Every good food lover knows that the best food can often be found in a divey, hole-in-the-wall, ethnic restaurant. Not ever food lover, however, is willing to search out and seek their own new restaurants. Many are content to keep eating at the same, already well known restaurants in favor of the risk of territory unknown. Well, I’m here to let you know, not only is it fun, exhilarating and often delicious to locate a new hole-in-the-wall, it often pays off with discoveries of new food and new friends.
The first thing that comes to people’s minds when I take them to a new spot is a question of food safety. I’m not really sure why people are so convinced that an small, family run ethnic restaurant would be any more careless with hygiene than, say, an assembly line corporate or large scale hotel operation. Despite my lackadaisical attitude toward food safety in my own house (Me, shoving 3 week old raw noodles in my mouth: “Brett, I think these are still good!” Him: “No, I’m pretty sure that white stuff is mold, not flour.”), I can virtually guarantee that the little old momma behind the stove cares more about the cleanliness of her kitchen then the first ten chefs you’ll find in a larger restaurant. It’s simply a matter of pride for them.
With that out of the way, let me tell you what I encourage everyone to get out and do. Drive to a high density, low rent neighborhood, and then slow down. Look out the windows. What language are the signs in? What race are the people? Then look where those people are going to eat. In Seattle, my favorite places to look are the South end, on MLK boulevard, and in White Center. You’ll find some real gems, once you can get over your fear of the dusty sign and forbidding entry way, you are likely to find a much friendlier greeting and warmer welcome than any restaurant hostess has given you. The value of seeking out a new place is already paying off.
Step two is ordering. The menus of most small restaurants have identity crises. You look at the it, there is Thai food, Lao food and American food. There is Somalian, Mediterranean and Italian. Talk to your waitress. Let them know that a) you want to eat what they eat and b) you are excited to try new things. If they say ‘No, white people don’t like that’ I always jump on top of them and make sure they serve me that. It’s often the tastiest item, as long as you are a bit of an adventurous eater.
Step three is ordering, eating, and enjoying. That’s about it.
Small businesses really need new customers and often their attempts to draw you in can result in amazing new foods and adventures. You never know what kind of fun you’ll run into when entering a new place. Recently I meandered into a Halal grocery, just for a look around. There turned out to be a counter in the back serving Greek food. While I had already bought lunch, I noted it for another day and picked out some ghee and dates to take home with me. I asked the man at the counter about the counter and while he saw I had a lunch from the Vietnamese deli next door, he took my friend and I to the back of the store and prepared a cup of Somali tea for each of us. I’d never had Somali tea before. It’s pretty darn good. The guy was genuine, nice and I now know that I must be back to try his food. I often stop by a place if I’m in the area and grab a menu or just look around, even if I’m not eating, so that I can get excited about it, research the food of the culture, if needed, and then go back to eat.
So what are you waiting for? There is a place waiting for you, and likelihood is, it’s dirt cheap, incredibly delicious, and you’ll meet an unbelievably nice hostess/waiter/owner in the process. Change up the routine. And let me know if you find any place good. Especially if it’s in Seattle!