Starbucks food tourist traps

10 food tourist traps to avoid

by Michael on January 23, 2012

We’ve all fallen for them; food places the guidebooks say you absolutely must try when visiting a certain city.  So we join all the other tourists who’ve read the same guides and wait on long lines for what turns out to be overrated, mediocre, and often overpriced food. Here are the top ten food tourist traps we’ve come across in our travels:

1)  Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn 

We love traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations for great food. Too bad that was not the case at this Brooklyn institution where we were served a rather pedestrian steak.  Afterwards we asked the waiter which was his favorite and he replied that he was a vegetarian. Maybe we should have followed his example and stuck with the salad.

2)  Berthillon Ice Cream, Paris

Located on the chic Ile Saint- Louis in the heart of Paris, this establishment isn’t terrible, but it does nothing to justify its consistently long lines. Paris is not a big ice cream town so in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In any other city Berthillon would not stand out.

3)  The “Original” Starbucks, Seattle 

Located in the Pike Place Market, it’s actually the second Starbucks, but the oldest remaining. Passengers disgorge from the nearby cruise ship terminal and create lines that stretch up the street for the same beverage that can be had around the block with no wait.

4)  Pat’s/Geno’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

These two cheesesteak vendors in our home city are able to survive by selling less than mediocre cheesesteaks to out-of-town visitors and post-game Flyers fans. This is a case where a tourist is better off asking a local where to get the best cheesesteak. Be prepared though, ask ten Philadelphians which is their favorite and you might get ten different answers. We’re partial to John’s Roast Pork and the Fire Steak at Jake’s Sandwich Board.

5)  Singapore Sling, Singapore

This drink was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. They charge $20 for the concoction, which isn’t even made by hand anymore. Tourists pack the place by the busload to fork over their money, down the drink in about five minutes and leave. To show how marked up the price is, the Raffles in Siem Reap, Cambodia charges $9 for the same beverage.

Singapore Sling

We admit we fell for the $20 Singapore Sling, but afterwards Michael said he felt dirty

6)  Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Los Angeles

Catering to hungry Los Angelenos since 1939, it’s street cred has kicked up a notch with its appearance in the opening credits of Entourage. We waited in line for 45 minutes before even getting to order. The hot dog was good but not worth the time spent.

7)  Ted Drewes Custard, Missouri 

Famous among food writers who recommend the “concrete,” basically a really thick shake that is handed to you upside down to show it is so thick that it won’t fall out of the cup. The only thing they forgot to pack into it was flavor.

8)  Any Chicago-style pizza, Chicago

It’s not pizza. Change the name to Chicago-style casserole and we’ll give it a another try.

9)  Skyline Chili, Cincinnati

This one pains us because we have family we love very much in Cincinnati who eat this stuff all the time and we hope they’ll still talk to us. For a better example of this regional favorite head on over to the original Camp Washington Chili.

10)  Pizza and steak, Buenos Aires

We were so excited to go to Buenos Aires based on the reputation of its Italian food, particularly pizza, and steak. Sorry to report that neither was any good. The pizza has a puffy, doughy crust, way too much cheese and a bland sauce. It looked just liek frozen pizza. The steak is served well-done. We tried to order it rare at several places and it still came well done. I don’t care how good the beef is if it’s cooked into submission.

Pizza Buenos Aires

Disappointing pizza in Buenos Aires.

If you’re looking for recommendations for a city try going to Chowhound. It’s a place where foodies are not shy about cheering, or jeering, their local establishments.

What overrated food places can you add to the list?

Joanne January 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

When we were in Philly last summer, we stopped at Geno’s for cheesesteaks. We waited on a long line in the hot sun. Not very exciting. What did we know, we were out of towners. The best ones are the ones I make at home with Steakums. But sadly shortly after our trip, we heard that Geno had passed away.

Us January 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm

We used to have Steakums in school when I was a kid. But that was in New York, what did we know about cheesesteaks?

donna January 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Yes but, just try moving out of the Philly area and LONGING for a Philly cheesesteak! It has to be the most frustrating thing! No one, no where can get it right, first of all, the bread stinks, then go from there! It’s just one of those things that can’t be done out of the greater Philadelphia region! And, I’m not even talking about the center city rivals!

