When you’re traveling to a new city, your primary concern should always be finding the hidden culinary gems tucked away from the tourist crowd. You could surf Yelp, TripAdvisor, or any of the innumerable repositories for eatery reviews, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. There is a better way.
I’m going to outline my exact process for finding amazing eats in new locales and help you enjoy every bite of your adventure along the way while experiencing life through the eyes of a local.
The problem with tourist-centric restaurants is that they’re generic and underwhelming. Everyone tells you they’re the best place to go first or that it’s part of the experience, but they’re little more than crowded, pretty facades with sub-par food surviving on reputation alone. These are not where you want to spend your limited time on a short vacation.
You want to go where the locals eat. My goal when visiting any new area is to experience it through the eyes of someone that lives there. I want to go to a local watering hole that people stop in at after work. I want to find the little Mom & Pop grub shacks where people take their kids and their grandparents on a Saturday afternoon. I want the best boozey brunch spot in town. I want it all.
Where to Start
One of my favorite spots to start researching a new place is Reddit. Most major cities have their own sub-reddit and some of the headlines may even pertain to what you’re looking for.
When in doubt, start a new thread. Specify what types of cuisine you like and what kind of crowd you’re looking for and, chances are, a friendly citizen will be willing to point you in the right direction.
When a suggestion is made by a user, take the time to research the restaurant’s menu via Google and look for some pictures of their signature dishes. If it looks good to you, add it to the list.
The Unlikeliest of Places
There’s also some sites out there that gather together all of the spots that have appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and catalog them according to city. I’ve used this generally-untapped resource dozens of times to find eateries to explore.
Whatever your feelings on Guy Fieri (I personally love his idiotic cheesiness), the food he presents looks absolutely amazing. In all likelihood, based on the 8 million episodes of the series, there is at least one joint in the area you’re visiting that has appeared on Triple D.
Another overlooked option for researching restaurants is Airbnb. Whether you’re renting a place or not, the owners of these hotels-for-hire are more than happy to answer questions about their location. I’ve gotten great recommendations from renters and many of them are really excited about sharing their knowledge of the local food fare in hopes of enticing you into a few nights at their pay-per-night bungalow.
Drink and Be Merry
Unless you’re socially anxious, the bar is also a great place for finding great places to add to your itinerary. You could chat up the bartender or other patrons and ask them for suggestions. Most people love talking about their favorite restaurants, so it should be an easy icebreaker.
The bonus here is that many of the places they suggest will also have late night hours. There’s nothing better than running a few liters of alcohol through your system and stumbling headfirst into a late night location to stuff your face with sloppy, fried, delicious treats.
Use Your Eyes
I’m probably stating the obvious here, but also pay attention to your surroundings when you’re traveling around town. If you see a tiny shack, dive-y looking hole in the wall, food truck or dilapidated storefront with a line out the door, do yourself a favor and STOP IN.
Often, the best meal is the one with the least pretentiousness. The line of people anxiously awaiting a table in a tiny place only proves that it’s worth the wait. Don’t miss out on stops like these. They are often your best bet.