How Do You Judge a Wine Bar? A Coffee Shop? A Tex-Mex Restaurant?

Categories: Leftovers

3260371968_dfe331eb58_z.jpg
Photo by ysakaki
It says "Craft Beer Bar" right on the awning. It has to be legit, right?
That's the question -- or, rather, series of questions -- that arose at a recent dinner.

My friends and I had chosen a new-ish Tex-Mex restaurant that night and the chips and salsa that arrived first were appallingly bad. So bad, in fact, that we were left dreading the rest of the meal. And as expected, what followed was one of the worst dinners I've had all year, Tex-Mex or otherwise.

Are chips and salsa at a Tex-Mex restaurant an overall indicator of quality? Quite often, yes.

I know a few places where the chips and salsa are unmemorable although the rest of the food is terrific (Los Dos Amigos, for example) -- but I also know places where the chips and salsa are perfectly reasonable yet the food is awful. Still, these places are outliers on the bell curve of overall quality, and chips and salsa remain my bellwether for gauging a restaurant from the start.

The discussion over dinner quickly turned to other establishments: How do you judge a cocktail bar? A coffee shop? A food truck?

My friends and I compared and contrasted our own litmus tests and came to some fairly distinct conclusions. To broaden the pool a bit, I also polled my rough thousand friends on Facebook as to how they judge ten different establishments -- a cocktail bar, a beer bar, a wine bar, a Tex-Mex restaurant, a French restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a food truck, a bakery, a coffee shop and a burger joint -- and received a slew of responses.

The results are here, but I want to hear your own ideas in the comments section below.

4552671117_cd45059c2e_z.jpg
Photo by prayitno
Judge a Tex-Mex restaurant by its chips and salsa.

Are the chips stale? Too thick or too thin? Is the salsa too watery, too bland, too heavy on inappropriate spices like garlic? Does it taste like a jar of Pace salsa dumped into a ramekin? These are all indications that your meal ahead may be rough.

Alternate answers: Cheese enchiladas, how expensive the fajitas are (anything over $20 is an automatic disqualifier), guacamole, queso, tortillas (made in house is preferable by far), margaritas

4994755588_7f1f7fdbe6_z.jpg
Photo by Michael Nielsen
Judge a cocktail bar by its martini.

If the bartender asks you what kind of vodka you want in your martini, leave. Just get up and leave.

Alternate answers: Manhattan (and whether or not the bar has rye whiskey), whether or not the bartender can make you a simple bitters and soda, whether or not there's a dress code (if there is -- again -- leave), knowledge of the staff, the colors of the bar's signature cocktails -- are they colors found in nature?

4965690671_ee07d2e28a.jpg
Photo by Island Vittles
Judge a sushi restaurant by its sushi rice.

Good sushi rice is hard to find. Is the rice bland? Does it stick to your fingers like glue? Does it fall apart when you touch it? Does it even look like sushi rice, or just some Uncle Ben's that the kitchen found at the store? If the restaurant doesn't care about its rice -- the most basic component of sushi -- it won't care as much about its fish.

Alternate answers: Ratio of rolls to actual sushi or sashimi (more rolls usually indicates lower quality fish that the restaurant is trying to disguise), sashimi, tamago (if the restaurant can make tamago and make it well, the chef can probably make everything that good), whether or not the restaurant carries cuts like collar or belly, availability of real wasabi

My Voice Nation Help
28 comments
eva.p.kam
eva.p.kam

Where is that photo of chips and salsa taken?? I want to be there!

 

Oh, also, my barometer of Tex Mex is the quality of HOUSE margaritas. Once you get into top-shelf liquors, it's almost tough to make a bad one. Olé.

KING
KING

Judge a pho joint by whether or not there is at least one over-40 Vietnamese woman in the kitchen and/or there is an under-10 Vietnamese child running around unsupervised. One of the two is good. If you have both, you've found the right spot.

paval
paval topcommenter

Judge a Tex-Mex restaurant by homemade tortillas and guacamole (so easy to do, if you do not even do that in house, what do you do in house), quality of meat in fajitas, liquor availability on margaritas, beer list and existence of a qualified wine list

A cocktail bar by its drink offerings and the knowledge of the staff. The quality spectrum of the liquor used. Top shelf and regular liquors.

Sushi restaurant by the freshness of the flesh in the window, the use of fresh or frozen protein, the rice quality, the prices, the mastery with the knife of the sushi master

The quality of the coffee, who do they buy it from, the offering of several ways of coffee and milk (Latte, espresso, doppio, cappuccino,  cortado, café au lait, etc)

Freshness of patty, quality of bread, freshness of the veggies used, French fries from scratch or frozen potato dough fries. Quality of meat (Angus or Akaushi should be standard by now) . grilling grade of meat (medium rare if they trust their own meat. All the way if they don't)

The use of  offals as a grading factor is useless if you go to a place like “Le Bernardin” , the best fish restaurant in the US, French led, Michelin Star rated. And France has a lot of restaurants that do not use anything but fish. Depending on the area.  French cuisine is very regional. So I would much rather look at the excessive use of cream, the presence of certain French dishes and sauces. All five basic sauces should be used in a true French restaurants., by now it should be more nouvelle cuisine than the old heavy kind of times past. I would say dishes that kind of need to be present if the cuisine is pan-french, duck in orange sauce, lamb a la provencal,

A wine bar for sure by its selection. Do they use easily available wines on the rest of the market or do they buy their own, meaning they tested more than just the market usual wines. Do they sell wine selected by quality or by marketing programs of the big distributors, kind of available glasses for the different wines, cleanliness of wines, having a lot of open wines to find something for each palate from the open and then being able to recommend a full bottle. This will demand knowledge and availability. Selection of food to go with wine, not just pizzas or as they are known in Wine bars flatbreads.

