Though I may seem foot-loose and fancy-free, it takes a remarkable amount of planning to consistently eat well when out. I like to have a number of places (restaurants, markets, gas station taco shops) noted for every town that I may/will pass through. You just never know when hunger may strike, and can really never be too prepared. Otherwise, you could end up on a low blood-sugar induced killing spree. Or, perhaps more realistically, just end up eating a crappy meal and hating yourself for it. FOREVER.
First, TV. Anthony Bourdain is good, but much of his eating is not my style. Such as huge slabs of bleeding meat (from unknown origins). Anyhow, he most certainly did not lead me astray with the Salt & Pepper Crab at R & G Lounge in San Francisco. It is a fast moving, plain looking Chinese restaurant in China Town. They take a live dungeness crab, crack and clean it, and then batter and deep fry the whole pieces. Shell and all. It seemed odd, like, why would you batter a shell that can't be eaten? But, OMG was it good. Delicious fresh crab, with amazing little salty crispy bits here and there. WOW. Later that night, I dreamt that I was Harry Potter (not Hermione, which struck me as odd) and I was zipping around on my broomstick. Now that was some good crab.
Be careful though, as I did have the Maple Bacon latte at Pirate Cat Radio, after Anthony Bourdain, and am still nauseated by the thought of it. Contrary to popular belief, bacon DOES NOT make everything better.
Another good show is "The Best Thing I ever ate." From that I discovered cupcakes at Joan's on 3rd (LA), had the mixed salumi cup at Boccalone (Ferry Building, San Fran), and the corn fritters at E & O Trading Co (also San Fran).
Some movies also work. Ron and I have nearly eaten at all places featured in Sideways. The Hitching Post alone is worth the trip to Buellton, CA.
Oh, we came across another super loud annoying person at the Hitching Post. She was educating her peeps about the super-continent of Gondwana land and pointed out that Germany- just Germany- was 800 years old. Apparently it was just floating around on its own before hooking up with the rest of Europe. Neat.
Next, I use print. Source numero uno is Sunset magazine. They have yet to steer me wrong. On this trip alone their suggestions enabled me to find great coffee at the Carmel Coffee Roasting Co (Carmel-by-the-Sea), fantastic pizza and escargot at Cafe Rustica (Carmel-by-the-Sea), amazing artichoke soup and sourdough bread at Duarte's Tavern (Pescadaro, CA).
San Diego Magazine and LA Magazine are also good. This trip we tried Huckleberry, and it was fantastic. They were listed in LA magazine for having the 'Best Sandwich' in the city. Father’s Office was also in LA magazine. It is a great gastro-pub in Santa Monica. They have a fantastic selection of beer on tap and potentially the best burger in LA. I once noted to Ron that Father’s Office would be a good place to find a dude, if one were in the market. I merely noticed that there are plenty of well-dressed, presumably employed, 30-40-something men present. He still gives me a hard time for that innocent observation.
Word of mouth works too, but you must trust the mouth. I can be a little particular (which I’m sure you’d never of guessed). So, if someone recommends I head to "TGIMcFunster's" for the pizza shooters or extreme fajita's, I know it is not for me. But, a recommendation based on the olive oil used or the temperature of a pizza oven? Totally worthwhile.
Last, and if all else fails, I'll try anywhere that smells fantastic and has a line up down the street. We had an amazing meal at La Bicyclette in Carmel this way. Ron and I originally sat down in a different Sunset recommended spot, but the hostess said we had to be out in 45 minutes and there was a screaming 2-year-old at the next table. Not cool. We circled a couple of blocks, smelled the place (I have the nose of a bloodhound), saw the line, and squished in.
Oh, if you ever see cases of artichoke petals outside of a restaraunt, that's a good sign too!