Economics

Pizza Yesterday, Chinese Today

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Tyler Cowen eats

An economist at George Mason University, Cowen has rather unusual criteria for restaurant selection. He doesn't first look at the menu, the ambiance or the reviews. Being an economist, he thinks about the rental market, property taxes, competition and clientele. "All of us already act like economists," he said, digging into a plate of Chengdu dumplings in a black vinegar sauce. "We just have to think about what we already know about the world and apply it to dining."

Especially if you live in D.C., read the whole article for great tips on specific restaurants, like "Hook in Georgetown, which is just beginning to get good press and is stellar" and "Penn Quarter Indian hot spot Rasika; it's peaking." Or, for more extensive listings, check out Cowen's outstanding restaurant review blog.

Or just use Cowen's generally strategy wherever you are:

For good value, avoid high-rent areas. Head for your local strip mall instead. Restaurants in ritzy areas will be either expensive or chains that can afford the rent but serve mediocre food for the masses….

The other good signs: It's in a strip mall without an "anchor" store such as Wal-Mart or Best Buy: "That drives up the rents." And the clientele is mostly Chinese.

For the full treatment, of course, buy Cowen's book, with a chapter on food.

For those who prefer Italian, read about pizza here.

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  1. If you want good eatins’, look for the shabby-looking place with weeds growing ten feet tall in the pothole-laden parking lot, and swarms of flies pouring out of the many broken windows.

    You know they’re putting all their money into the food! Yum.

  2. The link to his blog is broken. Vixed fersion eer.

  3. LOL, crimethink. Remember the admonishment to never eat at a place called “Mom’s.”

  4. Yeah, I don’t know. You might find a food bargain there. I personally have never found a restaurant in a strip mall that was worth a special trip.

    The best food values I’ve managed to find were of the ‘death lot’ variety. Restaurants located on, for whatever reason, locations that people just wouldn’t patronize. There was one corner on West Henrietta in Roch. NY back in the 80s and 90s that was home to five (very) different first-rate eateries. Last I looked the building was unoccupied.

  5. I’ve eaten at some very good dives. I’ve also eaten at some awful dives. I’ve even found good places in strip malls, although that’s rare.

  6. Warren,

    Are you talking about Crittenden & W Henn? Man, the SW corner of that intersection was like the freakin UN, it switched from Japanese to Thai to Bulgarian to Pakistani and all over again. Actually, I think it was Vietnamese when I went there. Pretty good stuff, though my friend ordered something special in Vietnamese, the smell of which reminded me of a bathroom on an Amtrak train.

  7. And in a side note, I’m surprised by the number of Rochesterians on H&R! Must be something in the water…

  8. Hmm. There is a pretty good sushi joint in a strip mall a few miles from my house. My favorite Mexican restaurant, New Rebozo is in a tiny store front. (If you go, you must try the Oh my god! ice cream. Chocolate/jalape?o ice cream? Oh. My. God.)

  9. I know exactly what Tyler is talking about (and I have eaten at a lot of the same places he has). Old strip malls in Virginia have become centers for our many immigrant communities

    The Eden center in Falls Church, for instance, is in a terrible location and is old and shabby looking, but is full of Vietnamese and mixed Asian restaurants that are exceptional. The reason being not only that they are capable of putting more money into the restaurant due to it’s subpar location, but that there is real competition between the restaurants. A poor Vietnamese restaurant in that area would not last long.
    See also Little Ethiopia in DC and the Indian dining scene in Fairfax. strip malls and shabby neighborhoods that have become destinations for people who want to eat good food. THis is probably the biggest reason why I am unlikely to move out of this area. I’d miss the food too much.

  10. My favorite Mexican restaurant, New Rebozo is in a tiny store front.

    highnumber,

    I want to second your choice of Mexican restaurant. New Rebozo is great. The food is fantastic, and the owner is a nice guy too. And it’s in my neighborhood to boot!! Last time I was there, they had some interesting tamales with atypical filling that were just fantastic.

    The other place in Oak Park that I like for Mexican food is Los Casadores on Lake St. Prices are typical to that of Lalo’s and the likes, but I never have to wait for a table and the staff barely speaks English 🙂

  11. I’m hoping that Tyler will be able to teach some leftie foodies about economics.

    Or even rightie protectionist foodies, though they probably prefer Sizzler.

  12. Pizza Yesterday, Chinese Today

    As goes Gryl, so goes H&R. I’m just waiting for them to change the name of the blog to “Hit & Run — NOW A MEAT DISCUSSION”.

  13. ChicagoTom,

    Oh my god! Paco is the greatest!
    I was there Saturday. He always has some sort of cheese tamales on special and I always order them. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered off his menu. He always does such a great job selling the specials.
    I haven’t been to Los Cazadores for a while, but I remember it being more the typical Mexican cuisine, yes, like Lalo’s. Good, but I like to hit some places in Berwyn for that fare. Mi Tierra is pretty good.

    Do you know which sushi place I mean?
    Fuji Grill on Harlem just north of Madison on the Forest Park side.

  14. crimethink,

    That’s the place! I knew it when it was a steakhouse, Asian fusion, and a seafood joint. Each one excellent and reasonably priced. I lost can’t even remember how many times I drove across town to eat there and found the “REMOLDING, Opening soon under new management” sign.

  15. The only times I miss the DC area since I fled with a brick on the accelerator are when reading Tyler’s food blog.

    But, in Phoenix we do have kickin’ Mexican food so that’s something. And ALL of the restaurants here are in strip malls, good or bad, because that’s all there are.

  16. Hmmm…with Warren, Rhywun, Goldberger, and me on here (and possibly others who have yet to identify themselves), we should organize a Western New York H&R gathering…screw NYC & DC (no offense).

  17. There is a really good Turkish restaurant in a strip mall here. I drove by the other day and saw a sign that said “Open until October” and I was under the impression that they were closing shop permanently, which would have sucked because they are actually the only Turkish restaurant in Northeast Ohio.

    But I just now verified on their website that they are actually moving to a new location — conveniently about a block from where I reside. Hopefully I won’t take advantage of this fact too much, or it’ll be a wardrobe of stretch pants for me.

    Holy crap, I just noticed that there is a photo of one of my former dance instructors on their website, too…apparently she performs at their restaurant — for a bunch of retirement home escapees, apparently.

  18. OMG she is dancing with one of them…good thing her bra appears to be stuffed with large bills.

  19. the Indian dining scene in Fairfax

    Huh? Admittedly I left long ago and don’t go back, but white bread Fairfax is a haven for Indian cuisine? WTF?

    Damn. Leave a place for 20 years and they go and change the joint on you.

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