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Is Chowhound really useful?

For every restaurant someone likes, another person won't, and the opposite. The same places get rehashed in multiple threads...why can't the restaurants just be listed based on geographical location and cuisine, with a rating system, and be done with it?

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  1. chowhound is useful BECAUSE it isn't a simple rating system, but a conversation

    besides what would these ratings be based on, if not the varying opinions of the aforementioned people?

    3 Replies
    1. re: thew

      Yes, but the conversation can be limited, and many times reduces to "This place is awesome!" "This place is terrible". I just think there should be a database of places by location and cuisine with a ratings system and people can provide comments that other people can look at if they want to, and they can compare other comments the person made so they can judge whether the person is reputable or not.

      1. re: observor

        There already is a database on Chow based on location and cuisine. It can be found by clicking the "Restaurants & Bars" tab at the top of the page. You seem to be from the New England / Boston area, so here is the Boston listings

        And by clicking on a posters name, you can see what other restaurants they like or don't.

        There are a many, many sites that do just what you are asking for. I wonder why you would trust the opinion of someone you don't know and throw your bucks at a restaurant someone thinks is "awesome"

        The difference with chowhound is you learn which dishes are good and which to avoid. If you stick around, you find people whose tastes are similar to yours. And if you post about places you like and don't, pretty soon people pick up on your likes and dislikes and you get better recs.

        Yes. Though it has been watered down a bit, I still think Chowhound is one of the most useful sites on the web.

        1. re: observor

          >>Yes, but the conversation can be limited, and many times reduces to "This place is awesome!" "This place is terrible".

          Yeah, that annoys me, too. But often, when pressed, posters are able to articulate reasons for why they like or dislike or recommend a place. And you do come to realize certain culinary affinities with certain other posters, as Kattyeyes noted. Even when there is no agreement at all on a topic or place (i.e. Where is the best bbq/bagel/pizza in NYC?), it's helpful to know that opinions -- passionately held ones -- diverge so much.

          I travel a great deal all around the world and Chowhounds everywhere have been invaluable as one source of good information on local eats (thanks, especially, to the Toronto, Singapore and China board 'hounds... you guys totally rock) . Admittedly, most of these great tips have pertained to major cities where Chowhound coverage is pretty good--but not always. Posters helped me find a wonderful restaurant to send my parents called Holly Hill Inn near Lexington, KY, though I was thousands of miles away at the time. If I find myself in the hinterlands of NYC's outer boroughs (I know, I know... so horribly Manhattan-centric of me), I can count on some wonderful 'hounds to guide me to the best restaurants within a 10 block radius of where I'll be.

          Are there dumb, useless posts? Of course there are -- including some of mine. But there is also an amazing wealth of knowledge, expertise and kindness out there that I don't think could ever be reduced to a mere numerical rating.

      2. Where are you at? CH in the hinterlands is a whole different thing.

        1. That's true--and just like real life! But as in real life, if you read Chowhound with some regularity, you'll get to "know" posters as they review places over time. Some of those reviews will likely resonate with your own viewpoints of establishments. And that's when you might find a reviewer who's a kindred spirit (at least as regards food!)...and can open up doors to places you might not have visited previously. It takes time to figure out who's who and who has similar likes/dislikes as you, but I find it to be very worth the investment. Thanks on my local board to joan mar, Scargod and rbailin who have steered me to some FANTASTIC dining experiences in Connecticut.

          4 Replies
          1. re: kattyeyes


            Talk about hitting the proverbial nail on the proverbial head ...

            1. re: kattyeyes

              I too found a couple of local spots I probably wouldn't of gone to. Nothing fancy and certainly not a dining experience. But great quality traditional Mexican cooking that was really a treat. Very good. Also a local place just north of here for great somewhat traditional but, just a treat with the atmosphere.

              Not everyone likes the same thing in a restaurant and it is difficult to just rate on certain criteria. I like atmosphere, I don't enjoy quiet but enjoy quaint and unique. I don't like modern, but I enjoy good food. You don't have to have a Iron Chef presentation to impress me, just good quality food. However I do appreciate that same type of quality. I rate the overall restaurant experience as a whole not just the food or the service. And remember ... all places have bad nights so go easy.

              I went to a restaurant highly rated when I went to NY. However, I couldn't stand it. It was the worst over priced meal I ever had. I was not impressed with any part of the entire night. Although I didn't say anything, I just politely ate and said thank you and would never go back again, although highly recommended.

              As I mentioned, everyone has their idea of a GREAT restaurant, so I enjoy CH's giving different opinions and experiences. The second NY restaurant was a more quaint, unique, smaller restaurant which had very unique but still very good food which was enjoyable to eat, NOT just for show. Both were suggested to me and I was very impressed with the second one.

              And many times they suggest a certain dish which I did try which was very good. So it just isn't good or bad but much more info to learn about.

              1. re: kchurchill5

                I'm just north of you - what is the good Mexican spot? Thanks.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Little hole in the wall on clark/stickeny point road just east of 41.

                  Nothing fancy by any means, but to me and for several others people who mentioned to me pretty traditional Mexican cooking. I'm not an expert, but I went with a friend who lived in Mexico a few years and also said their food was excellent. Inexpensive, and don't dress up, but just good food and very reasonable.

            2. You may find what you are looking for at Zagat.

              4 Replies
              1. re: ChinoWayne

                Or Yelp. There are other sites that do the ratings thing. I look at those ratings a bit skeptically, and yes, while you have to dig around a bit here to get a broad opinion of a restaurant, I always come away from my research knowing a ton about the place that I wouldn't know from a "3 stars" rating on some of those other sites.

                1. re: Chris VR

                  I thank local people like Kattyeyes, danieljdwyer, capecodguy, joan mar and passadumkeg ( way up in Maine), and there are many others who have steered me to winners, that I can't remember right now).
                  You do have to put in the time to read and learn people's tastes and preferences before it pays off with great frequency. And why bother if someone says "fantastic meal!"?
                  I'll continue to search till I find substance and credibility in a report. Besides Chowhounds are supposed to be into discovery, not just taking other's word for it!

                  In the Chowhound forums devoted to "restaurant/food resource", I do wish responses could be keyed to types of restaurant or supplier type and locations via zip codes. This could be just like adding photos, or linking to a place, but easier. You check food type, add zip code and perhaps recommend/not recommend or use a ratings option. Then these could easily be searched by at least type and location.
                  I would think Chow/Chowhound would do well to provide these options and on-site linkages to maps and so on to keep Chowhounders on the Chow site rather than have them wandering off to other sites and to Google to find what they need.

                  I don't like Yelp so much because it has its competition side, where people vie to be rated as superior to other posters. This might promote cutesy, fast and loose postings that are not very serious or discerning.

                  1. re: Scargod

                    i know ive said it before, but i find yelp and chowhound to work well together

                    if i want to find a type of food or check a specific neighborhood i'll start at yelp. once i've settled on a specific place, chowhound gives a better lowdown on the specifics of the place

                2. re: ChinoWayne

                  Yes... Though I personally find that the ratings -- especially for non-western European / U.S. restaurants -- are pretty different from how I'd rate the places and summaries are slow to reflect changes in quality, even taking into account once-a-year publication.

                3. ...and beyond the recommendations is an intro & educational opportunity to learn (& hopefully) try new cuisines. Not only has CH contributed to my tastebuds, it's done wonders for my less-adventureous-but trying child. CH is useful, fun and a great way to learn about food-love.

                  1. I tend to think like you on the restaurant usefulness (not very for me) BUT, I do not eat out often and I've found many of the places that I do eat at are already the favs on my local board. There's not much to learn there. Lot's of repeat rec's and not much trailblazing.

                    However, the Homing Cooking Board is the most useful place I've found on the net. I couldn't live without it and that's what keeps me coming back. Thanks to those on that Board! I am but a beginner and so take a lot of info from there. In the years to come I hope to be able to give more. This is a site I watch daily because of the Home Cooking board. I look at all posts actually, but for me that is where the usefulness is.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Rocky Road

                      I did not address other areas of Chowhound in my previous post since the OP specifically mentioned restaurant reviews, however, I wholeheartedly agree--I LOVE THE HOME COOKING BOARD! I up my game all the time thanks to this site and hope some of my tips/suggestions or recipes help other hounds as much as they have helped me! Lots of good info in Gardening and General Chowhounding as well. I'm here daily, too. "It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough, you know you're gonna have to face it you're addicted to Chow." (with apologies to the late, great Robert Palmer) ;)

                      1. re: kattyeyes

                        Yes, your tips do help others, I can personally attest! :-) I can see how the Gardening Board can be that way too. Man, I wish I had the space for one of those!!!

