Believe it or not, there are other places to eat in the city than in your guide book. In cultural and gastronomic hot spots such as Paris and Barcelona, you barely have to stumble out your front door and down the block before you find a half dozen places to eat — multiply that by the ten thousand blocks in any given city and you get roughly seventy zillion available restaurants, many within walking distance. How many of those can you fit in your guidebook?
Check out our list of 500+ excellent restaurants in Paris or our list of 340+ restaurants in Barcelona.
Sure, you run the risk of docking into a complete disaster, getting horrible service and Montezuma’s Revenge. But that risk is low, and the chance of you discovering something new — a restaurant and experience nothing like the other Lonely Planet mongers have encountered — is actually quite reasonable. Travel shouldn’t be legal if you’re being led around the city on a leash by your guidebook the entire time; one should open oneself up to risk, failure and the possibility of really great things to happen.
Take Comptoir De La Gastronomie, a specialty epicerie in Paris. This cozy restaurant off Rue Montmartre hosts a spectacular menu of duck and foie gras based dishes, from baked traditional cassoulet to carpaccio, all at reasonable (although European) prices. Next door in their attached boutique you can pick up enormous jars of foie gras, cheeses, wines and a variety of deli delights, all packaged up and ready to take home to mom.
So next time you find yourself leafing through your favorite Frommers or AOL destination guide searching for that “authentic meal”, take some time to consider the risk and benefit of finding some place on your own. My guess is you’ll be glad you did.