How Do You Judge a Wine Bar? A Coffee Shop? A Tex-Mex Restaurant?

That's the question -- or, rather, series of questions -- that arose at a recent dinner.

My friends and I had chosen a new-ish Tex-Mex restaurant that night and the chips and salsa that arrived first were appallingly bad. So bad, in fact, that we were left dreading the rest of the meal. And as expected, what followed was one of the worst dinners I've had all year, Tex-Mex or otherwise.

Are chips and salsa at a Tex-Mex restaurant an overall indicator of quality? Quite often, yes.

I know a few places where the chips and salsa are unmemorable although the rest of the food is terrific (Los Dos Amigos, for example) -- but I also know places where the chips and salsa are perfectly reasonable yet the food is awful. Still, these places are outliers on the bell curve of overall quality, and chips and salsa remain my bellwether for gauging a restaurant from the start.

The discussion over dinner quickly turned to other establishments: How do you judge a cocktail bar? A coffee shop? A food truck?

My friends and I compared and contrasted our own litmus tests and came to some fairly distinct conclusions. To broaden the pool a bit, I also polled my rough thousand friends on Facebook as to how they judge ten different establishments -- a cocktail bar, a beer bar, a wine bar, a Tex-Mex restaurant, a French restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a food truck, a bakery, a coffee shop and a burger joint -- and received a slew of responses.

The results are here, but I want to hear your own ideas in the comments section below.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt