Ask these 6 questions before choosing a restaurant
(AKA: How to avoid tourist traps!)
One of my favorite parts of traveling is eating! There is something about having a long meal in an authentic restaurant and eating food that you would never be able to find at home. Finding an amazing restaurant is always the goal when traveling, but it can actually be very hard to find!
Here are 6 questions you should ask yourself before walking into a restaurant:
Are you on a main tourist street?
The restaurants in main tourist locations most often have the highest prices and the lowest quality food. Try to walk a couple of blocks away from a popular tourist spot and find food there. It’s amazing how different the restaurants will look (and the food will taste!) after a 5-10 minute walk. Note: I would not recommend this if you are in a city that has unsafe areas. It’s not worth it if you run the risk of walking through a bad part of town.
The first picture is of the crowded streets in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Just a few minutes’ walk brought me to this charming street in the second picture.
Is someone standing outside to convince you to come in?
Many restaurants have employees stand outside to convince you to eat there. I’ve even had someone literally drag me into a restaurant. My theory is this: if they need someone to convince you, then it is not a place worth eating at. You should never need to be convinced to eat somewhere. Also, don’t be afraid to walk away from these people. It’s easy to feel guilty when walking away, but don’t get guilt tripped into spending precious vacation time in a restaurant you don’t even want to be at.
A tale of two Greek salads: The Greek salad on the left tasted pretty average, while the Greek salad on the right was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in my life. You only have so little time on your trip, so eat the second Greek salad!
Is the menu in English or just the local language?
If a menu is in English, then they are catering to tourists. That means that the majority of their customers are tourists and not locals. However, don’t use this rule for 100% of the time. I’ve had amazingly authentic meals at places that do have English menus. But as a rule, if there is not an English menu that means the place caters to locals.
What do the locals recommend?
The best meal I had in my life (literally) was recommended to me by a taxi driver in Rome. My family asked him to drive us to his favorite restaurant and he took us to his friend’s restaurant. We would have never found this place if we looked on our own. If you are talking to anyone who lives in the city, ask for their restaurant recommendations. This could be your taxi driver, store clerk, a friendly person on the metro, etc. Another good resource is your hotel concierge. You do have to be careful, however, since some concierges are paid by local restaurants. I’ve had both amazing experiences and bad experiences from hotel concierge recommendations. If you arrive to a restaurant and it looks like a tourist trap, don’t be afraid to walk away! Again, don’t spend your quality vacation time eating in a mediocre place.
Who is eating at the restaurant?
Look inside the restaurant. Do the customers look like tourists or locals? Maybe a mix? If every person in the restaurant is a tourist then it clearly isn’t a local spot.
Did you walk right past it?
Usually the best places aren’t begging to be seen. If the food is fantastic and the locals know about it, they won’t have to try hard to get your attention because they already have a loyal crowd. Keep your eye out for hole in the wall places (but not sketchy ones!). Some of my best meal experiences have been at places that aren’t attractive from the outside and would be easily passed by.
*Side note – As wonderful it is to have an unforgettable meal experience, sometimes it’s important to opt for convenience. Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of becoming overly hungry and tired. Nobody wants to be hangry (hungry/angry) on their trip!*