General Discussion

Chowhounding tips redux - WHO TO ASK

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General Discussion

Chowhounding tips redux - WHO TO ASK

Stanley Stephan | Jul 25, 2002 01:11 AM

For tips, I ask postal carriers and telephone repair people, they have good, long lunch breaks and they usually travel a beat that makes the familiar with everything in a given area. (SKU)

Best method to turn up new places in a strange place: Once you find a good place, ask the manager/waiter/owner where the best sandwich, cookie, pastry, pizza, pho, steak, breakfast, pupusa etc is. Often the discussion gets thrown to the floor, and other patrons chime in .(Steve Drucker)

Also, when in a strange place (esp if it's touristy) I will look for someone walking a dog to ask for tips. Often they live in the area and can give good tips. (Melissa Garland)

Try the staff of any kitchen- or cooking-related store. (Janet A. Zimmerman)

Desk work is hard work. If there's lots of office workers, it may or not be good, but its very probably lots for the money. (Steve Drucker)

I've had some success calling the local radio staion(s) and inquiring of the d.j. (Steve Potenberg)

I believe it was Calvin Trillan who said if you want to find some good food in a strange town, find someone who looks a lot like you and ask them where they like to eat (JoanB)

ARTISTIC PEOPLE

Musicians are almost always reliable (go to nightclubs, music stores)...nearly every food writer I know is a former professional musician (or at least enthusiastic amateur). . (Jim Leff )

I always try to glean tips from "arty" outlets like galleries & antique stores etc. and when asking questions I'm always very specific like what is really great on the menu, how's the bread... (scottso)

BARTENDERS

When dining alone (or even when accompanied by others) at a new restaurant, your best bet is often to eat at the bar or food counter...not only for comfort, but the bartender is often a diner's best friend, offering helpful menu recommendations and complimentary samplings. (BarryO)

My best advice when you are in an unfamiliar location or tourist area is to ask a bartender where they like to eat! They always know where the tucked away gems really are (orla)


Bartenders can be good, but sometimes very very NOT good. . (Jim Leff )

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

The local chamber of commerce! … I didn't just say, "What's a good restaurant?" I asked for something specific, and even more than that, I asked for something that the town should have a good source for. This should clue the person you're asking that you want some real advice and not just the closest Denny's. Remember, the local C of C is an ambassador for wherever you are! If you get a crappy meal, they haven't done their job. (Bob W.)

absolutely! but one modification....never talk to anybody who's actually IMPORANT at the chamber of commerce, who is likely to have biz ties with restaurateurs and tip you toward them (the dreaded "concierge effect"). Rather, talk to the employees. In a loud enough voice that others will hear. (Jim Leff )

I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to ask where I could get great Mexican. The well-meaning emissary directed us to La Salsa, a mediocre Mexican franchise, of which I had never heard. When we entered the place it was obvious that we had been misguided and we were duly disappointed. Heather

HOTEL STAFF

NEVER ask hotel staff. If you have no other choice, keep asking for reccos until the glib (that is, pre-bribed) choices stop flowing and the clerk/concierge starts actually thinking. Ignore everything recommended up to that point. Annoying to the staff, but sometimes effective.. (Jim Leff )

Actually -- an exception to the hotel staff rule: Staff at independent hotels in Europe (not Holiday Inn) can give great recommendations. Usually there is not a restaurant in the hotel, and that helps. I found an AMAZING restaurant in Pisa, not in any of the guidebooks, at the recommendation of people at the front desk. Otherwise, they always say "Our hotel, or the place across the street ... " (Caitlin Wheeler)

Don't ask hotel desk clerks for their personal opinions on where to eat. Often the response is a dull eyed stare, followed by a ten watt bulb and a steer to the nearest Olive Garden or Appleby's. BUT--if in the rare instance the desk clerk is well-larded or better, do ask! (Steve Drucker)

TAXI DRIVERS AND TOUR GUIDES

My chowhound rule of thumb for travelers - "Treat your guide to lunch." I made it clear that I wanted to eat with them at places where they would normally eat. The places they chose were not expensive and, of course, offered local dishes favored by the natives and not toned down for Westerners. I always insisted on paying the check, for which the guide and driver were really grateful (and very surprised the first time I did it). I got to sit, eat and chat with the locals, make friends, and have what I felt was a very "real" experience of each village, town or city I visited. (christina z)

