Five Eateries to Avoid While Traveling

by  Amanda Black | Feb 19, 2013
McDonald's Times Square
McDonald's Times Square / MasterLu/iStock

My favorite thing to do while traveling is to eat. It's always exciting scouting out the best places to dine while abroad, especially the ones that are off the beaten path. And while I can't say I'm an expert at finding a delicious deal, I will say that I've learned a thing or two about where you should and shouldn't dine in unfamiliar locales.

1. Restaurants with bad health code ratings
I live in New York City, but grew up in a small town in Maine where restaurant health code ratings didn't exist. Now that I'm in a city where they do, I take full advantage of the full disclosure. In other cities like Los Angeles, you can find health code ratings online, so I recommend checking the restaurant out before dining out. I'm always baffled when restaurants in New York are packed to the gills and they have a C rating in clear view! For those of you who aren't aware, a C grade can signal anything from mice in food areas, food not being kept at correct temperatures, surfaces where food is placed aren't washed, and equipment or utensils aren't properly used or stored.

2. Restaurants in touristy areas
When it comes to finding the best deal (and best taste), steer clear of overly trafficked areas. Case in point: Times Square is jam-packed with chic spots for dining, but take a look at their menu and you'll come across $15–$20 burgers, $30 salads, and largely overpriced apps. It's not worth the pomp and ease of stopping for a quick bite after waiting in line at TKTS. Go a few extra blocks over and you'll run into Hell's Kitchen (9th Ave. is teaming with delicious dining spots at fairer prices); well-worth the walk.

3. Places you can visit at home
This should be a no-brainer, but don't go to McDonalds during a trip to a new place. Unless you really want to order a hamburguesa con queso (cheeseburger in Spanish), it's not worth it and you can get much better eats elsewhere, oftentimes for the same price!

4. Places with pictures of the menu items
Sure, this is super helpful if you're looking to get an idea of what you're in for, but oftentimes, those pictures aren't even of the actual menu items and look a lot better than the real deal. I'd rather go to a place where I don't speak the same language (or have no idea what anything on the menu is) and struggle through asking about their house specialties or what the server recommends, than pointing to a picture of bolognese that will ultimately be a disappointment.

5. Overpriced restaurants (sometimes)
This can go hand-in-hand with the touristy area point, but just because the restaurant looks fancy and has high prices, doesn't mean its the best (or most delicious) option. I can't tell you how many hole-in-the-wall spots I've eaten at that have been some of the best meals I've ever had. The trick is to find where the locals are going – ask around wherever you go. Instead of asking for standard recommendations from the hotel concierge, ask them where they're going out for dinner. And ask around town too; I've even gone so far as to follow people to small places on undiscovered side streets. Then again, I'm okay with being a little bit sketchy while traveling.

What are some of your food-friendly travel tips?

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