We're talking about those restaurants that use the best and freshest in-season, local ingredients.
Sometimes they are small, hole-in-the-wall, off-the-beaten path, local dive restaurants.
And, they always use their passion and creativity to transform local quality ingredients into outrageously delicious and nutritious meals that leave you with a great memory and a desire to be able to...
"go back there one more time!"
One of our most memorable meals of all time was at The Joel Palmer House, just outside of Portland, Oregon. Located in a beautiful and comfortable house, it's a family-owned restaurant that focuses its menu around wild mushrooms and truffles, emphasizing local ingredients, including some which come from the on-site garden. We routinely catch ourselves saying, "I would love to go back to The Joel Palmer House!"
One of our visions is to give you a list of these "I wish we could go back..." restaurants from all around the country.
To help make this dream a reality, we are starting a REAL Food Travel Series, where we will provide reviews of restaurants we seek out during our travels. We would also love to feature reviews from you, our Eat REAL America members! As you discover these restaurants, either in your hometown or during your travels, please share your reviews and we will make them available to the entire Eat REAL America community!
In prior coaching tips, we have featured a couple of amazing restaurants including:
To start, we wanted to share some restaurants we discovered during our recent trip to Fayetteville, AR.
When we are searching restaurants we want to visit while we are traveling, we have certain criteria we are looking for:
- Locally owned. We always want to support local, and this is how you find some of the most passionate people and places. One of our top rules...we avoid fast food and chain restaurants. Besides the fact that healthy options are limited at fast food and chain restaurants, we want to experience a meal somewhere we cannot visit at home.
- Type of food. We glance at their online menu to see the options. You will easily be able to see if they have a variety of salads, seasonal ingredients, and REAL food options, such as sides that include salad options, and vegetable-forward entrees. We try to avoid menus where everything is fried, where there are only burgers and fries, or where there are only heavy, cream based sauces (we want REAL ingredients to be the stars of the show).
- Good reviews. It is fairly easy to see from reviews and photos whether you will be satisfied with a restaurant. A lot of times you will be able to tell just from the photos how much care and thought has been put into their food preparations.
- Cost and location. Of course, cost and location are also important factors to consider, although, keep in mind, more expensive does not always mean better food or a better experience!
To give you insight into how we find these restaurants, there are a few things we do:
- Yelp. There are many ways to search restaurants on Yelp. A couple searches we like to do are "Best Food" and "Farm to Table" in the location we are visiting. Yelp defaults to "Recommended" results, and we also like to sort the results based on "Highest Rated."
- Google Maps. Helpful to see what restaurants are nearby, including reviews.
- Local food bloggers. It seems like every community has at least one of these. These can be useful, although it is important to realize that the blogger's preferences may be different than yours and sometimes they may have financial incentives based on the restaurants they feature.
Talk to the locals, especially at farmers' markets.
This is a great way to find hidden gems! Going to the farmers' markets and asking what restaurants they supply also provides some great leads.
Bed and breakfast owners are a great resource.
If you are staying at a B&B, the owners may be in tune with the best restaurants in town. Again, be aware of their preferences and financial incentives, but we have discovered some great restaurants this way.
For Fayetteville, most of our research was online since none of the farmers' markets are open and we couldn't find a great B&B.
Based on our research, we ended up with the following short list (in no particular order):
With a three-day trip, of course, there was no way to hit all of these, especially since we also prepared some meals in our Airbnb condo. So, we made our choices based on the reviews, the food we were craving in the moment, operating hours and proximity.
The ones we ended up visiting included The Farmers Table Café, Mockingbird Kitchen and the Green Submarine. We also visited a couple of restaurants not on our short list...we try to still be somewhat spontaneous but, let's be honest, life is too short for wasted meals so any restaurant we choose still has to meet our criteria.
Locally-owned restaurant featuring "chef-inspired modern Ozark cuisine." This was our first meal in Fayetteville and we were not disappointed! This small simple restaurant was friendly and cozy, and we ordered a Roasted Beet Salad from their specials menu that we are still thinking about! With organic greens, roasted beets, blue cheese crumbles, oranges, candied pecans and a lemon vinaigrette, it was loaded with flavor and incredibly delicious. Watch the meal ideas this week...a re-creation of this great salad will be making its appearance on the website!
The rest of this insanely good meal included a Pan-Fried Catfish Plate with a side Kale Caesar salad, and a cup of Spicy Veggie Chili (also from the specials menu) paired with a Veggie Burger made with quinoa, mushrooms, pecans, kale, and carrots. With its sun-dried tomato edamame spread, it was an out-of-this-world veggie burger! Completely satisfied with an excellent meal, our trip was off to a great start!
A husband and wife opened this café in 2014 with the goal of improving the local food system. They use ingredients from small family farms and food artisans in Arkansas. They believe food tastes better and is better for you when it's done in small batches. Their café is built inside a quaint and super-cool rustic house, with inside and outside tables, creating an intimate space that celebrates food, makes you feel at home, and connects guests to one another.
Our son quickly decided on the build-your-own burger as we were debating between the Fat Top Tamale (they had me at "sriracha cashew cream") and the Ozark Huevos (that included 2 over-easy eggs, tomato chili bone broth sauce and sriracha aioli). Our down-to-earth friendly server said, "My favorite, along with most of us who work here, is the Ozark Huevos." He added, "I would recommend that...and if you don't like it, I will eat it and let you order something else." Needless to say, we got the Ozark Huevos, and absolutely loved it! We also enjoyed the Ozark Cobb Salad, with its chicken, egg, scallions, red onion, toasted pecans, blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette. We would definitely plan a return trip if we are in the area again.
We quickly realized we were not at just any sub shop!
Locally owned, this cool sub shop puts the food quality and friendly environment above all else. We all enjoyed Hot and Toasty Subs, including a French Dip and a Chicken, Portobello and Swiss...let's just say, WOWZER, they were all melt-in-your-mouth good! With the extremely friendly and fun service and amazingly delicious food, we will definitely add this to our "would love to go back" list!
Mojo's Pints & Pies.
This pizza place had great reviews, and it had the added bonus of being within walking distance from our Airbnb condo. Relaxing and cozy, this was an ideal place to "indulge" and enjoy pizza and a local beer.
Pizza is, as you can imagine, one of our teenage son's favorite foods, so he was in heaven with the Beat the Meat pizza (with all the typical pizza toppings) and Scott and I shared the Auggie's Isle that included chicken, pineapple, jalapeños, and goat cheese (and we added mushrooms) and a salad. What did we think of this meal? Apparently we were so hungry (this was right after our hike) and so excited to dive in that we forgot about the photo until after the fact! The flavor combinations and ingredients were very good...we wouldn't hesitate to go again, although we would be inclined to try another pizza place (Wood Stone Pizza) we were excited about but they were closed that day.
A family owned and operated fast-casual Greek and Mediterranean restaurant. This was the perfect place to grab lunch on our way out of town. The drive thru was the only option because the dining room was closed, but when was the last time you were able to order Chicken Souvlaki and a Lamb Greek Gyro Platter in the drive thru? The food was good...our only disappointment was the tzatziki wasn't as flavorful as we had hoped (you get spoiled with the flavor-loaded version you make in your own kitchen!). The meal was good, although we would be less likely to seek this one out again compared to the others.
We will continue to add to this travel series, and we hope you will help us!
As you journey and travel - hopefully more this year - please share with us! Word of mouth and sharing our experiences is the best way to discover, enjoy and support these incredible local treasures found all over the country!