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Chowhounding Rules of Thumb

  • j

Does anyone have any chowhounding rules of thumb (for finding good eats, and strategizing once you've gone inside)? I'll start off with a few of my own:

When asking strangers for restaurant suggestions, watch their eyes. If they don't warm up and show excitement as they answer, politely thank them and find someone else to query (remember: 10% of humanity are chowhounds, and the trick is to find one!).

Always order spaghetti with meat sauce when it's a menu non sequitur

Just because people are "from there" doesn't mean they know anything about the cuisine--or where to find the best places (any more than the average American knows anything about great apple pie or hamburgers or clam chowder!).

Corollary to above: ethnic places filled with natives aren't necessarily good.

Truckers and police cars in restaurant parking lots do NOT indicate good food.

The more stuff (burgers, cold sandwiches, etc) served by a pizzeria, the worse the pizza.

Don't order steak in diners.

Don't seek restaurant tips in gas stations, government offices, or 7-11's.

Best line for convincing waiters to bring you the real, spicy, serious food (rather than the tamed-down gringo version): "Don't tell the chef I'm not Chinese/Thai/Korean/Ethiopian/etc (best delivered as the final parting remark after ordering, as the waiter is about to return to the kitchen).

If you ask a waiter what's good and they seem evasive (usually because they're afraid that if you don't like what they recommend that you'll hold it against them), quickly change the wording to "what do a lot of your customers order?" (which lets them off the hook)

Don't order seafood on Sundays or Mondays.

Always walk to the bathroom before ordering, in order to scan other people's plates for ordering ideas.

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  1. Hi Jeff,

    I'd liked your ideas-- especially the one about taking a trip to the restroom before ordering. I hadn't thought of that.

    I'd like to add a couple of tips of my own especially related to finding barbecue (especially places in the South and Texas):

    Never visit a 'cue place except during normal meal hours. Since the meat usually takes between 3 and 12 hours to smoke, the places plan on having there stuff ready at noon and 7. If you visit a place at 3pm, then count on getting dry, tough meat.

    If the sausage isn't homemade, it's probably not going to be that interesting.

    Distrust any place that advertises. A good place can survive on word of mouth from locals.

    Distrust any place that sells T-shirts. There are a couple exceptions to this rule, but for the most part shirt-selling places have "sold out" and don't care about making truly memorable food anymore. In a similar vein, generally distrust anyplace that "airmails" barbecue.

    Distrust any place that is open on Sundays-- especially in the Deep South. Sundays are days for loving your family (and the Lawd) and most people do not want to be lovin' the barbecue pit beginning at 4 in the morning.

    As most Southern states put county names on their license plates, check out the cars in the parking lots. If people have travelled more than 2 counties to get there, you can bet it is a good place. Double points for out-of-state plates.

    A Texas addendum is to count the number of trucks in the parking lot. A good ratio is more than 50%. Note, SUVs don't count. In fact, SUVs are probably a bad sign anywhere. Of course, I drive one. :)

    My 2cents,

    5 Replies
    1. re: Carter

      Great , great stuff, Carter (stick around and post more, ok?).

      While I hope others chime in with barbecue rules of thumb, your first item made me realize that a lot of rules of thumb have to do with timing. here are some more (If anyone has any other tips on timing your eating, please reply to message....I've changed the thread title accordingly).

      Never visit a brick oven pizza place until at least several months after they open (it takes a while to get used to the oven).

      The bad weather tip I gave elsewhere in the thread (go to popular places during real bad weather for easy seating sans reservations)

      No dim sum after 2pm.

      speaking of timing, it's 4:30am, time to crash. more later! man, I just realized how incredibly urban and yuppie these tips sound after your great ones, even though I AM shifting topic...sorry....

      1. re: Jim Leff

        ok, some more timing thoughts:

        Don't order seafood on days with an "n" preceded by a vowel!

        In Chinese barbecue places, wait until they've hacked to the middle of the suckling pig before rushing forward to place your order (I learned this from a Chinese grandma)

        In buffets, keep your eye on what's being replenished so you can get fresher stuff (essential in Indian buffets, where bread and tandoori items are only good when right out of the kitchen). Wait them out!

        mondays and sundays are the riskiest nights to eat out....the main chef often takes off. Friday and Saturdays usually have the good chef on hand, but depending on the ratio of crowding to kitchen skill/organization, full care might not be taken. Tuesdays may be ideal....both the chef and the fish are likely to be fresh.

      2. re: Carter

        "Distrust any place that sells T-shirts. There are a couple exceptions to this rule, but for the most part shirt-selling places have "sold out" and don't care about making truly memorable food anymore. In a similar vein, generally distrust anyplace that "airmails" barbecue."

        How about places whose products you can buy in other venues? like barbecue sauce and other condiments from 'Porky's 'Cue Rations' secret recipe sauces are now available at {insert name of supermarket/deli and other fine stores near you}

        1. re: Carter

          One good rule at 'cue joints in KC is, If the chairs in the dining room don't match, you're in for some good stuff.

          1. re: Carter

            Very good, Carter. I would add that on my Texas roadtrips, the establishments that are on the outskirts of town on the cheap real estate, deserve investigation. But, beware of the ones that are just a front for money-laundering and don't really care about food.

          2. Two minor questions (and possible qualifications):

            1. I agree that "[j]ust because people are 'from there' doesn't mean they know anything about the cuisine--or where to find the best places (any more than the average American knows anything about great apple pie or hamburgers or clam chowder!)," and with the "corollary" that "ethnic places filled with natives aren't necessarily good." But isn't it also a reliable rule of thumb that "ethnic places filled with nothing but non-natives almost certainly are *not* good"?

            2. Is it really such a good idea to ask waiters (esp. in "ethnic" restaurants) "[W]hat do a lot of your customers order?"? I find that when I ask a waitperson for recommendations, more often than I'd like he or she responds "Well, most of our customers like [whatever is the most pedestrian and "Americanized" items on the menu]." I don't want to know what most folks order (except in those rare places with a loyal and knowledgable core clientele); I want to know where the hidden gems are!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Marty L.

              "But isn't it also a reliable rule of thumb that "ethnic places filled with nothing but non-natives almost certainly are *not* good"?"

              Depends on the non-natives. If they look like chowhounds, you're golden. I could name a number of restaurants that are underappreciated by their native clientele that chowhounds virtually keep in business.

              "Is it really such a good idea to ask waiters (esp. in "ethnic" restaurants) "[W]hat do a lot of your customers order?"

              only if they hesitate at the "what's good" question, or tell you "everything's good". If you get good info with question #1, you don't need to try the gambit of question #2. And in any case, you don't need to follow their advice. But with a hesitant, problematic, or uncaring waiter, the best info you can get out of him/her may be a bland statistical response re: what's popular. And that's useful info to have--sometimes compelling, sometimes not.


