Have you ever had that moment when your food arrives in a restaurant and it’s not exactly what you were hoping for? Maybe the cuisine tasted a little odd, or it looked like something the chef just nuked in the microwave oven? Well, your suspicions may have been roused for good reason. Sometimes all is not what it seems – even in the finest of eating establishments. So, we’ve gathered advice from some of the world’s top chefs to discover which foods you ought to avoid when dining out. And some of them may shock you!
20. Hollandaise sauce
The ever-popular brunch options of eggs royale and eggs benedict are hot sellers on menus. And it’s not hard to see why people love these tasty combinations of poached eggs with ham or salmon. But the dishes’ key ingredient of hollandaise sauce is something to be avoided, according to Anthony Bourdain.
The late, great American TV chef penned an exposé on high-end cuisine back in 2000 called Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly. And in the book he talks about the potential perils of ordering hollandaise-based dishes. The sauce is made using a combination of eggs, butter and other ingredients. As a result, it should be freshly prepared to avoid catching things like Salmonella. Bourdain wrote, “Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order.”
19. Soup of the day
Who doesn’t like soup? You can’t beat a flavorsome, warming bowl on a cold day or when you’re not feeling so good. Team it with a crusty bread roll and you’re good to go! But according to British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, you should think twice before you order soup of the day in a restaurant.
The star of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares explained that you should never assume that the soup of the day has been freshly prepared. He told Town & Country, “Ask what yesterday’s soup du jour was before today’s special. It may be the case that it’s the soup du month.” In other words, those ingredients could be days or even weeks old. Bleurgh.
18. Anything from restaurants with bad bread
Pay special attention to that bread basket presented to you at the start of your meal, American artisan baker Graison Gill has warned. If anyone can be classed as an authority on bread, it’s him. He is the owner of the celebrated Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans and trained at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
According to Gill, the bread given to customers should be thought of as the restaurant’s shop window. He told Reader’s Digest, “Your introduction to a meal is the bread and water the chef sets in front of you when you sit down. And when that restaurant buys bread made with stale white flour – or orders from a bakery using stale white flour – that flour makes stale white bread.” So: if the bread basket stinks, just order drinks.
17. Oysters and mussels
Several top chefs have weighed into the argument about the safety of consuming seafood in restaurants. And oysters are one of the biggest culprits, according to Cordon Bleu-trained cook and owner of JC’s Catering Mark Nichols. He apparently won’t touch them if they are picked from more than 100 miles away. The chef told Reader’s Digest, “If handled and stored incorrectly, raw oysters can kill you.”
Mussels are another restaurant no-no, according to big-name chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Mary Dumont. The former revealed in his book that he would never order mussels from a place where he didn’t know the chef. And award-winning cook Dumont told Insider, “I never order mussels at restaurants. I know people love them and I’m meticulous about their storage and care if I serve them. But all it takes is one bad mussel and you’re down for the count.”
16. Kobe beef
This particular kind of Wagyu beef is from the Tajima group of Japanese Black cattle and is reared in the country’s Hyōgo Prefecture. The meat is considered a delicacy due to the coveted flavor and texture that its unique, marbled fat content provides. You’ll usually find it served up in steak, sashimi or teppanyaki form in high-end restaurants. But top chefs have warned that you should be beware of imitations.
Wagyu beef is cheaper and comes from Japanese cattle – but not necessarily cows reared in the Hyōgo Prefecture. And it’s often this which is apparently served as Kobe beef – it’s from the same family, after all. Malaysian-born chef Felix Tai told Mashed, “The labeling is used very loosely in the United States, and there is also only a number of restaurants that serve real Kobe, since it’s very limited. If you are paying a price to eat out and to enjoy an experience, by all means you want to know what is it you’re enjoying.”
According to the National Chicken Council – yes that is a real thing – Americans buy more of the poultry than “any other food at the center of the plate.” Yet chicken is less popular among professional chefs. Why? Well, the meat can induce a nasty bout of food poisoning if it’s not stored and cooked correctly.
Restaurant chefs have a tendency to play it safe and cook chicken for longer than necessary, according to Los Angeles-based chef Ryan Ososky. He told Reader’s Digest, “I will order almost anything when I go out – but never chicken because it tends to be overcooked at most restaurants.” And professional chefs generally hate overcooked meat because it loses its succulence and flavor.
14. Well-done steaks
How you like your steak to be cooked is, of course, a personal preference. We all have different tastes, and this is why your waiter will always ask whether you like your steak rare, medium or well done. Unlike chicken, red meat is generally considered juicier and more flavorsome when kept pink in color – especially among chefs. But heed this warning if “well done” is your steak preference.
