As summer reaches its August peak (yes, it’s foggy this morning in San Francisco) and as families get desperately creative with their staycations, I’ve been reminiscing about those old car trips of my youth: my mom hopelessly lost somewhere between Denver and St. Louis, my sister and I — oblivious in the backseat — singing “Popeye, the Sailor Man!” over and over and over and over, and our many stops at Church’s Chicken and Taco Bell, the two places we were guaranteed to find spicy food.
Remember those days, long before Chowhound and Yelp, Google and Mapquest, when forays into new culinary terrain were truly crapshoots? (Cue up the old-timey nostalgia music…) To find good food in an unfamiliar town, you had to depend on three important tricks: Identifying well-fed locals with a keen sense of direction. Quickly judging a restaurant by the number and types of vehicles parked out front (or be strong enough to enter, scope out the menu and dining room, and then opt to leave a restaurant with absolutely no shame at all). And, most crucial of all, befriending taxi drivers and policemen.