For my father, dinner has always been something you do because it's the appropriate hour (8 p.m. sharp), and it's the best opportunity to gather the family together. Thus, picking a restaurant growing up was more about the atmosphere of a place or mood we were in, rather than the specificities of a menu. We were never allowed to order appetizers. To my father, a man who's devoted his life to insuring the auto industry, appetizers are factory floor mats on a new car. You don't actually need them, and they only serve to drive the price upward.
Maybe it was rebellion that led me to become a food and beverage journalist. Maybe I just wanted an appetizer. Regardless, like millions of people around the planet, I now travel specifically for food in the way my father drives a car - simply for the sheer joy of the experience. The things we are personally passionate about become a journey, not a destination. For me, that's food. That's a cold cocktail on a warm night, sitting al fresco, eating some appetizer I could never get back home.
I hit up my favorite chefs, bartenders, cookbook authors and food-savvy peers to compile a list of must-have apps for food travelers. It may be "about the journey," but occasionally having a reservation helps make that journey seem like a first-class flight of fancy … rather than, say, a half-deflated life raft in storm-tossed seas.
Best food app
This app is like Travelocity-meets-a-ticket scalper for your Friday night foie gras. I like Travelocity, and I like buying scalped tickets. Thus, I'm happy someone arranged to let me book tables on my phone. It feels a little like skipping the line at Six Flags, only with dinner and cocktails.
Perks: It works on every type of phone, and it's so easy, your 75-year-old grandmother could figure it out.
Cons: They list Beirut as a possible location to peruse. Then when you click on Beirut (I mean, come on — who's not going to click on Bruit?) Open Table informs you that it can't access that region. Why even list it Open Table?
Best cocktails app
Flip N Drink
Gary Regan, creator of this app, is arguably one of the top 10 authorities on classic mixology in the world. This one won't tell you where to find the best cocktails, but if you are sitting in a speakeasy, it's your go-to for figuring out what you want to drink.
Pros: Gorgeous drink photos are tapped to reveal recipes and an option for "if you like this, then try" which lets you expand your booze horizons. The "Cocktailian Conversations" button gives you a bit of history on the drink, as well.
Cons: It does allow you to save drinks to a favorites list, but it would benefit from a way to photograph and/or take notes on places and drinks for future reference.
Best beer app
Warning. My male cohorts are serious about beer. They are the crazy bearded, tattooed fools who line up for a taste of some cask-conditioned ale at a subterranean beer hall no one has ever even heard of — yet. In an email to 20 of them asking for the best app on beer, Untappd came back 20 times.
Pros: People can chime in about beers they have experienced on each bar's page. So, you will know not to order the Abigale Ale, because Mike Someone thinks it has a weird finish.
Cons: When you ask it for nearby beer bars in a large city like New York, it gives you options that might be several miles from your current location. Manhattan is not New Jersey last time I checked.
Best for capturing and sharing the moment
You take a photo on your iPhone, snaz it up with a combination of cool filter effects and 'Voila!' - any idiot can come away with a truly appetizing photo. Sit back and pat your full belly in self-satisfaction that your friends back home are sufficiently jealous that you just ate mussels in Brussels.
Pros: It becomes a photo journal of your life and the lives of your friends that gives a tiny glimpse of momentary pleasures.
Cons: You are now that annoying person who wants to photograph the mac & cheese before digging in.
Fairly new, Forkly is more like Facebook-meets-Twitter-meets-Foursquare for food lovers. You can post photos, check-in places, rate dishes, write reviews and earn followers to become a 'tastemaker.' Just quit your job now. This is going to demand all your time.
Pros: You can keep excellent tabs on things you love or hate, making this an ultimate tool for showing out-of-town guests an ideal tour of your city.
Cons: It's not immediately easy to figure out. You have to play with it for a bit to get the hang.
Best city-specific APP:
Started by a couple of guys who are passionate about food but sick of the thick pretention it's recently been wrapped in, Immaculate Infatuation brings you wickedly hilarious and truthful reviews of restaurants in New York. Occasionally, they take it on the road, but mainly it's just the five boroughs.
Pros: They review every level of dining experience, and, unlike many magazines that cower to advertising pressure, these boys keep it real.
Cons: I wish they had more photos of dishes.