Photo Credit: Hilary Solan
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 appétit!
- Plan ahead and book a culinary walking tour: Consider booking a culinary walking tour, becoming 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.
- 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.
- 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 meet 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.
- 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 at our favorite spots. In addition, utilize user-generated-content apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor to dig deeper for 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)? Foursquare is another app worth downloading, with tips from the people who frequent these places most.
- Search out regional options: Deal Expert Sara Kriegel, based in London, seeks out restaurants that solely serve regional cuisine in her travels. Her reasoning: it's important to try the food of the area, not just things she could get at home in England. Also, sticking to the basics and picking a place using the foods indigenous to the area is a safe bet. If you're in Shanghai and there's one pizza place that's busy on a block full of traditional restaurants, it could only be popular because it's a novelty.
- Avoid eating near the biggest tourist attractions in town: Restaurants near the biggest tourist attractions may rely more on location than on good, interesting cuisine. Deal Expert Kelsey Rexroat gives this advice, "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."
- Look for lines of locals: 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.
- Got kids in tow? Take this tip from Deal Expert 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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-- Hilary Solan is an editor at Travelzoo and based in Chicago. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.