It’s Friday afternoon and after a long week of early mornings and late evenings, you’re sitting at your cubicle thinking you should treat yourself to happy hour, at a minimum, or maybe meet up with your best buds for dinner and drinks.
But there’s one problem. None of you can ever decide where to go, and you end up at the same, uninspiring place you went to last week.
Sound familiar? We thought so. We’ve all been in your shoes, suffering from analysis paralysis on where to go.
To help you out of this bad habit, we hunted down nine smartphone apps you should know about that just might help you find the next hidden gem before everyone else does, or maybe that super hot place everyone but you knows about.
Most of these apps are available for both iOS and Android, and all are free to download.
With curated collections based on trends like kick-ass burgers, outdoor seating, great coffee, gluten-free options and most popular restaurants of the week, Zomato makes it easy to conduct a broad search of what’s hot at any particular time. You can also browse by ratings. Have a craving for seafood in Dana Point? A recent search showed that Harbor Grill received the highest ratings from diners. The app shows all the information you need, including hours, address and menu. It’s remnant of the old Urbanspoon app because Zomato purchased that company in 2015.
Founded in 1999, Happy Cow is an app and online community dedicated to helping users find plant-based and vegan dining, as well as overall healthy food. It’s run by vegans and is a great way to locate vegan options no matter what part of the world you are in. The online community is passionate about the vegan lifestyle and this app not only finds the vegan restaurant you’re looking for, but also attempts to educate the community on a variety of topics near and dear to most vegans.
Find Me Gluten Free
Vouched for by the head Gem herself, Find Me Gluten Free helps those living a gluten-free lifestyle, either by choice or due to intolerances, eat safely and comfortably. Striving to help people find gluten free-friendly businesses, users can share their experiences with others in the form of star ratings and written reviews. Not all cities are covered, but you’re in luck as Los Angeles is one of the major cities represented in this app.
Jan Restaurant Finder
Jan Restaurant Finder is a cool little app that uses the GPS on your smartphone to locate all of the nearby restaurants via Google Places. After launching the app, once it’s connected to your GPS, nearby restaurant information, including telephone number and address, is displayed along with the distance from your location. It will also find ATM machines should you be looking to snag some cash for your restaurant foray. This app is Android only.
Long known for their restaurant guidebooks, Zagat also offers a mobile app for both Android and iPhone users. This is not a catch-all type of restaurant app, but more of a curated, best options app, where you’ll be presented with a list of restaurants that have been fully vetted by the Zagat editors. While this is another app that may not help you much in Des Moines, Iowa, they’ve got L.A. covered, as well as a majority of major cities throughout the U.S.
Started in 2009, Foodspotting takes a different approach to restaurant finding. As you might have gathered from the name, Foodspotting concentrates on dishes more so than restaurants, allowing users to post photographs and information about particular meals they’ve enjoyed at a restaurant. The user searches for a dish they may be craving, say mac and cheese, and the app returns results showing where that dish can be found. Over 2.5 million dishes have been “spotted” with more being added every day.
Another in the line of crowd-rated restaurant finders, this app lets you search by city and then provides hours, a map, a link to the establishment’s website, menu and reviews. It allows you to save a particular spot as a favorite, and even lets you call the restaurant straight from the app. There’s also a link to Uber inside the app, giving you a fare estimate and length of time to get to your chosen restaurant, and allowing you to go straight into the Uber app and order a ride. I put it through its paces searching to see if it could find one of my favorite donut places, The Donuttery in Huntington Beach, and it promptly found it and let me know it’s open 24 hours a day. (But of course I already knew that!)
Probably the granddaddy of all restaurant apps, Yelp has been around for a while and, as of the end of 2016, had approximately 121 million reviews. There’s lots of helpful information, but be on the lookout for sponsored results, which can give false high ratings. Be sure to check out Season 19, Episode 4 of “South Park” before you get the urge to start writing your own reviews. After you watch it you’ll see why it’s probably best to leave it to the professionals.
Foursquare City Guide
This app is one of my favorites for overall layout and information provided. Foursquare has all of the information you’ve come to expect of a restaurant-finding app, but has information categorized as tips, in lieu of reviews, that fellow Foursquare users provide. This app also allows for a better user experience, as it’s laid out more like a blog with much better photographs. Either the photographs are displayed better or Foursquare users are just better photographers; I do like the visual experience better than any of the other apps. If you’re one of those who like to check in, you can do that as well. Taking it through its paces, I entered a search for coffee in Santa Monica and the app delivered up Sidecar Doughnuts, with a 9.4 rating, as the highest-rated coffee location. Special side note: Go immediately to Sidecar Doughnuts next time you’re in Santa Monica and order huckleberry donuts! Lots of them!