I wanted to just tweet this thought, but it got a bit out of hand, length wise.
So, how to find a good restaurant when travelling? A useful discovery I’ve made over my years of travelling: particularly when in a foreign country is, never ask a local for a restaurant recommendation. Instead, ask them much more specifically; ‘What is your favourite restaurant?’ and importantly ‘When did you last eat there?’
There are two reasons for this; one often people will want to point you to a restaurant that they think (or anecdotally know) ‘foreigners’ like, rather than one locals frequent. And two, you can’t assume that all locals always eat out a lot. Sometimes for economic or cultural reasons they might not eat out often at all and a restaurant they went to and enjoyed 2 years ago could very well have gone off the boil.
It’s happened to me again and again. I remember going to a recommended restaurant in Marrakech (by our tour guide). It was full of foreigners just like us and correspondingly high prices. My friend got food poisoning (the positive side of which was being able to sell a travel story on taking her to a ‘herbalist’ in the souk for treatment!). Once she’d recovered we explored on our own, discovering some great (and dirt cheap) local places, much to the horror of our hotel receptionist, who confessed that yes, he *did* eat in one or two of them himself on occasion, but they weren’t ‘good enough’ for foreigners.
I’m sorry to say, but tourist boards aren’t much help. Most often they’re going to promote those places who pay them-whether through ads or membership fees, rather than those that are the best, or even the best fit for what the traveller is after.
Then there’s sites like tripadvisor, of which admittedly, I’m an avid reader, usually *after* having travelled to the place. People go to such sites, look up what is number 1 hotel or restaurant or whatever and put it on the top of their `must do’ list. They have an ok time, come home, post about it and it continues.
And finally, sadly often I find travel writers (who often have a famil organised by a tourist board or other interested party), parrot the same old same old when it comes to restaurants or food recommendations too. The myth of a restaurant’s supposed greatness is perpetuated by laziness or lack of time as they become part of the foodie memory of people who organise such trips.
So, by all means, ask a local. Just make sure to ask a foodie local rather than assuming all locals are food lovers or frequent diners. (Local food bloggers are a great source!) Best of all is to use gut instinct and discover places for yourself. Sure there’ll be some hit and misses, but a quick recce (look at the menu, how many diners there are -a full restaurant is usually a decent one and get a feel for the atmosphere-happy looking diners, smiling staff, good smells etc?) and go it alone.