I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite travel memories include legendary culinary encounters. I remember entering the buffet line for second and third servings of fresh ceviche during my honeymoon in Cancun, I can still taste the cheesy goodness of the hearty serving of Spätzle I cherished every bite of in Munich and don’t even get me started on the tantalizing bite I stole from my husband’s peanut butter smeared burger in Phoenix.
Food is a huge part of what makes travel so special, that’s why we asked travel professionals around the industry to share some of their favorite culinary experiences across the globe.
One of my most memorable dining experiences was at a restaurant called Abat Cisneros located inside the Hotel Abat Cisneros within the sanctuary of Montserrat. We enjoyed traditional Catalan cuisine under a great stone arch surrounded by stone walls. Though the cuisine was wonderful, what made this experience truly special was ending the evening with a peaceful walk around the monastery without any crowds.
Enhance your visit by spending the night at the Hotel and wake up to the monks' chants in the morning. Simply peaceful and serene.
Suzy Schreiner, travel professional with Azure Blue Vacations in Seattle, WA)
I recently had an amazing dinner at a restaurant called Grasing’s in Carmel-by-the- Sea in California. I shared the maple leaf duck platter with my daughter and not only was the meal amazing, but we also had the chance to sit on the patio. Carmel is a very pet-friendly place and it’s common to see pet owners with their dogs enjoying al fresco dining. We walked onto the lovely vine-draped patio to see a fluffy white Samoyed sitting at the table with her family, a silver bowl at her place and her bejeweled collar sparkling under the twinkle lights. What a sight! Another couple came by with their two dogs and the waiter offered not only silver water bowls, but also dog beds and blankets for the pampered pooches before tending to the needs of their owners. Apparently at this lovely restaurant, dogs come first.
Patty Guza, business development specialist for VAX VacationAccess in Dallas, TX
I visited the iconic Alor Street in Kuala Lumpur, a two-block stretch of food vendors complete with outdoor seating. Being a huge foodie, I knew I wanted to spend some time exploring this culinary paradise. The first night in town we took a stroll through but I only had enough room for the homemade ice cream crafted on a frozen slab with personalized toppings and add-ons. When we visited the second night, we found a place to sit and ordered pad thai and meat on a stick with the authentic peanut sauce. Then we walked around to sample even more food and got some dumplings on a stick, homemade ice cream again (I’m a sucker for ice cream), rambutan and finally, durian. The smell of durian filled the street, the food has a weird texture but it was authentic so we had to try it, 10 out of 10 would not recommend durian. However, the atmosphere and options were amazing and Alor Street is a must-see in Kuala Lumpur.
Kati Kohler, advertising traffic coordinator for VAX VacationAccess in Milwaukee, WI
When you’re in Spain, tapas are always the answer. But when you’re in Barcelona and asked about brunch, the answer is always Alsur Café. I promise you won’t regret it, no matter the dietary restrictions you may have (they have gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options too). Stroll the streets of Catalan’s capital city and you’ll find this café hard to miss, since there are three locations to choose from. The quirky food combinations are probably brand new to foodies from all over the world.
This is not the place to go if you’re looking for authentic Spanish cuisine, though. The vibe is more of a trendy, pop-up brunch spot in California. No table is the same, whether you’re sitting inside or outside. You can watch the chef, barista or bartender make your order which is always refreshing and fun.
Other than the mint apple lemon iced tea, traditional hot teas and “brunchtails,” here are a few of my favorite items worth tasting:
Taylor Coulson, contributing editor of The Compass in Milwaukee, WI
In my opinion, the best way to experience a new cuisine is with a restaurant’s tasting menu. When a tasting menu is offered, the chef is highlighting the best of the best, showcasing his or her specialties. Many also change up their menu seasonally, or even daily, using locally sourced products.
The grand cru of tasting menus has to be the famed French Laundry in Yountville, California. Owned by Thomas Keller, this is arguably one of the most sought-after reservations in the foodie world. Eleven courses, all perfectly executed. Years ago, I had occasion to meet Thomas Keller in person and he graciously gave me a tour of his impeccable kitchen. I was like a groupie meeting her favorite rock star.
One of my most memorable tasting menu experiences was in San Sebastian, Spain at Zeruko. While it’s a pintxos restaurant primarily, they do offer a Menu Degustatcion for table seating. Seven courses of molecular gastronomy that shouldn’t be missed. The smells, sights and tastes are not what they seem.
Probably the most surprising tasting menu I’ve had occasion to enjoy is at Le Chique. Located in the Azul Beach Riviera Maya resort south of Cancun, Mexico, it’s certainly not something you would expect at an all-inclusive resort. Rated one of the best restaurants in Mexico, if not the world, it’s a dining experience like no other. Between 27 and 32 (small) courses, with flavor literally bursting from every bite. Before dining at Le Chique, I never would have thought I’d eat escamoles (ant larvae) and love them.
Nancy Yeomans, travel professional with Pangaea Luxury Travel in Newburyport, MA
My wife and I went to Tennessee to visit my brother-in-law and to see what Tennessee had to offer. We had tickets to the Tennessee Volunteers football game and wanted to grab breakfast before walking to the stadium. We decided on Not Watson’s, a restaurant with the typical sports bar vibe, but anything but typical pub food. I ordered a bloody mary and their spicy honey chicken and biscuits. I have a weak spot for biscuits and gravy already, but this meal blew me away. Perfectly seasoned gravy, delicious sweet and spicy chicken, a perfect, buttery biscuit crowned with a perfectly cooked egg. What a great start to a great day that I wish I could go back and encounter again.
Side note: Downtown Knoxville also has a pretty large farmers market on the weekends with a variety of food trucks and food stalls for a different kind of foodie experience.
Andrew Noffke, web producer for VAX VacationAccess in Milwaukee, WI