20 fantastic and flavorful food fiction reads

20 fantastic and flavorful food fiction reads

Just as food memoir is one of my favorite literary genres, so is fiction that revolves around food. When we think about food fiction, our minds often go straight to those books set in the restaurant industry.

But food fiction as a (loose) genre is broader than this: it might include characters who are restaurant critics, enjoy cooking for their loved ones, or who relish a good meal and have distinct opinions about who makes the best taco or cinnamon roll.

This list might make you hungry. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

20 flavorful novels where food takes center stage

Garden Spells

Garden Spells

Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverly possesses a unique magic: she uses edible flowers to prepare foods that affect the eater in "curious ways." Years ago, Claire's sister fled town—and her Waverly gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance is cheesy, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you're not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this "a wonderful surprise." More info →
Little Beach Street Bakery

Little Beach Street Bakery

Author:
Polly’s life is in ruins: in one fell swoop, she's lost her business, her boyfriend, and her flat. She can't afford a place in town, so she's forced to move out of the city—way out of the city, to a remote British island town, in a flat above an abandoned shop. (Everyone's reaction to her new home: shouldn't this place be condemned?) Polly turns to baking to cheer herself up, and before long her favorite hobby turns into something more substantial than she ever dared to dream. This is multilayered and well-written chick lit. A sweet story about starting over, with lots of heart. More info →
All Four Stars

All Four Stars

Author:
Unbeknownst to everyone, NYC's toughest restaurant critic is an 11 year old girl. Gladys started cooking impressive gourmet meals when she was 7 but she has to find a new outlet when her parents cut her off from the kitchen after a mishap. When she accidentally gets contacted to write a restaurant review, it seems like a sign. There's just the little matter of keeping her identity a secret. A fun middle grade read that kicks off a trilogy perfect for 9-12 year olds. More info →
Heartless

Heartless

Author:
Have you ever wanted to know the origin story for the Queen of Hearts? In this Alice's Adventures in Wonderland prequel, Catherine is a talented baker and her greatest dream is opening a cupcake shop. Instead, she's navigating a secret courtship even as she snags the unwanted attention of the unmarried King. Stock up on baking supplies before you start because Catherine's cupcakes are sure to inspire you...and cupcakes may be exactly what you crave because of this heartbreaking read. More info →
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Author:
Barbecue, laughter, and the occasional side of murder. Meet tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth who ran a diner in Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1930s, as told by Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn (and us) 50 years later. Evelyn has been in need of a jump-start for her middle aged life, making this a great choice for anyone wanting to read about seasoned female protagonists. More info →
The Mistress of Spices

The Mistress of Spices

Divakaruni's first novel tells the story of Tilo, a young Indian girl trained in the magical powers of spices and their blends. She disguises herself in a run-down spice shop in Oakland, California, where she uses her powers to improve the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to her for spices, but her longing to find a love of her own tempts her to leave her magical post in search of her own fate. More info →
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel

Author:
This was a fun, more-or-less lighthearted read about a Boston pastry chef who flees to the country after literally setting her workplace on fire with a flambéed dessert. Reviewers called this parts Jan Karon and parts Gilmore Girls. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan's The Little Beach Street Bakery or Laura Dave's Eight Hundred Grapes. I can't help but notice that Louise Miller's covers are every bit as charming as her characters. More info →
The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients

Lillian offers cooking lessons every Monday night at her restaurant. This story is as much about her eight students as it is about the dishes they create. Ranging from a young mother to a widower coping with the death of his wife, we get to see how they respond to their fellow class members and how this transforms personal lives even as their cooking skills improve. A true comfort read. Recipes are included. More info →
Sourdough

Sourdough

Author:
A charming, breezy, and completely quirky story from the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, once again set in San Francisco. Lois is a programmer whose life changes when she falls in love with baking bread ... but then something unexpected happens. More info →
The Proposal

The Proposal

Guillory brings back her character Carlos from The Wedding Date. This time he gets the starring role, beginning with one heck of a meet-cute: he rescues a stranger from total humiliation after she's the recipient of a most unwelcome and extremely public (hello, Jumbotron) proposal at a Dodgers game. Guillory's romances always feature a lot of food. In this case, there's taco ranking, a hero who enjoys cooking risotto, and Nikole's best friend owns a cupcake shop that you'll wish you could visit. (Open door but not as steamy as The Wedding Date.) More info →
The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

