When you visit a foreign country as a tourist, you’ll never have the same experience as someone who has friends or family there. That is the sad truth. You can read every travel blog on the Internet, but you’re still not going to find that little out-of-the-way wine bar run by a former actor who now has a biodynamic farm and serves bar snacks made exclusively from his own produce. Or that old-school steak frites joint where the servers treat you just a little rudely (you know you like it), offer only one kind of wine (“the best”), and let you smoke inside a private room with funky metallic wallpaper (when in Rome…).
This, dear readers, is no longer true, at least as far as Paris is concerned. The cool kids at Le Fooding, an indie organization known for throwing artsy-foodie events around the world, has launched an English-language version of its France travel app ($6). To wit: Le Fooding’s hard-copy guide has been around for 13 years, and just this year, says managing partner Anna Polonsky, it surpassed the Michelin guide’s sales in France. The digital version has been live for three years, but this is the first time it’s available in English. That means you can actually read and understand the 1,000 restaurant reviews—including 400 in Paris—and hotel write-ups.
You can search by craving (sushi, Italian), price, or location. Or, if you don’t know what you want, you can shake your iPhone and the app will deliver a random answer, just like a Magic 8 ball. We just tried it and came up with a Cambodian joint housed in a former photography studio where “regulars, including the area’s best chefs, grab their Tsingtao beer from the fridge” and fried frog legs with lemongrass are on the menu. It’s those details that make this app worth downloading, despite the somewhat annoying horizontal-only viewing mode. Plus Le Fooding’s stamp of approval.
The biggest criteria for making the cut is that the reviewer, all selected by Le Fooding staffers, needs to want to go back. “Sometimes, a restaurant has perfect food or is super trendy, but you don’t want to go a second time for whatever reason,” says Polonsky. Pearl and Ash in New York City, for example, “would not be completely Le Fooding compatible,” she says. “It has all the stuff that would make it work—good wine, cool design—but for me, there was nothing really sincere. I don’t really remember what I ate, it wasn’t particularly memorable.” Their goal with the guides is to share those gems that express the “really personal visions of chefs and owners” with readers. And that’s what we all want, too.