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By @marinarena

Popular U.S. destinations for intriguing food tourism

Food tourism, a rather new concept in leisure travel, is on the rise. Whether due to influence of Travel Channel shows, other media sources or word of mouth, Americans are increasingly booking food and beverage destination travel. This kind of leisure tourism in the U.S. is attractive as a fulfilling sensory experience. Here are three regions are particularly attracting foodie travelers.

West: California’s “Wine Country” & Portland, Oregon

Throughout California are destinations with first-class wineries, specialized wine tours and restaurants. Almost exclusively people visit Napa, seat of Napa Valley wine region, for a 4-star culinary experience, like at Thomas Keller bistros, Ad Hoc and Bouchon. Over a billion dollars is generated in food and wine tourism alone, according to Visit Napa Valley. Gourmet enthusiasts also head in huge numbers to Napa neighbor, Sonoma, as well as to Santa Barbara and Ojai.

California’s northern neighbor, Oregon, is beloved for its eccentric food and microbrew epicenter, Portland. Embracing an “anything goes” personality, the city is dotted with neighborhood establishments that break menu, policy and decor eatery norms. For example, visitors may love Victorian-style coffeehouse Pied Cow, an eatery/hookah lounge serving Middle Eastern/American cuisine, “foofy” herbal drinks, booze and gourmet doggie treats. Portland is also unique for its “food carts,” or street food shacks. Also not to miss: any quirky quick-serve spot brewing Stumptown coffee or cutting fresh marionberry pie.

Midwest: Chicago & Milwaukee

Chicago is a bonafide food capital, famous for mouth-watering, high calorie specialties: deep-dish pizza, Italian beef and deluxe hot dog. While the city has plenty of top-notch upscale restaurants, greasy-good joints and pizzerias are where to go for its signature foodstuffs. Foodies flock to Chi-town’s “pizza joint enclave”, Great Lake, for an authentic, crusty, mammoth-sized pizza. Little Italy especially delivers on fixing meaty, juicy deliciousness of Italian beef on a dense roll. From O’Hare airport to Wrigley Field, hot dog enthusiasts can get a proper Chicago dog with sliced dill pickle and tomato, relish and a squirt of yellow mustard.

Just 90 miles of roadway, or 90 minutes of a train ride separate Chicago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Arguably, the “sin” in Wisconsin represents beer and cheese, and no other American town appreciates and consumes them more than Milwaukee. Several dozen brew factories like tourist-packed Miller Brewery, and microbreweries in the city run beer tours. Milwaukee has a multitude of welcoming gastropods where guests not only get drunk on beer chugging, but on cheese sauce – put often on chips, potatoes and various sausages. Travelers can also get accustomed to eating cheese curds, which squeak in the mouth while chewing.

South: Kentucky & New Orleans

Bourbon lures in Kentucky visitors seeking a traditional “spirited” experience. About half a million visitors tour and sample barrel-aged bourbon along KY Bourbon Trail, stretching multiple counties. Among the most recognized distilleries along the way are Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. Mint julep, the sweetened version of bourbon, is sipped often at Kentucky Derby, which is the biggest, most celebrated tourist draw for the state. As far as a quintessential Kentucky food experience, there is burgoo, a spicy meat stew served statewide.

Disputes still exists over bourbon’s origins being in Bourbon county, KY or New Orleans, LA (NOLA). However no doubt is raised over the latter destination being a culinary rich capital. Delectable NOLA cuisine with its Cajun, Creole and French roots, is best experienced at tourist-friendly French Quarter, but travelers can get specialties like gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya and beignets all over town. Foodie travelers especially seek out celebrity NOLA chef restaurants like Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul and Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico.

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