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.

Last week, I discussed eGullet, Mouthfuls, and Craigslist.


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.

Restaurant Review Sites in San Francisco, Part II 24 January,2006Jennifer Maiser

  • cookiecrumb

    Good overview. Thanks.
    I absolutely can’t negotiate Chowhound, and it is not on my “bookmarks” menu.
    Yelp — I will investigate.
    Next time I see you, I’ll fill you in on some old SF lore about the Marina Safeway. (Hint: “Tales of the City.”)

  • shuna fish lydon

    I heart you.

    If nothing else, I met you and many others in the food blogging world through Chowhound but concerning your Cons, it’s true, I rarely visit except to ask a very specific question.

    I guess I would also add that Chowhound is especially good for, but of course not limited to, Asian food, especially Chinese.

  • not yer mum

    I’ve found some very suspicious “reviews” on Citysearch that sound like pure promotion on the part of the restaurant. I tried reporting it once but got no response. My guess is they don’t want to piss off advertisers.

  • ketket

    True you cannot do searches for very specific questions on Yelp such as “Where to go after the theatre?”, etc…

    BUT, Yelp does have a very active Talk section where (similar to Chowhound) if you ask a very specific question, you are bound to get some very very helpful answers, and fast as well!

    I have to say, I have been very impressed with the helpfulness of Yelp users and their will to share information and take their time to actually do research for you, to get you accurate and valuable answers.

    And, many times, you post a question and people answer you within minutes!

    A couple of weeks ago I needed some food suggestions when taking a trip and the help I got from Yelp users was invaluable!

    Nuff said!

  • Sam

    Yelp is fantastic – especially for non-food things. We found both a fabulous dentist and a great doctor by using yelp. It rocks!

  • jen’s mom

    Chowhound makes me feel stupid because I can’t navigate in it…nonetheless I can’t be mad at a site that gave us a recommendation for that yumbo Chicken Vesuvious in Chicago that I ate TWO of!

  • Anonymous

    I think one site gets overlooked quite a bite. I find it useful although it is a bit underused in the San Francisco Bay area http://www.we8there.com

  • Anonymous

    I am partial to Gault Milleu’s site http://www.gayot.com. City Search has gone down a lot recently and they push their advertisers, which is annoying and makes me not trust them.

  • Michael

    I believe the average yelper is older than twenty-something. It appears the people who post reviews most often are thirty to forty-plus. I think the site is amazing because people yelp about anything and everything, not just restaurants and stores, but useful things like doctors, dentists, dry cleaners, and vets, and fun topics like Girl Scout Cookies, Ex-Boyfriends, and even Squirrels, too. A lot of these people are VERY dedicated – many have posted 500+ reviews, a few more than 1,000, and one has written over 2,000!!!

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with the above comment regarding “Where to go after the theatre?”. Yelp.com has an amazing “TALK” section where I can usually find out very specific information quickly by people that have done it. For example, last week, I was craving good Biscuits and Gravy, and although it was 8am on a weekend, I had 4 good choices delivered by 3 people in less than 10 minutes, and was devouring my food within the hour…

  • Maria

    Hey, thanks for quoting my review of the Marina safeway. Interesting that you preface it by saying you feel like you are listening in on bar conversations in the Marina since, if you take one look at my reviews, you can see that I am a classic dive bar Haight/Mission dweller. Anyway, thanks! Chowhound is good, but so hard to use that I never go back to it.

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree that the Yelp talk section is amazing. Any question asked usually gets at least a dozen helpful answers. There might be a lot of contradictions, and some discussions get ugly, but that’s the fun thing about a site where people with opinions are eager to express them. I think it’s amazing that so many people have written 100s, even 1000s of reviews. I think those are the people whose opinions are the most valid. I’m wary of anyone who writes only a couple of reviews that are rants, it looks like they have an ax to grind. By all means, take a look at Yelp.com.


Jennifer Maiser

“My passion for food began young.”

I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers.

I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003.

I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, which was released in February 2010.

I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what’s in season and chatting with farmers.

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