3 tips for a healthy, memorable restaurant experience

Fine-tune questions about restaurant recommendations.

Hotel concierges are all too happy to recommend a restaurant to a stranger in town. What many don't want you to know is that they get referral fees in exchange for steering customers to certain eateries.

That doesn't mean the place they pitch won't be good, because they do want you to be happy. But it does mean it may not be the best choice for what you had in mind. So ask some specific questions about the food, prices and atmosphere. Kids welcome, or romantic? Quiet, or lots of music? Local style, or haute cuisine?

3 tips for a healthy, memorable restaurant experience

Get a second opinion.

Your concierge isn't the only source of restaurant tips when you're out of town. The hotel teems with savvy locals. But remember: different strokes for different folks.

If you're looking for upscale dining, hotel waiters may be plugged into the scene. But asking most other hotel staffers could backfire; they probably can't afford to frequent such places and don't want to be reminded of it.

Hotel bar customers are a better bet. Even if they're from out of town themselves, they often have experiences to share. But if it's 100 percent local food and atmosphere you're after, the staff is a gold mine of advice.

"Where do the locals eat?" is a question that can lead to unexpected pleasures.

Watch out for terms indicating fat.

The folks who write restaurant menus are trying their darndest to sound enticing while dancing around the fact that many of their offerings are dripping with hidden fat — much of it the artery-clogging kind. You probably already know that words such as creamy, breaded, buttery, crisp, pan-fried, cheese sauce and stuffed are indicators of fat — often saturated or trans fat.

Other words to look out for that are less  obvious are thermidor, Newburg, parmesan and scalloped.

But it's the foreign words that can really fool you. For example, innocent-sounding au gratin added to oysters or whitefish turns a lean, heart-healthy food into a plate of saturated fat.

Also from the French we get au lait, à la mode, au fromage and sautéed — meaning, respectively, "with milk," "with ice cream," "with cheese" and "pan-fried in a little fat."

On an Italian menu, beware of Alfredo, carbonara, saltimbocca, parmigiana, lasagna and manicotti, which indicate heavy amounts of cream and cheese. (On the positive side, grigliain dicates a heart-healthy grilled approach.)

In a Mexican restaurant, watch out for chimichanga (a fried burrito), chalupas (small deep-fried tortillas), milanesa (breaded and fried) and con queso(with cheese).

Relleno means stuffed, which is always risky. For example, a chile relleno is actually a breaded chili pepper deep-fried in oil or lard and stuffed with cheese. Not what cardiologists recommend.

A good rule of thumb is this: if you can't translate a menu word into a specific English word yourself, ask your waiter what it means, exactly. Better to appear unworldly than walk away less healthy.

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