                        Cookware is another great board. I've learned a lot but never participated.

                        Spirits, Wine, & Beer (I don't drink, but I've seen their expertise and it is amazing).

                        As far as the restaurant aspect of this site, there's just no expertise in taste or enjoyment. It's to each their own. In my local area I've never felt compelled to opine because nothing has been new. I know this site started out much different that it is now, but if finding the "best local" restaurant was it, man I'm hooked on this site for all the wrong reasons. I suspect others are too. It's a wider appeal now. Peace. :-)

                        1. re: Rocky Road

                          P.S. That's very nice to read/hear, so thank you kindly. And, if it makes you feel any better, my "garden" lives in containers on the back porch, leaving just enough room for one of us to use the grill and for the real kattyeyes (the pretty girl in my avatar) to sunbathe among all the plants! Peace right back atcha! :)

                    2. chowhound.com is a place for people to swap tips on where to find delicious food. It works really well for getting information about food in real time (last month's discussion on restaurant X isn't going to be as useful or up to date as yesterday's).

                      It also works as a place for people who want to figure out which places are good to explore. The goal of the site is to provide a resource for folks to uncover new delicious food (see the manifesto http://chowhound.chow.com/manifesto and FAQ http://chowhound.chow.com/faq).

                      It's for people who want to eat the food for themselves to decide whether or not it's good, rather than for those merely want to be told which are the "best" places.

                      For those things it works well. In the hunt for delicious food, chowhounds are willing to explore a place with zero information, so even a tiny bit of extra info, such as "This place is awesome!" doesn't hurt. The site is often useful as a place to figure out what's unknown (i.e. no posts about it), so that one could try those places to fill those gaps in our nowledge.

                      However, it does not work for people in a hurry who just want to be told what's good; it's not all things for all people, but then again, nothing is. Best to use the site for it's intended purpose.

                      1. I find CH a superb resource. While I agree with many posters, I agree to disagree with the rest. Non-scientifically, I've found the reviews of restaurants herein far more valuable than the carping and whining I see on Yelp and Citysearch.

                        That being said, occasionally a Chowhounder posts something about having a meal at "Applebee's" or "Olive Garden" and I just cringe.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: shaogo

                          There are no Chowhound restrictions related to taste, education, maturity, knowledge or sophistication. The Moderators try to contain wrong and false information and attacks of Chowhounds on Chowhounds. A few should be ousted, but this is a public forum. There is still some beneficial peer pressure regardless of the moderators.
                          Each of us must do our due diligence to seek out believable people worthy of reading and communicating with. All in all, I think the level is pretty high and I find all areas beneficial. There will always be the new Chowhound that likes Applebee's, but hopefully we are positively influencing the thinking of people, one Chowhound at a time.

                          1. re: Scargod

                            One thing that I like about Chowhound is the diversity. As with any social environment, there is a tendency for group think, which is bad, because that can obscure good finds or discourage independent thinking/eating. People can be afraid of criticising a board favourite, even when they honestly did not like it. If one looks at some of the "contrarian views" threads, sometimes one gets the impression that the board favourite isn't a board favourite -- it's just the majority are afraid of speaking up!

                        2. As noted above, there is a list of restaurants based on geographical location and cuisine, with a rating system. It's called Yelp. And although there's plenty of good information there, a lot of it is pretty terrible. And the ratings are worse than useless.

                          For example, if I were looking for a sushi restaurant near my house, Yelp brings up 40 places. Sort them by rating and you'll end up at a place that's full of barely-trained chefs slapping together rolls that consist primarily of rice, mayonnaise, and hot sauce. The outstanding sushi-ya that I frequent is rated 34th out of the 40, with users dinging it with complaints about things such as the servers' ignorance about rolls and the chef's expectation that somebody seated at the sushi bar will order directly from him instead of off a menu.

                          The Yelp rating system is great if your tastes are in line with those of the lowest common denominator. If you're looking for the place that's most popular among the great unwashed, it will point you straight there. And if that's the case, then no, Chowhound isn't really useful.

