How to Find the Best Meals on Vacation

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Toss your routine, pile the kids in the station wagon, and hit the road—it’s time for a vacation. For the next week or two, you’re going to be hitting up every museum and roadside attraction from here to . . . who knows? There’s only one thing for sure: Whether you’re heading to the beach, the mountains, the city or the spa, everyone knows the key to a good trip is lots of tasty food.

Don’t take our word for it. Food-lover and comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “Really, that’s all a vacation is. Us . . . eating in a place we’ve never been.”

To help you make the most of your next food tour, we’re providing a few helpful tips. Try these out before you leave; you’ll thank us when you return.

Develop your vacation food philosophy

Take a few minutes to determine the types of places you want on your list—and those you don’t. Include all of the trip-goers in the conversation.

Ask: What’s your favorite type of food? How much is too much to spend on dinner? Do you like to eat dessert? Are you willing to drive a bit for delicious fare? What foods do you refuse to eat?

Then, consider the biggest question of all: What are you willing to sacrifice? As in, can you forgo fancy décor for an authentic dining experience? Will you be okay eating smaller portions in order to sample the best your destination has to offer?

If you’re not all on the same page, that’s okay. Take each person’s preferences into consideration and try to find ways to make sure everyone enjoys one special meal during your trip.

Do some research

With your food philosophy in mind, hop on to the World Wide Web to do some research. You’ll want to avoid most city visitor sites, which tend to list touristy restaurants instead of tasty ones.

Instead, try a few of the following search options:

Urbanspoon: Download this app for free on your phone to easily find and catalog restaurants you’d like to visit. You can search by location and food type. See something that looks interesting? Dig a little deeper. Check out the rating percentage and the number of people who voted. You can also view menus, pictures of the food, user reviews and critic reviews. Add any potentials to your list of favorites.

Chowhound.com: The folks on these forums are serious about food. Select your destination and dive right in. You’ll find opinions and updates on everything—including the hottest new eateries and secret hole-in-the-wall spots that may change your mind about fine dining. You can start a new discussion if you like, but you probably won’t have to. Make note of any reoccurring restaurants and add them to your Urbanspoon favorites.

Blogs: Food blogs, lifestyle blogs, mommy blogs . . . you really can’t go wrong here. Check the blogs you know and love to see if they offer tips for eating at your vacation spot. Spend a few minutes browsing the comments as well. You can also include the word “blog” in your basic internet search. This might look something like “San Francisco food blog.” Researching this way allows you to read anecdotal accounts of visits and even find family-friendly options.

Social Media: With hundreds of online acquaintances, the makings of a “scientific” survey are at your fingertips. Put your social media outlets to good use! Keep the post short and simple, asking specifically for what you want to know. You may say, “Where is the one place in New Orleans we must eat?” Send private messages for more information on responses that interest you.

Keep it local

It must be said: Eating at a chain restaurant—particularly one found in your home town—is the cardinal sin of vacation. We’ll excuse this action only for a mid-road-trip visit to Cracker Barrel. That’s it.

For the rest of your travel time, keep it local. Embrace the flavors of your destination. If you’re near the ocean, eat seafood. On the west coast? Enjoy authentic tacos. Visit the local farmers market or buy lunch from a food truck.

Our best advice? After all of your planning and list making, leave one meal unchecked. Ask locals where they eat, what they can’t enough of, and go there. Sometimes vacation really is about eating in a place you’ve never been—and that’s why we love it.

Have a wonderful trip!

money | @ChrisBrownOnAir