Reading “best of” lists always provides some insight into American dining habits, especially when the list is informed by actual data rather than the whims of an editorial board. Yelp recently released its Top 100 US Restaurants of 2023, and the list is as marvelously diverse as the population of our country.
“To determine Yelp’s Top Places to Eat in 2023, Yelp reached out to the user community first, requesting individuals to submit favorite U.S. restaurants,” Yelp explained in a press release. “Yelp’s data science team analyzed the submissions from the community to determine the top restaurants by ratings, number of reviews, and volume of submissions, with geographic representation based on equal share of submissions of top-rated restaurants nationally. Yelp further curated the list with the expertise of our Community Managers around the country to finalize the rankings.”
So, while the methodology involved some creative combination of statistics and polling, the list nonetheless has some interesting nuggets. In something of a pleasant surprise, pizza barely makes a dent in this list, and while burgers do make an appearance, many feature unexpected twists and are combined with other types of cuisine, such as Korean or Middle Eastern. Here are our main takeaways from this year’s Top 100.
Island food is gaining the nationwide mainstream momentum it has always deserved. The restaurant at the very top of Yelp’s 100 is a Hawaiian-Korean cafe in Los Angeles called Broken Mouth, which serves a mix of Hawaiian food like plate lunches (featuring meats, rice, and usually macaroni salad) and Korean food. Two other spots in the top five are located in Hawaii itself and serve traditional local cuisine such as laulau (pork steamed in taro leaves). That’s a big change from last year’s list, in which Hawaiian food’s top appearance came in 28th.
The top 10 restaurants of 2023 represent Hawaiian, Korean, Cajun, Mexican, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as vegetarian and vegan food. The 2022 list, meanwhile, favored what Yelp labels as American food (including breakfast places), with six such restaurants landing in the top 10.
The fact that American palates are actively seeking such diverse options is particularly gratifying to me, as I’m an evangelist when it comes to trying a bite, if not a full plate, of just about everything.
Many of the restaurants featured on the Top 100 list are vegetarian friendly, and 16 feature cuisine that is either vegan or can be made vegan.
I’ve never seen an entire restaurant dedicated to vegan sushi, but one restaurant, Wellness Sushi in Denver (coming in at spot 73), specializes in it. It’s not just a bunch of avocado or cucumber rolls, either; Wellness even features vegan luncheon meat (aka meatless Spam) in onigiri.
As people become increasingly focused on sustainability in their diets, we’ll likely see a rise in demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes. Judging by the ups and downs of the alternative meat industry, I believe this shift will be more of a slow climb than a sudden spike. Still, maybe Yelp’s Top 100 list of 2024 will feature plant-based dishes we never knew we needed.