Economist Tyler Cowen says eating is all about supply and demand. Eat, he says, where "the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed." An ideal restaurant would be a sushi bar near Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where fresh fish and discerning diners make selling bad sushi un-viable as a business. Cowen, who has a economics blog called Marginal Revolution - and who chronicles restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area - has written a book called, "An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies." From Graeme Wood's review in the WSJ:
He advises, for example, looking for Thai restaurants attached to motels (more likely to be family-run and not desperate to make rent). For authenticity, he awards points to Pakistani restaurants that feature pictures of Mecca, since they're more likely to cater to Pakistani clientele. ("The more aggressively religious the décor, the better it will be for the food.") Find restaurants where diners are "screaming at each other" or "pursuing blood feuds," he says--indications that people feel comfortable there and return frequently with their familiars.
Mr. Cowen rightly singles out pit barbecue--eaten in situ in the region that produces it--as the greatest American culinary innovation. (Though he considers the Mexican equivalent, barbacoa, its equal.) It is a style of food that, like a Wi-Fi signal, fast loses its potency away from its home base. "Eat barbecue in towns of less than 50,000 people," he suggests; the brisket Valhalla known as Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas, accordingly wins the unrestrained praise it deserves. For the best barbecue, look for restaurants that open in the morning and have real pits with stacks of burning wood, since nothing signals commitment better than a willingness to spend nine hours overnight cooking meat next to a pit of fire.
Wood, by the way, ate at the only sushi restaurant in Villahermosa, Mexico, what he describes as "my own gastroenterologically fateful decision."