            2. d
              Dr. Julius Kelp

              I, too, like the idea of a bathroom stroll prior to ordering. Here are two of my methods:
              1. Particularly abroad, to weed out the real restaurants from the tourist traps, look for something "disgusting" on the menu. This could be any organ meat, cut from above the neck, or anything else that would make the average tourist blanch.
              2. If a waiter in an ethnic restaurant tries to tell you that you won't like the "disgusting" thing you've ordered, assure him or her that you've had it before and really like it. That's how, many years ago, what began as a query about a menu item ended up in a plateful of giant sea cucumbers at a Chinatown restaurant. If I recall correctly, my tablemates quickly forgot our decision to share dishes.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Dr. Julius Kelp
                David "Zeb" Cook

                "cut from above the neck, or anything else that would make the average tourist blanch."

                An acquaintance just told how when her husband ordered brains at a restaurant in Rome, the chef came out of the kitchen and kissed him, saying he never thought he'd see the day when an American would order brains!

                David "Zeb" Cook

                1. re: Dr. Julius Kelp

                  Here, here! I agree that ordering something
                  "disgusting" will often help you avoid the
                  food that is "dumbed-down" for the tourist.
                  In SE Asia I met with success when I ordered
                  dishes with such ingredients as boiled ant
                  eggs, fried rat (a harvest festival specialty)
                  and jellied buffalo skin. I was rewarded
                  every time with a new taste sensation. In
                  addition, I got involved in lengthy discussions
                  about the origin of what I ordered and other
                  distinctive dishes of the region.

                2. s
                  Steve Drucker

                  If you in a strange place and totally without a clue:
                  --Desk work is hard work. If there's lots of office workers, it may or not be good, but its very probably lots for the money.

                  If you are looking for Italian in older mid-west and northeast city neighborhoods, look for hyper neat and tidy houses converted to restaurants. This one almost never fails.

                  Certain menu items signal to avoid a place:
                  --i.e. fried cheese and fried mozzarella
                  .and the bakery corollary: if the fresh fruit tarte is made with puff pastry (because puff pastry is a bear to make, so is most likely frozen, cheap and chemical laden), quietly leave and find another bakery not so shortcut oriented and chemical inadverse.

                  Don't ask hotel desk clerks for their personal opinions on where to eat. Often the response is a dull eyed stare, followed by a ten watt bulb and a steer to the nearest Olive Garden or Appleby's.

                  BUT--if in the rare instance the desk clerk is well-larded or better, do ask!

                  Unless you are sure the sauce is prepared in the pan "a la minuit" and not ladled out from the steam table, get the sauce on the side.

                  If you don't want the sauce at all, under any circumstances, ask for the sauce on the side. Likewise, if you don't want cheese (or anchovies, or croutons) on your salad, ask for them on on the side.

                  Best method to turn up new places in a strange place: Once you find a good place, ask the manager/waiter/owner where the best sandwich, cookie, pastry, pizza, pho, steak, breakfast, pupusa etc is. Often the discussion gets thrown to the floor, and other patrons chime in.

                  That's how we found Jimmy Dadonna's Italian Restaurant in Solon Ohio--a blessing in the far eastern reaches of ex-uburban Cleveland, and Johnny's--Chicagoland's best sausage sandwich and lemon ice.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Steve Drucker
                    Melissa Garland

                    "Best method to turn up new places in a strange place: Once you find a good place, ask the manager/waiter/owner where the best sandwich, cookie, pastry,pizza, pho, steak, breakfast, pupusa etc is. Often the discussion gets thrown to the floor, and other patrons chime in."

                    This is a great tip, and one that Tom Armitage also uses. I met up with Tom and his wife in Chicago where we ate at a wonderful little French Restaurant that I would never have found in a million years. When I asked Tom how he had found it he told me that when he was eating at another great restaurant in town that he had asked the chef where he ate on his night off.

                    1. re: Melissa Garland

                      Please name the place for me Melissa or Tom.

                      1. re: bryan
                        Melissa Garland

                        It was Le Bouchon on Damen. It was amazing.

                        1. re: Melissa Garland

                          I just took a look at our chicago board and this place has NEVER been mentioned there!

                          Melissa! Tom! You're holding out on us! I really hope you'll post at least short report over there!

                          Tom is indeed an urhound..."where do you eat on your night off?", I love it!


                  2. c
                    Caitlin McGrath

                    I've always thought good the suggestion to , instead of asking locals "what's good?", ask them "where do you like to eat?" and "What do you like to eat there and why?" The logic being that if you ask what's "good," they'll try to come up with what they think might please you (based on whatever impression of you they've put together instantly), rather than think of that hole-in-the-wall with the great whatever that they visit all the time.

                    1. I try to order something that's logical for the place I'm in. E.g., don't order ribs in a seafood restaurant. A lot of places are really good at their specialty, but that doesn't mean they know anything about other types of food.

                      1. 1. Although Jim prefers to "look into ones eyes" to gauge the validity of a food or restaurant recommendation, I find it equally useful to listen carefully to the recommendation itself...when a chowhound is genuinely enthused about a dish or a restaurant, he/she will invariably almost be salivating when relating the description !

                        2. When dining alone (or even when accompanied by others) at a new restaurant, your best bet is often to eat at the bar or food counter...not only for comfort, but the bartender is often a diner's best friend, offering helpful menu recommendations and complimentary samplings.

                        3. Chalkboard menus and specials of the day do not ensure freshness of the items being promoted.

                        4. Daily specials announced by your waiter/waitress without divulging their price will invariably have a price that is indeed unmentionable !

                        1. Yeah, the stroll-to-the-bathroom technique is one I learned recently from a friend who is a natural-born chowhound. But I've always kept my eyes open on my way to the table. ;>

                          I would add:

                          - If you don't like the smell of the place, chances are you won't like the food either. Contrariwise, a place with a wonderful aroma emanating from it will probably be able to serve you something delicious.

                          - Don't bother ordering pizza in the greater Boston area. Mass. chowhounds, myself included, will all cite exceptions to this, but it's a good rule of thumb.

                          - Don't order breakfast in a diner or greasy spoon once the lunch hour gets rolling. You'll end up with burger grease and burger crumbs in your omelette.

                          - Obvious corollary to the "watch their eyes" rule: If you ever meet someone -- in any context -- whose loving descriptions of memorable meals they have eaten mark them as one of us, don't let them escape before you ask them where else they eat these days!

                          1. I completely concur that any recommendation must be tested for enthusiasm and warmth - not to mention loving obsessive detail, one of the true signs of a fellow Chowhound is that they never answer the question "Where did you go for dinner?" with a one or two word answer.

