The way we used to eat: a case for ignoring Yelp for a while

The other day my girlfriend prompted a discussion of how we used to learn about food in Astoria when she first moved here, having been the early adopter of this neighborhood between the two of us.

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At that time, word of mouth was key. Places recommended to us by long time residents and friends who already knew the neighborhood. In fact, that’s how I found my favorite restaurant in Astoria, Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna.

And not knowing anyone in your new neighborhood is only a slim barrier to talking to other people about food. Online forums, message boards, Twitter, food blogs and more make it relatively easy to plug into a vast network of local recommendations that are much less of a series of reviews as on Yelp, and far more of an ebullient discussion of what we love. In the chasm between reviews and recommendations, I’ve often thought we lose a lot of heart.

The other way we decided where to eat was to walk around and see what looked interesting or what places were bustling or packed. I was recently talking with a couple of young tourists from Germany who told me they knew King of Falafel and Shawarma must be good because of the long line. While not a foolproof map to a great meal, checking out where the crowds are can be an excellent, eye-opening crash course in place.

Last but not least, we had a willingness to try things that were not reviewed, and sometimes even places or meals that were simply not good as we learned Astoria. Now I – dare I say we – spend so much time curating our eating experience with sites like Yelp to try and only have the best of the best to eat. But in that method we lose some of our unique subjectivity, and the fun of trying and deciding for ourselves.

This is not to say that review and ranking sites and apps don’t have any usefulness, but rather that they were not always with us, and we found other ways to eat well that were more intimately linked to people and places, and perhaps even to our own selves.

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