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Jan 5, 2007 02:49 PM

Have you ever judged a restaurant by its cover, um, false front?

I might call it reverse prejudice.

Let's say, for argument's sake, someone is running restaurants with identical food at 2 different locations. Same menu, staff with similar skills, same price.

1)Let's say one is in an "authentic" neighborhood.
2)One is in a mall.


1)One is in a subdued, pleasant neighborhood not many people know about.
2)Another one is in a glitzy, ostentatious location, a well-known street.

There are more examples of plausible comparison pairings, but you get the idea. This is an exercise in recognizing real substance vs. hype (or anti-hype).

Would you be biased even before trying the food? Even as you try the food, are you not influenced by the bias you've entered the restaurant with, the company you are with, even word of mouth (hype of the superior kind)? Do you think people might not be completely objective?

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  1. I used to be that way, but I have had some seriously wonderful food in strip mall type restaurants with little or no ambiance - some of it pretty upscale food. So now I find that I'm a lot more open-minded about it and can go in with a clean slate. As a matter of fact, I'm headed to a Cuban restaurant shortly for lunch that is supposedly wonderful (word of mouth) but in a strip mall and looks a little on the dumpy side. I expect it to be pretty darned good, based on what I'm hearing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Andiereid

      Actually, I would say a lot of chowhounds have the reverse bias, if it doesn't look like it was decorated by a refugee family living on pennies and dimes, it won't taste good nor will it be 'authentic'. My personal bias varys from day to day.

      Also, I simply don't think anyone could be completely objective. Our opinions of what we like and don't like are dictated by a strange mixture of genetics and experience. Some people will react to a hyped place with suspicion and hate the food no matter what and the reverse is bound to be true too.

      1. re: Blueicus

        I agree, except for the genetics part. You are probably referring to lactose intolerance, etc. but I don't think it plays a big part compared to other factors.

    2. I have to say in general that I'm weary of any restaurant in a strip mall and won't go to it unless I hear something good about it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: coasterphil

        In many locations (not NYC for the most part), some of the best stuff is found in strip malls; it's the optimal cheap location for recent immigrants to set up shop. There was a long thread on this on this board:

        1. re: Brian S

          Thanks for the thread. I found some good comments about strip malls which seem to be doing a great job equalizing the chances for every restaurant to show what they are made of. One less variable so we can focus on food. But how do chowhounds stay objective outside of the strip malls? Do we really want to be 100% objective?

          "However, for me, anything that has the look of a chain gets automatically rejected as lacking soul and being a wasteland." - rworange

          "That's a great point about slick-looking but actually indy places. I have the same block. Glossy menu? Silly hats? Can't be good. Well sometimes it can." - Aromatherapy

          "Glossy menus are probably a good investment -- they last a lot longer than paper ones! Same with mass-produced signage." -Ruth Lafler

          "just wanted to chime in to add that, in addition to being a great place to find less expensive hole-in-the-strip-mall-chow-worthy type spots, that strip malls can be a great place to find fine dining too, especially when outside major urban centers." -susancinsf

          1. re: grocerytrekker

            Since I've been dragged into this by being quoted ...

            One of the most difficult things in the world for me is being objective ... to truly base my opinion on sheer, pure flavor.

            It is on all levels ... not just the look of the place ... the background of the kitchen ... whether it is a chef who cooked in the top restaurants ... or the cook who grew up in whatever country and is using their grandma's recipes ... the pedigree of the ingrediants ... the hype I hear be it from the media or food forums like this ... the passion of the owner/chef.

            That last one really kills me ... it is almost to the point that the more someone talks up how much they love cooking the worse the food is ... it is getting to be a red flag.

            Not so much my dining companions ... even if they grew up with the cuisine in question. I've always been that way. I won't tell anyone to their face ... ick ... but doesn't matter to me if the person I'm dining with loves or hates the food ... it doesn't change my opinion.

            An exception is if the people I'm dining with can tell me why they find something wonderful. I was not wowed by the French Laundry when I went with some Chowhounds. However, listening to the dishes being discussed, I was able to pick up nuaces in the food that on my own I would have missed. I appreciated it more. Still didn't wow me.

            I wonder why you ask "Do we really want to be 100% objective?"

            I thought at first yes but considering it ... maybe not.

            I spent a lot of 2006 eating at local dives for my own amusement. There is something intangible in some places ... and it doesn't need to be a dive ... it can be a top joint too.

            Sometimes it is referred to as soul, but that gets trite and easy. Some food is just satisfying ... all the planets align and there is just something undefinable there ... some umami so to speak.

            It can make a dish that might seem unremarkable to others ring my chow bells. Whatever it is, I don't think it is objective at all.

      2. L.A. is known for having little restaurant gems in bland, or even ugly, strip malls. I have a friend who moved here from SF who said she couldn't figure out where the good food was until she started trying strip mall restaurants. One really terrific sushi place (Sushi Zo) is located on the side of a strip mall next to "Taco Time." I think in a lot of cities it would fail because of that, but here it's just kind of par for the course.

        1. The absolute, hands down, best Chinese restaurant (Red Palace) in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC), bar none, is not only located in a strip mall, but a derelict strip mall, and comes complete with life-sized gilded concrete lions guarding the entrance and all the other stereotypical adornments that positively scream "TACKY 1960s PSEUDO-CHINESE RESTAURANT!!!!"

          My brother and SIL first heard about it while they were in Guangzhou for an academic conference, from a group of Chinese scholars who had recently completed a visiting scholars residency at Duke. Their (the Chinese scholars') opinion was that it's as good as anything they can get in Beijing, Gunagzhou, Shanghai.

          1. I'm with rworange - I don't see any particular value in (so-called) objectivity.

            IMO, if it makes people happy to eat in strip malls, more power to them. Same for those who like deferential service, or ample parking, or triphop on the CD player..

            All kinds of factors -legitimately, illegitimately, whatever- affect our enjoyment of a meal. And IMO a) there's not much we can do about our biases, and b) sometimes they're actually helpful, like for example when they're the product of earned experience, like 'eat in strip malls in LA, but not SF.' So, fair enough. We know enjoying food isn't purely about the food; why should it be?