I travel constantly. As in, my suitcase never makes it back in the closet / I am on a first name basis with flight crews on certain routes. I commute back and forth to Boston at least monthly for work and often have the odd trip to other destinations for my job. And, as though I was not flying on a plane or driving in a car enough, I somehow still manage to believe that I love to travel for pleasure – be that a far-flung destination, or just a short weekend trip away.
I’m sure it goes without saying, but food plays a key role in any trip that I make. NOTHING bums me out more than paying for bad food. If I make a meal that’s less than stellar, I chock it up to experimentation or building my cooking skills. Eat out and have a crappy meal? Tragic. Naturally, making sure you are always eating well in destinations that are unknown to you is kind of a challenge.
So, per request as always, here are my tips on how to successfully make local (or, really, even far) trips for good food.
1) Do some research before you go. I know this one seems pretty obvious – and it is – but it’s truly the best thing you can do to ensure tasty meals away from home. Bookmark or pin articles with suggested restaurants, ask around to friends who’ve been there before, check out what’s trending on Yelp. You know the drill.
I also highly recommend that you also look up where places are on Google Maps. You might read about a place that the travel mag loves, but if it turns out that it’s 20 miles from where you’re staying, I don’t care how scrumptious the bread basket is, the reality is you’re probably not going to haul your butt over there.
Lastly, if you’re going to a big city or to a popular destination for a holiday or special event, make reservations. There are great online tools available (I’m an OpenTable addict) and having a confirmed spot will totally save you from getting turned away from the place you’ve been dying to go or from eating dinner at 11:30 at night (Unless you’re in Madrid. Then, good luck getting a rez before 11 pm.).
2) Look for a crowd or a full parking lot. Sometimes your research fails. This happened to me and the sous-chef just recently. We were in Tahoe for a long weekend and tried to grab lunch at a lakeside restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Turned out, the place had closed for the season. Needing to make a quick decision, we got back on the road with eyes pealed for a decent place. We only had to go a few blocks before seeing a little roadside café with so many cars in the lot, there was overflow parking on the street. Felt like a good bet and it was.
3) Sort your sh*t out before you are starving. Trust me on this one. This is the a-number-one way to end up eating a craptastic dinner while traveling, which is not only a bummer but is only going to add to the pissy mood you put yourself in by letting yourself get that hungry. We’ve all done it. You go too long without eating and you make a restaurant choice based on desperation. You go wherever is close or has no wait (hi, there’s a reason there’s no one there) and the food is rarely (ok, never) good. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead, or for a worst-case scenario, keep a granola bar stashed in your bag.
4) Don’t ask locals for advice. And, god-forbid, don’t ask at your hotel. I know that this flies in the faced of every clichéd travel article you’ve ever read. I acknowledge that it makes sense on the surface – they live there, of course they know the great places to eat. But my general experience has been that locals (and, absolutely, your concierge) will tend to direct you to the touristy places. They’re sort of the first thing that pops to mind for locals and, also, they feel like safe, “that’s a good place for a visitor” choices. They’re not. Do the work on your own and you’ll be better off.
Above all, just hit the road, keep your iPhone handy, and eat some awesome stuff. If you ask me, life is all about the cool stuff you find the minute you step out your front door.