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How adventurous are you about trying restaurants sight unseen?

Most of us would go to a place recommended by someone whose opinion we trust - that is the point of these boards to a large extent.

I currently live in a little town where I don't think any restaurant (not that many here) hasn't been tried and either thumbs upped or downed by someone I know. But I am about to move to LA, a much larger place with probably 100 restaurants in each 5 block square, and tons of places that neither I nor anyone I know has ever stepped foot into.

Which got me thinking - how often do you eat at a restaurant that you don't know anything about, have not heard anything about, and which hasn't been recommended (nor dissed) by anyone you know or don't know? Really sight unseen. Just step in and take a leap of faith? We can respond on a scale of (1) often, (2) regularly, (3) on occasion, and (4) rarely or never.

ROAD TRIPS DON'T COUNT. Only because most of us do stop at places we don't know anything about when we're on a road trip and we have to eat somewhere.

If you are an "often" or a "regularly," how has it worked out for you? Are you pleased more often than dissapointed? Have you found a place you absolutely adore and come back to frequently that you just stumbled across in this fashion?

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  1. "Which got me thinking - how often do you eat at a restaurant that you don't know anything about, have not heard anything about, and which hasn't been recommended (nor dissed) by anyone you know or don't know?"

    Rarely. To be honest, I used to do it a lot more often because I used to have more flexible time and internet reviews were not that proliferated. Now, it is just so easy to check up online reviews for various restaurants. Nevertheless, I have recently tried a restaurant which I drove past very often -- no review, no planning, just suddenly decided to make a turn.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      How did it turn out? It's true that it seems any place can be found on yelp at least. But I have to think that in a city like LA where the number of restaurants must number in the hundreds of thousands, that not even half are actually rated and available online...

      1. re: sasha1

        It turned out to be so-so. It wasn't great, and it wasn't bad. It makes sense too. I didn't try a place far my work. It is a restaurant very close to my work. Yet, I have never heard of my coworkers/friends talk about it. So it makes logical sense.

        Come to think of it a bit more, I actually tried a lot of restaurants without reading reviews or hearing from friends. I just didn't intentionally drive out to try many unknown restaurants, but I did try them because I was already there. For example, I go to the Philadelphia Chinatown often, and more than half of restaurants I ate there -- I tried them without any prior knowledge. I do usually peek in the restaurants to see if there were any other patrons.

        "Are you pleased more often than dissapointed?"

        Yes, I would say that I am pleased more often than disappointed.

        "Have you found a place you absolutely adore and come back to frequently that you just stumbled across in this fashion?"

        Yes, actually I frequently revisited the Chinese dim sum restaurant called Ocean Harbor in the Philadelphia Chinatown. It is fairly famous and that if I did any homework I would have known about it. Yet, that was my first or second time in Chinatown, and I was just looking for a Dim Sum restaurant and I saw a lot people in the restaurant, so I decided that it must be reasonably good -- so I suppose you can argue that I did have some information from the numbers of customers there. I have since visited this restaurants numerous time -- about 1-2 times a month.

        There is another restaurant there called Four Rivers. Now, this one I tried without any prior knowledge -- absolutely none. I was late, and the restaurant I intended to go to was closed, so I wanted to try sometime new. There wasn't many people in the restaurant -- since it was an odd time (3-4 PM I think). The foods and service were much better than I have expected.

        http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/Wl7iw_...

        Another one is a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai. Similar situation as above. In fact, it looked a bit run down and scary from the outside, but the interior is much bigger and much nicer. It also turned out to be much better than I had originally expected.

        http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-xe-lua-vi...

        1. re: sasha1

          Thanks for sharing your experiences. You bring up two good points - probably most of the places we would all try without any advance information are those in our neighborhoods, whether that be home, work, or some other places we regularly appear. We wouldn't ordinarily drive across town to go to this type of place.

          Second, even if we haven't ever heard of a place, the fact that there are other people inside is a good indicator. The more people (usually) the better. One special application of this rule that has worked for me - not without exceptions - is that if it is an ethnic cuisine place, I look for what proportion of the patrons are same ethnicity, rather than white folks. Typically that is a good yardstick too regarding a so-so vs. good Mexican, Indian, or Chinese place that I otherwise don't know much about.

          1. re: sasha1

            "is that if it is an ethnic cuisine place, I look for what proportion of the patrons are same ethnicity, rather than white folks" Doesn't Seinfeld or Saturday Night Live has a episode on that? It is funny, but it is also somewhat reliable.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              In my past experience, that practice holds very true. Now, however, it no longer works.

