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  • Writer's pictureS. Parris

How To Find The Best Hidden Gem Restaurants Wherever You Go




When exploring the world or frequenting faraway cities, one normally works up an appetite. Yet when hunger strikes, more often than not, rave-worthy dining establishments, unique cafes, and secret spots about town are what you crave — not just any old eatery nearby. Since some of the best travel memories happen over a shared drink or during one-of-a-kind dining experiences, you know where you decide to eat matters. And if you happen to be a traveling foodie, then visiting the crème de la crème of the local food scene is definitely on your to-do list.


Of course, discovering and grabbing a table at a destination's premiere culinary joint by chance is very unlikely without some forethought. Whether you are familiar with your location or not, finding the best-underrated places to eat can be tricky, especially with more than a few tourist traps and influencer upsells along the way. Nonetheless, this task is far from impossible when you do your homework. So, let's go over how to find the best hidden gem restaurants wherever you go.


Use foodie apps


Mobile apps are just one way to ensure that you find foodie gems no matter where you are. Popular apps like OpenTable, for instance, boast access to over 52,000 restaurants around the world. Not only can you find amazing eats and hidden gems with this app, but you can also read reviews, view menus, and make reservations all in one place. Similar to OpenTable in its function, the Resy app is more widely used in the U.S., primarily on the East Coast. As a result, most of the dining options on the Resy app are overwhelmingly East Coast-based, particularly in major foodie hotspots like New York.  


Another excellent mobile food finder, World of Mouth, offers instant access to a wealth of unique eateries via its app. Touted as the ultimate independent restaurant guide, the World of Mouth app connects hungry folks with great dining establishments (big, small, or up-and-coming) in major cities worldwide and near users' locations. Likewise, Atmosfy is an interactive travel app that showcases restaurants, nightlife, and more through videos direct from other patrons. These apps are just a few of the many options available that will lead you in the right direction for delicious, underrated eats.


Peruse social media


In this day and age, social media is everything. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and more are brimming with restaurant suggestions. From influencers highlighting new spots to celebrity chefs and stars listing their favs, you are bound to come across an establishment or two worth checking out. Plus, you can often find somewhere unique to chow down at simply by looking at what food joints some of your like-minded followers and friends are raving about.


Food, travel, and entertainment sites are also great resources for hungry wanderers as they provide important information about a variety of destinations, including what to do, what events are going on, and, most importantly, where to eat. So, it is highly recommended that you cast a wide net when perusing your socials and the internet. Of course, you might have to do a deep dive when looking online for those truly hidden gems. But it never hurts to check out the highlighted dining and nightlife scenes via the web or social media, especially if you want to check out the trendier restaurants.


Get recommendations from your tour guides


When adventuring away from home, food tours, cooking classes, tastings, and city excursions are all wonderful opportunities for asking for food recommendations. That said, if your city guide does not appear to be knowledgeable in the food scene or passionate about the places they tell you to try, then you should definitely take their suggestions with a grain of salt. It is the tour guides, culinary instructors, and sommeliers who want you to have a good impression of their city that usually get you to the hidden gems — so be on the lookout for those guys.


Along those same lines, tourist boards may also be of some possible assistance in your quest for underrated eateries. You can find a tourist board for your intended destination that covers popular attractions, accommodations, dining, shopping, and entertainment. These typically government-run sites, like Visit Britain, Visit California, and Australia.com, showcase the best of the best when it comes to restaurants in their particular area. From Michelin-star restaurants to vegan-friendly cafes, and then some, giving your destination's tourist board a once-over can help lead you to a variety of phenomenal eats or, at the bare minimum, assist in narrowing down your search.


Make inquiries when out and about


Most visitors have booked a place to stay and have agendas that are chock full of activities. Thus, the opportunity to make inquiries when out and about is absolutely there. If you happen to be staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, you can ask the front desk staff, the concierge, or the host of your vacation rental. Even hostel managers can offer some insight into the local food scene, so don't be shy; just ask.


