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7 Things I Don’t Order at Restaurants (and 4 I do)

by Nick

I frequently get asked if Betsy and I ever go out to eat and the answer is, of course, yes.

Learning to cook pretty decently at home though has really changed my view on restaurants. For starters, most mid-range restaurants are lost on me. My rant on mid-range restaurants hasn’t changed a bit in the last three years and maybe has even solidified further.

That said, learning how to cook well at home has taught me a few things about going out to eat.

For starters, it’s taught me to really respect top notch food. It’s tough to make a fantastic anything. No matter what it is, trying to cook it at home will give you a deeper respect for the people that cook it everyday.

Second, and the purpose of this post, is that it’s taught me what to order and not order, in general, in restaurants.

After many years, I have a small, but important list of things I almost never order at restaurants. I thought it would be fun to share it with you all!

7 Things I Almost Never Order

1) Steaks

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There’s one very big exception to this rule. If I’m at a good steakhouse, I’ll order a steak because I know it will be perfect. I would rather pay $60 for a perfect steak than $20 for a sub-par steak.

Also, I hate being the guy that sends food back, but I’m extremely particular about how I like my steak cooked and I feel like I should be able to get it like I want it if I’m paying for it. So I will send steaks back if they are over-cooked and that means I send a lot of steaks back.

To avoid the whole ordeal, I rarely order them unless I’m positive that the kitchen knows what they are doing.

My version: Argentine Chimichurri Steak

2) Eggs Benedict

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I’m as particular about eggs as I am about steaks. If I get eggs benedict and the eggs are over-cooked, I’ll send it back. I also know that most kitchens make their hollandaise hours in advance and it’s usually goopy and terrible.

Because I hate sending food back, I just don’t order this at brunch places unless I know it’s going to be excellent.

I’ve been burned too many times.

My version: Spinach Eggs Benedicts

3) Risotto

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I think risotto is one of the scams of the restaurant world. Most restaurants charge a lot for what is essentially rice. It’s so easy to make at home, much easier than people think, so I always save my dining out dollars for something better.

The exception to this is if the risotto has delicious add-ins like truffles or something that would be hard for me to source on my own.

My Version: Spinach Artichoke Risotto

4) Spaghetti Anything

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I can’t think of a single spaghetti dish I would ever order in a restaurant. Wouldn’t do it. Can’t make me.

Most are just too easy to reproduce at home. Save your money.

My Version: Whole Wheat Cacio e Pepe

5) Roast Chicken

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Roasting a chicken is so easy that I have a hard time paying for it. The major exception to this rule is if the place is specifically known for their roast chicken. I’m thinking of places like Zuni Cafe or a few good Peruvian chicken joints. At a typical restaurant though, it’s a stay away for me.

My Version: Zuni Roast Chicken

6) Any Omelet Ever

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Whisk some eggs, put them in a pan with some butter, a few meager helpings of other ingredients, and cheese. If there’s one thing I can make any damn time I want, it’s an omelet. I can’t envision ever ordering one when most brunch places have better options that are harder to nail down at home.

My Version: Denver Omelet

7) Quesadillas

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Similar to the omelet argument, these are something that almost anyone can make. Also, they are frequently an excuse for restaurants to sell you leftovers at a huge premium. If the most interesting thing on the menu you are looking at is a quesadilla, find another menu.

My Version: Sweet Corn ‘Dilla

4 Things I Almost Always Order

Those are somewhat broad items, but there are similarly broad items that I almost always order in restaurants. These tend to be because they are time consuming to prepare at home (correctly) or are on the outer edge of my skill level.

1) Homemade Pastas

While even a decent spaghetti dish won’t catch my eye at a restaurant, I’m really drawn to homemade pastas. It’s a pain in the butt to regularly make these at home and if you find a restaurant that spends the time to do pasta right, it’s worth every penny.

Case in point, Betsy and I went to Rolf and Daughters in Nashville over Thanksgiving and they had some of the most amazing pastas I’ve ever had (even including in Italy). All homemade. All perfect.

2) Pho and Ramen

can make both of these and have tried them on a few occasions, but it’s very tough to get the broth right without a lot of time and volume. I’m not sure I would grade my attempts as even a B.

I like messing around with these dishes at home, but I doubt I’ll ever master them so I leave it to the professionals.

3) Charcuterie

Curing meats isn’t necessarily hard for some things, but making consistently excellent charcuterie is difficult and takes an enormous amount of time. If I’m at a restaurant and they have a decent charcuterie plate on the menu, I’ll almost always try it out.

4) Barbecue

I mean real barbecue… not something you just put barbecue sauce on. I’ll skip barbecue if I happen to find myself at a mid-range chain restaurant, but making great barbecue is hard and something I’ll always try out if I can.

