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Apart from recs or $$$, how do you choose an eating place in an unfamiliar place?

Apart from recs or $$$, how do you choose an eating place in an unfamiliar place?

Oct 18th, 2001, 01:38 PM
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Apart from recs or $$$, how do you choose an eating place in an unfamiliar place?

In an attempt to keep a "life line" with this forum now that my leave got cancelled, I will like to hear what you have to say about the subject.

I'll start by sharing my "decision chart" when it comes to restaurants:

1. I never eat a heavy meal in anything that moves (train/planes/automobiles/ revolving restaurants). You never know.

2. I never eat in any place with a theme (no serious good cook will sponsor such BS).

3. I always favor restaurants that have a formatted name; The Cinammon Tree, The Hungry Hunter, etc... (I know, silly...)

4. I never eat in an ethnic restaurant in which no people of that ethnic group is eating.

5. I favor restaurant with big pepper grinders.

Believe it or not, the picky eater in our family is my husband.....
Oct 18th, 2001, 02:14 PM
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I never eat in a restaurant where no one else is dining. I figure maybe the locals know something that I don't!
Oct 18th, 2001, 02:18 PM
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I agree with the "theme restaurant" criteria or any "all you can eat" place.

Won't eat at a deserted restaurant;won't eat at one that is so busy they are overwhelmed
Won't eat if the chef and staff are sitting at a dirty table looking grumpy and unshaven. Also, if the bathroom is a mess, I'm gone. ( Have your read KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. He has some amusing warnings for would-be diners).

Won't wait more than twemty minutes to be seated at "no reservations" places, ten if I've made a reservation.

I usually ask at the hotel for suggestions, comb the neighborhood during the day for places that look appealing, read reviews (take those with a big grain of salt), ask the Fodorites, and ask friendly locals for a suggestion.


Avoid places where the vast majority of diners are tourists

Oct 18th, 2001, 02:23 PM
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I merely ask the the person in charge at the hotel, or the concierge, where he took his family or girlfriend to eat the last time. I have never been called Bob the Gourmet and prefer the local trattorias. I have seldom gone wrong.
Oct 18th, 2001, 02:25 PM
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These are my quirks:

1. Won't eat at a place that doesn't take reservations.
2. Won't eat at a place that is empty - the locals do know.
3. Will try to make ressies in line with local customs (I will eat at 10:00pm in Paris, but 7:00pm in the Caribbean.)
4. Won't eat at a place in which tourists out number locals (or at least, we try not to).

I will try to check out the menu prior to eating there, if my travels take me past the restaurant. I also make reservations well in advance of any trip.

Bon appetit!
Oct 18th, 2001, 03:35 PM
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The trouble with the no tourist rule is that word gets around. Look at this site for instance. I think tourists have to be outnumbered by locals but not absent.
I live in Pasadena, CA, and if I didn't eat with tourists I would have to stay home.
Oct 18th, 2001, 03:52 PM
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I like this question & the challenge of saying how I find places without recomendations.
One thing: no tables with stuff on them, I mean uncleaned-up tables.
And: if I walk in and nobody pays attention to me RIGHT AWAY, I leave.
If I sit down and nobody pays attention to me within about two minutes (hello,want a drink, water, menu), also leave.
Oct 18th, 2001, 03:54 PM
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In Spain or Portugal you are likely to eat well if you:

-Approve the overview

-There are many people eating at a reasonable hour or after that hour ( you could have come a bit before it started to get full )

-Ask the locals ( if more than one person point out a place, there are a lot of chances that it will be a good place )

-Check out any good guide to be oriented.

It would be good to have those four points to fix your criteria. The last one could easily be the least important.
I generally follow them wherever I go and it works OK.
Oct 18th, 2001, 03:55 PM
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If I don't have a recommendation, I'll usually pick a restaurant based on the kinds of items on the menu and the atmosphere.

