Definition of a hole in a wall place
Just wondering how people classify. One of my favorite places in Las Vegas is Lotus of Siam. I see lots of people calling it a hole in a wall. Sure it's in a dingy strip mall with a bunch of other restaurants and retail shops but once you're inside, the waiters are all dressed nicely in standard issue black and white. There's actual cloth covering the tables, not bare or plastic. There's glass and stemware for water and wine.
Maybe it's because I'm more geared to mom and pop family run places for daily fare and high end dining is special occassion. But I just don't consider LOS a hole in a wall.
To me hole is a wall is a place that is extremely non descript. Plain uncovered or plastic covered tables, waitstaff in regular clothing, plastic cups or the cheapest barware available for water. You get the point. That to me is a hole in a wall.
Hole in the Wall should be used to describe the whole experience. I'd say LOS is a "hidden gem".
I think the American "strip mall" is one the best places to find some "hole in the wall" or "suite in the mall." places. the rent or lease is typically low which allows some amazing mom & pops to survive and start their businesses. I may call LOS a Mom&Popo. Either way, you're not at Mesa Grill wit the tourists from Tampa and giving some of your money to the businesses off the strip - a good thing.
I have never been to Vegas, but will check it out if I go!
I usually consider it what others may call a "greasy spoon." Something with a lot of grease, and nothing really that extravagant, but they serve food and it's convenient.
To me "hole in the wall" basically means everything is geared towards the food. The chairs aren't all the same. The plates don't match. The "decor" is whatever the owner likes. The floor may be poured concrete, the waiters call you ya'll or hon and there's only one busser for the entire place. Sometimes there's a 15 year old tv in the corner. But if you're lucky the food's all handmade and as delicious as what you'd get at a 5 star. For further clarification, eat at Manuel's in Port Isabel, Texas.
that's it....the kind of mom & pop place where everything is unremarkable EXCEPT the food.
my all-time favorite "hole in the wall' was leonia pizzeria- a tiny, non-descript, family-owned place in leonia, nj. sadly, they closed many years ago. they had great, authentic ny-style pies...and the best red sauce.
I think it also has to do with reknownment. LOS is highly praised as the best Thai food in America and has won some awards. Once a restaurant starts getting that big I don't consider it to be a hole in the wall. It's no longer a "hidden" place as so many people go to Vegas to eat there.
Two "hole-in-the-walls" that give that term a good name:
644 W Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
The Coffee Cup
914 S Clarkson St
Charlotte, NC 28208-5308
Phone: (704) 375-8855
Fantastic food at both places!!!
("Link to a place Beta" isn't working for me for some reason.)
I used to eat at a Mexican place in Wichita that I considered "hole-in-the-wall." It was in an old gas station. It sat about six feet from the railroad tracks. There were, I think, seven tables in the dining room. The food was really good, especially the guacamole. (They've since relocated to a slightly larger place down the street, as I understand.)
My understanding of what "hole in the wall" means is just a small, out-of-the-way, unhyped place that turns out to be really good.
Times have changed. People all over America are now expecting to find good food and fairly comfortable surroundings in a strip mall. Gastro pubs are popping up. Diners are being constructed brand new to look old.
A real hole-in-the-wall is a place that looks downright crummy. Also called a dive. You should ask yourself, "does the county/city know about this place?" Basically, you're not going in unless you've read about it on Chowhound.
I think it's a pretty subjective term. To me, a hole in the wall means no thought to decor -- whether it's linoleum floors, plastic tablecloths, no tablecloths, unmatching silverware, glaring fluorescent lights, etc. For one of my sister's friends, his definition is a lot broader. He refuses to go to a restaurant that he thinks is too "ghetto" (his words, not mine). Not sure what he exactly means by that, but I definitely know that he refuses to go to any of the Penang chain restaurants in New York.
I think these people you mention put far too much weight on the appearance of the "book's cover." Once you enter this "hidden gem," as Sauce puts it (so well), the "hole" reveals so much more. Not all places want to (or need to) profer up mega-amounts of bling for their building to scream, "I'm so special! Hey loser - look over here - dine within my folds and you can transpose my great looks into your otherwise feeble ego!" Okay, maybe I'm being a little tough, but maybe those that would consider one of the best Thai restaurants outside of its mother country to be a hole in a wall need to reassess their definition of this term. As you mention, once the plain book cover is opened, not many would still call this place a hole in a wall. The service, the appearance, and of course, the food are speaking volumes for what really is scripted in these pages.
I think hole in a wall speaks more to not only the outer appearance of the place, but maybe even the location (as they define it in real estate terms), the appearance, the level of dinginess, and the other traits that you mention. But I can't help but refer again to Sauce's view of Lotus of Siam, and any other place that anyone else would define as characters relating to a hole in the wall - hidden gems, diamonds in the rough - call it what you will - to me, it's all about the food.
re: wayne keyser
Hahaha! Love this point made, Wayne! My and my hubby joke that if we AREN'T the only caucasians in an Asian resto, there's something askew. LOS, while a fantastically great place for food, is in a totally GHETTO strip-mall. Ghetto, as in...You better have a concealed weapons permit, and be carrying to be able to relax and not fear for your life. Lots of questionable, homeless scary people hang out in the massive parking lot. I only go there at daytime, or with a group of friends/husband. Is LOS a hole-in-the wall? Yes, and no. Yes, as for the mall, and the "hidden" location. No, as the resto is nicely appointed, great service and the food cannot be beat.
