Traveling can be fun, especially when you are vacationing! But whether you’re leaving the comfort of your home for business or leisure, one thing is sure: you need to eat.
And that’s where things can get a bit tricky.
How do you find good restaurants and cafes where the food is great? Should you just make do with snacks and go mostly hungry?
Don’t take this the wrong way, though. Travel destinations typically have good places to eat. The problem is finding such spots. After all, you are in an unfamiliar town or city, and restaurants may not do things the way it is done back home.
But you don’t have to starve just because you are far away from home.
On the contrary, you’ll enjoy memorable local cuisines in some of the best restaurants and cafes wherever your trip takes you if you follow some of the practical tips you’ll read here.
Do Your Research
First things first, find out everything you can about the eating habits applicable to your destination. This is not only about the types of food available but also mealtimes.
For example, most restaurants in Spain open late so you might not find a place to eat dinner before 8 pm.
On the other hand, it can be difficult to find a place to eat lunch after 4 pm if you are visiting Australia. That’s because lunch is mostly eaten in cafes and these places are already closed at that time of the day.
Also, it is important to factor in the peculiar custom or practices in the place you are visiting. For example, if you plan to visit the Middle East during the fasting period, you might have difficulty finding a place to eat during the day. That’s because most food places will be closed until late at night or the wee hours of the morning.
Read Local Food Blogs
Foodie influencers aren’t shy about sharing their experiences with just about anyone online. These bloggers offer tips from the best cocktails to sandwiches, coffees, and everything in-between.
Before traveling, research food bloggers in the city or country you plan to visit to see what they recommend.
Make Reservations in Advance
Consider booking your meal in advance if you have a specific place in mind that takes reservations. This is particularly important if you plan to eat at high-end or popular restaurants in major cities.
It can be tricky to walk into a popular restaurant at peak periods and find an available table unless you are extremely lucky.
Ask Your Hotels or Accommodation for Recommendations
You can get good restaurant recommendations from your hotel concierge or Airbnb host. These people usually know plenty of good joints in the city because of the type of work they do in the hospitality industry.
If you stay in a luxury hotel, you might even try the food offered in the in-house restaurant.
Ask Locals or Regular Visitors
Sometimes, you may need to jet off in a hurry without enough time to cross all the Ts and dot the Is. It might be an emergency business trip, or you’re just an impulsive traveler!
Heck, you might even make all the necessary arrangements beforehand, and somehow, things didn’t go as planned. You can’t control everything that happens on a trip, right?
Whatever the case, one of the best tips to help you find great restaurants along your travels is to ask the locals.
In most cases, locals don’t have anything to gain by giving recommendations. They don’t own and are not affiliated with the restaurants or cafes, so you’ll likely get honest recommendations.
Talk to cab drivers. Many of them know great all-night eats. Employees at tourist spots can also give you pointers about nearby diners with excellent menus. Besides helping you find good places to eat, locals can even offer plenty of useful suggestions to make your visit more fun and memorable.
Frequent visitors too can have a wealth of knowledge on where to find good food. After all, if they’re always coming back to the same vacation spot, it’s more than likely they know a few good places to eat, drink, and have a good time.
Get Recommendations from People You Know
Getting recommendations from the locals might not sit well with you if you really don’t like asking for help from total strangers. Some of us cling dearly to the “do not talk to strangers” advice, and that’s okay!
Here’s what you can do before you leave for your trip or while on the road. Post on your preferred social media to see if someone in your circle would want to recommend some of the must-visit spots at your destination.
You might not have a friend who’s ever visited where you’re headed. But it’s not surprising to get recommendations from a friend of a friend.
Use Travel Apps
Good travel apps don’t just show you places to visit; they also help you find popular eating spots at your travel destination.
Google Maps is one of the best travel apps you should consider downloading on your phone or mobile device before traveling. It makes it easy to search for restaurant listings in your destination. Simply enter something like “restaurants in Bologna” (or wherever your destination is), and watch the app will spew out plenty of listings!
Use Targeted Online Searches
If you want to find specific restaurants where you are visiting, consider running some targeted online searches.
Here’s what that means.
While travel apps can give you plenty of restaurant options, there are mostly blanket listings that won’t give you specific details.
If you have something in mind, use the following format to search for it:
[“What you have in mind” in “destination name”]
You can search for “Best local dish in Port-au-Prince.” You might even be more specific with something like, “Best Jamon Iberico in Barcelona.”
Want to take things a step further? If you’re visiting a place where the local language is not English, consider using an online translator to help you do a targeted online search in the local language.
