You’ve just decided that you want to try out a new, or well-established, restaurant because you’ve heard so many good things about it. But most of the people who told you were friends or family who also told you that a place you ended up hating was worth your time. This is why many turn to either local or national food review publications or websites. The most famous of these, nationally, is easily Zagat’s. But maybe the place you’re curious about is so new that Zagat’s hasn’t had a chance to do a review yet. Outside of Michelin Stars, there are very few indicators a restaurant will publicly divulge outside of their marketing that will give you a clue as to whether or not you should give them a try. To help you out, here are three tips that can help separate a reliable restaurant review source from one that might be so helpful.
Understand what your Priorities are and Seek out Sources with similar ones
You could always check out places like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Chowhound online. The only problem is that most people, who write reviews here, especially on Yelp, are just normal people who might not have the same priorities as you. You may love the food at a BBQ place you’re researching, but there might be too many Yelp reviewers who gave the place two stars simply because they didn’t like the decor or the “cheesy” music playing in the background (really, who doesn’t like ZZ Top? Honestly.) Also, you might be looking for vegetarian fare and trusting some random stranger might not pan out for you.
This is why you need to make sure any source you use as a food review reference has the same priorities as you do. For example, a local vegetarian lifestyle publication is sure to know where in town you can find the best vegan fare at affordable prices. If you want to know what the best places with good drink specials are in a vacation spot, then TripAdvisor is more your style in this circumstance.
Look to Local Media Sources
When in doubt, the local newspaper or alternative weekly always has a paid food critic on staff. This is usually someone who has been doing this job for a while and is knowledgeable in not only the latest trends but of other locations that execute a particular concept much more effectively.
Try to avoid younger publications or less well-established one as these may just hire whichever English major has watched enough episodes of “Chopped” to sound knowledgeable about cuisine. You want someone who has written multiple reviews on Korean BBQ, Ethiopian fare and Tex-Mex taquerias who know a good example of such from a bad one.
Don’t Assume Zagat’s is Always right.
While Zagat’s does have the best reputation in terms of comprehensiveness and a higher profile, they might not always be right. You have to remember that most reviewers for Zagat’s tend to also be locals, so a “25” in a rural area might only rate an “11” in New York City or Chicago. The more established a local source is in their review staff, the higher the chances their review will be a better assessment of any dining establishment than Zagat’s is.