If it were up to my husband, we’d always go to the same restaurant every time we went out to eat. He’s fallen in love with the authentic Mexican restaurant a few miles from our house. He loves the chips and salsa, both of which are made fresh in-house – the salsa is even made using organic tomatoes. He loves knowing that the cook will make his California-style burrito with pork instead of chicken, even though the former isn’t listed on the menu. He loves knowing that we can feed our entire family – plus get a giant margarita to share (adults only, of course) – and get out of there for less than $25. To him, it’s the perfect restaurant.

And, in many ways, it is. But a girl can only have so many enchiladas and fajitas before she starts shouting “Ole!” during every mealtime.

So I’ve made it my mission this summer to find new restaurants to explore. My goal is to avoid the most popular restaurants – chains that, while they may offer a good value or a variety of locations nationwide, often fail to embrace the culture and individuality of the community’s in which they reside. I’ve got a plan of attack to help me find these new watering holes, but I hope you’ll give me some tips too.

Read All About It

Travel magazines have an abundance of information on new-to-you restaurants, but sometimes, they don’t give you information on the locations you really want. After all, I may love reading Budget Travel, but since I’m not going to be in Sacramento, California any time soon, the dining out advice is all for naught.

That’s why I’ve started reading local magazines. Where I live in North Carolina, we have a magazine called Our State. The magazine does a great job of highlighting various restaurants across the state; they focus especially on locally-owned restaurants rather than popular chains. I’ve also found that magazines like Southern Living (my parents in Ohio subscribe to Midwest Living, a sister publication) do a great job of giving me insight on new restaurants that I haven’t heard of before. The magazine recently ran a contest for the South’s Tastiest Town – my city didn’t win, but it did help me find a lot of great new restaurants I’d like to try.

Many communities also have publications that review and highlight new restaurants. Where I live, we have a few of these hyper-local periodicals; one of the best parts is that it also offers sample menus and pricing information within its pages, giving me a clear idea of not only what I might order at any given restaurant, but also what I can expect to pay for my meal.

Go For A Drive

Sometimes, the best restaurants are found simply by meandering off the beaten track. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of tacking Sunday drives lately. We set out down one of our state’s rural highways, hoping to find a mom-and-pop shop along the way to have a bite to eat. Sometimes, we have a destination in mind, but other times, we are going completely off-radar. We’ve stumbled upon some great new restaurants using this method – even if it does take a few hours behind the wheel at times.

Log On

There are now literally dozens of applications for both iPhones and Android phones that help you locate new and popular restaurants in your area. One of the best known is Yelp. This free app is great, because it allows you to customize your search based on factors that other similar apps don’t – you can narrow down your search to exclude chains, or to search for vegetarian or even vegan fare. I also love that I can search based on how far a restaurant is from my location, whether it’s group-friendly, and even whether or not they have live music.

Word Of Mouth

Sure, using technology is great for finding new restaurants. Reading magazine reviews is helpful, too. But in my experience, the very best way to find a new dining out hot spot – or, maybe, a new chill spot – is through word of mouth. My friends love to gab about food almost as much as they love to eat it. Whenever I’m looking for a new place to eat, I know one of them will have a great suggestion for me. Sometimes, I’ll even hit up Facebook, asking for a great restaurant in location X via my status update; without fail, I’ll get dozens of replies from epicurious friends. Over the years, I’ve learned which friends to trust – some don’t have the same tastes as my family and I do.

Reader, what are your tips and tricks for finding new restaurants when you want to mix it up a bit?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke