{on food reviews & food authorities}

{Disclaimer: This post is in no way intended to offend anyone in the food industry. Opinions are entirely my own. Please read to the bottom of the post. Thank you!}

How do you decide where you're going to eat next? Google search "romantic evening date restaurants" or "where to go for the best french fries"? When I meet with friends, they ask me where I find places to eat. And of course, the first thing they ask is if I use Yelp to find these hidden gems and sweet spots to eat (spoiler: hell no). 

This post has been a long time coming for me because I have some strong opinions (all my own) about food reviews and ratings. I'll go through some of the sites or apps that I like to use and the sites with reviews that I take with a grain of salt and the sites that are the reasons I have #trustissues, all complete with real life experiences that have brought me to my conclusions.

The main app that I use to find restaurants is Foursquare. While there was long-time dislike of Foursquare because they split their app into two with the development of Swarm, which is solely for check-ins, I kept the app because its ratings and reviews are the most accurate in my opinion. The character limit that is set for the reviews forces users to use concise language to keep away frivilous reviews that go on and on about the um-beyonce of the restaurant and little tiny details that didn't suit one person. I also enjoy the bookmarking option available on the app because it also allows me to search for my saved restaurants in the specific area that I'm looking for. In my experience, crosschecking a restaurant rating with Foursquare after seeing a Yelp rating provides an accurate, well-rounded conclusion. More on this with my issues with Yelp below. My only problem with Foursquare is that if a spot is relatively new, there is no information. That's hardly an issue though because I'm able to venture out and try the restaurant myself.

More and more, I find myself stalking food accounts on Instagram to find cute hidden places around the city. Of course, the prettiest food isn't always the best tasting food; too many times I've been fooled by a beautiful presentation only to be disappointed when I get the dish because the food just didn't match up to my expectations. Do it for the gram? Chris Stang from The Infatuation makes some great points in his Medium post, That's Not Food, It's Stupid about the Instagram food trend bubble that desperately needs to burst. I mean, putting a whole lobster on a pizza, shell and all, is the most ridiculous thing that I've ever seen. Taking a tip from all of the Food Network shows that I've watched (lol), everything on a plate of food should be edible, down to the garnishes. Those lobster shells have absolutely no business being left on the pizza. So, when I find a place with potential, I cross-check the restaurant on my Foursquare app to check the rating, reviews, and of course, the pictures. More often than not, the rating and reviews check out, and I add the place to my never-ending to-do list.

Another site and Instagram account that I like to browse is The Infatuation. The site to me is the anti-Yelp. They pride themselves on calling their posts "reviews for the people," which is an accurate description of their content. There are no frivolous adjectives and adverbs being flung around their reviews because they're to the point and true to their word. What's great about the site is that they also create categories like where to take someone on a first/early in the game dates or places to scope out hot guys/girls, so the options are endless and you're left with the more difficult decision of which great restaurant to go to. I find that their ratings are also true-to-taste, and I love how honest the reviews are as well.

And now for my most disliked platform, Yelp. Yelp has gotten a LOT of bad press in the last few years or so. From fraudulent reviews and ratings to harassing restaurant owners, Yelp has fallen way, way down in my book as a trustworthy source for reviews. For one, the incentive behind posting reviews on Yelp is that you may be awarded with status as a Yelp Elite, in which members are invited to private tasting parties with fellow Eliters. Because of this, I believe that users leave unnecessary, over-the-top reviews in order to achieve this status. For the most part, people have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to food, myself included; we just know what we like, don't like, and see on Food Network. But equipped with SAT vocabulary and their phones, users leave frivolous, nonsensical reviews because of one thing that may have gone wrong.

After my college graduation at Radio City Music Hall, I wanted to find a place to eat with my family, and my brother used Yelp to look for a spot. We ended up at an Italian restaurant with four stars on Yelp, so we decided to pop in for lunch because we were hungry (plus good, reasonably-priced restaurants are scarce in Midtown). We all agreed that the food was nothing special and subpar; I later checked on Foursquare and found the restaurant had a 6.3 rating, which was a more accurate rating for the food that we had for lunch.

Bonus: South Park's hilarious episode on Yelpers.

Respected publications like the New York Times will more often than not have accurate reviews, but if I was looking for a quick review to skim before choosing a place for lunch, it would not be my top choice. While the writing is expertly pieced together, the language gets a little muddled and extravagant when I'm simply looking for the best friggin' plate of carbonara in the city. I wholly respect the reviews of the writers and am completely neutral to these reviews. Also, the photos are on point and absolutely beautiful (always a plus).

My TL;DR to you is this: taste food from restaurants for yourself and determine if you like it or not. Everyone has different tastes and different things that they like or dislike in food. You won't know if you like a dish or ingredient unless you try it for yourself. If a restaurant is unanimously disliked in the community, you may want to steer clear, but there's no real way to discover restaurants if you don't explore them yourself. Take reviews with a grain of salt, don't be a sheep, and figure out our own tastes.

I'll leave you with this story. Duckfat, a restaurant in Portland, Maine, was highly recommended to me and my boyfriend by several of our friends, which we later confirmed with reviews from Foursquare. It has a 9.3/10 rating on Foursquare and almost the equivalent on Yelp. However, for us, the food was underwhelming at best and extremely oversalted. We left disappointed and unsatisfied. I've fallen victim to following reviews and ratings, so seriously, just go and try restaurants for yourself. Happy eating!

What sites/apps do you use to track down which restaurants to try? Let me know in the comments!

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