After reading Midnight in the Garden of Grits and Sweet Tea you now have successfully planned your very own road trip route. So, the weeks go by, you pack, and you get on the road to your first destination. Then it happens. Your tummy starts growling. Now what?
You could fall back on places you know – McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, etc., but why? Just because you have never been to a city before doesn’t mean you have to fall for the tourist traps or chain restaurants that are “familiar.”
Here are some quick tips on finding out where those diamonds in the fast-food landscape are:
* Make your hotel concierge/desk clerk/bell hop your new BFF. They live in that town. They know the restaurants that are good based on what type of food you want, and they will also know the places you should avoid. In Charleston, we were referred to Slightly North of Broad (SNOB), a fantastic Southern with a modern twist restaurant that we never would have found on our own. So don’t be shy!
* Yelp! (Disclaimer: I am not being sponsored or paid in any way by Yelp. I am just a big fan.) Yelp is great as it has a GPS tracker so it can show you restaurants nearby, as well as actual reviews. Word of warning on reviews though: try to avoid the extremes either way. Some people are always going to be haters, and some people are overly enthusiastic, so read more than one or two reviews to get a sense of a place. In Athens, GA, we found a stupendous restaurant through Yelp called The Last Resort. It was an old jazz/comedy club turned restaurant. Again, it was Southern food with a modern twist. The fried green tomatoes and made-from-scratch red velvet cake were amazing. So even in a college town, we found a great place thanks to Yelp.
* Talk to people BEFORE you go. As I mentioned in Midnight in the Garden of Grits and Sweet Tea, people you know back home can be a wealth of information. My good friend at work has a sister in Savannah, so she was able to recommend places to eat, as well as places to avoid. Because of her advice, we skipped right by Paula Deen’s and hit up Vik’s On the River and had what we deemed the “best grits of the entire trip.” So, don’t be shy about asking for advice before you go.
* Travel to a destination where you know a local. This isn’t always doable, but in New Orleans, we have a very good friend, Daneel, who lives there and grew up there. Part of the reason that we love NOLA as much as we do is that we always follow her recommendations. This last trip, she was able to pick us up and take us to a different part of the city for dinner at Jacque-Imo’s. We never would have found this place on our own, and because she knew of the usual 2 hour wait, we got there early enough to only have to wait 20 minutes. The alligator/shrimp cheesecake (think quiche-style texture) was worth the trip alone.
* Take risks. If you tried all the steps above and still are not lucking out, just try a place. One bad meal on your trip isn’t the end of the world. We all can’t pick winners 100% of the time.
So, settle that grumbly in your tumbly by talking to the locals or using that Yelp app on your smartphone. Enjoy the local cuisine. That is part of what makes the trip special – when you get into the local scene and culture and enjoy what the region has to offer.
Adventure is out there!