                          Here, the format tends to be more discussion-oriented. If two posters disagree, hopefully the disagreement will result in people elaborating on their opinions and their reasons for them, providing everybody with an opportunity to learn something.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            my experience, with NYC yelp, is very different. they tend to be very knowledgeable about food and places. and like chowhound, if you use it for a while, you can find people whose opinions you trust. I've been turned to great places, both known and hidden gems, both here and on yelp. i don't think i'd find either site as useful, if i didn't have the other as well

                            1. re: thew

                              I agree that there's good info to be gleaned from Yelp. I use that site and a variety of others (Zagat, Open Table, etc.) on a fairly regular basis. And if you know something about the person who's reviewing place, that person's reviews can be particularly helpful.

                              My comments were directed less toward specific individual opinions and more to the ratings. There, you're getting the consensus view of a group of people, at least some of whom just don' t get it. The OP seems to like that kind of system; I find that a high average rating indicates only that a place appeals to a wide swath of society. Top-rated places are guaranteed to be inoffensive; there's no assurance that they're actually good.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                that seems to be less the case (though not entirely not the case) in NYC yelp, at least

                                1. re: thew

                                  Coming to this thread late, but thought I'd expand on one area that I find enormously helpful and echo cimui's comments above: Chowhound is extremely valuable to me when planning trips. Though I certainly use my home board and post there as much as I can to add to the data stores, it is on the SF Bay Area Board that I get top value. CH has helped me avoid bad chow and optimize my limited dining opportunities when in San Francisco for my precious few days a year. I behave differently as a Hound abroad than when at home, where I am much more likely to "take a flyer" on a new place knowing I can try somewhere else the next day or week. I'm less willing to squander chances for good chow when I'm travelling so thanks to the SF Bay Area folks in particular for insulating me from lackluster dining :-).

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    Seems the mods took offense at "concierge are us" references, but I too, as a US citizen, rely on Chowhounds to get me through foreign (even Vancouver), areas, when dining.
                                    My point is/was that real Chowhounds give back (eventually, at least), and don't just take.

                          2. Chowhound is more than a "restaurant...rating system" for those who participate beyond their next meal. I am surprised and pleased by how many thank-you's I have had on the Mexico board, and personal e-mail thanks, plus invites to two weddings in Mexico, (both of which I attended), for sharing info about food and much more with good people who are getting started in wonderful places where I am by now a bit of an old timer.
                            As for "taking ", my fellow Chowhound divers know we take only pictures, and leave only bubbles.

                            1. I just had to laugh...Peninsula Grill in Charleston SC gets innumerable accolades, everyone extolls its quality...over and over...and then a person shows up to say they had a bad meal there. No place is immune to someone saying bad things about it .

                              1. Absolutely useful.

                                If it were not for CH jfood would be 20 pounds lighter and would never have experienced some of the great foods of his home board and where he travels.

                                Zagats is absolutely horrible. Jfood has not paid in years, he inputs every year on CURRENT opinions and then he receives the guide. It is like a bad "B" movie. Places that are out of business get good ratings. Oh yeah I went there in 1987 and I had a good meal and into the ratings that person's opinion goes, just to get a free copy of the book. And single point data systems (Michelin probably excluded) just do not work if the input is bad. Want to bring the ratings down on the new restaurant on your street, 10's of rating inputs.

                                There are posters that have the same tastes in food as jfood and guide him to new and great places. Last night jfood had a conversation with a bartender about restaurants in MSP. Very similar tastes. Then she mentioned she went to a really great place in NYC and showed jfood the menu of Per Se. Fantastic resourse for more restaurants off the beaten path in MSP. Who-da thunk it?

                                If CH works for you great, if not, great. If Citysearch works better use that, Yelp, go for it, smaller more localized sites, hit the bid. The great thing about the internet is that it is not a one size fits all. Zagats was great in the 80's, not so much now (and what the heck does a "Zagats Approved" sticker mean on the door of a food place?) Citysearch was great for jfood ten years ago, and is now a good toe in the water start to a new city.

                                So use it to learn, find new places and eat good stuff.

                                1. It must be useful. Can something that uses up so much of my time be anything other than useful? ;-D>

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Servorg

                                    True that!!! I hate to think otherwise myself. ;)