Yelp needs help

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Mobile phone with Yelp icon on screen close up with website on laptop. Blurred background with Yelp logo. Los Angeles, California, USA - 9 November 2019, Illustrative Editorial
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The definition of the word “yelp” is:

“To make a sudden, short, high sound, usually when in pain.” 

This came to mind when an outraged Nibbles reader e-mailed me Yelp’s list of “Boulder’s highest rated restaurants.” It was topped by Nopalito’s, the authentic taqueria located next to Boulder’s DMV office. 

“Really?! This is THE highest-rated restaurant in Boulder?” wrote the reader. 

Yelp’s Top 10 highest-rated Boulder list continues with Rincon Argentino, Little Tibet, Avery Brewing Co., Thrive, Le Frigo, Izakaya Amu, Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, Bento-ria and Tacos El Rey. 

My answer is simple: It’s true, but it’s Yelp, so don’t take it so seriously.

Click on a different tab and you get a list of Boulder’s “most recommended” eateries including River and Woods, Osaka’s, Blackbelly Market, OAK at Fourteenth, Parma Trattoria, and Supermoon. Meanwhile, the “most reviewed” list features Pizzeria Locale, Salt, Lucile’s Creole Cafe, and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. 

Conspicuously missing from all these Yelp lists is Frasca, Boulder’s most famous, most honored and arguably the “best” restaurant in Boulder with the hardest reservations to get.

The first thing to know is that Yelp’s lists are composed by an algorithm, not a human, and they change often. Many individual Yelp ratings and reviews are legit and helpful. However, restaurant owners, their families, friends and customers sometimes actively engage in pumping up their ratings and reviews with votes from families, friends, and customers. Worse, restaurant competitors have been known to do the same thing in a negative way leaving disparaging comments. 

Some restaurants also pay heavily to enhance their listings and hence boost rating and reviews, but it is pricey. 

Crowd-sourced reviews are inherently self-selecting. In my experience, many of the people that take the time to leave comments are mad. They tend to whine about the food, service and ambiance, not provide a helpful review.

I see so many idiotic comments about bad service from people oblivious to the pandemic and the impact it’s had on eateries and their ability to find employees.

It’s important to know who is doing the rating. According to Yelp, about 42% of Yelp users are 18 to 34 years old. That explains the frequent rating and votes for eateries near CU and for less expensive places.

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Yelp is still the big dog in the online restaurant world, but don’t depend on it. Be sure to scroll far down through reviews to get a better idea of how diners view a cafe or bistro. 

As a dining critic and food columnist, the question I am asked the most is: “What is the best restaurant in Boulder?” My response always is: “Who is asking?” 

What kind of food do you like? Loathe? What level of service do you appreciate? What price are you willing to pay? The best for me may not be the best you.

Over a plate of Korean fried chicken, I asked Clay Fong, an old friend and longtime local food writer, how he hears about new restaurants. “A lot of it is word of mouth in my community, publications, and social media. I also see new places when I drive around,” he says. “I don’t use Yelp unless I’m traveling, but usually I also look at the alternative press weeklies. I just tell people to take a chance on new places.” 

In other words, Fong says, consult multiple sources.

Naturally, I hope you find out about Boulder restaurants through Nibbles and the Boulder Weekly food pages, and Radio Nibbles on KGNU.

I look at OpenTable and Trip Advisor and the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages of restaurants, which tend to have newer info than their websites. The eatery information under Google Maps seems to be growing into a Yelp competitor. If you ask Google, the list of the highest-rated Boulder eateries includes Corrida, The BOCO Restaurant, Steakhouse No. 316, Frasca, The Kitchen, II Pastaio, Blackbelly Market, Le French Café, and Brasserie Boulder.

Do you have a Boulder County dining question? Email nibbles@boulderweekly.com

Local food news

Only open a few months, CHOP5 Salad Kitchen has closed at 2525 Arapahoe Ave. … On March 21, Boulder’s Chimera will become Dragonfly Noodle as owner Edwin Zoe prepares to open a second similarly named location in Denver to join his two Zoe Ma Ma eateries. Zoe was recently named a semifinalist for 2022 Outstanding Restaurateur by the James Beard Foundation. … Nok’s Donuts has opened inside The District at 400 W. South Boulder Road in Lafayette, offering cake doughnuts crafted from scratch-made mixes and icings. … Voting has opened for the Best of Boulder 2022 awards. Vote for your favorite restaurants, bars and food businesses by April 2 at boulderweekly.com … Swaylo’s Tiki Restaurant & Bar is open at 1315 Dry Creek Drive in Longmont. … The Mexican food truck Polleria En Las Cazuelas, 917 Main St. in Longmont, is serving Lenten capirotada (sweetly topped traditional bread pudding) on Fridays.

Words to chew on

“Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour.” —Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate 

John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s Food Editor. Join him Thursdays at 8:15 a.m. for Radio Nibbles on KGNU (88.5 FM and kgnu.org).

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