Food alone is reason enough for many of us to travel. How cool is it that every destination has its own local delicacies you can’t quite find anywhere else? For Julie Nguyen, the CEO and co-founder of Methodology, food has not only brought her to many of the world’s lesser-known and remote locations but it’s also been the leading force in her career.
Nguyen founded Methodology, a whole foods-focused food delivery subscription, with the mission to heal bodies and minds using food as medicine. She spent years researching with nutritionists, working with personal trainers, and traveling the globe in search of the best-tasting, most nutritious cuisine. During her world tour, she dined at a plethora of popular restaurants in the most touristed cities, but it’s the under-the-radar gems that stood out most to her. So she’s giving us her guide to the most underrated, off-the-beaten-path restaurants around the world:
“I live out of two suitcases and circle the globe to find the most delicious, nourishing, undiscovered recipes from around the world,” she says. “I use these recipes as inspiration to create innovative new menu items not found anywhere else. To do this well, I have to venture off the beaten path. These are the meals I still dream about eating again and again.”
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Sans Souci — A Comforting Okinawan Cafe in Okinawa, Japan
Few tourists in Japan make it to Okinawa and even fewer venture away from the central area of Okinawa. I came to Okinawa because it’s a blue zone known for having a large population of centenarians. I wanted to learn what Okinawans eat to live so long. I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks in Okinawa, which allowed me to explore restaurants undiscovered by most American tourists, including this hidden gem cafe. Prepare for a truly authentic local experience. The staff does not speak English and the menu is entirely in Japanese, but fortunately, the menu does include photos of everything. You really can’t go wrong here. I’m a rice lover so I ordered a rice bowl with creamy raw egg yolk on top and had one of their foot-tall 10-layer parfaits for dessert. If these parfaits were located anywhere else in the world that’s more accessible, Sans Souci would become an Instagram sensation with two-hour wait times.
But, alas, this cafe is in the middle of nowhere on an island that rarely gets crowded with tourists. The parfaits aren’t just special because of how visually stunning they are; the multiple layers also provide a variety of flavors, temperatures, and textures making it one of the most satisfying desserts I’ve ever had. Plus, it’s sweetened with local Okinawa black sugar that has its own unique mineral flavor. Okinawa is one of the top three favorite eating cities I’ve ever visited. I hope you make it here someday, and if you do, a pit stop at San Souci can’t be missed.
Pho Bo 8 Hang Da — Beef Pho Street Food in Hanoi, Vietnam
What kind of Vietnamese food adventurer would I be if I didn’t share my favorite pho restaurant in the world? Pho Bo 8 Hang Da is frequented entirely by locals. The pho here is made properly in a way you won’t find outside of Vietnam, even in places like Little Saigon in Orange County, where I grew up. The broth is incredibly flavorful yet light, the springy noodles are made freshly by hand each morning, and the beef melts in your mouth like butter. You’ll also want to add extra bone marrow to give the pho even more flavor, similar to what you’d get in Japanese ramen.
I personally never add sriracha or hoisin to my pho because I want to fully appreciate the subtle flavors of the beef and pho spices. I do eat tons of herbs with my pho though. Bring on the cilantro and scallions! This is a must-have meal if you’re ever in Hanoi. They’re also only open until they sell out, so get there early for breakfast.
Frenchie Pigalle — Modern European Cuisine in Paris, France
In 2021 I spent two months eating my way through Paris, and this restaurant stands out as my absolute favorite. I love so many things about this restaurant. First, they don’t take reservations, so it’s perfect if you didn’t make plans because so many of the best spots in Paris are booked months out. Second, the menu is insanely creative with to-die-for flavors. I’m not a fan of stuffy, old-fashioned French food and this place is just the opposite. It’s casual, modern, and innovative. I brought local Parisians here, and they agreed it’s one of the best restaurants in Paris that they’ve tried and were shocked they hadn’t heard of it!
I think the reason why this place doesn’t get a ton of hype is because it opened during the pandemic. Frenchie Pigalle is from chef and restaurateur Gregory Marchand, who operates Frenchie and other fine dining restaurants, so it isn’t a gem created by a little-known chef out of nowhere, but rather a more free-spirited take on French dining. I went to Frenchie Pigalle twice in one week and tried the entire menu. Every dish was memorable and worth eating again. My favorite dish I still dream about is their veal sweetbread nuggets you dip into cream and caviar. It’s like eating the most decadent and adult version of fried chicken nuggets dipped in a creamy ranch dressing. Definitely try their veggie dishes as well. Few restaurants in the world have figured out how to make vegetables taste as comforting as this place has.
Pinku Fish & Wine — Modern European Seafood in Split, Croatia
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Croatia has stunning beaches and nature treks, but when talking about traveling to the country most wouldn’t call it a top food destination. That being said, if you ever find yourself in Croatia, I discovered a seafood restaurant that I still dream about in Split called Pinku Fish & Wine. I am very picky about seafood. I can’t stand when seafood is overcooked, and I’m bored with rustic preparations of fish that just have salt, pepper, lemon, and maybe some herbs. Pinku is delivering the seafood I crave, where they pair their dishes with creative produce and sauces that bring out the flavor and textures in the fish with a perfect balance and contrast.
The menu changes regularly, but Pinku uses the freshest seafood caught just that morning. One of my favorite dishes there was cuttlefish “noodles” with pickled egg, onion, and fish consommé. The cuttlefish was sweet and full of umami with a soft yet firm texture. Not chewy at all. The pickled egg brought out the sweetness in the cuttlefish and the fish consommé created a juicy mouthfeel. I loved this restaurant so much that I ate here multiple times while in Croatia. Make sure you book in advance or queue outside right before they open because the restaurant is tiny and fills up.
O Magano — A Traditional Portuguese Restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal
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Portugal is one of the best places to eat in the world in terms of value. You get elevated and skilled cookery on par with what you’ll find in Spain, Italy, and France but for half the price. I started this trip by trying all the restaurants recommended by Anthony Bourdain. He’s an idol of mine, and I’m sure at the time he visited his top picks really were the best places to eat in Portugal. However, when I spent time there in 2021, I’d say that my top picks would have zero overlap with those of Bourdain because things have changed a lot. O Magano is one of my top picks for underrated Lisbon restaurants.
Sure, there were a few other spots I loved, but those are packed spots that make it onto most online lists and guides. O Magano floats under the radar and I had to learn about it from local food snobs who laugh at the “tourist trap” places Americans typically go to in Lisbon. When you walk in here you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time; it is the kind of place that hasn’t changed in decades and that’s why the locals have been coming back for years. The menu caters to locals with traditional dishes you won’t easily find at places that cater to tourists. I came specifically for the arroz de cabidela, a unique hen and rice dish that also includes hen’s blood and vinegar. For those that might be unsure, the blood didn’t have a very strong flavor, it seemed to mostly make the dish darker and creamier. Chicken and rice is one of my favorite meals that I could eat almost every day, and this Portuguese variation was intensely comforting and hearty.