This follows several generations of a Minnesota family as they establish themselves in the brewing industry—and fall to pieces in the process. Despite the family feud and plenty of tense moments, the tone is relentlessly hopeful. A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate and the secrets of making a world-class beer. Plus, there's pie and hot dish. This was one of my favorite audiobooks of 2019. More info →
Small Change

Small Change

Author:
In this contemporary romance, cinnamon roll hero Christopher owns a sandwich shop and just wants to make sure tattoo shop owner Ginger is well fed. Note: this story deals with Christopher’s brother's severe depression and past suicide attempt. (Open door.) More info →
With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High

Seventeen-year old single mother Emoni has always been told she has a magical touch in the kitchen. She dreams of a career as a chef but she doesn't have the time or money for her school's new culinary arts class, not if she's going to still be able to work part-time and provide for her child. She's torn in a lot of directions but her passion for food is clear. You'll be rooting for her the whole way. More info →
Recipe for Persuasion

Recipe for Persuasion

Author:
This follow-up to Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors stands on its own. In this loose retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, Ashna is a Bay Area chef so desperate to save her family’s failing restaurant she agrees to compete on the reality tv show Cooking with the Stars. That’s where she reconnects with her first love—now a Brazilian soccer star—on live tv, for the first time since he disappeared twelve years ago on the worst night of her life. Dev puts her own spin on Austen’s classic, while highlighting the timeless themes of the original: a young woman sensitive to her family’s criticism, a disadvantaged young man with no credentials but a bright future, an unexpected second chance at first love. A sensitive, satisfying update. More info →
Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

Set in turn-of-the-century Mexico, Laura Esquivel imbues her novel with magical realism to great effect. As the youngest daughter, Tita De Garza is forbidden to marry as she must care for her mother until she dies. When she and Pedro fall in love, he marries her sister so they can at least be near each other. If that sounds like a recipe for torture, you're right. As the family deals with one tragedy after another, Tita pours her emotions into her cooking as she preserves their recipes, causing everyone who eats the food to react in different ways. It will have you yearning for Tita and Pedro to somehow find a way back to one another. More info →
American Dreamer: A Multicultural Romance (Dreamers Book 1)

American Dreamer: A Multicultural Romance (Dreamers Book 1)

This contemporary romance debut is going to make you hungry. Moving from NYC to Ithaca, Dominican Republic immigrant Nesto gives himself six months to make a real go of his Afro-Caribbean food truck business. Youth services librarian Jude is trying to get funding for a library bookmobile as a way of getting services to more rural areas. Neither man can afford the distraction but some chances are worth taking. The food descriptions are amazing, as is Nesto's philosophy of food as a way of maintaining cultural roots and nourishing his community in the US. You'll wish you could get in on the meals he makes for Jude, too. (Open door.) More info →
Tikka Chance on Me

Tikka Chance on Me

Opposites attract between bad boy biker Trucker and good girl waitress Pinky in this contemporary romance novella. Trucker always comes in to her family's Indian restaurant and one day they finally move past their assumptions of one another and realize they have more in common than they ever could have guessed. A fun read. (Open door.) More info →
Idlewild

Idlewild

Author:
Asher has one last shot to make the Detroit gastro pub he started with his late husband work. He starts by firing the old staff and hiring replacements, including recent college grad Tyler who needs money for med school. Their relationship evolves from business to friendship and then later, something more. A great behind-the-scenes on the restaurant industry and Detroit's revival. (Semi-open door.) More info →
The Marriage Game

The Marriage Game

Author:
Layla returns home to San Francisco after her life falls apart. Her father offers her the office upstairs from his Michelin starred Indian restaurant (helpful) and secretly creates an online dating profile for her and arranges a series of blind dates (not helpful.) Sam thought he was renting the office upstairs but finds out he’ll have to share it with Layla and her potential suitors. These two opposites will have you smiling as you read! Heads up for some open door moments. More info →
The Way You Make Me Feel

The Way You Make Me Feel

Author:
Clara is sentenced to a summer working at her father’s food truck after one prank goes too far. Hamlet works at the coffee shop next to one of the food truck stops. A funny coming of age YA tale about friendship, crushes, and finding yourself in the most unexpected places. More info →

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What favorite food fiction would you add to this list?

P.S. If you like reading about food, don’t miss these 20 tasty and tantalizing food memoirs, or my go-to cookbooks.

20 fantastic and flavorful food fiction reads

96 comments | Comment

96 comments

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  1. Annie says:

    I would definitely add Kitchens of the Great Midwest, also by J. Ryan Stradal. I absolutely loved both this one and Lager Queen!!

