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-   -   Restaurant authenticity clues (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=880012)

Sitnam 08-06-2019 07:19 PM

Restaurant authenticity clues
 
In Blue Highways, William Least Heat-moon road trips off the beaten track and rates cafes based on how many calenders they have on the walls. The more they have the more of a home cooked family restaurant it is likely to be.

Other cultural authenticity is restaurants gotta have this too. In the Twin Cities these are my observations:

If it's in another language or at least the English translations for the items have spelling and grammar mistakes you're in the right place.

Mexican - if they DON'T put out a basket of chips and salsa when you sit down.

Vietnamese pho - if they only accept cash.

Chinese - it's all not authentic here, but if they don't have the zodiac placemats at least the food isnt just recooked Asian Foods fare.

Indian - your finger tips must be stained yellow for a few days afterwards.


What else should I look out for where you live?

Alpha Twit 08-06-2019 07:24 PM

Mexican - If I can get a decent hand made tamale, it's a good place.

Beckdawrek 08-06-2019 07:25 PM

If you're eating Catfish in South Arkansas if the restaurant name is 'The Fish Net' move down the road til you find the 'The Fish Nest', becoz, well... I don't know why. Just coz. Trust me. I know my Catfish.:)
If the BBQ joint doesn't smell like wood fire, move on.

The King of Soup 08-06-2019 07:27 PM

[QUOTE=Sitnam;21791658]In Blue Highways, William Least Heat-moon road trips off the beaten track and rates cafes based on how many calenders they have on the walls. The more they have the more of a home cooked family restaurant it is likely to be.

Other cultural authenticity is restaurants gotta have this too. In the Twin Cities these are my observations:

If it's in another language or at least the English translations for the items have spelling and grammar mistakes you're in the right place.

Mexican - if they DON'T put out a basket of chips and salsa when you sit down.

Vietnamese pho - if they only accept cash.

Chinese - it's all not authentic here, but if they don't have the zodiac placemats at least the food isnt just recooked Asian Foods fare.[QUOTE]

Only problem I see here is, no matter who's cooking, "authentic" has never been and will never be a synonym for "good."

Chefguy 08-06-2019 07:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sitnam (Post 21791658)

Chinese - it's all not authentic here, but if they don't have the zodiac placemats at least the food isnt just recooked Asian Foods fare.

Indian - your finger tips must be stained yellow for a few days afterwards.

What else should I look out for where you live?

There's a Taiwanese restaurant in our 'hood; no place mats, no pagodas, no Buddhas. Just clean tables and minimal decoration. The food is superb and authentic.

Indian: I'd say that a steam table is reason enough to leave.

Thai/Laotian: if you can see a native granny wielding a wok in the kitchen, you're golden.

silenus 08-06-2019 07:39 PM

Mexican - Do they offer menudo Sundays?

BBQ - Do they have plates? Skip it. Another clue is to count the number of religious calendars/posters/flyers on the wall. The more Jebus, the better the 'cue.

General ethnic - Is there a table in the back covered with homework? That's where the waitress(daughter) stays busy when there are no customers. Family-owned, good food almost guaranteed.

kenobi 65 08-06-2019 07:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by silenus (Post 21791700)
BBQ - Do they have plates? Skip it. Another clue is to count the number of religious calendars/posters/flyers on the wall. The more Jebus, the better the 'cue.

At least in the Southeast, where pork is the primary BBQ meat, take a look at the restaurant's sign / logo:

- If there is no pig on the sign at all, the BBQ will be average, at best
- If there is a pig on the sign, the BBQ will be good, at a minimum
- If the pig on the sign is wearing a chef's hat, holding a fork, or otherwise cooking BBQ, the food will be outstanding. "It's so good, I'm cooking and eating myself!!"

Colibri 08-06-2019 07:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by silenus (Post 21791700)
Mexican - Do they offer menudo Sundays?

When I lived in Colorado we used to rate the authenticity of Mexican restaurants by whether they had tripe on the menu. The same with Puerto Rican/Dominican restaurants in New York and mondongo.

silenus 08-06-2019 07:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kenobi 65 (Post 21791721)
At least in the Southeast, where pork is the primary BBQ meat, take a look at the restaurant's sign / logo:

- If there is no pig on the sign at all, the BBQ will be average, at best
- If there is a pig on the sign, the BBQ will be good, at a minimum
- If the pig on the sign is wearing a chef's hat, holding a fork, or otherwise cooking BBQ, the food will be outstanding. "It's so good, I'm cooking and eating myself!!"

