There’s lots to consider when choosing a destination, whether you want to be in the heart of the city or at the edge of nature. You can have all-the-time beach weather or experience the changing seasons. Stay close to home or venture to the other side of the world. All of that is key, but the most important thing when choosing where you want to spend your holiday is probably the food.

Yes, the food. Only when happily fed do you really feel like you’re on vacation, like in Budapest, Lisbon, Playa del Carmen and Punta Cana, destinations known for its flavor and for the relax Iberostar Hotels guarantee.

Food (and drink) can complement every aspect of your trip. Combine exploring ancient ruins with a snack afterwards, or a local music performance with a typical cocktail. Liking the local cuisine of your chosen destination is crucial to fully immerse yourself in the culture, experience the hottest restaurants and bars, and interact with the locals. By doing some research beforehand you can set yourself up for success.

While some people like all types of food, if you’re someone who prefers sweet to savory, spicy to mild, or fish to meat, you’ll want to choose your destination wisely. To help you do so, compare and contrast a few destinations—whether you’re taking a weekend trip or planning your vacation for the year. Let the food guide you. You won’t regret it.

The Cities: Savory Lisbon vs. Sweet Budapest

These two European cities are at the top of everyone’s to-see list. Both have recently been infused with new energy. Artists, musicians, and, yes, chefs have filled the historic centers of these two cities with a vibe that’s attracting people from all over the world.

Both have the typical attractions, famous bridges, monuments, and lookouts over their respective rivers. But the banks of the Danube and Tagus are teeming with restaurants that are altogether different.

 

Bacalhau and much more

Lisbon is known for its rich dishes, many of which are made with the locals’ favorite fish: cod. Interestingly, the cod, or bacalhau as it is called in Portuguese, is not actually from Portugal.

Most of it is fished in Nordic waters or off of Newfoundland in Canada, where the Portuguese first found it when out exploring the world’s many seas. In fact, cod dishes are common not just in Portugal but in lots of former colonies including Brazil, Angola, and Goa in India. The fish is salted and dried—which made it great for sailors—and only later soaked in water to finally cook.

That soaking process can take days, and you’ll need to hit up hundreds of Lisbon restaurants to try what are said to be 1,000 different recipes to prepare cod. For starters, though, head to Doc Cod. It’s located on the water at the foot of the Ponte 25 de Abril and has gorgeous views, both of the bridge above and the Tagus below.

On their menu are some of the most popular preparations including grilled cod, fried cod balls, and bacalhau com natas, cod with a cream sauce (and potatoes), one of the richest preparations you can imagine. Another great option is Restaurante Luz, a modern restaurant located at Iberostar Selection Lisboa Hotel, where they modernize classic cod recipes in a very tasty plates. In addition to codfish dishes they have a cataplana seafood stew.

Much more than Mexican clichés

While staying at a resort in Playa del Carmen, food can get as spicy as you want it to be. Your Mexican favorites are all here, from guacamole, to ceviche and spicy chorizo tacos. For most, Mexican cuisine will be familiar, but there’s nothing like Mexican food in Mexico to show you what you’ve been missing back home. You won’t be disappointed just walking around town and following your nose, but some of the best and spiciest plates you’ll want to try at the city’s best restaurants.

The hippest taqueria on the main drag, Quinta Avenida, is Patio 8. Order one of their signature margaritas but then carefully study the menu for the food. Accompanying everything are a plethora of homemade salsas from mild to spicy-hot habanero. As an appetizer, consider the melted queso. It’s a mixture of melted cheeses with sautéed crimini mushrooms, bacon and jalapeño chiles. Then the various spicy taco options are endless from pork belly to ribeye to octopus and shrimp, a specialty with a cilantro and avocado sauce.

 

Dominican mixes 

On another pristine beach by the best resorts in Punta Cana, your taste buds will be rewarded quite differently. Caribbean food is more of a mix of Spanish, indigenous, and African. It tends to be less spicy, relying on starches like rice, yuca, and plantains to balance out a meat or fish dish. Salads and dairy products like cheese are much less common than in Mexico, but you won’t get enough of the mangos and other fruit.

The biggest meal of the day is definitely lunch, but “Los Tres Golpes" or "The Three Hits” breakfasts are a mainstay in the country. It’s a mix of three typical breakfast foods: boiled and mashed green plantains called mangú, fried eggs, and fried salami. Have that close to where you’re staying with a strong Dominican coffee to get your day started successfully.

Then head out for your next meal to La Casita de Yeya, a traditional Dominican restaurant. You can start your meal off with empanadas stuffed with everything under the sun—that can be found on or around the island. Move on to coconut lobster or another plantains dish called mofongo. It’s fried plantains that are mashed into a ball that absorbs sauces and flavors. At Yeya’s try the version with shrimp. For a formal affair, try El Galeón, a delicious restaurant located at Iberostar Grand Hotel Bávaro.