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bento box lunch at polo grillHow many times have you asked a hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations and ended up feeling like they sent you to a tourist trap?  Or, have you ever gone to the concierge and you were given a pre-printed list of restaurants?  Do you ever wonder if the concierge actually eats there or if the restaurant is even good?

Here are some ideas about how to eat like a local and get great meals at good prices:

Ask a local-last time we were in Kauai, we sat down with concierge  (a nice young man who grew up on the island) and asked him where he ate when he went out with friends.  He ended up giving us a couple of restaurants that we tried.  One was a sports bar in Lihue where we had a great meal for less than $30 and saw the Hawaii version of the Giants vs. the Jets on TV.

Sample local cuisine- the way they eat it–  In Hawaii, plate or mixed plate lunches are the Hawaiian version of fast food.  According to Wikipedia, a Hawaiian plate lunch is

The plate lunch  … is a quintessential part of the cuisine of Hawaii, roughly analogous to a Southern U.S. meat-and-threes plate. However, the inclusion of pan-Asian ingredients makes the plate lunch unique to Hawaii. Standard plate lunches consist of two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a main entrée.A plate lunch with more than one entrée is often called a mixed plate. Many plate lunch outlets also sell “mini-plates” which come with the same entrées in smaller portions.

We tried a plate lunch in Oahu in a Kahala strip mall and walked out stuffed for $5 each.

Travel (safely) off the beaten path. Get away from the main tourist areas and venture off into some of the local neighborhoods.

Think outside the box.  Think about where you go for dinner or snacks at home, perhaps a local pub or café – and then do the same thing when you’re on vacation.  Ask shop keepers and hotel staff members (not just the concierge) where they go to eat with their friends and family.

Know the local customs. When traveling abroad, consider the times the locals eat.  For instance, in Italy, dinner is often late, starting at 9 PM since they have late lunches. Tipping may also be different too.  Our norm of 15-20% can actually be considered rude or downright insulting in Japan.  Know where meals can be quite large and meant for sharing.  Get into the French way of dining— buying a baguette and some cheese for breakfast.   If you see a lot of locals taking their lunches and eating in the park, you might want to try that as well.

Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive— it just may take a bit of thinking outside the box to get the best value on meals.