Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Two for the Road, Is a Yelp Review Worth the Drive? Not Necessarily, But These Are

Most restaurant people have a love-hate relationship with Yelp. Who doesn’t like a good review? Bad reviews however can hurt your feelings and your business. When Yelp first started, it was a simple way to find out where the good stuff was. Then everyone with a cell phone became a critic. It drove those of us in the industry crazy. 

Craft and Commerce, a restaurant here in San Diego, made national news when they hired actors to voice all the restaurant’s negative reviews they had received on Yelp. They then had them play on a loop in their restrooms. This act of defiance was brilliant; when you hear these reviews out loud in the light of day, so to speak, you realize how silly they are.  

I never use Yelp as a guide for anything. I am more likely to ask a friend or refer to Eater San Diego. However, If you hear that a local spot has ranked number one in the nation on anyone’s list, you take notice.

Last year I wrote an article on Birria. I ranked Ed Fernandez Restaurant, just south of Imperial Beach, one of my top five birria spots in San Diego. Birria tacos are made with stewed beef and often served with a side of the stewing liquid, referred to as consommé, for dipping. 

A birria taco from Ed Fernandez headed for the consommé.

Later that year, Fernandez Restaurant was voted the number-one taco spot in the country by Yelp. That isn’t a coincidence; that’s just a damn good taco. When you go to Fernandez Restaurant, order the birria taco or the quesataco extremo with a side of consommé. Birria is breakfast food; get there early. Their food travels well, but why not eat in the parking lot and make some friends?

Tailgating at Ed Fernandez Birrieria.

I recently ran across Shawarma Guys, a food truck that sells shawarma. Their page brags that they had been voted the best food truck in California in 2020, then later that year, Yelp gave them the distinction as the number one place to eat in America. In 2022 Shawarma Guys appeared on the television show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Why is the this place just now on my radar?

The Shawarma guys truck in South Park.

Shawarma compares to al pastor, marinated meat cooked on a vertical spit next to an open flame. Both originated in the Middle East. 

While driving through South Park, I saw the Shawarma Guy’s truck parked next to the Bottle House liquor store. I ordered a Chicken Shawarma pita.

Chicken Shawarma Pita at Shawarma Guys.

Moments later, I devoured it in my car. The pita had a great crunch as it was toasted on the flat top after being wrapped. Crunchy bits mixed with tender pieces made for a great mouth feel—the chicken’s flavor was sublime, as you could taste the brightness of the marinade. The Mediterranean pickles tasted tart with a nice snap. Once I had a few bites, I went in for the hot sauce they offered. Hot is not an adjective I would use to describe this sauce. It was tangy and a bit sweet, making the chicken shawarma come to life.

Not-so-hot sauce making my Chicken Shawarma Pita come to life.

A short drive from Coronado, the above-mentioned deserve a visit. In both cases, you must take your food home or eat in your car. I often come prepared with wipes, paper towels, and a dishcloth for a place mat. When hunting for fun food finds, the reward is often eaten in your car.

Did these vendors earn these awards? Yes, they did. Has this changed my opinion of Yelp and its minions of amateur reviewers? No, it hasn’t. 

Yelp didn’t make these vendors the best, they got there on their own. That’s what people dedicated to their craft do. They wake up in the morning determined to be the best at what they do, and people usually take notice. Let me know if you want to carpool; I hope to see you there.

Shawarma Guys
3012 Grape Street. Located in The Bottle House parking lot.
Voted Yelp’s #1 palace to eat in America 2020
Voted #1 food truck in California 2020
Open seven days a week, 8 am-10 pm
619-233-0364 (call ahead for best results)

Ed Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria
2265 Flower Ave. San Diego, South of Imperial Beach
Voted Yelp’s #1 taco spot in America 2022
Closed Monday and Tuesday, open Wednesday-Sunday from 7 am-2 pm
619-628-8235 (call ahead for best results)


Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde is a trained chef that has worked in hospitality for nearly 40 years. In addition to cooking, he is a freelance food writer and storyteller. Clyde is a third-generation Coronado local, CHS graduate, and father of three. He owns and operates Olive Avenue Supper Club, a boutique catering company specializing in culinary experiences. You can follow his culinary journey on Instagram @oliveavenuesupper.Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]