Top Five Things I’ve Panic-Ordered At Restaurants

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We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!

Restaurants stress me the hell out. I am perhaps the world’s pickiest person. I also have really strange food allergies to the point where people think I’m making them up (like bananas, but only if they aren’t ripe, and sometimes when they’re cooked but only sometimes). This leads me to have a lot of restaurant menu anxiety. In my brain, a normal adult human being can go to a restaurant and find something that looks not only edible but delicious on the menu.


This NES game is just too real.

Me? It works more like this: That looks good, but will they let me take out the cranberry-orange relish? And I wonder if they made that pesto with walnuts. I know it’s supposed to be pine nuts but sometimes people cheat. Is that unspecified vegan cheese cashew based? This salad looks good, but will everyone at the table think I’m strange if I order a side house salad? Will that even be enough? What if it’s that huge iceberg lettuce and I can’t fit it in my mouth? Two bites will be awkward. Oh gosh, the server is here and everyone already knows what they want – Uh yes, I will have…. uhhhhh ummmm oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh THIS.

Then I promptly forget what I ordered and it’s a big, fun surprise when it comes out to greet me.

Sometimes this leads to amazing food, sometimes this leads to intense regret. Sometimes, when I’m in another country (you’ll see) I panic even worse and fall blindly into the trap of “What is one thing in America is the same thing in another country” because I’m an asshole.

Here are the top five things I have panic-ordered that I can remember right now:

5. Sarsaparilla

Unknown touristy and overpriced restaurant, Sunshine Coast, Australia

Note that skeptical eyebrow furrow.

Note that skeptical smirk.

First, whoever says that sarsaparilla is just like root beer is kidding themselves. I am a root beer fanatic, so when I lived in Australia and couldn’t get it for less than $3 for a can of A&W (a price I willingly and desperately paid a few times), times got hard. While on vacation on the Sunshine Coast, my girlfriend’s cousin told me that she heard sarsaparilla was just like root beer. So, when the server came and asked me what I wanted to drink and everyone else was ordering it, I quickly ordered it as well. NOPE.

Sarsaparilla, on top of having way too many silent letters, is a hoax. It’s disgusting. It’s spicy? I didn’t drink this whole bottle. Sarsaparilla is like root beer’s shady cousin who tells you he can get you a fake ID and then gives you one where your name is Jane Smith and your birthday is in the 70s. Don’t believe its lies.

4. Beers the size of my face

Various bars and restaurants ’round the world (some Vegas casino and Dave ‘n’ Busters pictured below).

Little baby Hansen doesn't know how to properly consume this amount of alcohol yet.

Little baby Hansen doesn’t know how to properly consume this amount of alcohol yet.

“Uhhhhhh beer” is often something I panic-order in a restaurant when everyone has ordered cocktails. I love beer, it’s true, but when it comes to fancy cocktails:


This almost always ends up with me accidentally ordering beers the size of my head. Oh, damn, guess I’ll just have to drink the whole thing. The good thing about beers the size of your head is it’s a lot of beer right in your hand. The bad thing about beers the size of your head is you’re going to have to go to the bathroom about twelve times to get through it. And also it gets warm at the end. Yuck.

3. Corn dogs at this monster truck rally.

A freaking monster truck rally.

I clearly only own one shirt.

I clearly only own one shirt.

Is it fried? Is it kind of sweet and also savory? Does it contain questionable meats? Is everything else available a steak or a chicken salad? I’m in.

This particular corn dog was at a monster truck rally, I kid you not. A MONSTER TRUCK RALLY. If anything freaks me out more than food stands, it’s food stands around really noisy events. Panic ensues, I order the first thing on the menu. Now, let me just say that the batter on this thing is amazing, like the way I’ve always wanted a corn dog to taste. What made this a memorable experience is the fact that hot dogs in Australia are super weird. Here’s an example:

Hot dog with ketchup and mustard: I do not think that means what you think it means.

Hot dog with ketchup and mustard: I do not think that means what you think it means.

Whoa there, bright red casing. Are you even edible?


