As we celebrate Taste of our Towns festival, or TOOT as it’s affectionately known, this month in Lewisburg, West Virginia, I was reminded how significant an excellent, locally-sourced meal can enhance your travel experience. Theoretically, meals should reflect the pride and personality of the region – from crawfish boils in the South Carolina to lobster in Maine to cheesesteaks in Philly. Sumptuous, flavorful meals should also feature the ingredients found in that destination. Here in Greenbrier county, we are fortunate enough to have fresh, farm-to-table fruits, veggies and meats. You know you won’t experience those flavors at chain restaurants, but how do you find those scrumptious, authentic experiences in a new city?

CVBs can guide your next culinary adventure: When traveling how do you find that “local place” that captures the culinary soul of the place you’re visiting? It’s easy… if you know where to look. First, let me be the first to introduce you to the official tourism bureau (also known as CVB for Convention and Visitors Bureau). Every state and most regions, cities and towns have an official bureau of experts dedicated to helping you savor every moment of your visit. I have discovered that only a few of the American traveling public even knows this resource is available to them. Greenbrier Valley has one of the best in the nation. Their helpful staff can assist in recommending recreational activities, hotels and, of course, the best restaurants.

Is there a catch with CVB’s? There’s no hidden catch or gimmick. CVBs are usually funded by the points of interest and government dollars fueled by bed tax. Suffice it to say, these organizations are in-the-know about what’s top-quality and are invaluable in your vacation planning.

How do you find a CVB in your next vacation destination? When doing your online homework, type in “the destination name” plus the letters CVB into a browser search. The first result should be the CVB’s website. Look around a bit at what and the places they are promoting. And if you want to get real specific, call them and ask where to go to get an excellent meal. Believe me, they’ll know.

Do Your Research: Traveling can be stressful, so remember to slow down and go easy on yourself. It’s okay to eat at a chain restaurant or the hotel on your first night in a new place. But I strongly encourage you to make a list of places you wish to try while you’re traveling. For example, to eat delicious, local food in Lewisburg, visit places like Food and Friends (and check out the market next door), The French Goat, and Stardust Cafe. Local restaurants like these love to hear you’ve “selected” them on your vacation. Send them a quick email in advance and, if appropriate, make a reservation. Sometimes the chef or the owner might drop by your table while you’re there. Depending on how tech savvy you are, you might want to tweet, Facebook or Instagram that you are excited to eat at a particular place. If the restaurant is paying attention, they’ll notice and appreciate the online shout out.

Go on…Just Try a Bite: While we are on the subject of awesome food…I say, when traveling, make an effort and try the local food. Even if you don’t fall in love with the flavors, you can wear that mental badge of culinary courage. You’ll be able to verify if shrimp and grits tastes different in the south, discern levels of hoppiness from micro-breweries across the nation, and swear you’ve tasted the best BBQ in your life from this little hole-in-the-wall you stumbled on in your last trip (it’ll be our secret that you received a tip from the local CVB).

My waistline is unequivocal evidence that I love food and certainly love to travel. So on your next vacation, do your research, be a little daring, and make food part of the travel fun!

– Erik the Travel Guy ie Erik Hastings, Hashtag #94. October 2017.

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