How to Choose a Restaurant When Travelling

Here’s a few tongue-in-cheek rules we’ve adopted through our travels when it comes to chooing a place to eat in a foreign land.  Eating locally and experiencing new tastes is one of the primary joys of travel, but nothing can leave a bad taste in your mouth like a shitty, overpriced meal that gives you the runs. Tourist traps know you’re not coming back, and feed you accordingly.

Keep in mind that these are just rules of thumb, and won’t guarantee you a kickass dining experience, but we’ve found they help when we’re deciding on a place…  Use and abuse at your own risk! 🙂

[Note: Please leave any additional suggestions in the comments!]

  • Never eat in a main square

    This is where the highest concentration of tourists pass through, and they don’t have to try. You’re better off pointing yourself down an alley/street off that main square and walking the block in behind it.

  • Never eat where someone is out front trying to talk you in the door, and telling you to look at their menu

    This is the culinary equivalent of a dude in a furry suit holding a sign. If the food was good, word of mouth’d be enough advertising.

  • Check the lighting

    Candlelight vs scathing flourescents? Might seem petty, but a place usually thinks about ambience after the food.  If they’re still too busy thinking about the food to think about the room, you can do better.

  • Avoid multi-cuisine places

    Yes, he might want chinese, and she might want tapas, and the kids might want pizza. Yes, you might find an Italian-Spanish-Chinese restaurant in Prague. Yes, you can guarantee that every single one of those cuisines will be watered down and bland as crap.  Stick to somewhere that focuses on doing one thing well.

  • Be a little racist

    You’re walking by a restaurant, you look in the window, and allow yourself to ask “does everyone in there look like a local?”.  If you’re in Spain, and you see a room full of dark skin, dark hair and big smiles, you’re good to go.  If you see a hodge-podge of fat American tourists with Nascar shirts, funkless Japanese, and scowling Russians – just keep walking on.

  • Try to avoid menus printed in multiple languages

    If there’s a 30 page menu printed in 5 different languages, you gotta be wary.  Instead, aim for the place with the chalkboard with the menu written in the local language – that’s likely to be fresh daily, be specific to what’s seasonal and feature the chef’s top dishes.  If you’ve no idea what it says, your waiter likely speaks enough english to give you the key ingredient or can play charades with you enough to give you an idea (I take great joy inmaking pinching lobster claws or acting like a chicken to figure out what you’re ordering)

  • When in doubt…

    If you’re looking to go out for a nice meal, Tripadvisor is generally quite reliable when it comes to picking good restaurants in a city.  You’ll get listings that are generally a few years old, but have proven reliable.  Keep in mind that Tripadvisor’s ratings system gets watered down by idiots who’ve stumbled into fine dining when they were aiming for McDonald’s and then feel the need to complain about it rabidly. (Favorite example when reviewing Cuban resorts: “… did not feature my preferred adult entertainment channels. Would not visit again!!!”).  As well, you can pop into “the nice hotel in town” and ask their concierge for their recommendations – added bonus is that if you look like you’re a guest, they’ll frequently be able to book you a reservation you might otherwise be unable to get.

And the number one rule to pay attention to when picking a restaurant while travelling…

  • Never eat somewhere that the menu or signage is in Comic Sans

    If a restaurant has put so little thought into their branding that they’ve used this font, you can almost guarantee they’ll have put as little thought into the food.  Trust me – almost every we’ve let this rule pass when doing the mental checklist (“Oh, come on… it ticks all the boxes, except for the fact they’ve got a sign in comic sans”), it’s ended in disaster.  [Note of exemption: Spain – comic sans is closest to the Basque font, and Spanish menus are frequently reprinted daily/weekly so they’ll just use Comic Sans as their go to font… Of course, it’s still at your own risk and you should check for indicators that the rest of this list will be strong enough to overcome the dangerous risk that Comic Sans can entail.]  You have been warned.