2. Vegan Truffled Mac ‘N Cheese with Tempeh Bacon and Balsamic Glazed Collard Greens

Unnamed restaurant because the server already probably hates me, Fort Collins, Colorado

I don’t have a picture of this exact mac and cheese experience so I’m going to lead you on a visualization journey with me. Ready? Let’s begin.

Imagine you’re at a small, organic, vegetarian place. You’re there with your girlfriend. You just taught your first class of the semester and it went great. Now you want a coffee and something delicious to eat before your evening class. Let’s say it’s cold outside. You’re in Colorado, you can bet it’s cold outside. You go in and order a latte. “Do you have soy milk?” you say (you’re lactose intolerant, stay with me here). The server says, “Have you tried our homemade brazilian nut milk? You want that.” Did she just roll her eyes? You pause. You don’t want that at all, actually. Brazilian nuts? Are they like walnuts? You’re also allergic to walnuts, let’s say. It’d probably be fine, but ehhhh. You pretend like it sounds delicious, but you say, “Just soy, thanks.” Your girlfriend orders the brazilian nut milk shit. You’re positive your server likes her better than you. Did they just have a moment? When the server brings your soy latte, you’re almost a tiny bit convinced she snuck the brazilian nut milk bullshit into your drink. You ask your girlfriend. She thinks you’re being dramatic. When the server who hates you comes back, you pretend like you haven’t been freaking out over her latte sabotage and you look over the menu super quick while your girlfriend is ordering. Everything has walnuts (nope), cashews (nah), or some other weird ingredient (hi, wtf is in “mock chicken” exactly?). Your eyes drift over “Vegan Truffled Mac ‘N Cheese with tempeh bacon and balsamic glazed collard greens.” You are into at least three of those adjectives. The server says, “Gluten-free or gluten-filled? That’ll take a little while, are you sure?” Is that a trick question?

When I ordered macaroni and cheese, here’s what I thought I was getting:


Instead, I got something that appeared to be:




Bland, burnt, way too crunchy, then way too chewy. All around disgusting. It even came in a ramekin my grandmother owned in 1970 that was too hot to touch (burnt my wrist on it anyway!). You know what, though? I hate-ate that mac and cheese. I did it. And the tempeh bacon was kinda good. The collard greens had walnuts in them. Joke’s on me.

1. The Mother of all Chicken Pot Pies

The Daily Grill, LAX International Terminal

Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh

Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh

‘Twas the day after A-Camp and for those of you who haven’t been to A-Camp, let me cut to the chase and let you know that we have a kosher kitchen at camp. That means no mixing of meat and dairy. There’s a lot of other rules I’m glossing over here, but that’s the one that sticks out in my mind.

So when we got to the terminal, Ali, Cara, Carolyn and I found ourselves a nice little sit down restaurant called the Daily Grill. Open daily. Do you know how many things they have on their menu? Do you know how mentally exhausting it is to have the most fun ever around a million queers on a mountain for a week?

I found this entry:

Chicken Pot Pie
Fresh Chicken, Carrots, Onions, Peas and
Mushrooms, Topped with a Flaky Crust 17.95
Please Allow 12 Minutes

I asked if I could get it without the mushrooms (just out of pure hatred of mushrooms, not an allergy) and the server grimaced and said, “Well, it’s a mix, so.” First red flag. Second red flag: “Are you sure?” Are you sure? It rang in my ears. Was I sure?

Heck yes I was sure. Chicken. Pot. Pie. (Third red flag: Eighteen dollars for a chicken pot pie? Uhhhh, less sure about that part.)

The server mimed how big it was at some point but I neglected to process that emotion. I had just spent a week processing my feelings with a bunch of queers and I was done. I was ready. Bring me all the meat and dairy.

Then it came. It was the size of a small house. I could fit a Ford Focus inside of that pie. Maybe even my niece. It was, in reality, the size of my torso, which is approximately forty-five times the size of my stomach. “Do you see my pie?!” I asked innocent passerby. My pie was a conversation piece. I mean, this pie is STILL a conversation piece. But it was tasty! I didn’t even mind the mushrooms. The crust was flaky and buttery and the chicken was tender and the whole thing came from a mix but I’m blocking that part out for posterity.

