Shortly after you read this column, I will be on my way up the East Coast, embarking on a road trip. Destination: New York City.
But I'm a food editor. So while the purpose of the trip is not solely food-related, it has turned into a chance to stop at as many food-centric cities as possible along the way.
That means lunch in Charleston, S.C., a couple of meals in Washington, D.C. And that's just on the way up. The return trip includes a night in Savannah, Ga., home to an increasing array of interesting independent restaurants.
But each one of these cities is also a tourist draw. How does a visitor who doesn't want to play tourist go about finding the restaurants locals love? For the past few weeks, I've been trying to find out.
Digital tools help greatly, with websites like Yelp curating customer reviews and Google's own search function aggregating top-rated places and sorting them by location.
More often than not, that's where it starts: a simple Google search. I type in "Best restaurants in Charleston" and peruse the list that comes up. Then there are lists from other websites, like Eater, or the cities' or states' own sites, which offer a more in-depth view of top places. I quickly narrow those down by cuisine and location.
Digital crowdsourcing has also played a role. I posted about the trip on my Facebook page, and friends who had traveled to any of the cities weighed in:
Collin's Quarter in Savannah.
Husk in Charleston.
The Red Hen in Washington, D.C.
I have also sought out reviews from the city's local newspapers or similarly reported online publications. Sure, I might be biased, but I find that these entities are often able to put the restaurant in a better context and explain not just what the place has to offer but where it stands in terms of the other offerings.
Of course, none of this was more helpful than the 20-minute conversation that happened at my desk a week before the trip, when a handful of colleagues who had traveled to New York City weighed in on the merits of top-tier restaurants like Le Bernardin and Per Se, and suggested pre-theater dinner spots near Broadway.
Thanks to them, I have at least learned where not to make a reservation. And sometimes, that can be the most helpful recommendation.