Dining and Drinking
Chow Down: Five Food Tours to Whet Your Appetite
Walking and Noshing Gives You an Insider's View
Looking to spice up that vacation or simply enjoy a staycation in your hometown? For fun, outside-the-wrapper experiences everyone will love, look no further than foodie field trips. Whether it’s muffalettas in New Orleans, deep-dish pizza in Chicago, or authentic pickles in New York City’s Lower East Side, these tours explore neighborhoods through the lens of culinary history.
1. New Orleans
In three hours, Tastebud Tours President and co-founder Lynn Jaynes says, “you can get a good feel for the city through its food.” On his company’s Taste of New Orleans Du Jour tour, visitors discover the stories behind the creation of the muffaletta (a large, round flattened loaf with marinated olive salad, salami, mozzarella, provolone and ham) and the famous Po’ boy. Authentic N’Awlins eats wouldn’t be complete without tastings of jambalaya, pralines, and beignets at The Old Coffeepot, Laura’s Pralines & Candies and Café Beignet.
Did somebody say pizza? Tastebud Tours also offers a Chicago romp that visits Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, known in the Windy City for its gourmet deep-dish pies. Then, there’s a pit stop at Downtown Dogs, serving hot dogs just off the Magnificent Mile, followed by chocolates at Fannie May, which started in Chicago back in 1920. Other stops include Heaven on Seven for Louisiana cooking, the Billy Goat Tavern (best known for the Saturday Night Live skit “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger”), and L’Appetito, an authentic Italian bakery and deli. A food tour gives you a lesson in history and culture, Jaynes says, adding, "You gotta eat anyway!”
3. San Francisco
GourmetWalks’ Gourmet Chocolate Tour covers one-and-a-half miles of a chocoholic’s delight. It includes one sit-down visit and seven tasting stops in the city where Ghirardelli first set up shop during the Gold Rush. All the while, a guide dishes about the secrets of fine chocolate, its illustrious history, and, of course, its health benefits. Among the finds? Treats infused with fresh ingredients from farmers markets, an award-winning bean-to-bar chocolate maker, and Belgian-style hot chocolate.
Want to get your Miami on? Miami Culinary Tours offers tours in three neighborhoods. The Little Havana journey includes five stops for Cuban bites, including a picadillo stuffed empanada, an authentic Cuban sandwich, guava pastry, guarapo juice, and fruit ice cream. While noshing on Cuban cuisine, visitors can meet local artists, listen to traditional tunes, watch cigar rollers, and catch a glimpse of Domino Park, a Little Havana landmark and gathering place for older generations sipping Cuban coffee while playing dominoes, chess, and checkers. The company also offers South Beach and Wynwood tours.
5. New York City
Seth Kamil, president of Big Onion Walking Tours, says his "Original Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour" (now in its 23rd year) combines the history of Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Jewish East Side with food sampling at “some of the last remaining places that remained true to production from generations ago while also visiting newer spots.” The new owner of Kossar’s Bialys has returned to the original 1930’s recipe. Di Palo’s, a market known for its handmade fresh mozzarella, is now being run by the fifth generation of the family that started it a century ago. The Pickle Guys, who once sold from pushcarts, offer samples of the traditional sour pickle in addition to a new spicy pickled pineapple from Trinidad. “It’s almost an urban picture of the American dream,” says Kamil.
Why offer culinary tours? “It really was my personal response to people coming to explore New York and being unwilling to try new foods," Kamil says. "We are one of the greatest food cities in the world.”
Illustration by Brian Stauffer | Vicki Salemi is a freelance journalist and the author of "Big Career in the Big City: Land a Job and Get a Life in New York." Her work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Post, U.S. News & World Report, Cosmopolitan, and other publications.