And that’s how the chicken pot pie became the single most ridiculous food experience of my life. I laughed, I cried, I tried eating the whole thing. It ended about the same way as most panic-order food experiences end:


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Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 189 articles for us.


  1. I started eating meat again when I moved to Nicaragua after 6 years of vegetarianism, and going to restaurants is so much harder! I was an expert at finding the 2 actual vegetarian items and 2 easy-to-become-vegetarian items on any menu, and four things to choose from was plenty. Now I have whole menus and am constantly overwhelmed and usually just order something vegetarian anyway. Oops.

    • Ordering at vegetarian restaurants is so overwhelming! It throws off my strategy haha. (I’m not actually vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat and look for vegetarian menu item first.)

  2. Actually, in North Carolina our hot dogs are red. I hate to say it, but I honestly refuse to eat a hot dog that isn’t red.

  3. this is one of my favorite articles ever. I was waiting for the chicken pot pie and then there it was. I also like how it doubles as a non-linear timeline of your haircuts. a+.

  4. I remember encountering all of you when you were in a post-pot pie haze and then breaking Carolyn’s phone with the full force of my love and then those protestors came and were screaming about monkeys but they were at the wrong terminal? That was a weird day.

  5. Oh my goooood you’ve been to Tasty Harmony in Fort Collins (i’m from there!)! I hate that place. Nothing tastes good. I get really excited when I see my hometown on the internet.

  6. Maine hot dogs are also red! And I totally relate to the weird food allergy. I’m allergic to most fruits, so I can’t eat ketchup, sweet and sour sauce, and a bunch of other things that seem weird for a fruit allergy. I’m always asking what’s in/on things, or what they’ve been cooked with, and my friends probably find it embarrassing.

  7. I love this so much. I feel you on the panic ordering. If my girlfriend is caught between choices, she always politely asks the server which is better, whereas I debate between the two at length and then panic decide when I’m asked what I would like to eat. So many food ordering regrets…

  8. Oh god I feel like I can relate to this the same way I feel that that build up of panic when your friend just finished her order, you’re up next at McDonalds, you still don’t know what you want and there’s a massive line behind you

  9. I remember walking by and stopping to chat with you and Ali. Wasn’t there a beverage spill incident as well?

    I usually panic order the first vegetarian thing I see.

  10. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. This list is a thing of beauty, much like that chicken pot pie was a thing of beauty.

    • i laughed SO LOUD when I scrolled down to that pot pie. Agreed, set-up and delivery of that punchline is comedy gold.

  11. I remember the first time I saw the red casing hot dogs was in Maine. as a kid we would summer at my uncle and aunt’s place on the Maine seacoast.

  12. I went to study overseas in Korea with my class last year. We were taken to a restaurant where they ate live octopus but the server used the named of the dish (I forget what its called) instead of just telling us it was live octopus. I was nerves when everyone turned to me and waited for my order so I ordered it to fit in with the locals and respect the culture because our instructor was encouraging us to do it. As soon as these little bitty live octopus out I didn’t sat anything but I’m pretty sure my face said “NOPE!” My bestfriend was with me and she ordered the same thing. I think its safe to say that we had matching horrified looks. The servers went on and on about how fresh it was and that it was caught nearby. We kept quiet for the rest of the meal. Later, we asked for to-go platters and herded our 6 little octopuses(is that the plural) in to the containers. We named them Oprah, Angela, Fred, Buffy, Willow and Anya. While we were driving back to our hotel I asked to stop at this pet store to look at the fish and I don’t know what the store owner thought when we handed them platters of live octopus but they went to put them in a tank and I think we did the universal “thank you” gesture but I can’t be too sure.Long story short:I will never eat there again.

      • It gets better when you think that we had to keep the wandering little things on the table for an hour during that dinner. They came with steamed veggies and different sauces so we ate that and had to keep scooting the octopus (octopi?) back into the bowls we put them in. All you heard was “Dammit Oprah, get back in the bowl!” and a personal favorite “Separate Anya a and Buffy b/c they keep fighting.” And my bestfriend kept splashing them with water because we didn’t know if they would die without it. At one point my bestie starts crying saying “I just don’t know anything about their species. I knew I should have watched that special on animal planet.” That experience remains one of the funniest/worst thing I’ve ever been through.

