“Food is the easiest window into a culture and the most direct expression of character and history of a place,” says Anthony Bourdain. And he should know. As an former professional chef and now travel TV host, he’s visited roughly 120 countries over the years.
Yet with so many choices these days, it can be frustrating (and tedious) to find great restaurants when you’re traveling. Here’s a Bourdain-approved cheat sheet.
1. No Photos
“You want to go to a place where there’s locals only. No photos of the food, the menu is not in English and there are people eating there that look like they go there a lot.”
2. Look for Just 3 Things
“My favorite restaurants are ones where they only do two or three things. A place that does three things and it looks like they’ve been doing those same three things for a very long time—that’s a really healthy sign. If they have a menu that’s all over the place, if they have a hamburger or Asian fusion and it’s not in Asia, these are all worrisome to me.”
3. Don’t Stress About a Dirty Bathroom
“I used to say a dirty bathroom was a sign you should not be eating in a restaurant. I’ve learned the opposite is true. Some of the best food experiences I’ve ever had are places they really don’t give a shit about that. They know their food is good and that’s enough.”
4. Pets are Fine
“If you see a dog in a restaurant, they’re feeling pretty confident about their food.”
5. Bypass Tour Groups
“If there’s tour groups in there—even if you’re in a tour group—abandon them because they’re going to the wrong place. Just find an excuse, feign a stroke or an attack of violent diarrhea, but get away.”
6. Follow the Crowds
“You’re never going to get that magical meal if you’re not willing to take a chance on a bad one. Walking with zero preparation into a place [and] you see a bunch of Romans in there [and] they seem to be having a good time—try it. Maybe it’s not good, but if you go to the place that the concierge says, ‘All the Americans seem to like it’ — that ensures that you will have a bad meal.”
7. Avoid Americans
“If there are other Americans in there—in any number—chances are, you’re in the wrong place. If you go to New York looking for a deli, you don’t want to go to a deli with people filled from the Midwest taking pictures of each other. You want to go to a deli that’s filled with New Yorkers. Not because New Yorkers are particularly nice, it’s just that, chances are, that’s a good deli.”