Let’s face it: we can’t cook all the time. As much as it’s healthier and cheaper to prepare meals at home, our modern lifestyle just doesn’t give us the spare moments we need to make something from scratch. So we eat out, and guess what: every time you do that, you’re taking your life into your own hands. Here in New York, restaurants post their health inspection grades in the window — anything less than a B and you might want to have a bottle of Pepto for dessert. In this feature, we’ll spotlight 10 eateries around the country that won recognition for being insanely unsanitary. One caveat: they may have cleaned up their acts since inspection, so don’t judge them too harshly.
QL’s, Muncie, Indiana
Muncie residents have known that QL’s was the spot for solid barbecue in town for generations, but in 2013 they got an unpleasant surprise after health inspectors audited the eatery and discovered some of the grossest food storage decisions ever made. Twenty-three different violations were discovered during the inspection, from mundane things like flies and rodent droppings to health hazards that were… a little more exotic. A shed behind the restaurant was full of rotting turkey carcasses, employees were throwing plastic bottles into the smoker that cooked the food, and chest freezers were full of maggot-ridden meat. The restaurant didn’t even have hot water or working bathrooms! The city shut it down immediately for the owners to get their act together, and as of press time it seems like they have.
Prosperity Dumpling, New York, NY
New York City has more restaurants per square foot than just about any other place on Earth, so it’s not surprising that some of them are dirty as hell. The warren of crooked streets and back alleys that make up Chinatown are especially fertile ground for the health inspector, and in 2015 one eatery pushed the sanitation envelope to the limit. Prosperity Dumpling was a popular spot that sold dumplings at a dollar a pop, but they were skimping on cleanliness and passing the savings along to the consumer. When a photo surfaced of three employees assembling dumplings in the rat-infested back alley behind the restaurant — and not even wearing gloves! — the Health Department swept in and closed them down for good.
Nicky’s Chinese Food, Hyde Park, IL
Chinese restaurants are notorious for their somewhat lax food safety standards, and Nicky’s might be the bottom of the barrel. This Hyde Park slophouse is famous for the incredibly low quality of their food and service. Delivery drivers have gotten in trouble for keeping the numbers of attractive customers and texting them later, and people dining in report staples and other foreign objects in the food. Most disturbing, however, are the reports from their Health Department inspections, which in 2014 reported literally hundreds of mouse droppings all over the kitchen floor and flies swarming in multiple areas.
Pizza Hut, Kermit, WV
Chain restaurants have a complicated relationship with hygiene, as evidenced by Chipotle closing stores all over the west coast after an E. coli outbreak. But patrons of a Pizza Hut in the quaint little town of Kermit, West Virginia, had a bad taste in their mouth once surveillance footage of the pizza parlor’s kitchen leaked… no pun intended. The tape showed an employee walking over to the dish-washing sink, unbuttoning his pants and taking a piss into it — the same sink used to wash kitchen utensils used to prepare food. Health inspectors closed the place down immediately and Pizza Hut’s parent company confirmed that the location would never open again, so foul was the taint of urine on the public consciousness.
Mandarin House, Knoxville, TN
Here’s another Chinese spot where health inspectors were flabbergasted by the insane levels of filth on display in the kitchen. When Knox County’s health department headed to Mandarin House after a patron complained about getting sick after eating there, they weren’t prepared for what they found. In addition to the usual screw-ups like improper food storage, they also found a colony of cockroaches swarming behind loose tiles in the dish room, chicken blood dripping down onto pre-fried food that was to be served to customers, and one employee cooking a piece of meat that fell on the floor. Thankfully they stopped him from serving it, but that’s a pretty grim state of affairs.
Lucky River, San Francisco, CA
In some way I feel like I shouldn’t have so many Chinese restaurants on this list, as they’re such easy targets. But when something as horribly absurd as what went down at San Francisco’s Lucky River goes down, it’d be a crime to omit it. In 2012, a passer-by pulled out their camera phone to document a restaurant employee taking huge slabs of meat and beating them against the filthy city sidewalk. When the health department came to investigate, the restaurant told them that he was just trying to defrost it. I know some people think using a microwave is unhealthy, but it sure beats rubbing ingredients on asphalt caked with old gum, cigarette butts and dog poop. The cook was fired, but the restaurant’s bad reputation lives on.
Best Wings, Lawrenceville, GA
Most health departments use a 1-100 scale for grading eateries, with 100 being the standard that all should aspire to. Anything under an 80 is cause for concern, so you can imagine how locals in Lawrenceville felt when Best Wings pulled in a flabbergasting 35 in 2014. The multitude of violations laid down upon the restaurant included making tzatziki sauce out of expired sour cream, storing fully cooked meat with unwrapped raw chicken and serving it, and keeping mysterious containers of unlabeled chemicals in the kitchen and storage area. This wasn’t the first go-round for Best Wings — in 2013 they scored a nearly as bad 39.
China City, Opa-Locka, FL
Restaurant kitchens are, by nature, pretty cramped spaces. You want to have as much room for tables as you can, so owners have to squeeze every square foot. That means the chefs don’t have a lot of breathing room, so when it’s time to thaw out ingredients to be cooked, they have to be creative. The staff at China City in Opa-Locka (a Miami suburb) needed to get some chicken ready for the dinner rush but didn’t have any space inside to thaw it, so they did what came naturally: left it out in the alley. Unfortunately for China City, that was the day the health inspectors paid a visit to follow up on an earlier rodent problem. Seeing loose chicken unattended in the alley is a big no-no, if you hadn’t guessed. The restaurant took home 26 violations that day and had to close down to get their act together.
Red Flower Chinese, Williamsburg, KY
One common thread in these grotesque restaurants is the presence of things in the kitchen that just shouldn’t be there. We can sort of understand roaches and mice — those vermin have plagued humanity’s food stockpiles since the dawn of civilization. But a Chinese restaurant in Kentucky went way outside the box in 2012 when customers spotted employees stuffing a bloody deer carcass into a trash can. They called the health inspector, who rushed to the scene and confirmed that one of the workers had stopped on his way to the restaurant to pick up a roadkill deer on I-75 and then brought it into the food preparation area to clean it. Needless to say, this insane breach of sanitary standards got Red Flower Chinese shut down immediately.
Mar Y Tierra, Lilburn, GA
We’ve shared some pretty dank numbers from restaurant inspections so far, but how low can we really go? One Georgia restaurant managed to pull a staggering 13 in 2008. Mar Y Tierra, a low-rent family Mexican place, was closed down immediately after an inspection that revealed dozens of health hazards in the kitchen. Some of the most egregious included a cooler covered in black mold, raw chicken being stored on top of fresh vegetables that were served without cooking, and multiple instances of sewage and waste water systems not working. The manager claimed he “wasn’t aware” of Georgia’s food service safety standards, which begs the question: In what state is black mold OK to serve in a burrito?
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