Find a cheap (and tasty) restaurant

Looking for a bite in an unfamiliar town? You've got to get out of your food comfort zone.

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By Tyler Cowen, Money Magazine contributing writer

(Money Magazine) -- When you're visiting a strange city, you're likely to seek out spots that seem comfortable or familiar -- especially at mealtime.

But heading to centrally located Restaurant Row, full of tourists just like you, is the worst possible way to find the magical combination of delicious food and low prices. Knowing some economic rules can help you find restaurants that offer both, no matter what part of the world you find yourself in.

First of all, one of a restaurant's biggest costs is rent. For menu prices to be low, what the eatery pays for its location generally has to be low too. So head for hard-to-find spots that are patronized mainly by locals.

Believe it or not, humble strip malls (those without name-brand "anchor" tenants) often contain such places.

Don't know any residents? Ask your hotel bellman where he eats.

Second, wherever there are significant immigrant populations, there's usually inexpensive, tasty food. Ethnic restaurants serve customers who are both discerning and price-sensitive. The larger a given immigrant group in an area, the higher the quality of food tends to be.

And competition among similar kinds of restaurants tends to keep prices low. (In northern Virginia, where I live, you can get a delicious Salvadoran meal for about $6.) If you're traveling where there's a large Vietnamese neighborhood, say, make a beeline there for dinner and you can't go wrong.

Want to save even more? Studies show you spend more on food when you're hungry. So munch on some peanuts before heading out. Just don't get them from the minibar.

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To top of page

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