How to Yelp in San Francisco?
March 10, 2016 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in SF for a week -- my first visit! -- and my plan is to spend most of my time walking around and eating delicious food. At home in NYC, I use Yelp for this sort of thing, but I'm not sure if my usual review-processing system is going to work in SF. (Or if I should be using a totally different app!)

I've learned over the years that as long as a restaurant has an average rating of three stars, it's probably fine, and any variance beyond that may or may not have any bearing on how much I'll actually like the place. Typically my system is to click through to read the actual reviews, particularly the low ones, to see if they're complaining about things I actually care about. Especially at popular places, I'll see a lot of bad reviews along the lines of "Could not get satisfactory vegan meal at this steak house, ONE STAR!!!" or "Food was delicious but waitress was snobby and obviously thought she was better than me, ONE STAR!!!" or "Could not get seated after waiting for fifteen minutes, hostess obviously has personal vendetta against me, ONE STAR!!!!!" There's also the "my grandma didn't make it like this" reviews, the "this was tasty I guess but if I'd bought it in my neighborhood in queens it would have been WAY less expensive" reviews, you get the idea. Over the years, I've developed an intuitive sense of how to scroll through Yelp reviews and filter out complaints that aren't relevant to me.

HOWEVER! After spending some time on SF yelp, I realized that I have NO IDEA what the dogwhistle signifiers are for useless reviews! For example, I looked at restaurants that are near the hotel where I'm staying, and noticed that all of the cheap restaurants had low ratings full of people saying how disappointed they were, and all of the pages for $$$$ restaurants were jam packed with food photos and extremely high ratings. Does that mean that cheap food in SF is just bad? Does that mean that people in SF equate price with quality? Or does it just mean I shouldn't be using Yelp in the first place and should switch over to some other service entirely to figure this stuff out?
posted by Narrative Priorities to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I like foursquare a lot for finding places in SF. I find that Yelp is way oversaturated and full of people who equate "we had to wait 5 minutes for a table" with "WORST SERVICE EVER NEVER WOULD GO AGAIN" and the ratings are correspondingly useless.
posted by kdar at 6:48 AM on March 10, 2016

My experience is that Yelp is useless here if you want to know anything other than when the restaurant is open.
posted by foodgeek at 6:48 AM on March 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is less about Yelp than about SF/NY, but I found when I lived in SF, good food (other than burritos) was consistently more expensive than the equivalent in New York (well, Brooklyn). It is fresh and delicious and if you can afford it, I recommend just biting the bullet and going for highly rated. Also, the service is slower and worse so budget more time.
posted by dame at 7:06 AM on March 10, 2016

There are a lot of cranky, fussy people using Yelp in SF. Not to mention rich/food snobs. Honestly, I would not necessarily recommend using Yelp (in general) to figure out what is good to eat because you have to filter through tons of dramaz. Also a friend of mine is Yelp elite over there so I have a good idea of how the whole "it wasn't exactly how I wanted it ONE STAR" crap goes.

There's plenty of good not four star expensive food out there (I won't say "cheap"), but Yelp does not sound like the place you want to use to find it. Why not just do searches on the restaurants in your hotel neighborhood and look for other sources? Or hell, just walk by, look at the menu on the door and take a sniff like the good ol' days? If there's a giant damn line going out the door, that's usually a goodness guarantee, but also a guarantee that you won't eat for two hours.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 AM on March 10, 2016

I would suggest using Chowhound, LTH Forum, Eater to do research if you're looking around for interesting places from home (and not on the go). Also the neighborhood you're staying in (Financial District? Union Square?) can be skewing things.

On the go, Foursquare, as mentioned, can also be very good. Do you have friends on there already whose taste you trust? I like that you can filter against places your friends have visited in Foursquare.
posted by kathryn at 7:12 AM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why would you think NY Yelp and SF yelp are different? I use Yelp the same across pretty much all major cities: Ignore the individual reviews as they are almost always insanely fucking stupid, but take a listing as a whole - if it has 1200 reviews and 4.5 stars, it's clearly well-respected at the very least. I sometimes search things like "crowded" to see if it's crowded on certain days. That's about all it's good for to me.
posted by windbox at 7:18 AM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: Does that mean that cheap food in SF is just bad?

