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How to Explore Your City’s Food Scene

How-To-Pick-A-Restaurant

I knew I loved food, but I didn’t know how much until I moved to a new city. I’d grown up in the same town my whole life, so when I moved to Washington D.C., I wanted to take advantage of every moment: visit all the Smithsonian Museums, walk around the National Mall, and of course, try all of the new restaurants. 

Exploring my city’s food options became my hobby as I adjusted to my life in D.C. Each week I ventured out in search of the next hidden gem, thrilled by both the sense of challenge and adventure. As I navigated my way through a new city, I came to realize that there are a lot of creative ways to approach your area’s food scene — and that food can be an effective way to connect with friends old and new.

Head to the farmer’s market

After arriving in D.C., I was pleasantly surprised to learn there was a farmers market within 10 minutes walking distance of my house. As I moseyed over one Saturday, I was greeted with a lively scene: cushioned on either side by artisan shops was a row of tables with intricately made pastries, loads of fresh produce, honey, and freshly-baked bread (admittedly my favorite of the tables). As I walked around, the hum of a local band saturated the summer air. 

Whether you are in a city, or a more rural area, it’s likely you’re close to some type of farmers market. One of the reasons I’ve come to love farmers markets is because they lend themselves to spontaneity — you end up unexpectedly picking up items you didn’t know you were even looking for. (Like a few weeks ago, when I bought a jar of plum vanilla jam that I’m still dreaming about.) 

Unlike the supermarket, which can feel frenetic and overwhelming, farmers markets offer a perfect balance between shopping, leisure, and adventure. Even if you don’t leave with a handful of groceries, you can still take in the aromas, the vivacity of the people, and best of all, the free samples. While farmers markets tend to run mostly in the summer, some cities offer them year-round. If you’re lucky, your city might even have multiple markets, affording you the opportunity to explore new neighborhoods. So get up, and go get those free samples!

Start a restaurant club

A few months ago, I was catching up with my brother and he mentioned he had his burger club coming up. Immediately intrigued, I inquired more. He explained how each month, his friends take turns picking a new burger place in New York City. For him, it’s a chance to try new spots while also spending quality time with his group of friends. I fell in love with this idea and decided to bring a slightly-tailored version back with me to D.C., broadening the scope so my friends and I could try all different kinds of restaurants, not just burger places.

Cities have a lot to offer, but we all get stuck in the habit of going to the same places. There’s nothing wrong with an old favorite, but branching out can introduce you to new flavors and new cuisines. Not only is a restaurant club a great way to find new spots, it’s nice to have a recurring date on the calendar to catch up with friends. 

Explore Yelp collections

If you were to ask me the phone app I spend the most time on, I would have to sheepishly admit that it is Yelp. 

I definitely have food-commitment issues — when there are too many options, I get overwhelmed. Even when I’ve narrowed it down, I fear I’ll pick a restaurant and end up dissatisfied. That’s why I love Yelp — you can easily scope out restaurants before making a commitment. Even more amazingly, Yelp also lets you create “collections” where you can tag and save restaurants in one place. So if you see a fun wine bar you want to check out, but can’t make it there that night, you can add it to a self-curated list. On my Yelp app, I have a “Places to Try” collection, which is endlessly growing. 

You can also explore other collections made by fellow Yelp users: late night restaurants, brunch spots, cute coffee shops, you name it. One of my favorites: “H Street Corridor: Where Chicken Wings and Skinny Jeans Thrive.” So really, there is something for everyone.

Check out local events

A few weeks ago while I was visiting my sister in Chicago, she took me to an event at Whole Foods called “5 after 5 wine tasting.” For $7 we got five different wine samples, all paired with food samples. It felt like “Whole Foods after hours” — I was in heaven.

One good way to tackle your city’s food scene is to tap into local events. Maybe there isn’t a Whole Foods near you, but there are a ton of free or moderately-priced local food events that are beckoning if you put in the energy to look.

One great way to get an idea of what’s going on around your neighborhood is to keep an eye out for Facebook events. In December, I was on Facebook and I saw a friend had shown interest in a hot chocolate tasting event. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned the event was just a few blocks from my office. My coworker and I walked over and enjoyed a rich cup of hot chocolate for free. It was the perfect way to break up a winter workday.

Another way to stay up to date on what’s going on is to subscribe to newsletters. I subscribe to one in D.C. called 730DC. The newsletter not only covers what is going on in the city, but also promotes events that might be a bit under the radar. Newsletters like this are a big source of my food intel. So see what type of newsletters your city offers. Even if they aren’t solely dedicated to food, they might help you discover some hidden gems.

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