The Yelp 100 Lunch Challenge

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, August 31, 2015 0 comments

Tank here.  Publican and I found ourselves eating lunch in the Vista and asking this question - how do you reinvigorate your lunch life?  We concluded that the solution was to set an overly-ambitious goal and recruit some expert lunch companions that are outside of our regular lunch crowd to join us in the pursuit of that dream. So began the Lunchmen began the Yelp 100 Lunch Challenge.  The idea is so glorious that Rabbit is increasing his day trips from Charleston to his Columbia office so he can hit some Challenge lunches. Frodo, who has written some of this blog's most-trafficked articles,  has stepped up to the plate to help fill in Rabbit's absence.

I must be honest, I have doubts about Yelp and its rankings, despite Yelp's ascension to the top of the restaurant ranking world since our blog entered hibernation. The Challenge will give us a methodical way to test Yelp's credibility and reliability. We will evaluate each restaurant based on the factors that matter most at lunch:

  • Food - delicious, average, or disappointing
  • Service - engaging, acceptable, or lacking
  • Timeliness - prompt, average, or slow
  • Parking - on location, nearby, or difficult
  • Pricing - bargain (under $8 with a drink); reasonable (under $10); pricey (over $10)
  • Daily Specials - available?
  • Ambiance - acceptable?
  • Bathrooms - usable, not usable, or not available
  • Intangibles - some restaurants just have that extra something going for them

We will be weighing in with our thoughts collectively on Yelp under the name "Lunch Challenge."

To compose the Challenge, we searched the categories on Yelp to see which had the most restaurants open at lunch. We identified 100 of the highest Yelp-rated restaurants in Columbia (including W. Cola, Cayce, Lexington, and Irmo) in those categories. Then, we built a calendar that forces us to go through the 100 restaurants in 1 year.  To help judge the restaurants, we recruited Porkchop, an ironically slender member of the clergy who can eat like the devil; Noodles, a local attorney whose years living abroad gave him taste for the exotic; and Motherboard, an IT executive and writer who has yet to meet a dish too spicy to handle.

Here is where we are eating over the next 52 weeks.  Our goal is to have each person committed to the Challenge attend at least 50% of the scheduled lunches, and to have at least 3 people at each lunch.  Of course, we will be bringing along others to enjoy some of these restaurants, because lunch remains the core of our sense of community.

Top Reviewer-Rated Restaurants in Columbia’s most significant Categories

American (New/Trad'l)
Motor Supply
Thirsty Fellow
The Backyard Café
Publick House
Café Strudel
Henry’s (Devine)
J Peters Grill (Beltline)
Bernie’s Chicken
Flying Saucer
Afro/Caribbean & Indian
Spice Junction
Harambe Ethiopian
Skyaa’s Caribbean
Delhi Palace
Mama J’s Carribean
Village of India
Lamb’s Bread
La Isla Bonita
Taste of Jamaica
Shalimar Curry House
Southern Belly
True BBQ 
Little Pigs BBQ
Maurice’s Piggy Park
Palmetto Pig 
Big Boys
Doc’s BBQ
Texas Roadhouse
Hite’s BBQ 
Five Guys (Vista)
Pawley’s Front Porch
Hwy 55 Burgers
Red Robin
Smashburger (Devine)
Zesto’s (Forest Dr.)
Rockaway Athletic Club
Rosewood Dairy Bar
Edna’s Drive-in
Lucky’s Burgers Shack
East Asian
Sun Ming Chinese
Chen’s Chinese
Inakaya (O’Neil Ct.)
M Grille
Korea Garden
Menkoi Ramen House
Blue Cactus
Mai Thai
Pho Viet (Decker)
New Bangkok
Zoe’s (Forest Dr.)
Gervais and Vine
Med. Tea Room
Olive Grill
Greek Boys
Zorba’s Greek (St. Andrews.)
Grecian Gardens
Ariana’s Greek
Real Mexico
Cantina 76 (Main St.)
La Estrella
El Burrito
Hola Mexico
Tacos El Puebla
Tacqueria Guadalajara
Gina’s Pizza & Italian
Nicky’s Pizzeria
Il Giorgione
Dano’s Pizza
Tonella’s Pizza
Pizza Joint
Bellacino’s Pizza
Old Chicago Pizza
Pizza Palace
Villa Tronco
The Other Store
Drakes Duck In
Groucho’s (Harden St.)
DL McLaughlin’s
Immac. Consumption
Nick’s Gyros and Subs
Very’s Great Philly
Chicken Salad Chick
Di Prato’s
Mr. Friendly’s
Andy’s Deli
The Gourmet Shop
Jason’s Deli
Cali’s Cafe
Just Us Café
Michael’s Café
No Name Deli

1. Restaurants in italics have been left off of the top ten list on another, less appropriate Yelp category.
2. The American, Greek, Sandwiches, and Delis lists are blended from the top 10 of the two identified Yelp categories.
3. Afro/Carribean & Indian list is the top options from African, Carribean, Indian, Puerto Rican, and Vegan Yelp categories
4. East Asian list is the top options from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and Sushi Bars Yelp categories.

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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.