I do think Yelpers in SF are generally less forgiving of the vagaries of cheap eats ('foodie' !== adventurous, in SF at least), so you're seeing some of that reflected in the review. But I think the problem is a bit deeper: you won't find cheap food in SF like you do in NY. That's for a lot of reasons: density in NY means walking, means quick casual food is a necessity; density of a wide variety of global populations in NY means super wide variety and traditions of street food and just generally cheaper food; SF's 'foodie' culture and history means most of the interesting food happens at the high end; etc. etc.

If your plan is to make your route by the food you want to eat, I echo people above who say to use Chowhound to find stuff ahead of time.

And if you post some what parts of town you'll be in I can probably suggest some good spots (as can others, no doubt)!
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:28 AM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing Foursquare. Way more dynamic range on reviews and the tone is more positive and helpful. I've never been unhappy with a place over a 8.0, plus you get reliably good recommendations about what to eat at various places.

The main difference is that they're looking at a lot of behavioral data for ratings, not just self-report. Yelp ratings are performative. Foursquare's ratings are mostly about visit frequency.
posted by heresiarch at 7:28 AM on March 10, 2016

Response by poster: I'm going to be staying in Japantown, and definitely want ramen and sushi to be on my list, in that neighborhood or otherwise.

I'm up for a lot of walking and I'm comfortable taking pubtrans, so I'm happy to go just about anywhere, especially if there are a ton of things to do in that neighborhood.

After a few minutes on Chowhound I realized I have no idea how to use Chowhound. If it's okay with the mods, specific suggestions for places to go or neighborhoods to concentrate on would be appreciated.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:38 AM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: Foursquare or Chowhound all the way. The local free papers (SF Weekly, for example) have useful reviews, too.

Dogwhistle SF reviews: "This place used to be really great ten years ago." (Comparing old experience to new experience, probably will take a star off for new, higher prices.) "This Marina burrito was much more expensive compared to a Mission burrito." (Well, duh.) "There are too many homeless people outside." (This is not the restaurant's problem, it's an SF problem.) "I couldn't find parking" (Join the club!) "There are too many tourists, so I couldn't enjoy my meal near Union Square" (Well, duh.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:58 AM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

On Chowhound, what you're looking for are the forums, and specifically recommendation threads for the neighborhood(s) and cuisine(s) you're most interest in. If I were interested in suggested meals in the Mission, for example, I would start with a Google search for " mission" and go from there. I would also probably run a Google search for "best restaurants mission" and investigate the names that come up repeatedly at links from reputable sources. This does require doing research/planning ahead of time, so maybe it's not what you're looking for. I use Yelp sometimes but boy has it steered me wrong, especially outside of NYC.
posted by Mothlight at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: I use Yelp to find restaurants in the category and area that I want, and then I look at menus and detailed reviews. Star ratings are useless. (EXTRA useless for Japanese restaurants in particular, as SF Yelpers think they're super sophisticated but constantly rate down, say, sushi places for not having sufficient deep-fried exploding mango krispie monkey rolls, or whatever.)

And yeah, for Chowhound you have to search within the forum for SF Bay Area for the neighborhood and cuisine that you want. Pay attention to the age of the post.
posted by wintersweet at 8:55 AM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: PS: For ramen I really recommend Kenken, in the Mission. It remains my favorite ever.
posted by dame at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Chowhound was rendered fairly useless in the recent redesign and most of its longtime contributors have fled. Try Food Talk Central or Hungry Onion for suggestions.
posted by mogget at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure how Foursquare is going to be any more accurate than Yelp. It has less data so is more susceptible to variance.

