A while back someone asked me how I find good restaurants while traveling. There is a definitely an art to this, and I don’t always pick winners. However, I have learned some things along the way to avoid a really terrible restaurant or find a real gem.
Check reviews from a variety of sources
This is probably a no-brainer, but this is where I start. I look up restaurants on TripAdvisor or Google and see what others have said about them. There are many places to do this, but I check online and if I’m traveling with guidebooks and magazines, I check there as well. I’ve found some real gems in guidebooks!
Identify and ignore unhelpful, poor reviews
My “expert” advice here is to sift through the reviews from really picky people with over-the-top-expectations. For example, someone who gives it a 1 star and comments, “They couldn’t seat my party of 12 at 6:30pm on a Friday night! I will never come back here!” or “I ordered cheesecake and found out it had dairy and gluten it it and they didn’t tell me that on the menu!” I wouldn’t expect any restaurant to be able to accommodate a party of 12 on a Friday night, and whoever ordered a cheesecake and expected it to be dairy-free has other issues. So, I’m going to go ahead and ignore reviews like that.
Look for reviews that specifically describe food quality, service, menu offerings or restaurant character
I will look for reviews that say, “Food took 45 minutes to arrive on a Tuesday at 4:30pm” or “Waitress was rude and we found glass in our salad.” But more specifically, I look for things that are unique to the place: “Amazing view right by the water!” or “Live music, super romantic!” or “Best steak I’ve ever had, came with a salad AND soup.” I want a restaurant with good food AND a good experience. I look for reviews that can help me determine if I can have both at this place.
Make sure to check the most recent reviews
We went to a restaurant recommended by a guidebook that was two years old, and that might as well be a century for a restaurant. It had gone downhill and wasn’t nearly as good as the book had described. After we left we checked online reviews which told us what we learned the hard way. So lesson is here, look for recent reviews. If you can’t find any RECENT ones, you probably don’t want to eat there.
Check the restaurants’ presence on social media
I always look for the restaurant on Facebook or Instagram to see if anyone posted recent pictures. People love to post a really beautiful meal or something that was unique about the restaurant. It seems like most restaurants create a website and never look at it again, so it remains sort of static. I like to check their social media presence to see if there are pictures or notices of special events.
This is probably my number one piece of advice: ask someone locally. Pro-tip is if you’re staying at a hotel, don’t ask them what restaurants they recommend. Sometimes they’re required to tell you certain ones. Ask them where they would eat. This has lead us to some of the best restaurants we’ve been to. One time we asked a bus driver to take us to her favorite restaurant. We were in a real shady part of town, but hey, food was great!
There you have my “expert” advice in selecting a restaurant. How do you pick a restaurant?