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Things You Shouldn't Order at Just Any Restaurant

Previous to tonight I had two items I wouldn't order w/o a recommendation due to repeated poor experiences: pasta and ice cream desserts. On far too many occassions I (like many of us) have gotten overcooked pasta at restaurants. I've also gotten ice flakey ice cream many times. Tonight I realized another: the medium cooked burger. The one I ordered tonight was cold and texturally "weird" in the middle. Had to be a frozen pattie. I've even had ice crystals at the center of some burgers too.
So the newest addition to my list of "Things You Shouldn't Order at Just Any Restaurant" includes (along with pasta and ice cream desserts) medium cooked burgers. Do you have any to add?

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  1. Chicken sashimi.

    I've also given up on bleu steaks in the US.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wattacetti

      1. I agree about pasta, except in places truly dedicated to the finest level; otherwise, I can invariably do better at home. Ditto Caesar salad, for that matter.

      2. Chicken breasts, especially if boneless. Need I say more?

      3. Scrambled eggs.

      4. Clam chowder (unless it's a place that makes it in small batches and doesn't have to keep it over heat so that it doesn't have to use binders like roux or cornstarch; the thicker the chowder, the lazier the chef)

      5. Rice pilaf (unless its a true practitioner of the art).

      6. Generally: all buffet-suitable food that can be held for long periods over heat. Especially Chinese and Indian buffet. Extra oil makes it glisten and look like its holding up better than it actually is.

    2. Caesar salad. That is one of the most consistently awful menu items ever.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Isolda

        YES! Thank you! Always too salty or too bland. I'm fairly convinced no one actually tastes their Caesar salad dressing before serving it.

        1. Crab cakes, unless you have it on unassailable authority that they will be good.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Veggo

            I agree with crab cakes -- too bad, because good ones are so good. Also, fish tacos -- unless you're sure they're not going to come on flour tortillas, or with cheese. (Eww.) Pizza crust can be disappointing, so I usually won't order pizza unless the restaurant specializes in it or has a wood burning oven. I haven't had that much overcooked pasta. Gnocchi is more problematic.

              1. re: Veggo

                Yes! I swear, I have had like, 3 great restaurant crab cakes in my life. The rest range from passable to downright awful. I go through periods of being Pescatarian, so often a crab cake is one of my only options and wow, is that ever a crapshoot.

                  1. ah, so many things... ;)
                    salads of any kind.
                    chicken of any simple description
                    stuffed/baked pasta. both hard and doughy with not very subtle fillings.
                    steaks
                    soup
                    risotto!
                    cold cut sandwiches
                    roasted or in general, vegetables- this is usually ok but can also be done terribly
                    shrimp, since when did it become acceptable to serve something resembling a rancid gnocchi?
                    french fries unfortunately. if i'm going to eat these, they'd better be damn good. and i'm not sure why it's so hard for some places to get ff right.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: fara

                      Salads of any kind? Why?

                      It kind of, um, looks like you've severely limited themselves.

                      1. re: jmckee

                        it's not that I never have a salad out. The title post asks which things am I careful about ordering. it makes sense given how many awful salads there are out there.

                    2. Beef tatar or carpaccio

                      oysters on the half shell

                      Kibbe Naye (sp?)

                      tuna tatar--etc.

                      HMM, I'm seeing a theme here--uncooked is lovely, but I make sure I trust the source.

                      Agree with some of the above where technique is important--risotto especially--heck, I have not yet gotten my own just so. Hate to order it in a restaurant and feel like it's merely a rice dish with nice ingredients added. I want that creaminess and bite.

                      1. White rice.

                        It should either be free, or get some other carb.

                        1. Omelets - I like them soft, buttery and eggy the way they are served in France.

                          In the US, I've never had a decent omelet that didn't taste like a golf ball. They are often overstuffed with ingredients which makes them taste even more like cardboard.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Beau711

                            Just what I was thinking - a good omelet is a deceptively simple dish.

                          2. I generally don't order eggs at restaurants, and basically never omlettes or scrambled eggs. It's a combination of the need to have it perfectly cooked, and the speed with which they become cold.

                            There are some things I don't order based on food safety, unless I'm sure the restaurant is capable of doing it right. That includes hamburgers anywhere short of well done (unless I know they're hand-grinding the meat), chicken sashimi, raw or rare lake or river fish (no rare salmon unless they've got a sushi chef around), and raw shellfish in general.

