When you go on a holiday, many people overlook where they will dine. To me, this is a beginner’s mistake. Would you eat bad or mediocre food at home? Gosh, I would hope not. I don’t care if you’re a “foodie” or someone who wants to eat as cheaply as possible, there are choices for you to eat well across the dining spectrum. A little planning will also make sure that you don’t go broke while on holiday. In this short post, I’d like to tell you how I prepare for a trip and why you shouldn’t leave eating on your vacation to chance.
Obviously, this works best if you’re visiting a mid to large sized city or somewhere else where you have a multitude of dining options. If you are at a resort and on the hotel’s food plan, just realize that you’re a victim of the wheel of misfortune. Maybe the food will be good and maybe it won’t. You might want to consider getting off campus.
One other thing to keep in mind is that you are not at home anymore and the food is likely to be different, very different. A friend of mine called me once to ask where he could get a good steak in Paris. They serve steak in Paris, of course, but I informed him that it wouldn’t be the same as a steak he would find in the US. He was very disappointed. Don’t be this guy. You’re not there to eat what you can at home, instead, explore and experience a different way of life. That's why you are traveling after-all.
I think that there are three different types of vacation diners: 1. those that don’t care a lick (there's no helping them) 2. those that like to be economical about their dining choices and 3: those that like to mix in a little fine dining along with their mix of the best local restaurants. I think we fall into category 3. We love eating at restaurants that the locals frequent but you have to realize that your menu selections will be a little different from a mainstream place.
For personalities #2 and #3, start by researching the New York Times for an article entitled “36 Hours in...” including the name of the place you are visiting. If you’re only in a destination for 36 hours, the NYT will give you the “do not miss” places. That includes places for those on a budget. If you strike out with the Times, visit London’s Telegraph. They have a wonderful travel section and will likely lead you to some off-the-wall places. Your very last stop should be TripAdvisor. Let me give you a caveat about the use of TripAdvisor. Take their ratings with some healthy skepticism. Whenever using TripAdvisor, I always feel like I have to “read between the lines.” Just because a restaurant is highly ranked there doesn’t mean you will enjoy it. For example, we are visiting Lisbon, Portugal in September and after researching the destination, TripAdvisor suggests “Lisboete” as their most highly ranked restaurant - not mentioned in either the Times or the Telegraph. I visited their website and looked at the photo gallery. There’s no doubt that this is a special restaurant but I am not keen on molecular gastronomy and high end, stuffy, fine dining. Lisboete is off our list. Olivier Avenida, on the other hand, looks great for our one fine dining experience. The room is beautiful, the food looks approachable for everyone and the reviews are more than generally positive. Have a look at how TripAdvisor handles restaurants in your home town and you will be prepared when you look at a foreign destination. I know you cannot please everyone. I read the reviews of places that I know and am always shocked by others’ opinions.
Don’t show up to a new destination without examining your dining choices. Bad restaurants can ruin your holiday. Who wants that? Do a little preparatory leg work: it will be worth it in the end.
Bon appetit. Buon appetito, ¡Buen provecho! Smakelijk eten!