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does anyone actually seek out places that have never been recommended by guide books or members on Forums. just been reading a thread about folk visiting a pub in Ireland and being a tad disappointed by the way they were treated............... it was in the Rick Steves book.
I wonder how many folk just wing it , try the first , third or sixth place they have passed .I do seek out different places away from the normal tourist places.
I am in Prague several times a year and play Tram dice, take 2 dice roll them, evens go in one direction odds the other, you must take the first tram that comes along, roll again and go that number of stops or the end of the line, find a pub ,have a beer and start again .I have found some great places that way and oplso hit a few dumps but that's the real joy of travelling.
Wherever I am on my travels I just hit any place that takes my fancy and actually if it is in guide books like Ricks ,Lonely planet , Fodor's etc. I would actively make sure I missed it.
does anyone just try to find their own great places or do you just go by recommendation.

Posted by
489 posts

My first thought when seeking somewhere to eat is .. is it busy, but not too busy and are there local people eating there. (or drinking).
On a recent trip, a group of 8 wanted to go to one of the "recommended" places, but would have to wait eons. So we picked the first place that had a table for 8 and we LOVED the food. The next night went to a highly rated restaurant and paid more and the food was not any better.

I like your tram game and if we had multiple days in a city will be trying it. I think it would be fun to do in Amsterdam.

on the flip side, we looked for RS recommended SMALL places on the Greek islands and in Tallinn and was rewarded with absolutely excellent food, ambiance and history. I'll never forget the small restaurant that was a bakery in Santorini and having the donkeys pass by just feet from us.

Posted by
13497 posts

Unclegus (funny, I actually had an Uncle Gus!), we never use guidebooks for restaurants, pubs or hotels. Never. Just stopping into places that simply look interesting (and not deserted; not a good sign) has generally worked well for us, although I sometimes do some online browsing of recommendations.

Have we hit a few dogs? Sure, but it's part of the experience, and certainly didn't spoil the day. It's also fun to be a couple of the only - if not THE only - tourists in the place! I have a fondness for 'dive' pubs as you can't wreck beer, really, and you can meet some real characters in them!

Posted by
11288 posts

"does anyone just try to find their own great places or do you just go by recommendation."

Yes.

In other words, I do both. And I've had great experiences and bad experiences both ways. Avoiding a place just because it is in a guidebook is silly, but just because a place isn't in a guidebook is no guarantee of quality, either.

Posted by
3933 posts

I've def taken advice on dessert places - followed RS advice on having a tartufo at Tre Scalini in Rome, and I've been known to pin dessert/gelato places on my online map so if I'm in the area I can stop in (or at least gaze in the window)...but with restaurants usually when the hunger pangs hit is when we will start searching and the odds of being near a recommended restaurant is pretty slim.

But when I do find a place I like, odds are good we will eat there again if/when we ever return to that city (and if I rem where it was!). There's a lovely place we stumbled on in Venice that is def on our return list when we get back (Vineria all'Amarone).

Posted by
2353 posts

We usually stop where the whim hits us! Unfortunately that frequently means I'll never remember where to go back! Same as you we've found some great and some not so great places along our way.

Posted by
16791 posts

Of course, when you are very familiar with a place and feel totally comfortable, then tram dice is a great way to open up your horizons and explore new territory. Most tourists have limited time, will never be back again, and look for something already vetted. I've had less than optimal experiences at some of Rick's fav's. I'd say he tends to get treated better than us common folk.
Best place we ever found was because it was the closest place to get out of the rain.

Posted by
4637 posts

Tram dice works in Prague because it probably has the most pubs or restaurant per square mile. I tried that in Amsterdam and almost died from hunger and exhaustion looking for place where I could drink and eat. It seems to me that Amsterdam has large areas without pubs and restaurants.

Posted by
6635 posts

unclegus, I too am puzzled when people have to hyper-plan every minute of their trip, as if in a whole city, the only safe options are those that have been approved by strangers. Looking over restaurants and picking one by instinct is part of the fun experience in being in a strange place. RS guides are interesting to read for recommendations, but not foolproof or comprehensive.

PS I would guess that most of RS guidebook recommendations are written with the help of people who are there much more often than Rick personally. So the fact that a place is mentioned in the book, doesn't guarantee anything.

Posted by
21068 posts

My experience prior to this year was that walking more than a couple of blocks out of my way to go to a recommended restaurant didn't improve my dining experience. I found that I passed by a lot of places that were probably just as good; something about being written up in a guide book leads to a reduction in the quality of food and service all too often. I'd have a different view if I had dietary restrictions, was looking for an exceptional meal (approaching Michelin-star level), or sought a particular ethnic cuisine or not commonly available local specialty.

My philosophy didn't work so well on a lengthy trip to Spain this summer. I've always thought I was good at looking at a menu and deducing whether the food was likely to be good, but my instincts failed me this year. Outside the most wealthy cities in central and northern Spain (Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, the Basque Country), where standards seemed quite high in the non-tourist joints, I ran into a great deal of mediocre food. "Food as fuel" I call it. And I know Spain has better. In the future I will take the time to do some research, online if not in guide books.

