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Places that it's tough to get a bad meal

  • l

I've been a few places in my life where getting a bad meal seems impossible, (and plenty more where you need every bit of help you can get.) Places that as long as you show a little common sense, render this board and other guides unnessecary. Tuscan countryside, Paris, Rome and actually, that's all. Can anyone else think of anywhere else that most places, as long as they aren't in an overly touristy area, and look like they'll be good are?


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  1. The Langhe region (around Alba) of the Piemonte in Italy is hard to beat. In fact, from Turin south to Cuneo it is hard to get a bad meal. While the region does attract a good number of culinary tourists (mostly Swiss & German) during white truffle season (November into January), the balance of the year is relatively quiet tourist-wise compared to most parts of Northern & Central Italy.

    1. Thailand. Kuala Lumpur (see my recent post). Istanbul.

      1. Brussels

        1. It's got to be Brussels. I've lived here for three years by now, and I can't remember more than one distinctly bad meal. I notice that wherever I go, it doesn't compare to what I'm used to. I've several friends from Paris who agree that the average is much higher here. So I'll come back with a report and explain more detail.

          The Basque country in Spain is another obvious place where it's hard to go wrong.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jonas
            world traveler

            The northern coast of Spain--particularly Galicia.

            1. re: Jonas

              We will be visiting Brussels this Sept. Can you recommend some places to go? Thanks!

            2. Cannot agree with Paris. It's perfectly possible to eat poorly there, same with the Basque region of Spain and Tuscany. I agree with Thailand and would add Singapore annd Hong Kong. You'd really have to be seeking out rubbish to eat badly in those places.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Tony Finch

                I disagree strongly with Hong Kong. Unless you head for the "destination" places, you'll encounter mediocre food at every turn, even from places with lines out the door.

                When I was working there on a stingy per diem, I often threw my hands up and went to places like Cafe de Coral for REALLY cheap lousy food to keep body and soul together, and saved my money for the gaming (not the dinner) tables of Macau.

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  To be honest I've never been to Hong Kong. I was repeating what a friend told me about it. He loved the food there, but maybe he just chose well and didn't get to the poor places.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    Really? I am surprised since most restaurants in HK that I have been to are decent. Granted, they might not be my all-time favourite but if you use some common sense, you will get above average food. The main reason is because of competition since there are thousands of restaurants in this town and if the place is not up to par, it won't last long. Even in the last few months, some of the traditional brand name restaurants have closed down. Which district of HK did you live in?

                    The other city that I think is easy to find good food is Tokyo. You can wander around the city, walk into a ramen store or a local restaurant and get decent food.

                    1. re: Gary Soup

                      I agree (with your disagreement) ... I can only think of a couple bad meals we had there over the course of two+ years (mostly in Happy Valley) and they were at sort of hip, "happening" places in the Hollywood Road area that placed coolness above cuisine (before SoHo really existed). Two years ago we ate stupendously for 4 days, and none of our meals were particularly high-end. Hong Kong is definately at the upper reaches of my "food destination" list.

                  2. r
                    Robb Satterwhite

                    I agree with Thailand, especially Bangkok - it's really hard to go wrong in any price range.

                    It's definitely not true in Tokyo, although the batting average is pretty high.

                    1. Taipei, even the street vendors taste so good!

                      1 Reply
                      1. Agree with Tuscany (but not Rome or Paris). But for consistently the best I choose Vietnam. In France I'd add Alsace.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: estufarian

                          The Auvergne in France. Of course, the food is damn simple.

                          1. re: Steve

                            You are so right about Auvergne, some of the best food on the planet, and definitley no tourists! Wouldn't write it off as "simple" either, some of the dishes can be complex, and very difficult to pull off well. Beleive me, I've been trying to recreate half of them at home for years...

                            1. re: CravingLady

                              True. It only seems simple. Where have you been and what have you been trying to recreate?

                          2. re: estufarian

                            I'd have to disagree with Vietnam. Well-prepared Vietnamese food is one of the world's best, but for every fantastic meal or dish I've had here I've also had one that is mediocre or worse, prepared without care or attention. I think it's bec. Vietnamese are not as obsessive about what they eat or as adamant about quality as are, say, Thais, Italians, French (to draw examples from this thread).

                            1. re: foodfirst

                              > Vietnamese are not as obsessive
                              > about what they eat or as adamant about quality

                              Wow, that's a crazy generalization to make. More likely, you just weren't steered toward the right sort of places or ordering the right things...

                              1. re: viet nam

                                I'm comfortable with the generalization bec it's based on experience. I live in Vietnam, and I've been all sorts of places, with and without Vietnamese friends, acquaintances, etc. I speak enough basic Vietnamese to order in the language. And based on a comparison with the residents of BKK, Hong Kong, and a few other Chinese cities, where I've also lived, folks here in Vietnam are just not as food-obsessed. For instance: Thais live and breathe food every minute of every day. They're thinking about their next meal while they're eating. Broach a food topic with a Thai and you're guaranteed a very long conversation (helps pass the time when you're stuck in a taxi in BKK's infamous traffic). Every Thai has a strong opinion about any kind of Thai food you can mention, where to get the best, how to make the best, etc. Thais won't eat mediocre, they'll travel to get the best if they have to, and that's why it's so darned hard to find bad food there, as long as you follow the trail of Thais (this is important --- Thai restaurants in BKK geared toward foreigners are mediocre).

