CHICAGO - Memorable meals can make a trip, but locating a good restaurant in an unfamiliar place can be tricky — especially when hunger has already set in. To find the best tastes in a new town, follow these tips to know whom to ask and where to look. Bon appetit!
1. Plan ahead and book a culinary walking tour
Consider booking a culinary walking tour, becoming more and more popular in cities worldwide, for an early part of the trip. This is a great way to sample many dishes, get a lay of the land and then decide what places you’d want to come back to or what kind of regional foods you’d want to have again. Better yet, you’ll get to know your guide along the way, and you’ll be able to pick his or her brain for even more tailored recommendations. A popular stop in the Bay Area is guided excursions to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, my hometown of Chicago has several pizza tours (pace yourselves!), and in Europe organized outings range from sampling the snails of France to seafood and olives in Greece. For people traveling in countries in which they don’t speak or read the language, this can be a good introduction to menus — plus proper mealtime etiquette in that locale.
2. Read local publications and posts from local food bloggers
Add some fun research to your trip planning by reading up before you go. A treasure trove of posts from local food bloggers and reporters is a quick Google search away, and the writers’ bread and butter is finding the hot spots and spilling secrets on the hidden gems. It’s easy to save all the addresses to a Google Map or print one out and highlight the intersections worth visiting. Some regional magazines or newspapers even have yearly dining lists that take a lot of the guesswork out of a visit.
3. Ask real people
Getting recommendations from the hotel concierge can be a decent fallback plan, but some of the best restaurant picks we’ve gotten are from other people we’ve met along the way in our travels. Cab drivers can be a wealth of knowledge of all-night eats, and employees at popular tourist spots could have a scoop on what’s good nearby for lunch (without the long lines or the high costs). And asking people you meet can be a good icebreaker for even more tips and suggestions for your visit. Before you go, you can post on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone in your circle has must-visit spots to share as well.
4. Search out regional options
Our UK Website Editor Sara Kriegel, based in London, makes it a priority to search out restaurants that serve local cuisine. “What’s the point of being away if you’re eating food you could get at home? Snacks are 50% of the reason I go anywhere,” she says. Also, stick to the basics and go with something that makes sense for the area. Eating pizza in Asia isn’t necessarily the best plan. Even if a place looks crowded, check if it’s full of travellers or locals before you go in.
5. Avoid eating near the biggest tourist attractions in town
Restaurants have an easier time prospering when they are near the biggest tourist attractions, and the food doesn’t have to be all that good or interesting to get a decent crowd. According to our senior copy editor Kelsey Rexroat, “Usually places in neighborhoods are a better bet than the main tourist drags. If they’re harassing you to come inside or have flyers everywhere, it’s likely too touristy to be good.” She added: “I’ll do some research beforehand through Yelp, message boards, and friends who have been and mark some spots on a map so I’ll know options in whatever area I’m in.”
6. Download essential apps
Before you get on the plane or hop in the car, make sure you’ve downloaded the Travelzoo app for dinner and drink deals on the go. In addition, use user-generated-content apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor to dig deeper for info. The real value in these is searching for more specific information: when’s the best time to get a table? What’s the one appetizer everyone raves about? Do they take reservations (for later in the trip)? Another must-download app for travelers is Foursquare, as it goes beyond being a location-finding tool and offers really specific tips from the people who frequent these places most.
7. Look for lines
If people are willing to wait to dine at a certain eatery, that says a lot. We’re not advocating wasting precious vacation time waiting long times to be seated for every meal, but once you find a spot that looks hot, do your research to find a better time to come back, or even better, see if they take a reservation.
8. Got kids in town?
Take these tips from our Executive Producer Angela Shannon: “I walk in and ask if they have a table for us, and if it’s available now. If the host looks perturbed or unsure or put off by my kids, clearly it’s not a place for us; or if it looks too stuffy or filled with only couples or adults, I know it would ruin the night for the other guests and I go elsewhere. Dead giveaway to me is looking for strollers out front. Clearly we’ll be welcome at a restaurant like that.”
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