Blooming Foodie Destinations
Restaurant creators and operators are inherently pioneers—always on a perpetual quest to discover new frontiers for eatery expansion. That holds true even amongst recent challenges from rising costs of goods, labor, and an uncertain inflationary market. Resiliency is the name of the game. The five burgeoning foodie destinations spotlighted in this year’s Hot Markets report have emerged as enticing prospects for seasoned restaurateurs looking to build out existing establishments, as well as newcomers eager to make their mark. From the bold culinary scene of Chicago to the innovative tastes of San Francisco, the historic charm of Philadelphia, the tropical delights of Honolulu, and the revitalized downtown of Durham, North Carolina, these cities offer ample opportunities for success amid blooming foodie markets.
NOTE: CITY POPULATION AND HOSPITALITY JOB GROWTH DATA WAS COLLECTED FROM THE U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS AND CENSUS BUREAU.
Population: 2,665,039 | Growth in hospitality jobs: 7.4 percent
Chicago’s culinary landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, evolving into a vibrant and dynamic foodie haven. This Midwestern metropolis, often overshadowed by its coastal counterparts, has surged to the forefront of the gastronomic world. Case in point: Chicago is home to over 50 James Beard award winners, like Chef Stephanie Izard of Girl & The Goat, Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute, and, of course, the infamous Chef Rick Bayless, who owns a bevy of restaurants in Illinois including Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Leña Brava, Xoco, and more.
For foodservice operators seeking to build out existing establishments or broaden their culinary footprint, Chicago remains an enticing and prosperous destination as ever—and don’t let the cold winters scare you away. From iconic deep-dish pizza joints to over 20 Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, the city offers an eclectic array of flavors that cater to a broad spectrum of tastes. The Windy City’s rich cultural tapestry has inspired chefs to create innovative fusion cuisine that blends traditional favorites with international influences, keeping diners intrigued and delighted. Ballyhoo Hospitality, for instance, has been making waves in Chicago neighborhoods and the North Shore dining scene.
Chicagoans are famously passionate about their food, creating a robust consumer base that appreciates quality and creativity. With the largest population on this report, the city’s residents actively support local businesses, making it an ideal environment for newcomers to establish their culinary ventures. Chicago’s strategic location as a major transportation hub also aids in sourcing fresh, high-quality ingredients from nearby farms and suppliers.
Population: 995,638 | Growth in hospitality jobs: 8.6 percent
The Hawaiian islands may have formed as volcanic hotspots, but the state’s capital city Honolulu on Oahu is having a hot moment of its own in the culinary scene. Nestled in the heart of the Pacific, Honolulu is emerging as a foodie mecca. Its stunning landscapes, diverse cultural heritage, and access to fresh seafood makes it an enticing destination for foodservice operators eager to build out existing establishments or embark on new gastronomic ventures.
One of Honolulu’s most significant draws is its rich blend of flavors influenced by a fusion of cultures, including Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and more. This cultural tapestry has driven unique dishes that cater to a wide array of palates. From the freshest seafood to tropical fruits and the famous plate lunch, the city offers a diverse culinary palette that thrills both locals and tourists.
From local markets, traditional luaus, and food trucks, to farm-to-table eateries and fine dining establishments, Honolulu’s diverse culinary scene has seemingly endless room for innovative chefs to explore. One such success story is Helena’s Hawaiian Foods in Honolulu, which serves authentic Hawaiian cuisine like kālua pig cooked in an underground oven. The restaurant earned the Regional Classic award by the James Beard Foundation in 2000. More recently, Native Hawaiian chef Robynne Mai’i was named the 2022 James Beard award winner in the Best Chef—Northwest and Pacific category. She operates Fete in Honolulu, as well as Heyday at the White Sands Hotel in Waikiki.
Despite the limited agricultural capacity and added costs to import other goods and ingredients to the island, Honolulu’s bustling tourism industry provides a steady stream of hungry diners seeking authentic Hawaiian and Pacific Rim cuisine. Plus, Honolulu’s year-round temperate climate ensures a consistent flow of fresh produce, enhancing the quality and availability of local ingredients for restaurants.
