You’re busy, you’re important, you need to find a restaurant from your phone, and it had better be good. Here are nine apps that work well. Famous web brands with tons of users are, unsurprisingly, the most reliable. But there are a few hidden gems. Many of these apps show all types of businesses, but I’m only looking at restaurants. (See our list of 12 restaurant apps that are not worth your time or money.)
1. Open Table
What does it do? Finds restaurants that have tables available for a specified time. Searches by restaurant or by the date and time you prefer to show all possible choices.
How well does it work? I use this app in my day-to-day life more than most others. You can also view menus (sort of; it takes you to the restaurant website, which may or may not be helpful). The interface seems cued for spontaneous types who prefer to see what’s available rather than schedule ahead.
What does it do? Find vegetarian restaurants at current location or by distance from a specified address.
How well does it work? Very simple interface makes it easy to find a restaurant. You can search via location, but you can’t search specific restaurant names. Restaurants are marked as vegan, vegetarian, vegetarian-friendly (and you can choose to only search vegan, or any or all of the options.) Reviews come from happycow.net, a reputable vegetarian restaurant listings site. You have to jump slightly out of the app to a non-mobile-friendly website in order to see reviews.
3. Menu Pages
What does it do? Searches by location, features, or cuisine. Shows details (address, hours, price, website, phone number, map), user-generated reviews (star ratings based on food, service, value, atmosphere), and menu.
How well does it work? Easy to navigate, doesn’t clutter the page with too many features, and listings, reviews, and ratings seem legit and fair.
4. Around Me
What does it do? Uses Google data to show what’s nearby. No browse, no refine, no hours, no menus, no reviews.
How well does it work? Refreshing in its simplicity, especially when you don’t want to be distracted by reviews you may not trust. Really only shows you what’s around, judgment-free.
What does it do? Browses photos of dishes people have uploaded (“spotted”). Browses images by nearest, latest uploads, and bests. Locates the restaurant by address, phone, and map. Marks photos as “Nom it” (i.e., nominate because you like it) or “want it”; then you can track your noms and wants.
How well does it work? The focus on dishes rather than restaurants is a really smart move and sets the app apart from the other location-based stuff. Once you see a dish that you like, you can find more from that restaurant or more of that type of food.
What does it do? Browses restaurants by neighborhood, type of food, and features. Or you can shake it to get a random restaurant suggestion. Restaurant records show address, phone, map, and website, as well as a way for users to upload camera photos of menus. A little graphic visual shows when the restaurant is open. And you can also vote to say whether you like it or not and add a restaurant to favorites or wishlist.
How well does it work? Talk of the Town section shows restaurants recently reviewed by local critics and bloggers, with links to the reviews. I can’t seem to figure out how to browse for multiple categories (kid-friendly and pizza, for example). The restaurant records pack a lot of info into the space, and the critical reviews section is especially helpful.
What does it do? Shows all nearby businesses. Reviews are divided into long, short (“quick tips”), and highlights of reviews, which pick out menu items. Shows map, directions, search nearby. “The Regulars” shows Yelp’s version of a Foursquare mayor; the person with the most check-ins.
How well does it work? Filters by distance, price, whether it’s open right at that moment, and neighborhood. Displays “hours today,” which makes for uneven planning if today is not your concern.
What does it do? Nice interface allows search of places near your current location, near a specified address, or in a specified city. Detail pages show address, hours, and similar spots. Users can rate restaurants as well.
How well does it work? The similar places feature is good; no other apps I’ve seen show similar places right on the detail page of a restaurant. The more you rate, the more it thinks it knows what you like, and it shows a rotating module of places that are “sortuv similar.”
What does it do? Shows businesses near your current location or via search. Detail pages show phone number, address, hours, and Citysearch reviews.
How well does it work? Citysearch data is fairly reliable, and the editorial reviews are sound. The Explore tab shows curated lists with interesting themes like outdoor bars in San Francisco and farm-to-table restaurants.