Read Local Travel Guides
Local travel guides are some of the most helpful and reliable sources to find great restaurants at your destination.
In addition to providing popular restaurant listings and contacts, local travel guides often include local cuisines and price ranges so you can have a fair idea of what to expect and what it will cost.
Plus, most local travel guides recommend excellent street food places and good markets where you can find fresh foods.
Look for a Queue
Keep an eye out for locals lining up for food at an eatery. It’s always a sign that the food there is great, or it won’t be popular with the locals, right?
Don’t have time to join a long queue? No worries. Simply ask around to find a better time to come back. Alternatively, ask if the eatery takes reservations. This way, you won’t spend valuable vacation time waiting in a long queue every time you want to eat.
Keep your eyes open as you stroll through town to make things a lot easier. Mark cool spots you see on a map, especially where the locals are attracted to. You can return for a meal when it is mealtime.
Here’s something to keep in mind.
Not every restaurant with a decent crowd offers good food. There’s a difference between locals lining up for food and tourists making do with the next available option.
Read on to learn how to avoid these tourist traps.
What to Avoid When Looking For Good Places to Eat During Travels
To help you sidestep disappointing restaurant experiences on your travels, here are a few things to avoid.
1. Avoid Eating at Restaurants Near Big Tourist Attractions
Smart restaurateurs will give anything to locate joints near major tourist drags. That’s because it is a lot easier to get a decent crowd and make good profits, even if the food isn’t all that interesting.
Instead of the hassles of locating good places to eat (which are usually far away from the tourist attraction), many hungry tourists would simply settle for what’s available since it is nearby.
However, if you want to really enjoy what you eat, go somewhere else. Usually, you’ll find good food in neighborhood restaurants than eateries close to the biggest tourist attractions.
2. Avoid Tourist Menus
Okay, this one may not work for everyone, depending on your taste and the experience you want to have.
If you’re like most people, you want to learn more about your destination. One way to do this is to get a taste of the authentic delicacies of where you are visiting.
If original cuisines are your thing, you will be better off avoiding foods that have been altered in all kinds of ways to suit different tourists’ tastes.
In other words, avoid tourist menus.
Here’s one way to know if a restaurant offers a tourist menu. You’ll see a signboard with multiple menu translations.
Of course, these diners might be among the good places to eat in the cities or towns you visit, but the foods are likely a tourist version of what you already know. That means you are not getting any new experiences – just the same old stuff back home.
3. Avoid Deserted Restaurants
Even if a restaurant has some great reviews, it is best to go elsewhere if it appears pretty much deserted. There’s usually a reason some restaurants are mostly empty, and the reason isn’t always something positive.
But there are exceptions.
You might be visiting too late or too early than the typical mealtime. In that case, it makes sense that the restaurant may not be very busy at the time of your visit.
4. Avoid Places With Harassing Greeters
If you feel pressured by greeters posted outside a restaurant to urge you inside, go somewhere else.
Why is that?
Most great restaurants are extremely busy with guests inside and won’t have any spare time to lure people in.
If you find greeters outside a restaurant, stop and take a look around. You’re probably on a street packed full of many indistinguishable restaurants with the same uninteresting menus!
Don’t fall for the trap. It is usually not worth it. You’ll get better meals at joints where they don’t have to harass or entice potential guests.
5. Stay Away From Unsanitary Places
There is absolutely no reason to stick around long enough to see what the food is like in a messy place. If the restaurant looks unkempt when you approach, you can bet it doesn’t bother too much about the food quality either.
Traveling with kids? Look for restaurants with strollers out front. This is usually a sure-fire sign that your family will be welcomed there.
If you walk into an eatery and it’s filled with only adults or couples, you might want to go somewhere else to eat with your kids.
That’s because it is inconsiderate to risk ruining the night for the other guests, especially if you have little kids. Even if a table is available, but the host seems slightly perturbed about the children, that’s your cue to find another place.
Traveling should be an opportunity to learn new things about where you are visiting, including their cultures, values, and of course, local cuisines.
Don’t be afraid to try out restaurants with no English menu. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to get some of the best meals at local spots with strange-looking menus. If you’re in doubt, you can always use Google Translate.
Be adventurous and try new flavors and unfamiliar combos.
You may not be particularly inspired by some of the recommendations you get, regardless of all the research and preparations before your trip. Don’t despair if this ever happens. Simply trust your instincts and explore the town for yourself. You might end up enjoying incredible meals in the least likely places.