        • i can’t stop going “awwwwwwwwwwwwww” at my computer. i’m sorry, i just…. aww. like “aww” i’m sorry it was terrible but “aww” cute at the same time? because you named them & released them & just.

    • Because I don’t know if I’ll ever have another chance to use my random Latin skills:

      It’s “octopi” because it is the nominative plural form of the masculine noun octopus.

      Also, super cute story!

  13. I love this list. That pie is so big! Restaurants are always a little terrifying because I have no idea if they’ll have anything I want. I’ve often just ordered the salad because I didn’t want any of the other things. That gets me some weird looks but I get even weirder looks when I say I don’t want any salad dressing. I just hate salad dressing, any kind, I don’t know why people think that is so weird.

    • I would like to side note this comment. As a server, I always think people who don’t want salad dressing are healthy & cool but ONCE A LADY ORDERED NO DRESSING AND I WALKED BACK OVER TO CHECK ON HER AND SHE WAS USING CATSUP INSTEAD. A part of me died that day.

  14. That chicken pot pie should have found its way into Lardasses area at the pie-eating contest table in Stand By Me, or at least advertised itself as family size. Down, boy.

  15. This article speaks to my heart and soul (and in the best tone possible)! I am also an extremely picky eater. I don’t have any food allergies. I do, however, have anosmia [which basically means my sense of smell is a fucking joke]. Like you, I can’t just make a list of which foods I like and don’t like. It depends on how something is cooked and what all is being cooked together. It’s weird, it’s hard to explain, and going to new restaurants is extremely stressful. I’ve further complicated my existence by taking on a vegetarian diet. (Oh how I miss spicy salami!) I can rather closely relate to all five of these experiences; it was really refreshing to be able to laugh at those memories than feel frustrated by them: so thank you!!

    • I’m really really glad that Mal cooks so much at your place because restaurants are definitely anxiety inducing places!

      • Actually, I’ve been doing most of the cooking lately: I seem to be rather good at it too, because even when I don’t like what I’ve concocted, my roommates devour it and lavish me with praise (and inquire as to when I’ll be making more).

  16. I want to go to a monster truck rally so bad. so bad.
    these things don’t happen in the UK.

      • i dont even know where this desire to go to one came from. im more of a classic car person than monster truck… its a mystery.

    • They do happen here, I promise! They’re few and far between now but I see an ad for them about once a year, in the 80s/90s they had stock car racing and monster trucks in Bradford more often. My family is super into auto sports.

    • Maybe demolition derby is available in UK? Yelling at car smashing while eating fried food on a stick is a rad time.

  17. i feel like im a panic order-er too. i pick the two pescetaian items, the two vegetarian items, and the two easy to become vegetarian items, and then decided by a combination of which price is lowest if my gf is paying for me, (i dnt like for her to spend a lot of money on me, it makes me feel guilty. :/) or what i havent had in a while. (i feel like most the restraunts my friends/gf’s family go to only have pizza or alfredo as vegetarian and lordie i can only eat tht so much) plus, im suuuper picky, wont eat a lot of things, and i kinda just hate restraunts.

    but oh god one of my sorority sisters is so picky its embarassing low key. u seem like youre fine, but she (as much as i love her whole soul) is annoying. -_-

  18. POT PIE. Just burst out laughing at the size of it. I love Daily Grill tho.

    I remember going to Redondo Beach pier with fam and I forgot that all the restaurants by the pier were serving seafood because duh the ocean. So I see urchin and the guy had been staring at me waiting for me to order and say ‘I’ll have the sea urchin entree’ and the guy goes ‘oh you’ll love that. It’s fresh and they just caught some.’ YAY I tell myself and walk up the stairs to our table. Then about 5 minutes later the guy comes up with a tray and has this purple spiny sea creature on top of it and i’m going ‘OMG.’ and sets it on the table. YOU GUYS, THE SPIKY BITS WERE STILL MOVING and I looked like O.O and going ‘How the hell do you eat this? Are you already supposed to eat it? Why is moving?’ and my brother in law lifts the top part of WHILE THE SPIKY BITS WERE MOVING to reveal its innards I’ll say and scooped some out and ate it. I have to admit it was good but it kept moving.

