When you travel, it can be easy to fall for tourist traps. Language barriers and the excitement of being in a new city can blind you from the reality of a situation, and you might find out that fools really ARE parted easily from their money.
However, not all tourist traps are evil; in fact, some of them might even be good places for a quick meal. That being said, there are always better and cheaper places to go in a city, so don’t just rely on your tourist guide!
The Trap: Tim Ho Wan
Tim Ho Wan boasts of being one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong. They have an extensive menu featuring some of Hong Kong’s local cuisine, but they’re renowned for their BBQ pork buns. Because it mostly caters to locals, Tim Ho Wan is also well known as the “cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world”.
The Local: Cheung Hing Kee
Don’t get me wrong, I like Tim Ho Wan as much as the next guy, but after living in Hong Kong for a decade (most of which has been sampling as many of the small food stalls the city has to offer!), I’ve found that, compared to other eateries, Tim Ho Wan pales in comparison.
Specifically, one smaller restaurant beats Tim Ho Wan in terms of dumplings. Cheung Hing Kee is another Michelin-starred restaurant, albeit lesser known than Tim Ho Wan. Their menu is not as extensive, focusing primarily on different iterations of xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. Cheung Hing Kee’s dumplings range from simple to complex, are even cheaper than Tim Ho Wan, and have less people waiting in line. For anyone looking for a different dumpling experience, this is the place to be!
The Trap: The Singing Cooks and Waiters Restaurant
One of Manila’s most popular restaurants, the Singing Cooks and Waiters restaurants boasts a wide array of food from all over the Philippines, but their main attraction is their namesake. During your meal, an army of cooks and waiters will come out and entertain the guests with local folk songs and dances.
For locals, however, this restaurant can be a bit out of their price range, especially considering that many of the locals I’ve spoken to have said that, for the price, the food really isn’t all that worth it.
The Local: Tapsi Ni Vivian
During my one-year stay in the Philippines, I met many locals who swore by a restaurant called “Tapsi ni Vivian”. The word “tapsi” is short for “tapsilog”, which in itself is a shortened form of “tapa, sinangag, itlog”, a local dish that consists of cured beef served with garlic fried rice and a fried egg (yes, it’s as good as it sounds!). Tapsi ni Vivian specializes in this local delight, but also serves regional dishes from seafood soup to local desserts.
The prices at Vivian’s are nowhere near Singing Cooks and Waiters, but I’ve found it to be more fulfilling and satisfying. The dishes at Vivian’s, though not as varied as Singing Cooks and Waiters, was well worth the price, considering that they have bigger-than-average servings.
The Trap: Margit Terasz Etterem
Located at Margaret Island in the middle of Budapest, Margit Tearsz Etterem, or Maragaret Terrace Restaurant, boasts of stunning views of the Danube from their terrace grounds. The restaurant serves traditional Hungarian food, as well as specialties from across Central Europe. It’s become a popular place for tourists to enjoy a local meal away from the city center.
The Local: Nagyi Kifőzdéje
Tourist places like Margit Terasz Etterem are infamous for charging inordinate amounts of money for mediocre food. For a more local experience, try Nagyi Kifőzdéje, or Grandma’s Eatery. Located on Frankel Leo street, it’s a small shop that you might miss if you don’t pay attention, but it’s a beloved institution that is frequented by both locals and travelers.
Nagyi Kifőzdéje is unique both in its menu and aesthetic. The restaurant stays true to its namesake and is run and operated by Hungarian grandmothers. They work as both chefs and servers, and will happily sit with guests and chat with them about their travels. The menu changes per day and is dependent on both what ingredients are available in the market and what the grandmother’s feel like cooking. The inside is also decorated with a wide array of eclectic designs that really make you feel like you’re eating at home with your grandmother.
The Trap:Staroměstská Restaurace
Located in Prague’s beautiful Old Town district, Staroměstská Restaurace serves traditional Czech cuisine with a large selection of local beers. A popular tourist destination thanks to it being next to the Prague Clock Tower, recent years have seen a decline in both food quality and trustworthiness of this restaurant, with many tourists complaining of being scammed by waiters who will charge them more than what is listed on the menu.
Fortunately, I was not victim to this scam when I visited Staroměstská restaurace last month. However, the food isn’t quite as good as I remembered it to be!
The Local: Restaurace U Pinkasů
Tucked away in a side street near Wenceslas Square, Restaurace U Pinkasů is both a culinary destination and a historical artifact. The restaurant has operated since 1843, when a certain Mr. Jakub Pinkas decided to open a tavern after tasting the now-famous Pilsner beer. In fact, the first Pilsner ever drawn in Prague happened right in Restaurace U Pinkasů, a fact that they immortalized with a sign on a keg in the basement.
The food is simple, but delicious. Restaurace U Pinkasů focuses on keeping alive the traditions of old Bohemian cooking, which is often (and best) paired with their local beers. When you’re here, ask for the Roast Duck Leg with Bohemian dumplings and a glass of Pilsner Urquell. Simply divine!
The Trap:AIDA Café Konditorei
Right besides the St. Stephen Cathedral in Vienna is the famous AIDA Café Konditorei, a chain of Austrian coffeehouses. They serve coffee, cakes, and other pastries, and is well-known across Austria for its reliable service and food.
The Local: Café Hawelka
Located on a side street near Stephansplatz is the famous Café Hawelka. Many travelers visiting Vienna are turned off by the amount of tourists that frequent this coffee shop, but don’t be fooled: it’s as authentic as it gets.
Café Hawelka has been home to artists, political activists, locals, and travelers since 1939. The inside is homey, with dark wood paneled walls and posters from all the time periods it has seen. Yes, it gets a lot of tourists, which can make service slow, but it’s a great place to go especially during winter for a cup of authentic Viennese coffee and a slice of apple strudel!
One, Final Word…
Again, all these restaurants I’ve listed are based on my own subjective experience and may differ from yours. What’s your favorite authentic restaurant in your favorite city? Hit us up in the comments below!