                                Vietnamese are just not as obsessed ... they don't snack as much and usually don't come back from a lunch break with a bag of goodies to get them through the afternoon, as Thai office workers do. They will accept convenience over tastiness. An inquiry about where to get the best banh cuon does not elicit an impassioned debate among a bunch of Saigonese, as a similar inquiry about the best grilled chicken would among a group of BKK'ers. And that, I think, is why food here is more uneven. Eating at a Saigon com (rice) shop just bec. it's packed with locals does not guarantee the food will be great. Of course there are some individual hounds here, and there is some truly fantastic stuff to be had --- but there is not-very-good stuff as well, and business at the places offering it doesn't seem to suffer for the lack of quality. The OP asked about places that it's "tough to get a bad meal" -- it's not that tough here, at least to get a "just OK, don't think I'll go back there" kind of meal.

                                I don't mean it as an insult, but I think it's a valid observation. One could mull over the reasons for it for days. Surely every hound that reads this board can think of a place they've been that made them think, "now THIS is a region of obsessed food lovers!" I think food is always *consistently* tastier (high-end to low-end and across the board in categories) in areas populated primarily by those kinds of people.

                          3. Chicago
                            So long as you stick to Vienna Dog Haunts
                            you are guaranteed a mind bending cullinary exerience
                            as basic as mee goering in KL
                            or Soupe l'Onion at Les Halles.


                            1. I have 5 cities where I normally get consistently good meals :

                              1) New York, USA
                              2) Paris, France
                              3) Tokyo, Japan
                              4) Hong Kong, China
                              5) Jakarta, Indonesia

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: CC

                                My top 5 cities for food are:

                                1) Tokyo, Japan
                                2) Saigon, Vietnam
                                3) Bangkok, Thailand
                                4) Buenos Aires, Argentina
                                5) Rome, Italy

                                1. re: jwobkk

                                  Definitely agree with Tokyo as a #1 - my only complaint there is that the portions are too tiny.

                                1. It's not necessarily tough to get a bad meal in New York City, but it's easy to get a good one.

                                  1. i agree with Maya-- Oaxaca is unreal, as are other parts of Mexico.

                                    1. Agree on Oaxaca, and add Burgundy. They take their food and wine seriously - not pretentiously, though. Whether casual or formal, they don't eat, they dine.

                                      1. Sicily, at least the area from Taormina to Catania. A few years ago I spent three months living in a fishing village below Acireale and trying a lot of places in Catania and points along the coast. We ate almost exclusively seafood, it being summer, pizza, and other moderate to low-priced food, and I can't remember a bad meal. I rarely eat Italian in New York after that. The flavor pales so in comparison. I did know a lot of locals and was perhaps steered away from bad places, but I don't remember anyone even talking about a bad place.

                                        As for New York, it's quite possible to get a mediocre or awful meal, even when you know the territory.

                                        1. I never would have predicted this before I went, but I really never had a bad meal during my ten days in Tunisia in December...it was simple food, and certainly I've had individual meals that were much better than any meal in Tunisia, but it was indeed unformly good. In particular, all of the seafood was very fresh and properly prepared (never overcooked). Even at simple places they'd bring you the whole fish to show you that it was fresh, then give you the choice of whether they should fry it whole or grill it over charcoal. We ate at one very tourist restaurant-with-a-view and the grilled fish was still great! The fruit was good, the breakfast buffets at our hotel were good, and the dates (in season while we were there) were fantastic.

                                          Another place I've had food that was uniformly good (unexpectedly so) was Ecuador.

                                          OTOH, I have managed to have bad meals in both Oaxaca and Paris, even though I think I mostly know what to avoid....that said, some of my best meals ever have also been in Paris and Oaxaca!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                            I'm glad to hear you had a nice eating experience in Tunisia. My experience there with restaurant food has not been as positive: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/527252

                                          2. Top three


                                            1. it might not be cheap, but i'd put Geneva, Switzerland on the list. there are very few types of ethnic cuisine they don't have and some really terrific not-well-known spots.

                                              1. This may just be my iconoclastic streak, but I really enjoyed the meals I had in Ireland. The best seafood I've ever had was at a little place in Dingle--"Out of the Blue". The lamb chops taste like nothing you can get in the US. Plus they serve french fries and mashed potatoes together as sides--what could be better?

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: whs

                                                  I once ate at a place in Zeeland, in the Netherlands, where the side dishes for a lunch of roast meat consisted of boiled potatoes, fries, mashed potatoes AND tater tots (or whatever the Dutch equivalent would be called)...now that was a meal! :-)

                                                2. Oslo - ate every meal in a different restaurant and didn't have one bad meal; one restaurant had Kjottkaker (Norwegian meatballs) that were almost as good as my mother's!
                                                  Poland - spent a few days in Czestochowa and Krakow with stops on the way and also had excellent food every time; live on the German-Polish border and the food at the restaurants in Gubin, PL is very good too.

                                                  1. i eat pretty well in rome. been going there for years and can't say i've ever been to a high-end restaurant. just never felt the need. deb and i rent an apartment every march. shopping for dinner can be very satisfying.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: steve h.

                                                      Well, that means you know it well and avoid the tourist traps. Although the general standard of food in Rome is very high, there are some shocking examples of the latter in the city centre.

                                                      I love food shopping in Rome too, though that should probably be a separate topic...