Sometimes asking locals in a new town for restaurant recommendations can be frustrating, often resulting in nothing more than a deer-in-headlights stare from native-born residents accustomed to the same old hangouts or cooking at home. Hotel concierges remain trusty traditional compasses to help point you in the right direction, and visitors’ bureaus along with their websites and Facebook pages can be good resources, too. When your PDA (personal digital assistant) can go everywhere with you, though, there are no excuses for not finding great places to eat while traveling.
Plenty of smartphone apps are available that are designed to inspire, and inform, exciting restaurant picks while globetrotting. High-resolution photos and candid commentary are only a few of the fantastic features that make these handy guides practically indispensable if you’re looking for a culinary adventure. Here are a few that go beyond Trip Advisor and Yelp that are worth their salt:
Urbanspoon, an online restaurant reviewing site, offers an information-packed app that is, surprisingly, super easy to navigate, if you’re traveling within English-speaking countries. Select a city and up pops an eye-catching yet uncomplicated city-specific front page that allows you to choose a restaurant by cuisine, price range, or hours of operation. Other categories include “Urbanspoon Top Picks” and “Bargain Gems.” If you want to leave tonight’s restaurant pick to chance, shake your phone, and Urbanspoon will pick for you. Restaurants are listed with their pertinent information (price, hours, cuisine, and some publish their menu within Urbanspoon) and are rated and critiqued by professional critics like Zagat, your Urbanspoon friends, and the discerning public-at-large to let you in on whether a place is a hit or a miss.
Foodspotting is a visual feast for the eyes that offers photos taken by regular people of the food you’ll find at restaurants in the city you’re visiting. The enjoyment of food relies not only on taste but also on visual presentation, and the photos show a literal glimpse of what to expect from a particular restaurant. The best parts about Foodspotting are the city-specific guides, which are as much scavenger hunts as they are restaurant recommendations, letting you add your own photos to Foodspotting’s collection along the way.
Foursquare is another must-have app that is more like a full city-exploring kit. Unlike Urbanspoon and Foodspotting, Foursquare lists places beyond the scope of food and beverage to include shopping, theaters, parks, casinos, dry cleaners, and much more. Great Foursquare features include tips left by other users of what to do – or not do – at some locations; photos; coupons and specials exclusively for Foursquare users upon check-in on Foursquare; in-app to-do lists you create of places you want to visit; and connecting with friends and professional businesses that use Foursquare, including Zagat, The Wall Street Journal, and Eater.com, to see where they’re going.
Twitter is more than just another soundboard for attention-craving narcissists compelled to share tonight’s dinner menu with the whole world. However, even in this respect, Twitter is useful for getting restaurant recommendations. One technique is to follow foodies and culinary organizations who you can solicit recommendations from via a tweet (Twitter speak for a public message). This might also garner responses from the wider Twitter universe, too. That’s how one user did it when they sent out this message: “Heading to Palm Springs in a couple of days. Restaurant/cocktail picks? THANKS internet.” Although a less instantaneous means of finding restaurant recommendations than the previous methods listed above, Twitter does provide real-time responses that result from one-on-one engagement with other users. That translates into more potential for unique recommendations tailored to exactly what you’re looking and asking for.
USA Today has a sleek, upgraded, easy-to-use app recommended as a fun way to get inspired about where to go. For foodies at home who are wondering where to escape to this summer, the Travel section of this app is where it’s at. Beautiful photos and tantalizing articles on regional cuisine and restaurants lend excitement-inducing material for a wish list of places to visit, from Louisville to Lisbon. The articles also give hints for where to look for additional restaurant recommendations since some of USA Today’s special reporters are regular food and travel writers for related websites and publications.
Test driving these apps when you’re staying close to home can be fun and insightful, too, bringing to light new choices in otherwise familiar neighborhoods and inspiring even the non-traveler to venture beyond their comfort zone.
Sarah Romero wants to hear what restaurant and cocktail picks you would suggest to someone visiting your city. Send her a tweet at twitter.com/iheartdates. THANKS, TBL Readers!
(as originally published in The Bottom Line Magazine and at http://psbottomline.com/community/on-your-plate/new-compasses in Volume 31 Issue 19)