Likewise, if you are headed to a concert, play, convention, or other local happenings, then it is perfectly acceptable to ask around. Chatting with the event staff, servers, and bartenders should get you some great finds. Not only are they often in the know when it comes to the best, low-key, and tastiest joints in town, but they are also less likely to lead you astray or suggest tourist traps. What's more, the people working the event are generally full of useful information on how to spot hidden gems on the fly. Staff tips such as going with less trendy joints located in high-traffic areas and choosing the restaurant sans the breathtaking views are just a couple of ways to spot dining establishments in real-time that often have the best food.


Check out forum sites


If you are interested in dining establishments that others have ranked and reviewed, then check out the various foodie forum sites. You can forage for hidden gems on more well-known restaurant sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and even Foursquare (which many popular apps rely on to provide users with a host of everyday information, including Apple Maps). These forums spotlight millions of frequented restaurants and their customer reviews. And, an added bonus here is that you can filter the results on these sites, so you are only looking at rare go-tos in town.


Similarly, Google is amassed with restaurant business profiles. A quick search of "the best restaurants near me" will yield a vast selection of places to eat. From there, you can peruse the countless profiles, read reviews, and get a good sense of just where the foodie goodness is in relation to your location. It also does not hurt to narrow things down when Googling by looking for restaurants that specifically serve locally sourced food and regional cuisine. Chances are that the secret spots in any given destination are cooking up something homegrown.


Ask a local


If you are not too big on planning and prefer to take things as they come when exploring new places, you can always quiz somebody who lives there about the best culinary joints in their city. Before striking up a conversation with the locals, however, do yourself a favor and take note of your location's food scene. Any places with a line outside the door or restaurants that appear to be overwhelmingly frequented by locals definitely deserve your attention. 


When stumbling upon such a find, if possible, make a reservation for later or even the next day to ensure you are not waiting around for hours when you could be enjoying your destination. Alternatively, if you happen to be shopping, lounging in the park, or hanging out near areas where the locals tend to be in masses, like coffee shops, libraries, universities, and so on, then start a conversation with someone about the city's dining options. Most people are eager to give suggestions because who hates talking about amazing food? And remember to ask more than just one unassuming person where they often go for incredible eats. Tip: Ask cab, ride-share, and bus drivers for even more beloved restaurant suggestions from locals.


Do your research beforehand


When wandering about new cities, it pays to do your research ahead of time. So, if your getaway to parts unknown is not a spur-of-the-moment thing, then why not make the most of it by delving deep into the local food scene with a plan? You will likely discover that there are upcoming food festivals, restaurant openings, foodie tours, and even historical eateries that have stood the test of time and are all worth checking out.


Doing your foodie research well in advance will also allow you to undoubtedly find some top-tier hidden gems, along with a few in the making. Moreover, when you come prepared, you can avoid potential problems like hangry travel companions, being forced to eat at tourist traps, and a whole host of other dining faux pas. Thus, it is in your best interest to scour the internet, read relevant publications, look at the destination's calendar of events, and consider several local sources in addition to the self-proclaimed gourmands and bloggers. And while you are at it, don't forget to see what foods your vacation spot is known for — whether it's sensational tapas, fresh-caught seafood, bold vinos, or hand-made pasta — knowing what restaurants tend to showcase will help weed out the diners and dives that do not fit the bill.


Look for pop-up restaurants and supper clubs


Unsurprisingly, pop-up restaurants are often gems in the making. Many of these pop-up establishments had humbler beginnings as street food vendors. From incredible on-the-go culinary feats to simple sandwiches, rice-based dishes, and cherished snack foods, street food is no longer just something to eat in a far-off country or outside a sporting event. Not only has street food culture taken over in the U.S. (mainly in the form of food trucks), but it is also recognized worldwide as an opportunity to grab some great and authentic eats.