Population: 1,567,258 | Growth in hospitality jobs: 9.6 percent
Philadelphia’s culinary scene has undergone a renaissance in recent years, making it an exciting hub for foodservice operators aiming to expand their establishments or carve out a fresh footprint. One of Philadelphia’s standout features is its embrace of local and artisanal foods. From the bustling Reading Terminal Market—which offers an eclectic mix of fresh produce, meats, and specialty goods—to a growing network of urban farms, the city prioritizes sustainability and supports small-scale producers. This commitment to local sourcing provides a solid foundation for restaurants looking to build their brands around fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Philadelphia’s diverse neighborhoods offer a wide range of culinary experiences, from iconic cheesesteak joints in South Philly to upscale dining establishments in Center City. Many of the city’s restaurants are also routinely recognized by the James Beard Foundation. This year, Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of Kalaya took home the award in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category, while High Street Hospitality’s Ellen Yin (of Fork, a.kitchen + bar and High Street) won the national award for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Friday Saturday Sunday earned the coveted award for Outstanding Restaurant.
Philadelphia’s blend of tradition and innovation allows foodservice operators to experiment and cater to a broad spectrum of tastes, plus its proximity to some of the country’s top agricultural regions ensures a steady supply of seasonal ingredients, fostering creativity and culinary excellence.
Durham, North Carolina
Population: 291,928 | Growth in hospitality jobs: 10.6 percent
Wedged between nearby cities Raleigh and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, Durham is quickly becoming a city to watch in terms of culinary innovation and opportunity. Nestled in the heart of the Research Triangle, Durham’s culinary scene has evolved in lockstep with its thriving tech, education, and cultural sectors, also driven forward by progressive universities such as Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Bull City’s culinary identity is marked by its commitment to farm-to-table dining and local and sustainable ingredients. The city’s fertile surroundings provide access to an abundance of fresh produce, meats, and artisanal goods, inspiring chefs to create menus that celebrate seasonal flavors.
Chef Ricky Moore of Durham-based Saltbox Seafood Joint is the city’s most recent James Beard award winner in the Best Chef: Southeast category in 2022. “I opened up a space on the side of the road that was 205 square feet,” Moore said in his acceptance speech at the award ceremony, during which he threw up a Bull City horns hand sign, according to INDY Week. Meanwhile, Durham chef Matthew Kelly’s restaurants, including Mateo Bar de Tapas, Vin Rouge, Mothers & Sons, and St. James Seafood, have earned him four James Beard award nominations.
Durham’s downtown district, including the revitalized American Tobacco Campus and bustling Ninth Street, is teeming with innovative eateries. From contemporary Southern comfort food to international fusion cuisine, Durham offers a range of culinary experiences that cater to a diverse clientele. Plus, Durham’s strong sense of community and support for local businesses, in addition to its renowned farmers’ markets, culinary festivals, and food incubators, makes the city an ideal environment for foodservice operators to thrive.
Population: 808,437 | Growth in hospitality jobs: 9.4 percent
From Chef Thomas Keller’s infamous The French Laundry to other Michelin-starred establishments like Birdsong, Saison, Lazy Bear, Benu, Quince, and more, San Francisco has long been known as a foodie paradise. The “Paris of the West” is celebrated as a melting pot of innovation, creativity, and flavors, driven by its diverse cultural influences.
Renowned for its farm-to-table ethos, San Francisco boasts access to some of the finest locally-sourced ingredients. A commitment to sustainability and quality is a huge focus, which is reflected in the city’s diverse cuisine ranging from seafood-centric dishes on Fisherman’s Wharf to the iconic clam chowder bread bowls. Embracing dietary preferences also makes the city a haven for operators who want to focus on vegan, gluten-free, and organic and seasonal ingredients.
The city’s residents and visitors alike are eager to explore new flavors and concepts, making it a fertile ground for those looking to make their mark or expand their culinary footprint. San Francisco’s vibrant food festivals, farmers’ markets, and food truck culture provide ample opportunities for exposure and experimentation. Plus, the city’s proximity to California’s wine country and its role in the tech industry bring both wine and technology enthusiasts together, offering unique niches for foodservice entrepreneurs to explore and integrate onto menus. The dynamic culinary playground may be one of the most competitive on this list, but well worth the effort in the end for true visionaries.