I've read 4 of Tyler Cowen's books, and this one is definitely my favorite. Much of Cowen's popular writing involves applying economic reasoning to the decisions we make in our everyday lives, and this book is no exception. Food is an especially suitable topic for this kind of approach. After all, we make decisions about what (and how) to eat multiple times every day, and Cowen encourages us to weigh these decisions so as to make every meal count. We might think of this kind of writing as having two complementary goals: (1) the stated goal of using economics to offer guidance on a particular question of interest, in this case how to eat well; and more subtly, (2) to use the problem at hand (how to eat well) to teach something about economic principles to a broader, perhaps unsuspecting audience. My verdict is that this book delivers strongly on both.
Whether you approach it as a food enthusiast looking for a new perspective on finding quality meals or as an fan of popular economics writing interested in a new application for these ideas, you'll find plenty to enjoy and learn from in this book. It's more methodical, more to the point, and less pretentious than most food writing and more fun and practical than virtually all economics writing.
Most of Cowen's advice flows directly out of the book's central mantra: "Food is a product of economic supply and demand, so try to figure out where the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed." Although this may sound like a rather professorial maxim, the spirit of the book is lighthearted and entertaining and Cowen doesn't hesitate to venture beyond economic certitudes to offer some more speculative tips ("Eat at a Thai restaurant that is attached to a motel," for example, or "The more aggressively religious the decor [in a Pakistani restaurant], the better it will be for the food"). When the book ventures into more serious territory, such as discussions of eating to reduce your environmental impact or the issues surrounding GMOs, I read Cowen as being more playfully contrarian than political or ideological. Some of his views may not accord with those of many of his readers (Cowen leans libertarian. I don't, for what it's worth), but if he intends to provoke us a bit he doesn't do so angrily or peremptorily.
Skeptical readers might look at the book's approach and find something cute or amusing in the economic reasoning, but remain dubious that Cowen's suggestions will lead to improved dining experiences. To conclude with a bit of empirical support for the Cowen method, I'll mention that I'm a resident of the Washington, DC area and have used Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide regularly for several years now. The Dining Guide has led me to a number of gems I would never have otherwise found, and I can't think of an occasion where it's led me astray either. I already owe more quality meals to Cowen than to virtually any other writer, and I suspect the rules from this latest book will leave me even deeper in his debt.