With one of the most restaurants per capita in the world, how do you decide where to eat on Friday night?
Some go to blogs, but they`re all over the board.
Yahoo Travel? Too bulky. English media? Not likely.
To help sort out the confusion, Joe McPherson (of zenkimchi.com fame) has started a new website, ZenKimchi Dining.
It`s different than existing media because the readers are the reviewers, said McPherson. "ZenKimchi Dining contains reviews from diners complete with detailed ratings, price ranges and printable maps. Visitors can also rate the restaurants beside the reviewers` ratings and give comments."
Each review is organized into categories, such as location, cuisine and price. They also have tags that make searching from within the site, or through a major search engine, more precise.
Say you want to find an expensive Italian restaurant in Gangnam for a special date. Search for "expensive Italian Gangnam," and a list will pop up, along with reviewer and visitor ratings, phone numbers and maps.
Visitors can also easily add their own ratings to existing reviews.
"I wanted a site that had a clean design and was conveniently organized with loads of information from multiple sources," said McPherson.
McPherson explained that there are a couple good restaurant review sites in Korean, but not enough is available in English. Also, considering that at least one survey has shown that food is one of the top tourist draws for Korea, McPherson said he had been disappointed that there were no websites that gave consistently useful restaurant information in the style of big guides, such as Michelin and Zagat.
"Seoul itself is one of the most restaurant-heavy towns in the world, which makes dining decisions stressful. Despite the intense competition in the food business here, I still end up in places that serve horrible food and have dismal service," McPherson admitted.
"At the same time, truly special restaurants go out of business because people don`t know about them. A site like ZenKimchi Dining should be a tool to help diners make dinner decisions with less stress."
The website is aimed at Korea`s expats and short-term tourists.
McPherson said readers frequently e-mail him asking for restaurant advice in Seoul. "The scene here changes so quickly, and I honestly don`t have the means and time to root out the coolest restaurants. A site where others could submit their reviews with a consistent, clean format, I felt, would be more helpful than having people depend on my narrow replies on what I thought was good."
His other website, The Food Journal, has about 1,000 hits a day, and has a strong overseas readership. It concentrates more on Korean food itself, not necessarily where to get it. McPherson said he wanted a site that was made for people inside Korea that was geared towards the night-on-the-town crowd.
"I set down ideas for content and design in my notebook and chewed on revisions for a couple of months before actually sitting down to a computer. Putting it together, working out the many bugs and filling it up with some initial content took a month."
But the biggest problem for foreigners in Korea, whether they`re expats or tourists, is information on anything outside Seoul -- especially food.
McPherson hopes to address this as well.
"The short-term goal is to get content, especially from areas outside Seoul. Brian from Kiss My Kimchi (www.kissmykimchi.com) is an avid foodie and has contributed a great deal. Anyone who wants to work on their food writing skills or just wants to support their favorite restaurant should give it a go."
He said in the long term, he wants ZenKimchi Dining to be a useful place where people can find where the trendy places and secret finds are.
"I would also like to expand it to include clubs, bars and other legal venues."
By Matthew Lamers