When trying new restaurants or visiting new cities there are a few tricks I keep up my sleeve to help me determine if I’ll dine someplace new or not.  Being a total foodie, self made chef, and having grown up with a gourmet chef and bake that is my mother, I know great food.  I also know there is nothing worse than looking forward to a great meal and having it disappoint. I have found that these quick tips are pretty spot on for figuring it all out, if you’re looking for an upscale fine dining experience. If you’re going for something like Umami burger, ethnic, or a BBQ joint, these rules do not apply and in most cases they’re the opposite.  After many years of good choices and a few wrong ones, I have created the following do-not-dine-here list.

To begin with, if you are unsure about a place, read the menu thoroughly. Is it run of the mill or have they done something to stand out from the heard?  Look at what people are eating, look at the presentation of the plates, and how the food is arranged. If you can, walk the restaurant once you’re seated and don’t be afraid to walk out, even if they have already brought you water or bread.  Another tip is to look, if you can, at the vibe and energy of the people eating there. If there’s a heavy energy, or the people eating there mostly look unhealthy, it may also not be the place for you.

I find that a great restaurant can sometimes be chosen by the absence of certain things.  Usually, if any one of the following are true, I would recommend not eating there. You can share your thoughts and experiences and if you agree in the comments below.

1. Red and white checkered picnic style table clothes with felt backing – or any colored checkered table cloth
2. A neon open / closed sign. (Ethnic restaurants like Thai and Indian excluded)
3. Plastic laminated menus. Steer clear. It’s very odd, but you’ll want to feel the paper for it to be good
3a. Definitely do not eat in restaurants which are laminated AND have a colored plastic border around the edges or fake gold metal corners
4. Bad or old house bread. If you love the bread you’ll usually love the restaurant
5. Plates you see loaded with melted cheese, or an excess of anything
6. Plates that are not well assembled
7. Paper napkins, rather than cloth (this can go both ways)
8. Menus with poor descriptions: i.e. Grilled chicken and potatoes rather than Black truffle infused herb scented chicken with fingerling potatoes.
9. Menus with pricing that end in .95 or .99 or do not carry a solid number
10. Bright fluorescent lighting and or poor decor
11. Parsley or Kale Garnish
12. A buffet (unless Indian) or hotplate section
13. Fake plants oddly placed throughout the restaurant
14. An odd smell
15. Salads with iceberg lettuce (unless it’s a gourmet ‘wedge’ with blue cheese)
16. Food items where things like tomatoes come in large chunks or wedges rather than finely chopped
17. You see a microwave
18. The place appears to be touristy – even on the Sunset Strip
19. Water is served in those traditional glasses that have a wide mouth and narrow ribbed base
20. Condiments are on the table (typically great BBQ Places excluded)
21. Really nasty bathrooms or smelly unkempt bathrooms

That should get you started. Usually, if these things are absent, you should have a great dining experience.  Of course the rest depends on your mood, what you select and your service but this is a great secret and a great start.
To find great places, I use Yelp on my iPhone and it’s of course a tremendous resource for finding great spots in a pinch, I search my local area, filter with  $$$ pricing, select “open now” and I’m in.  Many times the pictures speak for themselves and you can get directions and reviews right from the app.

Now, for a few great restaurant finds, check out my Restaurant Reviews section of my blog on Tari.Tv or my reviews on Yelp!

One comment

  1. afoodaficionado says:

    Thanks for the tips. I find that some of my fave ethnic places actually have a PLASTIC menu to mark up and save on paper.

    I agree getting YELP and also CHOWHOUND of the ilk are helpful. I personally like to ask my friends or locals for the best food. Getting the “THE BEST” Lists doesn’t hurt to get a starting point.

    Fine dining is nice but definitely give me good ethnic food any day. Envious you are in LA with the amazing ethnic food there. We have some here in Boston but not as many options.

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