When you move to a new city and don’t have friends to rely on for restaurant recommendations, many of us turn to crowdsourced review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor. Founded in 2004, Yelp has become a global staple with more than 135 million reviews and 95 million monthly visitors. With the Denver restaurant scene expanding more each day, sites like Yelp can make or break a business.

This puts a lot of power in the hands of the people, especially the Yelp Elite — those who are highlighted because of their proven track record of frequent and fair reviews. We caught up with Denver’s top Elite Yelpers to ask about the good, the bad and the delicious that’s come from their experiences with the site. 

Christopher B.

Christopher B. is a marketing manager for a non-profit orthopedics company. He has been using Yelp for more than a decade, and he eats out a few times per week. To date, he has written 1,575 reviews on Yelp.

303: How did you get into Yelp? Why is it something you continue to do?

CB: When I moved to Los Angeles in 2005, I was frustrated with the lack of quality websites so I struggled to find specific restaurants I’d like. Later that year, I discovered Yelp and it didn’t take long for me to see what a great resource it was. In fact, I purposely (and ironically) went to a few two star restaurants just to compare the accuracy for myself, and that’s when I got hooked. I did it partly because I wanted to give back and help people make good dining choices. The other reason is that both my mom and sister have culinary degrees so I was lucky to always have amazing food around me. Now, I’m always seeking out great food and I want to share these experiences with others.

303: Do you have any standards that you follow for reviews? 

CB: I don’t have strict standards for how I write a review, but I try to be objective while making the main focus the food. I sometimes comment on the price-to-value of a restaurant, the ambiance or the service. I find that as a consumer it is sometimes hard to gauge what type of experience a place might have so I really try to make that come through. I don’t always go more than once — that’s part of the restaurant business — if you don’t impress people the first time then they aren’t coming back and many reviews reflect that. When I do get to places more than once, I will usually follow up on my initial review to make that point — for better or for worse.

303: What’s the best place you’ve eaten in Denver this year?

CB: ChoLon — everything chef Lon Symensma puts out is flawless and bursting with flavor. His scallops are still the best I’ve ever had anywhere. I’ve had soup dumplings in China and his match those bite-for-bite— it might be my favorite dish in Denver. Each dish he serves has you asking for another.

303: Do you consider yourself a critic?

CB: No, I consider myself a consumer who wants to share his experiences with others. In my opinion, critics are professionals who are trained in some capacity in this field. Additionally, I feel that the critics have a different palette and criteria than just the casual consumer. As a Yelper, I feel I could connect with consumers on a different — perhaps more relatable — level than a critic.

Janet D.

Janet D. leads a non-profit organization called the Luca John Foundation, where she serves as the Colorado director. It assists kids with Skeletal Dysplasia. A self-described “seeker of new places to eat and explore,” she finds herself dining out at least every other day. She has been on Yelp for almost 10 years, and she has posted 2,206 reviews. 

303: Do you have any standards that you follow for reviews? 

JD: I review places that I’ve at least visited twice. Based on my experiences, first and second, I adjust my review if it’s impactful or informative for future customers. Otherwise, I focus on the positives with constructive feedback and allow the new business a chance to go through their growing pains. Nobody’s perfect. Most importantly, the lack of flavor will be the deciding factor over any other, such as service, and will most likely stray me from visiting again. Flavor trumps service, period. When I discover something I love, I return multiple times and share the experience with my friends. In my reviews, I do make a point to mention what’s different about a certain restaurant that I’ve visited and what makes them unique. 

303: What’s the best place you’ve eaten in Denver this year?

JD: The best place I’ve eaten this year is definitely O’Neils in Steamboat Springs for dinner. After tasting their Lamb Shank and Ribeye you will not want to leave this place. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and OneFold in downtown Denver fills that morning yearning so well. Their Bacon Fried Rice with topped with fried eggs will take you back to the Hawaiian islands. For lunch, Piggin’ Out in Lakewood is one of my favorites— it’s the best BBQ ever without question.

303: What do you look for when deciding whether or not to trust another Yelpers review?

