While visiting the Carribean island of Anguilla recently with three other families, our best meal out was at little more than a roadside stand called Joan & Cyril’s Pit Stop. The chicken, ribs, fish and Jonnycakes were amazing — and inexpensive. The ambiance was friendly and informal. Our kids played soccer with Joan’s grandkids out back while we lingered over our meals and chatted with the regulars.
I would never have found a place like this on my own. So I asked the member of our party who did — Adam Riess — how he did it. Adam has his own restaurant consultancy called ProCIBO and knows his way around a kitchen. He actually visited the Pit Stop and chatted with Joan before bringing us all there. He wrote up this guest post explaining how other travelers can replicate this kind of experience.
Finding Great Food in Far-Flung Locations
By Adam Riess
There are four steps to finding those one or two delicious meals that define the culinary success of your vacation. Follow these and you’ll be writing home, sharing with friends and becoming an internationally celebrated food blogger in no time.
1) Find sources
Transportation workers are often your best bet — cab and bus drivers know the area, talk to locals and visitors all day long and inevitably know the best cheap places. Other likely local sources include garbage collectors, hotel clerks, cops and local politicians. Focus especially on where they themselves go out to eat.
2) Establish sincerity
This may be the most challenging element. It’s easy to be steered toward the typical tourist option, like the ‘great’ Mexican restaurant that serves bland salsa and has an entire section of the menu devoted to quesadillas. Few sources want to step out on a limb and send an innocent gringo to the hole in the wall where there may be children playing behind the bar but the queso flameado is served bubbling, redolent of local chorizo.
3) Lob the questions
You have to make it clear to your local source that you really want to find something other than the typical tourist destinations. Based on how far you’ve played out step two, you can be subtle or quite direct. On the subtle end, pick a restaurant that you know to be too formal. “Last night our concierge sent us to Bistro Exagérée. It wasn’t at all what we wanted. Can you recommend a place where locals eat?”
Moving towards more direct, “Where do you eat with friends and family when you don’t feel like cooking at home?” The last part of this question is key. You likely do not want to know where they would go on a first date or for a 25th anniversary.
And finally the one shot closer, such as “Where should we eat to really understand what this area is all about?”
Be sure to take some notes. On a recent excursion we were told to try “The Pit Stop.”Later in trying to find “The Pit Stop,” no one could seem to guide us. We eventually honed in on it, but had we originally know it was Joan & Cyril’s Pit Stop on Shoal Bay Road, a lot of time and angst might have been saved — although the final reward may not have been as sweet.
4) Cross check
Cross check recommendations you get with other locals, books, foodie friends and online (ChowHound is a good bet). You could even visit the location ahead of time to check it out in person, as I did, while searching for the Pit Stop. It was an added bonus to find the chef at the unopened restaurant with time and inclination to chat.
But even if you can’t get to that level of comfort with a local restaurant in a distant locale, a stiff drink on arrival should eliminate any unnecessary level of anxiety about the food you’re soon to eat. After all it’s just food. Go out, eat well and have fun.
Photos: Jonnycakes on the grill (top) and Chowing down on ribs (bottom), by Adam Riess, owner of ProCIBO.