The single biggest problem people tell me they have when trying to try a new restaurant? They don’t know where to look. Especially when on the road, it’s hard to find the local gems. With the economy the way it is now, it’s more important than ever to support places like these.
Here are my tips for finding the best local places in town.
- Ask the locals. This is of course the easiest way to get a feel for a place directly. Everyone in town knows that one little place their neighbors all love to visit, and often the most popular places in town are the least flashy, preferring substance over image.
- Get a guide-book. Travel guides are great, especially the ones put together specifically for restaurants. These are often published by food critics in the region.
- Avoid the highways. The prime real estate along the highway is usually taken by chains because they are fast and convenient to locate. Some travelers only care about convenience and familiarity in eating on the road, but to me this defeats the whole purpose of traveling. You’re trying to so somewhere new, right? The further from the highway, the more local places you’ll find.
- Search uptown, not downtown. Yes, they are two different places. “Downtown” generally refers to the geographical center of a city where the central business district is located, while “uptown” is generally where the upscale neighborhoods are often located, and is usually the cultural center of town. Downtown, you’ll find more shopping malls and chains of all kinds, while uptown is probably around the historic main street of town. Here, off the beaten path, you’ll find the most diverse local dives.
- Know local cuisine. This is pretty easy stuff to figure out. You probably won’t find good seafood in Iowa, but chances are any barbecue place you land at near Kansas City is going to be good. Geography and culture strongly influence local cuisine, and you can bet the locals are keeping the really good places in business longer.
- Plan ahead. This is for especially picky eaters. When you’re on a long highway drive, one town may seem as good as another. If you search a town for food along your journey, you’ll be able to research in advance the popular places online, and have an idea where along your journey you’ll be stopping for food.