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Finding food and dining options when traveling?

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When you travel to a new city, how do you find out about local food and dining spots (besides chowhound)? Are there websites you use, or mobile apps? Or, do you ask friends? I always find myself researching a new city when traveling, trying to find the best places to eat in that location--however, this can be time consuming and involves various social media and websites.

Thanks for any input.

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  1. I use Trip Advisor, Yelp and Google to find locally owned restaurants when we travel. DH and I take the scenic routes, and find the greatest little places in small towns and big cities.

    1. Look for the places that are full (and not necessarily with tourists). Sometimes you have to make a mental note and return later or the next day, but usually it is worth it!

      1 Reply
      1. re: jill kibler

        A couple possible scenarios:

        Olive Gardens are always well patronized by locals. I guess that means it's a great place to eat?

        A local "Italian" restaurant is always mobbed by locals. So it must be a good place. But when one eats there one finds that there are vast amounts of cheese on almost everything...and one realizes that the folks in that part of the country simply love cheese with their food, any food.

        What then?

      2. I ask my cab driver.

        1. When I don't have the time or haven't researched the place:
          1) Ask the hotel concierge.
          2) Just walk around or drive around and try something that looks appealing.
          3) Peek in the local rag. (local weekly rather than the local daily newspaper).

          2 Replies
          1. re: huiray

            Concierge can be risky, as they are more often than not paid by local spots for referrals.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Yes, I know that, but it'll do in a pinch so long as I remember not to expect the world's best food.

          2. I used to travel a lot for work. There are several strategies. When going to a new location, I would first use google maps to check the address of the client's location. Then use the "search nearby" feature to search for hotels and restaurants close by. That let's you know what's in your immediate area.

            If I was going to a major city and then I probably already had an idea of what restaurants I wanted to try in that city, but a lot of the places you end up at for business travel are in the suburbs.

            If I was going to an area that I didn't know very much about, I would search Chowhound, to see if anything was mentioned favorably. Then use google maps again to see if it was logistically possible to get there.

            The Yelp app for smartphones (iPhone) is great for actually locating a restaurant near you, since there is integration with the mapping feature. Whether or not you find Yelp reviews useful is another topic.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pamf

              I use the search nearby feature as well, then look at the yelp and tripadvisor reviews (with a grain of salt) and check the restaurant website. If I see something promising, I'll search the restaurant name on the local/regional chowhound board, and post a message if needed.

            2. Besides Chowhound, Tripadvisor,Yelp, I use the following

              websites:
              1. Google Plus local ex: https://plus.google.com/local/portland , https://plus.google.com/local/scottsdale

              2. www.citysearch.com ( often forgotten because yelp dominates..

              )

              3. Afar
              ex: http://www.afar.com/search?utf8=%E2%9...

              4. FB
              I ask friends and coworkers for recommendations

              5. Twitter
              i post and see what the twitterverse comes up with

              6. Search for "Michelin Guide NAME_OF_CITY"

              Apps

              1. urbanspoon
              2. foodspotting
              3. Nosh
              4. Forkly
              5. AFAR

              And when I arrive at the location, I use yelp and filter restaurant with 0.3 miles.
              If anything try to book a hotel within walking distance of a vibrant dining scene.

              16 Replies
              1. re: nutellajar

                This sounds like my approach, nutellajar. If I can find the right twitter account and track their tweets, I've had good luck, especially connecting with chefs/restaurants with twitter accounts. But, it is a bit of work! Yelp seems to be dropping in usefulness, in my opinion.

                1. re: mpennell826

                  Agreed about the not-so-reliable Yelp reviews, but it's a great link to menus, and to find non-chain restaurants who prepare locally grown food. Even with several apps to cross check, it's not always easy to weed out the restaurants that don't actually cook anything, as in big chains, from the places that use real ingredients and cook real food.

                  1. re: mpennell826

                    the problem with Yelp ... is the distribution of the stars.. reviewers either love it or hate it.

                    And sometimes they knock a restaurant because of the location or the service, not because the food is good or bad.

                  2. re: nutellajar

                    Sounds like one might spend as much time and effort - perhaps even more - on electronic engines and electronic sites and electronic trawling and sorting and deliberation - than on any actual physical experiences of the place or of any food one ends up eating. Suppose one did not have access to any of those new-fangled aids (crutches?) and used either leg-work or just old(er)-fashioned methods? :-) Especially if you were just passing through. Who knows, one might find a nice spot (even if known to the locals) and have that pleasant feeling of having done well. Just thinking out loud... :-)

                    Of course, if one was headed for a "destination dining" city where the choices are vast and great and dining is the object then with regards to the resources one can consult whether electronic or paper or verbal the more the better.

