Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to find­ing, order­ing, and eat­ing at eth­nic res­taur­ants there’s only one place to look for advice: eco­nom­ist Tyler Cowen’s Eth­nic Din­ing Guide. I’ve men­tioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I ded­ic­ated a post to this treas­ure trove of din­ing advice and, espe­cially, the tips from Cowen’s Gen­er­al Remarks.

From an art­icle in The Wash­ing­ton Post, four strategies for find­ing good res­taur­ants and order­ing well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expens­ive or chains).
  2. Look for com­pet­i­tion (pos­sibly a sign of a large immig­rant pop­u­la­tion, provid­ing expert­ise).
  3. Know how to order ‘stra­tegic­ally’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the res­taur­ant cycle (from open­ing, to accol­ades, to mass pro­duc­tion).

Four rules-of-thumb for choos­ing from the menu (be aware of the excep­tions):

  1. Avoid “ingredi­ents-intens­ive” dishes, opt for “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive” instead (i.e. con­tains sauces or com­plex ingredi­ent mixes).
  2. Appet­izers are super­i­or to main courses in some cuisines; be will­ing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, espe­cially Asi­an ones.
  4. Order for vari­ety, not quant­ity (order more than you think neces­sary).

And finally, from a recent art­icle by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for din­ing out:

  1. In the fan­ci­est res­taur­ants, order what sounds least appet­ising.
  2. Beware the beau­ti­ful, laugh­ing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intel­li­gently.
  5. Exploit res­taur­ant work­ers (if you see expens­ive labour, think about what your return is… fam­ily-run res­taur­ants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Viet­namese to Thai, Pakistani to Indi­an.

Cowen can be a bit out­spoken on the top­ic of food, so bear in mind this com­ment:

It all makes per­fect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is inter­est­ing food for a reas­on­able price without much ambi­ance. Which is not what every­one likes.

Wheth­er that’s what you like or not, you’ll still def­in­itely like Cowen’s book on the sub­ject, An Eco­nom­ist Gets Lunch.