Also look for corny slogans. Two of my favorites are "You don't need teef to eat our beef!" and "If it fits in the pit, we will barbecue it."

Onthefly 08-06-2019 08:03 PM

As Lewis Grizzard said, “Never eat barbecue at a place without a smokestack.”

Tim R. Mortiss 08-06-2019 08:04 PM

Italian restaurants: Look for a picture of the Pope on the wall. Better yet, Sinatra.

Alpha Twit 08-06-2019 08:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tim R. Mortiss (Post 21791762)
Italian restaurants: Look for a picture of the Pope on the wall. Better yet, Sinatra.

I'll do better than that. I went to a place in Omaha (fricken OMAHA!) that gave me a couple of free cannoli when I recognized the image of Mario Lanza framed near my table.

Toledo Jim 08-06-2019 08:45 PM

My clue is if there are people of that ethnicity, as customers, give it a try. If there are no Japanese in a Japanese resturant, it's likely not that good. Or that ethnic.

Cub Mistress 08-06-2019 09:26 PM

My rule of thumb for unknown BBQ places is: the more unpiglike the behavior of the pig on the sign is, the better the meat is likely to be.

longhair75 08-06-2019 09:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tim R. Mortiss (Post 21791762)
Italian restaurants: Look for a picture of the Pope on the wall. Better yet, Sinatra.

and veal on the menu.

China Guy 08-07-2019 01:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Toledo Jim (Post 21791854)
My clue is if there are people of that ethnicity, as customers, give it a try. If there are no Japanese in a Japanese resturant, it's likely not that good. Or that ethnic.

And if the cooks are not of that ethnicity. If it's a Japanese restaurant and the chef's are Korean or Chinese, then just leave. At best it will be mediocre.

If the Chinese restaurant does not have a Chinese language menu, then just leave.

A Chinese restaurant that is "hot and noisy" (热闹) with a line is a good sign.

Burger places that make a good ol' old fashion milkshake out of ice cream. Bonus if they pour it in a glass and accompanied with the metal milkshake mixer cup at least a 1/4 full.

Nava 08-07-2019 02:05 AM

Tapas restaurants: they include offerings based on the local cuisine. This may or may not be accompanied by a Spanish cook, but in any case it will mean a cook who understands what tapas are rather than one who bought a recipes book. Conversely, if the signs treat "tapas" as a singular or "tapa" as a plural, run for your life!

Spanish restaurants: cooks calling each other nasty things in multiple Spanish accents when the main room is empty (well, it was before my group entered).

Any road restaurant: a lot of trucks. Truckers may not be their own ethnicity but they know where the good feed is.

Alessan 08-07-2019 03:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Toledo Jim (Post 21791854)
My clue is if there are people of that ethnicity, as customers, give it a try. If there are no Japanese in a Japanese resturant, it's likely not that good. Or that ethnic.

That's kind of unfair to places without that specific immigrant population, isn't it?

Here in Tel Aviv, for example, we have more sushi restaurants per capita than any city outside of Japan, despite having a Japanese population of something like 3. Are any of these restaurants "authentic"? I have no way of knowing, but I do know that some of them are delicious.

Chefguy 08-07-2019 09:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nava (Post 21792188)

Any road restaurant: a lot of trucks. Truckers may not be their own ethnicity but they know where the good feed is.

Well, no. It just means that there is parking for semis.

kayaker 08-07-2019 10:04 AM

The best Thai restaurants have all had a "shrine" with oranges, candy, and a picture of the king.

shunpiker 08-07-2019 10:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kayaker (Post 21792539)
The best Thai restaurants have all had a "shrine" with oranges, candy, and a picture of the king.

And one of those (mechanized) moving waterfall pictures. Though, I'm seeing fewer of them recently.
example--> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP4lcnyywXY

Royal Nonesutch 08-07-2019 10:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefguy (Post 21792530)
Well, no. It just means that there is parking for semis.

Cops, both in America and here in Poland (and in most places around the world, I would suspect) seem to have a radar for good, cheap food, be it "authentic" or not...

Jophiel 08-07-2019 10:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sitnam (Post 21791658)
Mexican - if they DON'T put out a basket of chips and salsa when you sit down.

