How do you locate good food when you are off the beaten path?

One of the questions that I’ve been wondering- when even the best internet resource, like Chowhound, egullet, Yelp, bloggers don’t have much information on a certain area you are in, how do you go about finding the best food?

Some techniques I use, with various degree of success:

  1. Ask the locals- but this one is hit or miss dependent on whom you ask and their taste
  2. Look for big crowds- maybe on average its better than a shop with thin crowds, but its not necessarily a great indicator either as I’ve had great meals in empty places.
  3. reviews from local papers, if there is a paper that is.

What’re your tricks?

For America, I look for immigrant-owned restaurants, especially a cuisine that appears out of place is whatever odd corner of the world I’m in. Like a Malaysian restaurant in Idaho. Then I try to get whoever is cooking to understand I really want Malaysian food, or Peruvian, etc. not something made for American palates. I’ve eaten a lot of nice meals that way in otherwise hopeless looking situations.

In Italy, I’m usually able to find info (in Italian) for just about every single area in Italy, no matter how remote. There is a LOT of conversation about food in Italy, and a lot of people looking for authentic food in out-of-the-way places and writing it up. If you ask locals, it is very tricky, because they will either favor restaurants their friends own or they will feel more comfortable sending you to a “safe” restaurant that serves elevated food. If you specifically ask them for a recommendation for something close to a home-cooked meal, they may feel obliged to invite you home for dinner! It is best if you start out by saying, I think, what price range you are looking for., which will free them up to make specific suggestions, and also have enough familiarity with the local dishes and what you want to sample to ask which restaurant in town makes an exemplary version, or else they may steer you to someplace they think will have dishes that might appeal to Americans, assuming you wouldn’t want their ordinary food.

It is still true in many parts of Italy, both urban and countryside, that if the cooking smells are enticing from outside the door, the food is likely to be very enjoyable inside. (Check the posted menu outside for prices before entering.)

My dad used to travel a lot solo, by motorcycle and would end up in all kinds of random places.

He would go for a pre dinner drink at a bar and talk to the serving staff about a good place to eat.

Can be a bit hit or miss.

Go for lunch to see what the place is like . Or if chancing a dinner . Walk in and take a peek at the food of what the patrons are eating . Order a app , drink and go from there . I’m not that picky when eating off the beaten path . It’s miss or hit .

I never got the “look for big crowds” motif. Case-in-point: I’d rather be eating Colombian in the Orlando suburbs than visiting Disney anything.

Anyway, as per the OP, I don’t use any resources. It’s all about the wandering.

I used to travel to cat shows most weekends. They were more often in suburbs than in the middle of large cities, so options were fewer. I learned from a friend to ask a cop or look for trucks if you want something affordable and satisfying, albeit unadventurous.

I think this is an interesting question - and one worth continuing to ask. The techniques you’ve noted are certainly valid. I know that, at some time or another, I’ve employed each - resulting in, as you say, “various degrees of success.” I’ll add an additional restriction I impose upon myself - no national, chain restaurants. If I’m going to suffer through a lousy meal, I’d rather not know that before I enter a place. Any hope is better than none at all.

Like @HolyTerroir, I also will adapt how I apply different techniques in slightly different ways in different places. For example, crowds in a highly populated area often suggest more about trend than taste. Whereas, a crowd of folks at an out of the way, rural cafe shows a certain commitment to the spot (assuming that there are other choices in the vicinity). Likewise, a scan of the cars in the parking lot can help - license plates from the neighboring state are a good sign, more than one cop car - especially if they’re from more than one department - is an even better one.

Another, more general, thought on the subject is to keep in mind that the objective is to find a good meal, not necessarily a good restaurant. This tends to come into play most when asking advice from “locals”. Asking, “What’s the best restaurant around here?” is likely to get you an answer speculatively based upon what the person you ask thinks you would think is a good restaurant. On the other hand, “Where would you go if you really wanted a juicy burger?” might actually elicit enough of an honest response to help (I mean, even if the guy says, “I love Hardees”, you know to ask someone else).

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