CNN’s Anthony Bourdain can introduce you to foods in exotic places on Parts Unknown and PBS’ Rick Steves can take you to his favorite European restaurants on his travel shows. But in his new, six-part Netflix Original documentary series premiering today, Somebody Feed Phil, the Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal will show you fantastic places to eat on the cheap around the world and make you laugh along the way.
“I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain if he was afraid of everything,” Rosenthal told me. In the show, he calls himself “Rick Steves without the knowledge or the sex appeal.”
Rosenthal’s advice will come in handy for many boomers this year. A recent AARP survey of 714 boomers found that boomers expect to take four or five leisure trips in 2018, on average, spending almost $6,400. And roughly half of them (47 percent) said they plan to travel domestically and internationally.
Good Eats From New Orleans to Tel Aviv
In his new series, a follow-up to the James Beard Foundation award-winning I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in 2015, Rosenthal plunks himself down in six locales — New Orleans, Saigon, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Mexico City and Bangkok — and pigs out (well, not exactly, in kosher Tel Aviv spots). Rosenthal, 56, calls hosting and producing the food and travel shows his encore career after success writing and producing sitcoms like Raymond and Coach.
Sometimes on Somebody Feed Phil, Rosenthal is joined by celebrity friends like actor Wendell Pierce and Israeli-born James Beard award-winning Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov. Occasionally, he befriends local adults and kids; one girl in Vietnam said he looked like Mr. Bean (the wide-eyed Rowan Atkinson sitcom character), which isn’t far off.
In every episode, Rosenthal — who calls himself “a Jewish kid from Queens” — makes a hysterical Skype call to his parents in the states (they’re inspirations for the Raymond parents), telling him about the latest delicacies he discovered. The show is truly a family affair; Rosenthal’s brother Rich is executive producer.
From Fine Dining to Fabulous Street Food
Occasionally, Rosenthal will film at a fancy schmancy restaurant, like Mashya in Tel Aviv or Shaya in New Orleans (Shaya’s executive chef, Israeli-born Alon Shaya, no longer works there and plans to open another restaurant). But Rosenthal is just as happy finding spectacular street food, chowing down in diners and binging at bakeries.
When he vacations, just like on Somebody Feed Phil, “maybe there’s one big splurge because what the hell, you’re there! But the rest of the time, I eat where everybody else does,” Rosenthal said. “I can be happier with a hot dog than a sit-down, four-hour meal with a fine, white tablecloth. All I care about is that it’s delicious. The meal can cost $1 or $300.”
Unlike food snobs, Rosenthal is “looking for the experience of a regular guy like with regular tastes.”
A Few of Phil Rosenthal’s Favorite Things to Eat
A few examples from the new series, with some of Rosenthal’s gushes:
New Orleans (which he calls “a gumbo of fun”): Rosenthal lovingly devours a Po-Boy sandwich at a neighborhood market and restaurant, Bevi Seafood; “the best fried chicken in the world” at Willie Mae’s and an omelet at Camellia Grill. After ravenously eating a vegetarian Reuben sandwich at Turkey and The Wolf (Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant of 2017), Rosenthal jokes: “Their slogan should be Bring Your Appetite and Your Defibrillator.”
Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City): Here, he stops for pho — an “amazing” soup that takes all night to cook — at curbside stand, Pho Bo Phu Gia; nibbles on the Vietnamese sandwich banh mi at what looks like a hot dog cart; fills up on “spicy comfort food” at Cau Ba Quan and slurps hot chocolate at Maison Marou (“every bit as good as what I’ve had in France”).
Tel Aviv: He has “one of the best breakfasts you’ll ever have” at Dr. Shakshuka — shakshuka is a North African stew of eggs poached in tomato sauce. At Zakaim, a Persian-style vegan-friendly restaurant, Rosenthal goes for “like the best chips and dip you ever had.” And at the Shuk HaNamal market, he kvells over the Sherry Herring sandwich, calling it “one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life.”
His Tips to Find the Best Places to Eat When Traveling
True confession: My family and I took some of Rosenthal’s Barcelona dining tips from I’ll Have What He’s Having when we took a family trip to Spain in 2016. He was spot on.
I told him that and said partly based on that show, I’ve since let my wife know I won’t vacation anywhere not known for great food. It’s why we’ll be heading to Greece this year, not Croatia.
Rosenthal took issue: “Ask people who’ve been to Croatia and Google it online.” He believes I’ll find terrific places to eat and maintains can find tasty meals practically anywhere.
His advice on how to do it: research, research, research. Don’t just pick a restaurant because it gets a great Yelp review, Rosenthal said. “Yelp is a very good place to start, but sometimes the No. 1 restaurant on Yelp is No. 1 because of price. Other times, it’s right on the money. I may start with Yelp, but I cross-reference with Google to see what else comes up.”
Also, Rosenthal advises, once you arrive in a city or town that’s new to you, ask locals where they eat. “Nine times out of 10 they’ll know better than you. They live there,” he said.
Rosenthal hopes his new show will motivate viewers to travel the world after watching him eat in “earth’s greatest hits,” adding that “food and humor are the way to get you to do it.”
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