Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why Yelp Star Ratings For Chinese Restaurants Don't Fly

In my previous posting on the best Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles according to Yelp, I pointed out how the two highest Yelp ratings went to two hole-in-the-wall nondescript restaurants in mid-City Los Angeles that served Americanized Chinese food.  Granted that most of the really good Chinese restaurants in the region are outside of the city of Los Angeles, located in the many cities of the San Gabriel Valley.  But the fact is that Wah's Golden Hen on Virgil and Sea Dragon on Vermont  with 4½ stars each score higher on Yelp than most all of the Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.  This is what I described as the comparability fallacy on Yelp, i.e., the people rating Wah's Golden Hen were a completely different group from those rating Sea Harbour in Rosemead, likely the best Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area.

But the fact is that people giving ridiculously high ratings to places like Wah's Golden Hen are only half of the equation.  The other part of the equation is that while the San Gabriel Valley has many of the great Chinese restaurants in the United States, the best of these do not have more than 3½ Yelp stars.  From my listing of the top 10 Chinese restaurants in the US, I rate Sea Harbour in Rosemead at #2 (and likely #1 in the dim sum category).  But it only has 3½ Yelp stars.  Numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6 in my national list, Elite in Monterey Park, and King Hua, Lunasia and Chengdu Taste in Alhambra?  All 3½ stars.      

This is not to say that there are no higher rated Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.  Newport Seafood and Boston Lobster rate at 4½ stars, while New Bay Seafood garners 4 stars.  But all three of these restaurants are lobster specialists, which may well indicate that lobster is its own demographic when it comes to Yelp ratings.   And there are a number of other 4 star Yelp rated Chinese restaurants in the area, including the well deserved Savoy in Alhambra, but also in Alhambra the horrid Sam Woo BBQ.

So why are the ratings for many San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants lower than should be expected?  It's hard to say but a few things come to mind.   First of all there are low reviews from non-Chinese diners who may not know what to order, or who do not appreciate truly good authentic Chinese food.  There are people who downgrade for non-culinary reasons such as service (what do you expect at a Chinese restaurant?), higher than average price, or parking.   But what I think might be the hidden key is that while the Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley is the best in the United States, it does not compare to Chinese food overseas.  As a result, I'm guessing many of the Chinese diners in the San Gabriel Valley are giving ratings when comparing to food they've eaten in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and other locales.   But whatever the reason, be aware that Yelp ratings for Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles are badly off kilter.