June 26, 2022



Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in Texas proves review site is flawed

4 min read

I don’t use Yelp to guide my restaurant choices. I’m sure some Yelpers have good intentions and write thoughtful reviews, but they seem to be few and far between.

More often, I associate the platform with: “Food was excellent but server looked at me wrong. One star.” Or the classic: “If I could give zero stars I would.”

Scrolling through Yelp reviews always reveals a plethora of unreasonable complaints, or an excuse to dump on working class people who have the very difficult job of serving rude, entitled patrons every day. I’ve grown to see Yelp as the Facebook—or worse, the Nextdoor—of the food website world, where humanity and common sense go to die.

So, I wasn’t exactly the most amenable audience for Yelp’s just-dropped “Top 100 Places to Eat in Texas,” but it somehow made me eye-roll even more than usual. Looking through the Houston-area restaurants that made the list, it struck me that this Top 100 perfectly encapsulates how flawed the platform is.

For starters, the top restaurant located in Houston-proper, at number 14, is a pizzeria. Let’s be clear: This is not a dig at Gypsy Poet—its wood-fired pies are widely regarded as some of the best in Houston. Emphasis on: in Houston. Our city does many things very well, but it’s just not a pizza town. Houston pizza rising to the top of this statewide Yelp list is simply not representative of what the food scene is like here.

According to a Yelp spokesperson, the company’s methodology for drawing the list is to rank food businesses “using a number of factors including the total volume and ratings of reviews between January 1, 2017 and January 31, 2022.”

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What you end up with is a random collection that is nowhere near what a Top 100 best places to eat in Texas list should look like.

That being said, I was thrilled by a few of the inclusions on Yelp’s list. Treats of Mexico, at number 26, is a gem in Houston’s East End, and my go-to spot for mangonadas in the city. They also sell nieve—Mexican sorbet—and boast an impressive collection of Mexican candy. The ladies behind the counter are always warm and welcoming, and deserve all the recognition.

There are no other Houston Mexican restaurants on Yelp’s list. I’ll just leave that there.

I was also pleasantly surprised when I spotted Formosa Bubble Teahouse, a fantastic boba shop in Cypress I discovered when working on a comprehensive bubble tea guide to Houston for the Chronicle last year. It was worth my long drive out there and the owners are lovely.

The Original Kolache Shoppe, of course, is a very deserving addition, at number 65. There were a number of bakeries and other dessert shops included, such as Robin’s Snowflake Donuts & Cafe in Spring (number 5), Cool Cow Creamery in Kemah (number 9), A Cake Addict (number 22), Crumbville (number 41) and La Casa Bakery (number 80).

I love a sweet treat as much as the next person, but the category takes up so much space, when other cuisines that quintessentially define Houston don’t show up much on the list, if at all.

For example, we are known for our world-class Vietnamese and Viet-Cajun food—with the likes of Crawfish & Noodles, Huynh, Nam Giao, Thien Thanh, Pho Binh and many more—but there are only two Vietnamese restaurants on the list, Vietwich in Stafford (number 37) and Fu Manchung in Spring (number 40). I am now very keen to check them out (if I can get in the door now that the Yelp list has dropped).

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Houston has one of the best Indian-Pakistani food scenes in the country: Himalaya, Pondicheri, Kiran’s… But nope, nothing to be found. Lasbela Restaurant & Catering in Sugar Land (number 72) is the lone restaurant on Yelp’s Top 100 representing the cuisine.

The most egregious omission from Yelp’s list? Barbecue. There is only one joint listed and it’s not even in the city—Kat’s Barbecue in Santa Fe at number 6 (I haven’t been). I really need all these Yelpers to go check out the embarrassment of barbecue riches Houston has, including legends like Pinkerton’s, Truth, Blood Bros., Gatlin’s, Burns Original, Killen’s, Corkscrew, Feges, and the list goes on and on.

I love grabbing a container of Fabio Milano’s well-crafted fresh pasta at Fabio’s Artisan Pasta for my homecooking needs, but among the best places to eat in Houston? Come on.

It was a great day for Mediterranean food in Houston. Two Greek restaurants made the list, Athena’s Greek Kitchen (number 16) and Pappa Gyros in Katy (number 84), as well as Craft Pita (number 88), which landed a spot on Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook’s Top 20 most interesting list last year.

It’s great to see small, independent businesses get recognition. Many are struggling, hanging on by a thread from economic pressures plus the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the boost in sales from this Yelp list will save some, and bring others to the forefront of people’s minds when they wouldn’t have been otherwise. I just did not recognize my city or its food scene in this list.

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