              All the Japanese restaurants are full of Japanese people, the good restaurants and the bad. And all of the Italian, Chinese, Korean restaurants are also full of Japanese people :P

              1. re: TeRReT

                "All the Japanese restaurants are full of Japanese people, the good restaurants and the bad. And all of the Italian, Chinese, Korean restaurants are also full of Japanese people :P"

                It took me a second. This is funny and clever. I probably would have missed it if you didn't include the "And all of the Italian, Chinese, Korean restaurants are also full of Japanese people".

      2. I've had better luck going to restaurants people haven't talked about or said negative things about then I have had going to restaurants people have suggested.

        Not reviews on here mind you, but one of the worst restaurants I've been to was praised in lonely planet, yet the food was inedible. Cold, soggy fries, cold, over cooked unidentifiable fish sandwich on wonder bread where all other restaurants in the area were highlighting all sorts of buns and amazing breads. (Restaurant was in Bermuda, fish sandwiches are abundant there and normally delicious)

        A pho restaurant in Toronto that everybody raves about my fiancee and I were completely unimpressed with, but a pho restaurant that most people stay away from is by far our favourite of any pho tried in Canada, Australia and Japan.

        Best pad Thai and other street foodish thai dishes we had were in a small hole in the wall that we'd never heard of or had recommended to us in Sydney that we found per chance on one of our first nights in Australia. I am from a small city north of Toronto, and its not known to be nearly as multi-cultured as Toronto, mostly meat and potato type things, and hadn't heard any good reviews at all about a Thai restaurant there, but was across the road from my work, and tried it one day, then went back with my fiancee, incredible Thai food!

        1 Reply
        1. re: TeRReT

          The same thing has happened to me here and there, although mostly the recs I get are good ones. My bad recs come from friends of mine who I love, but who couldn't tell the different between a parisian baguette and the par baked la brea baguette that they picked up in their local grocery.

          Otoh, we went to a super pricey restaurant on one of the Hawaiian islands because it was the top rated place there (can't recall now which) and the food was absolutely inedible - everything a salt lick. It was as though the kitchen boiled it all in a concentrate of the ocean water lapping at their patio.

          And one of my absolute favorite ramen places - I go back over and over - is not even among the top 10 probably of the ramen places in LA. To be fair, I always get exactly the same thing, which is wonderful, and not offered in many other places (mabo ramen). I couldn't tell you much about the other bowls of ramen and maybe they are better in other places...

        2. Very. As long as a resto serves a type of cuisine I like, and as long as the price isn't utterly absurd, I'm willing to give just about any resto a shot. Of course, if I've read lots of terrible reviews about the place, I'll avoid it. I value my meals and my money too much to waste them.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            You must be having some positive experiences if you continue to do it. Have you found a favorite this way? It's kind of cool to be a trailblazer and have found a great place before everyone else finds it, huh?

            1. re: sasha1

              Well, to be honest, my resto adventurousness stems partly from a love of eating out and partly from relative restaurant scarcity. I live in a city of 230,000 and have tried just about all the restaurants here that I'm interested in. But I always keep my eyes open for new restos and am always willing to give the new place at least one shot sight unseen. You get some hits and you get some misses, but you'll never know for sure until you try the place yourself. Hell, perhaps my favorite local restaurant has a mere 53% approval rating on Urbanspoon. Utterly preposterous. If I took the word of the great unwashed I'd have missed out on dozens of stupendous meals.

          2. I almost never eat somewhere that I know nothing about. Finding a review in a guidebook or online is almost commonplace for us in deciding where , or where not, to eat. It means that, almost every time, we have a pretty good meal because we've excluded the duffers.

            1. When I moved to Cambridge a few years back it was (1) often. We were excited to move to a larger more diverse food city (moved from Baltimore) so I would search Yelp for restaurants (location, type of food) and then go try them. After I would check Chowhound for reviews. I didn't want stranger's recommendations/warnings to influence my decisions. I wanted to learn for myself. And I'm happy that I did it that way.

              Now that we have been up here for a few years I think we are more of a (3) on occasion. I've found a few Chowhounds whose opinions/experiences I trust. And since we have cut down on eating out/take out I don't want to waste too much $ trying unknown restaurants.

              4 Replies
              1. re: viperlush

                It's kind of cheating to check yelp, not that you shouldn't do it. But what I had in mind was really a black hole of information about a place and you still wandered in and sat down.

                1. re: sasha1

                  It was more of a "<type of cuisine> w/in _miles". And then used the map feature to see exactly what was near us. This helped pointed us in a direction ("so that's where Chinatown/North End/ Allston is") when we left the apartment.

                    1. re: viperlush

                      Since you are not cheating, then we will let you get a passing grade.