I had a sickness. An incurable and devastating disorder that would rear its maleficent head in the most delicate of social situations. The worst part of it…besides the shame and embarrassment? I couldn’t seem to stop. I had to hit rock bottom, and it took the honest words and shocked grimaces of family and friends alike to bring me to my senses. I remember the day clearly. Sitting in a dimly lit, off-brand Mexican restaurant, the salsa bar simmering in the June North Carolina heat, I said the 5 words that changed my life. I looked at the waiter/cook/full janitorial staff and said: “I’ll have the shrimp burrito.” Since then, I’ve mended my ways and learned the steps it takes to conquer my poor ordering problem. The best advice I’ve heard from chefs and gourmands alike? Keep it simple. If you’re not familiar with the fare, don’t try the latest Estonian-Thai fusion dish one tastebud-challenged food blogger happens to be raving about. If a restaurant can’t cook a decent steak, what are the chances that their more “experimental” foodstuffs will be worth your time and money? The same goes for unfamiliar foreign cuisines. There’s nothing wrong with choosing items emblematic of the culture of origin. After all, what self-respecting Cuban would consider a restaurant with a lackluster arroz con pollo? Or worse…stale croquetas! Which of our fair city’s great Dominicans would suggest eating at a cafeteria with middle-of-the-road mangu? And don’t even mess with Boriquas and their mofongo. Favorites and standards are set for a reason, so set aside the pressures of pretension and actually enjoy your meal — one delicious bite at a time.
To achieve great things, one must follow great people. This maxim has been tried & true through the ages, and it only follows that it also applies to realms gastronomical. Not sure what to order? Why not follow in the footsteps of our nation’s leaders? While Bill Clinton might have had questionable tastes in numerous arenas outside of the kitchen, a bite of his favorite Jalapeño Cheeseburger titillates tastebuds and satisfies cravings like nothing else. FDR was reportedly a fan of Grilled Cheese, a fact that presents a touching snapshot of a man faced with great struggles and travails. The award for most revolting Presidential food choice undeniably goes to Richard Nixon. His preferred nosh? Cottage Cheese & Ketchup.