17 Professional Chefs on What They’d Never Order
Want the very best thing to order on a menu? Source it straight from the pros themselves—chefs!—who know the best of the best.
Lobster… far from the ocean
When it comes to the delicacy of seafood—specifically the top tier catch of lobster—chef Nick Korbee of Egg Shop in New York City is geographically picky. As he explains, “I rarely order seafood in landlocked places. It’s not about the freshness—it’s about respecting the environment more than choosing to eat food that has been FedExed. Fish should swim, not fly.” You should never, ever eat these 15 foods at a restaurant.
A burger at a seafood shack
When you’re by the ocean, chef Vincenzo Betulia of Osteria Tulia in Naples, Florida, finds it sacrilegious to order a burger at a seafood shack. How come? With fresh options literally a few steps away, you’re missing out on flavor and technique. “Stick with what is local and go with seafood. Fried fish or shrimp is always a better bet than a burger at the beach,” he recommends.
Steak at an Italian restaurant
For executive chef Louie Estrada of My Cuban Spot in Brooklyn, steak has a time and a place. And for him? That place is not surrounded by a plethora of pizza and pasta options. So when he’s at an Italian restaurant for the first time, he orders carbonara or risotto. “These are two dishes that, if executed correctly, can please even the most refined palette, but can also be completely butchered if not. They key is to keep it simple and show the love for the art of cuisine, using fresh and simple ingredients paired with the most important ingredient—the passion you put it together with,” he shares. Add these 10 totally weird–but awesome—restaurants to your must-see list.
Chilean sea bass—period
No matter what restaurant he’s at in any corner of the world, executive chef and partner Fredric Kieffer of Artisan in West Hartford, Connecticut, avoids Chilean sea bass. That’s because this specific catch has been overfished and the population is suffering due to demand, he says. “Their reproduction rate is very slow, which means they don’t have the time reach sexual maturity and reproduce. In this vein, the size of the fish coming to the market shrunk by half over the last ten to 12 years,” he explains. For the environment and for your stomach, he suggests ordering fluke, swordfish, striped bass, or monkfish as an alternative. Find out more about the best and worst fish to eat out—or at home.
When there are so many cuts of steak to choose from, chef Perry Pollaci says to avoid filet mignon and opt for something with richer flavor at a much more reasonable price. While this specific variety has an impressive reputation, many chefs agree it isn’t the best part of the cow. Pollaci chooses Zabuton, which is a heavily marbled steak cut from the upper portion on the chuck. “It’s a very tasty smaller size steak that is very rich in flavor,” he explains. “I like to serve it sliced thin on the bias and medium rare—although it’s great well done, too.” This is why chefs never use the microwave “defrost” button.
Roasted chicken at a steakhouse
As the name suggests, when you’re at a steakhouse, it is pretty evident what you should order. Chef Jeff Chanchaleune of Goro Ramen in Oklahoma City, suggests avoiding a roasted chicken when you’re dining at a place known for their cuts of red meat. And if you can help it, don’t request A1 or Heinz 57, either. ” If it’s prepared right, you won’t need it. I would personally order a pan-seared, dry-aged rib-eye cooked medium rare. Most steakhouses cook it with just salt, pepper, butter, garlic, and herbs, which is all it needs to be a perfect steak,” he explains.
Anything you can make at home
Here’s a rule of thumb from executive chef Chang Sheng Ye of Vietnam: if you can cook it at home, don’t order it. This includes a pasta meal or any predictable ingredients. “I’m always interested in dishes that I haven’t tried before or look out for the ingredients that are new to me,” he shares. You can apply this same philosophy by stepping outside of your traditional, go-to pick and try a concoction of food you’re nervous about. You might just like it! Find out the 24 things restaurant owners wish they could tell you.
Risotto at a French restaurant
Though executive chef and owner Michael Pirolo of Macchialina in Miami Beach, says those culinary professionals who are trained classically in French cooking will disagree, personally, he’d never choose risotto at a French restaurant. And not because it is a poor-tasting dish, but rather, due to the fact they use creme fraiche—which isn’t the way of the Italians. “I remember being shown how to make risotto in La Voglia Matta a restaurant in Fusignano, Italy and when I asked the chef about finishing risotto with crème fraîche he scoffed at me and said ‘that’s for people that don’t know how to make it right.’ It totally stuck with me and I just can’t get down with it,” he shares. Instead, if he’s enjoying a fine dining French experience, he opts for foie gras torchon. “Cured in salt and served cold, it’s so rich and decadent—by far my absolute favorite French dish,” he adds.
