The following is a guest post by Kacey from The Drifter Collective!
Whether it’s a city you’ve never been to in your home state or a country halfway across the world, going somewhere new affords you the opportunity to peek into a different culture. Part of every culture is cuisine, so when you travel, your meals are important learning opportunities, just like anything else on the itinerary.
However, when you’re from out of town, it can be difficult to figure out which eateries are worth your money and which are overpriced tourist traps. That’s why you should take the following steps the next time you want to eat locally somewhere new.
- Follow the Crowds
This one is pretty simple: do you see a line out the door? Stand in it. Generally, folks aren’t going to wait in line at an eatery that isn’t worth it. So when you head out for brunch and see a café that has already attracted a crowd, put your name on the waiting list. When you walk by a hole-in-the-wall bistro around dinnertime and see that its dining room has zero vacancies, request a table. And if you’re searching for the best doughnut in the city, simply keep your eyes peeled for a bakery that’s really doing business.
- Check Out Review Sites
Thanks to the Internet, it’s almost too easy to voice your opinion regarding just about anything. Sometimes that can get overwhelming, but when it comes to looking for somewhere awesome to eat, it’s actually a plus. There are tons of review websites that focus on restaurants, and since they’re full of genuine, unpaid customer reviews, you can trust the authenticity of the information.
Yelp.com is probably the best-known website for restaurants. Simply enter what you're looking for — e.g., an Asian restaurant in San Diego — and Yelp will sort the top locations according to the average number of stars that each patron has awarded them. You can also sort by the number of reviews, the distance from your exact location or other smaller details like whether the eatery serves brunch or if it offers free Wi-Fi. OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Google+ provide similar options.
- Ask Locals
If you prefer to get your information directly from the horse’s mouth, then log off the Internet and start asking around. Locals can help you decide on a restaurant since they are familiar with the area and may be able to point you somewhere that review sites miss, especially if they’re from the specific neighborhood where you’re staying. So set out for a nearby coffee shop or bar and see if you can meet some new friends, then ask them where to head from there. You might even find that you make a few vacation buddies who want to tag along with you.
- Hop on Social Media
If social media is your thing, use it to your advantage! If you have a few recommended restaurants in mind, go ahead and do a little sleuthing by looking them up on social media. You can see what kind of pictures the restaurant is posting, as well as the tagged photos that customers have posted to get a true look at some honest reviews! Another way to use social media to find some great eats is to check out the location of the hotel you are staying at and looking to see what is around the area. This can be a helpful option if you don’t necessarily have a particular idea of where you want to eat.
- Download an App
When you’re on the go, it might not be realistic to sit down at a computer and scour review sites for half an hour. But many of these review sites also offer smartphone apps that you can use wherever you are. Take Yelp, for example. Its app promises all the features of its website, but with the added bonus of automatically finding your location and searching in the immediate area around you.
If you’re interested in checking out small, locally owned businesses, then aptly named LocalEats may be a better option. The app doesn’t highlight just any popular eatery. It zeroes in specifically on restaurants that aren’t chains, allowing you to get a better feel for the local culture with every bite. Foodspotting serves as another useful and unusual meal-finding app as it includes photos of dishes at each restaurant, perfect for visual learners.
- Break Out the Guidebook
Guidebooks may seem archaic at this point, but there’s a reason they’re still on bookstore shelves. The experts that write guidebooks aren’t locals or novice travelers, like most of the folks who leave their reviews on Yelp. These are people who have made a career out of globetrotting. This means they know exactly how to find the best hidden gems in the city with very little guidance from anywhere else.
They also often rely on trial and error when they go out to eat, then only highlight the restaurants that truly blew them away. So if there’s a popular spot in town that really isn’t worth your time, but a hole-in-the-wall nearby served the guide a surprisingly stellar meal, you’ll get the heads up before you bother fighting for a reservation.
With so much information readily at your fingertips in the modern world, it’s easier than ever to find a local restaurant wherever you are. Just remember that, while your smartphone can certainly serve as a starting point, it’s not always the ultimate guide. Don’t forget to confer with locals, guidebooks and your own gut before you make reservations for dinner while you’re traveling. You might be surprised by the eateries and flavors that you and your taste buds discover!
Kacey is a lifestyle blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts.