A Survival Guide For Eating At Sketchy Restaurants

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Photo: Canadian Veggie via flickr

We’ve all been to a hole-in-wall, run down food joint. But every once in a while you might yourself at a place that’s more a dump than a gem.How can you tell? Chow provides 10 signs to watch out for including clogged pepper shakers and ketchup, an excessively long menu, and a bunch of prefilled baskets of bread in the back.

Obviously you want to get out of there, but if you can’t—say there’s no restaurant within a 45 mile radius or you’re on business—we’ve compiled some useful tips from The New York Times, Food Enquirer, Top Travel Tips and Howy to help your stomach survive.

Establish a sense of trust with your chef.

If there's a mutual understanding between the two of you, the chef will be more likely take care of your food (we hope).

To establish trust, the Viet World Kitchen blog suggests making eye contact with the chef as you first go to sit at the table, just as you would in a business setting with clients.

Even just showing your 'appreciation' can go a long way, writes the Times: 'A lousy restaurant, after all, often has as much to do with the lack of care and discernment on the part of its customers as it does with the establishment itself. So signal that you care.'

Choose low-key dishes that require minimal effort to prepare.

Order something that can be slowly cooked on its own like chilli or soup. Even if it tastes bad, it will be markedly better than the more intense dishes that take more effort to prepare and therefore more likely to get messed up by the kitchen.

Order something bland you can spice up.

Bland dishes that you can season will taste better because you can control the flavour of your food. Try soft shell tacos, the Times recommends, along with buttered pasta, plain bread, or plain old grilled chicken.

Order something cheesy at a Mexican restaurant.

Consider ordering quesadillas because the dominant taste in Mexican restaurants is cheese, notes the Times. That's because this food can sit around longer in a plastic wrapper without going bad, regardless of how it was it was prepared by the line cook.

Get the Ma Po tofu at a Chinese restaurant.

Choose a plate whose ingredients 'store fairly well and don't vary much in quality,' writes the Times. They recommend the ma po tofu (tofu and ground pork).

Order your meat well-done to guarantee it's prepared.

It doesn't matter if you love it rare, mooing, bloody, or whatever you call it: The longer the meat is cooked, the more free of sickness-inducing pathogens it will be, notes Top Travel Tips.

You may still want to skip the steak altogether if the place is truly sketchy.

Stick with bottled beverages and skip the ice.

If the restaurant is especially dingy, skip the tap water and nix the ice in your soda. Order bottled water or soft drinks instead.

If you can't order bottled beverages, ask the restaurant to boil the water for you to ensure it's germ-free, HOWY travel advises.

Avoid dairy beverages in a warm climate.

Beware dairy products in warmer climates where they can go bad quickly, says Top Travel Tips.

Stick to peeled veggies and unpeeled fruit.

Viet World Kitchen recommends sticking with peeled vegetables, like carrots or potatoes, which can be cut and scooped out to ensure less risk of contamination. That said forget about leafy vegetables and salads, which may have been 'cleaned' in dirty water.

For fruit, stick with bananas, oranges, or even grapes since they come unpeeled. Don't even think about touching the strawberries! Like salads, who knows what they were rinsed in.

Avoid shellfish like the plague in warmer climates.

Says the Times:

'Shellfish can be problematic in the summer for several reasons. The first has to do with red tides, vast blooms of algae that collect along coastlines, usually in warm weather. They can spread toxins that are soaked up by oysters, clams and mussels.'

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