                            And looking around at others' plates is a must also.
                            But most great discoveries can't be broken down to rules of thumb - in eating, as in any art, an undefinable intuition has to play a large part AND, as with any passion, the totally unexpected and unlooked for thing that breaks all the rules is often the most delightful: to use a recent example, when in a Costa Rica seafood dive last week, I was horrified to find my camerones a la jalepena served with mashed potatoes instead of the ubitquous rice. Are they putting these on my plate b/c they think its "fancy", I wondered out loud? They were some of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had... I would say that one of the best rules of thumb a Chowhound can have is an openness and willingness to throw away the rule book, to be willing to kiss a few frogs to find the rare prince of a meal...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Elaine

                              " throw away the rule book, to be willing to kiss a few frogs to find the rare prince of a meal... "

                              Hey, everything about chowhounding is throwing away rule books and following your nose. But I don't believe you're digging down very deep if you can't come up with a few guidelines that inform your intuition, either toward or away from a given eatery (or re: how to order within)! We ALL have our strategies....though, you're right, sometimes you've gotta drop even those highly personal strategies developed over long experience.

                            2. A good match with most seafood(not all) is Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. It's high quality and not expensive. If one person is having fish and another is not try a light pinot noir or a red sancerre.(Sancerre Rouge is pinot from the Loire) A good reliable Chardonnay is Meridian Santa Barbara.Drink Barberra or Rosso di Montalcino in Italian restaurants if you want good quality reds at reasonable prices.

                              1. I agree it's in the eyes if they don't light up you're in trouble. Locals & truckers more often than not, don't have a clue.
                                I always try to glean tips from "arty" outlets like galleries & antique stores etc. and when asking questions I'm always very specific like what is really great on the menu, how's the bread...
                                In a strange new place I often order soup and bread and then decide if I should stay for a meal.
                                I Avoid establishments with cute misspelled names like Kountry Kitchen or Kowboy Kafe.
                                I also shy away from places where a whole lot of attention is paid to kitch that's displayed everywhere.
                                I have to say I have an excellent nose for sniffing out chow. It's almost like a vibe or intuition, I size up the place even through the window and by reading the menu and it's desriptions.
                                When it comes to ethnic places I drop names of places I"ve traveled to in said country and things I've eaten there. I discovered recently that our waitress was from Tague, Korea and was a little girl when I was stationed there. It was almost like finding a long lost cousin.

                                1. -when you want something distinctive, never order chicken. I knew this long before i read Anthony Bourdain's, "people who order chicken don't know what they want." Chicken is boring, even when stuffed with tasty treats. I discovered this rule when i went to a fancy place and odered the stuffed chicken. It was lame. The exceptions are cheap eats like fried chicken (in the pan, please) and BBQ.

                                  -never arrive too hungry. I would have avoided some bad meals if i was patient enough to get the real thing. If you see something you don't like, leave. Don't stay 'cause you're hungry.

                                  -don't fuss with the order too much. I had a girlfriend that always wanted stuff special, combos that didn't appear on the menu, sauce/stuff on the side, extra/less of this or that. She rarely was pleased with her meals. Being so specific drove me, the waiter, and the chef crazy. cook for yourself if your anal about your order.

                                  -Don't order the same stuff ALL THE TIME. vary occasionally. sometimes you find something even better than your 'usual.'

                                  -i know this may give rise too boos and hisses, but forgo the drinks. Eating out is expensive enough, why double your bill with wine and beer that is inferior to what you have at home? I have a drink at home after dinner.

                                  -the law of diminishing returns. A $60 meal is only rarely twice as good as a $30 one. Not all of us live in NYC. In Tampa, $30 a head is about my limit--- anything more is usually just a lot of props and snooty servers.

                                  -unless you want steak, avoid most chain steakhouses. Steakhouses are sooo boring. I can't think of anything more disingenuous or redundant than steak, baked potato, and salad. Even steak gets boring. It's all so anti-chowhound to me. All the menus are the same.

                                  -a small menu is often a good sign. That means the place is focused on what it does well.

                                  -avoid 'Italian' restaurants. I realize that there are lots of great Italian places out there, but i'm not willing to wade through all the meatball subs, pasta, anything parmesean, etc to get to one decent meal. In Florida, there isn't any good pizza and scarce edible Italian, so this rule makes a lot of sense. I only dine Italian when sopmeone has specifically mentioned the place. same goes for Mexican around here.

                                  -I avoid chains--- almost all of 'em. Some chains may have good food, and non-chains often have bad food, but this shouldn't dissuade any Chowhound worthy of the name. Anyone that wants distinctive food and experiences should go to a distinctive place. Local chains often do not apply.

                                  1. d
                                    David "Zeb" Cook

                                    Oh boy,

                                    -- Ask everybody. Or in my case, be married to a woman who will fearlessly ask everybody for you. You never know who's a secret chowhound out there. (Bartenders are often pretty good.)

                                    -- Don't be afraid of dives. You're judging food, not looks.

                                    -- In larger cities, find the free weekly and see what they say. They usually have better suggestions and listing than the daily paper.

                                    -- Don't ask for "your favorite place", ask for "your three favorite places." If you force people to narrow their choice to 1, they choke and they start editing in their heads.

                                    David "Zeb" Cook

                                    22 Replies
                                    1. re: David "Zeb" Cook

                                      Bartenders can be good, but sometimes very very NOT good. Musicians are almost always reliable (go to nightclubs, music stores)...nearly every food writer I know is a former professional musician (or at least enthusiastic amateur).

                                      NEVER ask hotel staff. If you have no other choice, keep asking for reccos until the glib (that is, pre-bribed) choices stop flowing and the clerk/concierge starts actually thinking. Ignore everything recommended up to that point. Annoying to the staff, but sometimes effective.

                                      This is an interesting sub-thread. What are other types of people frequently tend to be chowhounds? Or places where they're found? Or ways to extract the best tips just in general?

                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                        I don't know if this is any kind of general rule, but I ate a couple of dinners in a perfectly acceptable Greek restaurant on the southern outskirts of the German Village in Columbus, Ohio, including some nice dessert drinks (Samos one night and a sweet red the next). The restaurant was much better than the place in the center of the German Village that seemed most popular with the young crowd. My guess is that if you find a Greek restaurant (perhaps especially one that is not dirt-cheap: this one was around $17 for dinner) that has an authentic-looking menu in an unexpected place, it has a decent chance of being good.

                                        1. re: Michael L.
                                          Steve Drucker

                                          "I ate a couple of dinners in a perfectly acceptable Greek restaurant on the southern outskirts of the German Village in Columbus, Ohio..."

                                          I'm due in Columbus OH in two weeks.

                                          What was the name of the Greek Restaurant? Was anything extra good?


                                          1. re: Steve Drucker

                                            I'll try to remember the name and location of the Greek restaurant and post it on, I guess, the Midwest board. I do remember that the description "Taverna" was in the name.

