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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.

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.

In larger cities, utilize various Zagat Survey restaurant guidebooks to avoid disappointment. These are excellent and inexpensive.

Navigating without a guide

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

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

However, 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, including in much of Canada, the best budget food is usually ethnic food.

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 takes advantage of its easy access to fresh food much of the year.

Eating at the best chain restaurants

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.

Sadly, in Dr. Voyageur's experience, Canada does not have national non fast food chains that compare to the best U.S. ones.

However, White Spot, a sit down restaurant chain in Alberta and British Columbia, makes a fine regional choice, in part because it uses a lot of fresh foods and in part because its contemporary menu features the types of items like chipotle mayo and Nobashi prawns that people enjoy today, as well as old favourites like turkey with all the trimmings prepared well.

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 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, but also with some units in Arizona and Colorado, absolutely trumps the national chains in quality. Look for these. Not very vegetarian friendly.

  • 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 Texas and other locations from Arizona to Florida: 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, expanding from the Middle West to everywhere: American food at its blandest—pepper shakers provided at each table—although the food has become more flavorful in recent years. Lots and lots of variety. Often nice atmospheres. Very popular with senior citizens, although most locations are patronized by all age groups. Inexpensive.

    At Old Country, one price includes all we care to eat, including drinks and a variety of desserts. Its Internet site has menus. 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.

    In Colorado, Old Country Buffets are called Country Buffets. In California and elsewhere in Southwest, Old Country goes by the name HomeTown Buffet.

  • Olive Garden, everywhere: Often quite good Italian-style meals—and even better lately. Note the term Italian style, which implies modified to American tastes. Nice atmospheres. Moderate prices.

    One reader strongly disagreed with this recommendation, and in fairness the quality does vary considerably by location. Some chefs have been sent to Italy to upgrade their training; others have not.

  • Outback Steak Houses, expanding everywhere: A so-called Australian-style moderate-cost, mostly steak restaurant. Lipid city. Do not visit before your annual physical.

    Does not count toward our balanced meal requirement, but instead counts as five fast food meals. Fun atmosphere. Very popular. Moderate cost. Not a vegetarian paradise to put it mildly.

  • Papa John's Pizza: High quality fresh ingredients. The best of the widespread chain pizzas. Mostly takeout. Inexpensive to moderate cost.

  • Wendy's, almost everywhere, although because of its late start some locations may be less prominently located than those of its competition:

    Truly the best of the national hamburger chains by far. Lots of alternatives, including baked potato entries for lacto-vegetarians. Inexpensive.

  • Whole Foods Markets, not restaurants, but a natural food supermarket chain 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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