The majority of us will, at some point, use online reviews to decide where to go for dinner. You’ll read some of the reviews, look at the overall ratings, and then make a subjective decision based on that information and roll the dice. After you try it out, you may even leave a review yourself!
Back in March, we decided we wanted to answer that same question – “Where is the best place to eat?”. But instead of just looking for good eats within a few miles of the office, we opened up that question to the rest of the country. We selected eight cities across the country within similar population ranges (six figures), and used Yelp to determine what the two best restaurants are in each of those cities.
We wanted to find America’s favorite restaurant, as decided by the people.
That is how our month-long Review War with a bracket of 16 restaurants kicked off. Each week, a restaurant unknowingly went head-to-head against other favorites, earning their respective victories by getting more high-quality reviews than their competition. Last week, our final pair squared off to determine which was the Best Restaurant in America.
Here are those results.
Final: Orenchi Ramen VS Saw’s Soul Kitchen
WINNER – SAW’S SOUL KITCHEN
Orenchi Ramen (Santa Clara) – 11 reviews, 3.3 star average
Saw’s Soul Kitchen (Birmingham) – 3 reviews, 5.0 star average
From the very beginning, I thought the numbers were for Orenchi Ramen. If this were the NCAA, they would have been seeded for #1, and Saw’s Soul Kitchen would have been #14. Why is that? Orenchi Ramen gets a ton of reviews, beginning the tournament with 4,237 listed on Yelp, and an average rating of 4 stars. Meanwhile, the underdog started with a meager 255 reviews, with an overall rating of 4.5 stars.
This disparity exists because the amount of people that use Yelp can vary a lot by region. Both restaurants were near the top for the amount of reviews (and overall rating) for their area; that’s how they got chosen. But Orenchi Ramen began with several thousand more reviews than #2, and they continued to run up the score every week.
All they had to do to win the whole thing was bring in reviews as they have been normally doing, and not suck. But….that’s not quite what happened.
Judging by the dozens of reviews I’ve been reading, Orenchi Ramen has excellent food and is immensely popular. But at this point, they are beginning to be so busy it is hurting their level of service. Locally, there has been a lot of hype about this restaurant. The lines and the respective wait in them are typically pretty long, and not only do customers not appreciate the wait, but it actually increases their expectations (if people are waiting so long, it must be good). In that situation, you probably need to blow their minds for them to be happy.
That apparently hasn’t been happening, because even though their overall rating is 4 stars (a good place to be), this year their reviews have been on a slow and steady decrease in quality, currently at 3.7 stars for the month, and 3.3 for the week. Being the best restaurant isn’t always about just making the best food, but the overall experience your patrons enjoy.
But Orenchi Ramen didn’t beat themselves. Their competitor in the final round, Saw’s Soul Kitchen, clearly is doing something right. They may not have has many reviews as their opponent, but Saw’s has not only been getting a steady flow of reviews each week, but they are high ratings that are trending up over time.
Their customers usually give them 5-star ravings, and the only bad review they have had the entire month of this tournament came from someone who didn’t actually eat there (no tables immediately available). Yelp’s filter normally would remove a 1-star review from a non-patron who has no Yelp friends and no other reviews, but this one got by somehow.
If you love barbecue and comfort food, there is no question that Saw’s will serve you right. Being confined to a small location, customers do struggle with lines and wait times, but the difference between these lines and those and Orenchi Ramen the customers overwhelmingly shout in unison, “TOTALLY WORTH IT”.
Never in my life have I ever been excited by grits. I like them well enough, and ate them a lot growing up. Grits, and greens, for that matter, don’t tend to induce excitement, yet both of those items have been mentioned as being amazing dishes in over 20 5-star ratings. One then must wonder, if they can do that with grits and greens, how good is their pulled pork? I’ll leave that question to one of their customers.