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Jun 8, 2008 12:54 AM

When you try a new ethnic food/restaurant for the first time...

How do you know what to order? Do you ask the server for advice? What do you ask for so that it's not safe, dumbed down and boring but rather exciting and interesting?

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  1. Sometimes I ask the server for advice, but usually I just look around the room and see what other people are eating...and ask for "what that table is having"... :)

    1. I do the following:

      1, Check the menu for signature dishes. If the menu is smallish I will extensively read the ingredients to see what appeals to me

      2, ask the waiter. What's popular? What dish do people rave about? What dish on here is amazing that people don't realize or might skip by? I sometimes mention, I'm adventurous and would like something memorable

      3, Look around. Many a times I've seen some amazing looking dish that smells great walk by the table.

      4, Ask on here. If it's a restaurant touted by Chowhounds in the area, I'll research the begeesus out of it, especially if the menu is Lotus of Siam in Vegas. That menu is HUGE, well to me anyways. And I havent had enough Thai to recognize what I'm ordering. Since that City has a billion restaurants, that's the one place I'll have lists in my purse for dishes to try. Who knows when I'll be back! :D

      1. Never ... never, never, never ... never ... ask the server for advice ... first.

        About 99.9% of the time they will give you the gringo special and/or most expensive dish on the menu.

        The best tip is to check out what the other tables have on them and what looks good.

        If I have the time ...
        - I'll stop by and ask for a take-out menu to see what they have
        - Then I'll search the web for a little info about that particular cuisine in addition to looking on Chowhound and other restaurant sites to see if there is any info at all.
        - I'll look on the web to see if there are any online menus for restuarants for that cuisine and see if there is an oddball dish on the menu. That means the restaurant might be serving something no one else does. I'll ask about that when I go.

        If I'm going in to a place without info about it, in addition to looking around, I try to strike up a conversation with the server or owner asking questions like ...

        - Can you tell me a little more about xxx dish?
        - Really? So where in xxx country are you from?
        - How long has this restaurant been open? Is this your first restaurant?
        - Do you have specials? Is there any other food on the weekend? Is there anything not on the menu?

        That last works well even if you do all the research. It show you are interested in the cuisine and restaurant owner, I guess.

        For example, I went into a well-covered restaurant elsewhere on the web. Did all my research. I was determined NOT to ordered the dishes EVERYONE else glommed onto because it was Meditteranean cuisine.

        After a little talking I found that the wife was Mexican and her grandmother was making tamales. Also they made some soul food dishes that catered to the customers of the attached bar. None of this was on the menu. Those tamales are amoung the top I've tried in the area and they gave me one for free ... all I was going for was the Lebanese food which I never had before. That was good too and I learned alot.

        Talk to the staff other than asking 'what's good?'

        4 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          "About 99.9% of the time they will give you the gringo special and/or most expensive dish on the menu."

          I've never had this problem. I'd have no problem calling them out if it was the most expensive item or "hmmm, that's the special, is that really good or is your manager trying to push it?" I do it with humour to ease them a bit. But be seriously enough for them to get the drift.

          1. re: livetocook

            There's something I haven't tried.

            Now do you have a good response for 'everything's good'. That one always shuts me down as well and I stop relying on the server. My usual follow ups get recommendations for red, green or yellow curry at Thai places, sweet and sour pork at Chinese, etc, etc.

            1. re: rworange

              Hmm good question. I don't know if anyone has every responded, everything. Yeah that's a pretty useless response.

              I'd probably make some smart ass remark, like, "wow I should be lucky I got in without a reservation then"

              1. re: livetocook

                Ethnic ... ethnic ... English as a second language ... usually no reservations ... smart ass is either missed or could get you in serious trouble.

        2. I usually do a bit of research on the cusine or menu of the place. I also try to be adventerous. If it has things in it that I like I try it. I only had one real disappointment so far. I ordered soup at a Thai place and just could not stand the taste. As long as I am not eating Prairie Oysters or balut etc.... I give it a try.

          And I agree you never ask your server what is good. I have had things recommended when they are specials, but I go my own way. They have not eaten all the food on the menu, they are not the chef and yes they want you to order $$$ or they just don't care.

          3 Replies
          1. re: libgirl2

            Thanks all - I have always hated asking the server, who invariably says "everything's good".

            It also seems like sometimes the descriptions are not that descriptive "lamb with vegetables" "chicken in sauce", etc.

            I like the idea of looking around at other tables to see what they're having.

            1. re: Eujeanie

              Thanks all - I have always hated asking the server, who invariably says "everything's good".


              Sometimes, and obviously that's useless, and obviously the gringo special (whatever it is - Chinese - anything) is even more worthless, but sometimes the server is straight up, like the chap in the Indian restaurant last week, and sometimes I'll ask what it is on another table that looks good...but the most important clue I have about an ethnic restaurant being good is to look and see if people of that ethnicity are actually patronizing the joint!

              1. re: justjoe

                Yeah, that's why I said 99.9%. Sometimes you get someone who you just feel is being straight up either by attitude or body language or tone of voice.

                However, as far as judging a restaurant by how many people of that ethnicity eat there ... Denny's, McDonalds, KFC, etc, etc, etc ... are filled with Americans. It doesn't make it good American food. Other ethnicities probably have similar reasons for choosing a joint ... price, proximity, tradition... how many miserable restaurants do many people continue to patronize because they grew up going there. It might not be good, but there's a sense of family.

                One note ... if you plan to go to a restaurant more than once, but really hate something like that Thai soup ... DON"T say you don't like it ... tell them you are full and want to enjoy it at home ... or you are not feeling well ... or something and have it packaged to go.

                Otherwise you mark yourself as someone who doesn't want the real stuff. Even worse ... it enforces the stereotype in the mind of the restaurant owners that people of other ethnicities will not like the real stuff. It makes it bad for all of us.

                Like the other poster, I only had one dish that was sticks in my mind as awful ... a Nicaraguan dish call boho ... or something close ... which amounted to boiled unseasoned beef with bland veggies like yucca ... yuck-a. I packaged it and the cat enjoyed the beef.

          2. My wife always orders chile relleno at a new Mexican restaurant, and those chicken appetizers on a stick with peanut sauce at an unfamiliar Thai restaurant. She says if those are good, the rest of the menu will be. It's not worth arguing with her on the Mexican, but I don't agree on the Thai.

            2 Replies
            1. re: DonShirer

              Ok, it's not Mexican or Thai...the 2 places I want to try are Turkish and Indo chinese (both in New York - I originally posted this on the NY board but the powers that be moved it here).

              I love middle eastern Mezze, but what can I get in a turkish restaurant that is really good? I love lamb, eggplant - people have said the ground meatballs but that *sounds* so boring.

              Indochinese I have no idea about...I know rijstaffel (sp) but I want something beyond that - what is really interesting and good?

              1. re: Eujeanie

                For Turkish ... Borek .. sort of the Turkish answer to egg rolls.

                Some suggestions to answer those specifics

                1. Post on the board that each of these restaurants are located. Two separate posts. Put the restaurant name in the Title. Ask what is good.

                2. Post two separate queries on the General Board something like
                - Help ... new to Turkish food ... what should I order.
                - Need information about ordering Indo Chinese food

                For point number one, you will get info about each specific restaurant and it won't be moved.

                For point two, you will get people with knowledge and interest in the specific cuisine.