With so many restaurants in San Francisco, it is typical to research a restaurant before visiting. Today, part two of a list of restaurant review sites on the Internet. For this project, I chose to focus on restaurant review sites that allow participation from the public, as opposed to straight-review sites such as the San Francisco Chronicle or Gayot.
The Chowhound website features bulletin boards across the nation broken out by area. San Francisco restaurants are discussed on a San Francisco Bay Area board. This is a very active user community that posts several hundred posts a day.
Pros: Chowhound users religiously seek out the hole-in-the-wall, underrated, unheard of restaurants. They have a vast amount of knowledge about the San Francisco food scene, and keep on top of restaurant openings and closings. When I first moved to San Francisco over five years ago, I used the Chowhound site to get my bearings in a town where the restaurant scene can often be intimidating.
Cons: To say that the Chowhound software is archaic is to be polite. It is bulky, ugly, and daunting for a new user to understand. Trying to search for something on this site? Don't bother. Your best bet is to post a question and lean on site users for help finding an old thread. Administration of this site is heavy-handed and often confusing. The site does not have a model for sustaining itself financially, so users are randomly called upon to give "good will" contributions under threat of the site ceasing to exist.
Participating in Chowhound involves constantly asking oneself if seeking out the excellent restaurants is worth dealing with the bad software, grumpy administrators, and guilt trips for not opening your wallet to give money to a site that is purposely remaining in the dark ages. Many people decide that it's for them, and many people decide that the hurdles are not worth the tips.
This San Francisco-centric site reviews everything from local tourist attractions to taco trucks. Yelp features reviews by users as well as sponsored listings. All reviews are based on a five-star rating system.
Pros: Hands down, this is my favorite software for browsing through reviews. It is easily searchable and user friendly. It's depth allows a user to see the location of a restaurant, click through to the restaurant's web site, make a reservation, and vet comments by viewing all reviews by a particular person. This is a highly active site.
Cons: The main population of this site seems to be 20-something San Franciscans ... not that there's anything wrong with that, right? Reading reviews on this site, I often feel like I am listening in on bar conversations in the Marina. Curious what they say about the Marina Safeway? "This safeway is the most amazing Safeway ever. It's huge and because it is not in a family oriented neighborhood is not crawling with little brats. Instead it's crawling with single girls stocking up on diet coke and guys stocking up on beer and frozen pizza."
Yelp is helpful for looking up a specific restaurant or checking out restaurants in a certain area. For asking specific questions (ie., "Where to go after the theatre?") or following up on news (ie., "How is Elite Cafe now that it re-opened?"), best to try Chowhound or eGullet.
Citysearch is part of a large conglomeration of media sites run by InterActiveCorp. Like Yelp, this database driven site allows a user to easily search for a specific restaurant or find a restaurant by area.
Pros: Citysearch's active database of restaurants means that a user is usually getting up-to-date information. Sub-group listings allow a user to easily find restaurants based on cuisine or special attribute (late-night, dessert, etc.). Citysearch has paid staff that writes editorial reviews, giving in-depth information.
Cons: Reviews by the public are inconsistent. Some restaurants feature many reviews, while others of the same caliber only feature a few. The main purpose of this site is to make money through advertising, and at no time is it easy to forget this fact. Each page features many ads and sponsored listings, making it difficult sometimes to find what one is looking for through all of the advertising noise.
With a site such as Yelp now on the scene, Citysearch is no longer part of my restaurant finding ritual.