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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2008

Where the locals eat

When my college roommate and her husband, who live in another state, visit us once or twice a year, we always try to have dinner at a local restaurant to give them a taste of Toledo.

Over the years, we've uncovered a variety of restaurants, from small and cozy neighborhood locations to dining rooms with a view in downtown Toledo. We've managed to have Mexican and Italian food, visit steak houses, and enjoy seafood menus, as well as ballpark food.

We try not to take our friends to the same place twice.

If you have a visitor from out of town or out of state, what five local restaurants would be on your list? And when was the last time you had lunch or dinner there? Don't forget about breakfast and Sunday brunches, too.

In recent months, I've been saddened to hear of the closing of a number of local restaurants where the chefs were trying to do exciting, creative dishes. As I was writing the Taste of the Nation story for this page, I began comparing the restaurants who participated in last year's event and those involved this year.

We're missing Diva restaurant and Fifi's restaurant, both now closed.

I know the competition for customers is great and that everyone's disposable income has been dropping with the economy. But I can only encourage diners to consider local restaurants when deciding where they'll eat out. That's not to say that chain restaurants aren't worthy of our attention, too. But variety in the culinary world is always interesting. And Toledo surely has a variety of restaurants, as exhibited by the 30-plus who are involved in Taste of the Nation Toledo.

Conversely, when visiting a city, whether for business or pleasure, do you frequent the local dining rooms? You can ask the concierge at your hotel for the inside scoop. Some folks use the Zagat guides, local newspapers, and travel guides to help them find a local dining room where they can splurge, graze, or enjoy fabulous drinks.

A new dining guide is now available:

Where the Locals Eat: The 100 Best Restaurants in the Top 50 Cities

(Magellan Press, 2007, $11.95). It doesn't just focus on the high-end restaurants; it also tells where you can get the greatest hot dog or the best home cooked meat loaf.

If you are going to Fort Lauderdale, the best oysters are said to be at Southport Raw Bar.

In Columbus, the Best Spanish is listed as Barcelona and the Best Home-style is Brownstone on Main.

In Cleveland, Lola Bistro & Wine Bar is listed as the Best Contemporary (one of Michael Symon's restaurants, see article at right).

If Indianapolis is your destination, have the Best German food at The Rathskeller.

In Pittsburgh, the Best Brunch is said to be in Grand Concourse.

In May, Magellan Press will publish guides to cities such as Columbus, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. (Each book will be $14.95.)

In October, a second grouping of cities will be have their own guide books, including Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Orlando.

Travelers may want to carry a guidebook with them. As for the rest of us who are staying in our hometowns, start your own list of favorite local restaurants. Then methodically visit them one a week, one a month, or whatever your budget allows.

Or just try one when you're too hungry to cook.

Bon appetit!



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