                    1. re: huiray

                      I'll give you a f'rinstance, huiray. Hubby and I travel Hwy 78 in South Carolina several times a year to visit our Navy son in Charleston. We're coming from West Georgia, driving through many small towns. Rather than drive randomly around an unfamiliar town trying to find food when we get hungry, I can crank up an app on my phone and see what's in a 30 mile range. That is they way I have found just about every small town diner we've been to, and have had some great lunches!

                      1. re: jmcarthur8

                        What did you do when you did not have that phone and that app and wide wireless coverage?

                        1. re: huiray

                          Good question: we made sure we had lunch in Aiken, where we DO wander to find a place, because there are so many choices, and it's such a pretty town.
                          And in Charleston, though we are familiar through CH with many of the go-to places, if we're in the historic district, we wander to find what looks good.
                          The place it really works for us is en route on the scenic routes. Once we get to our destination, we'll ask the hotel staff where they like to eat, or look around downtown, ask shop owners where they like to go. We use the phone app, too, but it's not really necessary there.

                          Its greatest strength for us has been finding the Mennonite place in Blackville, or the 70+ year old lunch place in Moncks' Corner, for example - the places we wouldn't find because we wouldn't think to go over on that street.

                        2. re: jmcarthur8

                          Small town dining is so hit or miss that without recommendations from someone I trust who has eaten at a local place, I am more comfortable with a standard fast food chain.

                        3. re: huiray

                          Actually using websites and apps decreases the effort and the research time. I spend 2-3 minutes reading the reviews and I jot down it down if it appeals to my preferences or curiosity.

                          On the other hand, if you don't want to use apps or websites or just hope for serendipity. ... yes it's possible. But your mileage will vary. It depends how much time you have to mingle and meet the locals. Most of my trips are short 3 days to 1 week.
                          Sure why not, plan your trip without using Google, Chowhound, Yelp or the use of your smartphone and see what happens. It would be interesting to see. It depends on your goals ( i.e. serendipity vs using technology to give you information in a timely manner )

                          1. re: nutellajar

                            I do it often (sans technology). What would YOU do if you were CUT OFF (Gasp!!!) from your technological crutches?

                            "Serendipity" is certainly part of the equation but one does NOT just wander blindly all the time as you seem to imply. There *are* ways to get info about dining spots *not* involving electronic crutches. Even jmcarthur8, apart from myself and others, has described some of these.

                            How do you calculate stuff if you suddenly had NO ACCESS to your electronic calculators? Can you do long division by hand?

                            Can you call up in your mind stuff that you ought to know without googling it or doing online searches? Would you know stuff without being able to use your smartphone or laptop to look for it online?

                            1. re: huiray

                              @huiray
                              >>Sounds like one might spend as much time and effort - perhaps even more - on electronic engines and electronic sites and electronic trawling and sorting and deliberation - than on any actual physical experiences of the place or of any food one ends up eating.
                              >>Suppose one did not have access to any of those new-fangled aids (crutches?) and used either leg-work or just old(er)-fashioned methods? :-) Especially if you were
                              just passing through. Who knows, one might find a nice spot (even if known to the locals) and have that pleasant feeling of having done well. Just thinking out loud... :-)

                              I was trying to answer your comments,

                              I save time by using these apps or websites. I try not to spend too much time researching it because time is limited.
                              If I didn't have access because my phone died or I don't have access to the web,
                              then I use common sense or serendipity.

                              My mother and aunts don't use any of these "crutches" when they travel.
                              Of course they're just are satisfied with any chain restaurants and even free breakfastsat the chain hotels like Marriott's residence inn

                              >> Can you do long division by hand?
                              I actually do long division by hand perfectly fine and fast.

                              1. re: huiray

                                I don't know why the two can't live side by side. When we used to travel to Europe my husband would spend many hours studying is Michelin guides and that was part of the enjoyment--planning the trip. Today, he'd lean toward researching online and that would make perfect sense. Technology and knowledge can go hand in hand...and I would bet lots of folks with the best apps are excellent at long division.

                                1. re: huiray

                                  BTW I'm not against the idea of using books, paper maps
                                  or asking for directions or recommendations.
                                  I do that too.
                                  Some of my favorite times discovering is when i stopped planning

                                  Here's an example .. Found the best burger I've had a very long time
                                  At this food truck at anini beach , Kauai .
                                  I didnt use yelp, the truck was just there
                                  http://instagr.am/p/M7Zf70kvGt/

                                  1. re: nutellajar

                                    And why not add the newest technologies to that if you have them?