                                            1. re: Michael L.

                                              Here is a source that I tried once, with good success.

                                              The local chamber of commerce! Before you scoff, consider the situation.

                                              I did this over in Wilmington NC. I had a barbecue craving but had no clue where to go. I saw the local C of C and went in. I asked the nice older man working at the front desk where to find some good barbecue. He immediately told me to go to Jackson's Big Oak Barbecue, and gave me good directions. He added "I wish I could go get some barbecue right now." It was a very good find.

                                              So I didn't just say, "What's a good restaurant?" I asked for something specific, and even more than that, I asked for something that the town should have a good source for. This should clue the person you're asking that you want some real advice and not just the closest Denny's.

                                              Remember, the local C of C is an ambassador for wherever you are! If you get a crappy meal, they haven't done their job.

                                              1. re: Bob W.

                                                absolutely! but one modification....never talk to anybody who's actually IMPORANT at the chamber of commerce, who is likely to have biz ties with restaurateurs and tip you toward them (the dreaded "concierge effect").

                                                rather, talk to the employees. In a loud enough voice that others will hear.

                                                Which leads me to yet another corollary: the larger the number of people hear your plea, the greater odds a chowhound will pipe up. Anyplace with a crowd milling around is ideal, if you can get over being shy. Construction workers are good....big crowds not doing much. Mechanics at gas stations. music stores (or other stores--without high pressure sales--where everyone isn't whipped into corporate chain blandness and submission).


                                                1. re: Bob W.

                                                  I was on driving down the CA coast and stopped in Santa Barbara for Mexican (I had eaten WONDERFULLY there at a taco stand before that no longer exists (Cuca's)).

                                                  These were pre-chowhound.com times and I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to ask where I could get great Mexican. The well-meaning emissary directed us to La Salsa, a mediocre Mexican franchise, of which I had never heard. When we entered the place it was obvious that we had been misguided and we were duly disappointed.

                                                  Today, as I have since read rave after rave re Super Rica, I am still regretting that missed meal. The bright side is that now my chow BS detection skills are a little better honed from the experience.

                                          2. re: Jim Leff

                                            That *is* an interesting subthread. While I might know a few people I would consider chowhounds that have no other discernable interests, most are enthusiastic about many things. Personally, I'm into music, computers, visual arts, performance art, history, law, etc. Those that I trust for suggestions normally have similarly varied interests.

                                            1. re: Jim Leff
                                              Janet A. Zimmerman

                                              Try the staff of any kitchen- or cooking-related store. I work at one in San Francisco, and our staff are pretty much all chowhounds. And as we live in various areas in and out of the city, and have a wide variety of preferences, we can usually come up with something for just about anyone (except, of course, the completely obnoxious customer).

                                              1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                Re: "[W]e can usually come up with something for just about anyone (except, of course, the completely obnoxious customer)."

                                                Come, come now. Every city has at least one amazingly overpriced and overrated restaurant that will usually suit the obnoxious customers just fine! ;-)

                                                1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                  When I was in NYC recently I caught a cab with an Egyptian driver. I asked him where he liked to eat the food he used to have at home. He told me Salam (sp.?) in Brooklyn. I couldn't read his writing well. But he actually stopped the cab on 42nd. St., ripped off a piece of paper and wrote it down for me, horns blaring from behind us for a block or two. Now either this guy knows good food or he doesn't. Or perhaps he was happy someone showed an interest. But it struck me that with ethnic variety of cabbies in NY, they might be a good resource. Pat

                                                  1. re: Pat Hammond

                                                    Once, when leaving a Russian restaurant (now gone) on the upper East Side of Manhattan we got a Russian cab driver. He praised us for liking Russian food, said he often recommended the place we just left, and went into a diatribe about tourists and NYers alike eating "$15.00 zchambourgers" (the phonetic spelling is a close as I can get to his thick accent) at "Tavern Of The Green." He repeated himself three or four times and then said, "For $15.00 people should come to my house. I'll give them all the zchambourg they want."

                                                    On a lengthy trip from the airport a Korean cab driver in Chicago, appropo of nothing, asked me if I liked pastrami. I said yes, but wanted to learn about Korean food. We had a lengthy discussion. I took him out for pastrami for lunch (not bad at all) and the next night went to his home for a wonderful Korean dinner.

                                                    1. re: Deven Black

                                                      It makes sense, doesn't it? Folks very far from home, desiring an evening out at a place that caters to their culinary memories. I once had a cab driver refuse a tip because he'd so enjoyed our conversation about biriyani. Talking to strangers has never brought me anything but pleasure. Pat

                                                      1. re: pat hammond

                                                        After a 20-minute conversation about biryani with a cabdriver, I asked him where he liked to eat.

                                                        ``Why would I go to restaurant?'' he said. ``I have wife.''

                                                        1. re: Pepper

                                                          Good one, Pepper! I bet the wife would like to "go to restaurant" though. pat

                                                        2. re: pat hammond

                                                          If you're really interested, you may wanna check out Hack - For Cabdrivers, By Cabdrivers, For the World at http://www.geocities.com/morbthehack/

                                                          Link: http://www.geocities.com/morbthehack/

                                                          1. re: Morbium

                                                            I was a cab driver for a number of years. I would not ask cabdrivers on tips on where to eat.

                                                            Most cabdrivers do not eat while they are working or grab something they can shove into their mouths w. one hand while they navigate w. the other.

                                                            Factors that go into a cabdriver's decision on where to eat are (in order of importance):

                                                            1) Must have convenient parking.

                                                            2) Must be cheap.

                                                            3) Must have fairly clean restrooms.

                                                            4) Must have fast service.

                                                            5) Quality of food.

                                                            Of course, any moderately upscale places are out of the question. Notice the way cabdrivers dress.

                                                            Today's drivers are somewhat different and they do look for compatible ethnic food which may have more to recommend it. However, most of the joints along Lex where many cabdrivers eat feature steam tables and rather soggy food.

                                                            I drove in an era when there were still two cafeterias which drivers frequented: the Bellmore and Dubrows. The Bellmores food could be godawful. It was the only time I experienced fried potatoes which were literally swimming in grease. Dubrows food was indifferent, but they did have overly sweet, gooey deserts which I enjoyed.

                                                            Katz's, which was cheaper then that it is today, made substantial corned beef and pastrami sandwiches which tasted OK. I also liked a German counter on 86th which may not be around today, where the boiled beef and the saure knieren (kidney stew) were at least different and appealing. But that was about it.

                                                            If there are a lot of cabs parked near a joint, my operating assumption would be that the food is mediocre at best.

                                                  2. re: Jim Leff
                                                    Melissa Garland

                                                    I've found that a lot of people in arts professions (writers, musicians, visual artists, etc.) are reliable sources of info. Something about right brain dominant people goes hand in hand with appreciation of good food.

