Whether you're hitting the road for an impromptu getaway, a business trip or the long-planned vacation of a lifetime, you'll probably agree that food is a key ingredient to making your trip a memorable one. Although national chains do offer comforting consistency in their menus, many people prefer exploring local cuisine for a true immersion into their temporary home -- however, many of the best spots aren't advertised and can be difficult to locate.
So how do you ensure that you have the right information to challenge your taste buds? How can you know where the locals go when their stomachs start rumbling? With the five simple tips and lists of regional specialties on the next few pages, you should be well on your way to eating like a regular no matter how far away from home you travel.
Get a Guide
As soon as you know what city you are visiting, start researching restaurants. The most obvious place to turn to is the Internet, but with millions of reviews and Web sites dedicated to food, it can get a little overwhelming. Head to the library or a local bookstore instead and check out the travel section there. Travel guides like Fodor's and Lonely Planet offer a good overview of must-try locales, but they do tend to highlight popular tourist spots over local flavor. In addition to large travel books, many cities publish their own "best of" guides that will tell you which restaurants are considered the crème de la crème in their town. Search online to see if your destination offers a guide or if the local paper has a restaurant section.
Use Your Social Network
Millions of people use social networking, like Facebook or Twitter, on a regular basis to keep up with family and friends, so use it to your advantage and ask anyone who's visited your destination before to comment on their favorite spots. Once you've exhausted your Friends lists, check out what other people are saying about regional eats on Twitter by running a Twitter search for the cities you're curious about. Many locally owned eateries opt to post special deals and coupons to encourage repeat guests on social networks now, instead of on a Web site. Run a Google or other web search to see if the place you're interested in is on Facebook or Twitter, and be sure to follow or "like" them to get the same deals as the locals do.
Ask the Locals
Even with the most thorough research, some restaurants could still disappoint. If you really want the scoop on the best places to nosh in any given spot, turn to the locals. Check out Web sites dedicated specifically to regional food, like Urban Spoon, where you can request local recommendations in the forums and read reviews posted by folks with first-hand knowledge. Or, when you arrive at your destination, let the front desk clerk or concierge at your hotel know what type of cuisine you're most interested in sampling and get his or her advice. And don't be afraid to ask locals on the street, too. Most people will be happy to share the scoop on their city's best cuisine and where to find it.
With the popularity of cellular technology and smart phones, you're likely to have the Internet right at your fingertips. Using your phone, you can locate places to eat, read reviews and look up menus and more with dozens of apps created especially to make finding a good meal easy. Apps like Local Eats and Yelp allow you to read reviews and locate just about any restaurant on the map. Meanwhile, apps like Eat St. and Food Truck Fiesta take advantage of the food truck craze by using GPS technology to keep track of mobile food units, allowing you to easily track down the best in local street fare.
Check Out Your Surroundings
If you're traveling unexpectedly, you might not have time to plan your dining itinerary. So, how can you be sure the random restaurant you select will hit the spot? One of the best indications is a full parking lot. If others are piling in to eat, chances are the food is good. Take a mental inventory of your surroundings, too. Is the entrance well maintained? When you walk in, does it smell good and are you greeted right away? If you answer yes to these questions, chances are the owners take pride in their establishment, from the front door to the kitchen floors. But don't just assume it's kosher -- all restaurants are required by law to display their health inspection report near the entrance, so take notice of the restaurant's grade to confirm you've made a good choice.
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- Esposito, Mary Ann. "Checklist for A Good Restaurant." Huffington Post. April 15, 2010. (July 5, 2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-ann-esposito/checklist-for-a-good-rest_b_539021.html
- Raskin, Hanna. "The Secret of Finding a Great Restaurant While Traveling." Dallas Observer. March 14, 2011. (July 5, 2011) http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/cityofate/2011/03/the_secret_of_finding_a_great.php
- Swallow, Erica. "Street Food Fanatics Get Tasty iPhone App & TV Combo." Mashable. April 4, 2011. (July 5, 2011) http://mashable.com/2011/04/04/eat-st-street-food-app/
- Van Grove, Jennifer. "4 Fun Apps for Foodies, Savers & Travelers." Mashable. June 11, 2011. (July 5, 2011) http://mashable.com/2011/06/11/weekend-roundup/