Tourist restaurants, especially the ones in sought after, tourist locations, are more likely to offer a disappointing culinary experience compared to restaurants located in less popular neighborhoods.
There are a few reasons which explain this, one of them being the fact that they want to turn tables fast in order to accommodate more diners. Fast in this case however, can mean sloppy. Another reason for poor cooking is location. Because these tourist restaurants are situated in very attractive tourist spots, they probably won't run out of clients because their clients are usually fresh, walk-ins, so they don't really care that much. And finally, they may think that just because you are a tourist, you may never return back and they don't need to impress you.
In order to avoid being served major disasters, there are a few simple things that you can take into consideration, before you decide what to order in a tourist restaurant:
First, keep your order simple and local. If you are in a tourist Italian restaurant, order pasta, fish, meatloaf or even a platter of prosciutto and melon. If you are in a tourist French restaurant order steak or a cheese platter. In Spain, any fresh meat or fish tapas would do. Don’t complicate things for them, even if they offer to, with fancy menu items.
Another rule is that grill items are usually fresh, since they have to be prepared at the last minute. More complicated dishes are more likely to be prepared in advance since they take too much time, so they don't do them daily and they won`t be that fresh.
It is also safe to say that the less popular items are less likely to be fresh. So it is not a bad idea to ask the waiters for recommendations. Try to "grill" them into telling you what is really good at that restaurant and what is their best seller. Tell them that if they don't get it right, they will hear it from you! But do try to keep this conversation in a fun tone!
Another way to spot fresh food is to visit a restaurant with high traffic. Inevitably, if they are selling a lot they will probably order fresh stuff daily.
Finally, even though locals do not usually go to tourist venues, if you find them at a restaurant, it means that you are probably at the right place.