Run targeted web searches
This is one of the best ways I've found to find great restaurants to visit when visiting a new place. Instead of sticking to lists of general restaurant recommendations, I'm looking for something specific here:
“The best brunch inSydney”
"The best coffeeDetroit”
“The best white roses in Hoi An”
"The bestCardamom buns in Stockholm”
SUGGESTION!Also, do targeted searches in your local language if it's not English. You can easily use an online dictionary for the translation, so instead of searching for "Florentine steak in Florence", you'll find results in Italian by searching for "Florentine Steak Florence.” (that's how I found itmy favorite place in Florence to eat this local specialty!)
Ask the locals or frequent visitors
Even if you think you have nothing to do with the place you travel to, you might be surprised. Although I didn't know any localsBarcelona, SpainLubPort au Prince in Haiti, a friend of a friend visited Barcelona often and had great recommendations, and my friend's aunt, who often visits Haiti for non-profit work, pointed me in the right direction. In both cases, I had no idea I was in a relationship - until I asked.
Book some restaurants in advance
If there's one place you'll definitely want to go, it might be worth (or necessary!) to book a meal in advance. Some countries rely on reservations more than others. It's also useful for popular high-end restaurants you're considering, such as a restaurant with a listThe 50 best restaurants in the worldor the most popular Michelin-starred restaurants in a major city.
SUGGESTION!Be flexible about what time you want to book and consider lunch as an option to increase your chances of landing a hard-to-find reservation.
During your trip
Sure, the preparation is great, but it's nothing compared to actually being there. There are also many things you can do when you arrive to find the best restaurants and eat well:
Ask at your accommodation
Whether you stay in a hotel orAirBNBeither your concierge or host probably has great information on local dining options. Either way, if you're looking for something specific (think modern, authentic, or a certain cuisine), they can probably help. When insideVerona, Italy, I used to haveOsteria da Ugoit was recommended to me by my hotel when I was looking for local cuisine and it has become my favorite restaurant that I am happy to return to.
Ask a local for recommendations
It doesn't have to be a formal process, but every local you meet—from asking for directions to driving a taxi—is a potential source of great local information on the best restaurants. I got some great restaurant tips from a person I met admiring a mural in San Ignacio,Belize.
SUGGESTION!Be careful not to ask for a general restaurant recommendation, as you can simply ask a local to recommend the most beautiful tourist spot in town that they think will be good for a tourist. Instead, be specific about your request. If you want somewhere local,ask where taxi drivers or locals hang out.
Keep your eyes open as you walk
Maybe you're already on a path that will lead you to the best food on your trip. Watch out for the long lines of locals you can see at popular spots like Luini Panzerotti in Milan, Italy or an appetizer item from a street vendor like my favoritepanel(fried chickpea flour pancakes) in Palermo, Sicily oramazing local buffet i tried in colombo sri lanka.
SUGGESTION!Even if it's not time to eat or you've already eaten, look around for where the locals go or if you see a cute spot you want to mark on a map to come back to later for a meal.
Try restaurants with menus you don't understand
Be brave and don't be put off by the restaurant, even if there is no English menu. Some of the best European meals I've had in restaurantsMainz, GermanyVienna, Austria iLiechtensteinthat they all only had German menus but were otherwise welcoming. Usually there was a server who could help me with the problem.
SUGGESTION!When in doubt, try foods or drinks you don't know the name of. If you see something that looks appetizing, pointing still works to pass it to the server. Or this time in Bruges, Belgium I chose a beer based on its cool glass and it turns out I like the taste of Kwak too!
Follow your gut
No matter how much research you've done or how good the online restaurant is, ultimately you have to trust your gut. ONday trip to Orvieto, Italyfrom Rome, I have identified many restaurants as possible options for lunch. However, when I passed each of them on my morning tour and looked at their menu, I wasn't particularly inspired. Another restaurant along the way looked cute and seemed to have special local dishes that I haven't seen on any other menus, so I went there instead of places on my list and had an amazing meal!
READ MORE: How to eat well when traveling alone
While there are many things to seek out, there are also many attractions that I try to avoid when traveling to avoid a disappointing dining experience. There's always a limited number of meals you can try wherever you go - and I love making the best meals I can out of them!
Things that will make me look for another place to eat:
"Tourist menu" or a large sign with many translations of the menu
I will probably be able to get a foreign version of a local dish at home. When I'm on the road, I want to try the authentic food of a city or country as a way to get to know the destination, rather than try something that has been changed to suit the tastes of tourists.
It is located right next to the main tourist attractions
No restaurant located right next to a major tourist attraction has the incentive to produce good food. Regardless, customers will seek out a restaurant because of convenience. So even if I'm trying to find a convenient meal, I'll walk at least a block or two to possibly find better and cheaper dining options. This strategy has yielded significant benefits in Berat, Albania:
I hear a lot of English, not the local language
While I wouldn't expect the clientele to be all local anywhere, hearing a lot of English somewhere (if it's not the local language) could mean the restaurant caters to foreigners rather than locals. Any good restaurant will still attract locals, even if there are a lot of tourists there.
Welcome signs hanging in the street offer menus and invite you inside
Maybe it looks like it in the movies, but in real life the best restaurants are always busy and you don't have to work that hard to attract people. I see this often in my travels on the boardwalks where all the restaurants are virtually indistinguishable and can only attract business by paying someone to stand outside and bring in customers. A better meal probably awaits at a restaurant that doesn't have to.
If something doesn't seem right when you first approach a place, take it as a sign that the restaurant doesn't really care about the food either. If I see that somewhere is very dirty, with visible bugs or animal droppings, I don't stick around to find out what the food is like. Even if I'm already seated.
A restaurant that is not so crowded
There are certainly exceptions to this rule—for example, if you're eating earlier or later than your typical meal—but generally, if a restaurant is pretty empty, there's a reason for it. Again, it depends on the context, but even if a place has great reviews and is on my list, if I walk by and it doesn't seem popular, I'll probably go elsewhere.
Of course, none of these strategies are completely effective, but if I do my research beforehand and be careful when visiting a new place, the chances of finding the best restaurants and eating well during my trip are much better.
What guides you when choosing a restaurant during your travels? Are there other things you look for or avoid? Share your best tips in the "Comments" below!
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