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San Francisco Street Food Festival (Stephen Hsu)
San Francisco Street Food Festival (Stephen Hsu)

Eight U.S. food festivals this summer you won’t want to miss Add to ...

Restaurant recommendations are handy when you’re on the road. But the best way to spice up any vacation is to unnotch your belt and faceplant into a food fest or two. Alongside smiling, sauce-smeared locals, you’ll likely eat enough to fill you for a week. If you’re taking your taste buds south this summer, here’s a diverse menu of U.S. food festivals to look out for.

Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off

Sparks, Nev.; Aug. 27-Sept. 1; nuggetribcookoff.com

This steam-shrouded showcase tops a finger-licking heap of U.S. barbecue events. An estimated 500,000 roll in annually to catch chef contests, live bands and a shiny-glazed mountain of great grub. Tireless grillers serve top-notch nosh, but the unnaturally esurient should consider entering the World Rib Eating Championship. The “winner” crams around 3.5 kilos of ribs in 12 minutes for a $2,500 (U.S.) prize – which presumably pays for the extra aircraft seat required to fly home. Can’t make Nevada? Consider Washington’s National Capital Barbecue Battle (bbqindc.com) or New York’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (bigapplebbq.org).

Festival of Cheese

Sacramento, Calif.; Aug. 1; cheesesociety.org/conference/festival-of-cheese

Travellers of a curdy disposition enjoy July’s Vermont Cheesemakers Festival (vtcheesefest.com), but the gigantic, one-night-only Festival of Cheese staged by the American Cheese Society is a lip-smacking orgy of whey-based treats. The sole public event of a 1,000-person professional development conference, guests can gorge on more than 1,700 American artisan and specialty cheeses entered into the organization’s annual competition – categories include best smoked and best blue-veined. Add side dishes of preserves, charcuterie and craft beer and the $60 (U.S.) ticket price makes perfect sense.

Maine Lobster Festival

Rockland, Me.; July 30-Aug. 3; mainelobsterfestival.com

If you’ve consumed an overly large chunk of this festival’s 9,000 kilograms of mouth-watering fresh-cooked lobster, absolve your waist-expanding sins with its 10-kilometre road race. Alternatively, pull up a chair for seconds. A six-decades-old local legend, this family-friendly celebration is all about downhome dining at alfresco communal tables. Start with a bulging lobster roll, add a few sweet steamed clams and then dive into some full-on crustacean cracking, served with bread rolls and butter-slathered corn. Chowder fan? Consider adding July’s day-long Boston Seafood Festival (bostonseafoodfestival.org).

National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival

Buffalo; Aug. 30-31; buffalowing.com

In lieu of an American Cheeseburger Festival or a National Nacho Jamboree, the United States’ best pub food is celebrated at this sauce-tastic annual party. Inspired by a junk food-loving Bill Murray movie character, more than 400,000 hungry carnivores roll into the Buffalo Bisons’ Coca-Cola Field ballpark every year to tuck into the region’s best wings, consider entries in the Chicken Wing Hall of Fame and watch in awe as contestants’ eyes glaze over in the Nuclear Hot Wing Eating Contest. Inspired to launch a spicy road trip? Pack some antacid and add Austin’s Hot Sauce Festival (austinchronicle.com/market/hotsauce).

San Francisco Street Food Festival

San Francisco; Aug. 16; sfstreetfoodfest.com

You can’t swing a Korean fusion burrito in some U.S. cities without hitting a food truck, but this annual Mission District fiesta offers around 80 alfresco vendors in one stomach-stuffing, sun-dappled stretch. A pilgrimage spot for sticky-fingered comfort-food fans, it will likely have you salivating over doughnut burgers, chocolate s’mores and that well-known American health food: deep-fried mac and cheese. Can’t make the date? See www.offthegridsf.com for regular food-truck gatherings in and around the city.

Pittston Tomato Festival

Pittston, Pa.; Aug. 21-24; pittstontomatofestival.com

Grassroots events are the hidden gems of U.S. food fests, from the Georgia Peach Festival (gapeachfestival.com) to the Beauregard Watermelon Festival (beauregardwatermelonfestival.com). But how about an American version of Spain’s fruit-chucking La Tomatina? This Pennsylvania celebration serves up a street parade, tempting food stands and several tomato-growing contests (look out for the “ugliest” winner), but for $8 (goggles included), you can join 150 fun-loving souls tossing rotten tomatoes at each other. It’s <QL>the most fun you’ll have while reeking like an old ketchup bottle.

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy, Calif.; July 25-27; gilroygarlicfestival.com

While vampires routinely avoid this Christmas Hill Park event, thousands of clove-huggers roll in every year for cooking demos, live music and pungent food stands serving everything from garlic fries to garlic ice cream – all made with around two tonnes of locally grown bulbs. Keep your eyes peeled for this year’s Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen and don’t miss the breath-challenging cook-off of gourmet recipes (think spicy garlic butter cookies with garlic goat cheese). Perhaps the best part? After stuffing your face, you’re guaranteed a row to yourself on the flight home.

Taste of Chicago

Chicago; July 9-13; tasteofchicago.us

While popular summer dishes include Aspen, Colo.’s Food and Wine Classic (foodandwine.com/classic); Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival (lafw.com); and Portland, Ore.’s Bite of Oregon (biteoforegon.com), the United States’ biggest scarf-fest is “the Taste.” This 34-year-old behemoth lures more than two million to Chicago’s Grant Park every year for a jam-packed buffet of free live music and food stands serving everything from spicy ethnic nosh to local specialties such as deep-dish pizza and toppings-slathered Chicago dogs. Keep dancing and you might work it all off.

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