How To: Research Restaurants Before You Dine

Many people search Google for restaurant reviews and are not sure about where they should be looking for reviews or the reputation of where they are looking. Big cities have a number of resources for residents, but coming from a smaller place like Tampa we only have a few guaranteed spots to research restaurants before you eat. Here is my guide to researching restaurants that pretty much anyone should be able to use.

1. Yelp

Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) is a great restaurant review site for a number of reasons. Each restaurant has an individual page filled with reviews, photos, and owner input as well. Cities also have home pages where you can view the top places in each city and the talk of the town. One of the things that makes Yelp stand above the top though is the sense of community it has. Even some smaller cities have active Elite Yelpers that regularly review restaurants and businesses. If you message someone asking for help or post in the Talk thread you will likely get a reply helping you out. You can check each persons page and see if they like what you like and also how reputable they are. Do they have only 1 review and say that a restaurant sucks? If they do you may want to question their recommendations. You can take Yelp with you on the go through their phone applications as well. Yelp Tampa can be found at: http://www.yelp.com/tampa-fl

2. Urbanspoon

Urbanspoon (http://www.urbanspoon.com) has city pages just like Yelp does. Urbanspoon is not quite as flashy though and most people simple use a button to decide whether they like or dislike a restaurant. This allows for more user feedback, but at the same time lowers what you can get out of it. Like Yelp you can view each users page and check their reputation. Urbanspoon also does a good job of separating businesses into neighborhoods so it is easier to find the top place in Brandon or Ybor City. There is still an ability to review businesses, which some people take advantage of, and Urbanspoon has just started to allow reviews of specific menu items so you can find out just how the Chicken Marsala is at a restaurant. Urbanspoon also has phone apps that you can carry with you on the go. To visit Urbanspoon’s Tampa page visit: http://www.urbanspoon.com/c/30/Tampa-Bay-restaurants.html

3. Urbanspoon Blog Leaderboard

One feature that is unique to Urbanspoon is their blog leaderboard (http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs). This feature lists the top blogs according to the city you are currently reading about and also the number of views/posts on the blog. You can also take it to a worldwide-view and see the top blogs around the world. This may help to find more personal reviews if that is what you are searching for. There are few other good listings of local food blogs so I suggest this for those of you searching for local blogs in your area. Urbanspoon’s Tampa Blog Leaderboard can be found at: http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs/30/Tampa-Bay.html

4. Chowhound Message Boards

Chowhound (http://www.chowhound.com) uses a much simpler site than that of Urbanspoon and Yelp, but it is still quite efficient. They have their main pages for big towns and then you can head into their message boards for information from some of your local foodies tips and recommendations. Frequent topics will be about the top restaurants in a food category or places to take someone for Christmas, for example. There is a search bar at the top where you can search for a restaurant you are trying to find out about or you start a thread asking about a place as well. Chowhound’s Florida Board can be found at: http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/10

5. Foodspotting

Foodspotting (http://www.foodspotting.com) is a relatively new site that keeps getting better everyday. You can search specific menu items in an area using their website or app and then look at how a dish actually looks at a restaurant and read comments people post about that menu item. If you have the app on your iPhone you can also upload photos to it while you are out and tag it to a restaurant, or wait until you are home and upload your photos manually using their upload form. You can search by city as well and few the latest things spotted in town. Tampa’s foodspotting page: http://www.foodspotting.com/#/loc/Tampa, FL/

Depending on which city you live in there may be other resources you can use, such as Zagat and Thrillist. Foursquare‘s growth has allowed more tips to allow on business pages as well. However, if you live in a smaller town or area then you still have all the resources I listed above so get researching and have a great bite to eat!

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Food Adventures #002

This past week was a much slower week in food adventures. Most of what I ate was either home-cooked or some form of fast food (in fact I have been eating way too much fast food…such a waste of money and not to mention super bad for you). However, I did make a few stops worth mentioning.

Last Thursday I revisited one of my old neighborhoods out in Carrollwood with some friends. This trip was inspired by a trip to Mr. Dunderbak’s which a German friend of mine wanted to try out. After checking the place out and deciding maybe German just isn’t for me and trying some beer-battered onion rings at Mr. D’s made me remember how amazing onion rings taste at an old favorite of mine, we went to Gino’s Italian Restaurant on Armenia Avenue and Linebaugh.

I used to live right next door in an apartment complex called Deer Path so I was a regular at Gino’s. When I used to call them they already knew what I wanted just by hearing my voice, a tasty burger with onion rings and extra mayo on the side. When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see the entire restaurant full, this place deserves a crowd. We were seated within a few minutes.

My friends ordered dessert and I ordered one of my favorite burgers, their Mother Earth burger, which comes loaded with mushrooms and cheddar cheese. While we waited for our food I told some stories of growing up by here, a quiet neighborhood with nothing but a golf course nearby. My friend’s dessert came and everyone demolished it…great taste. I had sold all my friends on this place just with that.

Then my burger arrived. The fresh look impressed my friend. The lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on the side neatly cut. Just the smell was driving me crazy. When I took a bite into that burger it was like I had gone back in time because it tasted exactly the same as when I came here years ago. That is one hard thing to have in Tampa, where chefs are changing all the time and flavor rises and sinks all the time. The cheese had so much flavor and the mushrooms were fantastic. Even the onion rings were exactly the same, crunchy and juicy. Maybe the best onion rings I have had. My friends sampled them and enjoyed them as well. Everyone was wishing we had just gone here first after all my raving was backed up with evidence.

My only other food adventure was to The Wat Thai Temple on Palm River Road on Sunday. I arrived a little late in the day, but was still able to grab some Fried Bananas and those snacks are so delicious. They were hot and I burned my mouth, but I did not care because they were just that good. I will have to go earlier and cover more of their food in the future.

Restaurant/Venues mentions:

Gino’s Restaurant & Bar

Address: 10006 North Armenia Avenue Tampa, FL 33612

Phone #: (813) 933-1089

Website: http://www.ginosrestaurantbar.com/

Foursquare: http://foursquare.com/venue/1849405

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/ginos-bar-and-restaurant-tampa

Gino's Bar on Urbanspoon

The Wat Thai Temple Market (Open Sundays from 10am-2pm)

Address: 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, FL 33619

Website: http://www.wattampainenglish.com/

Foursquare: http://foursquare.com/venue/414273

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/wat-mongkolratanaram-of-florida-tampa-2