  2. Sarah C says:

    I would add the Bruno, Chief of Police series by Martin Walker to this list. Set in southern France, the food Bruno cooks in each book is just as good as the mystery he is solving (sometimes it’s better!).

  3. Lori A. Samilson says:

    It’s an old one, but I enjoyed Heartburn by Nora Effron. My two favorite cozy mystery series are food related. There’s the Goldy the Caterer series by Diane Mott Davidson (her books are little bit above the average cozy) and the Presidential Executive Chef series by Julie Hyzy.

  4. Lisa says:

    I’d add Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J.Ryan Stadal. I’ve read and loved MANY of those on your list–Like Water From Chocolate and With The Fire On High being two favorites among all books! Great post! I also love non-fiction foodie books and have read/reviewed many.

    • Kate says:

      I LOVED the food, restaurant, beach setting of this book. I thought the people/relatinoships came second to the amazing setting of the restaurant.

    • Meghan says:

      Yes! The Blue Bistro is my favorite Hilderbrand novel, and a perfect summer read. The restaurant and foodie scene is so well done in this book.

  5. Safari says:

    One of my favorite books is Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray. It’s humorous, meaningful and has great dialogue–and also great cake recipes too.

    • Wesley Jeanne Satterwhite says:

      Me too! I love Jeanne Ray and Eat Cake is one of my favorites. I love how it addresses the lives of grown-ups: a long-time marriage, caring for elders, etc. It has a great opening. Plus I baked the almond cake recipe in this book with great results.

    • Mary Kay says:

      I loved “Eat Cake”! It’s probably my favorite of Jeanne Ray’s books, but I love everything she’s written. Our little book club was lucky enough to get her to come to our discussion of “Calling Invisible Women” and she was a delight! (Funny story- I had been trying to get in touch with her for our book club without success for a while. One day, I was out on a run and saw Ann Patchett walking her dog. I ran past her and did a double take when I realized who she was. I yelled, “Are you Ann Patchett?” She looked a little nervous but said yes. I told her that I love her books, but I had been trying to reach her mom Jeanne Ray about coming to our book club. I guess I didn’t look too scary, because Ann Patchett gave me her email address and got me in touch with her mom!)

  6. Laura L says:

    I also loved Little Beach Street Bakery, City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, and Lager Queen! Added Recipes for Persuasion to my TBR, along with Eight Hundered Grapes that was mentioned in comparison to City Baker’s Guide. I love this genre so thanks for the recommendations!

  7. Krystal P says:

    Great list! There are several on here that I haven’t read and put on my wishlist.

    I would add the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The side plots are a little bit cheesy, but every bit delicious and I really like all the “characters” in town. It kind of reminds me of Gilmore Girls, mother/daughter, tiny town with quirky villagers.

    Also can we add a category for middle grade novels. We recently read Adventures with Waffles and every member of my family LOVES it, kiddies to grown ups.

    • Megan O says:

      The Bakeshop Mysteries are wonderful…& Gilmore Girls with mystery is a perfect description! I’ve enjoyed many on this list, but also recommend Chocolat, Bread Alone, and Delicious by Ruth Reichl.

  8. Amanda says:

    Food fiction is my favorite, especially when the author includes recipes! I would add Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Rosalia’s Bittersweet Pastry Shop by Rosanna Chiofalo, Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews, and the Hannah Swensen mystery series by Joanne Fluke (includes recipes).

  9. Sharon says:

    I would add Lizzie and Jane to this list by Katherine Reay. It is a sweet story of a sister who leaves her job, tries making amends with her newly cancer-diagnosed sister, and then ultimate starts a business of cooking food geared toward patients going through chemotherapy. I loved this book!

  10. Megan says:

    I would add anything by Stacey Ballis. Her characters are passionate cooks and reading her books always leave me hungry. I believe some include recipes as well.

  11. Kristi says:

    I would add The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell, Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin and The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee. I just adore books with food and magical realism. 🙂

  12. KT says:

    My mom loved Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune and I am about to start reading it this week! I haven’t read any of these so I’m excited to try a few of them. I’ve always had Babette’s Feast on my TBR after seeing the movie, but I can’t even think of any other food fiction I’ve read!

  13. Diana M says:

    What does it mean when you label a book “open door?” I couldn’t find an explanation anywhere, but it seems like maybe it’s related to how descriptive it is in regards to…romantic encounters? Thanks!