                                  2. re: huiray

                                    Ask the person delivering mail/packages where they stop for lunch. It'll be in the area, good, fast and inexpensive.

                                    1. re: Cathy

                                      Well, it'll most definitely be fast, and more likely than not inexpensive, but good? Not really likely.

                            2. urbanspoon.com

                              1. Various sources, depending on where I was travelling.

                                For example, I would rarely, if ever, use Chowhound in my own country (UK) simply because I know there will be little there. A similar situation would exist with most countries that I visit for holidays (America excepted), simply because most CH international boards are serving the needs of Amercian tourists who have a very restricted number of places that they tend to visit (for example, see Spain board which almost exclusively has posts from Americans asking about Barcelona).

                                So, I use good oldfashioned guidebooks, even here in the UK. For online information, there are local boards - for example both the areas I tend to visit in Spain have local discussion boards (in English) with reasonably active restaurant sub-boards.

                                The Michelin website is also particularly useful here in Europe.

                                TripAdvisor is almost a last resort as, because most posters are not foodies, the information is not usually very helpful, apart from tellign you that soemwhere is the "best ever" place they've visited, when the previous posts will tell you that the same restaurant is the "worst ever".

                                Good old Google is helpful, except for large cities where the information can be overwhelming. But, for a small place, a search on "restaurant" and the town/village name will throw up possible places. It's then a matter of reading online menus and see if they give you the right vibe.

                                1. I wish Twitter had a better search tool, so you could locate tweets and/or users related to food more quickly. Plus, I find myself liking and following places on social media but then becoming overwhelmed after I visit. If only I could dip in on that activity for a short time or quickly. As others noted, I find hotel concierges spotty--and the new service I used recently was equally spotty (Monscierge).

                                  1. One good approach is, when you do find a restaurant you enjoy, ask the staff where they go after work, specifically. You will get some true treasures that way; I do it all the time and have discovered some of my favorite restaurants that way, usually off-the-beaten-track gems. Another suggestion is for you to pick up "Roadfood," by Jane and Michael Stern. You will find many many local treasures that way, and all will be within 10 miles of a major highway, but be warned; you won't find anything even remotely fancier than "white tablecloths." Enjoy your detective work!!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      >>ask the staff where they go after work, specifically.
                                      That's a good technique. When my wife and I ate at El Ideas in Chicago, the host asked us where else we were eating since we told him we were out of town earlier in the evening. He confirmed that the other restaurant ( Noma) that we made reservations for another evening was solid.

                                      In general if you can find local foodies, you are set!

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        Good point--we have a smaller big city here where you can watch and see where chefs and staff go after work or on off-days.

                                      2. If I am staying in a hotel, I use Yelp, but I narrow my search to places within walking distance. If that limits me to casual dining chains, then so be it. If I am staying with friends or family, I usually rely upon them for recommendations.

                                        1. Friends, first. I know whose opinions I trust. Chowhound, definitely. Even just lurking on other boards usually helps me figure out whose opinion I can trust and whose dining preferences mesh with my own. I do use Yelp too, but take the very good and the very bad reviews with a grain of salt. Anyone who writes about the WORST BURGER EVER or uses the phrase "to die for" is no one I'll be taking restaurant advice from.

                                          I've asked a cab driver before when I was in a resort-y Mexican town and I wanted something less touristy, more local.

                                          1. Primary source in a new city is the Yelp app and back check with Google Places (which is now Google+ Local), but Yelp 95% of the time. The other 5% is to just to wander around looking for something interesting.

                                            As with Yelp, Google Places, a hotel concierge or a taxi driver... I take the suggestions with a grain of salt. There's some bias/pay off somewhere in all those suggestions.

                                            I knew a couple people that worked as concierges... It was amazing to here the comps they've received from local businesses to steer people towards that business.

                                            1. OK, so I'm looking for good food.

                                              Do I ask the taxi driver, the postman, etc, where they eat?

                                              No, of course, I don't. How many taxi drivers, postmen, etc do you know who know about good food?

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Harters

                                                I've got to say, I agree. No doubt some do, but just like many "little mom and pop" or "little hole in the wall" places will suck, it's not likely that many cab drivers are hip to every facet of a city's food scene. It's not to say you can't get good advice from one, but a mistake to believe you always will.

                                                1. re: Harters

                                                  I'd be interested in good food that taxi drivers, postmen etc. can afford to eat. I'm not interested in the restaurants where cabbies end up taking their swankiest-dressed fares. In a large city, with a stereotypical ethnic taxi driver, it wouldn't hurt to ask for a non-hipster joint catering to people of the driver's country.