And I'd never eat in any restaurant where I'd have to wear a Thai.
Oct 18th, 2001, 04:16 PM
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When in a city in Spain, after doing a bit of research ahead of time (if there's any prior research that can be done-for cities we use Gourmetour, Club de Gourmets, Viandar, El Pais, www.bienvivir.com-all Spanish sources plus your, Graziella's, Pedro's and Michele's picks), we first peruse the menu outside the places that instantly take our eye (don't need English menus). If looking for a place for dinner, we check out the lunch crowd. For us, the more crowded, the more local the clientele, the more "off the beaten path", the larger and rowdier the groups of tables (large tables of regular local business folk are a good sign), the livelier the crowd, the warmer and efficient the reception, the better. We narrow it down then to a couple of places, then we ask either the proprietor of the best wine store/gourmet shop in town, or if in a small place, we go straight to the nicest butcher shop we see and ask him to what restaurant he sells his very best and where he takes his family. The butcher always knows best. This worked like a charm in Ribadesella. In Cambados we asked the owner of the best wine bodega in town. She lead us to a tiny Mom and Pop in an area that no casual tourist could/would ever stumble across, and sure enough, we had one of the best tapas lunches of our entire summer, and the least expensive!.
Oct 18th, 2001, 04:34 PM
mimi taylor
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I walk the other way if they boast of speaking three or four languages, and the menu is in english. I run if they bring their monkey. ( a nod to the thread on the US site}
Oct 18th, 2001, 04:53 PM
richard j vicek
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Good evening. Maira Have to agree with
you on most points, however 1. the name of the ristorante really means nothing,
my favorite in Manhattan was Sloppy
Louies, ruf service, crowded but did
have excellnt seafood, served plain
with no frills. As far as ethnic
ristorantes are concerned, some of the
really do not have a native eating, this
is especially true of those in the big
cities in the US. Very rarely will we
ever go into an US fish ristorante
because feel they donot know how to cook
and flavor seafood, normally will use
an Italian ristorante for seafood..
Here sometimes and always in EUR will
give the menus posted in front of the
ristorantes to see what cooking is
available and steer away from tourist
menus, tho these can be much cheaper.
Richard of LaGrange Park, Il..
Oct 18th, 2001, 05:09 PM
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My mother always told me to never eat at a restaurant with dirty windows. So, I check out the windows. If they are clean, then I go in. It's a foolproof way to find a restaurant that pays attention to details.
Oct 19th, 2001, 04:24 AM
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I select among the places where they serve the specialty of the city. Steaks in TX, Pizza in Chicago or NY, Jewish Deli items in NY, seafood in New Orleans or Boston, Haggis in Glasgow, Fish & Chips in London, Wine & Salad in San Fran. For Salt Lake City, I pack a lunch (hehehe!).
Oct 19th, 2001, 04:29 AM
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Maira -- I have to laugh at the "never eat anything heavy on anything that moves" advice -- hadn't thought of it, but works for me
Oct 19th, 2001, 06:04 AM
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Never anywhere with pictures of the food on the menu
Oct 19th, 2001, 06:18 AM
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In a tourist city, you can't avoid them. Unless we have recs from someone we know, we'll look for a place that is recommended in two or three different guidebooks. OR we'll read the menu, check out how busy the place is and what people are eating, and if they look like they're having fun, and if something smells amazingly good. Never fails.
Oct 19th, 2001, 07:33 AM
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Ah, yes, Sloppy Louie's..that was a lower Manhattan landmark. Thanks for the memory.

Oct 19th, 2001, 08:17 AM
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I will go further on "local".

Will eat when locals are mostly business people who could have chosen to spend money else where but chose to eat there. Also ok if extendented family from several generations eat together.

Will not eat if locals are mostly students or only retired people by themselves.
Oct 19th, 2001, 11:45 AM
wes fowler
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I've a couple of interesting experiences with restaurant referrals. In Florence some years ago we were recommended a restaurant by one of the young women behind the desk at the Hermitage hotel. Since it was only 6PM we knew the restaurant wouldn't be open but thought it wise to hunt it down and then stroll through its adjoining neighborhood. We found the restaurant and looked inside. Two police officers, a male and a female were eating at the bar. At the far end of the dining room, a cook was breaking up salad greens in an immense bowl. Through a door to the kitchen, we could see another cook butchering a side of beef. One of our traveling companions stuck his head in the door and asked the bartender if the restaurant opened at 7PM. Told it did, we went on our way returning at 7 to find a huge line of diners waiting for the doors to open. The bartender spotted our companion who was far taller than any other member of the crowd, opened the door and waved us in while holding everyone else at bay.

We found that the restaurant offered no menu; you ate what the chef chose to prepare. About half way through our six course meal, we noticed that four young men sitting next to us had eaten five courses to our three. We asked the waiter why they received two additional courses than had we and a number of other diners. The response? "They're here every night!"
Made sense to me.

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