So you’ve decided finally to go on a “Holiday” to New York City. Mazal Tov! You probably read by now in your guide books that NYC is the greatest food city in the world. And you are probably waking up every morning thanking god for the gift that keeps on giving, the TripAdvisor Rankings. Between the rankings, the guidebooks, and all the great recommendations by your neighbor’s house sitter Betty (you must go to bubba gump you must) who eloped to NYC last year with 75 of her closest friends, you are all set. Right? Not exactly. Lets take a moment and examine what is wrong with the above plan, and come up with a new one.
Whats wrong with the TA rankings: Everything, and nothing. Its just totally meaningless, especially in NYC. TA is a great traveling tool, but
pretty much totally useless in NYC as far as restaurants are concerned. The main reason for its uselessness is that there are much better research tools in NYC. (more on that later). But lets discuss the rankings for a second shall we. They are so flawed and so out of tune with reality that’s not even funny. The top 50 at the moment is a bizarre mishmash of classics and places I never even heard of. First of all the TA algorithm puts some major weight on the number of reviews. So older establishments may be higher than better reviewed younger ones. And then there are those that have 27 remarkably high reviews that made it all the way to the top 20. And not to mention that 25 of them may be coming from all their employees and families. I always recall this one particular place in Milan where the owner single-handedly put his place #1 with a bunch of obvious fake reviews. At some point he mistakenly gave himself one star, and that followed with 4 quick glorious reviews with a similar language. And once real reviews started coming in, he found himself arguing with every reviewer
But fake reviews don’t have much of a bearing on the busy NYC listings. Tourists do. TripAdvisor is predominately used by tourists, and its especially true in NYC. While you may see locals contribute in other towns and countries where there’s not much of a choice other than TA, in NYC locals use other sites like Yelp. Now, couple the tourist factor with the high volume factor I mentioned above and you can see why something like Basso56 will be near the top as its heavily reviewed by tourists thanks to its location near Times Square. Besides Basso, at the top of the Italian chain on TA at the moment you can find other Italian behemoths like Rafele, Piccola Cucina, Via Della Pace – places I never even heard of. But if you need more convincing than “Ziggy never heard of”, why not just go to Chowhound where all the NY foodies hang out and pull threads that discuss the best Italian in town. You will not find any of those places mentioned. What you will see mentioned are places like Maialino (#95), Babbo (#602), Marea (#194), Lincoln (#882), or even Ziggy fave Costata (#2605). TA numbers are all over the place as you can see, well outside of the top range for the unsuspecting tourist. So while you are eating a Carbonara with cream and bacon at a high ranked theater district place near you, locals out there enjoy the real thing with Guanciale and egg at Maialino.
Same applies to using the rankings everywhere else in the world. My favorite restaurant in our adapted home of Turks and Caicos is Caicos Cafe, rated #20 at the moment, pretty low in T&C standards.
Now, its time to ditch the guide book. Ok, wait.. pick it up.. its actually quite useful for many things. But not so much for food. Yes, you will get some good tips on some NY icons like Katz’s and Russ and Daughters that I recommend. But then you have something like pizza (namely Grimaldi’s) and bagels that NYC is so famous for. While you will not easily find better pastrami than Katz’s, you will easily find better pizza than Grimaldi’s. Actually, all you need to do while standing on line at Grimaldi’s with the rest of the tourists is look to you left at Juliana’s window to see where the real Grimaldi is doing his thing nowadays. But you dont even have to leave your neighborhood in Manhattan to get great pizza that is arguably better than Grimaldi’s.
Besides pizza, your guide book will mislead you in other areas. E.g. Hell’s Kitchen is not a safe area, the place for Italian is Little Italy, and Times Square is a foodie paradise. Your guide book may be up to date as far as facts are concerned (MoMA hours) but not concepts. Little Italy is now a block inside Chinatown riding one of those concepts. There are no Italians living there. Another thing to keep in mind is that the food contributors to the guides may not be necessarily “foodies”. Rick Steves for example does not strike me a foodie, and to follow his advice in Italy or anywhere else is Europe in this day and age is pretty silly. Eating at guidebook recommended establishments and high ranked TA spots also means eating with other tourists who are doing exactly the same thing. Some may find comfort with that, but if you are reading this blog chances are you want to eat where the locals eat.
And as for your neighbor Betty recommendations go, treat them like meeting your dentist at the supermarket. Smile, and move on. Unless Betty, is an avid Eating With Ziggy reader and/or does any of the following…
Read Chowhound – as I mentioned, this is where many of the NYC foodies hang out, and where I get many ideas. Chowhound is probably my wallet’s single worst offender.
Read Yelp Reviews instead of TA reviews. I already touched on this, and its fairly simple. Locals use Yelp, tourists use TA.
Read or Subscribe to Grub Street – You can get all sorts of interesting ideas there, especially from the power rankings. Same idea applies to Eater, or Serious Eats.
Hang out in the TripAdvisor NYC Forum. You dont even have to participate. Its amazing how much knowledge you can get just by reading the forum for a month or two. There are plenty of locals who contribute on a daily basis, and you can also find many discussions on dining by using the search feature
And the most important tip…
Read EatingWithZiggy. Whats so funny. Where do you think I derive my ideas from.
Happy eating, and happy planning!
Excellent post Zig. IMO TA restaurant rankings are worthless almost everywhere, not just NYC!