The App Map: Where to Get Food

The thing about tech reviews is that they’re often written either by the people who make technology (and thus are difficult to comprehend) or they’re written by people who are paid to review tech, and thus are people who are trying really hard to sound like they know what they’re talking about in the tech world, also rendering them difficult to comprehend. Well, I work in tech, but in about the least technologically proficient capacity possible, but I do get the opportunity to hear about new user apps that are pretty cool. Today’s app review is about something near and dear to my heart: namely, food. More specifically, these apps help you find food that’s already been prepared.

Warning: I’m a foodie. A real food snob. I don’t think this is something to be proud of, necessarily, but I’m an eater in a pretty aggressively serious way, and so I take food seriously, and my tastes tend to be both more cultivated and less accessible than the average person who dines out 4 times per year and eats microwaved meals. Again: I do not think I am better than you. I view my food preferences to be about as high falutin’ as a picky 5-year-old’s, but picky is precisely the right word for it. That said, here are my basic thoughts on some food-finding apps and how well they work.

App #1: Urbanspoon. This is an old one, but I feel like it’s gotten a lot right with more recent updates. I like the “shake” feature, because you can lock down any (or all) of the following: neighborhood, cuisine type, and price range. From there, you hit the “shake” button and it pops up a restaurant recommendation. Pretty handy when you’re chilling in SoMa (or whatever) and know you want cheap Dim Sum, but aren’t sure where to find it. The app can also locate food for you based on your location (on the “Nearby” tab), will allow you to make friends with other users, make reservations at certain locations, browse through a variety of options, and check in at restaurants so it can create a profile of your dining habits. Presumably, this profile will later inform the recommendations it gives you… but since Timeline is a relatively new feature for this app, it’s not quite there yet. I like Urbanspoon primarily for its “shake” and “nearby” features, when I just need a quick option for lunch and am feeling dietarily aimless. Since this one has been around a lot longer than the other apps, it has a lot more listings; but since it’s been around so long and is so heavily populated, I’d also argue that its reviews are less reliable (some of the worst places I’ve eaten have had really high reviews here), and the tastes tend to be more pedestrian than my own. I don’t think the interface is very pretty, though it’s improved over the years, but it doesn’t quite compare to the next one.

App #2: Ness. Ness is infinitely prettier than Urbanspoon, and the other thing it gets right is taste, because it starts to learn your preferences a lot sooner (being more dependent on your ratings to run in the first place), and compares it to the tastes of people who’ve liked restaurants similar to you. What I like about this is that, because people tend to rate restaurants not just based on the food served but also based on the overall experience there, I feel like the people who rate restaurants similarly to me are also looking for a similar experience to the one I like, so I have gotten a lot more wins from this app. But because it hasn’t been around as long, there are sometimes restaurants I like that aren’t listed in it. I trust that time will rectify that situation. Meanwhile, it’s easily browsable by cuisine type, you can search by location, and you can even rate restaurants you like in other cities to influence its recommendations for where you are now. This helps me out a lot because I just moved to the Bay Area a year ago, and most of my restaurant knowledge previously was in Seattle. I can’t wait to take this app traveling with me! In all, Ness is a lot better for intentional meals, when I want to find really good food, rather than my “just gotta eat now” apathy that Urbanspoon is so good at rectifying. But as far as when I’m looking for good food to eat in… 

App #3: GrubHub. GrubHub is the bomb, and I can’t wait till they continue expanding to more cities. (I think they’re in a dozen around the U.S. right now, but they are constantly talking about expanding to more. When I first got the app, they were only in about 5, so I think they really are working on this.) Essentially, GrubHub is like the ultimate takeout menu, allowing you to search by Delivery, Pickup, or Both, noting which restaurants are open and which restaurants are not, listing prices, being pretty accurate about food options, and making it super easy to order delivery food from your phone. (I use it on MUNI on my way home when it’s Chinese food night.) You can save favorites, see former orders, and even pay with PayPal. We’ve found some of our favorite Chinese food, some totally decent Italian, and some really horrible other stuff, and the star-ratings seem to be completely arbitrary, or based on the eating habits of stoned college students, but the app is generally handy, and though I am not in love with the design (they’ve got this paper doll thing going on that’s a little creepy), it’s still easy to use. Best of all: they have a website that you can use the same account on, so if you’re at home browsing through Persephone articles and you get a craving for Crab Rangoons, order some up. Most restaurants have a minimum order that’s easy to satisfy, and every item you click on has a text box you can put specifications into (we add pineapple to our shrimp fried rice, and ask for no soy sauce in some other stuff, and the restaurants are always really good about doing what we ask). You can even add tip in advance to your order, or opt to pay with cash.

Anyway, those are my (current) top three favorite food-finding apps. What are some good ones you’ve tried?

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

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