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How to spot a good restaurant


fresco
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Recently we were on the way home from Cleveland and stopped in the Cincinnati suburbs to visit Jungle Jim's International Market.  We asked the checkout clerk for a suggestion on a good place to eat, and she enthusiastically pointed out the Golden Corral up the street... "It's soooo good, and all you can eat," she said, foaming at the mouth.

one sure-fired way to end up at a horrible restaurant is to ask a complete stranger.

Especially rabid ones.

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Lyle,

I think there are parts of the world where steakhouses ARE regional cuisine. And not too shabby regional cuisine, either.

Of course there are, but steakhouses, or more specifically places that specialize in beef, are more universal. You're likely to find them anywhere unlike, say, a gumbo shop.

Rice pie is nice.

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The subject of new area restaurants came up in the breakroom recently. The secretary told me in an awed voice of her spectacular trip to the new Olive Garden- the food and service were just superb, superb! Oh, and the portions were just right. :rolleyes:

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:smile:

I usually look for people drinking AND eating at the bar. Maybe its just me but I think the food tends to be pretty good at restaurants where people are actually eating things other than nuts at the bar.

Fallback position in a strange city with no fine dining in site: spend enough time at the bar that the peanuts are all you need. Go to back to the hotel early, preferrably not with a local. Fly home the next morning at get dinner there, pleased that you actually lost weight on a business trip.

Too rational, not enough fun.

Edited by sammy (log)

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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S'kat,

Actually, I find it refreshing that there are people who are delighted in places like Olive Garden. Would that we were all so easily pleased.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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:smile:
I usually look for people drinking AND eating at the bar. Maybe its just me but I think the food tends to be pretty good at restaurants where people are actually eating things other than nuts at the bar.

Fallback position in a strange city with no fine dining in site: spend enough time at the bar that the peanuts are all you need. Go to back to the hotel early, preferrably not with a local. Fly home the next morning at get dinner there, pleased that you actually lost weight on a business trip.

Too rational, not enough fun.

OK, spend enough time at the bar that the penuts are all you need. Go back to the hotel WITH a local. Go to breakfast at 3AM, have fried eggs and hash browns and try to remember the other person's name in time to get a ride back to the hotel.

Fly home the next day, lie to your spouse, brag to your buddies.

Not that I'd ever do anything like that....

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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:smile:
I usually look for people drinking AND eating at the bar. Maybe its just me but I think the food tends to be pretty good at restaurants where people are actually eating things other than nuts at the bar.

Fallback position in a strange city with no fine dining in site: spend enough time at the bar that the peanuts are all you need. Go to back to the hotel early, preferrably not with a local. Fly home the next morning at get dinner there, pleased that you actually lost weight on a business trip.

Too rational, not enough fun.

OK, spend enough time at the bar that the penuts are all you need. Go back to the hotel WITH a local. Go to breakfast at 3AM, have fried eggs and hash browns and try to remember the other person's name in time to get a ride back to the hotel.

Fly home the next day, lie to your spouse, brag to your buddies.

Not that I'd ever do anything like that....

What was your name, anyway? :biggrin:

As another qualifier, how about a good looking service staff that does not have name tags on their shirts?

Edited by sammy (log)

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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The best way to scope out the best restaurants for me is to get on eGullet and ask.  That got me a good meal in Atlanta anyhow.  I'm rather concerned for the people that case the parking lots.

Back when we still had a budget for business trips, I had great luck with that technique in Kansas City and Chicago via browsing... um, some other site. But generic rules of thumb would be handy for more impulsive situations.

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I've had luck with Greek restaurants and diners in places like Buffalo and Columbus, Ohio. Any place run by Greeks that serves Moussaka has a shot of being at least acceptable.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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When traveling in a new city, I would suggest just asking around for suggestions...

But way too often I find that when I ask, say, the clerk at the hotel's front desk, when I actually arrive at his suggestion, the chef seems to either mysteriously have the same last name, or greet me with a "oh, did cousin Bill send you?"

Of course, once in a while you'll be lucky and find a winner.

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I was in Little Rock once and asked around the hotel for a decent rib place -- playing to the local strengths, I hoped, as suggested earlier in the thread. Got a lot of lame recommendations, the HI Ribsters Fridays by the Tourist River Walk Underground Centre and the like. Finally, someone recommended a place in the "bad" (ie "black") part of town and a bunch of us hunted it down. Great ribs. Great juke box. Nasty beer, but served in BIG cans. And the hostess/owner/chef was as friendly as she could be. Not like those brutes in New York (if anyone's following that thread).

So, don't ask the locals, interrogate the punks until they give you what you need. Don't take Olive Garden for answer, they're only telling you what they think you want to hear.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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So, don't ask the locals, interrogate the punks until they give you what you need.  Don't take Olive Garden for answer, they're only telling you what they think you want to hear.

What if they're right?

Rice pie is nice.

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I usually look for people drinking AND eating at the bar. Maybe its just me but I think the food tends to be pretty good at restaurants where people are actually eating things other than nuts at the bar.