According to Anthony Bourdain, “saving for well-done” is an age-old tradition among chefs. In his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he wrote, “… What happens when the chef finds a tough, slightly skanky end-cut of sirloin that’s been pushed repeatedly to the back of the pile? He can throw it out, but that’s a total loss… Or he can ‘save for well-done’ – serve it to some rube who prefers his meat or fish incinerated into a flavorless, leathery hunk of carbon…”
13. Dishes customized to the diner’s requirements
There’s always one: that ultra-fussy person who wants to swap out every ingredient of their meal for something else. Maybe they want peppers and mushrooms instead of anchovies on their pizza, or a salad without dressing and croutons. But Solomon & Kuff chef Christoper Faulkner has argued that diners should place more trust in the cooks.
“Unless you are allergic to something, never sub-out one ingredient for another on a composed dish,” Faulkner told Delish. “In a trusted restaurant, the chef knows what he is doing and a great marriage has been pre-arranged.” In other words, don’t mess with the vision and skill of the person who’s been specially trained to put the dish together. Makes sense, right?
12. White truffles and caviar
Caviar, champagne and truffles are all products that come with “luxury” price tags. And part of the appeal of eating out somewhere fancy is the experience. After all, who doesn’t like elegant surroundings, attentive service and fine food? But when that cuisine is significantly overpriced, is it really worth it?
“I avoid high-end ingredients like white truffles and caviar, because as a chef, I can get them wholesale for much cheaper,” Lost at Sea cook Tim Carey told Mashed. “However, for guests, they may find that these ingredients are less costly outside of a restaurant at retail stores.” So there you go, folks. Buy your luxury foods cheaper at the store and enjoy them at home instead.
11. The specials
There’s some disagreement among the professionals on this one. Some chefs insist that the house “specials” in a restaurant are a chance to sample innovative new creations that haven’t made it on to the menu yet. Others, meanwhile, will tell you to steer well clear of them. Chef Alberto Morreale apparently falls into the latter camp. He told Twisted Food in 2018, “Some restaurants put together their specials for the day based on what’s about to expire or what they’re trying to get rid of faster.”
Also, be suspicious of anywhere with a long list of specials on the board, Gordon Ramsay has warned. He told Cosmopolitan magazine, “Specials are there to disappear throughout the evening. When they list ten specials, that’s not special.” The perma-cursing chef also disapproves of special dishes being referred to with words like “the best” or “famous.”
10. Fast food
Remember when Morgan Spurlock put many of us off eating McDonald’s food with his documentary film Super Size Me? The 2004 indie movie saw him test out what would happen if he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days. And the results were alarming to say the least. Spurlock apparently gained 24 pounds in weight, developed a fatty liver, experienced mood swings and had a reduced libido. Yikes.
Spurlock’s documentary demonstrates the dangers of having too much fast food in your diet. And of course, chefs tend to avoid this type of cuisine, too. Canadian cook Michael Smith told MSN Lifestyle, “All the leading causes [of death] are directly related to processed food. The single biggest ever number one [lie] was low fat… Low fat became high-processed sugar.”
9. House salads
Even if you’re not big on healthy eating, you’re probably familiar with house salads. It generally consists of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and red onion. Some places might toss in a few croutons or extra ingredients, but that’s pretty much the gist.
House salads are a firm favorite for diners, though many professional chefs are not huge fans. Cook Kayson Chong told Reader’s Digest, “When I go to a restaurant and sit with a menu, I tend to stay away from the house salad. I prefer to have something special that a chef created with seasonal products and interesting combinations.”
8. Fish on Mondays
In 2000 Anthony Bourdain revealed that he didn’t eat fish in restaurants on Mondays. But why? Well, in New York City – where he was based – the fish markets were closed on weekends. This meant that eateries would apparently order their seafood on the previous Thursday – meaning that it would be far from fresh by the following Monday. Yet Bourdain wasn’t alone in maintaining this position. Pounders Restaurant owner Felix Tai told Mashed, “Here in Hawaii, all the fresh, local fish comes from the auction, and it’s closed on Sunday, so unless the delivery was made on Monday morning, I wouldn’t want to eat the special that has fish in it.”
Though Bourdain later reversed his position – saying that it’s no longer the case due to food standards being much higher these days. In other words, restaurants can’t get away with serving seafood that’s past its best anymore. In 2016 he explained in a video published on the website Tech Insider, “Do me one favor, people, eat the fish on Monday. That was 16 years ago, it was a very different world.”
