The rational guide to dining. Part I: how to find the best restaurants.

This guide is for people who enjoy eating and enjoy searching and finding.
If you are the sort of person who eats at McDonald’s while on vacation outside the states, this is probably not the right guide for you, although there’s always hope…

There’s a lot of great food out there but also plenty of expensive tourist traps and sloppy cooks that need to be avoided.
It is not always easy to find the best deals and dishes as anything dealing with human taste and opinion is  not an exact science.
Nevertheless I will try to impart my logical methods that will get your batting average up there with the greats.
This guide assumes you are an internet savvy person with not too deep a pocket,  who enjoys the sense of accomplishment you get from finding acorns among the fallen leaves.

Rule #1
Nothing beats word of mouth. 

Friends and family are the people you can trust the most as they usually have your best interests in mind.
This is a no-brainer but there are some caveats.
The chicken at that Chinese restaurant may taste hot and spicy to your uncle, but for you who braved Yemenite cooking, it’s as bland as white bread.
Some people are more prone to wax lyrical about food than others so take their advice with a grain of salt.
Most people are not that curious about different foods, so in order to find something really exciting you have to step out of your milieu and seek the advice of strangers.
This is of course usually the case when you travel and neither you nor anyone you know can help you out.
In which case you go to rule #2

Rule #2
Find thyself a Maven.

A maven is someone with great knowledge and interest in a particular field, who enjoys departing his knowledge on others.
The best place to find food mavens is the forum section at CHOWHOUND.
You can search the boards by city or district name and find the cumulative recommendations of various food mavens, or you can search by restaurant or dish and see what people’s opinion is.
If you have time and are looking for specific advice, you can start a thread, state what you are looking for in terms of cuisine and price and get feedback and pointers aplenty.
Sometimes though there isn’t that much information on what’s good in a specific place, in that case you should use rule #3

Rule #3
The wisdom of crowds.

Ever since reading the like named book I try to use the collective views of multiple individuals in my decision making as often as I can.
On the net that means I view Amazon and Imdb ratings as very reliable measure of a product’s merit.
When it comes to food I often use international Tripadvisor and European QYPE.
Besides the ratings, you can read the reviews to see which dishes are more often mentioned as the ones to get.
A good rule of thumb here is that when the ratings are good overall, the one star ratings can be dismissed.
Most terrible reviews usually have little to do with the quality of the food and everything to do with some confrontation between the reviewer and the staff which are liable to happen almost anywhere and to nearly anyone over a long enough period of time.
If you are looking for an exceptional restaurant, the best indicator is not the number of  five star reviews or the overall rating the restaurant received.
The best indicator is the ratio between the five and four star reviews, the higher it is, the more likely it is to be a great experience.

If you can’t find information online, or just not sure what kind of place to go to, use rule #4

Rule #4
When in doubt, Go local

Going local means for example eating Italian food in Italy and visiting fish restaurants when on the coast.

Going local has several major advantages.
Locally grown food is gonna be fresher and tastier than stuff that’s been on the road for a while.
Local also means it’s better adapted to the local climate and conditions: Eastern European Jewish food is nearly extinct in Israel due to the fact that the local Arabic food is generally lighter and you don’t need to build a layer of goose-fat to protect you from the cold.
Local is also better for the environment seeing as how you are avoiding CO2 emissions and traffic jams, not to mention nerves and accidents.
You are also supporting the local community and not some huge corporation, at least in theory.

Rule #5
Dodge tourist traps, transportation hubs and shopping centers

It is an almost unavoidable fact of nature that when an establishment has a constant influx of non-repeating customers, the quality will drop over time.
So called “tourist traps” were good places once, but started slipping when management and staff changed but the name remained, or when they realized they don’t have to be as good as they are due to their great location or reputation.
They can be recognized by their location next to tourist attractions, the fact that most of the customers are tourists and the presence of  signs and menus in multiple languages.
If a restaurant appears  in a travel guide not meant for younger, broker people,  approach with caution.
Being accosted by the staff as you walk by is also a bad omen and is something I personally  find very annoying.
Places near transportation hubs and malls need to pay higher rents and either make up for it by raising the prices or lowering the quality of their offerings.
There’s also something about the aroma food gets when exposed to to too much exhaust pipe fumes and central air conditioning systems that makes it close to inedible.

Rule #6
Avoid Rome!

Just kidding, I’m sure there’s good food to be found there too.
Prove me wrong Romans.

Bon Appetit!

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One Response to The rational guide to dining. Part I: how to find the best restaurants.

  1. Pingback: Chai Yo Thai food in Berlin. When the wisdom of crowds goes seriously wrong. | This boy's mind

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