The recent federal appeals court ruling that Yelp is entitled to set a price for its ads only underscores what some small business owners have suggested for years, mainly that Yelp will toss away bad reviews and enhance good reviews if you pay their advertising cost. Don't pay the fee, and you might find those great reviews of your business suddenly vanish.
Yet, even before these accusations arose, there was a certain level of mistrust for crowdsourcing sites like Yelp or UrbanSpoon, most notably trusting the expertise of the reviewer. Are you really going to let Bubba from Buffalo dictate the restaurants you visit in Manhattan? For all I know, this is the first time he's ever tried dim sum in his life, so of course he loved or hated the har gow.
Thankfully, there are some new crowdsourcing sites that might just rise to the level of expertise most foodies seek. Find. Eat. Drink. is a free iPhone app that culls recommendations from chefs, sommeliers, and bartenders from around North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Chefs Feed details favorite dishes from chefs in the US, Canada, and London.
In the meantime, you'd be wise to do your research before you leave home. Here are some good ways to prepare.
Talk to a Local
Put out a missive to family and friends and find that guy who lives in the area you're going to. This is by far the best source of information. Thanks to social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, you'll be surprised at how many people know the destination you're visiting intimately. Similar to Yelp, however, you'll have to trust your Facebook friend's taste.
Download Food and Travel Stories
Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather visit Paris with local expert Alexander Lobrano's picks in hand than rely on a crowdsourcing site. You can tell rather quickly whether a writer knows the subject well or is just painting by numbers. For example, researching Lausanne, I found a Parisian food blogger named David Lebovitz who devoted an entire essay to his favorite bins in a nearby food market. Bingo!
Look at Chowhound
Still my go-to site for finding local expertise. Actually, many of Chowhound's contributors are fanatical foodies who will think nothing about writing a treatise-length exposition on the varying Thai regional fare found in Woodside, Queens. If you can dig through the countless pages, you'll find golden nuggets of advice.
Trust the Concierge
Gone are the days when you couldn't trust the concierge because he was most likely receiving kickbacks from restaurants he recommended. Today, the concierge is a valuable asset who sincerely wants to dispense his wisdom and can often get a reservation when you fail. At the Fairmont San Francisco earlier this summer, a concierge suggested an excellent Indian restaurant and snagged us a coveted reservation within 30 minutes. Other properties like the Four Seasons Austin have printouts of their favorite local restaurants for families in town. It's worth asking.