What Say You?

Are there items that you avoid on restaurant menus? Are their things you gravitate to? Leave a comment and tell me what I missed!

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34 comments on “7 Things I Don’t Order at Restaurants (and 4 I do)

  1. I’d never given it much thought but your list is basically the same as my list! I never, ever order eggs out after years of getting them horribly cooked. I’d rather just get something else and make better, well-cooked eggs at home.

  2. I agree with you on most never orders. I would add, chicken salad or tuna salad. Also, I have had too much bad barbecue to order it unless I know it will be good.

  3. Cheesecake ! I never order as they are just sweet and have no distinguishable flavor. It is easy to make at home and is at the point where none of my family will order one at a restaurant.

    1. You must save an exception for Juniors Cheesecake in NYC. They don’t make the flavored cheesecake as well as the original, though.

  4. I second Susan on the cheesecake–I’m very partial to my own and anyone else’s is never as good.

    Since moving to Texas I almost never order pasta out–homemade or otherwise. After living in the NYC area with access to amazing Italian food it drives me nuts how most restaurants overcook it. Such a stupid thing to mess up, and yet they do it consistently here.

    1. To be honest, I don’t go out for brunch that much because I hate waiting in long lines for subpar food… but I do like mimosas, so it’s tough!

      When I do go out, I tend to order savory dishes that are unique to the place we are at. That could be a unique hash or maybe a killer breakfast burrito. I tend to gravitate to cheesy things or spicy things when I’m out for brunch. :)

      1. Next time you are in New Orleans, go out to brunch. Brunch is a big deal here and it is top notch food. New Orleans is such a great city for food anyway, and they don’t disappoint on brunches (it’s a big tradition here – places are packed and in some cases you need to make a reservation a few days in advance). Plus, everywhere has mimosas and bloody marys since I think everyone has a liquor license (hell, my barber serves drinks… I’m not kidding).

  5. I agree on the list of don’t orders! My husbands list is even longer! I will almost always lean towards ordering sea food (if it’s fresh!), sushi, Pho, and there is one place in town I will always order the fish and chips. I can’t stand greasy, heavy fish and chips, but there is one place that batters and fry’s it to perfection every single time.

  6. Since I don’t know what I’m doing at home with seafood (except shrimp), that’s what I tend to order out. There is one steak house in Tucson that is totally amazing (Silver Saddle) and their prices are excellent. They cook over an open mesquite fire. I have always had my steak cooked to perfection there. Being on a high protein/low carb diet, I do tend to go there frequently.

    1. I haven’t ever posted one on the blog but there is a quick pho recipe in the upcoming cookbook that’s pretty legit (especially if you make your own beef stock). That’s the extent of my dabblings though!

  7. Totally agree on the Pho, I’ve tried many times but its not the same plus its cheap. Thai is another one, I have came close (Tom Kha Gai) but the time and cost I’ve surrendered to ordering to go.

  8. After thinking true delicious BBQ was something I could never master – until I actually tried it – I actually think good homemade BBQ is easier than most people think. Now, despite that, it is VERY time consuming. A good pulled pork can take me 12-14 hours on the smoker. I do find it hard to actually get up early enough to start the process so I can enjoy it later that day.

  9. I never order desserts. We don’t need to eat them after a nice meal and I can make any dessert a 1000 times better. Anything I make will have the best ingredients and no preservatives and will taste a lot better.

  10. I can’t think of any changes I’d make to this list. I completely agree on omelettes; I haven’t ordered one in years. I’m very unlikely to order any pasta dish from a restaurant that isn’t italian (unless it’s something unique or loaded with fresh seafood). I think generally I can spot the stuff that’s on the menu just to cover picky eaters (things like roast chicken, pasta, hamburgers) and avoid them. I also completely agree on risotto (like I’ll order lobster risotto!).

    To the second list, I’d probably add sushi.

  11. Never:
    1. Chili – I don’t know why restaurants bother selling it, everyone likes their own.
    2. Lasagne – can’t beat my dad’s recipe
    3. Dessert with the exception of a good creme brulee. I just can’t get it that creamy or crusty at home.
    Always:
    1. Wood-fired pizza – if they have a good reputation
    2. Indian cuisine – I have spent years trying to replicate my favorites but I can’t get it quite right, better to leave it to the masters.
    3. Crepes – but only if menu also offers buckwheat galettes and the traditional fillings so I know it’s the real deal. I can’t afford the proper appliance to get them thin enough.

  12. If I can make something at home, I don’t get it in a restaurant. One item I did have was a brined pork chop about 2″ thick. I don’t eat those every week but I have made my own brines and do not order them any more. I look at “eating out” as a way to find new ways to cook at home. One restaurant I do miss is the real Chinese restaurant that cooks each dish when ordered.

