Being a seasoned (no pun intended) adventure diner, I have compiled a few tips for those of you who may be new to going beyond the buffets.
One. Choose your accomplices wisely. If you, as do I, have a friend who dislikes any food with pepper, you may need to select a different dining partner. Of course I am not suggesting that you dump any friend who refuses to go with you for some Lamb Vindaloo but just try to tactfully avoid those people at dinner time or you will be stuck in 99 cent value menu hell for the forseable future.
Two. Don’t force me to retell those stories your parents tried to sell you as a child, like the one about the 90 year old man who never tried ice cream because he thought he wouldn’t like it, only to discover on his death bed that it was the best thing he had ever eaten (why he would have chosen his deathbed to try ice cream was never really explained and I still wish I had waited until I was 90 to try that canned asparagus). Dare to try new things. Except canned asparagus.
Three. Don’t assume that because a restaurant has a lot of cars in the parking lot, its gotta be good. Case in point: any of those steakhouse buffets. The last time I went to one of those, directed to do so by a local tourist office I might add, my broccoli and “meat” disintegrated into a sipable consistency when speared with a fork.
Any restaurant whose food philosophy is “Sure the food sucks, but we have lots of it!” should be avoided at all costs.
And of course the reverse is equally untrue. In a small mom and pop type place, mom and pop may not know much about advertising but maybe what they do know is how to make the family’s best dishes, using recipes that have been perfected over the generations. You may be among the first to discover this hidden gem.
Four. If you walk into a new restaurant and all the patrons turn to look at you, the unfamiliar outsider, don’t take this as a bad thing, particularly in ethnic restaurants. I have found this to be true from places as diverse as dim sum in Winnipeg to a small barbecue shack in Georgia.
Five. Appearances can be deceiving. I recall once adamantly refusing to go into a small Vietnamese restaurant in a shady part of Chicago because it barely resembled anything close to a decent dining establishment from the outside. When I finally relented, I found that the food was the best Vietnamese I had ever eaten. These people may not have known anything about decorating but they did know how to cook. The best Mexican food in town used to come from a taqueria that had fly tape dotted with dead flies hanging above each table. Oddly, once the fly tape came down, so did the quality of the tacos.
Six. Search. Even smaller towns have Asian and Mexican grocery stores that may sell prepared foods. Asian grocers might have a rack of tasty Vietnamese sandwiches or sticky rice, and many Mexican stores have taquerias in the back. Not many people seem to know about these and--one possible drawback--perhaps the health department doesn’t either.
Seven. And of course, last but not least, always share your adventures on www.dineometer.com.