                                                    Also, when in a strange place (esp if it's touristy) I will look for someone walking a dog to ask for tips. Often they live in the area and can give good tips.

                                                    1. re: Jim Leff
                                                      Steve Potenberg

                                                      I've had some success calling the local radio staion(s) and inquiring of the d.j.

                                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                                        Employees of the correctional system. Really.

                                                        90% of my business travel is to correctional facilities around California. The places recommended by people working there have ranged from mediocre to really, really bad.

                                                        Maybe they're judging places by the standards of the facility's cafeteria. Or maybe they just put prisons in places with bad food.

                                                        1. re: Jim Leff
                                                          Caitlin Wheeler

                                                          Actually -- an exception to the hotel staff rule: Staff at independent hotels in Europe (not Holiday Inn) can give great recommendations. Usually there is not a restaurant in the hotel, and that helps. I found an AMAZING restaurant in Pisa, not in any of the guidebooks, at the recommendation of people at the front desk. Otherwise, they always say "Our hotel, or the place across the street ... "

                                                        2. re: David "Zeb" Cook

                                                          I like the sound of this tip:

                                                          "Don't ask for "your favorite place", ask for "your three favorite places." If you force people to narrow their choice to 1, they choke and they start editing in their heads."

                                                          ....but it sort of reflects a mistake many hounds make...assumjing that any given person is a repository of good tips if you can JUST GET THEM TO SPILL.

                                                          If tips don't flow easily, psychological tricks to extract them will put you on a very steep curve of declining results indeed. Better to move on.

                                                          Worst of all is the false hound. You know the kind...they speak in rapturous terms of places you've just GOT to try...and while they really believe it...but their advice is always terrible. These types are blessedly rare, but they're out there, sort of like random hazards in video games.

                                                          I'm against capital punishment, but could have second thoughts for two groups of offenders: litterers, and these guys.


                                                        3. What does "Always order spaghetti with meat sauce when it's a menu nonsequitor" mean?

                                                          9 Replies
                                                          1. re: Griller141

                                                            I've found amazing agreement among chowhounds and food writers that when spaghetti with meat sauce lands from nowhere onto a menu where you'd not expect such a dish, it's nearly always good.

                                                            Obviously, this means the place doesn't offer lots of OTHER pasta dishes....then it wouldn't be landing from out of nowhere.

                                                            One reason: a lot of ethnic groups have adopted the dish---Ethiopians, Egyptians, Greeks. Others too, can't think of 'em right now (help, anyone?). Don't know why it's usually good, though. Just empirical!

                                                            Any other weird corrolations out there?

                                                            1. re: Jim Leff
                                                              Dave Feldman

                                                              I'm here to testify. Had horrible food in Yugoslavia in 1972. The more I tried to Chowhound, the worse the food got. Out of desperation, I tried spaghetti & meatballs in a nondescript restaurant full of morose diners. Bingo! Actual food.

                                                              I'll add one to the mix. If the onion rings on a menu seem very expensive compared to other side dishes, they are good.

                                                              1. re: Dave Feldman
                                                                Jon Mitchell

                                                                As in life, the correct use of grammar and spelling on menus is a reasonable indicator of standards. Restaurants that can't even spell the names of the dishes they're serving are unlikely to be able to cook them well. Ordering the Eggs Benidict (sic) with Holandaise (sic) at Bobs' (sic) Diner, is just plain asking for trouble. This doesn't hold true in ethnic places, where translation quirks in the menu are nothing to worry about (and are often a source of childish amusement).

                                                                1. re: Jon Mitchell

                                                                  i'm with you there...recent stop at one of my neighborhood spots yielded a raised eyebrow at the chalkboard list of raw bar offerings:

                                                                  oysters -- malpeck, kumado

                                                                  i admit, i'm no expert, so if someone knows that these are actual osyters and not the restaurant's mistake, please let me know. (and, no, it was not an intentional move to be quirky...one other oyster was spelled correctly and everything else was on the up and up.)

                                                                  1. re: cj

                                                                    I guessing that they are refering to Malpeques and Kumamotos (I love these).

                                                                    1. re: Limster

                                                                      yeah, i gathered that...thought they're spelling was pretty funny. i love 'em, too, but turned around to my friends and said i don't think i'll be having any oysters here.

                                                                      1. re: cj

                                                                        yeah, i gathered that...thought they're spelling was pretty funny. i love 'em, too, but turned around to my friends and said i don't think i'll be having any oysters here.

                                                                  2. re: Jon Mitchell
                                                                    Jonathan Gold

                                                                    I don't know. Buster's, on Burgundy Street in New Orleans, a Creole soul institution that would merit inclusion in any all-time Chowhound Hall of Fame, for years had a sign advertising ``Sofe Drinks.''

                                                                2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                  Barrie Covington

                                                                  Yes, I've often had very good potato salad in Japanese restaurants. It has turned up unexpectly on quite a few menus, and is often served as a complementary side dish. Go figure!

                                                              2. Sounds like you got yerself a book here, Big Dog! With an appendix of the worst waitron mishaps, led by Scottso's hilarious flaming tourist story. Seriously. As a followup to Leff's best food volumes. Hey, I'd buy it! (BTW, I can't believe your insight -my parents actually didn't name me this...hee, heee.)

                                                                1. b
                                                                  Brandon Nelson


                                                                  How do you respond to question "Where is there a good place to eat around here?" I often ask my hungry new friend if they have a particular craving... "What are you in the mood for?" I can then get a read on the kind of hunger, and diner, that I am dealing with. If someone asks me a question I am far more likely to take their recomendations for eating out to heart.

                                                                  This doesn't apply in all geographies. Sometimes local cuisine isn't far reaching. Case in point I visited a friend (a displaced California Chowhound) in Montana last fall. We had a little dinner party with some of his friends. Scott and I cooked up a very servicable Mexican feast. It drew raves. During the course of dinner conversation, mostly about tacos and burritos, someone mentioned that there was somewhere in town that had good "wraps". Scott shot one of those looks that told me all I needed to know. Not Yummy. Mexican food is not Montana's strong suit. I did however have a wonderful buffalo burger while I was there. I don't suppose the seafood would be stellar either.

                                                                  When I seek advice I look for someone who I think is likely to get their hands dirty in a garden or get clay up to their ears while throwing a pot. I am looking for the kind of person who is interested in lifes journey, not it's destination.

                                                                  A final thought on short menues. Wasn't there one in "My Cousin Vinny" that read.




                                                                  With those choices a couple of East Coast Italians found themselves sampling their first plate of eggs and grits. Is that not a fine example of one of Chowhoundings key elements?


                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                                    "What are you in the mood for?"

                                                                    that's a fine, chowhoundish reply to the perennial question.