It is tempting sure, especially when you’re #hangry to go for an all-you-can-eat wonder that has every food imaginable. Chef Jeff Vucko of Travelle Kitchen and Bar in Chicago, says not only is this a recipe for eating way too much, but also a prime breeding ground for foodborne illness. Instead of choosing an open-ended restaurant, he suggests eating dishes made with ingredients that are in season. “I want my food to be fresh! f you see local farms called out on the menu, that is a clear sign the food has been sourced locally,” he says. These are the 57 secrets your server isn’t telling you.
Say it isn’t so?! Aren’t truffles… amazing? They are—but only when they’re real, according to sous chef Rocko Payne of Sac-A-Lait in New Orleans. He explains truffle oil is common, but very rarely is it actually created with actual truffles. “It’s a chemically created, perfume-y oil that overwhelms every other flavor, and is used to hike up the price of a dish by making it sound ‘fancy,'” he shares. If you want that one-of-a-kind flavor, he suggests going straight to the source. “Fresh truffles shaved table-side are a true delicacy and should be enjoyed when they’re in season. Whether it’s fries, soup, risotto, or a 2 a.m. pizza, it’s better to keep it simple, and save your money for the real stuff!” he adds.
Salmon or farm-raised fish
There’s plenty of discussion around salmon and other farm-raised fish. As executive chef Tim Magee of Sweet Auburn Barbecue in Georgia, says, the health benefits and quality are gravely diminished when you choose this type of fish. For a better experience, he suggests opting for local and seasonal catches where chefs and establishments go the extra mile to source responsibly. Cooking at home? Try these 36 delicious fish recipes for busy nights.
A burger at a barbecue restaurant
“Burgers at barbecue restaurants are an afterthought, they don’t quite deliver,” says executive chef Steve Stones of 82 Queens in Charleston, South Carolina. “When I go to a barbecue joint, I’m there to try the barbecue, because that’s what they’re known for. That’s the craft they’ve perfected and the thing they’re paying the most mind to because their reputation depends on it,” he explains. His best recommendation is a pulled-pork sandwich—his first pick, always.
Unless it is their main focus, executive chef Keith Nickerson in Captiva Island, Florida, says it’s not a smart idea to order sushi. He explains when a restaurant doesn’t specialize in this art, it is often fried and loaded with cream cheese, missing the mark of the star ingredient: the fresh fish and rice preparation. Instead, always pay attention to specialties. “I order to play to the artist’s strengths and stay clear of items intended only to add a perceived trendy variety,” he advises.
For many people, orange chicken is an all-time fave, but chef and owner Kathy Fang says there are much better options on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. “It’s always so heavily breaded and laden in a thick artificial tasting sauce,” she explains. Instead, go for the sweet and sour pork spareribs. It might seem like an “American” concoction, but Fang says it is actually a traditional Cantonese dish that’s often prepared in Hong Kong. “It often has a very light coating with a flavorful sauce that glistens. The sauce isn’t heavy and it’s extremely fragrant from pineapple and vinegar. A place that makes this well is legit!”
Gravy and meatballs
It’s a bit of a personal preference, but according to chef Romeo Stivaletti at the Langham Hotel in New York City, there’s no place for traditional gravy and meatballs but at home. “For me, this dish is only appropriate when it has been cooked by my grandmother and served with my family around. No matter how delicious another chef’s version might be, I will always be disappointed in this dish unless it’s in that context,” he explains. If you want that same warm, home-cooked experience but while dining out, he suggests ordering another dish from a simpler time—Veal Piccata, because it is a bit more advanced and elevated, it is worth letting someone else take it on.
When you can sample everything on a menu, why wouldn’t you? That’s the philosopher of executive chef Adrienne Grenier of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who recommends smaller, bite-sized portions over heavy plates. “I like to eat everything and I want to taste as many things as possible, so I prefer to order several small plates and taste several different things. I also like when there is an option for a chef’s choice ‘tasting menu’ because that will usually be what the chef is most excited about at that moment,” she notes. Find out the dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew doesn’t want you to know.
When you’re trying to lose a few pounds, you might avoid bad-for-you carbs at all cost. That is, unless, it is masterfully prepared at an artisan shop and is melt-in-your-mouth amazing. Chef and baker Graison S. Gill applies this same philosophy when considering the bread basket at a restaurant. “In most places, the bread is the very first thing a guest eats! 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,” Graison explains. To double-check, ask if it’s whole grain and how it’s made. If it isn’t homemade, splurge on dessert instead. Find out 13 secret tricks hiding on restaurant menus.