You know the drill: It’s Thursday night, you’re starving, and cooking’s just not in the cards. Maybe it’s a good night to try something new? But that bistro your coworker is always raving about will be a zoo, the hot shot chef’s new restaurant is reservation-only (and really more of a special occasion situation, anyway), and the ramen shop that got a great review last week is all the way across town.
Or maybe it’s your beloved’s birthday and you want to make a surprise reservation somewhere you guys are always talking about trying, but you suddenly draw a blank. Or maybe you have to go to the dentist on the other side of town, in the neighborhood with all the hot new places, but you can’t remember which ones are supposed to be good.
So you end up at the place around the corner you always go to. Which is great! But also, it’s the place around the corner that you always go to. Much love to the great neighborhood restaurants of the world, but sometimes you have to shake things up. Getting out of this particular rut doesn’t just require knowing what’s hot and cool and new—it takes actual planning. You will have to be organized. You will have to be a little disciplined. But you’ll find a whole new batch of go-to restaurants, and you’ll eat new, hopefully delicious things. Here’s how to make it happen.
Keep a list of every restaurant you want to try, in whatever Notes app you prefer. These might be new places you read about online, or places your friends have recommended, or places you’ve been meaning to try for years. Annotate with context if you like: “Review said there are long waits on the weekend.” “Jorge called the burger here ‘fucking insane.’” “Pricey for dinner—try lunch first.” If you’re obsessed with Google Maps, star each restaurant’s location so you know what’s nearby you at all times; you’ll have a little aspirational map in your pocket for whenever you need it.
Then make another list of occasions when you go out to eat: Lunch near work. Date night. Lazy, late Sunday lunches. Happy hour. Takeout on the way home. Saturday day trips. Special occasions. Any time another specific dining occasion comes up, add it to the list. Then start filling it out.
Periodically—maybe set a monthly calendar reminder to hold yourself accountable—match the restaurants to the occasions, and add things from list one to list two. A place near work that’s supposed to have great cocktails but so-so food? Put it in the happy hour category. The tasting menu-only spot that just got a 4 star review, and now has a months-long wait for a table because of it? Special occasions. Hot new trattoria that will definitely require reservations? Date night. You get the idea.
How to Clean Up Your Entertainment Diet
Now, the next time you’re starving while running errands in a neighborhood you’d never get to otherwise, you can look at your lists and your map and remember you’re near that Korean spot that’s supposed to have really great mandu. Or instead of drawing a blank for your anniversary, remember you’ve already discussed four great options and all you need to do is score a reservation at one of them. Your job just got a whole lot easier.
Is this method a bit…nerdy? Sure. But if you try it for a few months, I guarantee you’re going to eat out at a lot more new places and, if you’re lucky, score some new favorites.
Or you can keep going to the place around the corner that you always go to. Your call.