If a Mexican joint doesn't have a painting and/or statue of Popocatépetl & Iztaccíhuatl, is it even a Mexican restaurant?

Royal Nonesutch 08-07-2019 10:23 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sitnam (Post 21791658)
Mexican - if they DON'T put out a basket of chips and salsa when you sit down.

Heard this before, don't find it to be true, although I guess I might be an outlier, as the best tasting "Mexican" food I have eaten has been in the Southwestern USA, not in Mexico, although I have had some wonderful seafood meals in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas...

pulykamell 08-07-2019 10:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jophiel (Post 21792562)
If a Mexican joint doesn't have a painting and/or statue of Popocatépetl & Iztaccíhuatl, is it even a Mexican restaurant?

Huh. Don't think I've seen that in any of the Mexican joints around here. A painting or statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yes. Pretty much required.

Chips & salsa have nothing to do here with the "authenticity" of a joint. Half the places will serve you up with still-warm chips and a couple of homemade salsas (sometimes one of those is even warm.) Seafood Mexican joints will sometimes give you salsa and a small portion of ceviche for free. Other places might even give you a small bowl of fideo or some kind of other Mexican amuse-bouche/botana kind of thing (complimentary.)

I also don't agree with the turmeric-stained fingers with Indian restaurants. Not all Indian food is turmeric heavy (most of the stuff I eat isn't, and I work in the Indian community a lot and eat a lot of food that you don't typically find at Indian restaurants around here.)


I don't have any real rules for what might clue me in to it being authentic or not. A menu in the language of the ethnic restaurant is a reasonable sign, and the presence of customers of that ethnicity are a good sign, as well.

GESancMan 08-07-2019 10:28 AM

I spent the first 34 years of my life in California, and I've been in Portland, OR ever since. While the Hispanic population up here is nowhere near as big as in California, it is still sizable, and there is plenty of great Mexican food to be found.

About eight years ago, I had a weekend thing in Anchorage, and I stayed an extra day to visit my aunt & uncle, who live in a town a bit outside of the city. They said they had a great Mexican restaurant in town, and I'm always down for Mexican, so we went. We walked in the door, and the first thing I noted was that all of the workers were white. I caught a glance at the kitchen, and it was all white people there, too. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, we sat down and ordered.

It wasn't great.

The moral of the story is, if a Mexican restaurant has any people working there who aren't Mexican, run.

Royal Nonesutch 08-07-2019 10:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21792599)
Chips & salsa have nothing to do here with the "authenticity" of a joint. Half the places will serve you up with still-warm chips and a couple of homemade salsas (sometimes one of those is even warm.) .

Agree 100%

My post above yours should have added that the places I mentioned in Cabo and Ensenada where I had some truly fine meals all served chips and salsa, (although maybe one just served corn tortillas and an assortment of salsas, no tortilla chips) but I have to say that at least some of the other patrons were not Mexicans, but the food was truly excellent.

(I got the specific recommendation for the place in Ensenada from Chicago chef Rick Bayless' TV show, and although he looks about as "white" as a human body can possibly get, he apparently knows Mexico and Mexican cuisine as well as anyone not actually born in Mexico possibly can)

bump 08-07-2019 10:43 AM

One thing to consider is that there are the various cuisines of Mexico, and then there are Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, New Mexican, etc... all of which are legitimate Mexican cuisines in their own right. And there's a LOT of overlap and syncretism between them- is a dish less Mexican, just because Mexican immigrants made it on this side of the Rio Grande using local stuff?

And the thing is, they're all described as "Mexican" in the US. So judging by whether they serve chips or not doesn't really indicate authenticity at all.

Chronos 08-07-2019 10:45 AM

My mom and I are both adventurous eaters, and so we've gone out to lunch at a bunch of ethnic restaurants around the area. A couple of times, the folks already in the restaurant were surprised at seeing two white folks come in. One of them, I think we might have been the first white customers there ever, and our car was the only non-taxi in the parking lot (the taxi industry around here is overwhelmingly Somali).

Jophiel 08-07-2019 10:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21792599)
Huh. Don't think I've seen that in any of the Mexican joints around here. A painting or statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yes. Pretty much required.

Weird because around here (Joliet/Plainfield region) every Mexican joint seems to have one. Often prominently displayed near the register or in the waiting area, etc. Maybe we just have an oddly reverent group of Mexicans who follow the Old Ways or something.