                                                                    if you ask someone where to eat and they reply by asking "what kind of food do you like?", that's a very very bad sign. Same for waiters who use that to reply to questions re: what's good on the menu. These are people who don't understand us.


                                                                  2. At popular places, walk in after 9pm for a table for one or two, even without reservations. Has worked really well for me in SF.

                                                                    Be as nice as you can to the staff at the restaurant and tip exceptionally if you like the place enough to come back. I've gotten tiny freebies like a glass of wine once or twice, and the staff tend remember when I come back.

                                                                    When the waiter provides recommendations, they are probably good bets if he or she specifically mentions one or two dishes; if the person starts to go all over the menu, you're better off choosing yourself.

                                                                    In less formal places, try to grab a table next to the kitchen door. You get to see and smell everything that comes out of the kitchen.

                                                                    I tend to get better service when I order in Mandarin at Chinese places. The stuff written in Chinese on posters on the walls in Chinese places are usually good bets.

                                                                    Eat sushi at the bar, not at the table.

                                                                    At "ethnic" restaurants, learn a bit about the cuisine in question first, and order the "signature" dishes of that cuisine. The kitchen will know that you mean business. I also use this to compare the place with other similar places that I've been to; I use the standard dishes of the particular cuisine for "calibration."

                                                                    Be totally willing to kiss frogs. I've strolled around neighborhoods and randomly entered places to eat. Most are not very good or just average, a few are good, and once in a while, an undiscovered gem pops up.

                                                                    My favorite tip: Relax, kick back and enjoy your meal. It's supposed to be fun and enjoyable afterall.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Limster

                                                                      "At popular places, walk in after 9pm for a table for one or two, even without reservations. Has worked really well for me in SF"

                                                                      along those same lines: at first sign of a blizzard, hurricaine, or other major weather problem, go immediately to Nobu (or whatever is the hottest ticket in town). Walk in and eat. Maybe linger a few hours over coffee reading the newspaper. Yawn. Scratch your back. Order more coffee.

                                                                      1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                        Brandon Nelson

                                                                        How clever! This almost makes me jealous of those burbs that don't experience the kind of mild winters California offers!

                                                                        1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                                          I've got one word for you, Brandon:


                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                            Brandon Nelson

                                                                            Yes but....

                                                                            Places close after a quake, if it's a profound one. Otherwise it's just business as usual. I have only ever felt 2 of them. The Loma Prieda quake of 1989, and last years Mt. Veeder Quake. We are only a few miles from the epicenter of that litle Napa shaker. Iwas awake for that one. I thought the state was sliding into the ocean.

                                                                            I guess every region experiences some sort of nastiness of nature. Earthquakes sadly, are just to unpredictable to work into dinner stategy. They do however present a detterent to moving or vacationing here.


                                                                      2. re: Limster

                                                                        :At "ethnic" restaurants, learn a bit about the cuisine
                                                                        :in question first, and order the "signature" dishes of
                                                                        :that cuisine. The kitchen will know that you mean
                                                                        :business. I also use this to compare the place with
                                                                        :other similar places that I've been to; I use the
                                                                        :standard dishes of the particular cuisine for

                                                                        This begs the question of what are the popular but interesting examples of food at "ethnic" restaurants. For instance, if I'm at a real Chinese restaurant (i.e. one that doesn't serve "General Joe's Chicken") what should I look for on the menu? Same goes for the other popular Asian countries (Korea, Japan, etc). I'm especially curious about Vietnamese. I almost always cop out and get pho or bun. What am I missing out on that I should be able to find commonly?

                                                                        As for my standard ethnic dishes: At Indian restaurants (well, Northern Indian ones), I usually get saag paneer and chicken vindaloo. And at Tex-Mex places I usually get beef enchiladas with either red or brown sauces. If a place can make these well, then I'll be coming back again.

                                                                        1. re: Carter

                                                                          IMHO, there are no "real" Chinese restaurants; if it's serving a whole range of things from all over, it's not "real". There are real Szechuan restaurants, real Hakka restaurants, real Shanghainese restaurants etc... that serve regional specialities along with a few regular "Chinese" dishes. Chinese food is very regional, just like that of any other large country. What we see most often in the U.S. is Cantonese cuisine.

                                                                          With Szechuan, I'd get stuff like beef in a spicy sauce (loose translation, might vary from restaurant to restaurant), sliced pork with garlic, tripe and beef in spicy sauce with sesame etc...

                                                                          With Shanghainese - Lion's head (large meatballs), steamed dumplings (xiao long bao), eel dishes, vegetarian chicken

                                                                          Hakka - stuffed tofu, salt baked chicken, stewed bacon

                                                                          Most of the Japanese places I go to here are either simple noodle places (for quick meals) or sushi. For sushi I'll go for raw stuff like mirugai (large clams), uni (sea urchin gonads), ankimo (monkfish liver), toro (fatty tuna) and what the chef recommends that day. At more high-end places, go for kaiseki dinner (if budget allows - only done this once). From what I've heard, there's a whole world of interesting Japanese cuisine that I haven't seen and will probably only get to try on a trip to Japan.

                                                                          I think a good Korean place is one that brings out lots of little side dishes, with are emblematic of Korean food. Octopus is a favorite of mine, but I haven't been to that many Korean places here in SF or previously in Singapore.

                                                                          With Vietnamese, I usually go for the variety of rolls and the sugarcane prawns (I find their appetizers more exciting than their main dishes). Also a stir-fired dish of beef tenderloin cubes.

                                                                      3. d
                                                                        Dave Feldman

                                                                        In the past, in pre-Chowhound days, when I was in a new town, I often asked several people, "What do you eat in X that I couldn't find in New York?" This is a way in which you have a chance of not being sent to the fancy "Continental" restaurant.

                                                                        And when I'm traveling and need to find an address, I follow another rule of thumb: If the restaurant has a display ad in the Yellow Pages, unless it's a very small town, be wary.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Dave Feldman
                                                                          Steve Drucker

                                                                          "I follow another rule of thumb: If the restaurant has a display ad in the Yellow Pages, unless it's a very small town, be wary..."

                                                                          That's a real winner. The most cost-effective yellow pages' ad is a bold face in-column listing, followed by a very very small in-column box. If there's anything bigger, a good rule of thumb is to pass.

                                                                        2. 1. Be wary of restaurants whose name includes the word "authentic" along with a city - and the place is not in that city (example: Bernie's Authentic NY Deli - located in Iowa).

                                                                          2. places that have cutsey names for their dishes.

                                                                          3. Any place that has it's servers do a line dance every half hour.

                                                                          4. any place where the waitstaff is compelled to sit with you to explain the menu.

