Friday, May 20, 2011

Top 5 Mobile Apps for Syracuse Dining

The following are a list of free food and restaurant apps that are helpful for Syracuse dining. I tend to use these apps a few times a week depending on which one. It's amazing to me how fast this technology has taken off. About a year before this blog, I was one of a handful of people reviewing on Now their mobile site generates new local reviews daily, which goes to show how fast things can change nowadays. So as a fair warning, this post may become out-dated very soon. Until then, here's my Top 5 Mobile Apps for Syracuse Dining...

1) Yelp
I tend to prefer the actual website over the mobile version, but Yelp is an extremely helpful restaurant app that lets users rate each place on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and allows other users vote on whether that review was "helpful", "funny", or "cool". Users can also announce "check-ins" (albeit pointless, in my opinion), give short and helpful tips, as well as send compliments and responses to other reviewers. It's widely used and a great resource for finding new restaurants in Syracuse and whatever other city you may happen to be in. There are some extremely useful reviews that in some cases, come loaded with information and in-the-know tips. However, it does come with its fair share of things you have to watch out for: owners, workers, and their friends shamelessly inflating their own restaurant ratings. Helpful tips? Be cautious of users with only 1 review under their belt, reviews that have 1 or 2 sentences, and words like "great", "amazing", and "best ever". Though to their credit, Yelp does a decent job of filtering these kinds of reviews and puts questionable ones onto a separate password-entry page.
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2) Urbanspoon
Urbanspoon is essentially part magic 8 ball and part slot machine. Enter your location (or lock-in your area, cuisine, and/or price range) and it reveals a nearby restaurant for you to try under the guidelines you specified in the style of a casino slot machine. It's a nice little feature if only for fun, curiosity, and going somewhere on a whim. You can also sort through pictures, make friends, browse what's nearby, and read mostly short, yet informative reviews of local restaurants. The Syracuse section could use some work as some restaurants are quite barren in the review department, but overall, it's a good restaurant app that seems to get better and better as more reviews and pictures come in.
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3) Food Spotting
This one has limited local representation due to Syracuse's small size, but it's still a great source for discovering new food. It's essentially a non-review, photo-style app that allows members to snap and upload their pictures. The thing I love about it is that it allows you to sift through and find pictures from nearby restaurants and sort them by proximity, date, or viewer rating. So instead of reading reviews, you can just scroll through the best pics of food that are practically within walking distance. I haven't done any uploading myself, but it's a cool little app and fun to uncover different kinds of menu items from around the city.
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4) Living Social
While there seems to be half a dozen coupon apps now, Living Social is great because it tends to feature very good deals going on in and around Syracuse. The gist is that you buy a voucher and receive anywhere from up to 90%-off. Additionally, if 3 of your friends each buy the same deal that day, you get yours for free (which in some cases can be a free $50 depending on the deal). I've seen a few local spots on here including Columbus Bakery and Smith's Restaurant Supply (which I bought a really nice cast-iron skillet with), so it's definitely worth checking out. Mind you, the deals change daily and do expire, so you almost have to remind yourself to keep checking in everyday.
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5) Seafood Watch
Seafood Watch is the ultimate seafood app complete with regional guides, updates on seafood and sushi quality, what the "best choice" is, what to "avoid", and information on how each variety is captured, raised, and shipped. It's definitely a very easy to use "green" app and worth checking out if you're concerned at all with treatment and health risks associated with any kind of seafood.
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Honorable Mention
This CNY-based app is great for finding local produce in and around Syracuse. Browse through directories of regional farms, CSAs, farmers markets, natural food stores, and locavore restaurants. Also, learn where to purchase the freshest produce like grass-fed beef (mmmm), free-range eggs, organic and sustainably grown fruits and vegetables, and locally produced wines, to name just a few products. Definitely a worthy addition to your iPhone if you live in Central New York, especially with summer right around the corner.

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