Finding great places to eat when I travel is very important to me. Reason #1: I love to eat well and consider myself a foodie, so I’m always on the hunt for the best restaurants who serve great food done authentically with fresh ingredients cooked on site. Reason #2: I am frugal and hate wasting money. I can’t stand being taken for a ride by a restaurateur who charges high prices for inferior quality food. I don’t want to leave a restaurant thinking that I could have made a better meal myself for cheaper.
Since food is an integral part of experiencing local culture, here are some tips to help you identify the best restaurants and places to eat. These points should help you universally, whether in Poughkeepsie or Paris, Minneapolis or Milan.
- Make sure you’re picking a restaurant that is a local favorite. Find eateries that are filled with people who look local (or just don’t look like tourists). A line out the door is a great sign (but note that some restaurants seat a lot of people so this isn’t always a defining factor). Also, listen for the local language, dialect, or accent.
- Ask locals for their recommendation. I prefer to ask strangers at convenience or retail stores for their advice. Give them some guidance though so their suggestions fit your tastes—make sure you let them know what kind of food you are craving and what price range fits your wallet.
- Know what food a region is known for. You would be remiss to not try pizza in Naples, cheese-steak hoagies in Philadelphia, a Cuban sandwich in Miami, a baguette in Paris, etc. Trying the fare that a city cooks best allows you to truly immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Do your research. When I’m traveling, I watch as many television shows as I can find about my destination—Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations is a favorite, but I also like ones about cheap eats or places off the radar, too. I find the top bloggers for the city I’m traveling to and read their opinions about where to eat. I also rely on YouTube vloggers and guidebooks for advice. My research process includes making a travel gurus’ recommendation list and then checking the restaurants that most appealed to me on Trip Advisor to see: their ratings, most common positive/negative reviews, prices (many times a reviewer will have uploaded a photo of the menu), etc. On Trip Advisor, I save the best restaurants to “My Trips” and then leave myself notes (you can do this separately for each eatery you save) recording where I heard about the place, what the eatery is known for, if they’re a cheap eat or a splurge, and their general location (I then rearrange my list so all the restaurants are clustered according to nearest major tourist attraction). My process may seem excessive, but it has come in handy over and again when trying to counterbalance hunger and sightseeing fatigue…which leads me to my next tip.
- Conventional wisdom says to avoid eating near tourist attractions. It is true that you are more likely to find tourist traps near major sites, but avoiding restaurants in those areas is sometimes impossible. After hours wandering around the Colosseum/Roman Forum, I am hungry (bordering on hangry) and just want to sit down, rest, have a glass of wine, and eat a good meal. Good places to eat—although harder to find around tourist attractions—are not impossible to come by; this is where my aforementioned restaurant categorization comes in handy. I just look at my Trip Advisor app (which can work offline) and see all the possibilities in the area around where I am standing.
- Consider a culinary walking tour. Many big cities now have tour companies offering food & drink tours that allow participants to sample the local cuisine while learning about the food culture of the area. For our tour guide recommendation, see the italicized section at the end of this blog.
- Avoid places where hawkers are out front trying to drag you in. If the restaurant has good food, it will speak for itself and there won’t be a need to beg strangers to eat there.
When I first started traveling frequently, I ate some truly horrendous meals—in some cities world-renown for their cuisine! Now, I follow my system and eat well almost 100% of the time. My travels are infinitely more enjoyable and I come home dreaming about the fabulous food I ate. I hope these tips heighten your travel-eating game and lead you to discover culinary delights that leave you craving more. Happy dining!
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