Restaurant Reviewing Needs a Revamp

As chefs and diners move away from Eurocentric restaurants, food writing still needs to catch up

Edward Lee
Published in
8 min readJun 28, 2019


Photo: Alexandra Ribeiro / EyeEm for Getty Images

It is the first warm day of spring, and I am sitting at one of the buzziest openings in D.C. with my dining companion, Pallavi, who is studiously decoding the menu.

“Indian menus are tricky to decipher,” she says. “There are definitely some local Punjabi dishes on here but also a pan-Indian vibe as well. The menu is written in Hindi and Urdu also. You see this word ‘machhi’ — it sounds fancy, but it is just the Hindi word for fish. This menu is all over the place.”

I first met Pallavi, who was raised in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and immigrated to Detroit in 1999, at a farmers market, where she sells spiced granola and hummus flecked with za’atar. She is neither a chef nor a food writer, but one of those rare people who will travel half a day for a fresh spice. Her knowledge of Indian food and culture far surpasses mine. She tells me, for example, that I have to go to Edison, New Jersey, for the best Indian food in America.

I invited her to join me not only because she is a lively dinner companion, but also because I want to write about a cuisine that is not unfamiliar to me, but still, in many ways, a mystery. I know that eating a handful of classic dishes frequently does not make me an expert on the foodways of a nation as intricate as India.

One of the most honest sentences in food writing I have ever read is the opening line of Soleil Ho’s review of a Burmese restaurant, where she admits to not knowing a lot about the cuisine before her recent move to San Francisco. I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that a lot of food writers pretend to know a lot more than they actually do when it comes to … let’s call it “ethnic” food. I just never thought I would hear someone admit to it in my lifetime.

I am Korean, and I know my cuisine in a way that is both instinctual and omnipresent, in the way you would recognize the trees that have grown in your backyard since you were a child. I have spent my entire adult life reading reviews of Korean restaurants and been left wondering if the writer knew much at all about the cuisine. And yet, the following week, I might find myself nodding in…