Saturday, December 9, 2023


Road food: Ask the locals where NOT to eat!

By Barry Zander
“Where shouldn’t we eat in town?” I’ve asked the same question in a thousand towns around the country during our travels, far too many times for my wife, Monique, to endure.

That contrary question almost always gets the right reply. After a blank look, the store clerk proceeds to name a greasy spoon to avoid, and then adds, “… But while you’re in town, the best food is at [fill in the blank]. And, while you’re here, you don’t want to miss [such-and-such] Park, just up the hill from the old guitar factory.”

Remember, this is a clerk who gets the same questions from half the lookie-loo tourists: “Do you have a bathroom I can use?” or, “Is there a McDonald’s around here?” They are often bored to tears standing there all day with that fixed smile, trying to look busy. The contrary question brings them to life, and we get the information we want.

Join me for one very memorable episode. We were driving through El Ritos, New Mexico, a shabby town whose better days were when outlaw gangs were prowling the West. We were looking for Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch somewhere in the vicinity, so we stopped at an impressive U.S. National Forest office.

It was there that I asked the lady ranger, “Where shouldn’t we eat in town?” Without a second of hesitation she stated confidently, “You have to go to El Farolito,” as she pointed right across the street. Looking at it incredulously, we decided that although it was pretty funky looking, we were hungry.

We opened the door reluctantly. It was mid-afternoon, but most of the tables were filled with genuine ranch-hands in dusty sombreros, well-dressed families, a quiet couple …

Along the entire wall to our right was a mural showing what was probably El Ritos in its glory days. On the left wall and next to us in the entrance were plaques, prize ribbons, framed magazine and newspaper stories from publications including Fodor’s, Gourmet, Bon Appetit. This was THE place to eat!! It was probably the best Mexican food we had ever tasted.

Ask the wrong question; you’ll often get the right answer.  Give it a try.




0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Carl (@guest_156807)
1 year ago

I have always found, that if you drive to the town center and ask the Village Elders “where is the best place to eat?” you can find some amazing local restaurants.
As mentioned here, they will sometimes also recommend interesting places near to visit!!

Bob (@guest_156755)
1 year ago

I have to agree about the Mom and Pop places. Lots of local cars in the parking lot are a dead give away of the quality and portion size of the food.
They may not have the best atmosphere, but they make up for it with the food and service.
We really like the ones that have different silverware, plates and cups.

Jim Prideaux (@guest_89043)
3 years ago

Sometimes there is no choice. Years ago coming back from a trip out west the family and I stopped at the only restaurant in a small Kansas town. The waitress not recognizing us asked “Are you from around here.” I replied no, that we were just passing through. “Awww” she said, “You’re so lucky.”

Steve (@guest_89031)
3 years ago

I used to live in Taos. Went to Farolito on occasion. 👍

Jon (@guest_89007)
3 years ago

When traveling out West, or any rural areas, I always look for the place with the most pickup trucks. Never fails.

Judy G (@guest_156736)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

You got it!!

Gary G (@guest_156753)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

Always look for construction rigs and farm trucks, best food in town, or cutest waitress

Tom (@guest_88994)
3 years ago

“Mom and Pop” is the way to go. The massive chains and fast food places have dumb down their offerings, they all are very boring. We always look for local.

Thomas (@guest_88988)
3 years ago

Normally i choose chains, but we were in Douglas AZ and needed breakfast and no chains were in town ( or we didnt find them) we ended up at a little corner restaurant where the help ONLY spoke spanish. Not a real good start to a meal. After a short time trying to talk to waitress, we gave up and pointed to another customers food and said we’ll have that. The food was excellent but what it was is still a mystery. I did recognize the eggs as an ingredient.
Life is an adventure.

Marty chambers (@guest_88874)
3 years ago

I look for restaurants with local tagged cars, it hasn’t failed me yet.

Mike Smith (@guest_88871)
3 years ago

Our favorite meal out is breakfast, so I like to ask “where do the locals (ranchers, farmers, etc.) go for breakfast”. I also add we are not looking for chain restaurants, but for the local mom and pop restaurants. Occasionally we get a bad recommendation, but most of the time we are glad we asked. Hole in the wall places are our favorite.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.