SanVito 08-07-2019 10:56 AM

Indian: They have dishes you don't recognise on the menu and they don't give you cutlery unless you ask for it.

Treppenwitz 08-07-2019 11:17 AM

Back in the day, before it became painfully fashionable, my cousin took us out to a restaurant in Brick Lane, London. (For those that know the area, this was so long ago that you could park outside the restaurant - how 'bout that?)

He said that it was so authentic that it wasn't safe to drink the water. How could you use that as a practical predictive test? - well, it's a challenge.

Now, if you happen to be in Seville....we're working our way through Spain on city breaks, and one thing that is really noticeable about Seville (and I think also Granada, though it was Seville where we were really struck by it) is that you now see Japanese and Korean restaurants full of (what I assume to be) Japanese and Korean tourists, to the exclusion of pretty much anyone else. Presumably opened to serve the Asian tourist population - and I can only see this trend continuing. Busy as Hell, and we were there in February. Of course, we hadn't gone to Seville to eat Korean, so I can't offer you a report, but I would be optimistic about their authenticity.

j

Treppenwitz 08-07-2019 11:26 AM

Missed the edit - re Brick Lane, I should of course have said that it is home to many fine Bangladeshi restaurants.

j

Nava 08-07-2019 11:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefguy (Post 21792530)
Well, no. It just means that there is parking for semis.

The aforism refers to when there's several of those. I know a particular stretch of road a bit south of Burgos where you can find something like a dozen truck stops, but all the trucks go to the same one.

Nava 08-07-2019 11:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by GESancMan (Post 21792600)
I spent the first 34 years of my life in California, and I've been in Portland, OR ever since. While the Hispanic population up here is nowhere near as big as in California, it is still sizable, and there is plenty of great Mexican food to be found.

About eight years ago, I had a weekend thing in Anchorage, and I stayed an extra day to visit my aunt & uncle, who live in a town a bit outside of the city. They said they had a great Mexican restaurant in town, and I'm always down for Mexican, so we went. We walked in the door, and the first thing I noted was that all of the workers were white. I caught a glance at the kitchen, and it was all white people there, too. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, we sat down and ordered.

It wasn't great.

The moral of the story is, if a Mexican restaurant has any people working there who aren't Mexican, run.

... They still. Could have been. Mexican. I mean, I'm assuming you refer to "white" as a mere physical description and not a cultural one.

You thisisnotthePits confuse "Mexican" (a nationality or a national origin which can come in any ancestry) with "mestizo" (mixed Amerind and European ancestry) or Amerind.

SanVito 08-07-2019 11:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Treppenwitz (Post 21792683)
Back in the day, before it became painfully fashionable, my cousin took us out to a restaurant in Brick Lane, London. (For those that know the area, this was so long ago that you could park outside the restaurant - how 'bout that?)

He said that it was so authentic that it wasn't safe to drink the water. How could you use that as a practical predictive test? - well, it's a challenge.

Boom!

Quote:

Originally Posted by Treppenwitz (Post 21792683)
Now, if you happen to be in Seville....we're working our way through Spain on city breaks, and one thing that is really noticeable about Seville (and I think also Granada, though it was Seville where we were really struck by it) is that you now see Japanese and Korean restaurants full of (what I assume to be) Japanese and Korean tourists, to the exclusion of pretty much anyone else. Presumably opened to serve the Asian tourist population - and I can only see this trend continuing. Busy as Hell, and we were there in February. Of course, we hadn't gone to Seville to eat Korean, so I can't offer you a report, but I would be optimistic about their authenticity.

j

I wouldn't guarantee it - sometimes, I get the impression Chinese and Japanese tourists veer towards signs of home, fearful of the local cuisine. Often escorted straight there by tour operators. Don't think it's a guarantee of quality.

Kobal2 08-07-2019 11:40 AM

Just scan the crowd from the window. Is the restaurant already packed to the brim ? Is there a majority of [ethnic] customers there (where [ethnic] corresponds with the restaurant's purported [ethnic] cuisine) ? Issa good joint.
That easy algorithm has rarely led me astray.

Jackmannii 08-07-2019 11:51 AM

Our top Mexican food hangout offers menudo and serves chips and salsa. So pbfft to that stereotype.

