For a more authentic (and cheap) travel experience, eat where the locals eat. Here's how.

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Want a more authentic travel experience? Or just want to save some money? Eat like the locals, not like the tourists. Here’s how.

ASK A LOCAL

Some guidebooks will send you to restaurants that are tourist attractions in their own right — and where you’ll pay through the nose.

Instead, when your feel hunger pangs, stop a cop walking down the street. Beat cops know everything. Seriously.

If it’s lunchtime and I don’t see anyone in uniform, ask sales clerks in stores. They go out to eat, too, and are likely to know the best inexpensive eats in the neighborhood, sometimes off the main drag or hidden from the tourists.

LOOK FOR LINES

If it’s mealtime and you see locals lined up to get into a restaurant, go ask them why they’re in line. There must be something pretty good inside to generate that kind of crowd.

GET THE PRIX FIXE MEAL

I wish more American restaurants would adopt the European custom of offering a fixed-price meal that changes daily. For one flat price, you get two or three courses with a beverage, from whatever special the chef has on offer. It’s designed to cater to regulars who come back every day to eat at a discount, but anyone can order it.

Pain au chocolats at Poilane bakery in Paris.
Pain au chocolats at Poilane bakery in Paris.

HIT THE BAKERIES AND SHOPS

When we were on w home exchange in Italy, I discovered a by-the-slice focaccia bakery near our apartment that had the most delectable, melt-in-your mouth, buttery deliciousness I’ve ever tasted. And it was cheap. Maybe $1.50 per slice.

Instead of going to a full-service restaurant, look for little shops that specialize in takeout but also have small tables for dining in. Or buy takeout and eat al fresco. Bakeries, fish and cheese shops and the like are good choices.

GET OUT OF THE TOURIST DISTRICT

As soon as you get away from other tourists, prices tend to drop remarkably, especially in areas where the exchange rate strongly favors the dollar.

While in Lima, Peru, I discovered a lovely and packed anticucho place, full of locals, that specialized in grilled meat on a stick, where $2.50 bought a dinner-sized portion, including potatoes.

CONSIDER STREET FOOD

Use your head when diving into the street food scene. I prefer to eat from booths where I have watched the food being cooked right in front of me — and where there’s a crowd of locals already eating (both indicating the food hasn’t been sitting around too long).

I’ll never forget the first time I had fish tacos in Ensenada, Mexico, from a street booth far from the main tourist drag. My friends dragged me down there and insisted I had to try them.

We sat on tiny stools and watched as the amiable proprietress pulled cleaned and boned whitefish out of a bucket, and breaded and fried it in front of us. I realized her husband had probably caught the fish that morning. Then she warmed up tortillas, added the fish, shredded cabbage and sauce, and I had my first taste. And my second, and my third, because I fell in love.

What do I avoid from street vendors? Fruit, unless I peel it myself. And cooked things that have been sitting around. Having been sick many times around the world, I tend to avoid lettuce, salads or anything that grows on the ground, unless it’s been cooked.

Shoppers visit a market at Plaza Luis Cabrera in Mexico City’s La Roma neighborhood.
Shoppers visit a market at Plaza Luis Cabrera in Mexico City’s La Roma neighborhood.

HIT THE MARKET

Stop by the local market and pick up some fruit for peeling. Also, look for local products like wine, beer or coffee, all of which tend to be pricey near the hotel or in shops. Some markets in Mexico make fresh tortillas right in front of you, and they’re delicious all by themselves.