Japantown is definitely subpar for restaurants. I don't know why. Fillmore is nearby and has some good restaurants like State Bird and the Progress (but are kinda pricey), but otherwise there's nothing in Japantown I would consider a destination restaurant. Koo recently took over Ino Sushi but that's going to be expensive. Dosa is nice but I prefer the more intimate Valencia St location. Japantown is mainly nice for the kitsch factor and the Sundance. If you want cheap eats you'd be far better off trawling through the Mission with the dozen taquerias and hole in the wall places like Yamo. Even Tenderloin and the Embarcadero have better options.

I would definitely avoid anything below 4 stars on Yelp. For a local this doesn't matter much because we can find the underrated stuff. If you're just visiting why take the risk? Looking at the 4 star places in the Mission: Lolo, Beretta, Paprika, Stuffed, Limon, Myriad, Foreign Cinema, Hog & Rocks. These places are all legitimately good.

Ramen in Japantown is pretty mediocre but you can find okay bowls at Waraku, Yamadaya, and Shalala. But by NYC standards these are all boring. If you want something a tier better you should try to make it out to Orenchi Beyond, or if you don't mind standing in line for an hour the newly opened Mensho is very good. They have toripaitan!

For sushi, it depends on whether you want something $$$$ or $$. For the former it's hard to beat Kusakabe. For the latter my favorite places are Saru and Akiko's.

I will say that the Eater SF Essential 38 list is pretty accurate if you want to check out the trendiest restaurants. The ethnic restaurants especially can be inexpensive.
posted by rq at 10:42 AM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use Yelp all the time in SF, to get a sense if a place is terrible or popular. Eater is a good resource of new, hip, well regarded restaurants. I also check Foursquare, but that can be hit or miss since the split into two apps has made Foursquare but a second thought.

If you don't mind a trek to the Inner Sunset, I can recommend Izakaya Sozai for wonderful ramen and other Japanese food.

You know you can ask the hivemind for recommendations. Lots of us are from SF. :)
posted by vivzan at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: I used to work at Yelp. The running joke at the office was that, if a place has less than 4.5 stars, it sucks.

For Japanese, I generally accept a 3.5-star overall rating, but it's one of those cuisines where people get SUPER-PICKY. Like, Japanese food is supposed to be all high-class or whatever. Bullshit. I'm happy at a $$ sushi place with 3.5 stars (RIP Restaurant YoYo). And I KNOW that any pricier and it will have long-ass lines down the block, even though to me they all taste the same (good "same", not boring "same").

- $, $$: 3.5 stars is fine.
- $$$+: 4 stars.

This applies to any cuisine. I also read the Review Highlights for a general idea of what's good or not. Check out the menus, but the Yelp menus aren't necessarily up to date. They do, however, have ratings for individual menu items; those are inferred from the reviews. Lastly, you should keep the review dates in mind. The default "Yelp Sort" is... okay, but I tend to sort by date for the freshest data, because after all, businesses change over time.

For places that has a lot of reviews, say 300 or so, that's when you know the place got quite a bit of press, but also will have long waiting times because EVERYONE goes there and so people complain about long lines ONE STAR BOOOO.

By the way, check out KenKen Ramen in the Mission; it's solid. For sushi, as long as it isn't a chain place like Tokyo Express, or in a food court, any place is good. Mission Chinese (the original!) is great for experimental hipster Chinese food. Surprisingly enough, there's not a lot of sushi and ramen places in Japantown... but you'll likely find a few Korean eats.

And check out the East Bay if you can! Good stuff in Oakland and Berkeley too!
posted by curagea at 1:10 PM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you avoid things below 4 stars in the SF Bay Area, you'll miss out on the few non-$$$$ stars of Japantown, like On the Bridge (because Yelpers by and large don't understand Japanese food that is not deep-fried inside-out rolls accompanied by sake bombs). For that matter, you'd miss out on my favorite breakfast place, since I'm pretty sure that the nearby Denny's is rated higher due to Yelpers getting mad because they don't understand why freshly squeezed OJ costs more than Minute Maid.
posted by wintersweet at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: I am a local so I will just give you some tips here . . .