    • I believe Anne has described it this way…A quick guide: if you prefer sex scenes to be minimal or only hinted at, look for “closed door” romance. If you’re okay with your romance being more explicit, look for “open door.”

  14. LisaF says:

    Stones For Bread by Christa Parrish is one I enjoyed years ago.
    The book has bread recipes interspersed throughout, too.

  15. Marta says:

    I just re-read Garden Spells. I love all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books and many deal with magic and food. I read With the Fire on High last year and the book was delightful. Many of these titles on on my massively TBR!

  16. Meredith Zuege says:

    I would recommend The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. I tell as many people about Lager Queen!! One of my favorites of last year.

  17. Rebecca says:

    I’m new to your website and booklists — and loving it all, BTW! Sorry if this has been answered elsewhere — I poked around a bit and couldn’t find the answer: What does “open door” and “semi open door” mean in these reviews?
    thanks for all the great content and inspiration!

    • Wesley Jeanne Satterwhite says:

      It referes to the level of descriptiveness of the sex scenes. Closed door = less descriptive or just hinted at. Open door can be pretty explicit.

      • Rebecca says:

        huh. 🤔 Okay, thanks for the clarification! — I was thinking of it backwards to that! …Like, explicit = closed door because “go away, kids! I need a little privacy for this!” 😉😂

  18. Stacie says:

    Sourdough and Heartless are two of my favorites! I just recently inhaled Recipe for Persuasion. Pretty much all the rest were on my TBR or are being added. For fun lighthearted reading, Ellie Alexander has quite a few food themed cozy mysteries.

  19. Erica says:

    Please read The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh. It’s a middle-grade novel about an indomitable motherless child with a strong Southern voice who tells her story through family recipes and goes on an adventure to learn the hard truth about her past. It’s funny, heartwarming, and the recipes in it are legit! I actually made the Impossible Pie recipe and my family was bowled over.

  20. Love this list! We read Sourdough in our Preheated Baking Podcast book club, Episode 69: Two for the Dough. I also want to add Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. While not a book about food, the characters loved to cook (and eat!) and there were so many vivid, descriptive food scenes…I highlighted the heck out of that book.

  21. Alicia says:

    The rest of the Beach Street Bakery series are just as good as the first. And if you like recipes and cozy mysteries, the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke are cute.

  22. Mary says:

    I am excited to see The School of Essential Ingredients on this list. It is one of my favorite books of all time! I would recommend Barbara O’Neal’s books as well. There is often a food component in them, and her writing is gorgeous. I loved The Lost Recipe for Happiness and How to Bake a Perfect Life.

  23. Fawn says:

    The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms
    Two complete opposites with the same name arrive to claim a sweepstakes prize – a dream house. One is a gourmet chef and the food descriptions are divine when she is the narrator. The other’s idea of cooking is making Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese but she learns to bake bread as the story unfolds. Love, heartache, friendship, and plenty of laughs. I loved it on audio.

  24. Sharron Cathcart says:

    I loved the cozy culinary mysteries by Josi S. Kilpack. There is 13 in all but “Lemon Tart” is the first.

  25. Melanie says:

    Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop coming in August and The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux coming in September.

  26. Meghan says:

    It’s several years old, but I liked The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. I read this shortly after I read Ruth Riechl’s Garlic and Sapphires and felt like they were a great pairing. LaBan’s husband was a restaurant critic in Philadelphia so the foodie and lifestyle details are spot on.

  27. Stephanie Musselman says:

    Author Anthony Capella! The Wedding Officer and another book about coffee are both delightful foodie reads!

  28. Karen says:

    This is an amazing list! Thank you to all of you who left your recommendations. I recommend ‘The School of Essential Ingredients’as well! One of my favorite books.

  29. Sherry Johnson says:

    One of my all-time favorite books is “Delicious!” by Ruth Reichl. It’s faction ,but based on fact.

  30. Lisa Hickman says:

    These are a few foodie books I’ve read and enjoyed, which should be included on the list: The Love Goddess Cooking School by Melissa Senate; The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark; Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray; The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

  31. Aimee says:

    Oh my goodness, I can’t believe Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune didn’t make it. I devoured that book and swear I could almost taste her recipes!!

  32. Lisa J. Sharp says:

    Great list! If I could make a suggestion? I would consider adding another series for middle-schoolers to this list. I really enjoyed reading them, & I’m in my 50’s! The series consists of (in order) Bliss, A Dash of Magic, & Bite-sized Magic written by Kathryn Littlewood.

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