If you travel to eat, you should be following @theandrewcheng on Instagram. His profile compiles his adventures dining around the world, but even more so in his home base of San Francisco, where he frequently cracks the top 1% of Opentable bookers. But as anyone who has ever been to Barcelona expecting to eat life changing patatas bravas only to find stale french fries dribbled with plasticky mayonnaise knows, a successful food adventure is just as much about knowing where to go as it is actually getting there. We caught up with Cheng to find out his tips and tricks for eating well when on the road, and how to make those getaways a reality on a limited budget.
How Would You Describe Your Travel Style?
I would describe my travel style as meticulous. I get 15 days of PTO a year (that is accrued over time) in addition to some holidays, I have to be very strategic with how I travel. I can do a short weekend trip if it is within a certain radius of San Francisco like LA or Vegas, but otherwise I have to plan far ahead. I try to maximize my trip by making my shortlist of restaurants and then seeing what would actually be logistically possible with the days I have set aside. And then I try my best and hopefully enjoy. Can't have it all. And then I have to replenish financially after because the trip really adds up!
How Do You Find Amazing Places To Eat When On The Road?
I'll admit I do look at awards and lists. Not to accept them as gospel but to generate ideas. I like to hear where chefs, local critics, and traveling foodies frequent and endorse. And then sometimes I choose to go somewhere mainly because I have a personal connection at the restaurant itself or a friend really wants to go there, and it's about catching up with friends. Those may not necessarily be famous or "the best," but it's not about star-chasing. It's about where I am sincerely interested at that specific moment of my life. I'm not a food critic or a blogger. I don't have a sense of duty to go here or there and report on it. I'm an enthusiast with an iPhone who takes iPhone quality pictures.
What Are Your Top 5 Essential Dining Experiences Around The World?
I have been to some nice places globally, but I have many ways to go. Based only on my past experiences, I would say Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare (I haven't been to the new Manhattan location yet), Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Castagna in Portland, Sushi Saito in Tokyo, and the Ledbury in London.
Most Underrated Destination For Food Lovers? Why?
I'm going to say San Diego. It's not SF or LA, but it still has access to California produce and still has some talented cooks. The restaurants have to be market-oriented, and that style may not appeal to destination diners. But dig deep. Trey Foshee and chef de cuisine Jonathan Bautista do some really good work at George's California Modern for example.
Most Overrated Destination For Food Lovers? Why?
Hong Kong. There is good food, but overall the awards seem...a bit inflated. The Michelin Guide there is very generous. I go to Hong Kong for social reasons more than the dining scene.
Next Food/Travel Experience On Your Radar?
I have New Orleans and Nashville coming up. My first time at both. I really want to try Den in Tokyo, which I missed due to schedules not syncing. In 2018, my dream would be Australia (particularly Brae and Attica), Bilbao and San Sebastián area, and Montreal. I credit a childhood trip to Quebec for turning me on to food beyond just fuel. Joe Beef has been a dream for a while.