Whether it is a high dollar restaurant in Manhattan, a fish and chips shop in Piccadilly Circus or a smoky barbecue joint in the East Texas piney woods, when you are looking for something good to eat outside your home territory, it is pretty much “you pays your money and you takes your chances.” Of course, you could always play it safe and line up at a franchise burger joint or a fried chicken place, but where is the adventure in that? And do you really want to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles just to have an Egg McMuffin for breakfast?
These days you do not have to order in the dark and wait to see what comes out. All it takes is some homework, some on the ground detective work, a soupçon of common sense and an open mind and palate.
Before you go
A little planning can make everything easier. A good place to start is with guide books about the areas you will be visiting. There are dozens of highly respected series on travel to all parts of the United States, and just about anywhere you want to go. Travel guides offer useful information in a compact form and usually are available for most major cities.
You can check state run travel sites for information of what’s available in different cities. The Texas Travel Center on U.S. Highway 75 north of Denison or the Oklahoma how to find good eats when traveling FOOD 110 E. Houston St. Sherman 903-357-5235 www.CaminoViejoSherman.com Center in Colbert, have row after row of fliers, leaflets, brochures and magazines with advice on where to go and what to see in the state. For destinations large and small, the internet provides a wealth of information, although sometimes the volume of what turns up can be overwhelming. On a computer, tablet or smartphone, a simple search for restaurants in a given location will produce dozens, even hundreds of links. You can narrow the search by specifying the type of meal you are looking for, the part of town you will be in and price considerations.
The web is also the source for food blogs by the dozens. For cuisines from Armenia to Zaire, someone is writing a food blog on the subject. What is the best lobster roll in Maine or the top fish tacos in California? Someone is voicing an opinion and sharing with the world.
Many restaurants, large and small have independent websites or a Facebook presence. There you can find menus, prices, reviews by diners, happy and not so happy, hours, phone numbers and maps showing how to get there. Many of these features are also found on special travel and food websites such as Tripadvisor, Urbanspoon, Zomato and Zagat. Want the best hamburger in Hot Rocks, Arizona? Ask the web and you will get opinions and suggestions. Even searches for small towns will turn up listings and reviews of local restaurants. If the community has a local newspaper, and the paper has a website, you can often find local restaurant reviews in the archive.
A word of caution, do not let one rave review or one pan settle the issue. It is a good idea to take all reviews, even those done by pros, with a culinary grain of salt. Remember, they represent one person’s opinion.
Once you are there
Good soldiers want to become familiar with the lie of the land before they go into battle. Experienced foodies often take the same approach. Get out of your hotel or motel and check out the neighborhood. If you see a place that looks interesting, take a closer look, go inside and ask to see a menu. A cab driver, a hotel concierge, a cop on the beat can be a good source of information. It is a pretty good idea to avoid the high tourist areas in a city.
If you are driving the back roads, keep your eyes open for interesting looking places. Is the parking lot full at lunch time? That could be a good sign. Can you see and smell the smoke wafting up from the back of a barbecue joint? That could be a good sign as well. If you’re still not sure, get out of the car and ask someone about the best places to eat. If you see a sign advertising a special food driven fundraiser for a church, the local fire department or the like, it just might produce a real treat and a chance to meet some new people and explore new things.