The Secret to Finding the Best Restaurants While Traveling

Suzanne Humphries
6 min readDec 30, 2019

It is always a pleasure to travel, and especially a pleasure to eat while traveling. Seeing strange sights and engaging with the denizens of a new land always makes for fond memories. But having a plate of something weird and wonderful set in front of you after a day of navigating airports or crowded museums or lengthy walking tours always has a way of setting things right again. The best dining experiences often become long-lasting memories more potent than those from any hike you went on or architectural wonder you saw, which is why I believe that it’s vital to put as much effort into finding the best restaurants for your vacation as you would your itinerary.

When I first started taking vacations on my own, I was young and naive. I played things by ear, never researching anything and always eating at the first place I could find when I got hungry. This, naturally, lead to many unmemorable, budget-busting, and frankly disgusting dining experiences that left a bad taste in my mouth — literally and figuratively.

As I grew older and wiser (and became a foodie), it occurred to me that taking the time to scope out places I would actually enjoy eating at while on my trip would probably yield more favorable results. And what do you know — the research paid off! Now, days before getting on my plane, I’ve got a list of food options for every meal in every area I plan on visiting. Having a list of vetted places ready to go takes the pressure off of finding somewhere to eat, saves time, and practically ensures I’ll have a fun and delicious dining experience, like the kind you see Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and other traveling food journalists have.

So here are my tips for finding hidden gems and the best dining experiences wherever you end up!

Read Big Publications First

When I initially research where to eat in a new city, I like to start broad. I read articles from websites that focus on the exploration of food and drink like Thrillist, Eater, or Atlas Obscura. The people who write for those publications are people that love eating and traveling, and if a restaurant is good enough to catch their attention, it might just be worth yours as well. The only downside of these publications is that they tend to focus on major cities, rather than suburbs or small towns.

I think publications like these are a great place to start, as they offer an initial feel for a city’s current (and sometimes even historic) food scene and nightlife. They have suggestions for the best places to eat depending on what time of year you visit, or list the top places within a specific category, like sushi or coffee. From here, it should be pretty easy to tell if a city is a foodie city you can enjoy getting lost in.

The downside of these publications, however, is that they often get hung up on super expensive or exclusive restaurants. Furthermore, the places they recommend have the potential to become overcrowded tourist stops, since these publications are what many people will read before they travel as well.

If that type of thing isn’t your scene, go ahead and move on. If it is, however, be sure to make your reservations well ahead of time, and plan the rest of your day’s activities around it.

Then Read Local Sources

The next step is to tailor your search by reading quality reviews and recommendations from local foodies. One of my favorite examples is Female Foodie. Her friendly tone and obvious passion for sharing the best local restaurants make her one of my go-to sources when traveling.

Local foodie bloggers are a reliable source because they do the heavy lifting for you. These enthusiasts go out and eat at local restaurants — throwing all caution for their budget and well-being into the wind — and come back with a list of the best restaurants most worthy of your attention. They are also the best source of information for new establishments.

Oh, and don’t skip Yelp! Yes, you may have to wade through reviews from people who think they’re expert food critics, or who were mad they had to wait an additional two minutes to get extra sauce, but the platform is still an excellent way to see what the most popular and highly rated local restaurants are.

When on Yelp, I think it’s critical not just to look at a restaurant’s menu (so you know what they have), but also through pictures of the food and the interior of the place. It’s an honest glance beyond a pretty building facade or flashy website, and it gives you the best idea of what your experience there will be like.

I also recommend following a city’s sub on Reddit during the time leading up to your trip. It’s an easy way to see what places the locals are buzzing about. Plus, most city subreddits have lists of food and activity recommendations for tourists.

Consider What Foods A City Is Known For

An easy way to generate recommendations is to note if the city you’ll be visiting is famous for a particular food. Famous examples would be lobster in Boston, barbecue in Memphis, or breakfast tacos in Austin. A simple Google search should be able to sus this out.

Don’t Bother Asking A Random Local

I know, I know — it goes against every other piece of travel advice you’ve heard. Resist stopping a random local on the street and asking them for a restaurant recommendation. A person can have horrible taste or not care too much about the local food scene.

You’re better off relying on what the collective locals (many of whom are undoubtedly foodies) have to say about the restaurants in a city. Asking a singular local is an incredible gamble that could make or break your night (or your entire vacation, if you get sick). Why take the gamble when a little online research can mean a sure bet?

Practice Makes Perfect

I can tell you my method works from personal experience. But if you want to see it for yourself, do the research and test it out on your own city. If you already know its food scene well, it’ll be easy to verify and tweak before trying it out on your next destination. Maybe you’ll be surprised at what you find — you could discover restaurants in your town you didn’t even know existed.

Find A Place? Note It.

As I research and find places I want to eat at, I jot down their information — typically in a Google Docs spreadsheet I can access from anywhere. Here I list the restaurant’s name, address, URL, and any other pertinent details, like food type, hours, pricing, or if they have a dress code.

This is the unglamorous and time-consuming part of this process, and I know it’s not for everyone, but it is so handy to have. Listing additional details (such as the address or hours) for each restaurant is easy to view at a glance, making it an invaluable travel tool. Don’t waste precious time on your vacation scrolling through Yelp reviews, or gamble on the first restaurant you stumble upon out on the road.

On my last few trips, I’ve also ported over each listing I find into My Maps, a feature in Google Maps. This lets me save a map of the city I’m visiting with location-based pins of each restaurant (and attraction) I want to visit. This makes it even easier to find a place to eat near wherever I am when I get hungry.

The Real Secret to Finding Good Restaurants While Traveling

While researching restaurants before your vacation can save you time and mitigate potential dining disasters while on your vacation, it shouldn’t dominate or define it. If you’re wandering listlessly around a city on a day trip and a restaurant catches your eye, GO EAT THERE.

Forget the list. Be spontaneous.

The list is nice to have as a backup but you should be willing to throw it out the window if you find somewhere interesting that your research didn’t uncover.

Hopefully my method helps you encounter a few hidden gems on your next vacation, or even inspires you to create your own method for finding great restaurants in new cities! Here’s to making memories and delicious meals on all of our future journeys!



Suzanne Humphries

She/her. Lover of books, road trips, curry, and going on walks.