Travel eats: Cheap local, fancy local, or fancy-fancy?

I got back last week from Curacao and noticed while I was on the island there seemed to be 3 basic types of restaurants that were always full.

The first were the small food stands, often a bar/restaurant, most were cash only places, and most seemed to be full of locals. They had a lot of stewed meat, fried and grilled fish, and dishes rich in yucca, plantain, etc. Your drinks options are for the most part beer, soda, or juice.

Second were the restaurants that still served local fare but in a little fancier setting, and the price is higher. Many of the restaurants attached to the hotels were this way. I tried the buffet at my hotel and didn't find the food to be any more flavorful than the street foods, but there was the added benefit (depending on your taste) of having the white tablecloths, a wine selection, and an attentive wait-staff.

The third restaurant style seemed to be purely marketed towards tourists. I inadvertently stumbled into one, and after seeing "Jumbo Hawaiian Shrimp, $40" on the menu told the waitress I'd left my wallet at home and would be right back. Why anyone would want hawaiian shrimp in the middle of the Carribbean was beyond me, and that was one of the average priced entree's too. (Lobster and shrimp you may ask? $70, no kidding.)

What do you look for in a restaurant when you travel? Are there any signs of a "must have" eat for you? Do you not mind shelling out extra since its a vacation anyway?

I noticed we gravitated toward the smaller food shacks, places with plastic tables and a lot of locals hanging around. Arepas, fried fish, stewed anything, and cheap "Polar" beer kept me for pretty much the entire trip.


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