The Dining Apps You Actually Need Slideshow
June 28, 2012
OpenTable: Find, Reserve, Dine
OpenTable is one of the country's most popular dining apps — filling an estimated 20 million restaurant seats since 2008 — for good reason.
The app, which is free and available on all major mobile platforms, makes dining reservations an absolute breeze. Users can search for a restaurant using several metrics, including location, price range, reservation time, and cuisine type. From there, they can get specific details on a given restaurant, from diner's reviews to menus. A few clicks later, and dinner for two at 7 p.m. is confirmed. And with more than 25,000 restaurants in the app's database, there'll never be a shortage of dining options.
Fooducate: Scan Before You Scarf
If it has a barcode, you can Fooducate it. This free app, available on iPhones and Androids, allows users to scan a food product barcode for a comprehensive nutritional rundown, a ranking (from letter grade A to D), and a list of healthier alternatives.
And the app goes far beyond calorie counts and saturated fat assessments. It's able to recognize specific ingredients, such as opaquely named additives, and factor their nutritional value (or lack thereof) into the product's health rating. The app includes thousands of packaged products, which means plenty of tips for busy diners: That Fiesta Grilled Chicken Lean Cuisine, for example, earns a mere C+... while the brand's Sesame Chicken Stir-Fry scores a B+.
Good Food Near You: A Fast-Food Fix
It's the app to check before you dash into Burger King, desperate for a midday food fix.
Free on every major smartphone platform, the Good Food Near You app uses GPS to offer a list of the healthiest fast-food options within a quick jaunt from your current location. Users can refine their food search based on several criteria, including menu items with the lowest calorie or fat counts, and the app also offers a full nutritional breakdown of every fast-food item in its database. So while that Whopper seems like the best choice, this app will remind you that the Quiznos down the block offers lower-calorie options.
UrbanSpoon: All-in-One Eats
Every foodie should have at least one comprehensive restaurant-finding app on their smartphone, and UrbanSpoon — free on most mobile platforms — gets our vote.
Users can use a simple interface to scout restaurants based on location, cuisine, and price range, or, try relying on reviews. The app boasts diner comments, along with restaurant ratings from newspapers and blogs, to offer additional insight into restaurant caliber. All that, and plenty of added bonuses: The app allows users to make reservations, and keep a log of the spots they've tried — from which it derives recommendations for restaurants to consider in the future.
BiteHunter: Discount Dining
Without a doubt, BiteHunter (available free on iPhones) is the best app out there for scoring dining deals and discounts.
The app scours myriad sources, including Groupon, Living Social and Gilt City, to find restaurant discounts based on a user's given location. The app also allows more refined searches, so that you can filter a search to find deals on restaurants that match your culinary preference or your price point. At any given time, BiteHunter offers more than 50,000 dining deals at restaurants across the country.
VegOut: For Meat-Free Diners
An ideal app for the tempeh aficionado… or the carnivore with veggie friends in town, VegOut, available on iPhones for $2.99, offers an international mega-listing of vegetarian, vegan, and veg-friendly restaurants within a given geographic area.
Users can rely on GPS to find restaurants, or enter a specific ZIP code or address. Each listing specifies just how veggie-oriented a dining spot is, gives a restaurant description and contact info, and includes diner reviews sourced from HappyCow.net, a popular veggie restaurant review hub.
Smash Your Food: For Nutrition-Savvy Kids
The app that lets kids play with their food — while teaching them about nutrition. Smash Your Food, a free app released for iPhones earlier this year, has already won impressive praise: The app was lauded by Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign for its creative approach to children's nutrition savvy.
Using a slick design, the app allows kids to pick a food item or meal — from burgers to cereals — and has them guess the sugar, salt, and oil content. Then, the app — quite visually — smashes the food to oblivion, and reveals its real nutritional deal. "You can tell them things over and over, but this app is so visual, it really makes an impression," one enthused mom told The Seattle Times.
Eat St.: For Food Truck Followers
Your ultimate guide to America's mobile eateries, the Eat St. iPhone app takes the confusion out of locating that on-the-go kabob truck or finding a new eatery-on-wheels that caters to your culinary preferences.
