11 Essential Dining Apps

May 23, 2013 Updated: June 1, 2013    

New York City offers a plethora of dining options. You can journey the world with cuisines from nearly every ethnicity. There is an atmosphere for every mood as well: from swank to gritty, and from communal to private. Navigating the sea of possibilities could be time-consuming and difficult. The following 11 smartphone apps will help you discover great dining options, pick the right dishes, order take-out or reserve a table online, and save you time and money along the way.

1. Yelp
Yelp is the king of user reviews. No other app has as many reviews for as many establishments. The mobile app combines great search functionality, check-ins, deals, and the ability to interact with friends and other users. Yelp is not limited to restaurant reviews, but those do make up about a quarter of the content.

Recommended uses:
Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Ness are three top choices for your main dining App. Yelp is the best in terms of reviews. Urbanspoon offers the the ability to make reservations online. Ness stands out with great design and usability, an intelligent recommendation engine, and social media integration. Yelp and Ness offer many more photos for each establishment than Urbanspoon does.

2. Urbanspoon
Urbanspoon is one of the most popular iPhone dining apps. The interface is intuitive and allows one to sort by proximity, ratings, and price. One of the great features is a type of restaurant roulette called “Shake,” which can become useful when out with a group in a neighborhood like Chelsea where options are abundant. Press the “Shake” button and the app will pick a random option nearby. If the group has a preference for price, cuisine, or location, you can lock any of the options and let Lady Fortune take over from there. UrbanSpoon can also be used to make reservations, but it covers fewer restaurants than OpenTable, which dominates the online reservations market.

Recommended uses:
When you have a group having trouble making a decision on a restaurant
When you want to try your luck and discover something new
Quick and efficient restaurant search

3. Ness
Ness is a full-featured restaurant search app. It keeps track of your restaurant preferences to make suggestions. The more you use it the smarter in becomes. Its algorithm works similar to music apps like Pandora and Spotify: as you dismiss, save, or rate places, Ness learns your tastes to make better recommendations. Ness integrates with other social media apps to allow you to quickly invite friends to dine out. The app also sources information from Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to gauge the popularity and ratings of each restaurant.

Recommended uses:
Finding restaurants based on time of day
Dining recommendations based on past preferences

4. Hoppit
Hoppit can help you choose a restaurant based on the ambiance and the guests you intend to bring. There are ambiance options like classy and upscale, hipster, romantic, cozy and quaint, swanky and posh, old world and vintage, and more. The app also sorts results based on your guests, whether it be a 2-year-old, or a book.

Recommended uses:
Finding the right setting for specific tasks and moods. Think lunches with clients, study sessions, coffee on a rainy day, first dates, etc.
Making sure you fit in terms of attire before heading out to a place

5. Foodspotting
Foodspotting brings the concept of instant gratification one step closer to reality by allowing you to search for top rated dishes rather than restaurants. Want the best rated dumplings? Type that into the search bar and the app will bring up the top user-rated dumplings in the city. The app also lets users follow each other and populates dishes favorited by friends.

Recommended uses:
Zeroing in on great food discoveries and sharing your own diamonds-in-the-rough with others
This app is a great way to hunt for great dishes visually

6+7 GrubHub and Seamless
GrubHub and Seamless are the two major apps for ordering food to be delivered to your home. Both apps offer a quick and easy way to find and order food from local restaurants. Seamless has been around for longer and supports corporate accounts. The ordering process in both apps is simple and intuitive: find a restaurant, place your order, and receive your delivery.

Recommended uses:
If you have a corporate spending account that works with Seamless, that’s the way to go. Otherwise, pick one app and stick with it; there aren’t many differences.

8. Clean Plates
Clean Plates describes itself as a Zagat with a healthy twist. The app can help you make healthier choices when looking for a restaurant. Clean Plates features search filters for vegetarians and vegans. It also makes it easy to find places which offer naturally sweet foods, gluten-free dishes, natural meats, and even raw offerings. The ratings in Clean Plates are based on a sound nutritional philosophy that stresses natural, whole, toxin-free, and sustainable ingredients.

Recommended uses:
Clean plates is the best app for finding vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Even vegetarian- and vegan-specific apps produce fewer results and less adequate reviews.
People with specific diets will find that Clean Plates is a great solution for finding places to eat.
The app’s restaurant ratings stress that dishes be delicious as well as healthy, so Clean Plates is a gateway to healthy eating for those who don’t want to sacrifice taste for health.

9. LocalEats
LocalEats is a way to find the best-rated local restaurants in any given area. The app does not list chain restaurants and brands. LocalEats compiles reviews from critics, bloggers, “trusted friends,” as well as the users. LocalEats also offers users a variety of top lists, like “Top 10 Breakfast Restaurants in America” or “Top 10 Vegetarian Restaurants in America.”

Recommended uses:
Times when you want to try the best an area has to offer
Occasions when the restaurant choice has to be foolproof

10. OpenTable
OpenTable holds the monopoly on the market for reserving restaurant tables online. It was the first player on the market and has expanded to 25,000 restaurants since opening in 1998. Its only competitor is UrbanSpoon, which has much less market share. As far as apps go, UrbanSpoon offers many more features than OpenTable, but covers fewer restaurants.

Recommended uses:
This app is best used to make reservations once you found the place you like through other more full-featured apps.

11. Happy Hours
This app lists Happy Hour times for over a hundred major cities. Use this app to save money on food and drinks. Happy Hours allows users to drill down based on features like “outdoor seating,” “rooftop,” “pitchers,” and “private parking,” among others.

Recommended uses:
Times when you are on a tight budget
Planning a group event