How to Find Great Restaurants: An Economist's Secrets

Tyler Cowen discovers an exceptional Vietnamese bistro in a suburban strip mall near Washington, D.C.

"A bad or mediocre meal is more than just an unpleasant taste," writes Tyler Cowen in the May 2012 Atlantic, "it is an unnecessary negation of one of life's pleasures." As an economist who studies globalization and culture, Cowen is turned off by overpriced, overrated ethnic restaurants in glitzy urban neighborhoods. Instead, he seeks out strip malls, food trucks, and Thai restaurants attached to motels. 

Some of Cowen's favorite Asian food can be found close to his home in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. The nation's capital, with its transient elite population, isn't known for great international cuisine. But a few miles outside the city, ethnic food lovers can find places like Eden Center -- a shopping mall that seems to have been transplanted directly from Saigon. There are 40 Vietnamese restaurants in this sprawling complex, and as Cowen discovers in this video, restaurants that can survive that kind of competition are often spectacular. 

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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