The restaurant industry has weathered a terrible storm since the COVID-19 shut everything down in early 2020. Even though 2021 has seen restrictions lifting, businesses reopening, and consumers returning to normal activities (albeit with some rules in place), there remains a deficit in the workforce that has left many service industries struggling to get back to business as usual.

Still, people are keen to emerge from imposed hibernation and reconnect with family, friends, and society at large. Several trending “foodie cities” pre-pandemic are rising to meet new challenges and an evolved dining scene. Some old faves may be gone, but new eateries are emerging, with innovative menus and exciting twists on classics to tempt every palate. Which up-and-coming foodie cities should be on the radar of discerning diners and savvy restaurateurs alike? Here are a few to set your sights on.

Jersey City, NJ

This expansive city, situated across the Hudson River from Manhattan, has long been an area of overflow. In other words, it attracts businesses looking for proximity to NYC but with lower rent. For the same reason, it attracts a lot of New Yorkers. Whether the food follows the people or vice versa, Jersey City boasts a booming restaurant scene.

You can have a five-course, home-cooked Italian meal at 15 Fox Place, an actual home-turned-restaurant where chef Richard and his wife lived until the early 2000s. Then there’s The Boil, an NYC-based Cajun seafood joint that opened in February 2020 and was so instantly popular that it managed to survive the pandemic intact.

Four-time Michelin Gourmand Bib winner DomoDomo一known for its hand rolls and DOMOKASE menu一also endured the pandemic after expanding into Jersey City in the fall of 2019. But NJ isn’t all about international cuisine. Ryan DePersio’s Kitchen Step pairs upscale comfort food (which is levels above traditional pub grub) with innovative cocktails for those who want stellar cuisine in a laid-back, neighborhood bar setting.

See how Chicago, another trending food city, is recovering post-pandemic

Austin, TX

Austin may be best known for its outstanding live music and festivals (check out Austin City Limits and SXSW), but this hip Texas town also has a burgeoning food scene. BBQ, Tex-Mex, and pecan pie are pretty much given in the Lone Star State. But Austin goes way beyond traditional grilled meats and tacos, thanks to a drive for locally sourced ingredients and a populace that acts as a testing ground for food trucks.

One establishment topping all the lists of the hottest new restaurants is Birdie’s in East Austin. The menu changes daily, it’s first-come/first-serve (no reservations), and the backyard is pet-friendly so that everyone can enjoy the American-Euro fusion cuisine. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a modern take on the classics.

La Barbecue offers counter-style servings of sweet and savory BBQ meats, including coleslaw, pickles, and a menu that observes owner LeAnn Mueller’s German heritage. You can have a to-die-for breakfast burrito at standby Veracruz All Natural, although plenty of residents simply follow the El Primo food truck for simple, delicious, overstuffed options.

Portland, OR

In Portland, OR, they like to keep it weird but also incredibly delicious. This popular Pacific Northwest city, which has seen incredible population growth in the last two decades (from 529,000 in 2000 to nearly 653,000 in 2020), is known for outstanding vittles that serve an unbelievable range of diets. Whether you want international cuisine or you’re seeking meals friendly to vegetarian, vegan, GF, dairy-free, or other dietary restrictions, you’ll have no trouble finding restaurants that suit your needs and preferences.

Anyone craving a vegan pizza that’s tough to distinguish from the real deal will find it at downtown standby Sizzle Pie on Burnside. At the same time, those who like all the animal products have to check out the recently launched Pizza Thief, featuring NY slices and beer from Breakside Brewery. P.S. Breakside Brewery is on an expansion kick, with a new Lake Oswego taproom, a beer cart at the CORE food cart pod, and the Breakside beer garden and food cart pod in Beaverton.

For something off the beaten path, chef Karl Holl’s new collab with Smith Teamaker (yup, a world-class menu at a tea house) includes food and tea pairings and tea spices in the recipes. YaYa on NE Alberta is a revelation, not to mention a rarity, as one of the few Chinese BBQ joints in the city. The food truck scene is also booming, with taco trucks galore to serve a demanding populace. You really can find it all in this city of fascinating fare and exceptionally high food standards.

True foodies will find something to love in almost any setting, but certain cities offer so many incredible options, it’s hard to stay away. Jersey City, Austin, and Portland are just a few can’t-miss opportunities for anyone looking for inspired menus and satisfied diners.

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