Zagat has finally released the hottest food cities of the year.

What does “being hot” entail? Zagat editors assessed the number of innovative openings, award recognition, and national media attention, then finally how “exciting” each locale was.

We’re noticing a pattern: culinary heavy-weights are no longer just in the obvious metropolises (NYC, Chicago, Miami, LA), but establishing themselves in the smaller markets like Charlotte, Asheville, Birmingham, Indianapolis, and Denver. The South seemed to make a killing this year, bringing in 14 of the 26 top food cities.

Check out Zagat’s list of the 26 most exciting food destinations →