When Yelp released its data-driven heat map two weeks ago, it acted as a visual confirmation of our most deeply held stereotypes about dining in L.A.: that Silver Lake is full of PBR-swilling hipsters, Westwood -- and to a lesser extent, the USC area -- is swimming with frat guys; and the heart of Hollywood is a tourist mecca and should be avoided at all costs. Available for 14 cities across North America and Europe, the Yelp map works by aggregating review keywords like "patio," "pricey" and "romantic" and geo-locating them based on frequency and concentration.
For example, search for "cocktails" on the map and you'll find red heat spots densely surrounding Hollywood, West Hollywood and almost all of downtown L.A., revealing that bars and restaurants in those locations have garnered the most mentions of their cocktails in Yelp reviews (surprise, surprise!) Fittingly enough, those same neighborhoods also are among the priciest for dining, according to the Yelp map's heat indicators. Scroll down to Orange County, and you'll see a red heat indicator for "pricey" resting directly on top of Disneyland. The happiest place on Earth? More like the priciest place in Southern California, according to Yelpers.
When it comes to cheap dining, our massive sprawl of a city offers few options. According to Yelp reviewers, cheap eats are few and far between but can be found sprinkled throughout Alhambra, Thai Town and Koreatown, all places where you're likely to fill up on Asian noodles for under $10. Even Westwood's on the map for cheapest eats, but we're guessing those UCLA frat kids skewed the results by exclusively reviewing Diddy Reise's $1.75 ice cream sandwiches. (But we'll get to this screwy, unreliable Yelp data later.)
Harder-to-define keywords like "bacon" are evenly spread in Yelp reviews from east to west. Like cocktails, bacon is highly favored in downtown and West Hollywood. Hangovers, on the other hand, cover much larger territory, with a huge concentration in Echo Park and Silver Lake (must be all that PBR), Koreatown (seriously, the entire neighborhood is apparently hung over all the time), and of course those cocktail-chugging, hard-partying folks in West Hollywood and downtown are sharing the hangover misery, too.
While Santa Monica and Pasadena are rated as equally romantic hot spots, those irritatingly romantic couples get the hangover blues, too. Let's face it: The whole city is nursing a hangover. But before the hangover takes hold, most diners like to enjoy the view. If you're on the Westside, beachfront Santa Monica restaurants afford Yelp-approved ocean views, while those yuppie diners downtown (yes, the Yelp reviewers describe them as such) enjoy views of none other than the downtown skyline.
So what does all this Yelp data say about our city and its 87 neighborhoods? For starters, the Yelp map fails to cover any territory north of Hollywood or south of the 10 freeway, which implies a combination of two things: that both the San Fernando Valley and South L.A. have a surprising dearth of bars and restaurants, and that the dining establishments in those parts of town simply aren't being reviewed on Yelp as often as those in Central L.A., Santa Monica and Pasadena.
Perhaps this is a call for more new restaurants and more diners willing to eat out in the Valley, South L.A. and the South Bay. But because Yelp hasn't disclosed its methods of research and aggregation, we have no way of knowing how many reviews were compiled and in which parts of town in order to create the heat map. Without quantifiable data, it's impossible to draw a conclusion without relying on obvious hipster/yuppie stereotypes.
Even more vague and problematic is that the keywords aren't qualified in any way. Case in point: Search for the keyword "parking" and you'll see a mass of heat indicators hovering over West Hollywood, Koreatown and Miracle Mile, places where parking is scarce and certainly not favorable. Similarly, the use of words like "cocktails" in a review doesn't necessarily imply that they were any good -- only that they were notable, for better or worse.
View the map here and do your own analysis. Are the heat indicators spot-on or glaringly inaccurate?
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