  19. Ordering things is always stressful beyond belief. If you’re with other people, they wait & look at you expectantly. If you’re alone, then strangers do it for you. It’s like eyeballs everywhere, no matter what you do, on top of trying to find something that meets requirements & doesn’t cost a ton. Then again, for me, something that’s $3.99, or $7.40, whatever, can still be “too expensive.” Money is the biggest stressor for me when ordering/obtaining food. : |

    That pot pie looks like it could have eaten you, holy hell.

    The Australian hot dog looks evil. Like “CAST IT INTO THE FIRE ISILDUUUUUUR” evil. I’m sorry, all from Oz, but eep. (I’m not big on hot dogs anymore, anyway though, so there’s that, too.)

    Beeeeeeeer, yay. Warm beer, though, nooooo.

  20. In a perfect world, every article to appear on Autostraddle from here to eternity would be based on this one.

  21. This is one of my all-time favorite articles! Hanson seriously, you’re the best! And I relate to it so much. I remember when I was in college and I was a vegetarian my parents took my out to a restaurant and it was time to order and I couldn’t find anything vegetarian on the menu, but it was my turn so i panicked and ordered a bacon cheeseburger and that’s how I ended my eight-month vegetarian streak.

    • Panic-ordering ended my very well-intentioned but short-lived vegan streak, I know exactly what you mean!

    • Haha, if you’re going to break your vegetarian streak, you might as well go allll the way. It’s almost poetic.

  22. this was hilarious. i think i could write “top 5 disappointing veggie burgers i’ve panic-ordered because i couldn’t decide and then it was my turn and that seemed like a safe choice”

  23. Oh my god I relate to this so hard. Especially as a multi-ethnic world-raised person and the girlfriend of a Vietnamese-American and roommate of an Indonesian-American. I’ve gone to plenty of restaurants where I can’t read the menu so I just sort of look at the pictures and/or play eenie-meenie-miney-mo and/or bombard the waiter with questions. Sometimes it’s worked out GREAT. Other times…not so much. My favorite times have been when I order something thinking it’s one thing and then suddenly there’s a plate with something on it that still has a face staring at me. NO, MA’AM.
    Also once when I was living in Ecuador I found chicken feet in my soup. I was ten or eleven and freaked. out. That and the cuy (guinea pig) on a stick pretty much solidified my vegetarianism for the next decade.

  24. This whole article was gold but my favourite thing is definitely the Princess Bride reference :)

  25. I study menus like they hold the secrets to the universe, I’m picky but I also don’t like to make a big fuss with waiters, so I find something simple that should be safe.

  26. I’d say about 60% of the time when I go to restaurants, they screw up my order even if it’s as simple as “no onions please”, so I feel you on the panic. I’ve just grown so cynical that I’ve started budgeting time to accommodate for them having to make my food two or three times.

    Hansen, this was one of my favourite articles on this website. CAN WE BRING BACK THE FUN AND RANDOM??

  27. Adorable AND hilarious!

    I no longer have this issue because being the only vegan amongst friends, I’m pretty much stuck with ordering fries whenever we go to any restaurant. :(

  28. I love this!! I panic order but for not legit reasons. One time I was at a cafe, and mind you, I don’t even drink coffee. I was there to study, but ended up panic ordering both coffee and this HUGE pasta dinner thing…because the barista was cute and I got all flustered. CURSES. CURSE YOU PANIC ORDERING.

  29. Ok r.e. Bundaburg Sarsaparilla…that company makes root beer as well, damn the aussies for not telling you! Second, I have a wet food issue. My friends love to joke about this. I don’t put sauces/gravy/dressing/mayo on my food, I don’t put butter on sandwiches, ordering becomes a complex dance of find the driest food option, or ask for the sauce on the side. Basically if in doubt I pick the cheeseburger.

  30. I don’t want to say that I’m glad that someone else experiences the weird banana allergy phenomenon, but I suddenly feel much less crazy! Combining bananas and blueberries in the same dish or meal causes the strongest reactions with me, and it really really sucks to explain to people because of how little sense it all makes.

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