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Travel Tips Series: Where to Eat
How to decide where to eat while on vacation
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Welcome to the third installment of the Travel Tips Series: Where to Eat!
Arguably the most important question when traveling, at least to us :)
Food is an integral part of culture! Exploring local foods while traveling makes you understand a place a lot better, and connects you to it more deeply. What is eaten in a country uncovers its history. The fact that corn is eaten in Mexico, or rice in Vietnam, or tapioca in Brazil, or cheese in Georgia, or potatoes in Peru, all of it is for a reason. How ceviche is prepared, or bread is baked, or alcohol is brewed, all of it has an origin story that is tied to the present. What a country eats tells you who they are.
But enough about why I am passionate about food and more about how to find good food, because we have all spent hours finding a place to eat to then be disappointed. This still happens to us even after years of traveling and countless hours spent doing research. But, I’d like to think we have at least become more efficient and effective at finding good places to eat. So, here is some of what we recommend:
Use Google Maps! both to search for places and to save them.
Use it to search for where to eat. This might be obvious, but it’s definitely what we used the most to find places. This is especially useful when you are trying to find a spot in a particular location. For instance, because coffee is very important to me, the first thing I do when I land in a place is to search for “best coffee” around where we are staying and then filter for “Top Rated” and look only at anything above a 4.5 rating. Then I decide where to go based on the pictures and reviews. We also take a look at TripAdvisor, Yelp, and blog recommendations from time to time, although a lot less often than a simple Google Maps search.
Save everything to Google Maps lists! I know that I sound like a broken record on this, but get in the habit of saving everything to Google Maps, even when there is no trip planned yet. For instance, if you are watching “Street Food” on Netflix and they are covering a place you are interested in visiting, then save all the restaurants they talk about to Google Maps with a note such as “Netflix show”. Once you land in that city - be it in a month or two years - you will open your map and that restaurant will be there, waiting for you to go visit. Same applies for “Top restaurants in the world” type of lists or articles, recommendations from friends, etc - just save save save.
Note: The next tips post will be solely focused on how to use Google Maps to its full potential, because there is a lot to it, so stayed tuned :)
Go on a food tour! One of the first things I like to do when arriving in a place - especially one that is known for its food is to go on a food tour! These are tours in which you visit many restaurants/food spots and try a bunch of different foods. The objective is to go to places you wouldn’t know about (hyper-local) and/or eat food you wouldn’t have ordered, plus of course learn about the food and the culture. These tours are great to do not only because you will (very likely) eat well, but also because the people running them generally have plenty of other recommendations on where to eat (and also what to do) in the area. Many also have blogs with lots of local recommendations, just be sure to ask! To find a food tour, we usually rely on Airbnb Experiences or travel book recommendations.
Do a cooking class! Similar to the above this is a great way to eat well and at the same time learn about the local food and culture. These are tours in which you (generally) go to a local market to buy ingredients and then prepare many different dishes that at the end you get to feast on. These tours have been some of my most memorable experiences while traveling, like the one we did on a farm in Crete (which I wrote about here) or the making of ceviche in Lima. Again, the folks running these are excellent sources of recommendations.
Use Social Media! The truth is that we don’t use it much for finding where to eat, but more so to check out places we have already found to see how the food looks. However, although a bit more cumbersome it’s of course possible to find great recommendations there (like the ones I post in all my reels ;)). You can search in Google “where to eat in X city instagram” and you will usually get shown a few IG accounts that focus on this which you can start following, or you can also search for hashtags like #wheretoeatinX. Once you see a post/reel with something interesting, you can save it to personal folders in IG (and to Google Maps, because lets be honest, you might never look at that IG folder again).
Pay attention when you are walking around, if you see a place that is packed / has a line, search for it in Google and if it looks good, save it for later! Or just go eat there right then and there :)
Check travel books! Yes, they make an appearance, again! I use them religiously, not because you will find the best restaurants there (although you might and many times we do) but because it’s an easy way to see what is in the area you are visiting and how the city/town is laid out in terms of neighborhoods and restaurants. I basically just go to the list of recommended restaurants in the book and one by one look them up in Google Maps. If they have a high rating I immediately save them in a Google Map list for that country with a note such as “travel book”. If a place looks especially impressive then I share it with Alan / save it some other way (for instance in Rio I had so many recommendations from different sources - up to 100 places - that I created a second list called “Rio Must” to add the places I didn’t want to miss out on).
Cross-reference cross reference cross reference. Even if someone I know and trust recommends a place I will first look it up in Google to check out the reviews. If the rating is low and the latest reviews are poor then I won’t go to the place even if it’s recommended. Adding notes to what you save in Google is useful because it allows you to cross-reference faster as well. For instance, if I already have a restaurant saved with “Netflix show” and then I also read about that restaurant in a travel book and add “travel book” to the note, then I know there are now two sources which recommended it, which makes me more likely to visit it. That is, as long as the Google rating, reviews, and pics look solid.
Lastly, ask locals (and everyone else too) for recommendations! Especially if you know someone that lives in the city or has recently visited. But also ask your hotel or Airbnb host, your guides, and even other tourists you run into. And then - you guessed it - SAVE IT.
Alright, there you go! These are just a few ideas, but I hope they are helpful! Do let me know if you do anything else that I should add to the list.
I wish you excellent food, unique experiences, and zero food disappointments in your travels.