Posted by
1290 posts

We always have wondering time, we see something bright and shiny down a street, off we go. We also like just climbing on a bus...just riding, seeing new thing, getting off whenever, eating whatever. Like others have said, restaurant is busy, plates of food look good...why not? I plan one event a day and then let the day take us were it may. I like the game with the subway, but I prefer above ground to see the sights. We usually only use the subway when we are on a time crunch to get somewhere, otherwise walk or cab.

Posted by
195 posts

Honestly, our experience has been that if we just wing it and walk into a place at random, we usually end up eating food that is just ok. We are foodies who really enjoy well-made meals, and have been disappointed in our experiences when we don't have a plan for where to eat. When we were in Paris, we had no cell data or internet, and even though we were in one of the best food cities in the world, we came home feeling like the food was just so-so. Nothing mind-blowing. In Italy, we took it one step further...we still didn't have cell phone data, but we scoped out a few places that were supposed to be good and marked them on our map (it didn't always work out because sometimes we were across town when we got hungry, not near enough to try one of the places we'd marked on our map). That resulted in a slightly better experience with generally good food and two or three especially memorable meals. Finally, on our most recent trip to Greece we decided that - as nice as it is to unplug - it would be much more convenient to have cell phone data available, so we bought T-mobile's one month international plan. With this, we were able to hop on Tripadvisor.com and scope out which restaurants had the highest ratings near our current location whenever hunger struck, and as a result we probably came home feeling like we'd had the best food there out of our three trips (even though we don't even typically like Greek food much in the US, and France/Italy are much better known for having amazing food). Having reviews at our fingertips made all the difference. In the end, even though I think it's nice to just go with the flow and be spontaneous, I do think that (much like here in the USA), you usually can't just walk into any random restaurant in a foreign country (no matter how good that country's food is supposed to be) and expect to be blown away unless you get really lucky. What I mean is that the food may very well be good/passable, but is often not great/spectacular/the best of your trip unless you get lucky. I will say that I rely on websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp (and look for places with hundreds of reviews, not just 2 or 3) and not on recommendations in guidebooks. Often, if you look up the places recommended in the guidebooks, they don't have particularly great reviews online. The only other caveat is that sometimes the places with the highest reviews are not the places that are the most picturesque/atmospheric (some have amazing food but just ordinary atmosphere), so there is something to be said for having one or two nights where you sacrifice great food in order to have the ambiance (e.g. candlelit waterfront restaurant with live music).

Posted by
489 posts

I believe in many areas RS uses others to review restaurants and the restaurant will not go into the book until it has been verified by more than one person.
The restaurant I mentioned on Santorini is such a business. I mentioned to the owner we were visiting based on the RS tour book and she told me she never met RS, nor did she know who he was until someone came into her restaurant and mentioned RS. She immediately went on-line to look him up, then sent RS an email thanking him for recommending her little restaurant. I must say the food and view were premo!

I also use tripadvisor, but I rarely agree with their ratings. I look at the number of reviews and number of stars. the #1 restaurant is rarely that much better than the #20 (well, unless there are only 20 in a town!)

Posted by
2258 posts

We almost always wing it. We just feel like eating when we get hungry wherever we happen to be. We wander around reading menus until we find something that grabs us.

I'm a planner, but I can only stand so much planning. It also helps that we are not foodies. We enjoy good food, but we are not super picky.

Posted by
27734 posts

I LOVE Tram Dice.

I'm going to put it into play.....

Posted by
8114 posts

I have never even looked for restaurant recommendations in a guide book. The information in them is years old. Do people really think that Rick or even his editors can visit every restaurant listed and have a meal? Every year? Every country and every city listed? It would take forever and cost a fortune!

Will stick with Trip Advisor if I really want an up to date review. Actually, I may ask on the Trip Advisor forums and get suggestions from locals who live in the city. Just like those of you who are visiting Frankfurt and want to know which restaurant is going to be recommended. You ask me.

Posted by
72 posts

We just returned from a Spain/Portugal trip and like others here - we did no planning for food stops - just looked for places where there were a lot of locals and no english menu and that worked very well. Like an earlier poster - I too love dive places and luckily one of my travel companions does too - so we like to duck into those places where a bunch of old guys are drinking coffee and the local liquor of choice (sherry, ouzo, you get the idea). Its fun to observe and be a fly on the wall in their world if only for a moment.

Posted by
3491 posts

I have seen the RS recommended places receive very bad reviews here. I have also eaten at some of the RS recommended places and been very happy. Do I search them out specifically? No. If they happen to be convenient and not very busy I will give them a try.

The fame that getting mentioned in guide books brings to some of the places overwhelms them. They end up with so much business they just don't care any more. (Similarly with the places you see on Diners Drive Ins and Dives or any similar TV show.) One of my home town barbecue restaurant closed after being pointed out because the number of customers was just too much to handle in the tiny location.

