Looking for a great place to eat while traveling? In some ways, it's never been easier to find a dining destination. It's also never been so vexing. Whereas travelers might once have settled for whatever Fodor's or Lonely Planet recommended -- or whatever was closest to the hotel -- today's review sites are so comprehensive and offer so many opinions it's often overwhelming.
On top of that, we've become so obsessed with making the best possible choice for each meal that we often forget to employ some of the tried-and-true strategies that have long lured travelers to memorable dining experiences around the globe.
Here at Triposo, we believe it's the spirit of travel that should move you, and we're here to offer some tips for hacking your dining choices without going nuts, breaking the bank or contracting food poisoning. Check it out below:
1. Hygiene First
The most important basic factor when determining where to dine is cleanliness. Not sure how to determine whether a restaurant or food cart is safe? I recommend you look at how clean the owner's hands are. If they're spotless and ready for a friendly handshake, you're probably safe. On the other hand (pun intended), if they're caked in dirt or food, or even if his or her apron looks filthy, you might want to hightail it to a different establishment. Another good way to tell whether food is safe is to check whether the restaurant or food stall is busy. If it is, that's a pretty good sign that the food turns over quickly and is likely to be fresh.
2. Read a Few Reviews -- Then Stop
It's easy to get sucked into reading reviews for dozens of restaurants. This one has four stars... but someone said it was dirty. This other one has five stars... but only two reviews. The guidebook recommended yet a third one... but Yelpers give it just three stars. How will you make up your mind?! If you're going to check out reviews, we recommend that you enter your basic search criteria (perhaps type of food or location), sort by stars, and then check just a couple of them out. If one grabs your attention, don't bother reading through every review or running comparisons on a dozen other restaurants. Just go check it out for yourself. You'll save a lot of time, money and energy by avoiding over-reliance on the opinions of total strangers.
3. Use the "BAG" Method to Find Good, Cheap GrubThink you need to spend a wad of cash to get a great meal? Nope! Rather than assuming that more expensive meals are always going to taste better, employ our threefold "BAG" strategy to net a fantastic dinner at a reasonable price:
- Bookmark at Home
- Ask a Local
- Get Out of Town
Bookmark at Home -- Before You're Hungry!
When we looked at the data from our app, we discovered that the vast majority of users wait until they are in a place and hungry to look for a place to eat. Just like diet books recommend you don't go to a grocery store while starving, you probably won't make the best decision for your wallet or your waistline if you wait until you're famished to pick a restaurant. Instead, bookmark a few while you're at home (and well-fed), and then refer to your list once you get there. This way, you won't waste precious time while traveling, and you'll probably end up with a decent meal that you picked out when you weren't feeling rushed by the rumblings of your belly. This is also a great way to save money. It's hard to be rational about value when you're hungry, so do yourself a favor and bookmark ahead.
Ask a Local
Speaking of locals, if you really want to find a great meal, ask residents for recommendations. You may have to try a few people before you find someone who speaks your language, or look up a few keywords in a phrasebook. But once you do find someone willing to help, you're likely to get some great suggestions that aren't chock-full of tourists. Afraid of chatting up a perfect stranger on the street? Head to the nearest bar and buy someone a pint. That will get you in their good graces quick, and then you can pepper them with questions about where to find the yummiest grub at the best prices. Locals know value better than any guide. If you're still too shy after a beer or two, do some searching ahead of time for local foodie blogs. There's nothing quite like a self-proclaimed food lover when it comes to getting restaurant recommendations. Nothing listed on their site? Send an email! Most bloggers love to hear from readers and will be happy to send you a few suggestions or even write a quick post with their picks.
Get Out of Town
Often the best, most authentic and most reasonably priced local restaurants are well outside the bounds of a city's touristy areas. That means if you're staying in a hotel near all the major monuments and museums, you might want to plan a jaunt to a more residential neighborhood for your evening repast. Once you get away from the touristy epicenter, you're likely to find authentic cuisine that can give you a taste of what the locals love. As a bonus, you're also much less likely to wander into a tourist trap. Local food at local prices -- that's what you want.
When it comes to finding a great restaurant, reviews can be a good place to start, but they can also easily lead you down a rabbit hole of indecision. Instead of relying too heavily on them, use the BAG method. Between some strategic bookmarking, local recommendations and a short hike out of the most touristy part of the city, you should be all set to find hidden gastronomic gems in any city you visit -- and save yourself a few bucks in the process.