How to find the BEST local restaurants

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Florida.  The marina is hopping and you’re sitting outside, right next to boats coming in and out, fishermen selling fresh seafood right off the dock, tourists and locals strolling along the pier.  The margarita in your hand is made with fresh ingredients, icy cold and salted – and since it’s Happy Hour they are 2 for $8!  Just then the server brings you a plate of fresh oysters, fish dip made with freshly caught local fish and fish tacos overloaded with toppings.  Sounds wonderful, right?  Way better than greasy, unhealthy fast food.  That was one of our recent meals in Clearwater, FL.

One of the things I love, both when traveling and when at home, is to try out new local restaurants.  I am very lucky to live in an area that has many stellar local places.  But even when traveling, I take the time to do a little research to find the best places to eat the area has to offer.

Here are my steps t0 finding a great local restaurant:

  1.  First if it’s an area new to me, I check out Yelp.  Even when we are driving on a road trip, once the stomachs start rumbling, the phone comes out and the search for a place to eat begins (tip: use the map features to see what’s along your route).  I’ve even trained my kids to do this, so we’ll all start yelling out names of places as we find them.  Unless there aren’t any available options, pick someplace with at least a 4 star rating.  Check out the reviews, take a look at the menu and if it sounds good, call to make sure they are open.  I’ve also started leaving reviews for myself on Yelp to remind us of places we liked so we can hit them up next time we are in the area (tip: I usually put descriptions that are useful to us like “happy hour was great,” “the kalamata hummus was amazing”, etc.).  Plus, if someone asks for a recommendation it’s easy to pull up a name and address.
  2. Keep a list on your phone of places to try.  This is most useful locally, although you could create lists for places you visit often.  Or maybe start a new one just before a vacation.  When someone mentions a restaurant or you read a review in the paper or a magazine, add it to your list.  This is super helpful when it’s dinner time and no one wants to pick a place to eat.   Just go to the list and give something on it a try.
  3. Ask for recommendations.  When traveling ask the locals for their favorite places to eat.  Sometimes when we do this, we get crazy answers like a national chain, but often this is a way to find great hidden gems.  If several people recommend the same place, you know you ought to give it a try!
  4. Do a little research.  If you have time before a trip, do an internet search or read travel guides to see what travel writers and others recommend.  If it sounds interesting, take note.
  5. Find a place BEFORE everyone is starving.  When shopping, sightseeing or whatever the day brings, make a point to stop and check out the menus regardless of the time of day.  This saves lots of stress and keeps you from “settling” when folks start getting hangry!

Do you enjoy trying new restaurants?  How do you find them?  Please share your tips in the comments!!!