For a food truck it would be the quality, speed of service, offering

Taste of beer from the lines ( no mould in the lines), serving beer properly, with head for some styles of beers, selection of different kinds of beers not just the ubiquitous Belgian style beers. Proper temperature for beer (not 28 F, as they proudly do in one of the breastaurants. No beer tastes good at that temperature).  Selection of food.

 

paval
paval topcommenter

For sure grocery stores and specialty food stores should  be a judging category.

 

How about: "How to judge a food critic"

The parameters should be:

"Seriousness of the articles"

" Knowledge of food other than hamburgers and bbq if media outlet is in Texas"

" independence of the media they work for vs. the advertising restaurants place in that same media outlet"

 

My comments to the points of this week are coming a bit later

Erick Edwardo Segura
Erick Edwardo Segura

Cold unsalted chips is a warning and cold bland watered down salsa means im walking away.

mfsmit
mfsmit

Cocktail bar: number of cocktails ending in "- tini" does not exceed 1.  Also, the Aviation is my barometer cocktail: I've found that any bar with the wherewithall to make one is usually pretty good.

 

Wine bar: serving temperature of red wine

 

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Oh, and I guess you are aware that the picture captions are appearing larger than the actual text instead of the other way around?  Lots of changes on this site, so I assume it is a work in progress.  Don't love the new comment sections.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Tex-Mex by cheese enchiladas.  And I guess what passes for good is personal, because I really like the red sauce at Los Dos Amigos, the chips could be better.  Their cheese enchiladas are not my favorite in town though as last year's EOW best dishes of Houston suggested.

iMidget
iMidget

How do you judge a steak restaurant?  I start with the Old Fashioned, then the Caesar salad, flavor and temperature of the steak, texture of the creamed spinach, and last but not least the stealth like preemptive measures taken by the waitstaff.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Perfect example of chips and salsa not being a good indicator is Chuy's.  The only reason I go there is for the creamy jalapeno dip served with the chips.  Everything else on their menu is par, at best.

Flacotechs
Flacotechs

Tex-Mex - chile relleno. Easy to make but also easy to screw up. Coffee shop - look for quasi-Italian drink names on the menu. If you find any, just leave. Food truck - I judge these by the length of the line. Craft beer bar - if they sell anything from ABInbev it's probably not a craft beer bar.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

So what is the name of theTexMex joint that was so bad????

erichenao
erichenao topcommenter

Tex -Mex : Cheese Enchiladas, do they offer the Puff Cheese Tostada?

Coffee: How good is their Regular Cup of Joe? Is it fresh? Do they offer other brewing styles? Espresso is a good measure of the use of a machine, but I find the Cortado to be a better overall indicator of skill and not just of the machine, but of the barista's knowledge.

Bar: Gin Martini and the Sazerac.

Smedley
Smedley

Thank you for the comment about using vodka in a martini. There's no such thing as a vodka martini. Blech!

TosshiTX
TosshiTX

I always judge Tex Mex by fajita enchiladas. If they can't make decent enchiladas, then the rest of the menu is probably going to disappoint. Plus, making it fajita enchiladas gives me some kind of indication as to the quality of the fajitas if I return.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @Jalapeno Those aren't the picture captions; they're the subheds of each section.  :)  But, yes, we are all works in progress.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @iMidget Ooooh, yes. Creamed spinach, for sure.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @FattyFatBastard No, no. You have it all wrong. Everything on their menu is <i>incredible</i> when you pour a half-gallon of the creamy jalapeño dip on top.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @texmex01 You'll find out next week. I promise.  :)

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

 @Smedley

 Can't stand Gin.  Vodka is my martini.  At home, I like a dribble of creme de cassis in it.  Dirty is too salty for me, but I like olive only.  The SIZE of the martini glass is what I judge a bar by!  I like the bigger glasses that are so much easier to maneuver than say the one pictured here. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

 @Smedley And I find it incredibly myopic.  I like gin on occasion, but I like my martini's dirty, and vodka simply tastes better in a dirty martini.  Junipers and olives really don't mix, contrary to the garnish.

Smedley
Smedley

 @Jalapeno A proper martini practically IS gin. I don't even mix vermouth into the gin, I will swirl it around the glass and then pour it out. After that... GIN.

tt_boy
tt_boy

 @Jalapeno  @Smedley wrong. a martini should be served in a relatively small glass – as pictured – to preserve the cold temperature of the contents. if you want a big-as glass of hooch, go have a terrible margarita on the river walk in San Antonio

Smedley
Smedley

 @FattyFatBastard Vodka doesn't taste like anything except rubbing alcohol until you put something in it, then it tastes like rubbing alcohol mixed with whatever you put in it. Mind you, I like a nice bloody mary.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...