Choosing a restaurant while traveling can be one of the most exciting parts of exploring a new corner of the world . . . but it can also be the most stressful! After years of traveling and many "hits" and many "misses" with restaurants, my husband and I developed a few simple rules when choosing restaurants while traveling. We have passed these little tips on to friends visiting us in Barcelona and Italy, and have always been thanked for doing so. I now pass this humble list on to my internet friends. Happy and safe travels, and happy eating!
Tips for choosing an authentic restaurant while traveling
1. Research . . . but not in the way you might think
Before traveling to a new place, research not where to eat, but what to eat. Knowing the region's specialties will guide you when making meal choices. Additionally, Yelp and other review sites can be incredibly helpful, but they can also be detrimental to finding an authentic experience. Remember that many of these reviewers are tourists, just like you, and although they and 50 other reviewers might have had a great meal, their five stars do not necessarily equate to an authentic meal.
2. Menus tell you about a whole lot more than the food
As a general rule, avoid menus written in many languages, and restaurants that use sandwich boards to advertise that they "speak English." Although it is of course helpful for restaurants to have their menus in English, a laminated menu with flags of many countries is, in itself, a red flag.
While on the subject of sandwich boards: real chalkboards displaying menus that change daily are a great sign; fake chalkboards (they exist, I swear) are generally a sign of a lack of authenticity.
3. Take note of fellow diners
Are they speaking the language? Do they look like locals? Awesome. Eat there.
Are there a bunch of local, elderly men hanging around? Eat there. The elderly know what's up. This rule never fails.
4. Take note of the staff
Another rule as unbending as number three? Avoid restaurants with a host or hostess paid to stand outside and lure you in. If the food is good, a restaurant does not need this. Period.
5. Don't be afraid to walk one more street
You're hungry, you just want to sit down, you're getting to that point where you would eat just about anything . . . but don't give up searching for a place that is THE restaurant for lunch, and don't give in and settle for restaurants that do not follow the above-mentioned rules. Every time we have nearly done this, we have told ourselves to walk "one more street." Turn away from the direction the tourists are headed, and get a little lost. You never know what hidden gem you will find.