Bars are for drinking, restaurants are for eating. If you get people eating at the bar there's something wrong with the balance. Give it a miss. The short menu is a much better guide. A daily menu is even better.

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Rather than ask the front desk clerk, who probably knows about as much as a secretary who loves Olive Garden about what constitutes good food, I'll have a drink at the hotel restaurant and talk to the bartender or a waiter. At least they work in the business and can give a more educated response. If you're lucky and it's toward the end of service, you might catch the chef or a sous chef having an after shift drink and ask them where they eat locally on their nights off. That will only be useful for the next day, but it's usually right on the money.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I check out the cars in the parking lot. First, are there quite a few? Second, are there so many cars that it'll be a while before you get seated and served (full parking lot?) Third, the mix of cars in the lot. A somewhat funky Chevy or Ford parked next to a shiny BMW or Volvo is a good sign.

If everything looks good after checking out the cars in the parking lot (and you can find a parking space), I like to see a menu posted outside before entering. If there isn't, I go in and ask to see one before asking to be seated. That also gives you a chance to check out the place from the inside. Are the people working there happy; does the food being served look good; is there an overall good smell to the place?

All this from the one who rarely eats out. :raz:

Edited by Nickn (log)
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I usually look for people drinking AND eating at the bar. Maybe its just me but I think the food tends to be pretty good at restaurants where people are actually eating things other than nuts at the bar.

Bars are for drinking, restaurants are for eating. If you get people eating at the bar there's something wrong with the balance. Give it a miss. The short menu is a much better guide. A daily menu is even better.

eating at the bar is standard in many of NYC's top restaurants. if anything, it shows that the demand for the place exceeds its seating capacity.

Edited by tommy (log)
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I believe it's Calvin Trillin who recommends asking a local, Joe-on-the-street type, but with the following caveat (paraphrased, of course): "Where's a good place to eat around here? And not where you took your Aunt Millie the last time she was in town , but where you took your best buddy when he got back from Nam/Bosnia/the Gulf!!"

It's worked for me . . .

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Has anyone ever tested the cliches about eat where the cops and/or truckers eat?  Realizing that that wouldn't be about fine dining per se.

The original Primanti's in Pittsburgh is a first class example of that - as is the "O" (assuming that a natural casing foot long hot dog with chili and cheese is your thing at the time).

For those who haven't had the pleasure, a Primanti Brother's sandwich is two thick slices of Italian bread and whatever meat you've chosen (which has been thrown on the griddle to warm, cheese melted on top, maybe a fried egg if you want), with the cole slaw and french fries smashed right in the middle of it all.

A meat, cheese, slaw and fry sandwich. Gimme one with genoa salami and some tabasco on it, and a long neck to sip off of.

I haven't been back to Pittsburgh in nearly ten years, and that's truely the only thing I miss.

Edited by bobdavis (log)
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Aim for the restaurant that looks like its shaped it suroundings in a good way. For an example, stop at Carmello's Little Portugal in Manassas, Va. Note the two main uptown streets. Count the Mcdonald's signs. Look at downtown. Note that Mcdonald's has not yet found this location worthy of a Mcdonald's. Look on the same block as Carmello's. Note the used book store/coffee shop across the street. Note the Pottery and painting gallery next to Carmello's. Note the gourmet/cigar/wine shop next to the gallery. Note that everything else mentioned looks to be much more recently established than Carmello's. Go in. Order your meal. Enjoy. By the way, most of the locals are in uptown Manassas, either at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or Joe's Pizza. Only a select number have opened their eyes enough to see Carmello's as a possible place to eat instead of continuing on their way uptown.

Edited by donk79 (log)
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I check out the cars in the parking lot.

I've eaten out in some excellent restaurants throughout Europe and the US and can't remember the last time a decent restaurant had a parking lot (well actually I can, it was in Orlando about 3 years ago but everything in Orlando's got a parking lot). I thought the only restaurants that had parking lots were the Olive Garden and the like, so am I missing something? I would have thought the absence of a parking lot was a good sign!

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I've eaten out in some excellent restaurants throughout Europe and the US and can't remember the last time a decent restaurant had a parking lot (well actually I can, it was in Orlando about 3 years ago but everything in Orlando's got a parking lot).

What other places have you been to in the U.S.? Most of the U.S. is very car-oriented, but this isn't true of Manhattan and further-in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, nor of Boston, central Philadelphia, DC, parts of Chicago, or San Francisco, for example. Further-out areas of Queens are suburban-like so, for example, there's a great Korean restaurant in Flushing that faces onto the street and has a parking lot outside the back entrance.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Bars are for drinking, restaurants are for eating. If you get people eating at the bar there's something wrong with the balance.

I bring my own unbalance to the situation. :blink:

Actually, when travelling alone, I almost always eat at the bar.

I can try a couple of apps, talk w/ the staff, & if I decide to stay & eat dinner, I'm always allowed to order from the dining room menu (if there are two or more menus.)

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I'd find Chinatown, check out the spots off the main boulevard & eat with the locals.

It's Chinatown, Matt.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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