I have even noticed this in some of the places we stayed on RS tours. The locals would ask where we were from and when RS was mentioned the response was sort of "Oh, another bunch of them!" I think that is why some of the more popular tours get rerouted from time to time with different places to spend the night. The popularity that RS has brought to some of the smaller and more out of the way places has made them dislike that popularity.

Posted by
2133 posts

I do no restaurant planning at all. We choose from what's nearby when we're hungry. Once, in Scotland, I dragged us to a RS recommended vegetarian restaurant and it was just awful. I never even look at guidebook sections on eating.

Posted by
1776 posts

We tend to eat when we're hungry, so it's hard to plan ahead if we're on a wander. After some misses, (Left Bank, Paris, I'm looking at you), I try to do a little more research. It holds more weight for me if it's well-rated in two sources. We've had good advice from hotel staff as well as a few clunkers. A RS reservation is seldom worth a wait. He had a recommendation for a place near the Acropolis Museum that was delicious at 9 pm with no crowds, but SRO at lunch. A great meal in the same area where the maitre'd stood out front and a stinker with the same MO in Lisbon.

Posted by
14911 posts

I often ask for recommendations at my hotel and they are usually good. I've also occasionally received good advice from the TI folks. I'm pretty easy to please, definitely not a "foodie." But I've had surprising disappointments. I had a great meal in Rome as a place recommended by my hotel. A couple years later I went back and the food was mediocre. That's happened to me in Paris too.

Posted by
308 posts

I usually wing it when it comes to restaurants when I'm travelling. When I travel with my husband we will typically seek out low key options like grocery stores or street carts for around half of our meals. We will use the guidebooks to point us to a general neighborhood or part of town but never for a particular establishment.

Posted by
1345 posts

I like the tram dice! Have played a similar, but simpler game with the Metro in Paris. Drop a pen on a metro map and go to the nearest station.

Posted by
1892 posts

One traveler's meat is another traveler's poison, so if may stick my elitist $0.02 in,
my overall tendency is the opposite of what some have said above -- if a place has a lot
of high and middle ratings on TripAdvisor in English, then I want to stay clear of it.

I prefer to find experienced reviewers that have some refinement, and to look at even their opinions
with a quizzical eye. I wouldn't consider a Toyota Camry or Ford Focus a treat to drive, but that's the equivalent dining experience you get when you go with crowd-sourced ratings.

This is what, to me, makes the RS hotel recommendations worthwhile -- RS steers us towards lodgings with roots in the neighborhood, where the desk can recommend dining based on up-to-date info and on getting to know what you are after.
I'm thinking of the Hotel Amadeus in Sevilla -- they will tell one fashionably dressed couple to go to a restaurant with a big patio to see and be seen while taking in modish dishes for American palates, while telling another dressed in hiking shoes with a guidebook in Spanish tucked under their arm to go to a restaurant buried in the historical back alleys that features hyper-local cuisine. Both couples end up happy.

I often (not always) look for recommendations because I'm not decisive enough while on vacation to stop wandering when there are dozens more menus on chalkboards farther along. Left to my own devices, I wouldn't stop until I collapsed.

I can't resist mentioning a joke from last week's News Quiz on BBC Radio 4: a news reporter pointed out that England doesn't have a significant drug problem with crystal meth the way that many other countries, including the US, does have recently.
A commentator leaned in and said that was probably because crystal meth requires cooking.

Posted by
1253 posts

My theory is when I'm hungry I start looking at menus. If they strike my interest, I go in.

I have never played Tram Dice, but years ago on a visit to London, I tried to have a pint at every stop on the Circle Line.

Posted by
2319 posts

I never seek out specific restaurants, preferring to scope them out as I'm exploring and then return when I'm hungry. If there's outdoor seating I try to take a sly peek at what people are eating, or I read a menu--never interested in places that show pictures of the food, though. I've done quite well with this method so far. In Budapest this May I did have a list from James of recommended restaurants that I fully intended to visit but arrived with a cold and just wasn't in my usual eating mode, very disappointing. I'm going back next April and hope I can do some of them justice as Hungarian food is my favorite.

Posted by
2914 posts

If I am at the hotel before dinner, I might ask for a few recommended places from the front desk. Otherwise, I go by feel. If I think I'll feel comfortable in the restaurant and they have menu possibilities, I'll go in. I tend to operate from my gut...how dies it feel. I also will say that I'm like Kathy when with my husband as we like 'dives' because they are friendlier and often have a specialty. I've never eaten based on a guidebook.

Posted by
440 posts

I tend to go on gut instinct if a place looks good and has people in then i will give it ago. Even the best restaurants at times can disappoint its a gamble you take. Don't forget that we are all different so what a guide book might recommend might not be an ideal fit for you. However i would never avoid somewhere just because its in a guidebook that is just silly. As long as the place looks clean has people in locals or tourists give it a try. For me if the toilets are clean then the kitchen is clean thats how i judge somewhere on cleanliness