The Girl Who Cried Yelp

Is it possible to rely too much on review sites, like Yelp? On a recent trip to San Francisco I started to question my so far unconditional love of the app and discovered limiting conditions. How do you use the app?

I use the restaurant review app Yelp for the following reasons:

Discover Local and Hidden Good Eats: When I’m traveling and looking for a good place to eat beyond the standardized options of familiar chain restaurants. It is usually an excise in culinary tourism hoping to discover something delicious and try something local. Yelp is very good for direction and advice. For example, traveling back from Atlanta to Indiana, we found the highly rated, Wildfire BBQ and Grill in Franklin, KY. Would never have found it without Yelp. It was quaint, local, delicious, hidden and a wonderful find. They had a house hot sauce that made me cry. The chicken had this almost “peking duck” like caramelized skin while the corn bread was strangely flat and tasty. Small local establishments can sometimes seem unwelcoming and averse to strangers. Yelp reviews offer reassurance through pictures, reviews and recommendations. This is the best use of the application for me.                            


Visualize Options: I rely on Yelp when we are debating familiar options. The list view allows us to go down the list and by the process of elimination find dinner that all (most) of us agree upon. In this case the app is used for efficiency rather than discovery. Depending on how indecisive the group is, the app, can be either helpful or distracting. It won’t answer what you “feel” like having but it can help the group find the solution that best “fits” their collective craving.

Menu recommendations:  The third reason to refer to Yelp is when already in the restaurant looking for recommended dishes. It answers the question, “what is good here?” with pictures and reviews. For me, this use of the app is somewhat problematic. It risks handing over my own preferences to others. Sure, a certain dish can be the signature of the restaurant, like Salt and Pepper Dungeness Crab at the R and G Lounge in San Francisco’s China Town (Recommended also by Anthony Bourdain) which we had to get and was as promised a delicious experience. The Peking Duck was also as reviewed and recommended, wonderful. The recommended pineapple fried rice was also delicious. All the recommended dishes were worthy. But, I feel I relegated too much of that meal to the preferences of others. The rice was good but nothing close to the novelty of the crab, all the dishes were tasty but dry together as a meal. Most importantly, I felt I stopped thinking and experiencing the place and it’s taste for myself. Still a great experience I would’ve missed without the Yelp reassurances. In contrast, at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building, we ordered the fried anchovies based on Yelp recommendations, along with dishes (raw oysters) of our own preference. Fried anchovies are my new unlikely favorite!  My new rule should be to order one recommended item and another item of my own discovery. Or, maybe once inside the restaurant, turn off the app.


Validation of Choice: On walk-able city streets sometimes we let our nose lead the way. Last week in San Francisco, we found a small, unassuming, south Asian restaurant with fantastic food. We had a  Chicken Keema with mushrooms dish (the special of the day), along with naan and rice. We noticed the small restaurant because we both liked the graphics, the aromas wafting as we passed and the serving dishes the couple seated outside were diving into. I can’t wait to try to make a version of that delicious spiced ground chicken with peas and mushrooms.  It was too yummy to wait and take a picture at the restaurant. After we finished eating, my beloved Jim, aka “Milk” of my chopped and blended family, went on Yelp to find our find validated by others with high recommendations.


We also found Out the Door at the Ferry Building, on Yelp, after we already ate and enjoyed it’s chicken curry and chicken bun.


Lesson Learned:

Use, Yelp,  liberally during the search for unfamiliar yumminess and sparingly once seated.

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