how to order at restaurants

3 tips to order off a menu at a restaurant you’ve never been to before.

If there’s one skill that I possess that borders close to a superpower, it’s being able to sleep on an airplane.  I once boarded a flight to Australia, took one over the counter sleeping pill at takeoff and woke up when we were walking off the plane.  The second closest skill I have is being able to order optimally at restaurants.

Ordering for people is one of the reasons that I started writing this blog.  It’s very important to me that once I recommend a restaurant or a few dishes that someone enjoys them, which is usually more a curse than a blessing because the default feeling I want someone to have is “omg that was so good” which just makes me kinda happy. If they hated it though, I’m devastated.

how to order at restaurants
No, she is a philistine.

The side effect of this crushing urge to get people to like what I recommend is that I am very good at ordering off menus the first time I eat there with literally no prior notes given to me about what is good.  Which is great, because if you’re eating at some restaurants in Vegas you will need outside help, given their absolutely ridiculously large menus.

how to order at restaurants
Approximate reaction of a first time Lotus of Siam diner.

So here’s my 3 tips on how to order optimally at a restaurant (without ever being there before).

  1. NEVER pick something that you think is going to sell well regardless of how good it is.  At most places, this includes the stereotypical stuff you expect to be there.  Filet mignon at most places, fried rice at most generic chinese or japanese places, pad thai at thai places, chicken parmesan at Italian places.  They’re classic and insanely popular, so the chef there for the most part has to include them on the menu but they are not especially inventive or exciting so they don’t devote that much time to them.  If the chef spends too much time working on them, they may become something that the people who order them (who are generally boring as hell) don’t recognize as what they ordered, so they get pissed off.  So it’s better for them to make it super plain and ordinary and not rock the boat.
  2. In a tourist restaurant (most strip places), ask the server what their worst selling item is.  That’s what you want.  Corporate restaurants work thusly: The worst stuff gets culled fast.  This includes stuff that no one likes and stuff that doesn’t sell.  So if something isn’t selling very well but is still on the menu forever, the chef is FIGHTING for that dish because they really really believe in it.  If that’s the case, that’s definitely what you want to get.  At Julian Serrano at the Aria, I went for the tripe stew after asking 5-6 times for something the server hasn’t sold in months and it was a fantastic dish.  I had to drag that out of her, but it was a great dish.  Sweetbreads fall firmly into this category, because they sell absolutely terribly and they are really delicious at good places
  3. Order something you’d never expect to be on the menu.  I’m not talking about ordering a steak off a chinese menu (that’d be closer to tip 1 status), but if you see a dish containing some sort of absolutely crazy combination or accompaniment, that’s generally something you want to try.  Restaurants try out dishes for months before actually adding them onto their menu, so they will be tested and will almost always work.  And going back to tip 2, the chef will generally be fighting for stuff they think is great.  If you can trust the chef, you can trust the dish.  The pear jalapeno marmalade pizza at Settebello is a great example of this.

Use these three tips and you can avoid the worst and hit the best stuff at restaurants.  Or if you really want, you can just ask me (that’s the best way).

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