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Chowhounding strategy - Selecting wonderful, avoiding wretched?

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Chowhounding strategy - Selecting wonderful, avoiding wretched?

rworange | Apr 6, 2006 01:07 AM

Other than the obvious of asking on Chowhound or reading reviews, how do you zone in on the best dish in a restaurant?

Also, this is something I have given little thought to but should, how do you avoid menu land mines?

Ok, I've learned long before Chowhound never to ask "What is the best dish to order". I was with my cynical New York friend, who said that the only thing that would get me is the most expensive dish on the menu.

Also, that question often gets the reply "Everything"

I do stupidly ask that occasionally and the response from one server was "the dishes that are the most popular are xxx"

I'm wondering if asking what are the dishes the most people order would be good.

Revised strategy is "What should I order that will make me want to come back and eat here again". Sometimes that works. So far it always makes the server stop a minute and think.

I know you should look at other dishes being served. That works well in non-English speaking restuarnats when you just point and say "I'll have that".

How do you kill time while scoping out those dishes. There is only so much time you can sit around waiting for food to be delivered to other tables.

Do you maybe order a beer or wine from the bar, if there is one and then order after watching what comes out of the kitchen? Or maybe a soft drink or coffee?

Just how long can you sit there before annoying the staff?

My latest strategy is dropping by for a take-out menu first and taking my time to look it over before eating at the place.

Sometimes I order a dish I'm very familiar with so that I can measure it against other dishes I have tried. However, maybe that is the one dish that is awful, so not the best strategy.

Often I order dishes I never heard of before and are unique to the restuarant. That is often entertaining and educational, but still might not be the best strategy.

Sometimes I'll ask someone who seems to be a regular customer what they like the best. Don't know why that doesn't seem to work.

Neither does doing some shopping at some stores near the restaurant and saying to the people who work there "Is xxx across the street a good place to eat" and if yes, asking what they order. Haven't tried this too much as I struck out the few times I tried.

How do you endear yourselves to the staff, especially on the first visit so they spill the beans ... or best bean dishes?

It would also be great if people who serve food would post about what type of customer makes you share the highlights of a menu.

I know you are never going to say a particular dish is awful, but how do I ask correctly for the good stuff?

On the other side, I've learned on the SF board that you don't order dishes in a Chinese restaurant outside of the region the restuarant specializes in. In other words, don't order Cantonese dishes in a Hunan restaurant.

Don't order seafood in a burger joint. Don't order dishes where you suspect they are not ordered often. Don't order non-regional stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Usually I'll avoid the most expensive dish in a dive. The people going there are going for value, IMO, and wll probably rarely splurge on the pricy stoff.

I don't usually order dishes that a restuarant review raves about, especially years after the review. Usually those dishes are just on the menu because everybody read the review and the restaurant is obligated to keep the dish on the menu. No thought or real love goes into it anymore.

I'm having better luck picking restuarants, but for some reason I don't hone in on the good dishes until a second or third visit. So, any ideas would be appreciated.

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