What to eat
Disclaimer: we are not the people who go out at 8 p.m. for a six-course four-hour dinner with two drinks and three bottles of wine. Most of the advice below will still work, I just want you to know where we’re coming from.
You may have a few restaurants that are destinations in their own right. Place those on your map first.
It’s often better to work out where you will be at mealtimes, then look for places to eat.
First, interview yourself.
- Will you want some meals to be close to your hotel?
- How about dinner before or after a show?
Think about how much you want to eat
- You’ll probably have lunch out every day. Think about what a big lunch does to you.
- Remember that lunchtime is not-walking time
- We usually eat less and less as we go through a vacation. By the end of the second week, dinner might be a sandwich, especially if we had that ice cream at 4 p.m. Dinner certainly won’t be much more than a pasta dish and a drink.
- Going to Italy? Allow for that mid-morning cannoli and the mid-afternoon gelato. Hong Kong? You can’t pass up ALL the dim sum places. Paris? Croissants, mille feuilles, …
Where to eat
Use TripAdvisor.com and Google to filter options. Find the place you want to eat near, and ask the websites to show you restaurants near there. Then use TripAdvisor to help you decide which ones match your tastes and budget. We’ve never gone wrong this way:
- look for places with a rating of at least 4/5, 3.5 if you must. Most ratings are suited to the type of restaurant, so a street kiosk can get four stars.
- make sure it’s your kind of place – check the prices and the menu
the TripAdvisor entry often shows 1-4 dollar signs to indicate price;
- skim the comments for an idea of the ambience (loud? quiet? music?)
- check out the low ratings to see WHY; maybe they had reasons that don’t matter to you, or maybe too many people saw mice under the tables
- skim the high ratings to see WHY; look for service and evidence that they care and want you have a good meal.
Same old method. Make a list. Show it to your travel companions. Shorten it.
Get the details for the serious contenders:
- Where? How to get there?
- When open? Is there a Happy Hour etc.?
- Do you need to reserve?
Again, don’t overcut. If you plan to eat at El Supremo Gordo, maybe you want to leave a smaller place on the list in case you aren’t as hungry as you thought.
If you’re confident in the local language, or you’re in a country where most service people speak good English, think about a reservation (of course you looked in that as you made your list, right?) If not, your hotel will be glad to call for you, and I suspect it might help you get a better table.
We have more than once been glad we did some research. If you look into this topic, you’ll find lots more. One place to start is Trip Advisor. GO to a city site, and look for a “Travel Advice” button.
Avoidance – if you hate anchovies and you’re going to Rome, maybe learn the Italian word for anchovy. In Japan, you’ll be told that everyone likes takoyaki–but not everyone likes octopus, so maybe not.
Manners– why not check out a destination tourist site for some expectations. Do you tip in this country, and if so how much? How do you ask for the bill? How do you pay? Does it cost more to eat inside (at a table)? For takeout restaurants, how do you order?
Expectations – It doesn’t take long to research, for example, what is considered breakfast where you’re going. Don’t get your hopes up for a full English breakfast in Tokyo. Check what the popular local street food is. Look for basics that can surprise you, such as what to expect if you ask for “coffee.”
- Caffe Florian is in the middle of Piazza San Marco in the heart of Venice. It opened in 1720. A caffe Americano or a cappuccino or latte will cost you €10.50. This is not normal, but it underscores the need to do enough research to set your expectations so you won’t be surprised or disappointed. P.S. the Caffe Brasilia, a few minutes away, will make you an excellent coffee for a lot less. You’re paying for the ambience, and why not? Or if you prefer, coffee is normally priced and there’s a cover charge.
- In some countries, such as Italy, takeout/sitting outside and eat-in have quite different prices. Find out ahead of time.
Language – just as you should learn the local words for “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” you should research a few basics. For example, in Japan after a good meal you might say “Gochisosama” as appreciation for the food and the people involved in the meal. As noted above, maybe learn tthe words for food you really don’t like, and a few things like how to ask for the bill.