How To Eat Like A Local
Lamb ribs, black vinegar, almonds, dates and nectarines at Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco. Photograph by Medium Raw Arts
From San Francisco to Seoul, we asked nine food experts where they go to get a real taste of their home city.
If you’re looking for good food in a new city, you can’t put a price on local knowledge. Although there’s something to be said for heeding “Best Restaurant” lists and guidebooks – by doing so, you always run the risk of being served up an overcrowded tourist trap with a menu that costs more than your flight ticket.
Find a more authentic experience by listening to someone who has paced the streets of your destination for a lifetime, uncovering the local gems as the city grows around them. While food trends come in and out of fashion, there are some restaurants that will always hit the spot. And although they may not boast a Michelin star, they have the raw, comforting flavours and atmosphere to make up for it.
We asked nine food experts to suggest the restaurants (and the dishes) they return to time and again for a genuine taste of what their city means to them. From lamb ribs in San Francisco to bone marrow varuval in London – here’s how to eat like a local, wherever you are.
Bone marrow varuval at Hoppers, London. Photographs by Mr John Carey
Recommended by…Mr Ben McCormack, editor, Square Meal
Mr McCormack has helmed some of London’s most trusted restaurant guides for more than a decade. He’s seen trends come and go by the dozen, but when he eats out, it’s the internationally influenced restaurants that sum up the London dining scene for him.
“This Sri Lankan spin-off from Michelin-starred Gymkhana is way more casual and way, way cheaper. And it doesn’t take bookings, so far easier to get into. Turn up on Monday and Tuesday lunchtime if you don’t want to hang around, although queueing is never a problem: they take your mobile number and text you when a table is ready, so you can go and have a drink while you wait (try a martini at Bar Termini round the corner). Once seated, I always order the bone marrow varuval: scooping out the sticky goo onto a buttery roti and dipping it in the fiery sauce is everything that’s so great about eating out in multicultural London, a city where you can experience every cuisine under the sun.”
What to order: bone marrow varuval
NICOS, MEXICO CITY
Sopa seca de natas (a savoury mille feuille with tomato, cream and chicken) at Nicos, Mexico City. Photographs by Mr Charly Ramos
Recommended by…Ms Cecilia Núñez - editor, Food and Travel México
Ms Núñez rules the roost at Mexico’s best-selling food and lifestyle magazine. Even though she’s completely au fait with the high-end Mexican restaurants making waves across the world, she finds the true food of her city in street food stalls and tiny neighbourhood restaurants.
“Nicos has been my favourite restaurant since I was a little girl. You won’t find the neighbourhood in any guidebooks and if you see any tourists there, they’ll be lost – it’s a long way from the trendy areas of Polanco and Condesa. Nicos chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo is a genius. He’s a pioneer of Slow Food Mexico, part of a national movement to protect Mexico’s culinary heritage, but he isn’t shy of using some new techniques. Whenever I’m there, I order the sopa seca de natas, a colonial-era recipe that smashes together layers of crepes in a creamy tomato sauce. Also, try the organic pork marinated with chilli, brown sugar and chocolate, accompanied by tamalito corn and corn sprouts, or the chicken with avocado leaf and pulque – a native alcoholic drink made with fermented plant sap.”
What to order: sopa seca de natas (a savoury mille feuille with tomato, cream and chicken).
GOLDEN CENTURY, SYDNEY
Pippies in XO sauce at Golden Century, Sydney. Photographs by Mr Joao Tom/Melting Butter; Golden Century
Recommended by…Mr Pat Nourse, chief critic, Australian Gourmet Traveller
No city has more international influences than Sydney. The best of China and Mediterranean Europe have found their way to Australia to form a culinary landscape that’s as varied as its inhabitants. As one of the city’s leading food critics, Mr Nourse finds true Sydneyside cuisine in the late-night eateries packed cheek to jowl in Chinatown.
“You’ve breakfasted on avo toast and a flat white, you’ve eaten a larb sandwich, you’ve downed a pie at the beach and eaten a tricked-up lamington at the Opera House, but you haven’t really eaten in Sydney till you’ve smashed a plate of spicy surf clams and noodles at this late-night Cantonese stalwart – it’s where you’ll find all the locals after a long hard day in the sun.”
What to order: pippies in XO sauce
PIETRO’S, NEW YORK
“Our Famous Chopped” (chopped salad with anchovies, blue cheese and chicken parma) at Pietro’s, New York. Photographs by Manhattan Sideways
Recommended by…Mr Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief, Bon Appétit magazine
What Mr Rapoport doesn’t know about the NYC food scene isn’t worth knowing. As editor-in-chief at one of the world’s most popular food magazines, it’s not the latest three-star that sets Mr Rapoport’s palate alight, rather the neighbourhood restaurant that he can return to time and again.
“Every few months, I get a group of friends together and we go to Pietro’s, an Italian steakhouse on East 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. We start with the chopped salad (with anchovies and blue cheese on the side), then we split a couple of chicken parmas, a sliced steak for two and a bunch of extra-crispy hash browns. It’s not cheap or new or cool, but it is the best.”