                            For seafood it depends somewhat. I'm lucky that I live in an area where good fresh seafood is readily available and people generally know how to cook it. But I wouldn't go to a random US chain restaurant and order seafood that wasn't a minor part of a larger dish, or something like popcorn shrimp, which is mainly batter.

                            Something like a Caesar salad I might order, but I would order it assuming that it would be romaine lettuce, croutons and bottled dressing. It's not a true Caesar, but it's fine on its own merits. Actually, for a number of the things here, I'd order them, but not expect the same sort of dish I'd get at a really good restaurant, or at home.

                            1. Chicken Fried Steak is definitely a case of Caveat Emptor! You never really know if your gonna get a nice crunchy flavorful steak or a frozen bland pressed meat patty. I won't order it if there is any doubt whatsoever.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: PotatoHouse

                                So TRUE! I pretty much will only order it if it is pan fried and you just don't see a lot of restaurants doing that. CFS is so much better at home. Messy, but infinitely better.

                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                  I would say no to chicken fried anywhere but Texas or Oklahoma, but you still have to be careful. I had a great one in Houston on Tuesday, Dot Coffee Shop, to be exact.

                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                    You can add Kansas to that list, and I've had great CFS
                                    in Southern Nebraska too. Maybe I-80 is the spiritual cutoff
                                    for plains states/cattle country fried goodness.

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      I think you and BBQ boy might be correct. While visiting my sister in Lexington, Kentucky I thought I was safe ordering a CFS. I mean, there is some good down home cookin' to be found in Kentucky! Well, that was a mistake. Brown Gravy, like roast beef brown gravy. Not the loverly brown tinted cream gravy that you want with a good CFS. A tragedy of epic proportion, yet many calories saved!

                                  2. Seafood chowder. Not me, but my Dad. He will order this at any restaurant, in the hopes that it will be more than rubbery, pre-frozen marinara mix stirred through lumpy potato soup. And every time he does, his verdict is "that was bloody awful". He's 55 years old and hasn't given up yet.

                                    I never order spaghetti bolognese or lasagne out. That's home-comfort, cooking for a crowd stuff - and you like it how your mama makes it. Not the nasty canteen slop that seems to come out of kitchens.

                                    Most fish and seafood, unless I'm at a specialist place. Why? I grew up in New Zealand. We get the best of this stuff on the end of a line or with a snorkel. Sure, sometimes I just want some down and dirty fish and chips, but I'm loathe to pay restaurant prices for overcooked, poorly prepared fish and seafood.

                                    1. I live in the Midwest, so by far, I would have to say seafood. We have a couple of places here that fly in fresh seafood (and the cost is commensurate with that) but in general, don't order food that is not available fresh locally. Even on the coasts, I would find out the source before ordering seafood. Particularly if it is printed on the menu and not a special. If you can count of having it every single day, likely you are not getting it fresh because fresh fish, IME, means "catch of the day" and "we're not sure what that might be until the boats get in".

                                        1. Seafood in New Mexico and Mexican food in Maine. Regionalism holds sway.

                                          1. I won't order anything that isn't in the "critical path" for the restaurant (a burger at a Mexican place, pizza at a steak place).

                                            I won't order anything that sounds like it wouldn't be ordered often or be popular (I can't trust the alligator for the alligator pizza is fresh.)

                                            I concur with someone else's nomination of lasagna. Too many times is is horrid.

                                            Callimari is also one that must be recommended before I try it.

                                                1. french toast, unless you like mushy bread.

                                                  1. fried chicken. easy to do wrong, hard to do right.

                                                    1. I agree with the folks voting for pasta and seafood. In fact, I can't remember the last time I ordered pasta while dining out.

                                                      1. Ribs. Order them in the wrong restaurant and you're getting boiled/baked/crock potted falling off the bone mush.

                                                        1. BBQ. particularly if you dislike excess sauce

                                                          4 Replies
                                                            1. re: James Cristinian

                                                              ... well, that's what I'd say, but I didn't want to get run off from the board. ;-)

                                                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                Actually, not "Good BBQ" but instead, REALLY Good BBQ.

                                                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                  Hm. Well that depends on where you're from. I'm from Arkansas, and particularly like my BBQ sauce with a side of ribs. With extra sauce on the side. Plus hot sauce. ;)

                                                              2. "BBQ" anywhere that doesn't have a stack of wood somewhere near their building.

                                                                Chicken of any kind. I think Tony Bourdain made a comment in Kitchen Confidential that chicken on a restaurant menu is for people that don't know what they want to eat. Unless it's a simplly roasted bird, or fried and of good repute, it's typically a vehicle or protein added to something else.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: laststandchili

                                                                  i find that's not true in asian restaurants, where it tends to have been a dietary staple. plus, who turns down homemade chicken soup?

