Review: Chinatown Chow Down iPhone app

One of the best things about living in New York City is that you can experience the foods from all over the world without ever leaving town. And one of our favorite ways to do that is by heading to Chinatown. There’s one problem with selecting a place to eat in Chinatown, however: how do you choose from the hundreds of restaurants? It’s easy to be paralyzed by choice as you see block after block of ducks hanging in windows, dumplings steaming and dim sum carts rolling along. While there are several websites and mobile apps out there that provide restaurant reviews and assist with the selection process, none specialize solely in Chinatown. Given the incredible number of restaurants focusing on various types of Chinese cooking, we were in need of an expert to help us navigate through the organized chaos of this Chinatown. That’s why we had high hopes when we heard about Chinatown Chow Down. The brainchild of Craig Nelson, an editor at Not For Tourists, the app has some serious credentials behind it. We put it to the test to see if it truly can help us make sense of Chinatown.

%Gallery-124014%The app first allows you to select the type of cuisine that you’d like to eat. If you’re thinking that it’s all “just Chinese food,” you’re sorely mistaken. From dumplings to seafood to some of the best Malaysian and Vietnamese restaurants in the city, each Chinatown restaurant has its own specialty. Once you make a selection, you can sort by name, distance from your location or cost. Given that Chinatown isn’t all that large, the distance option is not as helpful as it would be in an app that covers an entire city rather than just a neighborhood. Still, it’s a useful feature if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood.

Once you select the cuisine and sort method, you are presented with a list of restaurants. Tap on a restaurant and you get a fairly comprehensive writeup. All of the copy was written by Craig Nelson, and his experience with Not For Tourists shows both in the tone and thoroughness of the text. Links in the text go to reviews from outside sources, writeups of other restaurants in the app and even YouTube videos that play seamlessly on the iPhone. Each restaurant entry includes fantastic photos and a map that immediately displays both your location and the location of the restaurant. All of these items might sound simple and basic, but when we’re attempting to decode a chaotic and frenetic neighborhood like Chinatown, simple and basic is what we want in an app.

Users can leave comments about restaurants similar to leaving tips on Foursquare. You can also add restaurants to your Favorites, which you can then find in the Favorites category in the list of cuisines. The Share feature only allows users to email a restaurant writeup (it opens automatically in the iPhone’s mail app). We’d like to see more integration with social media in future updates.

Chinatown Chow Down includes over 100 restaurants at the moment (each one of them personally visited by Nelson during his research). There’s talk of including the Chinatowns of New York’s outer boroughs (here’s a tip: head to Flushing, Queens right now!) in the future, and updates should push through more reviews, as well.

Chinatown can be intimidating, but with Chinatown Chow Down, it’s suddenly much more accessible. The app is like having an expert in your pocket, which, while sounding cliche, is exactly what an app like this is supposed to be. The user interface is clean and simple, the information is comprehensive without being overwhelming and, at $1.99, it’s priced like much of the food in the neighborhood that it covers.

Unlike many of the restaurant apps that we’ve tried and then forgotten, we can legitimately see ourselves using Chinatown Chow Down regularly when we find ourselves in the neighborhood. It’s singular focus allows it to excel and it truly helps users satisfy their cravings even when they can’t read all of the signs.

Chinatown Chow Down is available in iTunes now.