8 Tips to Finding a Good Restaurant While Traveling

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Deal Expert, Chicago
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Memorable meals can make a trip, but locating a good restaurant in an unfamiliar place can be tricky — especially when hunger has already set in. To find the best tastes in a new town, follow these tips to know whom to ask and where to look. Bon appetit!

1. Plan ahead and book a culinary walking tour

Consider booking a culinary walking tour, becoming more and more popular in cities worldwide, for an early part of the trip. This is a great way to sample many dishes, get a lay of the land and then decide what places you’d want to come back to or what kind of regional foods you’d want to have again. Better yet, you’ll get to know your guide along the way, and you’ll be able to pick his or her brain for even more tailored recommendations. A popular stop in the Bay Area is guided excursions to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, my hometown of Chicago has several pizza tours (pace yourselves!), and in Europe organized outings range from sampling the snails of France to seafood and olives in Greece. For people traveling in countries in which they don’t speak or read the language, this can be a good introduction to menus — plus proper mealtime etiquette in that locale.

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Photo from Flickr by Ian Ransley

2. Read local publications and posts from local food bloggers

Add some fun research to your trip planning by reading up before you go. A treasure trove of posts from local food bloggers and reporters is a quick Google search away, and the writers’ bread and butter is finding the hot spots and spilling secrets on the hidden gems. It’s easy to save all the addresses to a Google Map or print one out and highlight the intersections worth visiting. Some regional magazines or newspapers even have yearly dining lists that take a lot of the guesswork out of a visit.

3. Ask real people

Getting recommendations from the hotel concierge can be a decent fallback plan, but some of the best restaurant picks we’ve gotten are from other people we’ve met along the way in our travels. Cab drivers can be a wealth of knowledge of all-night eats, and employees at popular tourist spots could have a scoop on what’s good nearby for lunch (without the long lines or the high costs). And asking people you meet can be a good icebreaker for even more tips and suggestions for your visit. Before you go, you can post on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone in your circle has must-visit spots to share as well.

4. Search out regional options

Our UK Website Editor Sara Kriegel, based in London, makes it a priority to search out restaurants that serve local cuisine. “What’s the point of being away if you’re eating food you could get at home? Snacks are 50% of the reason I go anywhere,” she says. Also, stick to the basics and go with something that makes sense for the area. Eating pizza in Asia isn’t necessarily the best plan. Even if a place looks crowded, check if it’s full of travellers or locals before you go in.

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Photo from Flickr by Dilys Ong

5. Avoid eating near the biggest tourist attractions in town

Restaurants have an easier time prospering when they are near the biggest tourist attractions, and the food doesn’t have to be all that good or interesting to get a decent crowd. According to our senior copy editor Kelsey Rexroat, “Usually places in neighborhoods are a better bet than the main tourist drags. If they’re harassing you to come inside or have flyers everywhere, it’s likely too touristy to be good.” She added: “I’ll do some research beforehand through Yelp, message boards, and friends who have been and mark some spots on a map so I’ll know options in whatever area I’m in.”

6. Download essential apps

Before you get on the plane or hop in the car, make sure you’ve downloaded the Travelzoo app for dinner and drink deals on the go. In addition, use user-generated-content apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor to dig deeper for info. The real value in these is searching for more specific information: when’s the best time to get a table? What’s the one appetizer everyone raves about? Do they take reservations (for later in the trip)? Another must-download app for travelers is Foursquare, as it goes beyond being a location-finding tool and offers really specific tips from the people who frequent these places most.

7. Look for lines

If people are willing to wait to dine at a certain eatery, that says a lot. We’re not advocating wasting precious vacation time waiting long times to be seated for every meal, but once you find a spot that looks hot, do your research to find a better time to come back, or even better, see if they take a reservation.

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Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

8. Got kids in tow?

Take these tips from our Executive Producer Angela Shannon: “I walk in and ask if they have a table for us, and if it’s available now. If the host looks perturbed or unsure or put off by my kids, clearly it’s not a place for us; or if it looks too stuffy or filled with only couples or adults, I know it would ruin the night for the other guests and I go elsewhere. Dead giveaway to me is looking for strollers out front. Clearly we’ll be welcome at a restaurant like that.”

Get restaurant deals, plus travel offers around the globe, on Travelzoo’s app.

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Show 13 Comments
  • Sandy0

    thank you!

  • neminem

    More like, step one: use tripadvisor (or yelp, if you’re in the US). Step two: that’s it, there isn’t a step two. (Ok, your second one, about googling for bloggers, is good too – one of the best places we’ve ever gotten food while traveling absolutely *embodied* the concept of a hole in the wall – a tiny corner shop in Venice with no chairs, and more like a mob than a line of people ordering mini sandwiches and mini glasses of wine. I believe I found that one by googling best lunch in Venice, rather than specifically on tripadvisor.) And fine, the second most memorable place that trip, I found by just wandering Florence (though the giant “#[some really low number] rated restaurant in Florence on TripAdvisor” sign certainly helped grab my attention). But still. Internet is totally the best place to find the best places for good. :p

    • mlb00000

      I disagree with you here…besides what you already have, another great method is chatting with the locals, asking them. Great, great method for me in my experience.

    • MusicBizSurvivor

      Exactly! Took the words out of my mouth. Step 1: TripAdvisor, for “crowd-sourced”, literate, informative reviews (which run circles around Yelp and Travelzoo.) Once in a city with little to see on US-based apps – and TripAdvisor still is pretty good internationally – I’d agree with the other recommendations, especially walking, talking, and (if super-serious about researching), taking a tour). But I travel extensively and would always begin with TripAdvisor, followed by local walk & talk.

  • bill marsano

    “Look for Lines” is dead wrong. Lines mean a once-good place is overstressed and the staff are overworked; your meal will be rushed in the kitchen and you will be rushed at your table.

    • Dennis Smith

      You’ve never eaten at Hodad’s in San Diego’s Ocean Beach. I’ve photographed a line there a half block long midweek, 3:00 PM, off season, and the burgers are great. They have adequate staff but more customers than they have room for. It was the same thing “back in the day” at Los Quatros Milpas in Barrio Logan.

      • George K.

        Not to mention Durgin Park in Boston.

  • Mary

    Found a good restaurant once by asking the postman where he’d eat if it was his lunch time!

  • Linda

    The problem with Yelp, etc., is it seems reviews are either really good, or really bad. Who do you believe?

  • A. Reiheld

    Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant. Head for the town square, find delis, charcuteries, patisseries, fruit stands, and bakeries, and assemble yourself a picnic. Then go find a park bench or fountain or a nice river bank, I try to have a small light tablecloth and wet wipes in my oversized purse. It’s a perfect stress reliever, especially if you have children along. Let them be part of the solution, choosing one familiar item and one new taste adventure. And they get to run and play while the adults finish a pleasant meal in peace.

  • jerbear50

    “…or filled with only couples or adults, I know it would ruin the night for the other guests and I go elsewhere.”
    This. A thousand times this. Thank you so much for your consideration of other diners.

  • Anuj k Khureja

    If people are willing to wait to dine at a certain eatery, that says a lot. We’re not advocating wasting precious vacation time waiting long times to be seated for every meal, but once you find a spot that looks hot, do your research to find a better time to come back, or even better, see if they take a reservation.
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  • https://rental24h.com/ SpainDriving

    Thanks a lot for sharing! I thought that I’d be difficult to find a good restaurant in Oslo because I’m a vegan and there are not so many veggies and fruits. But after a couple of hours, we decided to download your app and found an appropriate place!