Meet my new friend, Eric. He’s one of the fabulous servers at the new Cook Hall in Atlanta.
Cook Hall — in the W Hotel — is a modern gastropub that focuses on local ingredients and promotes small plates, shared among friends. I discovered it as part of my “Eat Like A Local” Atlanta research, where I’ve been traveling for work most of the past eight weeks. Weekly business travel is a beating! But I’ve also found it to be a happy opportunity to discover a new city, find its best food, and meet the folks that prepare and serve it.
Atlanta hasn’t disappointed — I’ve dined at The Market (which Cook Hall replaced and where I first met my new pal, Eric), a couple of great sushi restaurants, and the bar at the Ritz Carlton (where the cheese plate converted me from goat cheese hater to fan). I walked to Cook Hall in the cold the second week it was open. Eric showered me and my colleague with superb food and exceptional warmth, and I simply smiled the entire meal (as you can tell by my goofy grin above). Yes, I was tired after a long day at work. I could have easily hit the room service button. And I’m so happy I didn’t.
Atlanta represents only one of the cities where I’ve pursued eating like a local. I traveled to Boston most of July, August, and September, and compiled a long list of locally-owned, top-notch restaurants. My faves? Island Creek Oyster Bar, Clio, and The Butcher Shop. My husband and I head out to San Francisco for vacation at least once a year, so I have my SFO directory of hot spots. Don’t miss Swan Oyster Depot or Boccalone.
Eating like a local in an unknown city takes a bit of work, but it’s worth it. Here are my tips to help you eat like a local, even when you’re not.
1. Do Your Homework
This is the hardest part for me, because it can take quite a bit of time. I haven’t found a one-stop shop for hunting down small, locally-owned, or farm-to-table restaurants. And I’ve found that advertising drives the restaurant lists on many city tourism sites. To get a good start on a new city list, I check out a few of my go-to resources, like Eater, Thrillist, and UrbanDaddy, that post info about unique, high-quality restaurants in certain areas. I look at the latest James Beard Foundation nominated chefs and where they work. I also sift through the star chefs and rising stars over at StarChefs.com.
If you have other good resources for locating eat-like-a-local restaurants, please share them with our readers by leaving a comment!
2. Start A Map
I don’t always rent a car when I travel, so mapping the restaurants has become a critical step in my pursuit to eat like a local in a new city. I’ve discovered the capability Google Maps provides to create a map, add locations to it, save it, and share with friends or the general public. My Google Maps places include guides for Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Colorado Springs, and Paris. I hit up my maps every time I’m headed to one of these areas.
If you know of any other solid mapping apps, please share!
3. Make New Friends
Eating great food represents only a part of what I love about finding these unique, locally-focused restaurants. Get to know your servers and bartenders. Chat them up. Ask for their restaurant guidance. I adore Eric for making my visits to The Market and Cook Hall some of the best evenings I’ve spent in his fair city.
I hope this inspires you to find the best food you can on your next trip to a new city. And I know our readers would love to hear about your discoveries. Please share!