My favorite sushi places are not in Japantown, except for Kiss, which is amazing but tiny and expensive. I usually go to Ryoko's in Nob Hill.

If you want raw fish but want to try something other than sushi, Swan's Oyster Depot is one of the oldest seafood places in town, and has a justly famous cult following. Go early and be prepared to wait in line, as they only have 12 seats. Bar Crudo in NoPa also has an incredible selection of raw tapas plus a fantastic seafood chowder.

Other places to try in SF:
Bi-Rite Ice Cream - really good small-batch ice cream. there will be a line out the door. get some and eat it in Dolores Park (SF's living room) if it's not raining
Tartine - world-famous (really!) French bakery/patisserie. also has a line out the door. worth it.
Little Star - SF's answer to deep dish pizza
Saffron Grill - best Indian food in town. Family run, the dishes taste like the ones I make at home.
Thanh Long - Vietnamese fusion, famous for garlic noodles and roasted Dungeness crab

If you head over to Berkeley, don't miss Chez Panisse -- it's the home of the slow food movement, and a cultural landmark for foodies. You can also go to a sake tasting at Takara, it's really fun and very inexpensive.

Enjoy your trip!!
posted by ananci at 1:50 PM on March 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know why folks are saying Yelp isn't useful in SF - it totally is, as much as it is anywhere else.

But the food culture in New York vs. San Francisco is pretty different, so you aren't going to find similar style restaurants in SF at the same price points that you expect in NYC. First off, SF is a pretty small city, and there isn't a large immigrant culture in the city proper (anymore) the way there are in NYC. All of the good Taiwanese and Indian/Pakistani places are down in South Bay. A lot of the good dim sum options are found in Daly City. Good Ethiopian is in Oakland, etc. etc.

This Quora question on what cuisines are better in SF than NYC (and vice versa) should be helpful to you. Overall, though, I'd say that SF food in most neighborhoods is going to win out over NYC food when you're looking for higher-end cuisine that focuses on fresh ingredients - e..g California cuisine or California fusion. If you're looking for cheaper ethnic joints that aren't fancy, but do food GOOD, you want to look in the Richmond & Sunset (where families live) and the Tenderloin (which is SF's sketchy centrally-located neighborhood), and the Mission (but really only for Mission burritos at this point, given how much it's gentrified). Almost every other neighborhood is going to have excellent places, but they're going to be places that cater to the richer 20-somethings and 30-somethings that are in the city, and have the associated price tags.

In terms of using Yelp, figure out what cuisine is good in the neighborhood you happen to be in - I agree with others that Japantown is kinda crappy, except for Korean food - and then filter for things above 4 stars. Then look at the reviews, and cull based by the dog whistles that others have mentioned in this thread. I generally try to look for the not-trying-too-hard-to-be-funny, no-nonsense reviews, and throw out anything that complains about the wait.
posted by Jaclyn at 5:23 PM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, also, San Francisco is totally a city best experienced by walking! If you love ice cream, and are up for an all-day adventure, here's a map for an Urban Ice Cream hike that I take visitors on. Note that you should definitely meander around the neighborhoods, and not do the straight line that google takes you on. In particular, take Dolores St. or Valencia (or both!) instead of Guerrero, consider detouring to Buena Vista Park or Alamo Square on the way to Smitten, go into Fillmore and Pac Heights (or Chinatown!) on the way to Three Twins, and climb up to Coit Tower on the way to the Ferry Building. I left Xanath Ice Cream off of the list, since it's so close to Bi-Rite, but if you're a vanilla fan it may be worth stopping there as well.
posted by Jaclyn at 5:33 PM on March 10, 2016

Best answer: Maykadeh
470 Green St
posted by Tanzanite at 7:07 PM on March 10, 2016

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