                                                                2. Being Italian, American, it was ingrained in me, never to order pasta from an "American" place..

                                                                  I am in NYC, so there are many really delicious pasta dishes available now, however, I still would never order pasta from a place that is not Italian. (ie - a bistro or bar)

                                                                  However, recently, at 2 different bars in Jersey, my dining companions ordered pasta, and both times. I was shocked at how perfect and delicious both dishes were!!

                                                                  Both, times it happened to be rigatoni pasta with a hearty ragu.

                                                                  One was wild boar, and the other a duck ragu...Amazing! It was unfortunate because I kept "tasting" their food!
                                                                  and it was killing me that the dish wasnt mine!

                                                                  sooooo....maybe it's time to be a bit more open minded! ...not sure, but maybe!

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: NellyNel

                                                                    Which bars in Jersey? I'd plan a road trip for rigatoni with either wild boar or duck ragu.

                                                                    1. re: Whinerdiner

                                                                      UGH - I'm so sorry - I got it completely wrong!
                                                                      I had duck ragu at some treally nice Italian place in Brooklyn, but can't remember the name.
                                                                      And I don't know where I had the Wildboar ragu...

                                                                      I just checked the menu's of the 2 places I THOUGHT I had them at -
                                                                      One being Madison's in Hoboken - it was actually Fusilli, braised pork and beef ragu "Bolognese" tomato and creme fraiche.
                                                                      Delicious, nevertheless!

                                                                      the other (and maybe they have changed the menu ) is Iron monkey in Jersy City.
                                                                      Rigatoni with Sweet Italian Sausage Ragu"
                                                                      Also, damn tasty - which is a shock because everything else is supremely average.
                                                                      (This post may get deleted!!)

                                                                      1. re: NellyNel

                                                                        No worries Nelly - You gave me some ideas for what to cook this weekend. I have several ducks and an entire butchered hog in the freezer. If I can get my hands on some Wild Boar, I'll try the ragu. If not, I'll go the braised pork and beef route instead.

                                                                    2. re: NellyNel

                                                                      I'll just add that in regard to pasta my issue in addition to overcooked pasta is overdressed pasta which is just as common.

                                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                                        Very good point on the overdressing - that's one of my restaurant peeves with pasta as well. Few things are nastier than a plate of spaghetti under a gloppy, oily, congealed mass of sauce. I'll only order pasta out at a higher-end, non-Italian American restaurant - or when in Italy. I'm just very fussy about Italian food in general as I cook it so much at home and I can often do it better than I get while out dining.

                                                                        Oysters and other raw bar items as well - gotta be a place that specializes in them for me to order.

                                                                    3. steak, a lot of places screw it up somehow
                                                                      I agree with ice cream, a lot of places screw it up somehow
                                                                      omelets, a lot of places screw them up somehow
                                                                      calamari too!

                                                                      1. Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" has quite a list of things that he thinks no one should get. Examples include brunch, fish on certain days of the week, etc. Not sure if I agree with all of them, but quite interesting.

                                                                        1. Don't eat out often for breakfast unless I'm on business travel. So many times I think a nice bowl of oatmeal is just the way I want to start my day. Then I think back to the slimy, pasty, bland concoctions restaurants try to pass off as oatmeal, shudder, and make sure to ask how it's prepared before ordering.

                                                                          And I heartily second the mention of crabcakes. Even more disappointing when they're expensive and STILL bad.

                                                                          1. Tacos

                                                                            Turkey clubs (heaven forbid I get a sandwich with that fake, jello turkey substance.)

                                                                            Mayo, Tartar sauce, Cole Slaw, Potato salad - all the same for me - if you tell me it's mayo, and it's really that sugary white glop known as "salad dressing," you'll have two strikes against you after I spit out the first bite. These things should NOT be sweet, imo. I think it's totally foul. <gag>

                                                                            Cream based soups.

                                                                            1. anything served with "fresh fruit", unless at a really nice resto. Too often it's canned, mushy crap, or something really out of season.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: PotatoPuff

                                                                                I learned that lesson last weekend. I ordered the waffle with fresh seasonal fruit (strawberries). I guess those strawberries might have been fresh and seasonal last year before they were frozen and drowned in fake strawberry gelantinous goo. Maybe the server was embarrassed because she didn't even charge me for the extra fruit (and even calling it fruit is being generous.)

