It's sometimes one of the main reasons we travel: food. But how to find the most authentic and tasty food? Here are my top tips on how to find the best restaurants while traveling.
There's something about traveling that brings me back to the basics. With my only real responsibilities being sleeping, eating, and entertaining myself it's hard to not find a new perspective on life. It's hard not to feel energized.
That being said, it's important to find good food while traveling. Both while traveling internationally as well as domestically. That's why I'm sharing my top tips on finding the best restaurants while traveling today.
With tips that rely mainly on your senses and observation, you can use these while exploring a new city or country but you can also use these tips to find hidden gems in your own city or town.
Because of internet access in foreign countries and the bias that is in a lot of the review platforms, I'm sharing ways to find restaurants without the aid of the internet. In my bonus tip section, however, I share what I look for in a review on a review platforms when searching for restaurants online.
This is a cumulative list of tips-- with each tip building on the previous. I'll make notes on this throughout. Once you start applying these tips and find great restaurants while traveling, however, you'll build up your intuition and it will become second nature.
My Four Tips For Finding Great Restaurants While Traveling
1. Look for restaurants off the beaten path.
This applies for almost any time I'm looking for a restaurant -- while traveling or at home. In general, the less a restaurant pays in rent, the more you are paying for quality food instead of their overhead.
Same goes with restaurants that are extravagantly decorated and show only beautiful people at the bar in the front window. Greater chances of you paying for the experience, not the food.
I often will find a main drag or area of the city and then walk away from it or down its alleys to find the best food. In larger cities, I will often go out to the neighborhoods to see what they offer. It's a bit more of a trek, but I'm also often rewarded with the genuine culture of the city this way too.
2. The better the price relative to the area & cuisine, the better and more authentic the food.
God bless my husband because he puts up with me constantly stopping to look at restaurant menus when we travel. I do this for two reasons: I like to get a feel for what type of creative things the local chefs and restaurants are up to and I like to get a ballpark for pricing of meals and dining in the area.
Once I have that ballpark and am looking at restaurants that are off the beaten path, I can then look at pricing to confirm that I'm paying for the food, not some other aspect of the experience.
A special note: I'm not necessarily recommending to look for cheap food here, but rather food that is decently priced relative to the area. Also, you don't just want a decently priced restaurant but one that's off the beaten path and also priced affordably relative to what you see in the city and touristy areas. Often finding more inexpensive food in a touristy area usually just means bad food.
3. Look for restaurants with the most native speaking patrons in the restaurant.
If you're in Spain, look for restaurants where the most number of patrons are speaking Spanish. If you're in Australia, look for the restaurants with the most number of people have the Aussie accent. This means that locals like and go to this restaurant and it's more than just a tourist trap.
Extra points: for when the restaurant staff seem to know patrons by name. Having that report means that people like the restaurant enough to repeatedly go there.
In general, the further off the beaten path and the more reasonably priced a restaurant is, the more local and native speakers will be there. The more culturally authentic your whole experience will likely be, too.
4. Look for restaurants with patrons that speak the language of the cuisine.
When we were in Amsterdam, we found an Italian restaurant in the more residential neighborhood we were staying in. Not only were there many patrons who spoke Dutch, there were also a good handful of people in the restaurant who also spoke Italian with the waiter.
This meant that not only do locals like going to this restaurant but people who were possibly Italian or at least familiar with the Italian culture also loved it. No surprise then that this was one of our favorite meals of the trip, albeit being reminded of how badly I need to brush up on my Italian ... eek!
Additional Bonus Tips
These first four points are my top and most important points to look for when I'm out exploring a city. Sometimes it's also hard to know more about a restaurant beyond these initial observations and I often opt to not have phone data when traveling internationally.
Here are some additional helpful tips for when I do have internet access or can learn or observe more about the restaurant.
Bonus Point 1: the restaurant is family owned and run.
This one is a bonus point because sometimes it's hard to tell on first impression if a restaurant is family owned. If I can see the people in the back of the house and they look like or are communicating with each other and the front of the house staff like family, that's a good sign.
Close friends or family friends working together in the restaurant is just as good as actual family working together. The more people are personally invested in the restaurant and their cuisine-- especially if they are serving their family's or culture's authentic recipes -- the better the food and the service tends to be.
Bonus Point 2: the restaurant has good reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, or any other frequently used review platform.
This is my second bonus point and most optional tip because internet access isn't always available or good while traveling and review platforms are full of bias. Some of the reviews are almost often phony for some reason or another, too.
Sometimes I'll later look up a restaurant that I loved on a review platform and the reviews reflect an entirely different experience than I had. I'm then grateful that I didn't look ahead of time or it might have dissuaded me from a great meal.
Either way, if I need to find a restaurant to eat at quickly or need to plan out my restaurant ahead of time, I will look for ones that are out of the tourist area and then -- especially if I am on TripAdvisor -- read reviews from people who either live in the country or are from the country of the cuisine.
While on any review app, I also disregard any bad reviews where people had unrealistic expectations (i.e. walking into a restaurant with 10 people 5 minutes before closing and being upset that they weren't served) or any reviews that seem like they might be coming from competitors
I hope this is helpful to you whether you are looking for your next great meal on a trip or in your hometown. Please let me know in the comments below how these tips worked for you and if you have any other things you like to look for! Thanks, as always, for joining me today.