The world’s 100 best restaurants, as chosen by a panel of food experts around the world and announced by William Reed Business Media last Wednesday, included 15 in the U.S. But by Yelp ratings, none of those 15 restaurants made our list of the best 100 restaurants in the country. In fact, none are among the best 1,000 in the country, according to Yelp users, who collectively rate more restaurants than any empaneled jury of experts ever could — and have a real soft spot for places that are never considered for best-of fine-dining lists.
To be clear, that’s no knock on any of William Reed’s 15 U.S. winners, which are linked at the bottom of this post should you like to take a bucket-list restaurant tour of the country. There’s no perfect way of ranking every restaurant in the U.S., let alone the world: Even if you could somehow try them all, you might get one on its best day and the next on its worst, and your taste might not match mine.
Yelp’s and William Reed’s latest lists of the top 15 U.S. restaurants differ in part because they exist in different slices of the American restaurant pie. The 15 American restaurants that William Reed named among the 100 best in the world all accept reservations; 13 of 15 have four dollar signs (above $61 per person) on Yelp, and the other two have three ($31-$60). Nine of the 15 are in New York City or San Francisco. All but one — San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn, a French restaurant — are categorized on Yelp as “New American.” The 15 restaurants at the top of Yelp’s list, by contrast, all get one dollar sign (under $10) or two ($11-$30), and nine of them don’t accept reservations. None are in NYC or SF. Eight of them have the words “deli,” “cafe,” “BBQ” or “Grille” in their names. Just one is French and only one serves New American food.
Though they aren’t in the top 1,000 on Yelp, all of the 15 recently decorated restaurants are highly rated, some very highly rated: Most are in the top 5 percent of restaurants in the country, and about half are in the top 2 percent. And within fine dining, they rank higher still: limit our universe to the roughly 1 in 1,000 U.S. restaurants that serve New American cuisine with four dollar signs and accept reservations, and most of the 15 would rank in the top 100 on Yelp. So it’s not so much that Yelpers and William Reed voters disagree on which high-end, innovative restaurants are best in that class, but that Yelp users are weighing that small minority of restaurants against the vast majority of restaurants that are never considered for lists like William Reed’s.
The two lists reflect differing approaches to judging. William Reed polls 1,040 anonymous food experts — 40 from each of 26 regions — who each vote for 10 restaurants, no more than six in their region, based on meals they’ve eaten over the last 18 months. Yelp has tens of millions of reviews for active U.S. restaurants. And while neither prescribes to voters how to rate restaurants, Yelp users may place a greater weight on value and less on food innovation. “By and large, they’re happier paying $8 for a very good burrito than $23 for a fancy one, and the ratings reflect that,” Will Oremus wrote for Slate in 2015, about Yelp’s own annual top 100 U.S. restaurants list.
Compare the abundant love that Yelp’s top 2017 restaurant gets — “very very very cool down to earth people who take extreme pride in their sandwiches and it shows,” according to a recent review for Tony’s Italian Delicatessen in Montgomery, Texas — with the tough love some reviewers give for Atelier Crenn. One reviewer, in giving it four stars, wrote, “I absolutely loved my overall dining experience at Atelier Crenn, but the reason for the 4 stars is because the wine pairing was subpar.”
There’s plenty of room on Yelp for every kind of cuisine at every price level. But Yelp reviewers, like most Americans, eat many more $8 burritos than $23 burritos, let alone $200 tasting menus, and more of their favorites are inexpensive restaurants they can afford to visit many times, not just on special occasions. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. restaurants have been reviewed at least once on Yelp. While no one person could have tried more than a tiny fraction of them, Yelp’s users collectively have rated far more than William Reed’s voters could. And over Yelp’s 13-year lifespan, its users have had many special meals. Even though the vast majority of Yelp users haven’t reviewed French Laundry — No. 68 on William Reed’s list — enough have for it to amass more than 2,000 reviews on Yelp. Besides French Laundry, four more of William Reed’s top 15 U.S. restaurants have more than 1,000 Yelp reviews.
To rank restaurants using Yelp ratings, we weight the number of reviews as well as the average ratings: The more people have rated a restaurant, the more confident we can be in the average rating. I checked the restaurants’ Yelp ranking two ways: counting all reviews equally, and weighting more recent ones more heavily. We used the latter method for our latest list of the Top 100 restaurants in the country, released in January. (All methods only count recommended Yelp reviews.)
We have a soft spot for Eleven Madison Park, which topped the global list and which shares a building with our New York City office, but recent Yelp reviewers have been less impressed by its famous tasting menus. Eleven Madison Park’s unweighted average rating is higher than its weighted one. (The owners plan to close and revamp the restaurant over the summer.)
Either way, Eleven Madison Park and many of the other honorees on William Reed’s list rank among the top 2 percent of reviewed U.S. restaurants. And for some diners, they might be among the very best restaurants in the world. They’re just not quite the favorites of Yelp reviewers.
See below for William Reed Media’s 15 Best Restaurants in the U.S: