Q: I'm an iPad owner that is overwhelmed by the number of applications available. Where should I start if I'm looking for a way to find the best restaurants in my neighborhood?
Free | Version: 1.1 | Urbanspoon
Ten million downloads ago, Urbanspoon began its quest to add slot-machine-style fun to the chore of restaurant picking: click Spin and it randomly rung up a reco for you. The service started on the iPhone, where its popularity exploded (you could shake to spin ... neat). Now's your chance to whirl the famous wheel on the big screen. Truth is, the fancy finding mechanism is only a small part of what makes this app a winner. It's really the huge database of listings this service now draws from that makes it a useful tool. About 800,000 restaurants are covered and not just in big cities: from Altoona, Pennsylvania to Zeeland, Michigan, good eats await.
SPIN-FREE ZONE: The red Spin button is so darn compelling, it's hard not to tap. But other methods work, and many of 'em are better suited for those with an inkling of what they want to eat and where. The lock icons are the key. Manually scroll your way through one or more of the neighborhood, cuisine, and price columns; tap and hold the lock till it lights up. You've just told the app to find, say, ultra-cheap Italian restaurants in Grosse Pointe.
TIME TO TWIRL: You can also enlist Mr. Spin's help once you've narrowed down your options. Set the golden locks on, say, location and price, and then, when you tap Spin, the app auto-flicks just the cuisine wheel. Spin again, of course, for another suggestion. The map's Show Popular button is helpful, too, especially if you're viewing a neighborhood stuffed with blue restaurant pins. When tapped, this button thins out the herd.
TRAVEL TIME: You can have the app use the iPad's location-finding skills to sniff out your current whereabouts, or pick a destination yourself from the "Choose a city" window if you're planning a trip. You'll see about 50 major cities listed, but don't forget that's just the top of the pancake stack. Enter any city or town's name and chances are you'll find at least a few blue pins.
THE ENTREE: Your main course awaits once you actually tap a restaurant's name. A quick finger on any blue pin gets you key stats like contact info and the percentage of reviewers who liked the joint. Tap the "view details" option for the full story: a web page loaded with the works: a menu, a map, restaurant reviews, blog posts that mention the eatery, and a chance to pen your own.
HONORABLE MENTION: ZAGAT TO GO
$9.99 | Version: 4.0.2 | Zagat Survey
Long before "crowdsourcing" became every firm's favorite manufacturing method, Zagat people powered their famous red books. Everything you know about the guides is here: ratings in four categories (food, decor, service, and cost), contact info, and terse and to-the-point reviews. About 40 cities are covered (mainly the U.S. biggies, but also some international hotspots like London and Paris). The app also gives you the company's coverage of nightlife, hotels, and shopping. Flip a switch in the Settings menu and download for offline viewing the whole honking 100 MB collection. Perfect for that flight to L.A. Just remember to do the deed before takeoff.