New Orleans always gets top billing in the Pelican State, but Lafayette is Louisiana's true food and music lovers' secret. Known for Cajun-zydeco music, the city has recently been earning accolades for its Acadian classics, smoked meats, and vintage-cool vibe.
The Venues and the Menus: In this capital of Acadiana, it's rare to find food without music (and vice versa). You can wake up Sunday morning to Cajun music and a breakfast of biscuits topped with boudin patties, poached eggs, and crawfish étouffée while a 14-foot alligator looks on at Prejeans (don't worry, the gator's stuffed). Don't miss the crawfish boils at Randol's, another dance hall where you can dance to live zydeco nightly. And there's a whole new generation carrying on the Cajun torch, from local-boy-made-good Donald Link's outpost of his famous New Orleans restaurant Cochon to the sophisticated fare at the French Press, which nods toward the region's French past. Bands like the Doc Marshalls, Feufollet, and the Malfecteurs can be found reinterpreting their French musical heritage at venues like the Blue Moon Saloon along with indie rock acts like the Givers.
Musicians you've heard of from Milwaukee? Arrested Development, the Violent Femmes, the Promise Ring, the Die Kreuzen, and Liberace (didn't see that one coming, did you?). To the uninitiated, Brew City's music reputation might seem a little, well, scattered. And the food scene? Aside from cheese and beer, similarly unheralded. But this unassuming town (and its biker edge) is prepared to prove you wrong, one microbrew-drenched show at a time.
The Venues: If you want to know where Milwaukee's priorities lie, consider the fact that its beer magnates choose to spend their money rehabbing the city's music venues. As a result, you can see big-name acts in the restored Pabst Theater, an 1895 architectural gem, at the historic Riverside Theater, or at Turner Hall, once a showcase for German immigrant painters, gymnastics competitions, and dances in the early 1900s. On the other end of the spectrum is the very much not restored Cactus Club, a beloved Bay View institution and proving ground for locals like bluesy rockers the Ragadors and soul combo Kings Go Forth. Try to visit during the 11-day Summerfest, one of the world's biggest music festivals, rocking lakefront in Henry Maier Festival Park.
The Menus: Milwaukee has one of the highest per-capita bar stats in the country, so it should come as no surprise that some of the most exciting developments for food lovers here come in liquid form. Distil uses local ingredients like Sprecher ginger ale and Great Lakes Distillery liquors in its craft cocktails. At the upscale Hinterland Gastropub, Beard Award nominee Dan Van Rite challenges your notion of beer food with globe-trotting comfort dishes like Tunisian-spice pork belly with a smoky eggplant purée and tabouli. But if you want to indulge in some stereotypes, head to the Cheese Bar, where you can sample pairings of 175 Wisconsin-made cheeses with local beers. Cheese heads, indeed.