Users can search for vendors using several metrics, including proximity, diner ratings, and cuisine. Plus, the app lists vendor hours, menus, and daily specials, and provides links to vendor Twitter feeds — the ideal tool for knowing when a cart is on-the-move to a different location. Eat St. also works alongside vendors, allowing them to update cart info, which keeps the app's details as up-to-date and reliable as possible.
GrubHub: Food at Your Fingertips
For those who prefer takeout to home cooking, two apps reign supreme: GrubHub and Seamless.
Both offer a bevy of simple, reliable features that make takeout orders a breeze. Users can search for restaurants offering either delivery or takeout, select their menu items, and then order dinner with a few simple clicks. But GrubHub, which includes 25,000 eateries in 300 cities, has a few key advantages: The app includes restaurants that only take phone orders, giving diners additional options, and includes diner reviews.
Restaurant Nutrition: Culinary Calorie Counts
Plenty of apps will help you count calories, but only a few are dedicated exclusively to restaurant nutrition. Enter this appropriately named app, free on iPhone and Android platforms, that includes nutritional data on more than 250 chain restaurants across the country.
The interface is simple: Users pick a restaurant, scroll through the menu, and then click on any item to see nutritional information that includes calorie count, as well as fat, protein, and sodium content. The app also allows users to rate a given food item, read reviews from other diners, and use a GPS feature to find a franchise location that's within walking distance.
LocalEats: No Chains Allowed
The perfect app for traveling foodies, or folks who just got tired of Applebee's, LocalEats, $0.99 for iPhones, is a comprehensive app that can help you find the perfect restaurant in cities worldwide — chain dining absolutely not included.
To accommodate the discriminating diner, this app doesn't deign offer up a litany of local spots. Instead, LocalEats is carefully curated to show users the very best restaurants within a given city or a specific radius. The app includes "Top 100" lists for each city, along with user comments, local reviews, and often a full restaurant menu. Because the app was designed for travelers, it also incorporates driving directions and the ability to schedule a local taxi to come fetch diners... after they've polished off a bottle of local wine, presumably.
Foodspotting: Picture What's for Dinner
An app as innovative as it is useful, Foodspotting — free on every major mobile platform — takes a visual approach to finding the perfect dining spot.
More specifically, the app zeros in on photos of fantastic dishes available at restaurants within a specified region. Users can recommend dishes to fellow diners by uploading a photo of said item and tagging it, thereby creating visual menus for restaurants. You can follow your favorite diners for pics of the indulgent food they manage to find, or search the app for a given craving (soufflé!) and score results in the form of pics and the restaurants they came from.
Chef's Feed: Tips From the Pros
While most dining apps rely on reviews from diners or critics to rank restaurants, Chef's Feed — available free for iPhones and Androids — uses a different, arguably more reliable, tactic. The app consults with local, celebrity chefs to recommend a city's top dining locales.
Users can search by chef (Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck are both on the list) to see what they suggest, or hunt for a specific dish to gage opinions of the pros. The app also includes celebrity chef Twitter feeds, for instant updates on where they ate and how it measured up.
One caveat: The app is currently limited to restaurants in nine major American cities (including Los Angeles and New York), with plans to introduce six more by the end of the year.
MyPlate Calorie Tracker: Diet Anywhere You Dine
Brought to you by Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong.com, the MyPlate Calorie Tracker app boasts a database of more than 1.3 million foods (including a ton of packaged products and restaurant menu items) with a simple interface to allow on-the-go calorie counting.
Available free for iPhones and Blackberries, the app is an invaluable tool for those who do lots of dining out, but still want to keep tabs on their consumption. Once a user finds the items they ate, they're able to save them in order to track daily caloric intake. Even if you're dining at a local joint, rather than a national chain, the app's food database is so big that making a ballpark intake estimate is easy.
Find Me Gluten Free: No Wheat Allowed
If you're one of the estimated 18 million Americans with a gluten intolerance, or dining with someone who is, the Find Me Gluten Free app — free for iPhones and Androids — is a must-have.
The app allows users to search for restaurants that are either entirely gluten-free, or offer specific menu items that accommodate the lifestyle, and then rate them post-meal. Most listings include a menu, contact information, and reviews from other diners. Added bonus: Some restaurants even offer food discounts for diners who mention the app.