BT Editors' 12 Favorite Foodie Destinations
Eating is one of the great pleasures of a vacation. But not all destinations are created equal when it comes to their culinary treasures. And of course, what constitutes culinary greatness is very personal—one stomach might not agree with another.
We asked Budget Travel editors where they would travel for the food and their answers were inspiring (and, in some cases, surprising).
I have had some of the best meals of my life in Croatia, where it seemed like everyone I met had their own olive grove and pressed their own olive oil, smoked their own prosciutto and made their own wine. Other Budget Travel editors found foodie inspiration much closer to home (in the case of one editor, it's one of the very reasons she chose to call New York City home).
As much as I think about food on vacation, I very rarely choose my holiday spot based on the dining options—although after reading this slideshow I am inclined to start incorporating the culinary scene into my considerations. Flip through our slideshow and see what you think—and while you're at it, tell us whether or not we missed any great places!
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On Wednesday June 20, blogger Will McGough will set out on a one–of–a–kind road trip, dropping in on four of the winners of Budget Travel’s seventh annual Coolest Small Towns contest. “There’s a common misconception that small towns don’t offer big opportunities,” says McGough, the editor of the blog Wake and Wander. Of course, we couldn’t agree more—BT has long celebrated the charm—and affordability—of America’s coolest towns, and this year more than ever our contest has generated excitement from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. McGough’s “Coolest Road Trip” will make stops at four of this year’s 10 winners, including Beaufort, N.C., and Hammondsport, N.Y., which tied for first place back in January, when online voting was so heated that our server temporarily crashed; McGough will also visit Cape May, N.J., and Damascus, Va. The trip will conclude on June 30, with a parade in Hammondsport. A feature story about all 10 of our Coolest Small Towns will appear in the September/October issue of Budget Travel, on newsstands August 28. McGough will make his trip in a car customized for the occasion, bearing logos for Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns contest and his own blog, and images of the winning towns. “The teamwork going on among these four towns is exciting,” says McGough. “They’re not saying ‘Look at me!’ they’re saying ‘Look at us!’” As he motors from town to town, McGough will post blogs from the road, sharing his own lists of “coolests”—places to stay, outdoor activities, and keepsakes—along the way. “The average guy can’t always take a week off from work and fly to some far–off destination,” says McGough. “But he can drive to Beaufort, Cape May, Damascus, or Hammondsport for the weekend. And you know what? He’ll have just as much fun.” —Robert Firpo–Cappiello MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 5 Classic American Drives 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel The Pacific Coast Highway—Without the Traffic
Who Won The Budget Travel Readers' Choice Awards?
The results are in for the third annual Budget Travel Readers' Choice Awards. And some of the races were closer than others. For some categories, it was no contest. Maui won for Favorite Island Getaway with 42% of the vote, Walt Disney World got 43% of the votes for Favorite Theme Park, and Norwegian Cruise Line got the same percentage of votes for Favorite Cruise Line. It's also clear that you guys really love Southwest Airlines. More than half of you voted them Most Reliable Airline, and almost half voted them as having the Nicest Flight Attendants. There were some very tight races as well. Honolulu International Airport was just 1% ahead of Denver National Airport for Most Beautiful Terminals, while Philadelphia narrowly eked out a win over St. Louis, Missouri as the Most Underrated American City. To see all the winners, click here to go to the results page. Did your favorites triumph? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 11 Greatest Riverfront Towns 13 Things You Didn't Know About Hawaii 8 Common Vacations: the Surprising Things You'll Need (and the Things You Won't)
5 Affordable Restaurant Chains in London
Americans visiting London usually want to taste some of the local classic dishes, such as a plate of fish n’ chips and a pint of ale. But even die-hard travelers will admit that London’s iconic dishes are fried and fatty, which can be a bit overwhelming when eaten meal after meal after meal. As an alternative, white-table restaurants are pretty expensive, to the point it can seem like your credit card balance is having liposuction. Visitors needing an affordable restaurant may want to check out the city’s smorgasbord of sit-down, “quick service” chains. These venues have relatively healthy menus, speedy service, and clean bathrooms, making them local favorites. Another plus, the meals are often as tasty as they are affordable. I’m defining “affordable” as a vacation budget of $25 (under £15) per person for two courses, excluding wine or drinks. Here, then, are some picks for the best London quick-service, sit-down chains. Byron Some Londoners insist that the best burger you can get with speedy, sit-down service is from Byron, a gourmet burger chain that’s grown to 19 UK locations since its founding in 2007. But the secret to Byron’s success may lie less with its juicy organic mincemeat burgers than with its tasty chips, served with your choice of garlic mayonnaise or ketchup. Other popularity factors for the mini-chain include its modern decor, lively music, family-friendly bonhomie, and dinners that cost only £10 plus the cost of a pale ale or a craft beer. byronhamburgers.com Masala Zone The British are so devoted to Indian food that some locals joke that chicken tikka masala is the national dish. But Indian food is more than tikka, and the first chain to bring street food and regional dishes to London was Masala Zone, launched in 2001. It now has seven locations in prime areas, such as Soho and Covent Garden. The start of the menu is thali, a complete meal of several small plates served on a metal tray, for about £10. For instance, dhai puri are little pastry cases with a mixture of chick peas, tamarind sauce, and yoghurt. Stuff the one whole in your mouth and bite, so that it explodes with a sweet-and-tangy taste. You can