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Dining Out Has Become Nation’s Entertainment

Fri., July 19, 1996

Wondering what the hottest restaurant in the United States is right now? It’s Betelnut, a casual restaurant modeled on the beer houses, or pejui wu, that proliferate in Asia. Located on Union Street in San Francisco, Betelnut is “jammed, just jammed,” says Bill Higgins, one of the owners.

No wonder. At bamboo tables under slowly revolving fans, diners sample sun-dried anchovies - wok-tossed with tiny fiery bird chilies - or spicy egg noodles with braised beef, while watching cooks from Thailand, several provinces of China, Korea and Vietnam send vegetables flying over dancing flames. The place is pure theater; the food is delicious and the prices are reasonable.

But why should a San Francisco restaurant matter to those in the rest of the country? In a mobile, information-based society, knowing where to dine out has become a national obsession. More Americans eat out each week than participate in any other single form of entertainment. A visit to Betelnut and interviews with restaurant experts pointed to some clear dining trends:

Ethnic energy is fueling the American culinary scene.

American cuisine now rivals - and may have surpassed - French cuisine.

Upscale but casual is the restaurant wave for the millennium.

As Americans depend more on “meals away from home,” dining out has become what they do for fun.

The National Restaurant Association estimates that on an average day in 1996, $855 million will be spent on meals away from home. With so much interest and money riding on food, you can be sure these trends will affect what you have for dinner.


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