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….
For the full treatment, of course, buy Cowen's book, with a chapter on food.
For those who prefer Italian, read about pizza here.