Reviewing a new budget-priced restaurant every week gives me scant time for reflection. (I'd call it a treadmill, but that sounds both dreary and healthy — the opposite of the reality.) Year-end is an exception, so I pause to offer a few resolutions on behalf of Boston budget diners.
•Favor locally owned restaurants over national chains. Become a regular at one or more restaurants in your own neighborhood; don't just frequent the new-new places around town. Shift some dinners-out from weekends to weeknights: you'll get more attention and restaurants will thank you for it.
•Explore a new-to-you traditional cuisine every month. If you've never sampled Cambodian, Salvadoran, Polish, Trinidadian, Portuguese, Turkish, Nepalese, Korean, or soul food, 2010 is your year to change that. Lose the notion that curry is a yellow powder; forget that supermarket-spice-aisle junk and try some real South Asian food. Stop calling yourself a "foodie" if you're not frequenting Chinatown.
•Eat more sustainably. An easy start: download and carry the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide (Northeast) and follow its ordering recommendations to favor sustainably fished/farmed seafood. Support local farms and fisheries: get a share in CSA and/or CSF (community-supported agriculture/fishing), and shop your local farmer's market. Drink tap water instead of bottled.
•Learn to cook one new dish every month. Cooking makes you a better restaurant customer, more appreciative of what goes into preparing great food.
•Break out of your cocktail adolescence: vodka sodas, Captain 'n Cokes, and choco-raspberry "martinis" are fit for rookies only. Boston's craft-cocktail revival is spreading beyond its top-tier bars, so you have cheaper options for exploring drinks worthy of sophisticated adults.
•Skip the doggie bag if your fridge is more than 20 minutes away. Better yet, order smaller portions.
•Contribute online reviews responsibly: don't review restaurants in your blog or on Yelp, Chowhound, Citysearch, etc., based only on brunch, a single visit, or a Restaurant Week meal.
•Treat counter attendants and servers with respect. Their pay is low, their hours long, their benefits nonexistent: the least we can do is display human empathy. Generous tips help.
•Fight hunger: donate time, money, and/or food to a community food pantry.
Here's to more fine, frugal dining in 2010! Skål!