7. Filet mignon
Most steak lovers know that filet mignon – a small, but extra thick cut of beef from the cow’s tenderloin – is just about as good as it gets. The ultra-tender texture just melts in the mouth, doesn’t it? But the filet is actually overpriced and there are better parts of the cow, according to executive chef Perry Pollaci.
Pollaci said that he prefers the Zabuton or “Denver steak,” which comes from the upper part of the chuck. He told Reader’s Digest, “It’s a very tasty smaller size steak that is very rich in flavor. I like to serve it sliced thin on the bias and medium rare – although it’s great well done, too.” Or you could recreate the high-end steakhouse experience at home for a fraction of the cost. Just saying.
6. Chicken parmesan
On paper, chicken parmesan sounds delicious. It’s made by covering poultry breast in breadcrumbs, slathering tomato sauce along with parmesan on top and then baking in the oven. Our mouths are salivating at the thought! Yet many chefs give this classic dish a wide berth. Why?
Phil Pretty runs the deluxe sandwich shop Heritage in Long Beach, and he is definitely no chicken parmesan fan. The foodie told Salon, “I would never, ever order [it]. [Chicken parmesan is] always frozen before cooked and tastes like a gross version of chicken nuggets.” Yep, it’s pretty safe to assume that this dish won’t be featuring on any of Pretty’s menus.
5. Any item on Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is, of course, one of the most popular occasions of the year to go out for dinner. Restaurants book up weeks in advance and you can’t move in them for couples gazing at each other over candlelight. Prix-fixe Valentine’s Day menus are a common set-up in restaurants, too. According to top chefs like Gordon Ramsay, though, eating out then can be a sure-fire way to kill the romance.
“Valentine’s Day is the worst day of the year to go out,” Ramsay told Town & Country magazine. “Busy kitchens with tons of diners means you don’t get the true feeling of the restaurant. You should be cooking on Valentine’s. What’s more romantic than a meal cooked for your partner with a good bottle of wine?”
4. Corned beef hash
Corned beef hash has become a brunch favorite, and it’s easy to see why. The tantalizing combination of fried potatoes and diced corn beef draped in oozy egg is perfect comfort food for lazy weekends or cold winter days. Yet some top chefs argue that the dish belongs in the past.
Jehangir Mehta is the co-owner of Graffiti Earth restaurant in New York. And he is certainly no fan of corned beef hash. The executive chef told Salon, “Although I have never been in any of the world wars, I know that people were forced to eat [corned beef hash] out of necessity. I don’t see why you would choose it for brunch [nowadays]… there are plenty of delicious other options.”
3. Any dish from an eatery with dirty bathrooms
Have you ever noticed that high-end restaurants usually have swanky bathrooms to match? We’re talking beautifully finished spaces with luxury toiletries and those little individual hand towels for drying your hands. Most importantly, they’re always impeccably clean. And that’s because the bathroom reflects the overall standard of a place.
Anthony Bourdain was clearly a strong believer in this principle. In his book, he wrote, “I won’t eat in a restaurant with filthy bathrooms. This isn’t a hard call. They let you see the bathrooms. If the restaurant can’t be bothered to replace the puck in the urinal or keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like.” Truth.
2. Wedge salad
Do you want a healthy meal that’s also a little bit naughty? Well, a classic wedge salad might be just the thing. In case you’re unfamiliar, the dish consists of crispy iceberg lettuce drizzled with blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with bacon crumbles – often with tomato and red onion. You’ll find varying presentations, but the ingredients are basically the same. It’s an easy crowd pleaser that takes minimal time to prepare.
But the wedge salad’s simplicity is kind of the problem, according to celebrity chefs like Ariane Resnick. The celebrity cook, author and nutritionist believes that the dish’s relatively basic ingredients make it a bad choice in a restaurant. She told Mashed, “You’re literally paying over ten dollars for a chunk of iceberg lettuce, often with pre-fab commercial dressing.” In other words, don’t bother paying restaurant prices for something you could make at home.
1. Anything you can cook at home
It goes without saying that you should avoid paying through the nose for food that you could cook at home. Sure, we all love the top-quality service and ambience that comes at a high-class restaurant. But you can kind of recreate that with a few candles and a bit of creativity at home, right?
Restaurant dining offers an opportunity to tantalize your taste buds with new flavors and innovative creations that you never thought you could like. After all, top chefs have the know-how and experience to whip up insanely good dishes. But there’s no reason why you can’t get a bit creative in your own kitchen. So take a leaf out of Chang Sheng Ye’s book. The executive chef told Reader’s Digest, “I’m always interested in dishes that I haven’t tried before or look out for the ingredients that are new to me.” Go on people, live a little dangerously!