Us January 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm

We did just have a pretty decent one in Cambodia, probably because it was on a baguette. But they did insist on putting green peppers on it–which seems to happen whenever we have an “out of Philly” steak. Definitely changes things. Thanks for checking in, but please stop making our mouths water 🙂

Xian Yu January 26, 2012 at 9:29 am

Possibly satay celup in my country. It’s just basically food boiled in a gravy. But it gets addictive, although I think you can create your own recipe and have it at home.

Us January 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Boiled food has never been one of our favorites.

Pete January 28, 2012 at 1:29 am

There is something to be said for having to experience the places billed as “world famous” or “home of the original ____” at least once, so that you can appreciate when you find a better one elsewhere. There is also a certain intellectual’s snobbery about being able to look down on a place because it’s gone tourist-riddled and is riding on perhaps past glory. Gives you a chance to show your superiority over others who have gone only to the touristy place (or if there is a real elaborate pecking order, maybe allows you to be snobbish to the person who is enlightened enough to have found an alternate place, but not illuminated enough to know about the even better/more authentic third place, and so on.

Sad to see what has become of the Starbucks on Pike Place. I never went into it much when I lived there (something about not drinking coffee) but I walked past it frequently and it didn’t have such hordes then (the cruise ship terminal on Bell Street hadn’t been built yet) I believe it is the only Starbucks left where you still can see the full detail on the mermaid logo, including her, um, ballast tanks.

For overrated tourist trap guidebook-ruined places I would nominate:
* Any of the bar/restaurant places in Key West claiming to be associated with Hemingway and Sloppy Joes (There are about 3 or 4 places that claim to have invented the “Sloppy Joe”.

* Tea at the Empress Hotel, Victoria, BC (non-Hotel guests). Victoria as a whole is insanely touristy for the 10 square blocks the cruise tourists visit, centered on the grand old hotel herself (and Victoria is also the “retirement capital of Canada” which doesn’t help). The famous tea is, if you are a non-hotel guest something of an underwhelming affair with an assembly line atmosphere (they have something like 6 sittings from 11AM trhough till 6–who has “tea” at 11AM?). If you are in fact staying in the hotel, the meal/tea is the same, but it takes place in a separate room set off from the hordes and is thus a different and much more pleasant experience. I’ve done it both ways, and its no comparison.

* Phillipe The Original in Los Angeles (a few blocks from Union Station). There’s that phrase again–“the original” home of the “French Dip” sandwich is highly overrated when it’s crowded near lunchtime–the multiple lines reminded me of a stadium bathroom at halftime. Maybe at 3:30 in the afternoon when it isn’t busy I’d have had a better image of the place. But I dare say I got a better sandwich later that day at Terminal 8 of LAX. They do have one admirable quality, though it was irrelevant to me. A cup of coffee is still only 9 cents (although it is more if you want decaf or you want it to go). Take that Starbucks.

Us January 28, 2012 at 2:29 am

Those hotel teas usually are a rip-off. We could have added the one at the Raffles in Singapore if we felt like spending the 50 bucks each on it. But we didn’t.

John Discepoli January 30, 2012 at 11:09 am

Skyline slammed as a top 10 overrated, oh the horror. While Camp Washington is very good, try the chili cheese omelettte at Price Hill Chili, with a side of goetta. Skyline is best for its convenience, they are everywhere, and hours of operation, often open late. If that fails, there is always White Castle.

Us January 30, 2012 at 11:23 am

Don’t get us started on White Castle–that’s a major point of disagreement between the two of us

John Discepoli January 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm

who is on which side of the White Castle debate?

Us January 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Do you even have to ask?

Jerry September 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

Pepe’s and Sally’s pizza on Wooster Street in New Haven’s Little Italy are always recommended by travel writers. But the lines are long and the crust is burnt. Meanwhile, Abate’s, also on Wooster Street, and Modern Pizza on State Street, are just as good with no waiting.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about their white clam pizza!

Michael September 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm

My brother took me there for pizza and I totally agree with your recommendations.

Rich January 23, 2016 at 11:20 pm

The worst pizza in NYC is Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn near the bridge. Rude owners, negligent staff and pizza that I swear is painted with something like latex cheese. Awful.

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