Thus, when vacationing anywhere in the world, don't hesitate to try some good old-fashioned street food in all its forms, as you will likely be surprised. Hungry visitors can also root around for the nearest food truck assembly, which is often near financial and business districts. And even though traditional pop-up restaurants, though by definition are temporary events, they still tend to showcase delightful eats — so make sure to check your destination's pop-up events schedule. What's more, travelers should be on the lookout for a blast from the past, supper clubs, which have been gaining in popularity recently as well. Supper clubs are more so social gathering spots for food enthusiasts than restaurants. Nonetheless, for a minimal fee, you can join in on what is considered to be the latest take on communal, urban dining.


Google speakeasies and dining experiences


Yet another way to find the best hidden gem restaurants, no matter your location, is by googling unique speakeasies and available dining experiences. Though typically a little pricey, speakeasies are an oldie but a goody, especially if you like your dinner with a side of mystery. Revered for their overall ambiance and flare, these themed restaurants specialize mostly in cocktails. Still, there is usually a nice and innovative repertoire of small plates being served as well. And even though reservations, passwords, and secret entryways are involved, speakeasies are often the embodiment of hidden gem restaurants.


Besides speakeasies, most eateries have crafted dining experiences that they offer. With guest chefs, themed meals, new dishes, wine tastings, unique atmospheres, and more, dining experiences are pleasant surprises that make you feel like you are in on a secret. In order to find these particular gems, a quick search on Google or via a foodie app will generate countless dining experiences in the area that you can enjoy. So, if you are in the mood for a contemporary casual or fancy nibble somewhere in the world, then add dining experiences to your list of possibilities.


Find the in-crowd


It may seem a bit counterintuitive to locate the popular nightlife and entertainment scene in any area when on the hunt for hidden gems. But bustling downtowns and prominent haunts in most metropolises worldwide tend to have a few diamonds in the rough. From underrated joints and hole-in-the-wall diners to taverns and dimly lit lounges that serve food, culinary treasures tend to be plentiful in these kinds of locations.


Theater districts are also a good place to head to if you are wandering listlessly about a city in search of food. Since it is customary for theatergoers to do dinner and a show, there is usually a large number of restaurants in the vicinity. Though you may need to read the reviews to avoid some of the more touristy establishments, many of the restaurants located in such districts have stood the test of time for a reason beyond convenience. Likewise, posh hotels are frequently grouped together in faraway cities and probably have at least one or two in-house eateries. So, you can easily pop into one of these five-star hotels for a fine dining experience and rub elbows with the in-crowd, especially during the week.


Get suggestions from nightclub promoter


If you plan on painting the town red or engaging in some barhopping while visiting, then you can also ask the club promoters and people handing out flyers where to go for fantastic eats. Both the promoter and hand-to-hand marketers are definitely untapped resources for travelers who are rummaging about for their next meal. These people tend to know their city intimately, and since it is their business to be in the know, they can surely tell you where and where not to go.


Plus, if you ask for restaurant suggestions on a slow night or when the party is starting to wind down, they may even walk you to a nearby late-night gem. And the best part about having your own personal escort is in the event of a long line. Showing up with the promoter can significantly reduce how long you have to hungrily wait around for a table. So, remember, if you cross paths with these guys, they, without question, know where those amazing joints are — and you should kindly ask for recommendations.


Do some good old-fashioned sleuthing


Finally, if all else fails, try your hand at some good old-fashioned sleuthing. Of course, sleuthing or collective detective work does not just apply to unsolved crimes — in this instance, rather, it means putting the word out. Let your friends, family, and followers know via social media that you are off to distant lands and would appreciate their input regarding good food options. You can also head on over to your favorite forum sites and online travel groups to cast a wider net across your social networks. Chances are someone has a bit of insight into your destination's food scene — so put the word out that you are looking for a unique dining experience and watch the suggestions roll in. 


Ultimately, finding the best hidden gem restaurants when traveling is definitely a separate excursion in its own right. But that does not mean you have to walk around hungry or spend your entire vacation eating sub-par food. That said, if you happen to be out and about in an unfamiliar location and a random food joint piques your interest, try it out. There really are no die-hard rules here. Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to go with your gut as well as step outside your culinary comfort zone when the opportunity presents itself.

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