                                                                          5. I avoid any italian restaurants that have Louie prima or "That's Amore" blaring over the loud speakers.

                                                                          6. Avoid places with initials and an apostrophe "S" (Bennigan's, Ruby Tuesday's, TGI Friday's,PDQ Flannigans etc)

                                                                          7. Places where the waiters feel compelled to write their name on your tablecloth.

                                                                          8. places that are decorated like your grandmother's attic - with bedpans, tricycles and old trombones.

                                                                          9. Any place that has "Pasta Nachos" on the menu.

                                                                          10. As far as italian restaurants go - If I see pasta coming out of the kitchen with a bullseye of tomato sauce on a field of white spaghetti, Chances are the pasta will be overcooked and have a puddle of pink water at the bottom of the plate.
                                                                          (in other words the pasta is not tossed in the pan) before service)

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Pat I.

                                                                            Hysterical, Pat, thanks!

                                                                            See, please,my new thread on this board, "Dish Names (Cutesy and otherwise)" (use link below if you'd like)

                                                                            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                                          2. I just returned from a month of travel in Laos,
                                                                            Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma). In each
                                                                            area I hired an English-speaking local guide as
                                                                            well as a vehicle to get around in with a driver.
                                                                            (Not sure why but the tourism industry in those
                                                                            countries will not allow the driver and guide
                                                                            to be the same person.) I made it clear
                                                                            that I wanted to eat with them at places where
                                                                            they would normally eat. The places they
                                                                            chose were not expensive and, of course,
                                                                            offered local dishes favored by the natives
                                                                            and not toned down for Westerners.
                                                                            I always insisted on paying the check, for
                                                                            which the guide and driver were really grateful
                                                                            (and very surprised the first time I did it).
                                                                            I got to sit, eat and chat with the locals,
                                                                            make friends, and have what I felt was a very "real"
                                                                            experience of each village, town or city I visited.
                                                                            I tried to eat with the guides and porters even
                                                                            when treking in remote areas of these countries
                                                                            and in Thailand. (Sometimes they wouldn't let me.)
                                                                            It was a real down-to-earth experience and I'm sure
                                                                            my culinary memories of those countries are
                                                                            very different from those of the typical
                                                                            Western tourist. So . . . my chowhound rule of
                                                                            thumb for travelers - "Treat your guide to lunch."

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: christina z

                                                                              On a more local level, I've had luck buying taxi drivers food. But those were a couple of special cases which I'm not sure could be generalized into rules of thumb...

                                                                              your trip sounded fantastic, welcome back!!


                                                                            2. 1. The bigger the menu, the worse the food. Especially if the menu covers multiple cuisines.

                                                                              2. Order what you haven't heard of. The first time I ordered sushi (1978) the waitress almost refused to bring it to me.

                                                                              3. For barbeque, ask if they have plates. If the answer is a sort of odd look, avoid the place. If the person has to think about the question, it may be good (adopted from Calvin Trillin).

                                                                              4. Avoid places which are known for their views.

                                                                              5. Eat in places where that nationality is common in the nearby population. If you're not sure, you can look up some common names in the phone book.

                                                                              1. My personal rules:
                                                                                1. Avoid any place serving "Chilean" Sea Bass or Swordfish.
                                                                                2. Ask your waiter what "champagne" they serve by the glass. If the response is a sparkling wine and not champagne proper, be on guard.
                                                                                3. If there is a lengthy menu description of their hamburgers or if they've named their burgers -RUN
                                                                                4. If the menu descriptions for any item include portion size in weight - RUN
                                                                                5. If the menu descriptions use the phrases "Cooked to perfection" or "Lightly Fried" - RUN
                                                                                6. If there is a franchise trademark in the menu description (ie Jack Daniel's Grill) - RUN
                                                                                7. If the waiter tries to sell you mineral water - GROWL
                                                                                8. If the 1st words from your waiter are "How are you?" you're in trouble.

                                                                                1. You're the first other person I've met who takes a "trip to the bathroom" before a meal. This trip often takes a lazy loop around the entire restaurant. It's a good practice, and if you're not morally opposed, you can even wash your hands when you get there.

                                                                                  -Also when in a strange city and all else fails, it's late and your options are dwindling, the better national hotel chains (radisson, hyatt) often have good restaurants.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: keith k

                                                                                    This is not my experience. I've eaten some of the worst meals ever in hotels(other than Four Seasons & The Ritz). What Calvin Trillen calls the "Maison de la Casa House" syndrome.

                                                                                    1. re: keith k

                                                                                      I second the endorsement of Hyatt for dependable dining. We've got three different Hyatts around here (Western Fairfax County, VA) (Fair Lakes, Dulles, and Reston), and they all have very very good restaurants. They make a serious effort to offer a dining option for people other than their guests.

                                                                                      On the other hand, we had a disastrous meal at a JW Marriott's Steakhouse in one of the local Marriotts. JW would have gagged on the fat-laden piece of prime rib my wife was served.

                                                                                    2. A rule learned while travelling across country in high school (a very long time ago):

                                                                                      In a small town with few options, pick the place with the cleanest windows. Most likely, they at least keep the kitchen clean and often have decent food.

                                                                                      1. For what its worth.......
                                                                                        1. Eat out lots, if possible have a job which allows you out at lunch time. Take every opportunity, this is a lifestyle choice folks.

                                                                                        2. Twenty years experience will help, I'm a Brit and have been eating Fish and Chips since I can remember, and let me tell yer there is Fish and Chips and There is is skip loads of ..... whatever. I have faith that just by looking at a shop I can assess its worth, we can all do it, you just have to have the faith.

                                                                                        1. I'm a newbie to this cite, but I'm already addicted to it and agree with lots of the tips already expressed. I have some of my own, quirky rules which have done well for me:

                                                                                          1. At an Asian restaurant in which half the menu consists of traditional Chinese dishes and half are other types of food (Lao, Malaysian, Cuban, etc.), avoid the Chinese dishes, they are there for the unadventurous and unlikely to be the specialty of the house.

                                                                                          2. Decor: Avoid any restaurant with large generic food posters, such as the ubiquitous "Gyro" and "souvlaki" posters. My worst experience with these was in a Dallas Italian place in the late '80s which had a placard on the table stating "Try Tiramisu: the most popular dessert in New York." The tiramisu I got tasted like it had been brought from New York to Dallas by foot in someone's backpack. In contrast, I find travel posters to correlate highly with good chow.

                                                                                          3. Avoid Mexican restaurants with too many odd, expensive margaritas on the menu: i.e., the Amaretto Cadillac Margarita for $17.50.

                                                                                          4. For tips, I ask postal carriers and telephone repairpeople, they have good, long lunch breaks and they usually travel a beat that makes the familiar with everything in a given area.

                                                                                          5. Never eat at a non-Turkish middle eastern or Ethiopian restaurant that refers to their coffee as "Turkish."

                                                                                          6. Never eat somewhere with elaborate happy birthday rituals, chidrens' menus (a constant source of agony to the young chowhound) or crayons on the table.

