This week Yelp released their list of the Top 50 Places to Eat in Jacksonville. A lot of different magazines and publications create similar lists and we’ve been known to release our own lists by category (Best Burgers, Best Pizza, etc.). Usually those places on top 50 lists include a smattering of the usual suspects and consensus favorites plus frequent advertisers interspersed in the mix, sometimes deservingly and sometimes not. Yelp’s list appears to me to be very clearly algorithmic. There are places on the list that not a single food writer or blogger in Jax would put on their list. There are also places on the list that will frankly make you laugh that they somehow made this list (A shaved ice place, really?). The order of this list will also make you scratch your head and wonder what the heck they were thinking. Except there is no they. There’s a computer and computers run algorithms, they don’t quite think. While algorithms can be helpful they are also the bane of our existence. Communities across the country where Yelp launched these Top 50 lists would have been much better served if Yelp had gotten together their top reviewers with their community manager, used the algorithm to narrow the field to the top 150 places with food and then let the team build a list. Yelp’s community manager in Jax has a very good feel for our local food scene and could put together a list our community would actually benefit from. Instead we get this bizarre hodge podge where a fast casual biscuit spot is named the top restaurant in Jacksonville. Then we’re told that a juice bar is the 3rd best restaurant in Jax. It is quite good, but it’s not really a restaurant. Then a Westside sushi spot that doesn’t even offer toro on its regular menu (one of the key measures of whether a sushi spot is top notch according to sushi chefs) comes in at number 5. A food truck that’s not even in business any more comes in at 13. Finally at 15 you’ll find Orsay, the restaurant that among food writers in Jax ranks as the consensus best fine dining spot. This list is laughable way to rank the top 50 spots in Jax (at best!).
Here’s what the Yelp list is good for: Use this list to find new places to try. This list does succeed in including some of our favorite spots that have for far too long flown under the radar for folks who don’t read our blog regularly. Here are some of the more under the radar spots from this list that you should try:
Doro: This place is truly top notch and would likely rank very high on our list. Chef Chris Polidoro cooks in a style found nowhere else in Jax.
Balkan Cafe: Ever had Cevapi or Sudzuka? There is quality Eastern European cuisine in Jax and this is it.
Empanadas Factory: Love empanadas? This is the spot.
Soto’s Kitchen: Love arepas? This is the spot for that and more in Venezuelan cuisine.
Yafa Grill: Fresh affordable Mediterranean cuisine.
Southern Roots Filling Station: Solid vegan lunch anyone can love.