I haven't checked the bathroom there, tho. A dinky, gross bathroom would make it slide more into a dive for me. I would still eat there, just be sure to use the facilites at home before leaving.
I must have low standards then. I don't find that strip mall ghetto at all. Yeah, it's not the best shiniest best lit place but I've never felt uncomfortable walking to my car late in the evening by myself and I don't get bothered by homeless panhandling. It just comes across as an old tired mall.
As for the bathroom, I'm notorious for going into the bathroom of every single place I eat in. Theirs is fine, but my standards are also pretty basic. As long as the floor is dry, paper goods and soap are stocked, there's hot water and it's clean, I'm fine and take it as a good sign. I don't expect floral scents, hand cloths or shiny unmarked tile and fixtures. I'm okay with utilitarian fixtures as long as it's clean. In a small place, who cares if the paint is faded or the faucet is scratched up especially if it's because they scrub it regularly.
JUST so you know..The Cue Club, just one or 2 doors down from LOS, has a very heavy gang presence. Known fact, it is what it is.
That's very good you aren't worried about the surroundings on that strip-mall, but I hope that dosen't mean you aren't aware of what's around you.
Restrooms are another thing, they can be basic, but they better be CLEAN. Working toilet/sink, stocked paper towels, and a working fan. I personally -like- when a place tries to make the restroom just a little more pleasant, but then i'm a woman and notice these things.
Who cares if the paint is faded in a small place? Lots of people. If a place can't have pride in making their business look decent, do you really want to chance it on the food? Many times, these things are linked.
After having this same talk with my DH, he brought up a good point: A hole-in-the-wall many times makes very specific food, that you -know- your going for. Case-in-point is Sushi Yokohama Kaigenrou, right across the street from Hoffbrau Haus and the Hard Rock Hotel here in Vegas. The strip-mall it's in is VERY generic, and there's a Japanese video store, a Pho resto, and Kaigenrou. A "nothing" mall, in comparison to the other streets it's across from.But for us, the food is what brings us back, again and again. Excellent food, nothing location. Same with the other ramen-shop in town, Togoshi's. Even scarier than LOS's parking lot (if it's possible!), people go to that mall at night for only 2 things: ramen, and to buy drugs. Another place I don't go to at night alone in Vegas.
I guess everyone's got different levels of what makes a resto a hole-in-the-wall/greasy spoon, and hidden gem.
"Who cares if the paint is faded in a small place? Lots of people. If a place can't have pride in making their business look decent, do you really want to chance it on the food? Many times, these things are linked."
I have never found a relationship between decor and quality of food. I've eaten at plenty of places that look spiffy and serve lousy food, as well as food that has made me sick.
I have also had high-quality, beautifully prepared meals in some places that are complete dives. Seriously, you are not sure if the place is even open for business unless you tug at the door.
I agree that the places that look terrible SHOULD look nicer, but as someone who visits dives, I cannot use that as a guage for how much I am going to enjoy the meal.
Paint faded as in from being scrubbed and cleaned frequently is what I meant. As I mentioned, my basic requirements are that they are clean, dry, have hot water and stocked goods. In a mom and pop hole in a wall, I expect utilitarian.
As for awareness, I like to think I'm pretty aware. I walk around parts of LA regularly at various times of the evening. The LOS mall has never given me the heebie jeebies like some places do. I don't see some of the more common signs of gang activity, no people hanging out, graffitti, etc. Sure I wouldn't be hanging out there at midnight in the middle of the big lot. But after dinner around 9 to walk the 50 feet to my car?
But as you said, different standards for everyone and if you don't feel comfortable, that's the key. That's why asked the question, I was curious what people thought.
In the town I lived in previously, there was a place to get (at different times) burritos, soups, brownies and later, in a different incarnation, dumplings and noodles. It was, perhaps generously, about 6 feet by 5 feet total and you were served through, indeed, a hole in the wall. No place to sit, no bathroom, practically no inside at all. But, through the various incarnations, the food in that little spot has always been spectacular...it has to be, it's literally the only possible reason anyone would go there. And parking nearby was a nightmare, so one normally risked a ticket to get $3 worth of dumplings.
Since that place, I always think of it whenever anyone mentions a "hole in the wall."
To me a hole in the wall is non descript from the outside, easily missed, but once inside casual, but not a dump.
To me, a hole in the wall is a place that you probably wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it, and even then it's tough to spot. You're likely to walk right by without even seeing it, which is why a good hole in the wall can be a "hidden gem" when it's good, or a "dive" or "pit" when it's bad.
To me, a hole-in-the-wall is:
-nondescript (possibly even tacky-looking) on the outside
-in an unusual or less-than-ideal location (ie, in a strip mall)
-small (possibly even with no sitting room)
-minimally decorated, often in outdated or cheap furnishings, with slightly cafeteria-esque atmosphere
-food-wise, either unique (ie, fills a niche previously ignored) or exceptional (ie, much better than anyone else doing the same thing)
There are some exceptions for the decor; sometimes there's a clear effort to cheer up the place, make it comfortable and homey. But it's never luxurious.
And no rules for service. I've gotten every variation, from cavalier to spotless to clumsy but earnest.