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I'll have what he's having

It can be said with reasonable certainty that a new guide to restaurants is the first to feature a herring kiosk in Stockholm, a "wet burger" stand in Istanbul and a diner under a bridge in Hong Kong that majors in spicy crab, called Under Bridge Spicy Crab. These lesser-known eateries are among almost 1,000 restaurants, including dozens in Britain, recommended not by critics or reviewers, but a once-closed-off community of foodies who have the strongest claims to be experts.

Where Chefs Eat, published this week, features stalls and holes in walls alongside three Michelin-starred restaurants that need no introduction.

What brings them together are the tastes of chefs who recommend them. Away from their own kitchens, they seek out late-night snacks and budget meals as often as they do inspiration in the dishes of their rivals and mentors.

And so Strommingsvagnen, the herring wagon, is given equal billing in the Scandinavian chapter with Noma, considered by more traditional measures to be the best restaurant in the world (and recommended in Where Chefs Eat by more than 30 cooks). Elsewhere, René Redzepi, the brains behind Noma, doffs his white hat to a coffee shop and a wine bar in his home town of Copenhagen, as well as a bistro in Paris.

For the man who compiled the hefty directory, it was a chance to counter the hyperbole and obsession with ranking that followed the quiet launch of an earlier project.

As the former editor of Restaurant magazine, Joe Warwick commissioned a list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. "It was supposed to be a collection of restaurants people liked going to," he says from his home in London. "We wanted flash places next to un-fancy places."

Ten years later, the World's 50 Best Restaurants has become a branding beast with big-name sponsors and a voting system that makes the UN look like a parish council. Fearfully expensive restaurants dominate, led for the past three years by Noma, that become only more exclusive after they are included.

The book, which includes no rankings, also reflected changes in how chefs eat. Where once they were cooped up in their own basement kitchens for 18 hours a day, grabbing what they could after service, modern chefs, Warwick writes, "trawl the world for inspiration and eat around as much as they can closer to home; food is their passion and they love eating out".

This new itinerant, collaborative lifestyle can make chefs tough to pin down, however. Warwick and his team sent out a questionnaire to hundreds of cooks asking for tips in as many regions as possible. Restaurants were also divided into eight categories including breakfast, bargain, local favourite and "wish I'd opened". "We had a whole team chasing them," Warwick recalls.

Those who responded in time include some of the biggest names in the industry (Redzepi, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria) as well as young pretenders and those happy to cook quietly. "A lot of these guys cook very fiddly, fancy food," says Warwick, 41, who briefly worked in kitchens before going into food writing. "If they go to other restaurants like that it can feel like homework. They want something simple, more direct." The results of the survey, which will soon be reproduced as a smartphone app to accompany the book, "are not meant to be exhaustive, but a selection," Warwick adds.

"People ask me which restaurant has the most recommendations [Noma, incidentally] and I say, why ask? All lists are cultural fascism, if you think about it, because restaurants are subjective just like anything else."

Warwick is as well-fed as many top chefs but he, too, found inspiration in his insiders' guide, not least in those Turkish "wet burgers". What is a wet burger, exactly?

"It's a burger they steam in garlic tomato sauce that sounds like the most fantastic thing," he says. "I'd never heard of it but I really want to go there to have one now."

From a curry house in Tooting to a Stockholm herring shack, a new book reveals where chefs dine on their days off. By Simon Usborne

Where Chefs Eat includes some of Britain's most exclusive restaurants but there's also a strong showing of less well-known, affordable destinations. Of the 40 or so restaurants compiled under the "budget" category, here follow 10 British ones, in no particular order, with comments from the recommending chefs.