The empty stomach is the ultimate travel ice breaker. Everyone eats, everyone loves food, and the less you know about what’s on offer in a place, the more people want to help you.
Whether you live in the United States or are simply visiting, you don’t have to leave the country to get a taste of the rest of the world—and its influence on local cultures.
The bulk of the 600 international experiences to be had around the U.S. (and Canada!) found in National Geographic’s new book, Abroad at Home, revolve around food, and for good reason. Here are a handful of unexpected standouts you can track down any time of year all over the nation.
Stay hungry, my friends…
California’s Little Kabul (Fremont, California)
In The Kite Runner, Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini describes Little Kabul as having “no ghosts, no memories and no sins.” Fortunately for us, none of that applies to the food in this Bay Area neighborhood.
De Afghanan Cuisine, a local mainstay for kebabs and lamb dishes for decades, feels like another world, with Afghan carpets and sculpture and lanterns on tables.
Big Night in Little Haiti (Miami, Florida)
Miami’s Little Havana, the center of the Cuban-American world, needs no introduction. Less known, and rising, is Little Haiti, whose cultural center hosts a block party every thirdFriday packed with Haitian roots bands, food, and the occasional roaming rooster.
In all, it’s far less touristy than Little Havana. And well worth an effort to see. Particularly for the food. The best place to try the griot (fried pork in sour orange sauce), goat’s head soup, or fried plantains is Chez Le Bebe.
Basque Boise (Idaho)
Boise is known for its football team’s blue field. Less so for Basque Block, a downtown strip that’s home to the largest Basque community in the United States. Every Friday, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center hosts three-course feasts featuring old-country favorites like roasted legs of lamb and rioja potatoes and, suffice it to say, the wine does flow.
Once monthly, the Basque Market throws a “sheepherder’s breakfast” of chorizo, egg piperade, and churros. It also offers cooking classes. This year is big for Basque Boise, as the food- and music-filled Jaialdi Festival (pronounced yay-YAL-dee), scheduled only every five years, takes place July 28 to August 2.
Acadian Corner (Aroostook County, Maine)
The far northeast corner of the U.S. is adorned with fleur-de-lis emblems and signs in French. The Acadians, many of whom went on to populate the Louisiana bayou and popularize Cajun cuisine, still call Maine’s St. John Valley home.
Other than August’s Acadian Festival—featuring voyageur-styled bateaux canoes and a parade of oversize Mardi Gras masks—the best way to fill your belly on Acadian food is the town of Madawaska’s homey Acadian Restaurant, where you can get a plate of ployes, buckwheat pancakes smeared with pate or dipped in chicken stew.
German Hermann (Hermann, Missouri)
“When our ancestors came here, they had wine in one hand and a sausage in the other,” says Mike Sloan, the man behind Hermann Wurst Haus—and some enticing Sausage-Making 101 classes.
Settled by Germans in the 1830s, Hermann is Missouri’s Rhineland. The town sits hillside overlooking the Missouri River in the Ozarks (said to have reminded early settlers of the Rheingau region from which they came) and is a more grown-up alternative to the knee-slapping comedy and amusement park scene of Branson, just a few hours south. There are dozens of bed and breakfasts and more than a few wineries, including Stone Hill.
Filipino Vegas (Las Vegas, Nevada)
More than 100,000 Filipino Americans live in Clark County and Las Vegas, a staggering number. So taking a break from the casino-bloated Strip offers a rare chance to try Filipino specialties like roasted pork belly, kaldereta tomato soup, and deep-fried jackfruit spring rolls. For something sweeter, cruise by Baba’s Tsi-Bugan for a halo-halo, a traditional Filipino desert of shaved ice with jelly and condensed milk.
Little Lima (Paterson, New Jersey)
“Everything I can find in my country, I can find in Paterson,” says Gisela Ochoa, one of some 30,000 Peruvian immigrants who call the west side of the Garden State city home.
Reached by New Jersey Transit from New York City in 47 minutes, the town offers a daily Peruvian feast fest—and an unexpectedly rewarding daytrip idea from Manhattan. On streets like Union Avenue, Main Street, and Market Street, you can find restaurants serving smoke-charred half-chickens doused in lime (Lena y Carbon on Union Avenue is a local favorite) or traditional dishes like seafood ceviche or lomo saltado stir-fry (try La Tia Delia, 28 Market Street).
Little Saigon (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Route 66 curls through Oklahoma City, a couple miles north of downtown, and passes a tiny building on a corner topped with a giant milk bottle. It’s a Mother Roadsurvivor. But you can’t get milk there anymore. It’s in the heart of Oklahoma City’s Asia District, and it’s now slinging banh mi.
Turns out, Oklahoma City is the place to detour off the interstate for a break from chain food. Around NW 23rd Street and Classen Avenue are scores of Vietnamese grocery stores, cafes, and phoshops. Try Pho Lien Hoa (901 NW 23rd Street).
Mexi-Texas (San Antonio, Texas)
God bless Ray’s Drive Inn. This ‘50s-era greasy spoon gave birth to the world’s first “puffy taco” a doughy shell that’s cooked in oil then filled with carne guisada, or stewed beef. You’ll find it in San Antonio’s awakening Westside, a Mexican-American neighborhood west of the River Walk described by locals as a “real barrio.”