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Enjoy Delicious Budget Meals While Travelling
Know What to Eat and Where to Find It - Part II

Find the best restaurants and cafes in Canada and the U.S.

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless menu in United Concourse B at Chicago O'Hare Airport. Highly rated Mexican fast food. This is the best I've encounted at an airport in North America.

When travelling in Canada and the U.S., maximize your chances of having the best food by seeking out the independent cafes and restaurants favoured by the locals. Only if there is not time, use some of the better chain places like the ones mentioned below.

For a great online guide to places locals love, check Roadfood.com. Click on its restaurant tab for reviews and visit the "where to eat" and "trip reports" sections of it reader forum. You will get the know the reviewers and which have tastes most similar to yours. Although its reviewers are anonymous, Yelp.com can be helpful. Ignore listings though where few reviews are posted.

In larger cities, utilize Zagat Survey restaurant guidebooks to avoid disappointment. These are excellent and inexpensive. From experience, I also trust the reviews in recent Lonely Planet guides. You can how buy online chapters without buying an entire guide. These can be read off line while travelling.

Navigating without a guide

On the other hand, no guide prepares you for the huge variety of places you might visit in Canada or the U.S., especially in rural areas.

When travelling by car, search out the small towns AWAY from interstate and other major highways.

Beware of places that have been bypassed by new highways. In fact, avoid any small town in decline, ones with vacant stores and disrepair. These types of places seldom foster great dining.

In the type of small town you are looking for, you often find a town square surrounded by busy stores catering to the local, not tourist, population. This is a prime locale for an excellent place to eat. Ask people in the area to point the way to the best choices.

At meal time, your selection should be filled with local people. If not busy at peak meal time (such as 12:30 Noon), look for a better place.

In general, it is much easier to discover good and inexpensive restaurants in the southern and southwestern U.S. and along the Pacific Coast. Traditionally, these areas had access to the largest variety of fresh food over the longest portion of the year. In most other places and that has influenced their cuisines.

Prince Edward Island in Canada is a notable exception, where even the most modest establishments are likely to serve fine, freshly made food, including sometimes fresh cooked veggies as a side to hamburgers! With its incredibly long growing season, the Vancouver area also has easy access to fresh food much of the year.

Eating at the best chain restaurants

Above: Although not a chain restaurant, Costco both in Canada and the USA offers snack bars open to non members that serve super value good quality fast food.

Costco's generous four cheese pizza slices in both countries fill you up cheaply and deliciously. In Canada nationwide, you find poutine on the menu, a traditional québécois dish.

As mentioned, Dr. Voyageur likes to seek out the best independent dining spots favoured by locals. However, sometimes you just do not have time, and will pick a chain place that you trust.

In Canada, for example, you find White Spot, a sit down restaurant chain in Alberta and British Columbia, which makes a fine regional choice, in part because it uses a lot of fresh foods.

For the most part, local small ethnic restaurants are the way to dine best in Canada on a budget. With traditionally high levels of immigration, ethnic choices are easy to find, even in small towns.

Some of the better U.S. chains, in various categories, include the following. Of course, the focus is on inexpensive food

  • Burger King: I mention this chain for one reason only. With its "BK Veggie," Burger King became the sole national burger chain that is truly vegetarian friendly. That means vegetarians now enjoy easy access to food they can eat throughout the U.S.

    This smart marketing move also provided a excellent product for people watching their fat intake. The BK Veggie delivers just 5mg of cholesterol compared to the Triple Whopper with 205 mg!

    In response to a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals request, Burger King rolled out its BK Veggie to every U.S. location, including the many it has at airports.

    Probably in shock over this victory, PETA featured this sandwich on its home page for ages.

    No positive news in yet from PETA's "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" and "McCruelty: I'm Hating It" campaigns.

  • Culver's, a regional fast food chain mostly in the Midwest, Arizona and Colorado that you should seek out wherever you can find. Superb quality for a chain place..

    Not very vegetarian or heart healthy friendly, but certainly delicious.

  • Popeye's. Something different. New Orleans tastes brought nationwide in U.S. "Dirty rice, " cornbread, etc.

  • Furr's Family Dining, "down home" in Texas and the Southwest: Very similar offerings to Luby's (see below), very slightly less expensive than Luby's.

    All in all, Furr's is an excellent place to have a balanced meal at a fair price, and most travellers will want to eat here when they can for the variety. Dr. Voyageur loves Furr's pecan pie and its macaroni and cheese.

  • Luby's Cafeterias Mostly Texas: Excellent made from scratch meals. Nice atmospheres. Low prices. Easy to select balanced diet. Special price for reduced size entries at many locations.

    Be sure to visit these highly recommended self-serve restaurants, which are not expensive. The locals expect good food and they get it.

  • Old Country Buffet (Called HomeTown Buffet in parts of the States).

    American family-style dishes. Lots and lots of variety. Often nice atmospheres. Very popular with senior citizens, although most locations are patronized by all age groups. Inexpensive.

    At these, one price includes all we care to eat, including drinks and a variety of desserts. High turnover and small portions cooked at one time tend to keep offerings fresh.

    However, quality varies somewhat amongst locations, and like all buffets and cafeterias, the food is best and freshest when the restaurant is busiest at peak mealtimes. All in all, a good choice while travelling, if, of course, you do not overeat.

  • Pei Wei: Limited menu and service version of its parent PF Chang's below.

  • PF Chang's: Excellent cooked fresh Chinese food and service in major U.S. urban areas. Surprisingly low cost for a sit down urban restaurant.

  • Whole Foods Markets, not restaurants, but a natural food supermarket chain in Canada and the U.S. that usually has a cafe and carry out counter for picnics and snacks. Many have juice bars. Huge selection. Highly recommended for staying healthy while travelling.

Go To >> Part I, Experiencing the best foods

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