Local Flavor: 6 Dining Tips for Foodie Travelers

For me, visiting new places is the perfect excuse to try great food. These are some of my favorite travel dining tips, compiled from years of searching the globe for the most delicious things to eat.

While I enjoy sightseeing and discovering different cultures, for me, travel is all about the food. I have planned entire vacations around dinner reservations, and I never leave a location without seeking out the best version of a local delicacy. In fact, after many years of finding the finest bites across the globe, I’ve come to count it as a legitimate skill — and I’m happy to help others develop this talent as well. Here are my best dining tips for fellow food-obsessed travelers:

Do your research.

When it comes to eating well, knowledge is power. Before I travel, I familiarize myself with common local dishes and ingredients so I know exactly what to order. Even within a single country, you’ll find regional specialties. For example, before I went to Italy, I knew the country was known for pizza and pasta. But when I dug a little deeper, I learned that pizza originated specifically in Napoli and that the best hearty pastas are found near Bologna. With that knowledge, I was able to tailor my trip to ensure I got the best of the best.

The other key part of my pre-trip research is making a huge list of restaurants I want to try, from hip fine-dining establishments to hole-in-the-wall spots serving up cheap street fare. I map out everything, so I know what options are near each attraction I visit. This way, I can avoid my biggest travel pet peeve: wasting my hard-earned cash in overpriced tourist traps and museum cafés.

Embrace the lunch reservation.

On a recent trip to Spain, my travel companions and I made a last-minute decision to check out San Sebastián, a culinary mecca that’s home to a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. By that point, we couldn’t secure a dinner reservation, but we were able to get in for lunch at Asador Etxebarri, which was recently voted the sixth best restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We were ultimately thrilled we visited during lunch — the restaurant is nestled in the rolling green hills of the countryside just outside the city, and if we had dined in the evening, we would have missed some truly stunning scenery. 

Don’t be afraid to ask.

Sometimes I find myself in a town without a reservation or pre-selected restaurant. In these cases, I ask locals where they love to eat. Not only is it a great way to meet new people, but they might lead you a hidden gem. I found my favorite crepe place in all of Paris, Breizh Café, after chatting with a woman who worked in a vintage clothing shop around the corner. 

Quick Tip:

One of the best people to ask is your hotel concierge. This local guru can point you in the right direction and also help you secure a reservation.

Dine with locals.

Getting tips from locals is great, but sharing a meal with them is even better. I’ve recently been checking out apps like EatWith and Traveling Spoon — both of which connect travelers with chefs who host cooking classes and prepare multi-course meals in their homes or other venues. This is a really cool way to meet locals, learn more about food and — most importantly — eat dishes prepared with good, old-fashioned love.

During a recent trip to San Francisco, I used EatWith and joined a supper club that gathered in the basement of an old rec center. People brought wine to share, and a charming couple served huge pots of homemade cassoulet. By the end of the night, I had not only eaten a wonderful meal, but also made a group of new friends.

Quick Tip:

Look for handwritten chalkboard (or other temporary) menus — it’s a likely sign that a restaurant is constantly changing up their dishes based on what’s fresh and in season.

Walk the extra mile.

During a trip to Florence, my wife and I were taking in the Ponte Vecchio when we suddenly realized we were starving. I had a place in mind for lunch, but it was more than a mile away and the walk seemed daunting. I was tempted to hit up the closest restaurant instead, but my lovely wife reminded me of my food snobbery and convinced me to soldier on — and I’m so glad she did.

When we arrived at the Trattoria 4 Leoni, a restaurant tucked away in an elegant and much less crowded square, I knew it was perfect. To this day, we still talk about their incredible cacio e pepe with pecorino ice cream. That’s right: They served cheese-flavored ice cream on homemade pasta. And we almost missed out on enjoying it!

Take a tour.

Sometimes it pays to have experts make the decisions for you. You may want to check out guided group tours that cater to foodies, with itineraries featuring meals at great restaurants, local markets, cooking classes and behind-the-scenes visits to olive oil vineyards and wineries.

I also like to take shorter tours of neighborhoods known for certain foods, like a dumpling tour in New York’s Chinatown or a tapas tour in Barcelona. Having an expert guide means I’ll quickly learn the ins and outs of a culture’s cuisine; and being with a group of people means I’ll likely get to try more things. And I’ll never say no to more food.

Quick Tip:

If a restaurant’s menu is in multiple languages, it could be because they’re specifically catering to tourists. And while that may seem nice, it may also mean that they don’t feel the need to make good food, as they know you’ll probably never be back.

Explore More:

Treat yourself to a culinary tour available through the Marriott Vacation Club Destinations® Exchange Program.

Max D. is a writer/video producer and avid traveler living in Los Angeles.