A good negative authenticity clue is a Chinese restaurant with a bottle of ketchup on the table. :smack:

jz78817 08-07-2019 12:22 PM

around the Detroit area, I've found the most enjoyable (and varied) Mexican food at markets which happen to have a small dining area. Supermercado sin Limite in Lincoln Park is great. one indicator is that they offer lengua and tripa as options.

GESancMan 08-07-2019 01:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nava (Post 21792722)
... They still. Could have been. Mexican. I mean, I'm assuming you refer to "white" as a mere physical description and not a cultural one.

You thisisnotthePits confuse "Mexican" (a nationality or a national origin which can come in any ancestry) with "mestizo" (mixed Amerind and European ancestry) or Amerind.

Yes, I'm well aware of that. I thought it was obvious from my post that I was talking about culturally, not physically. I guarantee the people working in that Mexican restaurant in Alaska were not from Mexico, nor did they have Mexican ancestry.

BobLibDem 08-07-2019 02:03 PM

Good Mexican restaurants have waiters, not waitresses. If you are able to listen to the talk in the kitchen, it will be in Spanish.

pulykamell 08-07-2019 02:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BobLibDem (Post 21793101)
Good Mexican restaurants have waiters, not waitresses.

Definitely not true around here. You’ll have both, though it skews towards waitresses here. As for Spanish in the kitchen, you’ll hear that in almost any restaurant around here, regardless of cuisine.

Chefguy 08-07-2019 02:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21793158)
Definitely not true around here. You’ll have both, though it skews towards waitresses here. As for Spanish in the kitchen, you’ll hear that in almost any restaurant around here, regardless of cuisine.

And for a long time now, as per Kitchen Confidential.

Icarus 08-07-2019 03:08 PM

For Mexican restaurants, if the have Lengua (in tacos, burritos) on the menu.

DrDeth 08-07-2019 03:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sitnam (Post 21791658)
....
Other cultural authenticity is restaurants gotta have this too. In the Twin Cities these are my observations:
....
Mexican - if they DON'T put out a basket of chips and salsa when you sit down.

Vietnamese pho - if they only accept cash....

Twin Cites? Authentic Mexican Food? :dubious:

:p

Where I come from Mexican Food is called "food" :D and yes, chips and salsa is standard, except in the few Mexico City style upscale places.

Only accepting cash means only that they are cheating on their taxes. I lived in San Jose, where outside of Asian, you can;t get more & better authentic Vietnamese food.

The Pho should be presented with a plate of peppers, sprouts, limes, mint and etc, to be added to taste.

DrDeth 08-07-2019 03:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by silenus (Post 21791700)
Mexican - Do they offer menudo Sundays?

BBQ - Do they have plates? Skip it. Another clue is to count the number of religious calendars/posters/flyers on the wall. The more Jebus, the better the 'cue.

General ethnic - Is there a table in the back covered with homework? That's where the waitress(daughter) stays busy when there are no customers. Family-owned, good food almost guaranteed.

Well, paper plates are Ok.

jz78817 08-07-2019 03:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DrDeth (Post 21793282)
Twin Cites? Authentic Mexican Food? :dubious:

:p

Where I come from Mexican Food is called "food" :D and yes, chips and salsa is standard, except in the few Mexico City style upscale places.

Only accepting cash means only that they are cheating on their taxes.

don't know why you'd assume that. this place has been cash only since forever, if they were tax cheats I'd assume they'd have been nabbed by now.

DrDeth 08-07-2019 03:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Royal Nonesutch (Post 21792620)
Agree 100%

My post above yours should have added that the places I mentioned in Cabo and Ensenada where I had some truly fine meals all served chips and salsa, (although maybe one just served corn tortillas and an assortment of salsas, no tortilla chips) but I have to say that at least some of the other patrons were not Mexicans, but the food was truly excellent.
)

I miss going down to Ensenada. One really nice restaurant there had a special on a half broiled pacific lobster. We ordered two each.

DrDeth 08-07-2019 03:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Icarus (Post 21793209)
For Mexican restaurants, if the have Lengua (in tacos, burritos) on the menu.

Or Birra.

But some authentic places have neither. But pork is a must.

silenus 08-07-2019 03:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DrDeth (Post 21793286)
Well, paper plates are Ok.

Actually, I would also allow divided plates. That way the best BBQ place in the country gets the Silenus Authentic Star of Approval. But butcher paper is standard at the best places in Texas.


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