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What Yelp and James Beard Have in Common

Scott Lucas | March 3, 2014 | Story Restaurants

Last week, Yelp released its first-ever nationwide list of what it calls the best restaurants in America, as rated by Yelp users. According to them, the best restaurant in America is Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Like most mainlanders, we'd never heard of it—but it sounds great. The Bay Area was well represented, with twelve restaurants on the list—running the gamut from the super-fancy (Yountville's The French Laundry at #34) to the causal (Roxie's Food Center in the Outer Mission at #43).

The Yelp 100 has great timing, because the James Beard Foundation, the most august of culinary rating institutions, recently released its own list of semifinalists for its awards, given out in May. It's a chance to compare the tastes of the professional gourmands with that of the enthusiastic amateurs. And sure enough, there are some pretty clear differences between the two lists.

Yelpers seem to disproportionately shower their love on barbeque joints, delis, tacos, and pizza (Berkeley's Cheese Board FTW!). Plenty of high-end spots made it onto the list, though, including Alinea in Chicago, Eleven Madison Park in New York, and Beverly Hills's Urusawa. But mainly this is a cheap-eats crowd. The Beards, on the other hand, focus only on fine dining at places like San Francisco's Coqueta, the Cavalier, and Tosca Cafe—home of the $42 half a roast chicken. So while the Yelpers were willing to clean themselves real nice, the Beards weren't willing to get their furs and pearls dirty by slumming it.

But it wasn't totally a tale of the Tri-Lambs and the Alpha Betas. In fact, the two lists overlapped on a handful of restaurants. Five of them, to be exact. The ones that had high levels of both snob and slob appeal were San Francisco's Gary Danko, New York's Gramercy Tavern, Washington D.C.'s Komi, Tampa's Bern's Steak House, and Austin's Uchi. (In the Bay Area, The French Laundry was the only place that had previously won a Beard Award and was also on the Yelp 100).

So have restaurant awards been disrupted forever more? Certainly there's a place for both kinds of ratings. But we're guessing the Yelp awards will turn out to be more profitable for the honorees. The Beard winners, for the most part, don't really need the help.

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