On a more local level, I've had luck buying taxi drivers food. But those were a couple of special cases which I'm not sure could be generalized into rules of thumb...(Jim Leff )

It struck me that with ethnic variety of cabbies in NY, they might be a good resource. (Pat Hammond) (Deven Black) (Fred Vinson)

Today's drivers are somewhat different and they do look for compatible ethnic food which may have more to recommend it. However, most of the joints along Lex where many cabdrivers eat feature steam tables and rather soggy food. If there are a lot of cabs parked near a joint, my operating assumption would be that the food is mediocre at best. (hobokenhenry)

HOW TO ASK

I've always thought good the suggestion to , instead of asking locals "what's good?", ask them "where do you like to eat?" and "What do you like to eat there and why?" The logic being that if you ask what's "good," they'll try to come up with what they think might please you (based on whatever impression of you they've put together instantly), rather than think of that hole-in-the-wall with the great whatever that they visit all the time. (Caitlin McGrath)

In the past, in pre-Chowhound days, when I was in a new town, I often asked several people, "What do you eat in X that I couldn't find in New York?" This is a way in which you have a chance of not being sent to the fancy "Continental" restaurant. (Dave Feldman)

I have no problem asking someone what they like and be very specific about what I'm after. I ate at an amazing mom and pop diner for breakfast (they understand butter) in Salem, MA by asking a beat cop where she went. OK, so it turned out it was right next to the police station, but it was so GOOD! SisterT

Since becoming a chowhound, I ask more questions about the food when it is served. As long as it's not horribly busy, taking an interest in how a dish is prepared many times will start more conversations and further recommendations. (Stanley Stephan)

Don't ask for "your favorite place", ask for "your three favorite places." If you force people to narrow their choice to 1, they choke and they start editing in their heads. (David "Zeb" Cook)

..but it sort of reflects a mistake many hounds make...assuming that any given person is a repository of good tips if you can JUST GET THEM TO SPILL. Worst of all is the false hound. You know the kind...they speak in rapturous terms of places you've just GOT to try...and while they really believe it...but their advice is always terrible. These types are blessedly rare, but they're out there, sort of like random hazards in video games. (Jim Leff )

CHOWHOUNDS AND HOW TO FIND A CHOWHOUND

The larger the number of people hear your plea, the greater odds a chowhound will pipe up. Anyplace with a crowd milling around is ideal, if you can get over being shy. Construction workers are good....big crowds not doing much. Mechanics at gas stations. music stores (or other stores--without high pressure sales--where everyone isn't whipped into corporate chain blandness and submission).(Jim Leff )

When asking strangers for restaurant suggestions, watch their eyes. If they don't warm up and show excitement as they answer, politely thank them and find someone else to query (remember: 10% of humanity are chowhounds, and the trick is to find one!). (Jim Leff )

I completely concur that any recommendation must be tested for enthusiasm and warmth - not to mention loving obsessive detail, one of the true signs of a fellow Chowhound is that they never answer the question "Where did you go for dinner?" with a one or two word answer. (Elaine)

Obvious corollary to the "watch their eyes" rule: If you ever meet someone -- in any context -- whose loving descriptions of memorable meals they have eaten mark them as one of us, don't let them escape before you ask them where else they eat these days! C. Fox

Although Jim prefers to "look into ones eyes" to gauge the validity of a food or restaurant recommendation, I find it equally useful to listen carefully to the recommendation itself...when a chowhound is genuinely enthused about a dish or a restaurant, he/she will invariably almost be salivating when relating the description ! (BarryO)

AVOID

Perhaps your friends are smarter than mine, but I've given up on word of mouth. I used to me excited when a transplanted New Yorker would recommend an Italian place, always to be disappointed. Apparently growing up in NY doesn't automatically qualify one as a 'hound. Danna

Just because people are "from there" doesn't mean they know anything about the cuisine--or where to find the best places (any more than the average American knows anything about great apple pie or hamburgers or clam chowder!). (Jim Leff )

Don't seek restaurant tips in gas stations, government offices, or 7-11's. (Jim Leff )

Truckers and police cars in restaurant parking lots do NOT indicate good food. (Jim Leff )

Avoid asking employees of the correctional system. Really. (Tom Hilton)

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