get in and out in under 45 minutes if you want, or linger for two hours. masalazone.com Nandos Ideal pit stop for families with kids, this restaurant has crowd-pleasing food with both spicy and non-spicy dishes, large tables to share food on, a welcoming attitude toward kids and teens, and, unlike anywhere else in London, free refills on soda. The Nando’s signature dish is a half-a-roast chicken doused in a mild chili sauce. The South African restaurant chain specializes in “peri-peri" chicken, a chili dish created by Portuguese settlers in Mozambique. Choose how spicy you like it, and watch your chicken be cooked in the open kitchen. The system is quick, yet you can eat at your own pace. £10 for half a chicken, with two regular sides. Nando’s is the city’s fastest-growing quick-service chain, with 57 prime London locations gaining rapidly in popularity since its 1992 arrival in the UK. (There’s one US location, in Washington, D.C.) nandos.com Wagamama When Wagamama opened in London in 1992, it introduced Londoners to South-East Asian flavors blended with Japanese noodle dishes. Menus were full of edamame (steamed soy beans) with ramen, or else strips of steak laid on beds of soba noodles, dressed in a sweet soy sauce. Today, the menu remains much the same and the prices also remains affordable (meal for two with drinks at under £35, or about $50). Wagamama still has a minimalist setting, such as long communal tables surrounded by white walls and a friendly attitude toward kids and teens. True, London doesn’t have a lock on Wagamama anymore. There are 37 overseas locations, including a few in the US in Boston. But there are 76 in the UK, with three more opening in London this year. wagamama.com Gourmet Burger Kitchen Run by New Zealanders, this chain touts Aberdeen Angus beef burgers, but you can also pick veggie, chicken, lamb or venison versions. Pick your toppings and add chips for about £10 per meal. Think of it as a Chipotle for burgers. gbk.co.uk SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL London's Top Fish n' Chips Shops 15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You 8 Foreign Fast-Food Chains You Need to Know Wendy's Goes Gourmet in Japan
6 Neat Niche Hotel Brands
Last week, InterContinental introduced an interesting new health-and-fitness-minded brand of hotels called EVEN. But it's hardly the only niche hotel brand out there. The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is one of the world's biggest hotel companies, best known for brands such as Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, and Holiday Inn Express. The company has also dabbled in the "boutique hotel" trend with Hotel Indigo, and now, it is launching another niche brand, EVEN. EVEN Hotels, the company announced recently, will be designed to provide "solutions for all aspects of travelers' wellness needs in the areas of exercise, food, work and rest." Specifically, here's what guests can expect in an EVEN hotel stay: • Exercise– Guest rooms designed for in-room workouts with multi-functional room amenities (e.g. coat rack that doubles as a pull up bar); best in class gym with equipment and group exercise activities; “Wellness Wall” for fitness options in walking distance, tips and equipment rental; personalized guest service to offer advice on fitness options, ideas and/or instruction; all baked into the service experience, at no added cost to the guest. • Eat– Nutritionally designed menus with a particular focus on natural, fresh, fit and energizing meals – available anytime; an open air café and bar; free flavored filtered water with glass bottles available to fill up and take back to the room; free coffee & mini-smoothies in the morning. • Work– Rooms with high speed Wi-Fi, multimedia ports, easy access to outlets, ample desk space; and social spaces in the bar and lobby. • Rest- Rooms offer revitalization and relaxation, including hypoallergenic linens, powerful showerheads, natural lighting, LED dimmers and antibacterial wipes. Within the next five years, IHG expects to have contracts signed or already have built 100 EVEN Hotels, with the first opening in a soon-to-be-determined U.S. location in 2013. No information about rates has been released, but most likely EVEN properties will fall into the midscale range. While the EVEN concept isn't perfect for every traveler, it's refreshing to see a brand that has such an easily identifiable personality and focus. Often, it's unclear what a hotel brand stands for, and therefore it's difficult for travelers to tell if the brand is right for them. That shouldn't be the case with EVEN. The brand is designed to appeal to a specific niche, and guests should know what they're going to get. Over the last few years, several other interesting niche hotel brands have entered the marketplace or expanded significantly. Like EVEN, these brands stand out because they mean something very specific, and they'll resonate with certain breeds of travelers. The list of niche brands includes: Ace Hotel: Hip, offbeat minimalist style meant to appeal especially to Gen X and Gen Y travelers, with locations in Seattle, Portland, New York City, and Palm Springs. Cube Hotels: Rigid, unconventional design (giant cubes encased in steel and reflective windows) meets an active, sports-centric feel, with mountainside locations in Europe's Alps that make perfect bases for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and mountain biking. Element: Starwood's green, sustainable brand, with environmentally friendly features from top to bottom, including use of eco-friendly recycled materials in design and construction; 15 hotels are currently open or under construction. Omena: Based in Finland, the chain promises a "new, cost-effective accommodation option," mainly by removing the usual hotel staff and amenities such as breakfast (you're on your own there). The guest experience is almost entirely self-service: After reserving (online, of course), you receive a door code and proceed directly to your room, rather than heading to any check-in desk. There are currently 14 Omena properties, all in Scandinavia, and all with city-center locations. Yotel: The concept combines small, ultra-modern, efficiently-designed, inexpensive rooms with prime locations in pricey cities (two blocks from Times Square in New York) and near major airports (London-Heathrow). MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 8 Cool New Tools for Finding the Perfect Hotel World's Weirdest Hotels, 2011 26 Gorgeous Hotels You Won't Believe Are Under $150