JD: I would trust a seasoned Yelper more than a novice one. To me, the seasoned ones have had broader experiences and know what is important. As they say, experience matters. Statistically speaking, businesses with a large number of reviews with a certain average rating, usually tell the story. Cautiously, the rating may not reflect what may be important to each customer. In my years of Yelping, I have observed that the reviewers giving the lowest rating are new people — unforgiving and angry. They do not consider how hard it is to start something that everybody will hopefully enjoy and love.

303: Why do you think Yelp is important? What do you say to critics of it?

JD: Critics of Yelp should really do more research to gain a full understanding of how Yelp works. Granted there’s a few bad apples, most of us are really aware of what we write. We definitely don’t take bribes and review for the benefit of the community. Yelp is here to stay and here to help. Yelp is a world of information at your fingertips, since you can review anything, beyond the restaurant and bar scene.

Cherie C.

PIctured left with Christopher and Janet

Cherie C. works at a Denver trade association, and she eats out about two or three times per week. Her Yelp bio says, “Still Yelping after all these years,” as she has posted more than 1,700 reviews in the 11 years she has been active on the site.

303: How long have you lived in Denver? How do you think the dining scene here compares to other cities you’ve visited in the US?

CC: I lived here for 10 months in 2009 and 2010 and have been here since 2012. Denver has a lot going on. There are good high-end restaurants like Acorn and Mercantile, and there are certainly a lot of delicious fast-casual places, like Chop Shop, Biker Jim’s, and Biju’s Curry Shop. We don’t have the cultural diversity of a city like Los Angeles, so we don’t have, for example, a wide variety of restaurants specializing in regional Chinese dishes. But I do feel like there’s always something new and interesting opening. And there are solid mainstays like Los Carboncitos.

303: What’s the best place you’ve eaten in Denver this year? 

CC: Oh, that’s tough! I’ve had some good ones. For breakfast, I love the Jersey breakfast at Hi-Rise Bakery. It’s not fancy, but I’d rather have a cup of Novo coffee and a pork roll, egg and cheese bagel there than wait an hour for a table anywhere else. For lunch, the brisket sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen is amazing every time I eat it. For dinner, Mercantile is my absolute favorite. They are also good for breakfast and lunch — I love their handmade pasta, delicious bread, quality vegetables.

303: Do you consider yourself a critic?

CC: Not at all. A critic can tell you the history of the cuisine, learns about the story behind the restaurant and can give a full picture of the restaurant and its place in the culture. It’s more than just a report on how the food tastes. There’s a depth of knowledge — or at least there should be — in a critic’s review. Jonathan Gold is a critic — I’m a Yelper. I give my impression of a restaurant and a report on my experience there.

303: Why do you think Yelp is important? What do you say to critics of it?

CC: I think Yelp is valuable because you can learn what real people — often locals — think of a business. It’s especially helpful when you need a service or are looking for restaurants that aren’t in a major metro area. A critic seems less likely to review places in a small town or suburb, so Yelp fills that gap with some guidance on what’s available. As for critics of Yelp, I think some of them need to simply relax. I don’t judge a business based entirely on Yelp reviews. I would guess that more businesses are helped by Yelp than harmed. Even David Chang of Momofuku has come around to appreciate the value Yelp.

Cyn C.

 

Cyn C. is a full-time psychologist, a job she says helps pay for her “champagne tastes.” She dines out about three-four times per week, and she has posted 563 reviews since she became a Yelp Elite 10 years ago. Because of her profession, she asked us not to include a photo.

303: How did you get into Yelp? Why is it something you continue to do?

CC: I started Yelping in 2006, because I have a lot of opinions about things and thought it would be a good idea to keep track of which restaurants and shops I liked and loved, while warning others which places to stay away from. I keep doing it for various reasons. It’s a great way to see which new spots are worth trying, to meet new friends, and, there are a lot of perks to being an Elite member.

303: What’s the best place you’ve eaten in Denver this year?

CC: In the past 12 months, I’ve found a couple new gems — Corner Beet on 14th and Ogden serves a killer ginger chai, their toasts are delightful and filling, and the salads hearty. The other “new to me” spot is Blue Pan Pizza— Detroit-style pizza has a special place in my heart. But bite for bite and drink for drink, my current love is There Denver — Get the Brussels sprouts and a jam drink.

303: What makes something a good or bad Yelp review?

