At some point, we all find ourselves rolling our eyes at those self-proclaimed “foodies,” possibly one of the most overused ways of describing a person who just simply likes to eat. Jeffrey, however, has spent years deciphering the maze that is the Queens food scene. There are pockets of immigrant cultures in Queens that are not well-documented and where people don’t necessarily speak English, but against all odds, with his tendency to chase the unknown, he has made himself an adored part of the community there. Today he shares some tips on planning a regional food adventure… like a foodie.
by Jeffrey Orlick
I always look for regional foods. Things I have never seen before, and which I have no chance of seeing in my city. Sometimes this is difficult to draw out of people because they don’t always know that they are so different. For me, when people tell me about the ‘best restaurant’ in their city, I always balk. I’m never looking for their best. I’m looking for their soul! Here are some tips on how to plan a food trip!
Booking - Stay with a local. Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Airbnb gives you more privacy, but I always prefer to have a real life contact at least in the same building. Just booking it cheap isn’t the answer; you want to book for the guidance (hosts that seem particularly interesting and knowledgeable) and location.
Getting around - Research which travel companies drop you off at the most convenient location. Bus companies can be alarmingly cheap sometimes and are cool with bringing your bicycle. Other times, they’ll drop you off at a park ‘n ride miles from where you want to be. Trains can be alarmingly expensive and not necessarily a cheaper alternative to flying.
Planning - My secret to finding the good stuff is to always listen to EVERYONE. No one’s going to have the same tastes as you, so get as many opinions as possible.
- Post in forums like Chowhound and Yelp – these are my go-to research centers. I also consult RoadFood, HollyEats, and UrbanSpoon if I’m not satisfied with knowledge. When looking on these sites, look at the ratings. If it’s either 5 stars or 1 star, read into the reviews to see if the 1 star people ‘just don’t get it.’
- Check out local blogs, especially if you can make contact with the bloggers.
- Ask for suggestions from your social networks. Tweet and mention your trip to everyone for weeks, and you might be surprised about what your friends know!
- Map it out and cluster by region. You can get a good idea of neighborhoods and regions that are interesting by visualizing the concentration of places to hit. If you see clusters of small roads with medium sized avenues, there will probably be lots of random stopping points for you. It’s great to discover a place a bit serendipitously because it will not only be fun but also give you time to digest.
- Find out hours of businesses and plan when to check out each distinct region.
Navigating - I print out my Google Maps and find a place to get free big maps. In NYC, it’s any bicycling shop. In other cities, you might go to visitors centers. These centers will give you all the dullard touristy places, but they’ll also have free maps with knowledgeable retirees who know how to get around.
Get yourself access to a bicycle. In most city centers, a bicycle is the quickest and least restrictive way to get around. A car is great, but you’ll never be able to stop at all the cool places you pass along the way without causing a major tourist traffic uproar, and you won’t have to worry about parking.
Eating - Make friends or order small. The worst thing that can happen is getting full. You are on vacation, so don’t feel pressure to finish your plate. It’s always the hardest part. Keep extra time between stops to digest and explore the neighborhoods.
Seem like a lot of work? Well, you can also book a tour from a local who already knows his stuff.