Tyler Cowen’s Six Rules for Dining Out, what are yours?

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Economist blogger extraordinaire Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution and Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide penned Six Rules for Dining Out in this month’s The Atlantic.

Mr. Cowen uses playful economic rational for lessons such as “In the fanciest restaurants, order what sounds least appetizing” and “Beware the beautiful, laughing women,”

I also start to worry if many women in a restaurant are beautiful in a trendy or stylish way. The point is not that beautiful women have bad taste in food. Instead, the problem is that they will attract a lot of men to the restaurant, whether or not the place serves excellent food. And that allows the restaurant to cut back on the quality of the food.

The Rapid Traveler smiled at the “Prefer Vietnamese to Thai” rule as he has spent much time the past year in persuading, with great difficulty, Thai-obsessed colleagues to sample his favorite Vietnamese restaurant – and then some of them order the few Thai dishes at the Vietnamese restaurant anyway. And that Vietnamese restaurant certainly fits this category, the kind of strip mall with boarded up tenants that mysteriously light up and become extremely busy late at night:

It is especially common to see good ethnic restaurants grouped with mid-level or junky retail outlets. When it comes to a restaurant run by immigrants, look around at the street scene. Do you see something ugly? Poor construction? Broken plastic signage? A five-and-dime store? Maybe an abandoned car? If so, crack a quiet smile, walk through the door, and order. Welcome to the glamorous world of good food.

The Rapid Traveler’s personal #1 rule is: avoid wasabi mashed potatoes, as that is a near guarantee for lazy fusion food, often overpriced, in shiny, lifeless surroundings.

And a tip contributed from a friend, daughter of a Japanese restauranteur: if a Japanese restaurant serves only Japanese food there is a good chance it is Japanese-run. If there is Korean or other Asian cuisine additionally on offer, it is certainly not Japanese run and best to focus on the non-Japanese dishes.

Mr. Cowen recommends that people consult frequent travelers for dining recommendations, so all readers should step up.

What are your rules for dining?

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I second what MM said, some of my most memorable meals were in low rent places or from a street vendor. The expectations are set low and when it exceeds them, you’re pleasantly surprised and end up being a repeat customer to try something else on the menu.


When we go on our weekend trips, we (or I shall say “I”) try to find restaurants listed on both restaurant.com and Rewards Dining Network (United Dining for me). The results have been pretty good (surprisingly!). Sometimes, the best food would be at the most unlikely places (a loud sports bar in Virginia Beach served up the best seared Tuna, and we went back there during our second trip to ORF this February). In general, though, we are pretty spoiled by the food we get here in Vegas; at times we found ourselves missing LV’s ethnic food/restaurants when we were… Read more »

Million Mile Secrets

A trendy place, much liked on yelp or urbanspoon, will usually disappoint.

But a small ethnic restaurant tucked away in a low rent part of town will be sure to please!


Never trust yelp when it comes to Chinese food.
Americans just don’t know Chinese at all.


Number Two Rule: Look around in disgust after blowing out an old candle while seated at the dinner table.


Dynamite article. Thanks for linking. I agree with the “don’t eat on the Avenues” philosophy. Find the restaurants not on the main drag.


I usually look for ethnicity of the customers and the staff to tell me if the food is authentic (Hint: it should the same as the restaurant)


Number One Rule: Table Etiquette, something many people still lack.