I used to really over-plan my itinerary. On a trip to Paris, I decided long ahead that my first meal would be lunch in Montparnasse at one of the iconic old artists cafés, like La Rotonde or Le Døme, because I wanted to align myself with neither the elite nor the demimonde but with the creatives, the Modiglianis and the communist ideologues, the big-gesture makers of the previous era.
But my flight was delayed and I was more jetlaggy than I anticipated, so instead I decided to seek consolation (or compensation?) by wangling/wheedling my way into the restaurant up top the Eiffel Tower - and I did. They had dragged another table into place to accommodate me, so why wince at the prices? The cuisine was pretty good, call it classic rather than conventional. I enjoyed myself, but frankly in part because it was going to be a good story to tell later -- I got a same-day table reservation at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower! Score one for me. But also frankly, I could've gotten a better meal for less money if I hadn't been so tied emotionally to making the first day in Paris special. Nowadays we might call it instagrammable? (i.e. looking for confirmation of my specialness in the positive reaction of others)
Just as we here in the forum wring our hands often over tourist vs. traveler and light/smart packer vs. heavy/dumb packer, many of our food discussions have an aspect that remains mostly unspoken, which is that where we choose to eat is part of the identity we want to imagine for ourselves and project for others. I've been to places where I felt like I had to watch myself, be on my best behavior, because the establishment was a little above my station (as the Brits might have said decades past), and OTOH I've also been to places where I looked around and thought I'm too good for these people -- but those aren't the same as pretentiousness and slumming respectively, because maybe we want to play up in the first case (workout/play with a partner who's a little better than you so you can get better) or you want to see how the average Jacques gets his dinner in the second.
I'd like to feel comfortable about feeling comfortable in my own skin -- have it be ok to seek my own level. On every trip I do want to get to a Michelin-quality restaurant and I also want to stumble across a local pub or hole-in-the-wall that the neighbors enjoy. But the bullseye, the center of the target, for me is a spot where I like the food, the folks, the atmosphere, and feel like I got value for money. And then not to worry about whether that spot says something about where I fit in the class hierarchy of American travelers. (This makes me think of Conde Nast's Traveler magazine and how much I despise most of their articles, but also of The New Yorker and how I have to flip quickly past the ads in the special issues so I don't get reminded that I'm not in the same economic class as their target audience.)
Rick Steves finesses this issue as the guidebooks have changed/aged with his audience over the years -- back when he was focussed on economizing and value; over time he has started including pricier listings, and he often says that he's more open to a splurge now than he was then, but some of that I do think seems to be about esteem more than money -- the company doesn't want to fall behind the growing prosperity of its customer base.
Those of you who tend to tell us here on the forum that you just stroll along the block looking at menus until you find one you like -- is it really just the menu that has to look right to you? Isn't it also the clientele and the situation and, as the French say, the name? I'm not trying to play gotcha, I'm trying to bring out more aspects of what we discuss here.