  13. I’m with you 100% on all your nevers!! I would add Burgers to that list unless its a famous burger place that I know can do it right. Addition to always is sushi at a real good sushi place. If sushi costs less than $50 a person, it is not good sushi. People call me a snob but I refuse to eat at Applebee’s or the Olive Garden. Even if it was free I wouldn’t eat it but to PAY for food that I can cook at home way better just isn’t gonna happen! Thanks for the rant :) I give it often…

  14. I am with Susan and September. I will not eat a restaurants cheesecake, mine are better. In fact, most desserts I don’t order, it would have to be phenomenal just to get my attention. I will always try wood-fired pizza as I haven’t built my outdoor oven yet.

  15. It sounds weird, but I order salads on the reg when we go out. I HATE making salad at home, because I feel like a good salad requires 17 ingredients I’ll never use up before they all go bad. Plus, I suck at tossing salad (get your mind out of the gutter), and all my dressing always ends up at the bottom.

    I also have never had success at cooking Indian food, so if I am craving it, I’m going out. Shamelessly.

  16. Ditto to those, especially the risotto and omelet. Additional for me is meatloaf. It doesn’t even look appetizing. Not that homemade meatloaf is a beauty queen. But it looks loads tastier than any restaurant version I’ve seen.

  17. I would say I have to disagree about desserts. I would rather order a delish desert out and treat myself then have an entire cheesecake sitting in my house.
    #recipefordisaster

  18. There are 4 steps I use whether it’s for 3 vegs or 17 that will improve your salad experience. First put all wet vegs in the bowl first, add the weeds or lettuce, salt the weeds and using a moderately light touch dress the salad, toss and taste for additional herbs or salt. Place croutons on last so they won’t get soggy.Toss again before serving to mix up the croutons. Sometimes I salt the weeds and let it sit on the table covered until I have the rest of the meal finished. Voila, a great salad ! Now, go order something that you cannot enjoy at home!

  19. Great list! Generally I avoid anything I can make better at home. Experimenting with food has really opened my eyes, and made my taste buds more selective. Quality is super important, as well as dishes being properly prepared. If I’m out to eat, I want to be dazzled! I agree with some of your readers regarding avoiding dishes such as meatloaf and cheesecake. The meatloaf is never all that appetizing in general. The cheesecakes served at restaurants seem to be those New York style, which is fine if made well. But more often then not, it is dry and crumbly. I feel cheesecake should be rich and creamy. Plus, I don’t usually care for all the specialty flavors available. I like mine simple.

  20. That’s a very reasonable list. I definitely agree with the steak. Here in Cincinnati, we have several better steakhouses, including a Ruth’s Chris. But the ones that do a steak best are run by restaurateur Jeff Ruby. His steaks are amazing.

  21. I’m in complete agreeance!! When I go out, especially to a nicer establishment, my intentions are to indulge in and enjoy a dish I wouldn’t normally make at home. Something which requires exotic and/or fancy ingredients, long prep times, or a skill I don’t currently possess. It only makes sense to order that dish you’ll never cook at home (or at least not well) rather than spend your dollars on food that you could easily (and more cheaply) make in your own kitchen. Besides, I love exploring other cultures’ foods, and most dishes of that sort are completely out of this world for me. Good post!

  22. Fun post!!

    I almost always order eggs benedict if it’s offered. I’m a sucker. It’s also something I don’t make it home, so for me it’s a treat. I also look for nachos on menus. Again, not something I typically make at home. At Asian restaurants, I like to order the fried rice to compare it to my family’s fried rice I ate all the time growing up as a kid :) I have yet to find anything that even comes close to my mom’s!

    I don’t like to order “spaghetti” dishes and I also rarely order the “special”. I don’t have a reason for it, I just don’t like to. It seems like the couple of times I have, it’s never been anything I’d consider more “special” than anything else on their menu.

  23. On my no list would have to be salad. A lot of restaurants post a big salad of some sort meant to be the main bit of the meal. I just have a HARD time paying sometimes upwards of $10 for – LETTUCE! Most place-not all mind you- even serve them over iceburg. This is going away, thankfully as more interesting lettuces become more readily available, but still- $6-10 for lettuce with a meager sprinkling of a few things and then -usually- drowned in some dressing.
    On my yes list is tofu and other “not-meats”- I just can’t get this right at home, and some places can’t either, but some places- it’s FANTASTIC.

    Here in the NE competition is TOUGH. Many restaurants come and go within months. The trouble is while this may help weed out the mediocre, it also weeds out the eclectic that may have a more limited demographic of interest or higher price tag (which could be totally worth it if given a chance). NYC for example- everything is high priced in the city but not necessarily worth it- but how to tell if you’re an infrequent visitor? Buyer beware! :)

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