I sometimes get asked about different Buddhist temples and teachers, especially by people from Still Point who move elsewhere. Aside from this or that random teacher or temple, I’m usually pretty useless when it comes to recommending anything: Zen (and Buddhism, more generally) in America (as everywhere) is a wide field, and there are many of us doing many different things.
But I always tell people two things. The first was something that I was lucky enough to figure out as I went: trust yourself. A temple or teacher might be “perfect” in every way, but just not a good fit for you personally. No problem. Trust that. What does your intuition say about being there? How does it feel? Is your being corrected at times by the teacher (or in some places, by almost anyone) meant to serve you, or does it really just serve the person doing the correcting? I don’t mean that it should always feel comfortable — honest Dharma practice is sometimes deeply uncomfortable — but it should feel right, and your own wisdom is probably the only proper arbiter between those two things.
And the second thing is something my teacher once told me: if you really want to know what you need to know about a place, look at the senior students. It’s too easy for those of us in big robes to manage appearances if we want to by entering and exiting through special doors, maybe, and saying only what we want to say at predetermined hours. But the senior students: are they cold and manipulative? Warm and inviting? Do they seem to withhold, or do they seem to have nothing to hide? When they offer you tea, what, if anything, do they expect in return?
Do they show up to actually practice, and are they messy sometimes, and do they apologize? If you can answer yes to all three of these, good luck finding a better spiritual home anywhere.