What to order: “Our Famous Chopped”
Tiramisu Maison at Na/Na, Paris. Photographs by Jason Loucas/Corbis; Na/Na
Recommended by…Mr Emmanuel Poncet, editor, French GQ
In Paris, the city that brought fine dining to the world, Mr Poncet edits one of the world’s most stylish magazines. Restaurant reviews, parties and launches may be his staple, but he thinks it’s modern European fusion cuisine that exemplifies the city as a dining capital today.
“Last Sunday, I fell in love. I fell in love with a tiny little restaurant that’s only been open a few months called Na/Na near Bastille 10 rue Breguet. The food is fresh and organic; the menu changing daily. Everything comes from the Bastille and Richard Lenoir markets about 100m away. Nathaly Nicolas-Ianniello is the most generous chef and fuses French, Italian and Japanese elements, in a style that exemplifies what Parisian cuisine means at the moment. The dishes are imaginative, but faithful to a ‘French-Italian’ tradition of homemade cooking that is the fashion. I’m not usually a huge fan of desserts, but the tiramisu blew me away.”
What to order: tiramisu maison
Naengmyeon (cold noodles) at Hanilkwan, Seoul
Recommended by…Ms Yoo Jae Chung, Seoul restaurateur (and partner of Mr Jan Lee, owner London’s Bó Drake)
With restaurants in both London and Seoul, Ms Jae Chung is bringing Korean cuisine to the masses. She knows that some elements of Korean food might be hard to palate, but this noodle house gives an authentic example of what Seoul food means to her.
“These two dishes [below] do everything to sum up Seoul’s food scene. They’re the most popular dishes with locals, which guests to the city sometimes struggle to get to get to grips with. The naengmyeon is served in a metal bowl with ice cubes. While the bulgogi is served on hot sizzling plate – it’s the contrast of textures and temperatures that exemplify Korean cookery. The beef is just delicious, sweet, salty and tender as anything you’ll ever eat.”
What to order: naengmyeon (cold noodles) with bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)
LIHOLIHO YACHT CLUB, SAN FRANCISCO
Lamb ribs, black vinegar, almonds, dates and nectarines at Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco. Photographs by Medium Raw Arts; Patricia Chang
Recommended by…Mr Josh Even, executive chef, Tosca Cafe
At the forefront of San Francisco’s evolving food scene, Mr Even has just opened Tosca Cafe on the site of one of the city’s oldest restaurant institutions in North Beach. He finds his city’s edible heritage in rib joints from the high-grade livestock pacing the hills on the outskirts of the city.
“The service is professional and the food is outstanding. Chef Ravi Kapur is a San Francisco institution in his own right; I think I met him right when I moved out here (he probably doesn’t remember me) and he was gracious and friendly and 100 per cent genuine. It’s modern San Franciscan food done to a T. Although I typically go for menu items I haven’t tried before, I also always order the lamb ribs. It’s a cut that doesn’t get a lot of love on restaurant menus, but I love the soft, melting fat and the way Chef Kapur encapsulates that fat in a crust of dry spices. The different textures are really sensational.”
What to order: Lamb ribs
Burrata di andria con tartare di scampi crudi (Andria Burrata cheese with prawn tartare) at Roscioli, Rome
Recommended by…Mr Federico De Cesare Viola, restaurant writer, L’Uomo Vogue
Aside from editing the restaurant pages on Italian Vogue magazine, Mr De Cesare Viola is a leading expert on hotel bars, book publishing and design consultancy. His Rome local is one of innovative techniques and unusual produce.
“My favourite place is Roscioli on Via dei Giubbonari. It’s a salumeria con cucina, in other words a ‘crossover’ between a food boutique, a wine bar and a restaurant, with the most amazing selection of artisanal Italian products, a superb wine list and a vibrant Roman atmosphere: vibrant, loud and always packed with locals at any time of day. Its version of the Burrata mozzarella with raw scampi and bottarga is one of my favourite dishes in the world, fusing Italian heritage with the very best of the Med.”
What to order: Burrata di Andria con tartare di scampi crudi (Burrata cheese with prawn tartare)
NEW YORK GRILL, TOKYO
(Wagyu) Kobe beef at New York Grill, Tokyo
Recommended by…Ms Yakari Sakamoto, Food Sake Tokyo tours
Boss of one of the most successful international food tours of Tokyo, Ms Sakamoto shies away from the traditional heritage of Japanese sushi and rice and instead recommends sampling the beef reared on the hills around Tokyo to get a true taste of modern Japanese cuisine.
“It may seem strange that I’m recommending a steak house, and one inside the Park Hyatt hotel, but I’m obsessed with Japanese beef. The cows that are raised inland on the Hida-gyu and Hokkaido mountains are, in my opinion, the best in the world. Always order the sirloin – it needs the fat to make it taste amazing. Most locals now eat a lot of beef and chef Federico introduces Japanese flavours to the beef that make it even better.”
What to order: seafood ceviche and wagyu