CC: A good Yelp review is a mix between telling your readers about your personal experience, giving enough details so they know how you came to your opinion and giving some practical information — parking availability, hours for happy hour, etc. I dislike reviews comprised of only one or two sentences but fails to tell me why they were disappointed by their experience. Same goes for exceedingly short reviews that leave five stars. Someone who goes to an establishment called “Porky Pigs” and gives it one star for having too many dishes featuring pork will get a side eye from me too.

303: What do you look for when deciding whether or not to trust another Yelpers review?

CC: The great thing about Yelp is the diversity of the customers’ expectations and tastes. When I’m looking at a restaurant reviews and I see that someone is reviewing chicken fingers — no disrespect to chicken fingers — at a high-end seafood restaurant, I probably won’t take that review into consideration. I also look at the “body” of the Yelper’s reviews — what other establishments have they frequented? What else do they like to eat? Where else have they lived? This information helps me ascertain if that Yelper has similar tastes to my own, and therefore, whether I might have a similar opinion of a similar experience.

Elliott W.

Elliott W. is a Production Planner and Inventory Control Specialist for Research Electro-Optics in Boulder. 

“We make world-leading precision optics for the Military and Aerospace applications,” he explained — for those like us who were unsure what that means. The self-described “urban voyager” has lived in Colorado for 23 years and eats out four to five times per week. New to the Yelp Elite squad this year, he has already posted more than 100 reviews.

303: Do you have any standards that you follow for reviews?

EW: For my reviews, I try to write a descriptive narrative so the reader can visualize, or at least be able to imagine, what I might be talking about. Colorful imagery and delivering the points in a positive or negative overtone to accentuate my like or dislike of the place. I also find to be useful as the tone carries a weight in itself with how the satisfaction of the experience was.  In most circumstances, I will go to a place more than once before I review it unless I feel that I have gotten a good experience to be able to judge how another visit would go. Usually, I am with other people and we share our feelings and how the experience was as well as watching others around me to see how they are fairing at the place. I try to review a place based on a four point approach which is: service, food, atmosphere and recommendation ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ I try to summarize my experience into each of the three first categories and then give my overall impression on whether or not it would be a place to go and why. If I have a bad experience I will spend some extra time to explain my position in hopes that either the business itself or others can see exactly what happened to avoid or correct.

303: What’s the best place you’ve eaten in Denver this year? 

EW: Breakfast: Denver Biscuit Company. I am not a huge breakfast eater really, and it was my first time eating here a few months ago — I was blown away. Lunch: A Taste of the Philippines Food Truck. I absolutely love this little truck. The flavors are spot on and incredibly delicious. And it now has a permanent stall on Larimer Street. Dinner: Ocean Prime. To me, this place is the best food I have had thus far in Colorado ever. I have never had a bad meal or experience and the staff goes above and beyond to a level I have only ever witnessed before in a $500 a plate restaurant in New York.

303: What do you look for when deciding whether or not to trust another Yelpers review?

EW: I look for the review to be thought through. It is easy to tell when a review was done in haste without any real evaluation to it. If it has some good detail as to why they rated the place as they did or give a short story of their experience then I can at least tell that they took the time to really evaluate it or had a genuine experience.

303: Why do you think Yelp is important? What do you say to critics of it?

EW: Yelp is important for the same reason that we ask our friends and family how they liked a place or if they knew of anywhere to go. The information has to come from somewhere and a large community with a great diversity is the best place for that information. Everyone has a different palette and ethnic background, and giving them a different perspective on a location and being able to collect all of those into one central location that overall is accepted to be genuine (is great). Also, it’s great for businesses to be able to get a feel for how people are interacting with their business with reviews, photos and bookmarks. It allows for great interaction with the reviewer for further action or a simple thank you. To the critics of Yelp, I tell them to show me something better. Since I am a Google Local guide I can say with 100 percent confidence that Yelp has the better infrastructure for being able to sort through the reviews and see a genuine evaluated rating. Like any other evaluation, a review is 100 percent opinion and in no way considered fact. They should all be taken together as a whole to judge how you might experience the location. No single review can give a fair rating. A handful of them should be read both good and bad to get a general idea watching for patterns in the experiences.

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