                                                                              2. in general i dont order anything at a resto thats not along the lines of that restos main theme. eg, would have a hard time ordering a pizza at a asian place, or sushi from a burger joint.

                                                                                however, things like pizza, burgers, tacos, pasta, etc i have a hard time ordering from anywhere that is not making them fresh and by hand. ive been spoiled by some excellent restaurant and home meals.

                                                                                oh and definitely fish. fish is scary if not fresh!!

                                                                                1. - mashed potatoes
                                                                                  - mac & cheese
                                                                                  - coffee or espresso
                                                                                  - steamed vegetables
                                                                                  - home fries or hash browns
                                                                                  - guacamole
                                                                                  - custard-based desserts
                                                                                  - fruit pies
                                                                                  - grilled octopus & calamari

                                                                                  1. Pies. They just don't seem to be compatible with restaurants in general. Cakes, muffins, even danish can be good but the pie crust sure as hell won't be.

                                                                                    1. Sushi. I love sushi, but not the stuff that sits around refrigerated until the rice congeals. Only in good Japanese restaurants

                                                                                      "Chinese" food. I've never had good Chinese food from a place that wasn't Chinese.

                                                                                      "Regular" steak (e.g. porterhouse or such) - I only eat steak once in a while. The reason to order it out is because of aging of the meat. Only a few places have the facilities to do this.

                                                                                      Anything fried other than french fries.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: plf515

                                                                                        I'm curious why you won't order anything fried other than french fries. I never deep fry at home and while I don't eat fried chicken (or oysters!) often, when I do it's always from a restaurant.

                                                                                      2. Don’t order any “regional food” unless you’re in that region of the country. Lobster bisque in Oklahoma City? I don’t think so. Chicken Fried Steak in New Jersey? Not on a bet. Soft shell crab in Utah? Nope. You get the idea.

                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: bobbert

                                                                                          'Don’t order any “regional food” unless you’re in that region of the country.'

                                                                                          IHere in Fort Worth I guess I'd be in Heaven if I was into BBQ & beef, but I don't eat red meat. Therefore I rarely eat out.

                                                                                          I was back in CA a few weeks ago at a horse show and was pretty impressed by the salad I had at the little lunch counter at the show!! Better than what I'd get in most restaurants in Fort Worth, and I wasn't in a major metropolitan area in CA.

                                                                                          Getting back to the original topic, I won't order anything raw or close to raw if freshness and health could be an issue. I'll order a salad with the least offensive dressing "on the side" if there isn't anything else edible on the menu.

                                                                                          I'll order anything off of the menu at a good Mariscos restaurant since I figure if they can do the seafood well, then their quality level with be the same with a simple chicken enchilada. Ordering even regular Mexican food if you are more than 200 miles from the border is a big mistake!

                                                                                          There was a line on a menu in Burbank, CA at an "Italian" restaurant (probably phonetically "EYEtalyan") that stated 'any pasta cooked "al dente" will be $???? (can't remember the price) extra.' Gees, that meant every pasta was precooked.

                                                                                          I like the freshest ingredients possible, so as someone else said about the "alligator pizza", just HOW fresh is that alligator. When I'm in South Texas I often order alligator at certain restaurants since I know they have a good turn over and are often sold out. Same thing for calf fries. I know, I know, I said I don't eat red meat, but are calf fries actually "red meat"? Personally I think calf fries are just a biproduct of all you burger/steak lovers. LOL You want them steers that will be on your plate!! I'm not crazy about beef but calf fries are better than I thought they would be.

                                                                                          Anyway, I'm pretty picky about ordering at restaurants.....my personal health is first (don't wanna get food poisoning), second is nutrition (gobs of fat/sodium/unhealthy stuff), third is an absolutely fabulous meal! Is that weird?

                                                                                          1. re: bobbert

                                                                                            You're right, of course. I always wonder why tourists want to order clam chowder in San Francisco. It's not what we do well here.

                                                                                            1. re: Glencora

                                                                                              Cioppino is the thing to order in San Francisco!

                                                                                          2. My personal rules are never to order pasta at steak place, and never to order steak at a pasta place. In fact with steak, don't order it at all unless steak is a specialty. I also stay away from almost all chicken breast sandwiches. If grilled they will be too dry; if fried, they don't fit into my eating plan.

                                                                                            1. Any dessert which is in a display case "presliced" with paper between the portions.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: sbp

                                                                                                Cheesecake is the only dessert that it is permissible to have it presliced.

                                                                                                I'm with Bobbert about the regionallity and ethnicity of food.