How to find good restaurants while travelling (without doing any research)

Eating is the best part about exploring a new place, but figuring out how to find good restaurants while travelling can be tricky. Even defining what a ‘good’ restaurant means to you is tough. Throughout your trip, you’ll have moments when it means something different: Does it mean finding authentic cuisine? Does it mean finding cheap food? Do you just need a burger from McDonalds?

I spend hours scouring sources to find the best restaurants, but I usually will reserve just one or two ‘must-eat’ places (I’m also probably a bit too obsessed with looking at restaurant menus). For the rest of my trip, I go with the flow, following these simple guidelines which rarely lead me astray.

Sometimes I get lazy, then I end up eating sad, sad lasagna like this in Bologna:

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Here’s how to find good restaurants while travelling

Throw away the guidebook

You brought along the guidebook, great, always very useful! Now throw it away. While a guidebook is awesome for finding accommodations, learning about the history of your destination and its major attractions, I find the dining section to be hit or miss. There are even rumours out there that restaurant proprietors pay popular guidebooks to be in their restaurant sections (gasp). Whether or not this is true, I don’t often look at this section.

If you do need a guide, I really like Eater’s essential 38-lists, which are updated regularly for major cities across the globe. I’ve always had delicious meals at the places they’ve recommended.

I’m also a HUGE fan of Where Chef’s Eat, a great book detailing thousands of places chefs love to eat in their respective hometowns. There are some great holes-in-the-wall you will have to try!

Bloggers know best

Google local food blogs based out of your destination. Bloggers are the ones on the ground discovering the next best place to eat and review the local mainstays regularly. Take out your phone and see what hashtags pop up social media; you know those Instagrammers know the best place for pizza in Naples.

Ask a local

Ask the guy in the coffee shop where he likes to go for dinner, ask the lady who sold you that souvenir about her favourite local spot. People who live and eat out everyday in the area will know what’s good. Be weary of asking the guy at the front desk, many concierges will get a commission from the restaurant for recommending places close to the hotel.

Stray from the main drag

The worst restaurants I’ve ever eaten at are always near major tourist attractions. Seriously, I have nightmares about the sad souvlaki I ate near the Parthenon. Even walking a few hundred metres from the Spanish Steps in Rome will help you find a good restaurant. I often look for residential areas and head there for a great dinner at the neighbourhood restaurant.

Don’t look for the English menu

If the restaurant has a big sign out front saying WE HAVE ENGLISH MENUS, just keep on walking. Most restaurants in larger cities will have an English menu anyways, the good ones don’t need to advertise it to get you in the door.  Any kind of flashy sign that tries to attract English-speaking tourists is a big red flag.

Fixed-price? Average food

Another red-flag siren goes off in my head when I see a fixed-price menu (outside of France, mais oui). If it says ‘special tourist menu,’ run away as fast as you can. I don’t want to eat what tourists eat, I want to eat what real people eat. This meal will be crappy and cheap; it’s better off finding a food cart for low-cost eats.

If it looks like a chain, it tastes like a chain

Adam and I ate at an attractive looking restaurant in Munich’s flashy Schwabing neighbourhood, only to be disappointed with mediocre food, especially after we Googled it and learned it was a national chain. If their menu graphics look like a chain and the decor is really nice, it’s probably a chain.

That being said, sometimes you might just want some greasy food from whatever country’s national chain. There are some anomalies. We ate at an amazing place on the beach in Barcelona with cheap beer and delicious seafood, only to find out later it was a chain. It was damn good.

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16 thoughts on “How to find good restaurants while travelling (without doing any research)”

  • These are some great tips. I always find it so overwhelming when we go away to figure out where the places are to eat, but asking the locals has always worked out really well for us. Have a great weekend!

  • Awesome tips! I couldnt agree more with your stray from the main drag section. While in barbados a few years ago our cab driver took us to his mothers little bar which was way out in the middle of no-where..a spot where only locals really eat. Everyone was super friendly though and I must say it was the best meal and eating experience I had our whole trip!

  • “Stray from the main drag” <— This is something I live by, unless I'm at Disney, in which everything is awesome all the time. Lol. But yeah. My husband and I visited Savannah, GA a few years ago and found this unmarked pub. We decided to give it a whirl because it was hot AF and as long as they had beer, we'd be happy. Turns out they have superb food, too. I had some spectacular fried green tomatoes and a kick ass oyster po'boy. The guide, of course, was all about touting Paula Deen's restaurant. We passed by it that weekend and looked at the menu out of curiosity, but you could tell it was likely subpar stuff.

    I really loved reading this, Gabby. When traveling, I love nothing more than searching for hidden gem restaurants. It helps locals and it gives you that satisfaction of discovery. I'm sharing this on FB + Twitter today!

  • Look for bloggers…of course! That is one sad lasagna, my friend. One day the kids were so hungry in Paris that they almost revolted. We had to stop at the nearest restaurant which was, undoubtedly a tourist trap. I thought it was actually pretty funny, like we were having the ‘full experience’. Of course I only let them order something small while hubby and I sipped our instant (!) coffees.

  • Barcelona is full of great places by the beach! Many chiringuitos they call it this way. I totally agree also with staying out of the tourist path and the showcasing of pictures of the menu and english menus… although i often use the tripadvisor app when i travel to check what is around me or the google map app when on the road… it s important to check the comments and check the negative ones especially… if any. Great tips! I ll check out the Where chef eats book!

  • We had a fixed price menu lunch near the river Siene in Paris and it was one of the worst restaurant experiences in my life honestly. The waiter ignored us a lot, the chef was sloppy with the small serves and it looked like he just threw the food on the plate. The plate was so badly chipped around the edges we had to take a photograph it was unbelievable. It was a touristy area so I guess they didn’t care for return customers. I have to agree about throwing the guide books away. Had a few wild goose chases where they’d closed down or they were nothing special.

  • Great advice! We have found most of your suggestions to be spot on! Some of our most memorable meals were from tiny hole-in-the-wall places frequented by locals. It’s always best to get off the main drag and take a chance! Often the most simple meals, using fresh local ingredients are the best.

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