Because I frequently write about food, people quiz me about restaurants — where to find sublime tacos (Waltham’s Taqueria El Amigo), the best date place (Somerville’s Casa B), or upscale Indian food (soon, please?). Luckily, Boston has been deluged with openings lately, from cozy cafes to big-name spots from chefs like Tony Maws and Ana Sortun. And 2014 is going to be a luscious year to eat around here. Whether you go lowbrow or swanky, these rules will help you have the best experience.
Patience is a virtue. Wait a month until a new restaurant irons out the kinks, and give it a couple of tries before writing it off. My first trip to the Back Bay’s Lolita was ruined by a jittery waitress who lost our order and then joined the table to chat. Thing is, I really loved the food (once I got it). The manager intervened, and I’ve had lots of fun there since.
Champion the underdog. I understand: Sometimes the mega-chain is more convenient at rush hour or more palatable for finicky groups. But support an indie restaurant whenever possible. Restaurants with the least buzz can sometimes give you more than just a satisfying meal. These proprietors will cultivate a bond with you because their livelihood and pride are tied to your happiness. Plus, a diverse and competitive restaurant scene means everyone has to up their game, and that’s good for diners.
Explore. Some of our best restaurants are in neighborhoods off the gourmet’s beaten path: Biryani Park in Malden for home-style Sri Lankan, Que Padre in East Boston for Bolivian pastries, Sortun’s Sarma in Somerville for meze. Visit them. They’re worth the time you’ll spend getting there.
Be loyal. If you love a restaurant, go back! I’m always asked about the coolest new places. Cool new places are terrific, but finding a reliable restaurant where the waiter remembers your favorite table trumps buzz every time. It’s like dating: Stop prowling for the next exciting thing. If you’re satisfied, you’re not missing out.
Eat lunch. If you’re curious about some place but aren’t ready to commit to a big bill, visit for lunch. This works especially well when you want to experiment. For example, at the new Szechuan’s Dumpling in Arlington, try three dishes — sliced pork kidney in spicy sauce, mapo tofu, braised pork legs — a luncheon trio for $20.95.
Teach your children. Dining en famille is a good way to cultivate adventurous eaters and impart life lessons, like manners and open-mindedness. But know your limits. When your spawn is the loudest or most mobile person in the room, it’s time to call for the check. Restaurants have gotten increasingly casual over the years, but don’t confuse casual with chaotic.
Don’t stifle your joy. Go ahead: Take that photo. It’s easy to mock smartphone gourmets as entitled exhibitionists, and nobody wants to sup beside the braying buffoon who’s on speakerphone while inhaling a rib eye. But dining out is a hobby. Own it. If you’re served something gorgeous, snap that Instagram. Social-media-savvy chefs will welcome the free advertisement.
Mind your manners. Don’t do anything at a restaurant that you wouldn’t in civilian life. No melodrama. No noisy breakups. You’re in public, and your latest work triumph or child-care fiasco shouldn’t be the soundtrack.
Get what you pay for. If you’re dissatisfied with a meal, don’t choke it down and then fume. Most restaurants actually want you to enjoy yourself; their reputation depends on it. Experienced staffers will quickly make things right. Visible issues — undercooked food, dirty silverware, drink refills you didn’t order — are cause for complaint. The rest is all subjective.
Use the Internet wisely. Review sites such as Yelp can be invaluable for helping you pick a well-vetted destination, but they can also be the provenance of anonymous venom, which is why restaurateurs frequently disregard them. As in life, consider the source. If someone isn’t willing to attach a real name to a critique, how trustworthy is it?
Tip fairly. Do not punish a restaurant by stiffing your server. After all, the waiter didn’t cook your food or fail to soundproof the walls. And if service is poor, still tip — I encourage the standard 20 percent — because money might be pooled among all servers at the end of a night. Then mention your experience to a manager. Bonus: A routinely good tipper might receive occasional treats from the kitchen or snag that coveted corner table.
Give back. Most important, dining out is a luxury. One of the best things about Boston’s restaurant scene is its magnanimity — seen after the Marathon bombings. Consider donating to a worthy food charity, like Lovin’ Spoonfuls or The Women’s Lunch Place. They provide meals to people who really need them.