You’re out with friends or family in an unfamiliar place, and there’s a terrible noise: it’s your stomach, demanding food.
The problem? You’ve got no idea where to find a decent eatery that will please everyone. You could stalk the streets, scanning for the nearest recognisable fast food joint, or get a bit fancy and type ‘restaurant’ into Google Maps.
Unfortunately, neither option gives you the inside scoop on where’s good to eat – but help is at hand, in the shape of myriad dedicated on-the-go eating apps.
But which one is best? App stores are packed with restaurant and street food guides, but – much like the eateries themselves – it’s hard to know which to go for.
Which one will really find you somewhere good that serves what you want, when you want it and for the price you want to pay?
But download these fine choices, and you’ll be chowing down on brilliant, affordable fare in no time.
Yelp’s contents aren’t focused solely on restaurants, but its army of volunteer reviewers do a superb job of sharing local knowledge.
The main strength of this app is finding out whether a new restaurant used to be a House of Salmonella, or if the vegan options are really worth walking a few minutes further for, thanks to the ‘behind the scenes’ information from previous visitors.
Searching for a place to eat is speedy – the app uses either your phone’s GPS or a location you specify, and you can search by cuisine, food type or phrases such as ‘best burgers’ for more targeted suggestions.
It’s worth paying particular attention to reviews by ‘Elite Yelpers’, as they’re the ones who post the most and seem to steer you towards the best places to eat.
OpenTable powers the online booking services for many restaurants, meaning it’s in a prime position to fill unbooked tables with special offers – and as a user, that means you can both nab a spot at a top eaterie and possibly save money too.
You’ll often find that participating restaurants run special offers earlier in the evening, and if you like the sound of one you can book it from within the app (imagine solving the issue of where to go, only to find you can’t get in…).
The map can be a bit slow to access – by the time it loads you may have started eating the phone – and it only shows OpenTable clients, so don’t be surprised if a specific place you’ve seen on your travels doesn’t appear in your search results.
TripAdvisor users review a wide variety of things for the tourist, and do so rather frequently – so even the anonymous chain restaurant down the road from us has 493 reviews.
As with most online ratings we’d advise you to treat the 5-star and 1-star verdicts with caution, to avoid restaurant owners and their friends painting an overly-rosy picture at one end of the scale, and vindictive customers, or rival restaurateurs pretending to be ordinary customers, at the other.
But when it comes to sheer numbers, both of featured establishments and customer opinions, TripAdvisor is hard to beat, and will mostly give you reliable information on where it’s worth spending your money to fill your belly.
We find it particularly useful when travelling – although we’re also big fans of sitting at home, reading restaurateurs’ restrained responses to angry customers they clearly want to murder.
4. Where Chefs Eat
Price: £10.99 / $13 / AU$18 iOS
Best for: Insider info
Where Chefs Eat is best known for the printed tome, which asks 600 leading chefs about 3,200 restaurants in 70 countries to create one of the most authoritative restaurant guides around.
The app takes that information to your smartphone and plugs in location awareness, so you can see if anywhere nearby has a top chef’s seal of approval. It’s only useful if you’re in a busy metropolis, and be warned: while most reviews of the app rate its recommendations positively, a number of users appear to have had problems.
The main one appears to be with the map crashing the entire app, which isn’t ideal given the entire point is using the map to help you find the right places to eat.
However, given the extremely valuable information the app offers for those looking for finer dining (and the fact the crashing issue doesn’t affect all phones) we’d say it’s still worthy of a place on the list, but be aware of Apple’s app returns policy if you choose to fork out for this pricier title.
Urbanspoon is an established app, and its recent tie-up with the globe-straddling Zomato restaurant recommendation system means it’s even better at recommending the right places to eat for your budget.
The collaboration means you’re covered for food choices in the US, Canada and the major cities of the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, plus it integrates with services such as OpenTable (in the US) and Bookatable (in the UK) so that you can book as well as browse.
It’s jam-packed with information, and the app itself is regularly updated to iron out any niggles.
Yes, this is just for the Brits, but it’s worth mentioning if only to show how such an app should be done.
The fad for street food now has an excellent app to go with it, with simple colour-coding making it clear on the map whether a particular vendor is open, due to open or currently closed.
As with the outdoors food craze itself, the app is less exciting the further you get from England’s most populated places: trying the app in Glasgow we found just three vendors, and two of those were closed (although things get much more tasty and well-stocked in places like London or Bristol).
Listings are written by the vendors themselves, but users can leave ratings, which are worth looking at to get a real sense of how good the food actually is.
Don’t expect TripAdvisor-style screens showing review after review – this is currently a fairly niche app with relatively few users – but the reviews submitted seem honest enough, and offer a quick fix if you don’t want to head indoors to eat.
All the other apps we’ve listed here are based around helping you find specific restaurants, but Foodspotting is all about types of food – so when you let it access your phone’s location, it shows specific dishes rather than eateries.
You can use it in two ways: by browsing dishes, like a kind of Tinder for your taste buds (although you can’t reject a burger based on its profile), or by searching for specific meals to find out where they’re available and how many users loved them.
In a nice touch the app links out to Yelp for reviews and additional opening information, so you can find a place and then double-check that it meets your criteria with the help of like-minded munchers.
This article is brought to you in association with Tesco Mobile