Eating is the best part about exploring a new place, but figuring out how to find good restaurants while travelling can be tricky. Even defining what a ‘good’ restaurant means to you is tough. Throughout your trip, you’ll have moments when it means something different: Does it mean finding authentic cuisine? Does it mean finding cheap food? Do you just need a burger from McDonalds?
I spend hours scouring sources to find the best restaurants, but I usually will reserve just one or two ‘must-eat’ places (I’m also probably a bit too obsessed with looking at restaurant menus). For the rest of my trip, I go with the flow, following these simple guidelines which rarely lead me astray.
Sometimes I get lazy, then I end up eating sad, sad lasagna like this in Bologna:
Here’s how to find good restaurants while travelling
Throw away the guidebook
You brought along the guidebook, great, always very useful! Now throw it away. While a guidebook is awesome for finding accommodations, learning about the history of your destination and its major attractions, I find the dining section to be hit or miss. There are even rumours out there that restaurant proprietors pay popular guidebooks to be in their restaurant sections (gasp). Whether or not this is true, I don’t often look at this section.
If you do need a guide, I really like Eater’s essential 38-lists, which are updated regularly for major cities across the globe. I’ve always had delicious meals at the places they’ve recommended.
I’m also a HUGE fan of Where Chef’s Eat, a great book detailing thousands of places chefs love to eat in their respective hometowns. There are some great holes-in-the-wall you will have to try!
Bloggers know best
Google local food blogs based out of your destination. Bloggers are the ones on the ground discovering the next best place to eat and review the local mainstays regularly. Take out your phone and see what hashtags pop up social media; you know those Instagrammers know the best place for pizza in Naples.
Ask a local
Ask the guy in the coffee shop where he likes to go for dinner, ask the lady who sold you that souvenir about her favourite local spot. People who live and eat out everyday in the area will know what’s good. Be weary of asking the guy at the front desk, many concierges will get a commission from the restaurant for recommending places close to the hotel.
Stray from the main drag
The worst restaurants I’ve ever eaten at are always near major tourist attractions. Seriously, I have nightmares about the sad souvlaki I ate near the Parthenon. Even walking a few hundred metres from the Spanish Steps in Rome will help you find a good restaurant. I often look for residential areas and head there for a great dinner at the neighbourhood restaurant.
Don’t look for the English menu
If the restaurant has a big sign out front saying WE HAVE ENGLISH MENUS, just keep on walking. Most restaurants in larger cities will have an English menu anyways, the good ones don’t need to advertise it to get you in the door. Any kind of flashy sign that tries to attract English-speaking tourists is a big red flag.
Fixed-price? Average food
Another red-flag siren goes off in my head when I see a fixed-price menu (outside of France, mais oui). If it says ‘special tourist menu,’ run away as fast as you can. I don’t want to eat what tourists eat, I want to eat what real people eat. This meal will be crappy and cheap; it’s better off finding a food cart for low-cost eats.
If it looks like a chain, it tastes like a chain
Adam and I ate at an attractive looking restaurant in Munich’s flashy Schwabing neighbourhood, only to be disappointed with mediocre food, especially after we Googled it and learned it was a national chain. If their menu graphics look like a chain and the decor is really nice, it’s probably a chain.
That being said, sometimes you might just want some greasy food from whatever country’s national chain. There are some anomalies. We ate at an amazing place on the beach in Barcelona with cheap beer and delicious seafood, only to find out later it was a chain. It was damn good.
Award-winning food scholar. Infuriatingly humble explorer. Music specialist. General tv fanatic. Pop culture geek.