                                                                                          7. Places that serve only one item (this occurs especially with food stands and Japanese restaurants) and places that don't have menus tend to be good.

                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: SKU

                                                                                            SKU...very savvy. Welcome. Post more.

                                                                                            the "expensive margaritas" warning reminds me...has anyone EVER had a good meal in a restaurant with colorful "specialty drinks" pop-up table cards?

                                                                                            1. re: SKU

                                                                                              Corollary to #2: Greek or Greek-owned places with attractive murals depicting cities or villages in Greece will have decent-to-spectacular chow. Then again, this may hold true for Greek places in general (with the notable exception of Greek pizza).

                                                                                              Regarding #6: I know one young 'hound-in-training whose parents regularly indulge him in ordering (modestly) from the adult menu. Of course, this is the same kid who was cooking with his mom at 5 and reading Shakespeare by the time he was 9. Which leads one to speculate: can chowhoundism be taught, or is it born in you? To be continued in 3-4 years, when this one starts getting out on his own...

                                                                                              1. re: C. Fox

                                                                                                Chowhounding can definitely be taught. Though there is a definite need for a certain predilection from the kid.

                                                                                                I have two- the one who is now 8 loves raw oysters, has a favorite octopus dish, delights in roast duck and pork from various chinatown spots, enjoys the delights of harolds fried chicken shack in chicago. and has had this type of urge since very young.

                                                                                                the second - now 3 will not try anything new - though there is some hope that eventually will try stuff just out of jealousy of the older one.

                                                                                                1. re: zim
                                                                                                  Melissa Garland

                                                                                                  I agree, chowhoundism can be taught or acquired. I didn't become obsessed with food until my beloved grandmother died about 5 years ago. I realized that if I ever wanted to eat good food again in my life that I'd have to go find it and/or cook it myself. I took it and her for granted and not one day goes by when I don't remember the meals that she cooked and how much that she cared about food. Chowhoundism keeps her with me more than anything else that I do.

                                                                                              2. re: SKU

                                                                                                I have one caveat - posters of generic items aren't necessarily a bad sign in a couple of instances (places that are more stands or serve a particular type of fast food) for example some of the best hot dog places in chicago have the signs and my favorite fried chicken place (which had a nice thread extolling its virtues on the chicago board) has those in a couple of its locations

                                                                                                I would also add:
                                                                                                Eat at any restaurant that has more than one taxi out front

                                                                                                At indian restaurants - avoid any indian restaurant with the word Kashmir in its name - I am kashmiri and have never found one of these that actually serve kashmiri food (does anyone know of one?)they are usually generic and mediocre indian restaurants.

                                                                                                Also the best decored restaurant in an indian neighborhood will usually have pretty decent food, but it will also be more expensive than it should be-sometimes by a pretty large factor

                                                                                              3. c
                                                                                                Caitlin Wheeler

                                                                                                I have some rules . . .
                                                                                                For casual fare, regional is better than national restaurants (ie, pick a restaurant that advertises Venetian food rather than just plain Italian)

                                                                                                In most little Italian restaurants in New York, order the pasta

                                                                                                Become a regular at places you really like. At the sushi bar in my home town (in California) I've been going there for 17 years, and the sushi chef always gives us our favorites as well as extra treats.

                                                                                                And the most important one:
                                                                                                Don't be afraid to break the rules! You're a chowhound; go with your gut. There are exceptions to every rule.

                                                                                                1. j
                                                                                                  Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                                                                  A few more warning signs:

                                                                                                  Anyplace that offers "ethnic" or regional variations of caesar salad, e.g., southwestern caesar or asian caesar.

                                                                                                  Anyplace that has the patrons pick out their own side dishes (i.e., the "would you like baked potato or rice pilaf with your entree?" type of place).

                                                                                                  Anyplace that offers nonalcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks (e.g., nonalcoholic daquiris or margaritas). Corollary is to avoid any Mexican restaurant that offers any fruit flavored margaritas.

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                                                                    wow, real creative (and entertaining!) ones, Janet!

                                                                                                    But are these guidelines you've actually USED, or are you just thinking 'em up right now? I got a kick out of them either way (I'm sure others, too), but while they read clever, and in a way I think they might be apt, my mind sort of blanks every time I try to compare them to my actual experience. Not sure why.


                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                      Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                                                                      Yes, unfortunately, my warnings are based on actual experience, although I can understand why they seem contrived. My guess is that your dining experiences are not like mine, Jim.

                                                                                                      Okay, I have a confession to make here. My chowhounding tendencies are much more in the cooking vein than in the eating out vein. That is, I do enjoy eating out, but I'm much happier cooking a great meal than eating one in a restaurant (the sight of a great farmers' market or meat counter practically brings me to tears). Once a month or so, I make an effort to try a new (new for me, that is, not necessarily new to the world) restaurant, and in those cases, I aim for something as good as possible. Mostly, I tend to patronize a few good local places. But I'm often in the position of going out to restaurants with non-chowhounds (my parents, for example, or former co-workers), and in those situations, I let them choose and just don't expect much. I don't mind, really, since I consider those situations social, not gustatory. But I have gotten good at ferreting out the best items on mediocre menus, which can come in handy.

                                                                                                    2. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                                                                      "Anyplace that has the patrons pick out their own side dishes (i.e., the "would you like baked potato or rice pilaf with your entree?" type of place)."

                                                                                                      Disagree. Teresa's, a good Polish-American diner in New York's East Village, lets people choose their sides. But it would be more like potato or kasha. :-)

                                                                                                      1. re: Michael L.
                                                                                                        Melissa Garland

                                                                                                        Or how about some of the classic "meat and three" restaurants that proliferate the South?

                                                                                                      2. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                                                                                                        I disagree about the Mexican restaurants offering fruit flavored margaritas, and also abou the nonalcoholic drinks

                                                                                                        Mama Mexico in NYC offers an amazing variety of margaritas, and is quite good.

                                                                                                        Both of these are ways to bring in more money without compromising food quality; the nonalcoholic drinks also avoids some temper tantrums by little kids who INSIST on having a Shirley Temple (or whatever) and accomodates recovering alcholics

                                                                                                      3. Avoid places that have their specials for the entire month listed on a calendar ala school cafeteria. They aren't operating on the principle of using what is fresh, in season and at its most delicious that particular day.

                                                                                                        1. This looks like a great site. I live in LA and have been doing a fun, but methodical, survey of Korean BBQ restaurants. Looking for other foodies to partake in the adventure. Please email if interested: wahaguy@yahoo.com

                                                                                                          1. Never order a "special." I have worked in fine dining restaurants, for years . . . "special" is a nice way of saying LEFTOVER!