels imminent. Your cousin went to Las Vegas with some friends in May; your neighbors are heading to Honolulu next month; the parents are planning a week’s drive up Lake Michigan; and you’ve got your eye on Oaxaca. And maybe Memphis. And definitely Palm Springs.
We are undoubtedly the lucky ones — our wandering spirit is a privilege that remains elusive to much of the world, for whom needing a vacation is the least of their concerns. Spotty vaccination rates and coronavirus variants continue to ravage communities across the globe; some are in what seems like a perpetual state of lockdown as they try to get ahead of third, fourth, and fifth waves. Here in the U.S., though, many of us are beginning to tiptoe into a fortunate and fragile bubble of optimism — one that, we hope, might just finally lift off and carry us far, far away.
But as ready as we are to kick off an overdue adventure, you know who’s even more ready to welcome us? All the resilient and talented chefs, restaurateurs, street vendors, baristas, bartenders, and bakers throughout this great continent. Eater Travel has spent the past several months with locals on the ground in cities across North America, updating existing maps and whipping up new ones, showing you where to eat in more than 100 destinations across the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada. [Note: We haven’t yet published updates for other international cities; COVID-19 is still a moving target, and for now, as with most things in post-pandemic life, baby steps are best.] These local experts shared with us all the places, new and old, that are serving exceptional meals right now, as well as the ultimate dishes to cram onto your itinerary (and later, your mouth) or, better yet, make a trip out of.
What can we take away from all that intel? That there’s perhaps never been a better time to eat throughout North America — yes, still. Maui, for instance, long known more for its tourist-leaning tastes than culinary pride, forged new relationships during the pandemic with local ranchers, farmers, and fishermen for a whole new kind of island eating. As for Nashville, it seemed like half of our friends picked up and moved there last year, and for good reason, with hot chicken and dry-rubbed ’cue sharing equal billing with innovative Italian fare and tantalizing banchan. Mexico emerged early on as a popular “not too far, but a world away” option, and our locals’ picks for fish tacos in Ensenada, flame-grilled sea bass in Puerto Vallarta, tostadas in Cabo, mezcal in San Miguel de Allende, and chicharrón in Monterrey have us renewing our Duolingo subscriptions.
Many, too, are continuing their love affair with the great outdoors, and the towns bordering national parks like Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, and the Great Smoky Mountains have even more options than ever to satisfy every type of tree hugger hunger. Or if you’re ready to go big, we have all of the best baller stops in Kingston, Jamaica, Miami, Vegas, Mexico City, the Hamptons, and even Disney World.
The point being, we are — for now anyway — finally at a place where we can at least entertain the idea of going and eating somewhere else. Even if that just means the town next door, there’s something powerful to be gleaned from simply being away and doing, seeing, and tasting something different. Here, then, is way more than enough information to help plan your next big (or small) trip. Scroll through the cities, get inspired (and hungry), and book yourself a getaway today. You deserve it. And because it feels so damn good to say it: Bon voyage — and bon appétit.